Friday, November 27, 2015

Pirates Don't Just Say "Arrr"

So, I lied.  I have 45,500 words, not 50,000, but I'm well on my way to finish by Monday.

Research and world building for Peter Pan and his Neverland would be incomplete if it weren't for pirates.  Somehow, this isn't something I'd really plotted out, even up to the point I was a few days away from starting.  It wasn't until last week that it really occurred to me I was going to have to write other pirates besides Hook.  And they were going to have to be nasty.  And I would have to do some research about pirates and ships.  Because I know nothing about either.

True story.  We were watching Once Upon A Time and it was at the part where Hook decides he's going to be pirate and change the name of the ship to the Jolly Roger.   I was like "Where did he come up with that name?" to which my younger sister said, "that's the name of the pirate flag."

You learn something new everyday.  Most of the new things I learn come from my younger sister and I'm supposed to be the writer!

I started my research this week with a simple bing search for pirate history.  I do like google a lot more but bing gives me reward points and I can redeem them to feed my Starbucks iced chai tea habits.  As my brother says, bing is so much more inferior, they have to pay you to use it.  It's actually not that bad, but I digress.

The first things that come up with a simple googling, or in this case binging (hello, that's why they're not as big as google.  It just sounds dumb to say you're going to go 'bing' something), were references to pirate movies and a bunch of websites with pirate slang.  I read a bit of it which left me giggling more than informed.

When I picture pirates, I think of smelly, unwashed, missing teeth guys who can't speak the English language properly.  My pirates are a bit like that though I eased up on the smelly portion since I hate reading stories about dirty people, especially when they'll well written.

The word "pirate" has its origins in "per" which meant "to risk" and "pieren" which meant "to attack".  It became the Latin word "Pirata" (Sea Attacker).  The earliest mention of pirates seems to come from 14th century BC.  Basically, these dirty, smelly, moralless people have been around as long as there've been ships in the sea.

In the Middle Ages, Viking's became well known for their acts of piracy.

My pirates don't carry a lot of these origins since they are modernish people trapped in Neverland and resorting to whatever means they think are necessary but even so, I wanted to give them a feel of a swashbuckling pirate, as well as the slightly inept, sometimes funny feel of the pirates from the original Peter Pan stories.  Even so, they need to be dangerous and scary, something I've attempted to incorporate.  This comes into play a bit when Wendy ends up on a pirate ship full of guys who haven't seen a girl in a long time.

So, the pirates are blood thirsty, slightly inept, and just a bit funny but I wanted to inject a bit more personality into them than that.  There are more specific characters the reader will really come to know (Captain Hook, Smee, and a few select others), and while I wanted to carry over this fairytale/stereotypical pirate feel, I also don't want them to be the same tired cliches that've been read before.  They need to have hearts, purpose, and a desire that's more than looting villages and getting women.  

I think pirates bring out my bloody side.  Just today, I wrote this whole chunk where they get attacked by these flesh eating things and one pirate gets totally eaten.  That's a bit weird but the weirder part is...I actually, sorta, kinda, had a bit of fun writing it.  It was super easy, too.

Write again soon!

-Anna Leigh

Friday, November 20, 2015

In the Midst of Madness

For all writers out there, November isn't just a month of family, good food, and awesome deals (if one is willing to wait in line all night.  Or three or four nights).  It's a month to put those words that have been floating, collecting, and jamming the inside of your head on paper.

Throwback picture from last NaNoWriMo.
Yes, my house is that cold!
Finishing out the third week of NaNo, I have somehow more confidence than when I started and less.  More because words are flowing out a lot easier than I expected and even when I've expected to get stuck, I haven't, and less because I am working on this book.

This book is my baby.  The story that started it all.  My first book.  I'm no longer eleven years old and now I don't just write to change the end of other people's stories.  I write to tell my own.

Peter Pan is a story ripe for the retelling, the reason why it's stayed timeless since Peter's first appearance in 1904.  Even small elements of the story have been used in multiple ways to add flavor to other stories and you would be hard put to find a person, at least in the US, who didn't at least know who was being referenced when the boy who won't grow up gets mentioned.

I've discovered something strange in the nine chapters I've written.  Peter Pan is an unexpectedly dark story, make slightly darker by my own unique (I hope) twist.

There have been multiple steps in plotting this particular novel, even more than my plotting for QoT.  There are a lot of different complications in writing a story about time travel and a legend that would've taken place in a mostly real backdrop (QoT), than a mythical, magical island where kids who don't grow up are in charge and hapless pirates create entertainment, not danger.

I knew I didn't want to incorporate magical elements so that went into the trash bin of plotting ideas right away.  While I have worked with super human powers and time travel, I've always kept it on the science fiction-y end by giving somewhat-ish reasonable explanations as to why everything is the way it is.  Even the Doorway that sends Gwen back to Camelot is explained away as a scientific fact.  Neverland has some very odd vegetation, some parts of the island where gravity is funky (flying, anyone?), and several other things that would never be found on Earth.  Knowing these things, one of my first plotting moves was to figure out why the environment would be the way it was.

From day one of writing QoT, I worried about writing Gwen.  She has not and continues not to come easily to me as I struggled to understand her character and move it in the way I want.  I talked a bit about it with my critique group leader this week and figured out some hidden things about her in conversation that I'd never really realized, things that will fuel her actions and in turn, move along the plot line.  With all the elements I've worried about getting right with Darling, Wendy has never been one of them.  She is by far the easiest character I've ever written.  The girl has sass, is impulsive, and consequently ends up in multiple bad situations because of her hotheadedness.  Even to the moment where gets captured by pirates (spoilers~~~), she won't back down.  It's been really easy to write her.  The challenge this time around will be making her character likable.

Gwen is likable but there are times when even I want to say "Get a backbone, girl.  Stand up to them!".  As QoT progresses, she becomes a lot more sure of herself and a lot less likely to let people push her around.  Wendy starts at the opposite end of the spectrum and has to soften a bit.  She has a lot of trust issues which I haven't totally justified with her past.

Because I'm not spending as much time figuring out Wendy, I've been putting a bit more time into Pan and Hook.  I wrote a post a while back about how all the characters in QoT essentially boil down to how they treat rules.  In this book, the characters all boil down to how they view other people and how unselfish they'll be.  Hook and Pan were on a very similar path but then they made a different decision.  Peter decided to sacrifice his life to protect others and Hook sacrificed others lives to protect himself.  I'm very interested in the characters and how that dynamic will pan out (pun intended!).  I literally only wrote Hook's first sentence today and I'm already excited.  I've never tackled a pirate before (figuratively or literally :) and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

The next time I write, it should be with a solid 50,000 words into my manuscript and NaNo completed!!!

-Anna Leigh

Friday, November 6, 2015

To Write A Novel

Up to this point, I haven't said a lot about my sequel to Queen of Time.  It is not because I am not excited about it but because I haven't wanted to spoil too much of Queen of Time.  Unfortunately for me, I just can't keep excitement under wraps.  I will do my best to keep my spoilers to the minimum!

As some may have guessed from the title, my second book, Darling, is a Peter Pan retelling.  To my knowledge, possibly apart from the disgustingly creative folks writing Once Upon A Time, no one has ever mixed an Arthurian legend with the story of Peter Pan.  Of course, I haven't made it past halfway through season four of OUAT so maybe I have outdated information.


Peter Pan is one of the core books that got me started writing. Robin Hood was truly the first but Peter Pan was close on its heels.  My issues always had to do with the fact that the story centers around the reality of growing up and in the end, Peter still doesn't grow up.

I knew in the plotting stage that writing Wendy was going to be a lot easier than writing Gwen but it wasn't until this last week of frantic writing (NaNoWriMo, anyone?) that I realized how much easier she is.  Gwen is a by the rules type and Wendy can't stand the confinedness (is that a word?) of rules. Gwen was poor, Wendy is a bit posh.  Gwen ran away from problems, Wendy punches them in the nose.  Of course, these traits get poor Wendy into more trouble than Gwen ever was.

In the original story, Wendy doesn't like the idea of growing up but after being in Neverland, she begins to realize how much she really does want to do things like a grownup.  This is shown a bit poignantly in the 2004 live action version of Peter Pan where Wendy finds herself attracted to Peter, an action that is decidedly grownup.  I'm not going quite the same route but I do want to focus a bit more on Wendy's unwillingness to grow up.  In Darling, Peter, on the other hand, would love nothing more than to grow up but he can't.  Spoilers.... :)

Last week, I was a bit stressed as to my antagonist(s) stance in my novel and how I was going to puzzle piece all the characters together.  I laid down for a nap and boom, I got half a dozen ideas that tied up a bunch of my loose ends.  Let's just say, it's made writing this week a LOT easier.  Hook is a complication that I haven't totally worked out but from what I've written out about him, he's going to be a big part of Wendy's journey to understanding who she is and what she needs to become.  For any love triangle lovers out there, I am not doing what I have read multiple times now which is to create a love triangle between Pan, Hook, and Wendy.  Seriously, can't we be a bit more original??  To the rest of readers who are super sick of love triangles; you're welcome!

This book will continue some of the time travel elements featured in Queen of Time and will tie in some of Gwen's story.

I'm so excited and nervous about building Neverland.  It's going to be a crazy place with a bunch of strange elements to its nature.  I have some of my old notes and drawings from when I originally started writing a Peter Pan retelling eight years ago and I really want to rework some of them and put them into Darling.  It would be  a nod to my younger writing self who would've never envisioned myself where I am today.

Off to get more writing done.  It's so sad that when I take a break from writing, I inevitably blog or go write on some other platform.  What can I say, even if I'm not that good, I am a writer!

- Anna Leigh

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Romance of Editing and Book Two

A few years ago, I felt a bit meek about telling people what I liked to do since I felt sure that writing wasn't really a job for "grownups" and was the equivalent of telling people you're going to play in a garage band or your dreams of success hinge on the judges and voters of American Idol.

I'm not embarrassed about telling people anymore.  Mostly because I've come to respect being a writer a lot more than I used to.

Writing can be a casual escape for people, the kind of thing they do randomly when they have a blank notebook sitting in front of them or a great idea strikes.  For me, it's a little more serious than that.  When I see a blank notebook, I have to resist writing something in it.  I get four or five ideas for a book when I'm taking my walk or going for a jog in the morning.

Having a good idea and writing it down doesn't make you a writer but it is a start.  The rest is hard work, total dedication, and watching and learning every time your baby gets ripped apart.
Yes, that adorable little pink flower is my purse and the makeup bag
is what I use to organize my markers since I don't have a pencil bag :)

The last few weeks, it's been me doing the ripping.

The picture above is from one of the three days I spent at Starbucks.  Each day I dedicated a little over two hours to reading my book, intermittently between drinking my hot chocolate (with a shot of raspberry.  It would be so boring if you just got hot chocolate at Starbucks) and watching the passersby.  I live about two miles from an outdoor mall and discovered its a great place to work on my book.  None of the distractions from home and relatively empty when kids are in school.  The above picture is one of my more heavily edited pages but I do have a few with just a plain "x" marked across the page because the whole thing needs to go.  I had a lot of fun doing the marking, telling myself every time "I'm going to fix this so it'll be so much better" and trying not to think about the actual fixing process.  In the last few chapters, I came up with a great plot twist that I've written myself some notes about so when I get to editing it, I'll remember to incorporate it.

Things haven't been moving so quickly on my second book.  I've been busy with life and tying up the loose ends of my first and my second book has barely made it past 8,000 words.  With QoT, I did a lot of work plotting it out before I got more than two chapters into writing it but I haven't even started a plot with Darling, my second book.  I have several key points floating around in my head but I haven't yet found the thread that will tie them all together.  Even though the sequel is hinted at in QoT, it has a totally different cast of characters and a different world of problems.  Mostly, it's based off a different legend.  I have a lot more leeway with the legend/fairytale I'm using in Darling, mostly because it doesn't have any roots in reality.  Arthurian legends do and it's occasionally difficult to differentiate fact and fiction when researching for it.

I'll have more updates next time I blog.  I'm bursting to write about some stuff with Darling but if I do, it will spoil some of the surprises from QoT.  First world problems here!

-Anna Leigh

Friday, September 11, 2015

End of the Road, Bottom of a Hill

Sitting at 139,456 words, my first draft is finished!

It's amazing, exhausting, and exhilarating.

And I've barely scratched the surface.

When I started this book on January 18, 2015, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I also didn't know I was going to write to date the longest book I've ever written.  I've spent a few days this last week printing it out and now my entire manuscript is filling a ringed binder.  I read through the first twelve chapters today and did some marking up in spots that need fixing.

The good news is, I'm really excited about the story and how things shook out.  The bad news? I'm going to have a lot of chipping away to do before this thing shines.

There are obvious things, like the fact Gwen has a constantly changing guard when it is only supposed to be one because I couldn't figure out which knight I wanted to have by her side (I think I've figured it out but you never know when that might change), or a character that was more of a main and is now a side character, or a character I am writing out all together.  I had two bad guys and when I was flipping through the pages today (291 gloriously printed ones :), I realized it would be much more logical if my two bad guys were merged into one.  Then there were some awesome moments I read today where she went from not knowing the guy's name to magically knowing it.

I'm proud of Gwen, even though every move she's made and every thought she's experienced have come from me.  She really grew up by the end of the book and doesn't need the people around her to live a happy life.  Arthur hasn't quite reached his awesomeness peak potential but that's more because I was focused on Gwen in my first draft.  I'll be discovering Arthur a bit more in my second though he's in like every one of my favorite scenes.  I haven't had detachment syndrome from her or Arthur yet but I think it's because I know I'm not truly finished yet.  I've jumped the first hurdle, now I have a few more to go.

I've read a ton of people talk about editing and how much they hate it.  I have only really gone through it twice, once with Only Human and then my novella, but this will be way different.  I've learned a lot since I worked on Only Human last year (seems like a lot longer than that) and this manuscript is twenty-five thousand words longer.  All that to say, I'm really excited about the editing.  Yes, it's monotonous and hard and you have to cut scenes that you love and go over and over paragraphs that aren't working out (and weasel words.  I have a love/hate relationship with those babies) but everything comes together.  All through writing a first draft, every time something doesn't work out, I just keep telling myself "I'll fix this in editing." Then, when I get to editing, my biggest fear isn't the time spent but how it will end up.  Will the hours and hours be worth it? Will I love this book as much as I want to?

I'm not sure if people ever feel their work is perfect and I don't expect to.  Actually, it would be awesome if I could tell people "I wrote a book" and not cringe when they ask if they can read it. *cough* Only Human *cough*.

I'm glad to be making progress and really excited for Monday when I'll be starting the next book.  New characters, new setting, new challenge.

So. Ready.

-Anna Leigh

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Finish Line - Step One of Edits

I've been meaning to post for the last week and a half but I've been so busy with my manuscript, I keep forgetting.  The good news is, I'm looking at having the first draft done by Monday!!


It's been an odd experience from start to finish with this manuscript.  I've finished the first draft for four manuscripts before and only two of them are even halfway presentable.  One of those two is a 30,000 word novella which I wrote in three weeks two years ago and have never gotten back to.  The other two have long since found their way into my recycling bin, which is possibly too good of a place for them.  The fourth one, of course, is Only Human.

I've been working on Queen of Time since January 18, 2015 which is a long time for a first draft but considering I'm looking at an ending word count of 135,000, it's not too bad.  It's certainly the fastest I've ever written a novel, certainly one of this length.  Only Human was really long before edits for me and it was 115,000 words.  It also took me two and a half years to finish - the first draft.  In editing my 21,000 word chunk to send to my critique group this week, it's now down to 18,500 words so I'm guessing my bulky story will shrink down under the same process.

This year's writing experiences have been informative, painful, and roller coaster like.  I thought I had the story all figured out when I started and it's gone in so many directions I never could have predicted.  I've brought in characters I never cared to include but am now so attached to (i.e. Gawain) and gotten rid of characters I thought would be crucial to the story.  It's going to be a lot of work chipping it down and making a good story out of it but the gem is there.  Buried deep deep deep down where only a determined (and possibly crazy) author would go, but I believe in it.

After I finish on Monday, I'm going to print the whole thing out.  I bought myself a new notebook and a set of highlighters and I'll be setting to work on Friday.  I'm not going to chop it apart yet.  It's too soon at the end of a project.  On Friday, I'm taking it to a local outdoor mall and I'm going to read it in one sitting.  I have a notebook where I'll note all the plot holes/changes in plot I see being needed.  I have four different colored highlighters which I'll be marking different things with.  Orange will highlight sentences out of character, yellow for outdated or discontinued story lines, blue for awkward sentences, and red for repetitive words.  I'll mark that baby so much it will hardly be readable and then it will be going under my bed for a minimum of two weeks.  Enough time for me to detox, work on other projects, and forget about the problems in the book, for which there are many.  I've never really set aside my work for so long after writing the initial draft but I've always been tight on a self imposed deadly.  I'm changing my method up a bit this time.  The few weeks time away from it will allow me to concentrate on other things I've been letting go and even start on the final book of the series.

I cried for the first time while writing this week.  I'd like to say it's because I was so wrapped up in the artistic intensity of the moment but it probably had more to do with the fact I'd been sitting for three hours and was six thousand words deep into my day.  There are some difficulties at the end of my book and *spoiler* some deaths that have to be dealt with. *end spoiler* It was a struggle for me to write them because I've been dreading it since I started seven months ago and then, as I was writing, it occurred to me all the characters were dying.  Not because I was killing them but because I wouldn't be writing them again.  Yeah, I'll be editing and doing rewrites but I'm nearing the second step in the journey where I'll be deepening their characters and it's only going to be harder in the next few months when I finish my edits and really let them go.  If you're not a writer, this will sound like crazy talk to you but if you are, I know you get what I'm talking about :)

I'll make sure to write again, even if it's a short post, when I have the official first draft wrap and then again after I get a chance to study my work Friday and share some thoughts!

- Anna Leigh

Monday, August 3, 2015

Character Breakdowns and Legendary Myths

I've been breaking down my characters as I'm nearing the end of my first draft of Queen of Time.  Without even realizing it, I've been weaving a consistency into all of my characters.  It wasn't until I started getting into what made my characters "them", that I realized it.

Gwen is my MC.  She is eighteen, living with a verbally abusive mother and new stepfather.  She has a lot of chaos in her life.  Her solution? Have things as tidy as possible.  In a messy house, she always keeps her room clean.  In a messy life, she lives by the rules.  No illegal music downloading, no jaywalking, no stealing, etc.  She goes from the petty things to the big ones.  It's how she makes her way through life.

Arthur is my male MC.  He's twenty-three, living with a detached father who spends more time ruling a kingdom than being a father to him, and his knights who rely on him to lead them.  Rules are a part of his every day life.  Enforcing the rules tends to mean him living by them.  Only he doesn't always.  He believes rules are only good until the point they cause you to compromise your beliefs.  This is a point of contention between him and his father.

Merlin is the youngest physician in Camelot.  After losing his home in Penrith, he's brought much needed help to the people living under the shadow of the castle walls.  He is very intelligent and believes the technology brought to them from Gwen's world is something they shouldn't be shunning but should be grabbing on to.  He does a lot of work with science in secret so he won't be called out for witchcraft.  He believes rules are made to be broken.  They were made by dull people with dull lives.  The people who've added good to the world were all the people willing to go beyond, to risk everything.

I have several more characters but as you can see with the common thread here, they're one of a few kinds.  Rule keepers, rule breakers, and the one's who take it rule by rule.  They go to varying extremes and each person has a different reason for living life the way they do.

The reason I focused on rules is simply because it shows so much about a person.  When I look at the people around me, a lot of their personality and ethics can be seen in their feelings toward "rules".  When I say rules, I'm not just talking about laws.  I'm talking about a moral code that people live by.  I don't need to know it's illegal to murder in order to know it's wrong.  The fear of punishment doesn't stop me from committing the crime.  It's my own morals that would stop me from even contemplating it.

It's been a good thing for me to remember as I'm writing each character.  When I write Merlin, I'm always asking myself how someone who enjoys breaking rules would react to a situation.  It will hopefully convey his mischievousness.

I'm up to 112,000 words.  I was surging a bit further ahead in word count but I deleted some portions this week and I had to work on my chapter for my critique group so I've neglected my manuscript for a few days.

I was reading a history of King Arthur, mainly the legends involving his death.  I'm using a portion of them for the ending conflict of the book and going a bit of a different direction than I was expecting too.  From what I've been reading, Geoffrey of Monmouth's works are the oldest dramatized accounts of King Arthur we have.  In his works, Arthur succeeds his father at the age of fifteen after Uther's death.  He then leads armies to defeat the Scots and the Picts (who by the eleventh century were Scots as well), conquering Ireland, Iceland, and the Orkney Islands.  At twenty-seven, he sets out to expand his empire by taking over Norway, Denmark, and Gaul.  Because Gaul is still under control of the Roman empire, it leads to a fight between Arthur and Lucius, emperor of Rome.  Arthur wins but while he's gone, Mordred (his nephew in Geoffrey's works) takes over the kingdom and steals Guinevere to be his queen.

My version doesn't go a lot into the battles of Arthur and in my book, Uther is still alive and Arthur is an adult.  Still, battles and the peace of the surrounding territories would've been a big factor in both Arthur and his knight's lives.  I've certainly included more than I intended to when I first started.

I haven't done too much research into Excalibur.  I know its original name was Caledfwlch (also called Caliburnus) and that its magical properties were a big part of several legends, including Arthur's pulling of the sword from the stone.  While Arthur does have a special sword in my book which plays into the story a little toward the end (right now), it isn't magical.  Everything in my book is explained by science.

I've never cared for history too much so to be doing research on a fictional legend from Europe is really outside of my comfort zone.  It'll be interesting to see how this all works out!

- Anna Leigh

Friday, July 10, 2015

Oh Say Can You Say

When I first joined my critique group, there was a little questionnaire that my group leader sent around so we could fill it out and get to know each other a bit.  One of the questions asked what our writing strengths were and one of them asked for our weaknesses.  My exact answer for my strengths was "Not really sure I have any strengths unless an unlimited imagination counts."

Ever since I filled that out at the end of January '15, I've been wondering if I have any strengths as a writer.  This stays in the back of my head whenever I'm writing or reviewing someone else's work.  I'm consistently jealous of other peoples abilities to flesh out characters.  I was recently reading Marissa Meyer's book, Scarlet, the second book in the Lunar Chronicles.  She has so many characters going in her series but they're different, interesting, realistic, and so much fun! Even though there are some things about her writing I don't care for as much, I was really impressed with her character development.  I'm already planning to reread them to get some pointers.

As I've been critiquing other people's work, I've discovered that a lot of people have difficulty writing realistic dialogue.  There's too much back and forth a lot of times and I've read more than one piece of work where the characters trail off onto mundane, unhelpful filler conversation which doesn't get the reader anywhere.  Dialogue is probably one of the longest things I've been working on as a writer.  Even before I knew what paragraphs were or how to use a comma (the last one is still a bit iffy).  Realistic dialogue was really important, even to my twelve year old self.  If only I'd cared as much about my character development.  I'd be much better off today.

Here are some examples of different types of dialogue from my books.  You'll get to see the evolution of my writing and possibility get a good laugh.  Hopefully only when you're supposed to.

June 2012 - A story about two sisters having to move on after their parents death.

“Last box!” Amanda announced triumphantly, plopping the box, which I could only hope didn’t have anything fragile inside, down on top of a stack of already taped and ready boxes.  Her normally perfect hair was a bit fuzzy, revealing her naturally curly hair which she was always trying to tame, and she had a smudge of dirt on her face.
“I can’t believe we’ve finished!”  Angela, a girl with an energetic personality and bright red hair to match dropped down onto the couch next to me.  I laid my head back gratefully, my sore muscles glad for the rest. 
                “A few hours she says-“ I said but was cut off when Amanda tossed me a roll of tape, giving me a raised eyebrow. 
                “Hey, just be grateful we had help or else it would have taken twice as long!”
                The front door opened and a blast of hot summer air swept in, accompanied by a groan from Angela.  She was hot, even when it was ten degrees outside so summer was really not her favorite time of year.  If it was possible, she would walk around in an air conditioning bubble 24/7.
                “Good timing Danny,” Amanda said to the tall blond, gesturing toward the stack of boxes.  “These are the last.”
                “Got it,” He said, grabbing three of the heavy boxes at once and taking them almost effortlessly out to the moving truck.

May 2014 - A story about a girl who's family is forced by the government to house an alien from another planet.

The vibrating in my pocket interrupted my pity party and I pulled the device from my pocket, keying in the password. I missed my old smartphone every day I had to use the BFFT phone and figure out some of its many complexities. Of course, it wouldn’t look good for a government worker to be using a ‘common’ phone like the others.
Mom’s face appeared in bright HD as if she was standing right in front of me, the worry lines that hadn’t appeared until last year more apparent by the day.
She didn’t have to say anything else for me to know she’d been told. After a deep breath, I forced a smile. “How was your day Mom?”
Mom looked like she wanted to launch straight into her worries but she attempted to keep calm. “We had our mandatory inspection today.”
“Today?” If this was Mom’s idea of small talk, I was not looking forward to hearing her real concerns. “Everything went well?”
“They said everything was in good order.” Her eyes shifted a little.
“Mitch caused a bit of a problem.”
I swallowed. “How much is a bit?”
“One of the inspectors gave him a warning.”
She continued to avoid eye contact. “And a bloody nose.”

June 2014 - A story about a reluctant, self conscious model for a makeup company and the son of the rival company.

“Zane.” It sounded slightly less dry than I’d been feelin. Why of all people…
“You recognize me?” I couldn’t tell if his surprise was genuine or not. Seeing him up close, I wished I could've made fun of his photoshopped posters as much as mine but I couldn't.  His hair had perfect volume and not a hair was brushing against his forehead.  His skin was even, his jaw square.  I didn't even want to start how good his silver suit looked on him.
“Are you here for the food?” He gestured at the table, his eyes still flitting between me and the poster.
Say something say.
“You’ve gotten taller.”
Oomph. Genius.
He raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t.”
My smile froze. Your arrogant jerkiness has grown with you. Who do you think you are to—
“I read you and your brother are working hard on fall line. C&Z will take on a whole new meaning with you guys taking so much hands on responsibilities.”
He nodded. “You read?”
At least I can.
I dug my ring into my hand a little harder, trying to stop my snarky train of thoughts before it derailed in the direction of my mouth. “When I get a chance to.”

August 2014 - Story about a girl having to take care of her grandmother in assisted living.

The hallway was quiet except for a few staff making the rounds with pills and checkups. Violet got to the elevator before she was out of breath and leaned on the wall for support. The drugstore was close but maybe not close enough.
“Whoa, you’re up early. So much for seven thirty P.M. being the only seven thirty in a day.”
Violet’s stomach clenched with her hand. Why him?
“Yeah, well, some days I have to make an exception.”
Chris stepped back as he got the full view of her face. “Whoa.”
“That’s the second time you’ve used that word in the last two sentences.”
“What’s wrong?”
Violet rolled her eyes. “What do you think is wrong with me? What’s wrong with every old person in this complex?”
“You caught it?” His bouncy tone had quieted a little and he searched her face carefully.
I’m living with a woman who won’t even go to the bathroom by herself when she’s sick. Of course I caught it! “Yeah, looks that way.”
“Do you have to get some medicine?”
“No, just some juice.”
He frowned. “Juice?”
“Grandma won’t take her pills without it and we’re out.”
“So…you’re getting it.”
“She’s too dizzy to.”
He blinked, his jaw tightening. “And you’ve been throwing up all night.”
Violet looked at him defensively as the elevator binged open in front of them. “How did you know I was throwing up all night?”
“You obviously haven’t looked in the mirror yet today.”
“Thanks.” Violet stepped into the elevator, hoping he’d be too grossed out to get in with a sick person.

Current (2015) - Queen of Time

“You almost done, Gwen?” Claire appeared at my side.  Her rhinestone glasses perched on the end of her nose and a sloppy stack of self-defense books filled her arms.
“Light reading?” I shoved at my bangs only to have them slid down again a minute later.
 “Did you read this one?” She angled one of the books my way, the cover depicting a girl going at a punching bag in full makeup.
“Not worth it.  Ever chapter has an advertisement for some gadget to protect yourself.”
“Huh.” She tapped the cover.  “Guess she doesn’t go for the whole ‘the body is a weapon’ thing.”
“The average women carries more weapons than she might think.  Car keys, a purse, heels.” I pointed at Claire’s square pumps which completed the tailored pants and blousy top she wore.  She had the preppy librarian thing on point.
“Mom wants me to learn self-defense.  She’s sure working at the library isn’t safe.”
“It’s good she cares.”  I restarted the computer and it came to life with no evidence Parker’s report ever existed.  I smothered a sigh.
“Gwen.” Claire sat in the chair next to me.  “How are things at home?  Is Bill treating you well?”
“It’s fine.” I opened a new document and set my font preference.
“It’s fine is Gwen code for everything.  Good is fine, bad is fine, fine is fine.”
“Mandy likes him.” Or his steady income.  I liked to think the first.
“Mandy liked Jacob too.”
I flinched.  Claire muttered something under her breath before taking my hand.  “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
The computer curser blinked restlessly at me. “It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not.”
“You don’t need to be involved.” I pulled away.  “Bill isn’t Jacob.”
“Gwen, you’re a bright girl.  Probably brilliant.” She leaned in.  “But you have to know your own limits.  It’s not a weakness to ask for help.”
It is when it’s not your problem.
“I have to get this finished.  Parker’s going to be here in a few minutes to collect it.”
On cue, my phone beeped.  I flipped it open and scanned the text twice before snapping it shut again. 
“That’s not Parker, is it?”
I shrugged. 
“Let me guess, he wants you to totally change the whole paper.”
I cleared my throat.  “Actually, no.  He’s running short on time and wants me to drop it off for him.”
Claire tapped her purple nails against the desk.  “Where?”
“It’s no big deal.”
“I’ve got this,” I said in the same way I’d been telling myself for days.  “It’s just this last thing and then I’m done.”
She raised an eyebrow.
She patted my shoulder.  “Gwen, you’re smarter than almost any girl I know.  Do you really think that’s true?”

She didn’t wait for an answer as she slipped away, leaving me with the dusty computer and a stress headache. 

Dialogue is something I usually feel confident and comfortable writing.  As long as I know what information needs to happen in a scene, I can usually find a way to make it work.  I do much better when I'm writing sarcastic characters dialogue.  It's probably why I've hard such a hard time with writing Gwen.

Anyway, all this to say, if I were to tell someone my strong point as a reader, I would tell them I'm most confident in my dialogue.  I don't know, I guess my readers are my best judges.

-Anna Leigh

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Past is the Past...or is it?

I can't clearly remember what day it was I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I don't know if it was rainy or sunny, warm or cold.  I don't remember when I went from wanting to write to wanting to have my work acknowledged by more than just myself.  Or when writing started to be so much a part of me, it felt wrong if a day passed and I didn't write something.

My first completed novel was called Ordinary People and centered around a girl named Sharon Smith.  It was written in third person.  Sharon's working a summer job and when she's returning papers to an office, she overhears her boss talking about something suspicious.  She's found out and runs away - conveniently running right into a guy who helps her out.  The guy is none other than the charming (and of course good looking) Johnny McKenna.  For those curious, this novel started at that ripe, mature age of fourteen.  And her name became Sharon far after I started.  Her name was originally Anna.  Johnny was the proud owner of...nope...wait for it...his own spaceship.  It was a small little thing with an interestingly lit interior and parts held together with duct tape.  Sharon ends up on a big spaceship (not the one Johnny owns) after walking through an unassuming doorway in an office Johnny took her too.  This ship was run by a rather unfriendly captain who informed Sharon of her reasons for being chosen to come aboard, reasons I can't remember but would probably cringe at if I dug through the graveyard of notebooks under my bed and unearthed the one with that story.

Sci-Fi Bedroom: sci fi city 3d model #Sci-FiBedroom #scificity3dmodelI had the trilogy planned.  The first book involved her finding her father who was the true captain of the spaceship.  The second would involve her training to become an agent with hopes that Johnny would join the crew. He was a freelancer with his own spaceship who didn't really want to be a part of the main ship after his initial helpfulness in bringing Sharon aboard.  At the end of the second book, Johnny was set to "die", thus leaving the heroine in a tough spot where she had to harden and get past the shock.  The third book, of course, would follow his miraculous recover and his memory loss.

I'm sure you've felt enlightened knowing all about this past book which exists only in notebook pages and which will never make a miraculous comeback Johnny style.  I'm bringing it up as an example to show a bit more about where I am now.  Johnny had some serious Doctor Who like aspects, Sharon was far too brave and yet too dumb for the circumstances, there was no good explanation as to why her dad was hanging out in a seedy part of town and had never contacted her, and biggest of all, no real reason why Sharon was worth anything more than the daughter of Echo-Star's captain (yes, that was the name.  Now stop laughing).  Just like my books started out as rewritings of Peter Pan and Robin Hood, my work was a bad rip off of things I'd watched and read.

Only Human started as a sproutling of an idea.  A question I'd read online about which super power I'd choose if I'd have a chance.  It made me start wondering about how bad it would be to have an ability that couldn't be controlled.  That would be a curse, not a blessing.  My first attempt was in a book about a girl named Alex who was dragged into a back alley and given drugs so she had super human strength.  That gem didn't make it past the first chapter.  I moved on to a new project; one about a girl named Abby Lee who had the ability to read minds.  That one did get past the first chapter.

If I'm being totally honest, I'm not the biggest fan of Only Human.  The story itself is fine but the characters read a bit flat and I'm always looking for a way to change that.  I've put several major edits into it and yet, I'm sure there will be more in the future.  Even so, I learned so much on that book and tried so many things that failed.  One of the things I liked the most about it was its originality.  Not that there aren't other books out there like it but that I came up with the ideas and figured out the story on my own.

It's a little harder to hold my head up about my current manuscript.  I did a lot to step away from the heavy influence of other books and movies for Only Human.  I read two books in two years while I was writing Only Human so I could keep the voices of other writers out of my head.  After coming all that way, I'm now taking someone else's story again.  I know that the King Arthur legend is open for interpretation and open for anyone to use but I can't help this little part of me that keeps saying its not my story.  That I'm twenty years old and still copying off someone else.  Maybe that's why this book is so important to me.  I want to get it right and I want to prove to myself that I've moved on from my Peter Pan days.

-Anna Leigh

Monday, June 15, 2015

75,000 Words

Over the weekend, I managed a contract some stomach bug that's kept me confined to the house.  Usually, my writing time takes a big hit when I'm sick since I tend more toward marathoning K-dramas than getting any work done.  This time has been the exception.

I was really under the weather yesterday but I still managed to get my chapter finished to send to my critique group.  Today, I managed to put 3,000 words into my manuscript which is a serious amount for me.  My daily goal is 1,000 words which I usually make but today, the weather was good and I pounded out another 2,000 while sitting on the swing.  This little word burst officially put me over 75,000 words!

I'm half excitement, half fear.  I already know there's a LOT of work to be done in edits and I haven't even finished the first draft!

I don't know if I've mentioned before but I'm thinking about turning this book into a two books.  I have a lot of info left to put into my manuscript and instead of making it an epic (anything over 110,000 words), I'd like it to be broken up a bit.  Of course, edits might make my current rapidly building word count less of a problem.

I also have a third book intended for this little series that is connected to Camelot but has a different heroine and plot altogether.  I'm super excited about it and can't wait to write some details about it on this blog.


Anna Leigh

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Writing A Legend (Part II)

I've written a few times about the extreme fear that sets in whenever I get to parts of my story involving Arthur Pendragon.  Considering I've gotten into the meaty middle parts of my manuscript, those ugly fears are rearing their heads quite often.  Sometimes I'll be writing along okay and then it hits me I've had three lines of dialogue from Arthur and I'm not even sweating.

Good for me.  Learning to face one's fears is the first step to getting over them.

The legend of King Arthur means a lot of different things to different people.  Sure, it's a legend with very little basis in fact but it's been the root material for dozens of other legends, movies, books, and TV shows.  I even remember as a little kid listening to Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet singing the parts for the Camelot musical.

Little did I know, ten years later, I'd be taking it on as a book.

I've attempted to write this story for about five years now, even longer than Only Human was in the works.  It was around the time I first started watching Doctor Who (can't believe it's been that long!) that I considered time travel and all the elements it could add to my story(s).  Of course it meant a trip down memory lane to my favorite childhood stories and the idea that I could rewrite them with a modern twist.

I remember starting the Queen of Time for the first time.  I knew I wanted the girl's name to be Gwen and that through some magical or scientific explanation, I wanted her to end up in Camelot.  It's a bit fuzzy since it was five years ago but I'm pretty sure she followed some mysterious guy into the backwoods and stepped through some strange doorway to get to Camelot.  I was always an inventive teen :)

Gwen got to Camelot and then I had the terrifying realization that I'd have to actually write Arthur.  He wouldn't just appear in his kingly element with his perfect words and complete my story.  I couldn't borrow him from a movie or book.  I had to make his character.

My book never went further.  The notebook joined the graveyard under my bed of ideas from long ago (my first novel about a girl named Anna whose Dad lived in a spaceship) and I decided some day, when I was a good writer, I'd make it work.

Funnily enough, good writing doesn't just happen.  It takes hours of dedication and a love for stories and words that only the craziest have.  I've had the file on my computer for a while, complete with the name for almost that long.  I didn't know how I wanted it to end.  I didn't even know how I wanted the middle to go.  I just knew it had to happen.

And now it's really happening.  Probably part of the reason I can't stop the cold sweats and anxiety.

What if it's not good enough? What if the perfect idea in my mind falls flat on paper? I'm not a professional writer.  I barely know the legend.  I didn't even know what language they spoke until January '15.

The big question is, who is Arthur? A warrior? A hero straight out of a romance novel? An arrogant prince?  (Hint: my Arthur isn't the guy on the left. He's not Bradley James either.)

I have to throw away what anyone's done before me.  He's mine now.  I have the right to make him blue eyed, brown eyed, tall, short, warrior, poet, villain.

Every time I sit down, I have to remind myself.  He's mine.  I can do what I want.

Arthur is young in my story, barely into his twenties.  He's an aspiring king, always afraid to let his father and ultimately, his people down.  Unlike the legends, my story relies heavily on a mistake his grandfather or great grandfather made (I still don't have a hard timeline).  Because of that mistake, he lives in fear of letting his people down again.  He has an expectation of himself that he needs to be a king who'll not only make up for the mistakes his ancestors made but never make any himself. Despite the instability in the land resulting from his ancestors mistakes, he's mostly on an even keel in his life.  That is, until a girl from the 21st century shows up.

Gwen embodies the mistakes Arthur is trying to fix.

I've never been expected to rule a kingdom or fix my grandparents mistakes.  I don't get that kind of pressure.  The thing is, this is the kind of pressure Arthur lives with every day.  So I have to remember the balance.  Arthur expects a lot of himself but in the end, he's still a twenty-two year old guy.  He's lost his Mom, he doesn't really have any close friends due to his position, and his dad treats him like a project more than a son.  The guy has a lot of empty spots in his life even if he doesn't know it.

From a certain aspect, he could easily be an injured lonely prince but I don't want to go to far in that direction.  It can turn into a cheesy romance real fast.  Arthur's strong.  He has to be.  Gwen's got a lot of issues at the beginning of the book and he needs to have a background that can handle her.

Arthur's not an additional character.  He's as much of a main as Gwen even though the reader is never in his mind.

Interactions between Gwen and Arthur are easier as the book goes on.  It's not difficult for me to write newly developed friendships but starting them is like pulling teeth.  How would the future king react when a girl from the 21st century shows up? How would a girl from the 21st century react when she meets a legendary king who she thought never existed?

As a character, Arthur has to have some defining points.  In my first draft, Arthur is pretty blunt.  He asks tough questions and he's not afraid to offend people.  He's watched his father be a tough king and even though he wants to be kind to the people, he doesn't want to be soft like his grandfather, the man who let the evil ones in.

In QoT, Arthur has several difficult decisions to make, aside from how he's going to deal with 21st century girl.  He has an impending marriage, failing friendships, dangerous beasts, and a heavy crown which will soon be his.  He'll either have to step up in a big way or go home.

As the writer of his character, I have to do the same thing.

Until next time,

Anna Leigh

Friday, May 15, 2015

Short Stories and Flash Fiction

A while back, I suggested to my family members and a few friends that it might be fun to write some short stories.  I've participated and watched various competitions involving them and the idea to write something short but with a punch intrigues me.  I'm long winded (or worded) enough that once I start writing, that baby isn't going to be done until I've hit about 80,000 words or more. Probably the reason why I've only finished one novel in the nine years I've been writing.

But I digress.

A short story can range anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 words.  20,000 may sound like a lot in theory but my current WIP which has just hit the middle portion, is sitting at fifty-eight odd thousand words.  So yeah, it's not very much to me.  I wrote a novella two winters back and was super happy with it.  I went back to do edits, started adding to the story, and promptly left it half finished.  Sweetheart Bakery is still sitting in my "To Be Edited" folder.  I got back to it a few months ago and realized I never saved the original and all my messy edits were muddying the book.  My final word count sat around 30,000 words.

My short story idea I suggested to my family was to find a picture and base a 3,000 word story off it.  The deadline is May 31st though it's subject to change.  I finished mine today but some trimming will be necessary to bring it down from 4,000 words. I did something with it I've never done before.  I gave it an open ending.  I don't like reading open endings but when I have to fit my great big story idea into a few pages, a tidy ending was almost the first sacrifice.

.Recently, I've been reading about flash fiction.  Flash fiction purists want a story under 100 or even sometimes, 75 words!   More mainstream flash fiction writers tend to allow up to 1,000 words, still quite a small amount.  A few weeks ago I entered a little competition at Go Teen Writers for showing exhaustion in 100 words or less.  It was almost the hardest thing I've ever written.  One of the fascinating things about it is how every word counts.  Even deleting a three word dialogue tag would give me enough space to show something else.
Hopefully everyone has had time to work on their short stories.  I already pushed the deadline back from April 30.

The picture thing was much harder than I expected.  I started a secret board on Pinterest and looked under fantasy/fairy tale genres to find something I wanted.  My secret dream is to write fairy tales.  I don't even read fairy tales but looking at all the fun pictures made me want to write them so bad!

After we all submit  our stories, I'll post mine up on the blog under the short story tab.  If any of my family/friends are okay with it, I'll post theirs as well.  For any curious, the pictures on the side are a few I almost went with but that didn't end up making the cut.

-Anna Leigh

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

To Plot or Not

Why I write. Because kidnapping people and forcing them to act out your interesting make-believe world is technically illegal.

This week finds me in a much better spot writing wise then my post a few Sundays back.  I'm back on track (mostly) with my writing and besides one day last week in which I had to delete everything I'd written the previous day and try again, it's been an encouraging several days. Most of this I can owe to something new I tried - and will never write a book without doing again.  I made plot document and plotted out my entire story.  When I say entire, I mean a paragraph about every significant event and character building moment from page one to "the end".  It took me about two days to finish but it's been invaluable!

I've strayed more than once from what I originally wrote down.  Example: "Gwen confronts Sir so-and-so about what he said" might change to "Gwen runs away, pretending she didn't hear what Sir so-and-so said".  Just for those curious, I don't actually have any knights in my book named Sir so-and-so :)

Plotting has made for great reference material.  I'm a fast typer and once I have the idea in place, I can usually pound out a good chapter or so in about an hour.  The problem is, I sit down all the time at my computer and think "okay, what do I write now?" Plotting everything out has made it a lot easier.  It doesn't give me the knitty gritty of the scene but the essence.  The point of the scene is to show that Gwen is going to do whatever it takes to take the last piece of fruit on the table.  In the meantime, I can use Gwen's behavior to show more about her character and use the reactions of the others around her to establish their characters more.  If I'm doing well, I may even hint at a future plot twist which Gwen misses because she's so focused on the fruit.

Some of my problems this week have come from having to write the start of Gwen and Arthur's relationship as friends.  I don't have a problem with continuing an already existing friendship and showing the ins and outs but the start is always difficult.  Why are they attracted to each other as friends?  Do they have a lot similarities? Do they have a mutual feel sorry for each other attitude that attracts them to each other?

For the moment, I'm trying some different motives on both sides which both boil down to the same thing.  Arthur is interested by Gwen's ability to cross the rift into his world which hasn't been crossed in many years and certainly never by a young woman.  He's overall disappointed in the fact Gwen came to Camelot by mistake and can't save his people from the creature plaguing them.  His goal is to save his people.

Gwen doesn't know how to get back home.  She doesn't want to be stuck in Camelot forever and she doesn't want to change history anymore than the people before her already did.  She wants to save the people of Camelot as well as herself.

See? Their motives become the same thing even though their exterior motives may seem different.  Arthur has a strong sense of duty (even though at this point, he's still the prince, not the king), and Gwen doesn't want to make life any more difficult for the people she sees going through a hard time.  She also wants to get home as soon as possible.

Writing Arthur has become a bit more natural than when I first started.  I'm not quite so terrified when I write him speaking (though it's probably the constant thoughts of editing and revision that keep me grounded) and I'm feeling his character a bit more.  he's a loyal yet flawed person, a curious and very blunt one.  He's not going to offer a compliment unless he believes it or point out a problem unless he sees it.  Being a bit too blunt can be a problem for a man training to be a king but still under his father's rule.

Stay tuned for more!

- Anna Leigh

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Twist in the Tale

I don't like history.

There's not really a logical reason.  I'm not good at absorbing old facts and even worse at numbers.  I know history is important and it's not like I don't know anything about it, it was just always the hardest thing for me to do.  Numbers aren't my friends.  We have a mutual respect for each other and try not to interact anymore than humanly possibly. I've never been into math, I've always been into words.  

This being the case, it is complete craziness that I've taken on the book I'm writing

I'm writing a retelling of the Arthurian legend. Not a Arthurian legend, mind you.  The Arthurian legend.  It's a project I took out of love and one I'm living to regret.  I'm not a history buff.  My internet tab consist of Pinterest eye makeup tutorials and blogs written by history nerds.  Granted, my book has a sci-fi angle to it so I have some leeway but certainly not as much as I'd like.  For instance, if I was writing the true legend, my main character wouldn't even be able to understand what the people of Camelot were saying.  The English people in the six hundreds spoke an offshoot Celtic language, something no English speaking person today would ever understand. For those interested and wondering about the crest at the top, it's a concept drawing of the first known documented crest of Arthur Pendragon.

To add to the craziness, I have a main character who isn't a lot like me.  She doesn't talk a lot (I do!), she's a peacemaker, willing to be thought of badly as long as it means keeping others happy (definitely not me), and she's really smart.  I'm not a dummy but I won't even try to compete with the smarts of my main character.  I'm a writer who doesn't like history and numbers writing about a girl who loves them both. 

Along with these difficulties, I hit a bit of a snag. 

My main character was put in a situation which filled a few chapters of my manuscript and influenced the rest of the story.  The situation wasn't working out and it was limiting the places she needed to be.  For the last week I've laid awake in bed at night, trying to figure out how to make it work.  Yesterday morning (maybe a little closer to afternoon), I woke up knowing exactly what I had to do.  I needed to scrap it.  Last night I cut 12,000 words from my manuscript.  Might not sound like a lot but when I have a 40,000 word WIP, it's a chunk.  It needed to happen but it's leaving me a bit breathless moving forward.  I'm going to have to put in a lot of work to stay on schedule to finish, something I've let slip a bit this week.  Every two weeks I have to submit a chapter of this book to my critique group so I've been working overtime on getting it to a place where my critique partners can at least understand what I'm talking about!

Despite my fears, I can tell the story is already tighter.  I have to finish up this blog post to get back to it.  I'm in the middle of the scene where Gwen meets Guinevere for the first time!

- Anna Leigh

Friday, March 20, 2015

Writing a Legend

I've been faithfully working on my manuscript every day though unfortunately, due to the business of an average day, I'm only getting about 1,000 words written.  If I stick to a thousand words a day, I should be done with the first draft some time the end of April, beginning of June.

I took a break today though to write about one of my biggest problems.

If you've read any of my previous blog posts, you'll know my current WIP is a retelling of the Arthurian legend.  I'm not a historian or even a super fan, I just find the original legends interesting.  Several of the characters in Camelot come from the legends, with me throwing little tidbits of their original characters into the mix of my new creation.  It's worked out really well so far with one exception.  Arthur.

In lots of the retellings, I hate Arthur.  He's a creep of the major kind and not the saintly king he's made out to be in the original legends.  I didn't even want to read most of it.  Needless to say, with a teeny tiny bit of help from the original legend, I wanted to write Arthur my own way.  The thing is, the fear of drawing a historical hero is more daunting then I would've imagined.

I've written scenes with the other knights like Kay and Gawain.  I've even written scenes with Merlin.  It's a bit weird at times but when I get to Arthur, I freeze up.  I scrutinize every word he says, every action he does, every expression he gives.  I'm not making him my character, I'm trying to rewrite what someone else already did.

I've considered a few fixes.  Maybe giving him a different name until I'm done writing at which time I'll use the find and replace and replace "Bob" with "Arthur".  I know, it sounds silly, but I have to find the right names for my characters or I can't even write them.  Of course, Bob isn't very inspiring.  Don't think I could write a main character with that name.  Sorry to all the Bobs out there!

The most logical next step seems to be doing a really indepth character sheet on Arthur.  I may be including things from the original Arthur but this isn't the original Arthur.  This is my Arthur and I can do what I want with him.

I'll post on my progress in the next few weeks.  I've spent all morning trying to identify my problem and now I have to go do something about it!

-Anna Leigh

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Makes A Person

It doesn't take a professional to identify my writing weaknesses. I tell instead of showing, my plots have big holes in them, the plot twists are relatively easy to see coming, my world building is weak, and I can't write deep characters. I've scratched the surface of the how-to in the writing world and I could think of those five weaknesses off the top of my head. If I wanted to be here all day, I could detail my weaknesses. The hard part is finding out what I'm actually good at.

I'm obsessed with people. I watch them, question their motives, eavesdrop on their conversations, and generally make the kind of judgments I hope no one else would make about me. Part of my love for people watching came from writing and part of my love for writing came from liking people watching so much. At thirteen and fourteen, I went through this phase where I'd sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors. I owned a ton of notebooks and had started filling them with my stories. Sitting on the sun warmed concrete of the little porch, I'd watch the neighbors and make little notes about them. It was weird and earned me a lot of teasing but I enjoyed it a lot. I made up all sorts of stories revolving around the different people I saw and used them for my books. 

Yes, you can totally judge me. I know I'm weird.

If this were a great success story, I'd end it with saying that's how I became an amazing writer and how I can build such great characters. Unfortunately, all that habit earned me was an insane curiosity about what those people were actually like and little to no improvements in my character building ability. At thirteen, I didn't think you even had to do character building in a story. I mean, why would that be important? 

Anyway, this all ties in to my current problem.When writing a first draft, I don't worry too much about my inability at world building or plot holes. I focus on getting my thoughts written out in a mostly concise manner and getting to the end. It's rough, ugly, and sometimes frustrating. But in order to have a good, solid story, you need to start somewhere. 

Looking at my weaknesses, I've identified the one that bugs me the most. The fact that my characters all feel shallow and very similar. 

I've written before about my fear of writing guys in my books. I'm always afraid they're going to seem as unrealistic as several male characters I've read in other women's writing. I don't have that fear anymore. I write guys all the time. Unfortunately, the lack of depth in my characters is a much bigger problem. 

I didn't know until two years ago that people put so much into developing their characters. I mean, they're a pretty important part of having a good book. Some may argue the most important part. A lame plot can scrape by with good characters. A strong plot isn't going to be much if you have a main character who's shallower than a puddle. 

For Only Human, I dabbled in character profiles and finding out true motivations. My current WIP is ten times harder.

Gwen lives in an abusive home situation, has abandonment issues, blames herself for the things wrong around her, and she gets transported back fourteen hundred years in time. How would she react to that? How would she make things work? What would she even say?

The things I've written about Gwen so far have read inconsistently. Sometimes she's all cowering and afraid and other times, she pulls herself together and does the hard thing. My personality is warring with how little I know about my character and it's showing. My home life couldn't be less abusive, I don't have abandonment issues, I occasionally blame myself for what's wrong around me, and I've never gone back in time. 

Now, you may ask, why I chose to write someone so different than me. Because I don't want someone like me going back in time to Camelot, I want someone like her to.

I have to know more about Gwen than whether tacos are her favorite food or not. I need to get to the root of her problems and her ambitions. I have to know her as well as I know myself. 

I put together a profile on her and every night, I enter in a bit more. I have a whole cast of characters to develop and have a profile started for almost all of them. In life, every person has their ambitions, their fears, and their inconsistencies. I'm super girly but I like playing Planet Side 2 which is a first person shooter (no, I'm not usually into video games. My brother started me on that one). To someone meeting me for the first time, they'd probably be shocked. I'm into all sorts of girly stuff, I wear makeup, I'm into music, I like bright pink and sparkles, and...I like first person shooters? To anyone who knows me better, they'll know it's not out of character at all. It's just part of what builds me into a three dimensional person and  part of what makes me interesting.

Actually, people are most surprised when they find out I'm a writer. Apparently my constant talking doesn't clue them in :).

With my character profiles, I started with the basics. Age, appearance, family. After that, I wrote any back story that came to mind, pertinent to the story or not. Truthfully, it's all pertinent. Everything about your character, whether it's liking orange nail polish or the dog they saw get run over when they were first learning to drive, builds them into something real.

I'll post a character update when I get a bit more advanced into my story and hopefully learn more about my characters.

- Anna Leigh 

Friday, February 27, 2015

First Draft Madness

As I said in the last post, I'm working on my first draft for my current WIP. I've discovered several things in the last few weeks since this manuscript is different than anything else I've worked on.

Unlike my previous posts, I might actually break this one up with a few pictures.

First off, I'm using the King Arthur legend as a base for my book. For those who don't know of anything past the quite trashy romantic retellings which have been circulating for hundreds of years, the original is quite different. King Arthur is rumored to have lived sometime in the late 500s to the early 600s. Arthur's name was originally Artorex and he didn't start out as a king. Rumor has it, he didn't even originally start out as royalty but as a duke.

It wasn't until the 12th century when the knights were introduced into the stories. They were brought in to add to the romance. A French writer first introduced Lancelot at that time.

Though the original legend first tells of Arthur succeeding the throne from his father, King Uther, at fifteen, Arthur is in his twenties in my story and his father is still alive. After several years of peace, Arthur ventured out from his home to begin conquering other lands. In his absence Mordred, who would later end up killing him, took over the throne and married Arthur's wife.

Merlin is said to have aided Arthur's father though in my story, he is a much younger man and spends more time with Arthur than King Uther.

I am only bringing bits and pieces of my research into the story but I felt it would be necessary to know in order for the time period to feel right. Research has never been my strong point and having to do it for something soooo old is hard. Everything I bring into the story I have to go and look up. Real searches of mine: when were saddles invented? What did they call dresses in the 600s? Did they have boots in the 600s? Did the women wear veils in the 600s? 

These questions come up right in the middle of a sentence and I have to write them down on a note for research later. If I stopped writing to research every time I had a question, I'd never get my first draft written.

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I've looked up a lot of pictures to try and get a feel for the clothes they would'v worn but the popularly recreated medieval times are nothing like what the people in the 600s would've worn (from my understanding). I've saved a lot stylized paintings which give me a picture of the romanticized times. I have a Pinterest board full of them and am saving character pictures for my character wall. Now I need to go and buy some corkboards. I'm working on character profiles right now which are super hard and not my favorite thing to do at all!

The picture to the left is a popular one usually found when you search for this time period. The dress would be really wrong for the 600s but I like the picture. It makes me feel like I'm there.
Knight and Lady

My critique group has been really kind about my first chapter and gave me some great pointers. I'm planning on reminding them this week that it's an ugly ugly first draft and I really just want critiques on the plot and characters. The writing is going to be bad and the phrases will be repetitive and passive. I want to remind them of that this week because my second chapter is, well, a first draft chapter.

My last point of awkwardness in the POV. I'm writing in third person which I'm not comfortable with. I'm strongly considering switching it to first person when I do the second draft.

Oh, and one last thing. King Arthur's crest is NOT a dragon! As anything else, that's the romanticized crest but out of all the things I read, the one I found the most was three gold crowns against an azure background.

Back to my book. I've distracted myself long enough!

-Anna Leigh

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Work in Progress - The Queen Of Time

I've read an insane amount of author blogs and books on writing in the last year and come away with a few of the same things from every one. Getting rejected is part of the business. Writing isn't just a natural talent, it's something you sculpt and learn. Having strangers look your work over and give you critiques is essential. Going from these things, I've tried to apply them all.

The hardest one to start off with was the stranger critiquing. December of 2013, one of my biggest fears was showing someone my work. Seriously, if someone walks by when I'm writing, I'm super tempted to shut my computer lid or pull up the internet so they don't read it. If they ask about it, I put them off by saying I'll print it out or send it to them. I don't mean to put it off but I don't want them seeing it and finding out I'm really not a good writer but one of the many people who try but don't have what it takes.

I had to get over it.

When I put my book up on Amazon, I braced for the worst. Fortunately, my first draft has been read by a very small amount of people and the negative has been pretty minimal. The last few months of editing, I've been amazed people weren't meaner. It needed help! Big time!

So, have I gotten over my fear? Not really. But it's gotten a lot better. I still don't like people reading my book when I'm sitting there because I still tend to get sweaty palms but I'm volunteering it more by the day. If strangers ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a writer and then I give them a little synopsis about the book I'm working on. It's my dream job and instead of being scared of it, I'm starting to realize if I want it, I need to have courage and go for it. Will I ever be a best selling novelist? Probably not. Will I someday sign on with a reputable publisher to put my work into the world? Most likely. If I want it enough and work hard enough, it will happen. Now I just need to get there.

Starting January 1st, I decided this would be the year of conquering several of my fears. Putting together a short mental list, I've started working on almost all of them! I looked around online for critique groups but wasn't really too impressed with what I found. I found a free one but no one was very active on it and the one guy who answered me had my book for two weeks and never said a word or sent me his. Needless to say, I deleted his invitation to view my google doc.

I filled out a form for a group called Inspire Writers. They require a paid membership ($50.00 a year which isn't bad) but I wanted to see what they'd say. I wanted to be a part of a Christian group even though my book isn't really in the Christian genre because I didn't want to be reading a lot of the stuff that's going on outside of a Christian group.

I got an email a few days later. The lady was very nice but clear that YA is a constantly growing genre and their groups are full. She also wanted to know if I had a membership and I said no. I don't mind paying for one but I kind of want to know if it would be beneficial to me first. She said the waiting list was quite long to get into the groups. I thanked her for her time and moved on...until a week later when she sent me another email. One of the ladies had decided to start another YA writing group and Carol (the lady who originally had talked to me) was giving me an opportunity to join! Not only that but she said I could do it for three months free to see if it suited me! No brainer.

Now to what I'm going to be working on. I've settled on my King Arthur retelling. For anyone who knows me or read the beginning of this blog, retellings are where I started. The King Arthur story has be retold countless times with so many different angles but I have yet to read one I liked. The elements of my story sound similar to a few I've read but I'm going for a plot line I've never seen before. This is the initial synopsis I'm sending to my critique group.

       Eighteen year old Gwen White lives with her abusive mother and new stepfather in a little town which hasn't ever taken notice of her existence. With the loss of her only friend as well as her trusty laptop, life for Gwen has hit an all time low. 

       When her stepfather sells her out for an experiment, Gwen finds herself in the last place she expected; Camelot. Complete with the knights, the sights, and Prince Arthur, Gwen has to navigate the strange territory in the hopes she'll get back home before the mythical legend takes a deadly turn. 

This book is third person which is unusual for my normal writing style but I wanted to try something different. I've written two and a half chapters and am excited by my progress. I have yet to get into the complicated parts of the story yet and I'm sure I'll lose a bit of steam when I do. I plan to have the initial draft done by April (it would be sooner but I am still finishing my first draft of HN) and then we'll see from there.

My first chapter is due to be sent out on Sunday (the day after my twentieth birthday!) and I wish it would come already. I'm so nervous about what they'll say. After I get some critiques back, I'll post the chapter along with changes they suggested.

Anna Leigh