Baby Steps To a Novel

So, yesterday I took my first steps to trying to complete a novel.  Regular readers of the blog will note that I’ve tried before (without much success) to try to write a novel, but this time I’m using my university’s Writing Center to help.  I’ve worked in the Writing Center myself all last year and I have a friend and colleague who is working there now who has agreed to a “Writing Partnership” with me–a fancy term for a standing appointment to talk about writing over the course of the semester.  Generally, they are used for long term projects (thesis, dissertations, etc.), but they can also be used for just improving one’s writing in general.  We talked about what I wanted to do ultimately (short-stories or novels) and we decided that writing a novel would be a good way to “grow” as a writer.  Then we discussed the idea I had for a novel and what the next steps should be going forward.

Character Sketch
So, my homework is to complete at least one character sketch–the main character/protagonist–and have it ready by the next meeting.  We talked about who the main character is (Skye–which longtime readers will remember from earlier blog posts) and what is her personality like.  If possible, I’d like to write a character sketch for her father as that is her major familial relationship in the book, but based on school work and obligations, there may not be enough time for that.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about the importance of characters and how they should act appropriately–something that I don’t think that I always do well because of my interest in the plot.  Hopefully, I can really nail Skye’s personality and be able to create a convincing character arc for her.

Plot Outline
I also need to produce a plot outline for the next meeting.  Again, one mandatory, but two if possible.  I have “story map” that I use that is a 1 page “synopsis” of the characters, setting, plot, climax, and resolution.  However, I’d like to also provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story as that is where I always seem to break down when writing the novel, but I may find that that might be better suited to do after we talk about the character sketch/synopsis of the novel.  In any case, I do intend to do what Brandon Sanderson noted about how he writes novels on his podcast, Writing Excuses, where he notes that he writes down big tentpole scenes as he’s generating ideas for his novel.  I think that the tentpole scenes, in addition to the synopsis, would be helpful to do before trying to tackle the larger, chapter-by-chapter breakdown.

NaNoWriMo
November is National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo).  I’ve never really tried to do anything for the month because I always had school (or a ton of things to do in the month of November), but as I’m in the midst of trying to write a novel and as the Writing Center will be holding a “Write In” on November 17, I guess I’ll give it a try.  I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but I’ll blog about the process here to hopefully inspire other writers (aspiring or practicing) and maybe provide, tangible techniques and tricks to my fellow writers out there as well.

Wish me luck! 🙂

 

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Finished Leave It To Chance, Vol. 2: Trick or Threat

LeaveItToChance_Vol2_TrickThreat_Amazon

So I finished rereading Leave It To Chance, Vol. 2: Trick or Threat during this past week and I really enjoyed it.  It is a better story than I remember.  I really like it that Chance has agency in this story.  We can see rivalries and friendships develop and we see her take on a situation when she’s removed from her father.

Even the backup story for this one is good–as Chance tries to follow her father’s wishes, but is swept up by events and a desire to save her friend.  I think this one has more of a “Scooby Doo” feel meaning that while the monsters and supernatural elements are real, you get a real sense of the “adventure” or “mystery” that Chance and her new-found friends embark on in this story.

I really think that the creators hit their stride with this one and really found the link that made Chance feel real and alive and gave her a cool set of stories away from the noir of Devil’s Echo that really made the story resonate with me.  This is by far my favorite volume in the series and I think unfortunately, the creators lost this when they returned to Devil’s Echo (& took the agency away from Chance).  While I don’t know the particulars as to why the series ended, I do think this second volume is the strongest entry in the series.

Overall Grade: A

Leave It To Chance

Leave It To Chance is a young adult graphic novel that I really, really like.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight this great (& short) graphic novel series.  I just finished rereading the first volume this week (I’m trying to read all my graphic novels as a way to remind myself of the graphic novel format since I’ve been away for so long).

Leave It To Chance was published in the early 2000s (2002) and it was written in the height of the GrrlPower movement (James Robinson’s Forward is dated 3.25.97 and this is in the height of the movement, but as the hardcover collection wasn’t published until 2002 which, by then, was the tail-end of the movement).  The protagonist is Chance, a young girl who is the daughter of Falconer, a mage of eminence and importance in the city of Devil’s Echo.  She is “protected” from the magical intrigue and derring-do by her father, but she is of age to take up training to become the next in the line of Falconers who are sworn to protect the city.  Her father refuses to train her simply because of her gender (noting that this “burden” of training is passed from male heir to male heir).  Chance decides that this is horribly unfair and seeks to rectify this (& gets into adventures on her own).

James Robinson and Paul Smith collaborated on the story and art.  This is actually my first (and I think, my only) examples of their work, but I really enjoyed the story when I first read it at the Public Library–so much so, that I bought a copy for my personal collection.  I like Chance’s character–they made her very much like a Nancy Drew detective and set the world in a Neo-Noir setting (grim, dark alleyways merged with aircars).  Chance also has a “Jubilee”-vibe to her and dresses similarly (who in turn, has bit of the Frank Miller’s female Robin from the Dark Knight look) as well.  You can almost see a direct progression from Miller’s female Robin to Jubilee from the X-Men, to Chance.  I own all three books in the series (will be doing reviews of the other two as well), but as a pure story, I think this first volume, “Shaman’s Rain” holds up the best storywise.

I think too, that the setting of Devil’s Echo was very well used.  It definitely precedes the entire Urban Fantasy craze that authors like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison (to name a few) helped popularize in the mid-to-late 2000s & early 2010s.  I personally love the fact that Chance has her own (mini-)dragon–as it recalls to mind Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger books of the 1980s.  This one is a great series for both Young Adult Readers (& younger children), but has enough complexity, character development, and setting that will at least keep older readers from being completely bored with it, even if it doesn’t completely captivate them.

OVERALL GRADE: B

Working Smarter, Not Harder

keep-calm-and-think-work-smarter-not-harder

Source: Lifehack.org

 

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

As I work to perfect my “Work-Life” Balance, I have found that I haven’t been utilizing my time and resources as effectively as I could and this blog entry details some of the ways in which I have developed to address this imbalance.  In 2015, I wrote a lot, but did not maximize the submissions part of my writing.  In 2016, I wrote a little, but I really focused on the submissions aspect, and did not really focus as much on my writing.  This year, I’ve tried to focus on both, but the amount of schoolwork has limited my ability to really write creatively, as you can see through the lack of blog entries that I have posted this year.  So, I had fallen back to prioritizing submissions as a way to still feel connected with the creative writing part of my life.

STEPPING STONES

However, after recently dusting off an older story that was already published and sending it to a market that accepts reprints, I realized that I already have a cache of material, that with a little reworking, that I can use as “stepping stones” to create longer, and more lucrative works.  Ship of Shadows (SoS) is a story that I created, submitted and was published in Visions IV: Space Between Stars.  I have detailed its genesis in this blog entry.  I am really proud of this story, but rather than try to reprint it in other Visions IVanthologies/markets (although I totally could as the rights have reverted back to me), I wondered if there was a way to “expand” upon it in some way, and to make it longer and more in-depth.  In other words, was there a way that I could revise (“re-vision”) the story and take the same “kernel” of the story, but “re-see” it in a new, longer form work?  I then began to brainstorm what that would look like.  First, I would need to know what longer form work is it that I’m envisioning.  The options that I would be interested in working on at the moment are graphic novels, screenplays, and novels.  In my mind, the next logical stepping stone up from a short story is the graphic novel–it is short enough to be read in one sitting (in many cases), but tells a more elaborate story.  I already know that the characters, setting, and plot are strong because it was published (& something an editor paid to publish), so why not work smarter and try to “build” upon a structure that I already know has the potential for success?  So I am currently working on outlining the graphic novel version of SoS.  I am hopeful that I will be able to write a strong rough draft from my outline during my Summer Break.  I will, of course, be detailing its construction in this blog.

MAXIMIZING FREE TIME

Okay, look, I’m a PhD student.  My days are jam-packed with reading, teaching, reading, working, reading, writing (academic), reading, grading, reading, reading, reading . . . you get the picture.  Heck, even as I type these very words, I have a 5-7 page paper to complete and an annotated bibliography to start, so my time is precious to me.  This, unfortunately, means that creative writing has gotten the short shrift during the past two semesters.  I realize, however, that I have a lot of time (free) built into my days that I’m not utilizing in a very productive way.  On those days where I’m “free” (i.e., no classes, I should take an hour as I’m eating to simply write on the current draft that I’m working on).  On the days I have to “work” (i.e., days where I have classes or academic commitments, I should simply outline/rough draft future works).  That way, I’m always working on something current and will be ready for those extended “Breaks” (Summer & Winter) when I can devote my full time and resources to the things that I’ve outlined or rough drafted.  On weekends, my time should be used for preparing submissions.  If I can somehow achieve and maintain this balance, I think my writing production and my satisfaction with the writing process will improve immensely.

Well, that’s all I have time for this week.  I’ve got assignments to write, papers to grade, and books to read, so I’ll sign off.  Here’s hoping you have a successful week, and with luck, hopefully I’ll have a successful writing week as well.

When the Writing Life gives you Lemons, make Lemonade.

So, the reviews are in – Faerie Knight has been reviewed in Tangent, an online publication devoted to reviewing short fiction when they reviewed the anthology Fae (edited by Rhonda Parrish).

So, these are my first reviews (professional) and suffice to say, while they are not bad (on the whole), they do offer criticism, both deserved and (in the mind of a writer) probably some that’s a little . . . well . . . nit-picky.  If you want to read the whole review for Fae, you can find it at Tangent Online, but I’m only going to talk about the reviews for my story, “Faerie Knight.”

John Sulyok had this to say:

“Faerie Knight” by Sidney Blaylock, Jr.
Though Thomas Theron was blind, he never let that hinder him from knowing when one of his student’s was misbehaving. He’d honed his other senses over the years and has become quite adept at understanding his surroundings. And that makes him a particularly good Knight of the Fae. Once a year, on Halloween, he accepts his Queen’s boon—the gift of sight—so that he may watch over the little trick-or-treaters, protecting them from the Unseelie Court that tries to swap human children with changelings. Thomas, old now with aching joints, must use all his senses, including his sense of duty, to fight the evil on this night.“Faerie Knight” cuts to the chase, almost literally. There’s very little set up, so it feels almost like the entire story is a third act. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s exciting, but the story also wouldn’t have hurt from more. Thomas and his history with the Seelie Court fighting the Unseelie court begs for more screen time. But it hits the spot if you just want a little action.

C. D. Lewis remarked on the story in this way:

Sidney Baylock, Jr. sets “Faerie Knight” in a world of good faeries and evil faeries, where the dark and the light are clear and the reader easily believes the depicted wrongs that need righting. The protagonist, a blind schoolteacher when not serving his Queen, thrills to do her bidding but worries advancing age and physical decrepitude have dulled his edge. “Faerie Knight” begins as the ageing servant undertakes One Last Ride. And the evil he’s asked to fight? It’s bad Fae, and they’re not just stealing children, they’re turning them bad. Once in a fight, the old Knight seems for the first time to rely on his hearing to do for his Queen what he does for himself the rest of the year, and soon his Halloween performance begins to look like Rutger Hauer’s in Blind Fury. His weird Fae weapon seems crafted for style over function: it’ll cut anything, perhaps, but apparently only if hit by both blades on opposite ends of the handle. On the upside, it’s a safety blade: it won’t easily injure bystanders accidentally. Since the protagonist takes care to keep fights outside the crowded high school Halloween party, though, we don’t see that feature in action. What we do see is an action hero who displays a pleasant degree of thoughtfulness, who carefully avoids provoking unnecessary conflicts, and whose sense of duty ultimately convinces him to keep up the fight as long as the kids need him. Bad knees, or no.

So, there are elements in both reviews that I love and that I . . . don’t love.  But this is NOT a gripe post.  I’ve highlighted the parts of the reviews that really stood out and made me think.  I’ve been wanting to write graphic novels and add that in as sort of a triumvirate of media to work in (short stories, novels, and graphic novels) as I try to discover how to become a professional writer.  What I took from these reviews is that:

  1. I’ve already done the hard work in creating the character (the “Who Am I?”) and found a compelling story.
  2. I now have a character that I can build more stories for and can give my characters (as John Sulyok says), “more screen time.”
  3. Work Smarter, Not Harder: if I’ve done a story that is good enough to be published, then there is something in there that is special and I need to focus on it.  If I’ve written the story as a short-story, that doesn’t preclude the story being expanded, added to, adapted, and enhanced to bring it to another medium.

To that end, I’ve decided that all my short-story projects that I get published, would probably make good Graphic Novels as well.  The first chapter of the story has already been written.  I can use that as a “stepping stone” to add on and create a story that furthers the character and gives him/her “more time on the stage.”

I’ve also realized that plans are great until they get in the way of execution.  The past 3 or 4 blog posts have been about plans and changes and introspection and reflection, but haven’t really been about execution.  Since I’m no artist, I’ve joined and created a profile on DeviantART, a well-known and established website for artists.  I’ve investigated some artists whose style I like and I’ve favorited them and set my profile to follow.  I will be asking them what their rates are for creating artwork for characters as I want to see how they interpret my main character for “Faerie Knight.”  I’ve also started writing/adapting the published story for “Faerie Knight” into Chapter 1 of the “Faerie Knight” Graphic Novel.

Look for updates on this new project in 2015!  Oh, and if anyone knows of any good publishers for fantasy graphic novels that I should keep an eye on, please leave them in the comments.  Thanks!