Thursday, March 29, 2012

Writing Over The Years

Becoming a writer has been a life long process.

It started around the third grade, when I first learned how to read. My mother used to send me to summer school each year, which in elementary wasn't as bad as it sounded. The teachers didn't actually teach us much, usually we were allowed to draw pictures all day and they read us books or we watched movies.

One day, our teacher asked us to draw a picture of an object. I've always been girly, so I drew a picture of a heart necklace. When we were done, she told us to write a story about the object.

I thought really hard about mine. I knew most of the kids were going to say something like,"This is a heart locket and it's my favorite locket. I have a picture of my Dad in it." I wanted to do something really creative, so I came up with this story about a girl who finds a locket while walking home from the bus after school. As soon as she touches it, she is teleported to a new world, in the middle of a forest, where she is chased around by all the natives while she tries to figure out how to get home. I was still writing when she told us to stop and turn our stories in.

She showed mine to my mother and talked about how I had quite an imagination.

My next adventure in writing came when I was around eleven years old. (I'm not always sure about the ages when I did things. Some of them have started to blur together as I've gotten older.) I decided to write a newspaper and named it after my neighborhood. I put a crossword puzzle in it, a word search, made up stories about what was going on in the neighborhood, wrote short stories and poems. I printed it out and ran straight for my next door neighbor, an elderly woman, who till this day is still one of the nicest women I have ever met.

I waved the paper in her face excitedly and she took it with a smile. I sat down with her and her husband, who had suffered many strokes and therefore couldn't talk clearly or walk well, and the women read the paper out loud. We all laughed together and solved the puzzles with each other's help.

She told me during her husband's funeral that those little newspapers I had written helped her and her husband bond. They used to read them over again when I wasn't around and enjoy each other's company through them. She kept them for their good memories long afterward.

She also helped me by encouraging me. I knew when I wrote those papers that no one would probably care about them. I was a kid and the things I was writing weren't important. Still, she treated them and me like they were something special. She accepted my writing so readily that I wrote a newspaper every day.

When I became a teenager, I started to read fan-fiction. I devoured novels in under twenty-four hours and the library didn't carry most of the books I wanted to read. My family didn't have enough money to keep up with my reading habit as I would have liked, so I turned to the internet to read more stories. (Some of the ones I read were the free ones offered on

For some reason, I latched onto Peter Pan and Zelda fan-fiction. I was never a big fan of either, even though I joined forums based on those topics to make friends when in person I had only a few. I liked them because I enjoyed reading romance and read a few great stories written revolving the characters in those stories. I especially liked stories about grown-up Wendy and Captain Hook. I became obsessed with pirates, day dreamed about marrying one, and used to roleplay online in pirate settings.

After reading a lot of fan-fiction and roleplaying for years (which is a type of writing as well, done with a second person), I decide to write a fan-fic of my own and spent a long time writing a Zelda romance that never got very far. I remember posting it on and getting laughed at by a few people who didn't like what I had to say.

To this day, I hope that someday people write fan-fiction based off of my stories. I know it's just another way of loving the characters an author created and it gives them a free way to keep enjoying an imaginary world long after a writer has ran out of ideas (or while waiting for that next novel to come out.)***

A few years later, a story started to grow in my head. It was for a romance novel that would take place in a medieval fantasy setting. It had multiple points of view, was poorly written, and has long since been deleted (I don't even count it as a novel I have written most of the time), but I learned so much through writing it, like... 1.) I learned how much work and actual editting an author has to do to write a novel. 2.) I learned how plotting and planning a whole novel before writing it can give me a much better product. 3.) That writing every day is important and that at first, everything you write will stink. 4.) That writing a novel from multiple points of view is hard to do and often confuses the reader. 5.) Metaphors have their time and place. 6.) Fantasy worlds take a lot of planning and organizing a long set of complicated rules before they make sense or are interesting.

And many more lessons that I can't quite remember at this time.

My next novel was planned better. I took detailed notes of my ideas and wrote a thorough outline. I started writing every day, since the previous novel had taken 3 years out of my life and I hadn't gotten as far with it as I would have liked. And two years later, I completed my next novel: Spirit Speaker, which taught me many lessons as well. Such as: how to write for adults, what it's like to query, that it's important to go online and fellowship with other authors, that characterization is much harder than it looks. That novel has been saved and will hopefully someday get revamped when I learn how to write better and exactly what I need to do to fix it.

Now, here I am. I've completed one short story. (Where I learned how to query magazines and received my harshest rejection letter.) I've written the rough draft to two other novels: one about a homeless girl (I've put this story aside and may someday revisit it) and another about Medusa (which I am working hard on and hope to finish, at the latest, by the end of this year.) I'm also working on another short story about some elves, have countless outlines in various stages of development and have a few random scenes written out because of dreams I've had or sudden strokes of inspiration.

I also try to blog regularly, which is its own form of writing. Usually, I obsess over every word when I write, try to make sure I left as few mistakes as possible, and carefully guard anyone from reading it until it's as perfect as I can make it. You can't do that with blogging or you'll never get anywhere. I realize that my blog posts sometimes had grammar and spelling errors in them. I correct those as much as possible and hope they don't reflect on me poorly. I'm learning to write as good as I can with little time. I'm also discovering the difference between a personal topic that's okay to talk about publically and ones that should be kept to myself. So far, I haven't gotten too far into the personal, but it's a fine line to walk...

I look forward to learning more in the future. Hopefully next year I'll know some more about being professionally editted and published, be it through an agency or through self-publishing. I'm experimenting through beta readers on the internet (before, I only used people I knew in person) and know I will learn tons through them. I hope to find out more about marketing and become more disciplined about writing regularly for longer periods of time.

I have a lot of goals and dreams. Writing is definitely a process where you never stop being challenged or experiencing new things. Maybe it's why I find this to be such an exciting career.


*** While I enjoy the idea of my stories being made into fan-fiction, I would be very hurt if anyone re-wrote some of my characters and sold their stories without permission from me for money.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pen Name

Here's the silly story of where my pen name came from. E and B are the initials of my first and last name. I chose "black" because I write dark literature and also because at one of the writers groups I joined, the leader said that whenever she looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, she saw me as a gothic with all black clothing, skull earrings, and a cross necklace. She said I had a gothic aura.

While I don't think that encompasses me completely, I do think it describes a certain part of me that I express often in my writing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Biggest Writing No-no

All writers are expected to take criticism with a smile. We're supposed to thank people for taking the time to read and care about what we had to say. We should be thankful that readers took minutes out of their life to leave a comment, even if they give a bad review. We should shrug off each rejection we get as we search for the right agent or publisher. It's all a learning experience, right?

Every once in awhile though, an author loses their cool. Someone says just the thing that would hurt them the most, like,"Your book should never have been published!" And before you know it, they're writing angry/nasty comments back or talking about how much they despise that person.

It's not something any author should do. We're supposed to be more professional than that for a reason, but I also don't think it should be treated like the unpardonable sin.

I was in a writer's group for awhile. The leader was a professional editor and while I usually appreciated her comments and criticisms, this one day she said something that really hurt me. I read the first chapter of my work in progress to her that I had been editing for the past two years and she told me that it was obviously a first draft.  I had lost track of how many times I had rewritten that thing. If it wasn't good now, then it probably would never be good, so it hurt for her to minimize the effort I had put into it.

I did not confront her. I instead went to other writers and said that her comment upset me. I expected sympathy due to the fact that they had all probably experienced similar things. Instead I was told to develop a thicker skin. That I'd never become published if I didn't.

I disagree with this logic entirely. I didn't yell at her in her face. I was polite, but the fact was my feelings were hurt. I've received many critiques, including countless from my boyfriend and mother, on the things I've written without panicking or yelling at anyone. I read other things to that writer's group. They told me what was wrong with those things. All of that I took calmly.

The fact is that writer's are all eventually going to crack no matter how thick their skin is. We are made to feel insignificant every once in awhile. When we query agents and publications, we are given form letters because they're too busy to deal with peons like us. If we mess up on querying in just the right way, we can be blacklisted by that agent and others that they talk to about us. We're forced to jump through hoops and complete our work before it will even be considered. We will be told by critiquers and other readers that we should throw out a book or entire scenes that we've worked years on. Editors will mark up our manuscripts so that they are bleeding red ink, even after we're editing ourselves until we can't see straight. We're told over and over again that there are thousands of others just like us, ready to replace us. That we don't matter and better do everything perfect or we'll never make it anywhere. And when we write our critiques and synopsis, we obsess and are told what's wrong with our story or our summaries over and over again.

I'm not saying these people are wrong for doing their jobs, but I'm trying to explain why readers crack every once in awhile. It's hard not to when you feel underneath a microscope all the time.

And I also want to point out that we're only not supposed to rant to the people who hurt us or single someone out publically on a blog by naming them and attacking their character, but no writer is going to go their entire career without being hurt at least once and it's healthy for us to seek our peers for support during that time and maybe release a little rant or two. More likely than not the individual has probably received several critiques that they didn't take personally in the past and even if they haven't, every writer has to eventually face the fact that they're lucky if they get a publishing deal and are likely not going to be treated as anybody important until they make a name for themselves through sales, which might never happen, and that can be a hard pill to swallow, especially when you've put so much hard work and time into something.

So I'm not saying that it's okay when a writer gets a bad book review and yells at the person who wrote it, but I am explaining why it happens and how, if we had a better support system for authors where we listened to each other rant without judgement, it might happen a lot less often.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


One of the most frustrating things in the world is feeling powerless. It's something I struggle with often. When illness hits me, especially ones the doctors can't diagnose easily, it's frustrating to feel my own body fail me regardless of my efforts. When my house burned down without any warning, it was horrible to know there was nothing I could do to change it or save the lives that were lost. I've found out people were gossiping about me lately and even had someone threaten to hurt me or take something I deeply care about away more than once.

It hurts when it feels like there's so many obstacles that stand in the way of achieving goals or being happy. It's especially hard when I become trapped with no other option, but just going with the flow of whatever is going to happen to me.

And that's one of the things I love about modern day self-publishing. Because there are so many e-readers out there and digital publishing is now a viable option, it's much easier for an author to make it even when publishing houses and agents have rejected you over and over again. It hurts to have a dream like this, work on it day after day and know that in the end, it's up to a bunch of people, whom you have no control over and who may never notice you, whether or not your dream will come true. It's nice to be able, in the end, to at least control that aspect of my life.

And on another (but similar) note, I've also learned through blogging that it's okay to put yourself out there and be honest about aspects of your life. I have no intentions of ever making any individuals look bad that I know in person or singling them out, but I used to think talking about myself and my personal life was entirely a bad idea. You never know how people are going to take the things you write and I never wanted to write something and later regret it because of everyone's reactions. Now I know that guarding myself too much doesn't allow anyone to get to know me and if I don't take that risk, why should anyone care what I have to say?

Ironically, it means giving up some of that control I try to hold so tightly on to.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I used to hate fantasy stories...

... And now I write them. Weird, isn't it?!

I grew-up with a Mom who thought Harry Potter was an evil book who turned little children into witches just by reading it. While other kids were hiding drugs or drinking, I was finding ways to get to the book store and buy the next Harry Potter book and where exactly in my room to hide them before my parents found out.

And let me tell you, my Mom ranted on and on to me about how horrible these books were. In fact, for a long time I believed her, which led to me feeling intense guilt when I actually started reading the books. Although it was a pleasurable sort of guilt.

Eventually the truth came out. I admitted to my parents that I had been secretly hiding Harry Potter books and reading them. I told my Mom that I had no desire to become a witch and she was overreacting since many fairy tales that she liked, like Cinderella, also contained magic in them.

I know stereotypically, religious people are stuck in their ways, but that's not how my parents are at all. They're great people and while they still advise me on what is right versus what is wrong, they usually keep a pretty open mind. My Mom was upset at first, but eventually I convinced her to come to a Harry Potter movie with me. It was a midnight showing and I was nervous, but she wound up enjoying and loving the whole thing. Sometimes people will condemn something only because they know nothing about it.

The Harry Potter series were the first fantasy books I ever read besides the Chronicles of Narnia. I used to only read romance.

I enjoy the way fantasy takes you completely out of this world. I hate this place a lot of time with all the death, disease, poverty, and pain it holds. In fantasy, anything is possible. When I feel terrified of death, I can write about characters who control death (necromancers) or who are immortal. When I am poor, I can write about Princesses who live in castles and never want for anything.

It takes a lot of imagination and I love the challenge of writing fantasy (and by the way, I am lumping paranormal stuff in there as well, since I read it now interchangeably.) I never took writing seriously until I started writing fantasy novels. It's funny how that works, how I almost didn't become a writer, and if I hadn't, I'm pretty sure I'd be more conflicted about what I should do with my life right now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Writing for Adults (Not a post to be read by children)

I've always admired authors who can write family friendly stories. Harry Potter could never have appealed to such a wide audience if it contained sex, cursing, and gore.

I've heard time and time again that most sex scenes add very little to a story, that a novel could be just as good without it. Swear words could be substituted for other words. Violent descriptions can be toned down. The imagination fills in the blanks and can be more frightening than anything else.

Unfortunately, that's not how I write. I'm terrified of being judged for how my imagination works. For instance, currently, I am writing a novel about Medusa. First of all, writing anything at all about Medusa and her origins means including a rape scene, since Medusa was raped by Poseidon and turned into a monster because of it, but second of all, my story also includes prostitution, naked Aphrodite making out with her father, drugs, and Medusa's sisters (who are also gorgons) taking the body parts of the men they turn into stone and doing some unsavory things with them. And I'm just describing parts of the first five chapters here.

I do think there's room in writing for vulgarity and profanity. I think it can reach adults in a way that other stories can not. An example of this is the Bible, a book that has been relevant to us for thousands of years, and contains very vulgar stories.

When I was a child learning about David and Goliath in Sunday school, I had no idea that after he threw the stone at Goliath, he carried his bloody decapitated head around, showed it to everyone in the army and brought it to King Saul. I didn't know that this little guy would marry King Saul's daughter. In order to win her hand in marriage, he was forced to kill and chop off the foreskins of hundred of Philistines and offer them in a basket to her father. When David was king himself, he went on the roof of a palace, saw a woman bathing and had an affair with her. She became pregnant and David had her husband killed since he was out at war and would know that she had had an affair. One of King David's sons grew up to rape his sister (the Bible details the plot of how this was done) and when David found out, he didn't care and was almost killed by his other son, Absalom, for his callousness.

A lot of the values we practice today as a culture can be found in the Bible, yet it is filled with filthy, gory, disgusting stories.

Greek myths, we still read and love today contain tales of incest, rape, violence, and sexuality. Odysseus is certainly not someone I'd want any teenager to model themselves after, but we still read the Odyssey in high school.

I remember reading the Good Earth which had quite a bit of prostitution and sex in it. Lord of the flies involves barbarism and killing. Everyone knows what the Scarlet letter deals with.

But according to this idea that dealing with adult themes in novels is trashy, all these stories are worthless.

I wouldn't want children to read these things, but I think that stories that deal with baser human reactions and emotions, can hit adults in ways that other novels can not.

So while I sometimes do wish I could write for children, I don't regret how I do actually write. I try to give a purpose plot-wise or character-wise for most of my vulgarity and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Everyone writes for a different audience and most adults will one day read a story like one of mine.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hollywood Versus Reality

Everyone's writing experience varies to some degree, but I noticed that Hollywood's version of how writers write and how they get published varies greatly from the reality for most of us. I don't understand this since a writer had to create those scenes for them to exist, but they still go along with Hollywood's strange, romanticized version of the events anyway. Below are some of the differences.

Hollywood: The hard part about writing is coming up with an idea.

I've seen this storyline a ton of times. A writer has written a successful book, but can't come up with an idea for the next one. The writer sometimes tries to do some eccentric things like going sky diving or bungee jumping, figuring if they live life a little more, they'll come up with the right story through their experiences. In the end, it all boils down to the fact that they were blocked due to lack of love, lack of confidence, or lack of something else. They work past that problem and magically, the next day, the entire story is written.

For example, in a movie I saw recently, Revenge of the Bridesmaids, one of the main characters (played by Raven Symone) is a writer visiting her hometown. People keep asking her what her next novel will be since her first one was so successful and she keeps changing the subject. By the end of the movie, after all their adventures, she winds up writing a "fictionalized" version of their experience. She learns to accept herself and that she is an interesting person who can add a lot of her personality to her own books. She's seen signing books and experiencing overall success.

Another example, is the movie Shakespeare in Love. Whenever Shakespeare is having trouble in his relationships, he has severe writers block, but with the right women, ideas flow through his mind and easily onto the page in a day. The only real struggle he has is finding someone worthy to take into his bed.

Reality: The hard part about writing is actually doing it.

I'm not saying writer's block doesn't exist or that coming up with ideas doesn't take a lot of creativity, but it is by far not the hard part about writing. In fact, as I speak, I currently have ideas and outlines for over twenty novels that I may or may not write about in the future saved onto my computer.

Not only that, but when I actually talk to other people about writing, almost everyone I know has an idea for a great novel they'd love to write, whether or not they actually take the time or effort to put it down.

There is no lack when it comes to ideas. The hard part is sitting down and actually putting it into words.

It's time consuming to write and re-write something. It takes a lot of patience, self-motivation, and determination. It takes organizational skills and sometimes takes a toll on your self-esteem.

Movies tend to gloss over this part because it's boring to watch someone sit down every day for months to years at a time and compose an entire novel. They make the hard part coming up with the story and draw that part out when that's actually one of the easiest and shortest parts of the writing process.

Hollywood: You sell your idea for the next great novel to a publisher and every day they hound you because you've missed your deadline.

In the movie, "The Help", debut author Kathryn Stockett sells the novel before even writing a page. She calls publishers directly and is only almost rejected because she doesn't have enough maids giving their stories of what it's like to be a black maid in the south. She's given several deadlines to when the story needs to be finished and works very hard to get it completed in that time. It becomes a best seller. 

Reality: You write out your entire story and then possibly get rejected anyway. No one cares at all about what you're doing before you're done.

Did you know that "The Help" wasn't written in that manner at all? That whole process of how she got published according to the movie was completely fictionalized.

In reality, Kathryn Stockett took the risk to interview all those maids and wrote that entire novel with no guarantee that she would ever be published at all. In fact, she was rejected sixty times after she was finished writing by agents, not publishers, before one finally accepted her, sold her book to a publisher, and it became a best seller. No one was pressuring her to interview more maids.

One of the worst parts about writing is that you can spend years putting your whole heart into a story day after day and never get published. No one will touch your novel or have any desire to buy it until it's complete and written as perfectly as possible and even then, if they don't think it will sell or think it's uninteresting, you might never get published at all.

I also have been rejected over sixty times and my first novel may never be published, even though I worked on it every day for two years straight. If you love to write, though, you do it anyway, even knowing all these risks.

Hollywood: Writers receive a lot of praise for their work.

This may not be hollywood's fault. It comes from a romanticized view we have of authors themselves. We think of bestsellers and all the money their books make. We think of how much we admire them and assume that as an author we would receive the same amount of praise if we could just write out that amazing idea we have

Reality: As a writer you have to get used to constant criticism, critique, and rejection.

This is true even when you are a best seller. You just don't see all of it.

I know a lot of people who read best selling books and say,"Even I could write something better than that!" It's not actually as easy to write as it seems. Even the best authors, like Steven King, for example, have to go through editors and beta readers and be told all the mistakes they made when it comes to grammar, spelling, punctuation, plot, and characterization.

Sometimes people call writers lazy. They see a mistake in someone's writing and assume the person didn't proofread, didn't try, or are just stupid. In reality, it's actually very difficult to distance yourself completely from your work and see all the mistakes. No matter how many times I edit novels, my mind will auto-correct spelling errors as I read over it or tune out plot holes that I should be noticing and I'll only see it when someone else points the truth out to me.

The easy part though, is actually the critiquing, because those people have your best interests at heart. They're trying to help you make a better product, but it can still be discouraging to work years on perfecting a novel and get the whole thing back from an editor with every page marked up in some way. It happens anyway.

The truly hard part is dealing with the criticism once you are finished. Either a novel will go ignored by the world or the author is going to receive a lot of complaint about all the things that readers didn't like about the novel. Authors will be told time and time again that they should have never written anything, that they have no talent, no skills.

Even worse than that is being rejected by agents and publishers. You work so hard to write a novel, go through beta readers and editors and correct everything you see wrong with it, but you still might never get published or at the very least will probably receives tens or hundreds of rejections before someone finally does take a chance on you. You get told time and time again by agents that they are sorry, but they just don't feel passionate enough about your novel to sell it. It can be frustrating because they usually won't tell you why and even if they do, it can be painful to hear why professionals who hold your dreams and future in your hands don't think your story is good enough.

To be a writer you have to have thick skin. Being rejected or told you did something wrong has to phase you as little as possible. (It's unrealistic to think you'll never get discouraged.) Or you'll give up.

Hollywood: Writers only write.

Most fictionalized writers have that as their one and only job. They are sometimes messes and anti-social creatures who spend all their life obsessing over what to write next.

Reality: Most writers have day jobs and families that take up a lot of their time.

Most writer's actually have to squeeze and force writing time into their lives. Writing doesn't usually make very much money, so most writers either have a spouse that supports them or a day job. The only reason I quit my day job to become a writer was because my day job was at McDonald's. I didn't really lose much by leaving it.

But even best selling authors, if you read their autobiographies work on the side as lawyers or therapists or any number of jobs. One that I knew in person also worked as an editor and barely made any money even with her two jobs combined together.

People assume that being published means making millions and becoming a best seller. It does happen to some writers, but not the vast majority of us, even ones who sell a pretty decent number of books.

Hollywood: Everything a famous author writes is golden.

In Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare spouts famous lines to his plays as he writes them down easily. The words come out like something magical. His muse whispers deep inside of him, without any need to edit. All he needs is the caress of a love to make his words perfect.

Reality: You'll never read our first drafts.

Television and Movies call it writers block, but I call throwing out entire sections of my novel and re-writing them a normal day of editing. It actually means I'm getting a lot done!

It's hard enough to write a novel once, but most authors have to write each scene out several times before it's good enough to be edited yet again by several professionals. Not because we missed grammar and spelling errors either, but because the first drafts of our novels absolutely suck in every way most of the time. Mine often read like a second grader wrote them. I work my way up to something that sounds like it could have come from an adult.

If we waited for beautiful prose to flow from our fingers, none of us would ever be able to write anything. We just keep writing, sometimes knowing that the words coming from us are terrible, but also realizing that they aren't set in stone and that we can make them better later.

One of my favorite quotes was said by Enrique Jardiel Poncela:

"When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing."

It doesn't matter how good an author is at writing, they still have to practice writing the scene over and over again for anything good to come out of it.


In conclusion, writing is about a lot more work and rejection that Hollywood portrays. The reality sounds not as fun, but I still find the non-romanticized version very enjoyable and rewarding (emotionally, not so far financially.)