To: Route 17 – A Poem

I wish you could know him
He’s everything you wanted

He dances with no music
And laughs at my jokes

And I would bring him home
Beneath the big Live Oak

There’s something so sick
About how I finally fit in

How you think you won
How you saved me from sin

“That’s not how this works”
I wish I could scream

But that’s not Southern charm
That’s not peaches and cream

So instead I battle with myself to be pristine
Debating what it means to be seen

Is it possible the land of my birth could change?
Can I assume anything stayed the same?

Imagining sandbars shimmering; seagull echoes
Restless feet in water with curious skates nibbling toes

I hunger for home and slowly die of starvation
But the wound is deeper than my severe deprivation

Yet, how grateful I am to have chosen family
Voices of the Richmond vortex’s gravity

Perhaps one day I will return
With so many stories we have yet to learn

Things In Writing I Pay Attention To That Other People Might Not Care About

If Haskell gets any closer Nyxie will show him the consequences

Yes A Does Really Have To Get To B Eventually

Cause And Effect

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Unresolved situations are frustrating.

Example: If a character experiences trauma, they will be traumatized and then display signs of trauma as a result of the event.

To not experience trauma in response to a traumatic event indicates something other. This could be used as a literary device. If it is not being used as a device it is distracting and takes away from the work. Make sure all actions have consequences.

Does The Characterization Of Each Character Match Up With The Timeline?

Characters are on a journey. Each character is moving from A to B and some will go on to C or D. Along those paths each character is changed. This creates the timeline of a book. How a character is portrayed in a scene needs to match the point in the timeline a character is at.

Example: A character that is in her twenties thinks about bills and her job as opposed to a character in her teens that is thinking about school. Because of this, the relationships formed around these areas are most important in life and are the most emotionally impactful outside of family and those that might as well be family.

We Didn’t Go Anywhere

When the setting of a story changes it’s important to have some form of transition to show movement of time and place.

There are some stories that don’t include enough details about objective indicators of passage of time and check that they are consistent such that all of the details of the story align temporally.

There are some stories that don’t include them at all and it’s somehow eternal summer somewhere bizarre like Alaska.

There are some stories that include way too much detail. It’s overwhelming and distracting from the story. I am suddenly studying the passage of time and the changing of the seasons instead of the nature of man.

There are some stories that include lots and lots of details. So many details. All the details. But none of them align temporally, so suddenly April was both 6 months ago and 2 months ago with Winter only 3 months away. This is when I start getting headaches. James Joyce does this. A lot.

Characters Have Hidden Lives

It’s Okay To Have “Offensive” Characters

There’s a huge difference between an “offensive” character that upsets readers and an overdone inaccurate stereotyped character that upsets readers because it doesn’t resonate.

The best offensive characters speak to the group they’re offending because they are too accurate and too real. This will be upsetting to some people. That’s the kind of “offensive” I relish. There may be those that demand a content warning. Good – research is showing that content warnings increase the reads a piece gets much like good tagging because people are seeking them out.

I don’t care who the author is – I promise if you have done your research and shaped your character in a way that reveals truths in your observations, I will love your character even if people get really upset with you over it. Cut the wound deep and hit where it hurts, not where it’s been done ad nauseum unless it’s real. Reveal something no one else has, but remember that pen names exist for your protection.

Your Characters Have Conversations The Reader Doesn’t Know About And Doesn’t See

An author cannot document everything. They are writing down a snapshot of a potential alternate universe that could exist because someone thought of it, right? That means all of those characters have private inner lives the reader can’t possibly know in its entirety. This means characters can have relationships with each other that are implied instead of explicitly stated. All of this helps to create depth.

It helps to come up with a full backstory for every character in a story even if it’s never talked about or mentioned. This will influence how dialogue is written and how hidden relationships between characters are revealed.

Your Characters Have Moods

Depending on your character’s internal state they will have a mood. This mood will translate into action or inaction in response to a stimulus and that will result in some consequence. Moods and energy levels related to exhaustion as an effect of the story timeline should all be cohesive.

Your Characters Of Different Cultures Are Going To Have Trouble Getting Along

Culture clash is real. The minority of people will be peaceful and fine and that’s great, but your characters aren’t the saints you think they are. Nope. They are averse to change and other cultures and view other as dangerous. This goes all ways. Be real – your characters from different cultures are going to be uneasy around each other and hesitant to make friends for legitimate reasons evolutionary wired in (if they’re humanoid).

Settings Are Places That Can Only Be Known Through Experience

Setting Descriptions Have A Time And Place With Characters In Them

It is not uncommon that I run into setting descriptions that are detached from the story either by the characters not interacting with the setting features or by the characters existing completely separate from setting descriptions.

By integrating setting details with the story as a whole the sensory experience can be the focus. The integrated sensory experience of the setting provides the reader with a greater sense of passage of time.

Settings Indicate Culture

Think about it – In the United States, if I set a story in the South a reader is going to anticipate a lot of passive aggressive saccharine manipulation straddled by y’alls happening. If I set a story in the Northeast, there’s a more WASPy social norm puppet show expectation.

But that’s based on the dominant culture of an area. What about when you’re writing about an area’s subculture?

I like to refer to framing subculture structures in writing as “country clubs” – it’s exclusive, you need to know someone to be someone, and there are generally specific central gathering places.

TL;DR

  • Make sure everything makes sense temporally
  • Ground the reader in temporal details outside the character
  • Offend by speaking the truth and make very effort to ensure that truth resonates in an effective and impactful way with the audience
  • Characters have conversations the reader won’t see but totally influence what the final dialogue will be.
  • Characters have inner lives, states, and energy levels that change as a result of the story. Write that.
  • Culture clash is real. Observe it and describe it. Be curious and nuanced. This gives a story so much depth.
  • Details of setting can be added to show passage of time in the story and immerse the characters and action in the location.
  • Settings indicate dominant culture and can somewhat indicate subcultures.

Thank you for reading! If you like this post on writing please like and let me know. What are things in books that drive you crazy?

Book Promotion! "And Then We Vanish" by D. H. Schleicher

Hi Everyone! While I finish up working on another book review, I’m going to post something a little bit different. As some may recall, in October 2019 I read D. H. Schleicher‘s book “Then Came Darkness” and loved it. I had the pleasure of beta reading a couple short stories for Schleicher’s new collection “And Then We Vanish“. In exchange I received an ARC. I feel it would be unethical for me to call anything I write a “review” given I helped with feedback. That said, I like the author’s writing style and attention to detail. They are one of the authors that helped me develop my rating scale. I genuinely enjoy the stories and as an unpaid favor I want to support their book here.

I did have the chance to chat with Schleicher about the process behind putting together a collection of short stories. The stories in “And Then We Vanish” are everything from petrifying to hilarious, but they all share a common theme: disappearing. Using a theme, he narrowed down which stories to include and edit for the collection from the vast collection of short stories authors accumulate over the years.

For beta reading, I read “Upon The Unfortunate News Of My Death” and “Blue Heather”. While I loved them both, particularly the latter, I will focus on the former because it is incredibly relevant. There’s also something poetic about having the opportunity to harpoon one’s metaphorical white whale. My teaser:

In the digital age information can get misconstrued. Between all of the likes, comments, and shares when does real action need to take place beyond the armchair activism? What if we get it all wrong? As if poor Kayla Spaulding hasn’t dealt with enough insanity in her life, here’s one more fire to put out. At least we can enjoy some sadistic revenge.

I hope you consider picking up a copy of “And Then We Vanish” to read about Kayla Spaulding and the ten other stories. Did I mention that these stories are inclusive of a variety of well-researched and presented diverse characters?

There is a story in this book that opens with a school shooting. Please don’t let that deter you from reading the story and instead act as a content warning. It is one of the most moving stories in the entire collection in my opinion and is a reminder that Schleicher is talented at painting emotions onto pages with words. I am glad I had to wait to read it.

Thanks for reading and check back soon for another book review. As a friendly reminder, wash your hands and call your loved ones.

New Short Story And A Lot of Vulnerability: “Stronger”

Wedding picture!

Before you read this post, please take a moment to read my short story on Coffee House Writers here.

Read it? Alright then. Let me take a deep breath. It’s time for me to get vulnerable with you. These emotions are weird and difficult for me.

This piece is fiction, but there are pieces of this story that are true. I left out parts. I toned it down. I changed names, places, and made up new people and circumstances. Hannah is fictional. My partner is my best friend, he would never abandon me, and is one of the most understanding human beings on this planet – don’t you dare think that this story is in any way about him. Time to clarify some things just in case.

What is based on truth is the public transportation incident that the main character experienced as well as other aspects of trauma. I’m unusual. There was never a time in my memory before vitiligo and for that I am grateful. I never experienced loss, though it has grown. When my parents first took me outside as an infant and I started to tan it was there. Family members talked. They knew it affected me, but when I heard the words “deformed” and “disfigured” I internalized it. Growing up in very remote areas of the United States, even today there are people that believe it is a mark of demonic possession or worse. Luckily, I have a loving amazing family.

The public transportation incident in the story is based on when I lived in San Francisco. In 2016, an elderly woman beat me with her cane during evening rush hour while yelling, “Leper,” and, “Stop Touching Me!” I was not touching her. No one said anything or stopped her, but they sure stared at me. I got out early and walked the rest of the way home. Try and imagine the terror of being beaten in public by an old woman in front of a crowded light rail train car in rush hour while no one said a word. You there yet? Cool.

I didn’t include every example of vitiligo changing what someone saw or how they acted toward me in the story. I have been refused service at restaurants because they didn’t want a “leper” touching their plates or tables (this happened in Niagara Falls, ON). Questions like “when were you in a fire?” or later, after years of working in laboratories, “were you in an accident?” are always a fun time. These are the examples that come to mind.

This has been my whole life. And I’m white. Imagine what it would be like for someone with darker skin than mine. Indeed, one review mentioned, “In a study of 53 [vitiligo] patients in India, major depressive disorder was reported in 57% of patients, social phobia in 68%, and suicidal ideation in 28% (high risk 8%; low risk 21%). These findings stress the need for psychological and/or psychiatric intervention (Ramakrishna and Rajni, 2014). Papadopoulos et al. (Papadopoulos et al., 1999) reported that counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy could improve self-esteem, body image, and overall QoL [Quality of Life] in patients with vitiligo.”

Now, let’s flip vitiligo to any other visible disfigurement or disability a child internalizes as being their fault because it impacts a child’s life significantly. It’s your turn to help a kid with a completely different life face that internalization and you’re thinking of becoming involved in foster care like I am. There are additional realities that you need to face. Over 35% of children in foster care have a parent with a substance abuse disorder and have been exposed to substances. Given the age range that my partner and I are looking to foster with intent to adopt, the reality is that our future foster children will likely have been exposed (directly or indirectly) to alcohol, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines and/or opioids at some point. They could have addictions of their own. One study suggests that kids that have been through foster care will develop substance abuse issues later in life if they don’t do so while in the foster care system. It’s complicated.

We’re not looking for a perfect child. We will love a child with an addiction – even if it was a choice of coping mechanism in the moment or however it started. We already love people with addictions. They aren’t broken and they can be successful if given the support they need.

Readers don’t like ugly stories and I get it. The world is ugly enough as it is. They don’t like thinking about the fact that therapeutic foster care homes are severely underfunded. But here’s the thing, foster care produces brilliant minds if given the chance, and, as a reminder, here’s a list of successful people that survived the American foster care system. Any names look familiar? Steve Jobs? Colin Kaepernick? I have met successful doctors, scientists, and lawyers that fought their way to where they are now through this underfunded system. I love people from this system and look forward to loving more of them.

Want to help make change? Donate your time as a mentor or become a foster parent. Respite care can be for anything from a couple hours to a couple days and helps kids in foster care and families within your community that may need temporary childcare. Mentoring involves spending time with a kid to provide them with a role model and someone to spend time with. Multiple organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brother Big Sister offer mentoring opportunities. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a great way to support children going through the legal system – a terrifying process for kids. Before donating money, look to your local community first.

Anyways – this story is dedicated to an incredible young person named Olivia. There’s my soapbox. I’ll get back to writing my short stories and book reviews. These emotion things are weird.