Being a Traveling Pantser


DSCN9349.JPGI will always be a pantser, no matter where in the world I’m writing.

I had a loose outline for the third book of my series. I even made index cards by taking a notebook and cutting its pages into rectangles – I guess it’s easier for me to use index cards that aren’t real and not be afraid I’m wasting money?

Anyway, it’s a good thing I didn’t spend money on index cards, because the outline I made on these makeshift cards turned out to be a waste. I’m 20k into the first draft, and it’s nothing like I’d planned. At least for the Fallen Faery Tales, I will always be a pantser.

The story is coming along so easily! Words are spilling onto the page (or into the document) and I’m resisting the urge to edit, meaning I make faster progress. I think it’s the different location that keeps my Muse busy, making her feel generous.

dscn9350I’ve been trying to start a bullet journal, and though it isn’t pretty (certainly not Pinterest worthy!) my favorite feature is a writing goal tracker. At the end of the day, I fill in a box with the daily word count goal. I keep the goal small, just 2k a day, and have been able to fill in all of the little boxes since January 1. I hope to finish a new draft by the end of January, and if it winds up longer than the first two books, I’ll still be filling in little boxes come February.

When I’m not writing, I’m reading (The Count of Monte Cristo is quite a feat!) or enjoying the Peruvian summer (if it’s not too hot to enjoy.) We’ve gone to the beach and seen different parts of the city. All this helps with my projects.

Travel is a great for any artist. If you can get somewhere new, just for a little while, do it. Your story will thank you, your Muse will love you, and even if you don’t write during the vacation, there’ll be plenty of material to work with at home!

Story: Prince of the Haystacks


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When the young prince first fled into the barn, he thought it too small and messy for someone of respectable breed to sleep in. Having grown accustomed to feather pillows and silk sheets, he struggled at first to adapt and sleep on the hay.

But he was fleeing an angry wizard’s curse, so it happened more quickly than he’d expected.

Now he gazed sleepily into a corner, remembering long nights spent in hiding from the bitter old man determined to bring about his ruin—all because of a necklace. In the back of his mind, he replayed the moment that amulet shattered when he threw it—he thought of the rage on the old wizard’s face—but he didn’t think of it for long, dousing the memory with a sip of wine.

By now, this place was more than a barn: he’d ordered servants to deliver his most important belongings, like books and comfortable pillows (his mattress wouldn’t fit through the window.) Now it didn’t look like a barn, but a large tree house where no one came to see him.

He gazed at his reflection on the surface of the goblet, wondering not for the first time how he ended up here—but he didn’t wonder long enough to stir his conscience, because at that moment, he heard the old wizard sneezing outside.

“Ha-ha!” cried the prince, delighted for the distraction. “Back again? I see you have yet to brew a cure for your allergies!”

He patted a nearby hay bale fondly. Who would have thought something so common would repel black magic?

Every night at this time, the wizard came to this barn in search of vengeance for his amulet. The prince used to think these appearances irritating, but now he looked forward to them; they broke the monotony of life in this tree house, and it wasn’t as if the wizard could hurt him.

“Oh!” cried the wizard, and sneezed again, loudly. “You—insolent boy! When I get to you, I’ll turn you into a—ah-choo!—a proper toad!”

He took another sip of wine, chuckling. “A rather handsome toad I’d be, don’t you think?” he asked his reflection. “I would be the brightest of all the toads.”

“You would be caged!” cried the wizard. “Caged and then poisoned—or sold to an aquarium—ah-choo!”

“Tell me,” the young man continued, “when are you going to stop coming? I’m sure your allergies are more than fits of sneezing. Perhaps your skin goes up in boils or your nose gets runny. Surely it’s not worth chasing me for one silly necklace.” Deep down, he wanted the wizard to give up so he could go back to his comfortable bedroom.

Ah-choo! Curse you and every word you say! Curse all your ambitions and dreams! When you step out of this barn, I will set every plague on you—”

The prince yawned, drowning out this familiar string of fruitless curses, and decided the barn was comfortable enough. He could always have more books delivered if he ran out. His mother made sure they sent him food and water, and of course wine. It was not yet cold enough for the situation to be too uncomfortable.

Outside, the wizard’s angry words continued; mixed with each curse was a poignant sneeze. Two sneezes, three, four—the prince counted them, thinking that if anyone ever asked, he would tell them he had always found haystacks the most comfortable place to sleep.

I Resolve to Know Myself


 

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That’s Inca Kola – the best soda ever. You should try it.

When you leave home and go far from your comfort zone, you make room for God to work wonders in your life. Not that He couldn’t work wonders if you stayed home–but it’s  more fun for you if you go where He leads.

What have I learned so far?

  • You are never finished learning about a different culture–the customs, ways people live. To know life in another country, you have to live it. Thankfully I’ve been here enough time to learn a great deal, and will be here a while longer.
  • In a different setting, you learn about yourself as a character. When you’re placed in situations you’d never imagined, an interesting thing happens: you grow as a person. You make progress on your Hero’s Journey.
  • This year I celebrated Christmas in Peru, so I learned that the Lord’s birthday isn’t limited to white Christmases and trees full of lights. It’s celebrated differently all over the world, but no matter where you are, the holy day is beautiful.

I will keep my updates brief. First, on the topic of writing. January 1 is the day I started work on the third book of my series, which has not yet been titled. Being in the place where the first book was inspired, I’m confident that the third installment will be full of magic and life. The story and characters have become oddly alert, as if knowing this is where they first became.

And on reading, I’ve decided not to do the Goodreads challenge this year, focusing instead on becoming familiar with classic literature. That doesn’t mean I won’t read a new book if it seems like it’ll be good. It just means that I’m not putting pressure on myself to speed-read anything for the sake of a number.

I’m learning to crochet! I made a unicorn a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m going to learn to make dolls. My next project is to crochet a mermaid; it’s really exciting to see your work take shape. I’d been meaning to learn a new hobby for a long time now, and it is also doing much to help me learn about myself as a person.

My only resolution for 2017 was to live more and find out who I am as a person. What’s yours? Do you have any awesome plans?

Guest Post: Life in the Tunnels


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A couple of days ago, I posted this excerpt from World of Shadows by Emily Rachelle (purchase it here!) If the excerpt wasn’t enough to interest you in this story, the author herself wrote a guest post describing the world where all this magic takes place–it’s well thought out, magical, intriguing. My review of the book is coming soon!


When Beila investigates her strange recurring dreams, she discovers a society of invisible people living in an enchanted world of connected underground tunnels. Life in the tunnels is an entirely foreign experience to an average New York teenager like Beila.

Food

In the middle of the tunnel world stands a magical garden that astounds Beila. A variety of vegetables and even fruits familiar to the villagers from their lives before the curse grow in this room, the largest in the tunnels. A sizable amount of the villagers’ lives revolves around this garden. Most nutrition comes from the produce, but social life centers in this place as well. Adults meet over cooking fires to tell stories. Children play games in the open patches of dirt. The light similar to the sun does what it can to cheer everyone’s spirits as the years stretch on.

The people can also eat meat and different breads and pastries from rooms in a specific tunnel hallway. Many of these foods were inaccessible to the villagers in their lives before the curse. At first, having such luxuries available made the curse almost seem worth it. As time passed, though, the food became commonplace and no longer made up for the cramped spaces, or lack of freedom and passing time.

Entertainment

One of the worst parts of the curse is the boredom. Magic rooms providing for all your needs may seem amazing, but most the villagers’ lives before the curse were centered on professions to meet needs. Those professions are unnecessary now. Even if villagers wanted to work, the space and materials to do their old jobs aren’t available. Adults have resigned themselves to lives of games, storytelling, and cooking, the only activities available to them. Those who still enjoy craft work might also spend days tearing apart clothing from the little “shop” to design something new, be it a toy or garment or something else entirely. The number of people interested in this hobby varies throughout the years; on the one hand, it provides something new to do, but on the other hand, the results of your work usually vanish by the next morning.

Children do have a few toys. Some of the children owned toys before the curse which came with them to the tunnels. These include dolls and tops. One of the “shops” also contains a few toys, which vanish from wherever they’re left each night and re-appear on the same shelf every morning. Most of the children’s amusement comes from games—races, leapfrog, pretending to be adults, jokes and riddles, hide and seek, tag. Some children enjoy drawing in the dirt with fingers or sticks, as well.

Family

Family units mostly mirror the society the villagers lived in before the curse. The passage of time caused the village’s interactions to change gradually, but these changes affected the larger society more than individual families. Marriage depends more on companionship and support than love or emotion. Parenting is a balancing act between not spoiling children and not being severe. The age determining adults from children is younger than modern American standards, but the distinction between age groups bears little familial or societal significance after years of life frozen in time, unaging.

Society

Most physical needs—food, cleanliness, clothing—the magic meets. Social interaction is therefore the most important part of a villager’s day. The village is a tight-knit community. There is no one leader, and with little change occurring over the years there has rarely been a need for one. It is hard to keep track of the years passing, but the village tries to observe the regular holidays such as Christmas (Noel), Epiphany, and the days of the saints.

As time has passed in the tunnels, the magic has begun to deteriorate. Villagers now need to help keep the garden pruned and organized. Clothing sometimes needs mended and shoes need fixing. These signs of magic deterioration are concerning for the villagers, since the signs indicate the magic keeping the people alive could be fading. The need for these types of work do bring back some of the sense of meaning and usefulness that was present in their lives before the curse, though.

Time passing also caused a societal shift. Family and societal hierarchies faded. Certain key women became vital to the village as a whole, bringing women up to a higher level of importance than before. By the time Beila arrives, most of the village operates in an almost matriarchal style by default, since its most important figures have a female majority. However, gender has little bearing on a person’s position in the village as a whole.

Excerpt from World of Shadows by Emily Rachelle


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I am a huge fan of faerie tale retellings, so when Emily asked me to review World of Shadows a while back, it was perfect. I’m still working on my review (let me tell you now, it is worth the read!) Until then, here’s an excerpt from the story itself.

World of Shadows is enchanting! Buy it on Amazon and add it to your Goodreads shelf. Here’s what the book is about:

In this urban fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, modern-day teenager Beila Durand is plagued by nightmares that lead her to discover – and wind up trapped in – a cursed underground world. The invisible people that live in this medieval village depend on Beila learning the truth behind their curse – and why she is the only one who can set them free.
In her quest for answers, however, all she seems to find are more questions. Where do the echoing screeching at night originate? Who is the isolated man that speaks with Beila from the shadows of his cloak? What does this New York girl have to do with any of it? And will she ever find a way back home?

And finally, the excerpt! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

“Hello?” I call out cautiously.
The hood turns sort of toward me—facing the floor to my right—but the figure remains seated. “Yes.” The voice is low, a male’s.
“Excuse me?”
The side of the cloak makes a wide gesture. “Come in, welcome.” He sounds young and not at all frightened like the invisible woman I heard before. In fact, he almost sounds unhappy, resigned, possibly even bored. Most notably, of course, he speaks clear, easy English.
“May I ask…where am I?”
“The tunnels.”
I nod and take a few steps forward, then take a deep breath and repeat, “Yes, I thought so, but where?”
This time the hood faces me directly, still completely covering the man’s face. He remains silent for a minute before pushing against the curved arms of the chair and standing quickly, like the President or a king just walked in the room. Again, he is silent and motionless for a long minute.
“Your name.”
“It’s Beila. I’m Beila Durand, from New York.” Another minute of silence passes, and I feel like he’s examining me. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel as awkward if I could see him—his eyes, his face, even his general form to confirm that he’s human. It’d be nice just to make sure I can see him, that he’s not invisible too. Or maybe, if he would only speak, then this place wouldn’t seem so stifling. “And you are?”
The hood nods quickly. “Ah, yes, of course. My apologies. I am…well, perhaps it is best for me not to say. Call me whatever you like, I suppose.” At least he’s polite.
I take another step toward him to close some of the distance between us. The cloak side makes another wide gesture, this time seeming to indicate the chair. I shake my head and sit cross-legged on the floor, so he takes the chair. It seems a little too much for me to sit in this mystery cloak man’s throne.
“Is your name dangerous?”
The hood shakes. “No.” Then it leans back ever so slightly before dropping forward. “Actually, it is. Now that you ask, yes. It’s…best for you to not know about me. Not yet, that is.”
Yeah, that’s not weird at all. “Okay then. Next question…why am I here? Oh, and you still never said where here is.”
“Those are questions I cannot answer for you.”
My eyebrows bunch up. “That makes three. Is there anything you can tell me?”
“Only that these dreams are very important, to all who live in the tunnels. Our lives are in your hands.”
“Our? You mean the griffin too, then?”
There is no response, no movement of the cloak.
“And the invisible people, with the cold hands that speak French? They live here too, right?”
I wait for him to speak. I’m beginning to wonder if he will when he clears his throat. “You have done well to learn this about our world. But I cannot answer questions for you. You must learn the truth for yourself.”
He likes that I’ve figured this stuff out, but he won’t help me any. Interesting. “So they do live here—the invisible people, and the griffin—here with you, in tunnels. But you can’t tell me anything about them, or you.”
He nods.
“Why not?”
“To tell would be grave. The truth must be sought for us to be saved.”
So many new questions come to mind with that statement. I focus on just one. “What do you mean, saved?”
The hood shakes and I nod. “I get it, no questions. Well then, if you’re not going to tell me anything, why am I even still here? Why doesn’t anyone come to take me to the cave? Or why don’t I wake up—something like that?”
The hood nods again, past me rather than at me this time. “You may leave whenever you like.”
When I turn around, all I see are the massive doors. Closed doors. I turn back around. “So I just up and leave, then? The cave’s out there?”
“When you step through the doors, you return to your home. The cave is unnecessary from here.”
“Huh. Unnecessary.” I push off the floor and stand, brushing the dirt off my hands onto my pajama pants. It’s only then that I realize I’m in my pajamas, with my hair down and unbrushed, as if I climbed straight out of bed into this room. I wave to the cloak, suddenly a bit self-conscious. “Well, guess I’ll be going, then, if that’s it.”
The cloak rises from the chair and steps forward. “Before you leave, milady.” Suddenly a necklace dangles in front of my face, right there in thin air. I look at the cloak-man, who just points to it and nods once. I take it and hold it out in my palm, trying to get a better look at it in the torchlight. It’s some sort of golden pendant on a chain. The pendant is an oval, with the design of a ribbon tied in a bow carved on top and a fancily scrolled loop carved on either side, connecting the pendant to the chain. Matching scrollwork curls along the bottom of the oval. The center of the pendant features a portrait painting framed by a thin gold line. The painting is of a young man, with nearly-shaved dark blond hair and eyes the same color. He’s wearing armor that’s elaborately carved and painted in red and black designs. The piece isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen in the city, and I’ve been to quite a few unique shops.
“What’s this?”
“A necklace. For you, Beila Durand. Take it with you when you leave.”

Being an Introverted Traveler


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I was not made for noise. I know I haven’t been designed to cope with the sounds of a big city. I’m an introvert; by now I’ve accepted the “proper care of introverts,” and I will tell people when something is too much–if I need quiet time–if I’m overwhelmed. Aside: The more people tell me to stop being an introvert, the more proud of it I am. The world needs introverts, too.

But this trip has been different.

There’s a way of hearing that doesn’t involve using the ears. In the weeks since our visit to Peru (which isn’t even close to ending) I’ve learned much by sitting at the window as an introvert and listening to the sounds of the city quietly. I’ve learned about Lima, about home, about myself and God. I’ve learned about limitations (there are none) and turned 23 with a deeper sense of knowledge about who I am.

This trip is helping me see things in a different light, and though I’ll still be an introvert–though I will still need quiet time with my journal and the Lord–the minutes I spend listening and watching, those are moments when my soul absorbs colors I’d never known existed.

Travel is not a waste of time. It’s scary, but it’s worth it, and you learn so much.

It can be tiring. You will spend some nights longing for your library of a bedroom (sometimes I do) and you’ll long for a white Christmas (because it doesn’t snow here) and you can be unnerved by all the faces everywhere when you go out for a walk.

I’m not perfect. It’s taken me a little while to adjust to a new place, but slowly, surely, it’s wrapping around me like a blanket. My inner adventurer is surfacing, and I am so glad to be here. When I return home, it’ll be with many dear memories, lessons learned, a journal full of reflections.

What are the limits if we can fly to other countries, speak to people far away, improve at a different language–soar above the clouds, gaze at the restless ocean, feel the wind play with your hair–but most of all, learn who you are?

I’m learning who I am. My blog has been dead because of this. I can’t wait to tell you the stories I’ve heard and been a part of. I was reluctant to travel and leave my comfort zone, but now I encourage you to do it if you get the chance.

Even if you’re tired and groggy, dragging your feet into the plane–you might be thinking of what you won’t have for a while, but some part of you will be fixed on the gain of the journey. Focus on that. Most of all, be yourself. That’s the best way to experience an adventure to the fullest.

I hope you’re having a beautiful Christmas–whether it’s white, or one by the beach!

-Mariella

Seeking Inspiration at the Beginning


Four years ago, I sat at the dining room table in my grandmother’s house. It was a cold, humid day in Lima, Peru.

I could not stop thinking about the ocean; it’s only a short drive from her house, and 80% of my inspiration that year came from seeing the crashing waves. Thinking of the ocean, I began to write the first real draft of what would later become Dissonance—I say real because there were other drafts with the same characters.

The characters had different names and played different parts, but they were the same. It’s difficult to explain, but those characters evolved into what they are now in the published works.

I rewrote that first draft of Dissonance—then called Crashing Melodies—so the storyline also changed, like a child growing up. The location shifted into place until Serenade, my fictional seaside kingdom, looked and felt just right.

When I got home, I edited and published Dissonance. Then I wrote and published the second part of that series, called Serenade.

 

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I’m back at my grandmother’s house, four years and two books after that foggy winter day!

 

It’s fitting that I should be in Peru to write the third book (perhaps even more.) Two chapters of it were written at home, but I’m certain that when I see the ocean this story will thrive, like it did the first time.

Getaways help with writing.

Have you ever found inspiration for a story by leaving your comfort zone? I would love to hear what happened!

Writing: The Learning Process


Too many writers talk and act as if writing were slow torture. As New York sports writer Red Smith once observed, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” If you want to write, here’s a secret: the writer’s struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfilling prophecy, the best excuse for not writing.
From Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

You’re never done growing as a writer. I realized this when I saw the differences reading my novels, Dissonance and Serenade. Only a year after Dissonance’s release—a year of obsessive practice and reading—my skill had improved.

Serenade surprised me. I often found myself staring at a sentence and thinking, “Did I write that?” Time and practice will help you grow, and you will find it worth the effort.

Dissonance and Serenade each have different qualities that make them special. I love Dissonance because:

  • It was the first book I finished. I’d written stories in the past, but something about them didn’t feel complete, even as first drafts.
  • When I released Dissonance, I was doing more than putting a story out for an audience. I was proving I could overcome my own insecurity by giving my work a chance. It was the first time I walked past fear, following a dream.
  • It has heavy backstory. I have three bound copies of previous drafts; each could stand on its own, trailing off into a different adventure. Same story, different breath…same dream, different night.

I am proud of Serenade because:

  • When I wrote it, I was able to plan where each scene would go, meaning I had a clearer path. Unlike with Dissonance, there won’t be three bound versions of Serenade; I’d found a manner of plotting that worked for me. Instead of same dream, different night, this book is one vivid dream.
  • Reading Serenade showed me that my hobby was so much more than a hobby. For a long time, writing has been something I did because I enjoyed it, but my work was read only by my closest friends. Serenade opened my eyes to the fact that, with time and hard work, my audience will grow.
  • This second completed work on my shelf is a reminder that, just like Allie has a long story waiting to be told, my own journey has just begun.

I’m excited that there’s room for improvement in my writing. I’m eager to learn what my weaknesses are, then work until I surprise myself with more growth. This homework is exciting, rewarding, and fun.

So where do I start? With the basics, of course.

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I found the book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer at a yard sale, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for well over a year. Today I decided to page through it; to my delight, I found there are exercises.

I will never be finished learning to write, so may as well enjoy the lessons. If Dissonance and Serenade were the first two “chapters” of my journey, I’m gearing up to embark on the third.

What books do you believe are most helpful when it comes to improving as a writer? Do you delight in constructive criticism, or does it sound overwhelming? (If so, don’t worry–you have reason to be overwhelmed!)

Story: The Fisherman’s Boat


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It was one of the last warm days before fall kicked in with all its chill. School had just ended for the day, and two children walked through the woods, a sister and her younger brother.

To the boy, this was a new route home. However, his sister had been here before; she was taking him to see an old fishing boat left by the man who had lived nearby. For some reason, it had been abandoned in the woods when the man passed away.

As they approached the fishing boat, something about the clearing felt wrong to the girl, who stopped with a small frown. The first thing she noticed was how exposed the boat was. In the past it was protected from the weather by a plastic sheet. The sheet had vanished, allowing leaves to fall inside and create a carpet of brown. Not only that, but the ground was littered with garbage and names had been scratched on the outside.

“How dare they treat it so awfully,” whispered the girl, feeling her heart break.

She gathered wrappers from inside the boat, tossing them into the bushes. The fisherman’s boat ought to be respected, not treated like a big trash bin. She wondered if his family still lived nearby; she could tell them to take better care of their heirloom.

This clearing in the woods had been her haven. Now she could not bring herself to feel the magic she once did; it was as if something had been stolen from her. Even if she came daily to clean the boat, it wouldn’t be the same.

For some reason, she thought everything would be as she remembered it—this clearing hallowed as if the fisherman’s spirit still lurked. Clearly, the dead were powerless to protect their own items once found by the living.

No good mystery could remain pure for long.

“Why are you so sad?” her brother asked, taking a step closer.

The girl couldn’t bring herself reply. Her disappointment made it worse: she had promised her brother a journey to the prettiest part of the forest, but now it felt as though she’d failed him. Instead of speaking, she picked unhappily at some grass with a cold hand.

He spoke again, voice high with childish wonder: “It’s full of leaves, like a chest of gold!”

“It shouldn’t be full of leaves,” she mumbled. “It should be covered with a sheet.”

“But then how would the fisherman’s ghost get inside?”

She frowned and stopped picking at the grass; he continued breathlessly, as if this were the most wonderful discovery in history.

“Look! There are names on the side. Can we write ours, too?”

“But that’s vandalism.”

He pouted. “Please? I want to let the fisherman know I was here!”

It was with astonishment that she took a pin from one of her braids and handed it over. She watched her brother carve his name onto the side of the boat. When he stopped, he said, “When he returns tonight, the fisherman will know he had a visitor.”

His words were so pure, so innocent and glad—and suddenly she felt excitement once more in her cold, young heart. Perhaps there was still magic, if one knew how to look…even on the surface of a moldy old boat.

“Move over,” she said, sitting next to him. “I’m going to write my name.”

The Late Serenade Announcement


My second book, Serenade, has been available on Kindle for a few weeks now, but I didn’t want to write a blog post about it until you could get it on paperback. Now it’s all set up (get your paper copy here!) and I can finally gush about it.

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This is the second book following Allie’s adventures–the second of many books, because I’m not good at coming up with endings. I keep coming up with subplots and different ways to expand on world-building. I’ve been working on Serenade all year; it’s so strange to be holding it as a paper book! It finally feels real.

I had a lot of help from friends and family (hi, Mom!!) Special thanks go to Kristia S. for the lovely cover. Thanks also to my editors, Alex and Sarah. Then there are all the beta readers–some of which even read the book twice–including Syd, Rae, Faith, Phil, Alex (she has been such a great help!) Jennifer and Chris. Briana has also been a great encouragement. I wasn’t able to mention everyone in this blog post, but know I could not have done this alone. You’ve all been very patient with me; I am blessed to have so much support for this journey.

Here’s what the story is about:

Months after her narrow escape from death, Allie feels incomplete. She is weakened by Dissonance, a music-based illness which drains her strength every day; she struggles to feel useful, living a quiet life with her family in their Florida apartment.

As faery tales begin to fall, an unexpected death drives them back to Serenade, a kingdom where many see them as traitors. Facing new responsibilities, Allie must prove she has the strength to be a Muse and finally beat her Dissonance for good.

Read it on your Kindle by purchasing it here! And remember, each time you buy a book, you help me fund my coffee obsession. :D I’m already working on book three! (And a couple more.)

I hope you’ve had a good year, and when you read Serenade, I hope you enjoy it!

-Mariella