Spring Semester and a note about cats

The first day of Spring Semester -- and campus is closed due to inclement weather. Freezing rain, lots of snow, that kind of stuff. I got a text message at 6am from school, laughed maniacally, and went back to bed. Or tried to. I had something to eat, poked around online to look at what some of my classes had in store (horror), and finally threw the covers back over my head around 8:30 AM. Boo Boo judges me from atop the bookshelf as I pull the covers over my head in an attempt to sleep the day away...

As it stands now I’m looking at 15 credits. Full time. I have gone back and forth of what science class to take. I started with Astronomy, dropped it promptly; then tried (and cried a lot) Geography. I found it painfully boring, frustrating, useless to me personally, and my teacher was Type-A, “What’s 17 + 17?” Stares at you until you sweat, then writes it out like you’re an idiot (because you are without a calculator). I couldn’t find a lab partner in Geography (all of my peers were 17-20 years old, and I am not a social person), and so I ended up crying at the end of every lab. I wish that was an exaggeration. I’m thin-skinned, “overly sensestive” people like to describe me as. I refer to myself as “constantly dialed to 11” where my emotions never really turn off, I take everything personally, I’m a people-pleaser, afraid to fail, horrible at Math and self-conscious.

This semester I thought I’d try Geology. Rocks. Then I realized, it was the same teacher, and that I’d be in the exact same situation. So I dropped that like a hot rock. I was getting towards the end of science classes to hate. I finally decided on Biology. It described itself as “for non science majors” (me!), and that it included things like the Animal Kingdom and DNA. I recalled some of that from my Anthropology class, figured there couldn’t be too much Math in it, and at the very least the subject matter might keep me engaged.

Then it got better--and worse. I found out my friend was also in the Lab, so I’d have a guaranteed-not-an-idiot Lab Partner who I could talk to (the most important part, idiot or otherwise!). Also, a different teacher.

Then class started and I’m listening to a pre-class lecture, and the teacher starts describing a required dissection. Fuck. Yes, I’ll have to participate in the dissection of fetal pig. My Lab Partner, in her infinite understanding me said, “I hope you know I’ll be laughing at you the entire time and you’re going to think I’m heartless.” You are a cold-hearted bitch, but I knew that already. You cut, I’ll try not to vomit.

I suppose I should outline my “final” classes (unless something happens and I drop one of these):

  • Math 025 - Elementary Algebra
  • History 100 - History of Civilization to 1500
  • Trestle Creek Review (the team behind our local campus Literary Magazine)
  • Death and Dying: a Sociocultural, Historical, and Biological Perspective (as taught by my favorite Anthropology teacher as well as another History teacher)

Now, I haven’t taken a History class since High School and that was (I just did the math) 15 years ago. So it’s safe to say that it’s rusty. The truth about history (from my Anthropology classes) is that we’re really, really awful human beings and we’ve done terrible things to each other since the dawn of time. We just keep finding new and interesting things to murder, pillage and conquer over. So -- it’s mostly going to be a pretty depressing class.

Couple history with a Death and Dying class (throw in an agonizing group project), an advanced-for-me Math Class and Biology and you’ve got my own personal Hell (haha) for the next few months.

Writing? What writing? I won’t be doing anything writing related except for essays.

Also it has been cold and snowing like crazy. Random car selfie turned out great. #shameless

I can feel the need to write, but emotionally I can’t get there when I have so many things staring back at me. So many classes, so many things to read and to learn and to study. Videos to watch, lectures to listen to. How do people do this? How can anyone go to college and do normal things like raise a family or have a job or write a fucking manuscript? I have it easy: no children, no family except my immediate ones, just a low-maintanence boyfriend and cat. No traditional job (I make things and try and sell them), no 9-5. And yet I can’t seem to sit down and finish a single project.

I sent out my manuscript to some friends over the Winter Break. One of them responded to me, the rest are crickets in my inbox. Silence. So I am told, “Well, you should just follow-up with them.”

I should follow-up with them. I won’t.

I’m happy to say that the feedback I did receive lines up very closely with the ideas I had myself for revision. “The characters are too flat,” “Who is Ash to Meg, why are they important?” “What is the Terra Prognatus?” I have lots of notes about deepening characters and story and making changes. I just don’t know when I’ll get to make those kinds of changes if I have difficulty focusing on anything other than school now.

I had three weeks off class and all I was able to accomplish, personally, was to re-read my manuscript, take some notes, and set it aside. I was able to listen to and ask questions with one person who did give me feedback and that was a rewarding experience. I wish I would have accomplished more--but what’s done is done. I am not certain how to keep myself focused on anything let alone writing.

So let me see if I can get back to focusing on what I did get done and not focusing on what I “wish” would have happened.

I’ve had this mindset recently where my Trials of Blood/InGifted story is static, that it is off-limits to many of the other story ideas that come floating across my subconscious. It’s hard to explain, but many of the ideas I get -- I automatically want to shove them into this story, and I have mostly denied myself that. Until now. I was playing with my cat and I was thinking of how my favorite stories have animals in it: Mercedes Lackey and her horse Companions, Garth Nix and his cat Mogget and the Disreputable Dog. And I realized, “Write what you know,” and I know my cat.

I know how cats cat. I know how they get under your feet and frustrate the hell out of you and then rub up against you and meow and all is forgiven (to a cat-lover, anyways). And I started to ask myself, “Why not?” Why can’t I have a talking (or telepathic, I’m not sure yet) cat in my blood mage story? Why can’t I roll two things I love together and make some new strain of story? Why do I impose these kinds of limitations on myself?

The “why” doesn’t matter--only that I have agreed that this is something unique to me and my own stories, and while there have many, many instances of anthropomorphic or sentient/godlike creatures contained within animals, I can spin this to be my own. The idea is not unique to the stories I have read--I just have to make this unique to me.

So I was imagining Malisyn sitting across from the fire, and the light reflecting in the eyes of her cat. But is it a cat, or the soul of Transcender that is staring back at her? It could be either or--as these creatures are inhabited by two souls, and in a true-cat-manner, neither can be forced to appear on command. Sometimes, you’ll get the cat, sometimes you’ll get the Transcender. They’ll act as catalysts (CATalysts!) for blood magic by having a blood relic collar (that collar is what effectively keeps the cat-and-Transcender spirit contained within, and when the young blood mage casts magic near the cat, the blood relics will amplify the mage’s own powers.

Many animals were considered for this soul-bonding process, but only the cat was discovered to be able to “handle” the extra inhabitant. Dark ages for Transcenders indeed, to find out what animals worked and what didn’t. But then I have this whole concept of cats riding along in baby swaddles or saddlebags, conversations screamed from horseback,

“Cat! Help me!”

::cat lays in the middle of the road, licking itself::

“Can’t. Busy.”

“You’re just laying there!”

“BUSY.”

Cats are chosen for their keen ability to sense the demons of Transcendence, for their agile bodies and easy transportation. Also, because they’re cute, but that’s not strictly magical. And so when a young blood mage needs to venture into the world, they’re given two mentors--a Guardian, a human companion to protect them, and some (but perhaps not all) are given a cat who is then imbued with the soul of a Transcender connected to that mage by blood.

I have theories about nine lives, collars, magical spells, conversations--all a bit light hearted, by grounded in my world of magic, and something that could fit in seamlessly. It is very much me, and I really look forward to that one blood mage who is terribly allergic to cats but still loves them--

If nothing else: this idea excites me to write, and so I know that when I do return to writing--I'll have something to look forward to. I think I'm going to try balancing revising Earth Borne and working on a new outline for InGifted. I know I want to work away from a "large, world shaking" initial book to smaller, bite-sized adventures (closer to Jennifer Roberson's 'Tiger and Del' series, more focused on character than earth shattering plotlines, those come later!).

A letter to convince myself to write

Author's note: I wrote this as a letter to myself (as the title suggests) to convince myself to write. I've been sitting here at Starbucks for two days (don't you judge me!), in a weird lull time between Spring and Summer semesters and moving to a new apartment. I have a lot on my mind, but forefront, always, is my writing. I know I can't realistically start writing a new story right now (there's just too much to do and I'm not ready), but I needed to figure out what I can do, so I just started asking myself some questions. It started as a word document:

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And then I remembered I was in Starbucks, and they play their music really loud and there was just no way I'd get anything done. So I switched over to FocusWriter, put on my headphones, changed the background to one of my own photos to help get me calm--and started writing.

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This letter is to myself, I'm OK with spoilers (they remind me to actually write the scenes!), and I wanted to share this process with you even if it does tell a lot about where I want to take the series and how I want to get there. So read on if you want to see what's happening down the road or what I'll be busying myself with, or how the story may change for better or for worse: but I warned you!

spoilers

Also titled: A scene you haven’t scene before

"Your job is to chase your characters up a tree, throw rocks at them, then get them down."

What is it about the Transcendence series that I love so much? Is it the demons? Is it the love story that will build between Malisyn and Nox? Is it the fantasy setting? Is it that I can tie characters directly to my own family and, in a way, keep them alive forever? I’m not overly knowledgeable about the Fantasy / Medieval genre. I think I write it well but--is it really the best genre for the story? Am I more of an expert on “modern” day?

My plan was always to have Malisyn inherit, from her biological father, his demon Bloodbane. When she Transcends for the first time she becomes the BloodGate Heir and therefore takes over his responsibilities. [Are BloodGate Heirs effectively “immortal” until their children take up their position? Is that why Jaq never wanted Malisyn to know, he was cheating death? And once she found out--perhaps, with help from Jaq’s enemies--she could Transcend, and after she had help Transcending--help from Nox, since she’s crippled by fear of death--then Jaq realizes what’s happening. It’s time to confront his daughter and train her.

Key characters, then are:

Malisyn Nox Jaq Allyn

Dawn, as Stephanie, will become a sister to Malisyn after she loses Allyn (if she does); or when she loses Taelor.

Kellea, as mine and Malisyn’s mother needs to play a prominent role somehow.

Av’niel, as Allyn’s father, and Malisyn’s effective step-father, needs to be involved.

Will Kellea and Av’niel act as Jaq’s “enemies”? Or do they stand to protect Malisyn, not wanting her to become a Transcender either? No, of course not, they know that lifestyle is hard and thankless--and dangerous. They’d want to protect her and Allyn for as long as they can.

Until life--and demons, and an antagonist--has other plans.

Just like real life, the enemies of Jaq will find his weak point--his daughter, the part of him that keeps him immortal--and they’ll go after her to get to him. Killing her would only keep Jaq immortal--but forcing her to Transcend would steal Jaq’s power and give it to her, then they could kill her [Wouldn't she be immortal now? Ok, yeah, need to think about that... slight delay? Waiting period?]. And then Jaq. And Allyn and Kellea and Av’niel as well.

But where in a story like this do we start? If Jaq is really the one the story is “about” why are we focusing on Malisyn? Because she is the one we can relate to. The unknown, the quiet one, the one without magic, the girl who wants more than what life has given to her--and can’t ever see it happening. She has no idea that she may be one of the most powerful blood mages in the world once she inherits her father’s powers--but she’ll realize too late that she really wanted him in her life all along. He won’t die instantly, no, but he’s going to get his first wrinkle or white hair and be very, very upset about it (he’s had a long time to get narcissistic).

Nox’s role, eventually, will be that of protector and friend--and eventually a lover. But he’ll have a personal journey of his own, through redemption for his past, for a life he lived before he met Malisyn that he’s not proud of. Kellea and Av’niel have their own story, a complicated past that involves keeping secrets from Malisyn, Allyn and even Jaq. They know more than they let on, know more about where Jaq is than they let on, and it’s those secrets that will lead to Jaq’s eventual whereabouts/life being revealed.

This has to start with Malisyn because she is the one that will have fate unceremoniously thrust upon her. We can all relate to having an unfair burden (or what we see as difficult and unfair at the time when we’re spoiled children) placed upon our shoulders and the bitterness and resentment that comes with it. Maybe Malisyn never wanted to be a blood mage. Maybe it isn’t her dream (I never had dreams when I was her age). Maybe she herself considers blood magic to be something evil or scary or unnatural. Obviously, now that she is one, she’s going to either have to change her mind--or accept her fate. And the train wreck that shows up in the fine print shortly after.

Allyn can be the shining beam of acceptance and optimism and excitement. He won’t understand the fear that people have or the prejudice that people have about blood magic because he’s simply too young. He can be a catalyst for change and if he dies, his ideals can not be allowed to die with him. Malisyn would go forward--even with Allyn--to help change the minds of people about how they view blood magic--did this just become an allusion to sexuality or faith or something? Well now.

The demons are important, I won’t cut them. Transcendence is important. The whole fucking world is important, I can’t change it. I can’t get caught up on “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how they heated up water or shipped things in medieval times.” Guess what, I’ll figure it out or I’ll make it sound convincing. I’ll ask people. I’ll watch videos. I’ll take a class--but I cannot let it stop me from doing what I want to do. I can’t change the genre because I’m feeling shitty about myself or the story.

It’s a beautiful story and I have to tell it.

It needs demons as much as it needs terrible humans capable of good deeds, and good humans capable of terrible deeds. The world isn’t fair, life isn’t fair, but we get to choose how we react to it: a choice my characters get that I never have. I mean, sure, I have a choice but I always choose to get upset by it. Malisyn doesn’t have to be that way, and neither does Nox or Allyn or anyone else. Intrusive thoughts, be damned!

Blood magic stays because it is a part of me. Interesting that I myself have a blood disorder that could kill me if left untreated--how can I “give” that to Malisyn? Does being a blood mage ultimately shorten your life? Not if you’re a Transcender. At least, not if you’re a BloodGate Heir. What about regular blood mages? Is Transcending kind of like drinking alcohol? Do they run the risk of a slow, painful death the more often they cross the threshold to dig at humanity’s secrets? But society keeps asking them to do it, to help, risking their own lives? Hard to say. I like the thought of somewhat sickly, physically weak heroes who have to depend on magic, charm and friends to succeed. Then when they reach the “bottom” with none of those things, it’s truly a sad experience.

I need to find the best parts of each chapter, of each character, and keep them. And throw the rest away. I need to find the heart of each chapter, “What does this chapter accomplish? What character does it illuminate? Does it take a step forward in the plot or does it pause to appreciate the world or character (which is also acceptable)?”

Although reading each chapter objectively isn’t really an option--I know at some point I’m going to start reading and I’ll hate it. I just have to be honest with myself. So what are my options?

1. Make a new outline and write it from scratch

2. Go through, highlight only what I like about each chapter (still requires re-reading it)

I think my best option is to re-write the whole damn thing with a new outline. There’s plenty about the story that I don’t like that makes it not salvageable.

The motivation for Tas’kara is weak and weird. Kellea’s role as a Nightwalker doesn’t make sense. The Trials of Blood held in a dinky little town because of one or two demons doesn’t make sense. It needs to be different. I don’t want to re-work the story, I need to remake it. So it needs to be a whole new outline and keep just the aspects and nuances from the first draft that I really like. It’s simply too much work (and anger) to try and fit back into a pair of jeans that doesn’t fit anymore. Buy a new pair.

So my goal now is to work on a new outline for the Trials of Blood--but actually make an outline for all three books (or at least notes for the 2nd and 3rd if there are broadly connecting themes and goals). I need to be critical about my characters and my plot. I cannot be afraid to radically change characters, setting, ideas, plots, characters: I need to revise fearlessly. I can always go back to the first draft (yuck) but I cannot always improve successfully. I need to just really look at the overall theme, the trajectory of the story, how I want my readers (and characters) to feel, and write to that objective.

#

So that's really my plan for the summer: to work my way through a new, strong outline so that I can start working toward a strong second draft. I can't rush this, I'll be juggling some accelerated (basic) math and chemistry classes that have to take priority, but I want to use this as my "down time" projects. Whenever I'm not working on school: I need to turn to this project, pick it up, pet it, make sure it's feeling OK and spend some time with it. My cat may get jealous. I'm a little jealous; I haven't spent this much time with my characters in a while. It felt good. Thank you for joining me.