Frozen, Fantasy books, and Flash Fiction Week 3

Two posts in one weekend? I’m on a roll. And I guess I’m still procrastinating on that whole editing thing. I’ll get there eventually. Last night, I went out to see Frozen, which is, I think, one of the best things Disney has put out there in a while. It was really refreshing to see a story that was about sisters, communication, expectations, and growing up. Yes, there’s a romance in it, but contrary to the traditional 1950s and 1960s Disney, this movie is mostly about the love between sisters rather than the romantic interest. While one character thinks marrying a man she just met is a brilliant idea, because obviously it’s true love, two other characters point out that it’s absolutely ridiculous. I loved the movie.

All the same, I think my favorite part was probably during the credits. I looked down at saw 2 or 3 young girls up in front of the screen, dancing. They were probably around 5 years old. I’ll admit it, the music was good and I was dancing in my seat. It made me really happy to think, “YES, these are the Disney princesses these girls are growing up with. I’m okay with that.”

I grew up on Disney Princesses like Belle and Mulan, who put others first and risked their lives for the people they cared about, and who learned to be themselves, even when the rest of the world didn’t accept them as they were. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White never did much for me. Admittedly, if you want a great retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a princess who doesn’t just let the story happen around her, I recommend Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley.

I grew up on YA Adventure Fantasy–The Black Cauldron, Artemis Fowl, the Lord of the Rings, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Harry Potter, the Pendragon books, Young Wizards, and pretty much anything by Diana Wynne Jones. For the most part, these stories were about young people finding something bigger an more important than themselves and fighting for what they believed in. Artemis Fowl may not quite fit that mold, and I don’t think anyone would call Lord of the Rings a YA book. But my main point stands, that the stories were about people finding their larger place in the universe and doing good–romance in these stories tended to be more incidental than anything else.

I was fairly horrified when I came back from two years out of the country and walked into a large chain bookstore for the first time in a long while and found the YA Fantasy Adventure section by and large gone in favor of rows after rows of “Teen Paranormal Romance.” Yes, that was the tag on the shelf. Or shelves rather–there were 18 shelves on 3 book cases with that label. I think a lot of the things I found so meaningful to read when I was growing up are disappearing. The Hunger Games was refreshing in that it fell more back into that model of focusing on what was going on outside the arena of who had a crush on who. Yes there was a love triangle in it, but for the entire first book pretty much the main character had no idea either of the guys had those sort of feelings for her–she was too concerned with staying alive and protecting her sister, which really was the more important bit to be worried about at the time. She didn’t have a chance to think about anything else.

I guess I ran a bit longer on that than I meant to. I could discuss my favorite fantasy books for hours, but I’ll stop now. Here’s this week’s flash fiction entry for Thain in Vain’s flash fiction challenge.

Week Three Prompt: While at a party, two adult siblings find themselves attracted to the same person.

Sibling Rivalry

Elise shook her head, laughing. Her curls were getting just a little longer than she liked, just enough to start to swing when her sister said something inappropriate. “I can’t believe you just said that. Have you no sense of decency?”

People moved slowly about the room, eating and drinking and talking. Some of them were strangers, others hadn’t seen each other in years.

May just rolled her eyes. “If we don’t have a little fun, what else is there?” She sipped her drink. “It’s not like we’ll live forever. Besides, Jeffrey was Irish.”

Elise shook a few crumbs off her skirt from the cookie she’d had earlier. “What on earth does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, aren’t wakes supposed to be fun?”

“You’re impossible. Don’t let Mary hear you talking like that. They were together so long—this is all hard enough on her.” Her eyes strayed to the young priest on the other side of the room, chatting with Sarah-Jean. Her sister wasn’t wrong, he was a dashing specimen. He was only about forty or so and he still seemed to have all of his hair. And what a smile!

May smirked, noting her sister’s gaze. “I saw him first. I think I’m going to go thank him for such a lovely homily.”

“Oh no you’re not. Look at him all you want—I’ll probably do the same—but don’t you go making a scene,” Elise said.

May gave her older sister a smirk. “Just you try to stop me.” It took several moments for May to ease herself up out of her chair, bones creaking. Nothing really worked the way it used too. She shuffled across the room as directly as she could, but had to stop several times to catch her breath or make conversation.

Swearing under her breath in a most unladylike way, Elise put her hands out onto her walker and pulled herself to her feet. May had made fun of the walker when Elise had finally decided she needed one, but who had the last laugh now? The walker clunked against the floor as she started toward the priest. Damn May. She couldn’t be content to look at a handsome fellow, she had to go talk to him. She’d always been a precocious girl—too impulsive. She couldn’t be content to simply hang back and watch an attractive man. Elise would have been content to just watch the priest from afar and maybe smile at him but May had to go and raise the stakes.

Elise grabbed a glass of punch off a nearby table and put it in the little basket at the front of her walker. She smirked at May, who seemed to be stuck talking to Jeremy—the man didn’t have his own teeth still, let alone his own hair.

She was a little out of breath when she reached the priest. She picked up the punch with a hand that trembled only a little. “Thirsty?”

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The flash fiction ended up being 499 words, plus the title. I hope you enjoyed this week’s submission. My next goals: finish the latest chapter of my Harry Potter story, fold the laundry, and start my editing processing on The Making of a BeastFeel free to leave comments about any good fantasy books you think I might enjoy, or your thoughts on anything I mentioned above–there’s never enough people to talk about my favorite books with.

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Confession

Happy Friday, everybody. Or, Saturday. I probably won’t post this until tomorrow.

I took the plunge and did something I’ve been putting off since I hit my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal on November 29th. I reopened my story for editing. This might not sound like a big deal–I got the words on paper, I did the hard part, right? It’s just time to go back and clean it up a bit, yeah?

Well, I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to make me sound like a bad writer. The truth is, maybe I am.

I’ve never seriously edited a story before.

I’ve sent out 1.3 million words’ worth of stories into the internet to hopefully entertain and delight fantasy fans, and I’ve never seriously edited them. Most of those stories were fan fiction. I had strong characters as my starting points and I put them in a situation and just let the characters dictate what their natural responses would be to the situation. The stories just kind of evolved, and I’d post a chapter at a time, as they came to me–there were a couple of stories that were 8 years, start to finish, as I pretty much took a break from fan fiction throughout all of college and a couple of years after and only returned to it intermittently until recently. There are pros and cons to this I suppose. Pro? I had to stick with what I’d written because it was already out there and I couldn’t change my mind about a plot point after the fact. Con? I couldn’t change my mind about a plot point because it was already out there.

Maybe it’s just a decade of habit now, but when I think about my stories, I rarely ever give much consideration to major changes. Pretty much everything I’ve posted on FanFiction.net could use going over with a fine tooth comb–there are typos that need to be fixed that embarrass me. But I’ve never really thought about dismantling the stories and changing any major facet about them. The characters told me what felt right for them and the story worked. If I didn’t know what the characters needed or I wasn’t sure where it was supposed to go…then my reviewers waited a long time between chapters.

Participating in NaNoWriMo this year and really pushing myself for the first time in writing an original story (as original as a fairytale gets), I discovered some of the problems with my method of writing. If you have characters you know like the back of your hand, characters you feel like you know as well as anyone in the real world, it’s possible to feel pretty certain that you’ve chosen a natural response for them in a situation. But what about when you don’t really know who your characters are yet? When their backstories are still largely unformed?

For example, part way through my NaNoWriMo story The Making of a Beast, I decided that the main character’s friend and confidante wasn’t a friend who he’d grown up with–it was his father’s friend, who had watched him grow up. I’m fairly certain he’s going to abandon the main character at some point, but I’m still not sure who he is and what the reason for it might be. So I just skipped over that bit.

That’s right–I skipped over chunks of the story during NaNoWriMo, which is something I couldn’t do when I was writing fan fiction. Again, you’ve got the pros and cons there–by being able to skip over it in this case I was able to keep writing, and moving on, and I know I can go back and fix it when I’ve made decisions. It’s been over a month and I haven’t wanted to think about it–I haven’t made those decisions, and I don’t have any better idea about who my characters are. When I write my fics, if I can’t decide on something or I’m not sure about it, it delays the whole process, because I can’t go back. B has to follow A and C has to follow B or the whole alphabet will hate me–though occasionally there’s a good excuse for a flashback and things can be jumbled up a bit.

Here I am now, more than halfway through January, and the only headway I’ve made is to promise myself that I will go back to this story, and that I will do NaNoWriMo again. I have 50,000+ words of unedited something with all these decisions still waiting to be made and these gaping holes in the story as I jump from one part of it to another. Thinking about it, I think I was trying to rush things. I predict all said and done this is going to be a roughly 200,000 word story. I’ve written stories over 150K before (and my current fan fic is nearly at that mark), but it’s never something like this.

I used to always find I had the best chance of editing something if I printed it out and took a pen to it–it’s easy to gloss over things on the computer. I opened my story tonight for the first time since November and started nipping and tucking at the prologue, changing a word here or there. Then I decided to print it. Surely I can do it all if I just take it a piece at a time. And then I found myself wondering what I was doing, trying to edit it piecemeal. Shouldn’t I read the whole thing again and then go to work on the pieces?

Honestly? I haven’t the foggiest. I’m leaning towards that, so that I have a better idea of what I’ve already written. I told myself from the beginning that sections of what I’ve written were probably going to have to go, but I find myself reluctant to part with any of it–something I remember feeling in the creative writing classes and projects I did a lifetime ago.

How do you feel about the editing process? Does it make you cringe? Or is there satisfaction in purging your story, making it better, getting the perfect fit for it? The perfect fit really does make a difference in most things in life. I could probably wax philosophical on that for a bit, but I think it’s time to call it a night. If I manage to hit “publish post” in the next 30 seconds, it’ll still be Friday.

Too late. Saturday is here. Oh well. It’s still Friday somewhere, isn’t it? Time to curl up and sleep.

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And before I forget, here are a few things you can expect to hear from me about in the next couple of weeks:

Stay tuned!

Flash Fiction Challenge and a New Start

Greetings, everybody!

I realize I’ve kind of been taking a break from the blog since my post-NaNoWriMo wrap-up. The new year is just getting started. In the near future I’ll post the obligatory road map for where this year is going to go–I’m seeing a fitter me, a lot more writing, making things hands on, and reconnecting with people I care about. To these ends, I’m already making progress. More that later.

To start with, I’ve decided to participate in Than in Vain’s flash fiction challenge to keep myself writing something original and have a small goal each week. I haven’t worked on my NaNoWriMo novel since I hit the 50,000 word mark on November 29th. I do plan to go back to it; I know where that story is going, I just haven’t decided how it’s getting there. I think the editing process on what I have for it so far is going to feel a lot like pulling off a scab and finding pus. It won’t be pretty, and it might hurt, but cleaning it up will help it heal. Since that’s a gross image, here’s my flash fiction badge instead (it’s much prettier).

Flash fiction badge on my blog, because it's somehow less awkward than pinning a badge to my sweater. Right?

Flash fiction badge on my blog, because it’s somehow less awkward than pinning a badge to my sweater. Right?

I only heard about the flash fiction challenge a few days ago, so I missed out on the first week’s prompt, but I was in time for the second. Flash fiction is essentially a very short story. I’ve seen some brilliant 25-50 word flash fictions in the past. For the purpose of this challenge, a flash fiction was described as a story of 500 words or less.  Thain is posting writing prompts every week. My story for this week is exactly 500 words. I  have mixed feelings about it–I haven’t done really short fiction in a long time. But here it is, take a look.

Week 2 Prompt: A writer famous for horror stories is writing a story that grows so terrifying that he/she becomes to afraid to complete it.

Reggie Sprowls was tentatively happy. It was a relatively new experience for him. He’d built his whole career on scaring others senseless. The picture tucked into the corner of his storyboard was as out of place as the woman asleep on his bed.

Soft fingers stroked his cheek, and woke him up. There was a dent on his face from where his cheek had been pressed against a pencil, and his latest draft had fallen to the floor. “Reggie, it’s late, come to bed.”

He looked up blearily, yawning. “I’m meeting with my publisher in the morning. He said what I brought him last week was rubbish.”

“I’m sure he didn’t say that,” she said, pressing her fingers to his cheek and trying to rub a little life back into it.

His head leaned back of its own accord and he closed his eyes as he let her fingers do their task. “His exact words aren’t important.”

“Come to bed. You can work on it in the morning. I want to curl up next to you.”

He conceded, and slept. Morning came and he went back to his manuscript, leaving Callie asleep in the bed. He frowned at the page. He’d never written a romance before. All of his stories ended with knives in backs and people buried alive. He was good at that sort of thing. He looked at his story about Ronald and Cathy meeting in a bookstore, exchanging awkward flirtations, an atypical courtship…and what then?
Maybe he should go back to writing about bleeding walls.

He could hear the sound of Callie puttering around the kitchenette, making breakfast. How long had he been staring at this page?
What did you do after the man and woman got together? How does it work? Relationships fail. He moved everything off his storyboard from the tree-who-got-revenge-on-the-lumberjacks story and started tacking up post-it notes and trying to find a way to make it work. There was no was no way this could end well. Ronald and Callie would fight. Or she could trip on her  wedding dress walking down the aisle and break her neck. They could die in a plane crash on their honeymoon. Ronald might fall asleep while writing and impale himself on a pencil—or a pen, a pen was definitely sharp enough to go through the throat.

There was no happy ending. He would never be happy. It was impossible. All stories ended in death. Death was the only story. He looked at the happy (if not terribly imaginative) pages he’d written about Ronald and Cathy. There would be no happy ending for them. He’d been content to know life’s miseries, and write them. This glimpse of happiness, only to take it away…it was cruel.

Callie was shaking his shoulder. She tried to talk to him, but he simply stared ahead with blank, terrified eyes, his grip tight around the pen. His breakfast had long since cooled.

Well, I’m ready to hear what you think of it.  But first? Delaying tactics! Or rather, getting back to all those things I mentioned earlier. Sound good? Great.

I’m trying to keep my goals from getting too specific, because some of the best things that happen in our life are totally unplanned. When I was in high school, I never would have imagined that I’d live in another country for two years–I didn’t even want to be too far from home for college. I ended up in college 3000 miles from home (and survived) and the spur of a moment decision to take a Mandarin class for fun eventually led to studying abroad in Shanghai, teaching English at a Taiwanese summer camp, and two years of living in Taiwan after college. It’s a strange world.

My goals this year don’t look tremendously different from last year’s goals. They can pretty much be summed up as: I want to make things (connections with people I care about, smiles, delicious meals, novels, short stories, videos, blog posts, 3D prints, crocheted hats, I want to make it all!). As you saw in my last post, I’ve had some mixed success. I wanted to become a healthier person last year (take that as you will). I strength-trained, and I got stronger. I ran (a little), and I got faster. I counted calories and cut down on sugar and carbs and lost about 20 pounds. And then I stopped lifting, running, and counting. I gained back every one of those 20 pounds (not for the first time). I’m so annoyed at myself over it–it feels kind of bitter to know that if I had managed to maintain my weight after the losses, the next 20 pounds I lose would bring me down by 40…instead, I’m having to re-lose the same weight. It doesn’t feel good–I swore to myself after the last time that I wouldn’t that again. Well, this time, I have a plan.

I need to start lifting weights again–even if it’s dumbbells on my living room floor instead of making it to the gym and getting under the barbell. I need to go back to making better decisions with what I eat, and not deciding that a rough day at work means that it’s totally acceptable to splurge on cookies. Or eat fast food because the only way I’ll actually take a break during lunch is if I leave the office. I think moderation is going to be the key. One of the incentives I came up with is to set a very limited budget on how much I can spend on ordering food out at work, say $10 a week. Whatever I don’t spend of that allotment each week will go towards treating myself to something I really love having done but don’t feel like I can splurge on very often: a massage. It gives me multiple reasons to make better eating decisions during the week.

Another thing that I decided I needed to do this year is make sure the people who are important to me know that they are. Last weekend, I called several family members and long-time family friends who I hadn’t heard from in a long while. It felt good. I missed them and it was great catching up. Until I went away to Taiwan in 2010, I never sent Christmas cards. It just wasn’t something I did.  However, Christmas cards in Taiwan were adorable, quirky, covered with glitter, sequins, and ribbons, and really inexpensive. I put out an open call on Facebook and asked who wanted a card. Exchanging addresses with friends and family I hadn’t talked to in a long while led to conversations with people I missed. It was really great. I’ve done it every year since. Also, looking at all the Christmas cards hanging around my room that year made me feel warm and fuzzy and cared for while I was 12,000 miles from home and working on Christmas while most people I knew back home had time off. To be honest, I haven’t taken this year’s Christmas cards off the mantle yet because when I see them, I smile. One of my goals for this year is to send out a card or letter every month. I’ve got three birthday cards and a belated holiday card ready to go in the mail, and I plan to write a letter to a friend who I know is finishing bootcamp this month.

Those are a few of the things I plan to do this year–there’s more, there’s always more. I need to teach myself the updated version of iMovie so I can get back to posting YouTube videos. I have a friend who’s expecting a little one at the end of this summer, and I’ll be crocheting a hat for her. There are more dishes I’d like to teach myself to cook and new skills I’d like to learn. Of course, there’s also writing. I think I’m going to have to elaborate on my writing goals at a later date, or this post will never be finished. It’s been a long week, and I’m about ready to call it a night and sink down into a bubble bath.  Maybe I’ll pick up my dumbbells first–I do have to walk past them when I get off the couch. See? It’s a start!