Happy Pride Month! [Claim your free kindle e-book – LIMITED TIME OFFER]

Hiya, Ghosts and Ghouls!

Pride month is a special time of year where folks of all ages, backgrounds, identities, and orientations come together and simply celebrate our uniqueness as human beings. It’s lovely to see communities all across the country band together and just express love, educate, spread awareness — and most importantly, party like no tomorrow, for a whole 30 days. For many of us in the queer community, pride month feels a LOT like the Christmas season.

One thing I love to see is just how much my own community has grown in acceptance and expression over the last few years. Under the new mayor, our town has jumped at the chance at Town Hall flag raisings when local pride communities have approached for approval. The public library has been an advocate during Pride Month ever since its reconstruction six years ago (This year they’re holding a lot of really interesting events, such as a drag queen-centered family story time).

Last year, the town over held its very first Pride March parade which showcased an ASTOUNDING turnout of residents, community leaders, and businesses. The result of which brought leaders from the LGBT community in Toronto up to our small-town neck of the woods to build the community’s very first LGBT-centered bar-and-vegan-lounge (its grand opening was last week!)

It’s a very exciting time. And to celebrate, I’d like to give you (and any fellow reader you know!) two limited-time offers.

First, to commemorate Pride Month, my short story “March of the Androgynous: A Transgender Story” (previously featured in The Human Condition Anthology) is on sale at a month-long 50% discounted price of $2.99 (CAD).

It’s a semi-autobiographical short story I originally wrote in college for a first-year English final, at a time when I was just starting to fully understand my own transgender identity. It’s a story I am so proud of, and am so excited to share with you.

Head over to Amazon to get your copy now!

But wait! What about that free e-book I promised in the header? Don’t worry, that’s coming up. From now until June 9th, I am giving away free kindle copies of “Quest for the Crystals: The Book of Wind”. That’s right, a full-length novel with a value of $9.99, absolutely FREE.

Don’t miss out on this limited time offer — click here to get your free copy today!

As for updates on The Book of Earth, the second draft is speeding by at a healthy momentum. I can’t wait for you to see what is in store next.

That’s all for now, my friend. Thanks for all of your support, and I hope you have a most wonderful rest of your day.

Until next time, Ghosts and Ghouls,

Stay creepy. 😉

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Spirituality in Dickinson’s “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” [Analysis]

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, –
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile.
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

Analysis originally published for Humber College, March 2012

Spirituality is an integral aspect of Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’ll tell you how the sun rose”. Under Dickinson’s narrative about the rising and setting sun is deep-rooted symbolism in the variety of descriptions and colours she writes about in order to convey the “birth of a new day” in relation to both spirituality and nature.

While the poem is one of Dickinson’s shortest, the structure includes a lot of vibrancy and description. Within the poem’s structure, it’s interesting to note that each reference to wilderness and “warm” colours is led by a capital letter, when noting the morning’s rising sun. “The Steeples swam in Amethyst / The news, like Squirrels, ran / the Hills untied their Bonnets / the Bobolinks – begun / Then I said softly to myself / ‘That must have been the Sun’!” While the bobolinks’ chirping truly symbolizes the “news” of a new dawn, the use of squirrels for the sun casting new light over the lands is interesting, considering squirrels are very quick creatures, and thus shows how fast the night sky is obliterated by the sun. The steeples that Dickinson’s description refers to, alludes to that of a church steeples, and how they are cast in shadow due to the harshness of the “newborn” sunlight. In that respect, the use of the colour amethyst relates to the colour violet, which in turn symbolizes spirituality and the journey for spiritual fulfillment.

When Dickinson writes about what a setting sun looks like, describing, “There seemed a purple stile / That little Yellow boys and girls / Were climbing all the while”, she doesn’t capitalize the first letter of “purple”, indicating a possible drain of energy. In my interpretation, the “Yellow boys and girls” indicate vibrant energy; excitement over being outside and playing after a long afternoon in Sunday school. In reference to the schoolmaster, it is clear that Dickinson is referring to the end of the new day when she writes, “Till when [the children] reached the other side / A Dominie in Gray / Put gently up the evening Bars / And led the flock away”. The colour of the schoolmaster’s clothing also symbolizes the end of a new day, as gray’s meaning is rooted in stability and rest – while at the same time invokes sorrow, which reflects how the children possibly feel about having to be forced away from playing outside to be led back home, where they must go to sleep.

However, the spiritual symbolism doesn’t stop at Dickinson’s use of colours. Throughout the poem, Dickinson uses a syllable count of six, seven, and eight. The numbers six and seven bear symbolism in Christian beliefs; six referring to “The Sixth Day”, the day Man was created, and seven as “The Seventh Day”, the holy day of rest. The six- and seven-syllable lines in Dickinson’s poem respectively symbolize their spiritual meanings; “I’ll tell you how the sun rose” – seven syllables, a reference to the past, meaning restful reflection on something already occurred – “A Ribbon at a time” – six syllables, a reference to the creation of the sun (or Son, meaning Man? An idea subtly noted later in the poem when Dickinson writes, “But how he set [the sun/Son] – I know not”).

The eight-syllable lines, however, refer to darkness and shadow for the most part, as the number eight is seen in Greek lore as a sign of unhappiness or imperfection. Dickinson uses this “unhappiness” symbolism in the lines that relate to purple shadows cast over the church’s steeples and the fence, marking the end of the day and the children’s disappointment that they can’t stay out longer to play with each other.

Therefore, it’s clear as the day dies down and the children are called back inside, we as human beings are summoned to “sleep” as our own days “die” – until eventual rebirth takes place. The crack of dawn, the song of birds, and our awaking breaths, symbolizing new life, a new day. Dickinson’s narration in this poem describes the constant pattern of life and death – its cyclical nature in the form of spiritual and natural symbolism.

 

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Is My Talent Actually Worth It?

Originally published in 2013. This piece still rings true in a lot of ways. How many of you can relate?

E.E. Blackwood

It’s difficult to be a creative person in this day and age, I think. I constantly hear the old phrase, “nothing is original,” and as a struggling creative writer who is always on the lookout for inspiration, it can be quite tough to draw quality ideas. So then when it comes time to sit at my computer, ready and willing to unzip the confines of my imagination, I often find myself instead stuck – scared shitless of contrived drivel, and instead deviate to a relentless Google search on how to organically progress in an unfinished story that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
And then I begin to doubt myself.

I begin to doubt my ability as a creative writer, and even though my work is mostly praised by those who take the time to read, and I’ve always loved the craft, and have known since I was four years old…

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Emotional Investment: Writing Characters Who Matter

Work on The Quest for the Crystals #2: The Book of Earth is going pretty steadily. The core novel’s been done for a while, since 2014 with a basic rewrite in 2016. I’m ears-deep into further second draft revisions now (yay!) and there’s a lot of fleshing out to do (naaaaay!) in terms of story beats, character development, and overall flow/continuity.

What’s fascinating about this whole process – editing and revising – is just how much the characters are affected. When we discuss good writing, and the classic structure of “The Hero’s Journey”, it’s natural to expect our characters – especially the protagonist – to go through arcs of personal development. They’re different people by the end of the story from who they initially were on page one.

 

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A page out of  the “Book of Earth” section of “The Quest for the Crystals” production log

 

Sure, as a reader, this developmental journey is and should be apparent. It’s expected. All good stories revolve around challenge, struggle, triumph, and failure. All physical things in life are temporary, except for change. Change is constant. But what’s interesting to me as a writer and world-builder is just how much these characters grow and change behind the scenes; how they become different people by the story’s publication from who they initially were in the first draft.

At the risk of coming across patronizing, let me be real. If you’re not an author, writing a book sometimes looks as easy as spitting over a bridge. Coming up with all these great ideas and characters, the flowery sentence structure and (sometimes) perfect dialogue – it’s like we think it up and, snap!, magic happens on the page. A lot of really great authors make it look that easy! And there are some who do pull it off. Lawrence Block, Stephen King, those guys can bang out first drafts like instant Pulitzer winners, and then another three in the same year. It’s crazy amazing. But for the average writer, it’s not that simple.

Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth with a pair of rusty pliers.

Writing relatable, “human”, characters can be a real pain in the ass. Any amateur can write a story about a dystopian future where impoverished kids are forced to kill each other to entertain the rich minority, or a story about a secret magical society where fledgling witches and wizards attend a far-away boarding school of sorcery. But if the characters are flat, speak like they’re completely out of touch with believability, or carry on through the plot without flaw nor obstacle – then, well, no matter how amazing the overall story potential is, the reader is gonna check out and move on to something else hopefully more satisfying. We’ve all done it.

Good stories are made great by fully-fleshed characters. It’s the characters that carry the story, not the other way around. Very rarely does that actually work, and when it does, it’s been achieved in a more visual medium, like film (But that’s a whole other blog post).

I’m what’s called a “pantser”. I write by the seat of my pants. No outline, no story bible, no deep knowledge of who my characters are, or their motives. Just a vague idea, a phoneful of brief notes, and a tall mother fucker of a steeping tea. I generally have the title first. I sort of know where the plot will go and how the story might end. But everything else is up for grabs. Production logs are developed all throughout the drafting/revision process.

If you’re following Regina’s adventures in The Book of Wind over on Wattpad, it’s clear she’s a skunk who’s been dragged through hell to where she currently is – and that journey still isn’t over. Regina is severely flawed in some fundamental psychological ways. She’s sensitive and intrinsically nurturing; she’s got a brilliant mind, and isn’t afraid to voice her opinions —  however, she’s held back by post-traumatic stress. She watched her parents die. Her village burned to the ground. Canines slaughtered her friends and neighbours and Regina was left buried beneath piles of the dead and dying. This all happened her,  a seven-year-old previously sheltered from the dangers of reality, who doesn’t quite understand the world as it truly is. Regina’s fucked up for life.

 

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“Well, you don’t have to be so rude about it.”

 

My biggest struggle writing Regina’s character, however, was getting her to act and respond to the events and environments around her. Things would happen and Regina would react, while the characters standing by would pick up the slack. The world made its decisions for Regina, and she simply went along for the ride, despite how much she protested.

That’s not how a strong protagonist is written, and it’s obviously stated. But at the time, Regina was that way because she was a character struggling to find herself in a world that did her no favours.

She was afraid of change and afraid of standing up for herself. So she became reactionary and stood at the sidelines quivering while the secondary protagonists stole the spotlight out from over her. Yes, in a way Regina’s character was a semi-accurate portrayal of someone who’s never been able to really overcome trauma, and ended up letting it define them. She was passive and afraid, but too afraid to do anything to change her situation.

But Regina is supposed to be the heroine, right?

In retrospect, I feel Regina’s inability to find herself in the world was my own projection of insecurity – what the heck do I do with her?? Every other character felt grounded, going through the motions of their own stories and subplots, and Regina is quite literally dropped into the middle of the overarching narrative. It was like – emptying out a box of jigsaws, nabbing a random piece, and trying to force it into place within an entirely different puzzle board. Even in the initial drafts for Book of Wind, Regina’s story began with her stumbling into someone else’s story. That scene is still in the final book, mind you. It just happens much later.

Regina Lepue wasn’t a fractured skunk who was fully developed, and because of this flaw in writing, The Book of Wind suffered. Beta readers and my editor Jeannette maintained it was still a good book – but without that extra kick – without Regina being forced to make decisions and take action – The Book of Wind fell flat in the places where it needed to take off in order to resonate with readers.

Forcing Regina to step up and take responsibility for herself forced the other characters to meet her halfway and respond, causing a chain reaction that strengthened everyone’s overall personalities and development.

Book of Wind was a novella I wrote and initially e-published in 2012, and subsequent revisions (and drafts including Book of Earth and Book of Water – as well as trying to stay afloat and sane during the final year of college) delayed an updated publication. The “final version” of Wind was supposed to be released in December 2015. Revising Regina’s character (and subsequently adding a number of new scenes and chapters to explore and accommodate her needs and growth) delayed Book of Wind’s publication by another year.

Due to pantsing, I’m kind of a slow writer as it is. I tend to blow through the first draft, and all the really great ideas and jigsaw pieces come together little-by-little during the revision stages. And that takes forever because I’m an over-thinking perfectionist who happens to lack discipline and motivation, and takes constructive criticism and feedback very seriously.

All of Wind’s delays and revisions naturally brought on depression, frustration, resentment – all that fun stuff creative people go through when their WiPs are uncooperative and out to kill them. But the long and daunting slog that was Book of Wind was worth it, because Book of Earth is coming together at a slicker pace.

Because of the extra time and effort, I know the characters better. I have a greater understanding of their personal stories, their motives and desires – who they are and who they are not. I have a greater grasp of the overall plot and the beats the narrative must take in order to get to the end. The characters interact far more naturally than they did in initial drafts, and they carry the plot and unfold new subplots and consequences from their own actions – not because the story needs them to these things.

 

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Artist’s rendition of struggling with delays, circa 2017

 

Lots of folks equate being an author to being godlike – that it’s the author who’s in control of the story at all times. But being an author is more akin to parenthood. As a good parent, you lay the groundwork for your kids, and they hit the ground running, scuffing their knees in the process. You stand by, watching proud and worried as your kids take responsibility for their new lives, carving monumental victories and making damning mistakes along the way. You’re there for your kids when they come back to you needing guidance and advice – when things are dark and start to stall, when everything’s a mess and nothing makes much sense.

And if you’re a good author, you confer with your fellow writers, your beta readers, and your editor, before going back to your kids with the help they’re looking for. Because as parents, we’re too close to the problem at hand. Sometimes we can’t see it from all sides and figure out what our kids really need. Despite the rumours, writing isn’t a solo job. The right advice will set things in motion again, get the wheels back on track.

And when the right advice sticks, we have to step back and let our kids go off to figure out how to use this new information, waiting for the next time they need our help. A good parent guides their children without interfering. Ultimately, this story we give to our kids is theirs alone to tell.

When a good author puts in the extra effort to write good characters, the characters take over. That’s just how it is. Ask any fiction writer, and most of them will tell you the same.

That’s because despite the massive ego trip writing a whole novel or series provides, the truth is it’s the author who’s along for the ride, not the characters. And when an author is impacted by the stories told by their characters – you can be sure the readers who matter will feel emotionally invested the same way.

 

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The Rule of the Playground

Genre: Young Adult | Comic | Comedy |

Kiefer Bloodman is a troubled child. A misfit and social outcast at best, the Rule of the Playground, “survival of the fittest”, has become an ingrained way of life for him. But where lies the balance between “survival” and “schoolyard bully”?

This four-paged character study about childhood societal pressure vs. authentic expression was produced and presented for the online-based course, How to Make a Comic Book, led by artist and mentor, Patrick Yurick (of Making Comics fame).

Click here to start reading.