The Most Important Heroes Are The Ones Who Can’t Save Themselves

In Animal, Nikkie Rae creates an unconventional hero for a demographic that is largely ignored: girls who are weak.

The main character, Ava, has a panic disorder that is at times debilitating. For most of the book, she’s trapped by a foe stronger than her in almost every way. She is, for all intents and purposes, weak. And yet Ava doesn’t let that stop her from being a hero in her own right.

On her way to steal your girl.
On her way to steal your girl.

What is a hero, really? Type it into Google and you get a bunch of images of superman followed by various other men clad in spandex. Type in ‘women heroes’ and up comes superman’s counterpart, superwoman.

Both are associated with a pretty conventional sense of strength: muscles, force, and the ability to kick your puny human ass up and down the globe. If you scroll down far enough, you’ll get images of Real Life Women™ such as Oprah Winfrey or other famous women in power. In the end, they all fit in the ‘strong role model’ mold neatly with their super powers, super amounts of money, or super ability to exist in positions that are traditionally held by men because of their strength.

But here’s the thing: there are many girls who can’t ever hope to aspire to the positions these women have. Being able-bodied is a privilege. Forget super strength, some have difficulty leaving their houses. Many girls can’t stomach confrontation in any form. Chronic illness is more common than many think and poses real life consequences.

Rae takes a girl who would normally be considered weak, drops her into a world where vampires exist and has one of these creatures with a serious megalomaniac issues kidnap her. Though panic attacks wrack her body multiple times while captive and she suffers brutally at the hands of her captor, she does not let that end her.

She can’t fight off her vampire keepers with force, so she gains their trust and manipulates them psychologically. No one knows where she is, so she makes an ally. She does the bravest thing that one can do at times, she survives. In the end, Rae proves that weakness does not equate to uselessness and provides one hell of a good read simultaneously.

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Arting Abroad: Seeking Starlight

“Balance”
Bray, Ireland

While I was abroad, I ended up taking a photography class. As this was probably going to be my only chance to travel with relative ease, I also made it a point to go to as many different countries as possible. One of my friends who was abroad at the time accompanied me. In the end, she wound up in most of my pictures. I thought I might as well use the free model to my advantage and ended up with Seeking Starlight.

“Unbound”
Seven Sisters Cliffs, Seaford, England

“As women, our bodies are constrained and cultured to the point of obscenity on the daily. Our voices, movements, and even our thoughts are fitted to the mold of acceptable femininity. For most there is no escape for even in spaces designed for untethered self expression, internalized concepts easily poison the water. A world without such constraint is so unimaginable it is almost fantastical.

Seeking Starlight follows a young woman as she imagines this unimaginable world, so foreign that it is populated by the fantastical and mythical. Her back to the viewer and her face to a mythical unconstrained world, she attempts to capture what her mind has conjured through her own camera lens.”

The theme didn’t evolve until later. In the beginning it was just about figuring out how to get what I drew into the actual computer. Damn, was that a trial in errors. Everything I did was shit essentially. But then I got into a groove and really figured out what it was wanted to do. I started exploring myths and creatures that didn’t exist in this world, but might exist in some reality somewhere. I thought it was about fantasy. Maybe life. Maybe something else. But then I realized it wasn’t just the creatures. She was looking at else. Something more.

It took me a long time to understand it. Even after I turned in the final project and came back to the states. The titles were all set. My pictures were printed. And still I felt like something was missing.

I realized what it was she was looking at: a world where she could be free.

Rewriting and Teenagers: One is a Hellish Fire Demon and the Other Will Grow Up

While rewriting my latest novel, Terrible Angels, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the difference in putting words down for a story for the first time and for the specific purpose of rewriting.

In the beginning, your story is a newborn baby. Weirdly pink, screaming, and covered in gunk, you hold it in your arms and marvel at it. Forget nutella and pizza, this blinking bundle of joy is the best thing the universe has ever created (why you’re comparing a baby to food, is your own personal problem). You’ve been thinking and planning and loving this new thing for months before it was even born. Now that’s it’s actually in the real world every new fart and gurgle is beyond precious.

You have all these ideas on how to ensure your spawn receives all the praise it deserves in life and you try to implement these ideas. But of course you’re terrified. Every parent, especially the first-timers, are is. So you just keep trying new things until one of them finally works. Turns out you didn’t need that bath hat

Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?
Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?

and the teddy bear you made from the leftover placenta is kinda starting to smell. And yet, all you have is pride and love for this weird, amazing thing you created. And trust me, everyone knows how proud you are because you won’t stop showing them the same damn pictures every chance you get.

Rewriting, however, is the teenage years where you’re left wondering why you ever even liked this hellion in the first place. They start talking back, scowling in that special, unique way that only teenagers can that gets across just how very

old, unhip, and boring they think you are. Every suggestion you make is met with hostility, even though you’re sure you definitely know best. They think all the clothes you pick out for them are ugly and the doctor career you thought they were destined for ever since the first time they played Operation is stupid. No, they want to be a DJ in some cramped club somewhere with too many flashing lights and pounding techno music that gives you a headache and reminds you of the old dial-up tone.

You're not a regular parent, you're a cool parent.
You’re not a regular parent, you’re a cool parent.

This goes on and on and on. By the end you’re questioning everything. You thought you’d were doing so well. Are you a bad parent? Did you irrevocably screw up at some point? Maybe you really did need that baby bath hat after all. Your dog ended up shredding the teddy bear placenta, but maybe you should have tried to patch it up instead of tossing it. You wonder, is this how it’ll always be? Are they going to end up in some ditch somewhere because I failed? What am I going to do?

Even though you’re filled with existential confusion, you plod on and keep making an effort. Then just as the clouds seem darkest, they break. You begin to negotiate rather than argue. You realize scrapping your well laid plans for their future isn’t the worst thing ever. They’re not going to be a surgeon, but the kid is pretty musically inclined. They play the piano like a pro and even if you don’t understand their dial-up tone music, other people seem to enjoy it. Life gets better. And even if they don’t do everything you say and they don’t look at you like you’re the very sun anymore, there’s still an ocean of love between you both.

Rewriting sucks. Realizing the novel, story, poem, whatever that seemed so full of perfection and promise in the beginning needs some serious overhaul is a struggle to come to terms with on its own. Actually doing the overhauling is even worse. You’ve got to pick through words you loved in the beginning and essentially kill them in order to modify them into something better. The whole process is hellish. It might hurt, but is you just keep plodding on eventually you’ll have something you can live with.

Building a Platform: Rewriting, Reviewing, and Arting

A few days ago the summer surpassed knocking on my door, a briefcase of responsibilities clutched in its sweaty palm, and decided to break it down with an axe. That bastard traipsed through my living room marking its territory by pissing on everything and taunting the dogs till I gave in and accepted the sweat slicked briefcase.

That drawn out metaphor is my way of announcing my launch into platform building this summer. What is a platform, you ask? Till jus recently, I was in the dark as well. Simply put, it’s the part of being a writer that no one talks about.

Just like every five star restaurant has dirty dishes and therefore has a a dish washer, every writer needs a platform. It’s not the sous chef or the slick maitre d’ in all black and boasting a haughty accent, but it is an inherent and inescapable part of the restaurant. They might be serving the tastiest cuts of panda ass with a garnish of genuine rhino tears, but inevitably the dishes are going to be dirtied. Hence the necessity of the pock marked and generally unsatisfied dish washer in the back dreaming about socialism and ass. This is what a platform is to me. It’s the part of my career that isn’t glamorous or enthralling, but it is entirely necessary. I may or may not be dreaming about socialism and ass while writing out blog posts. Let the mystery enthrall you

What better time to start building my platform than now? I’m young. I’ve got time to kill, aka a hella long summer due to my recent trek studying abroad in the magical land known as London. I want to be a wrier with all of my dark and withered soul. Might as well.

THE PLAN:

#1 The first part of my three tier plan: Working. Like bringing in a steady check sort of working. This will be done at my university’s library. The details aren’t super interesting. We’ll skip it.

#2 Revise and rewrite my last novel, TERRIBLE ANGELS. Last summer I was paid to sit on my university’s campus for ten weeks and write a novel. Stellar, right? I wrote more than half of it during the summer and finished it my junior year, then preceded to sent it off to a bunch of agents. I received one request for full that was ultimately rejected. However, with that rejection came a solid amount of advice as to how I could make it more engaging. I’m taking that and running with it. That means rewriting at least 50,000 words. People do that in a month for NaNoWriMo. I’ve got four. No problem.

#3 Build up my platform. This will be happening on two fronts: this blog and twitter. It might expand later, but I think those two accounts will be enough to handle in the upcoming months. On StrangeWrites, I’ll be blogging about my journey rewriting TERRIBLE ANGELS, reviewing books, and posting some of my art. I’m also hoping to bring in some interviews with authors and other professionals.

Tada. There it is. Now, on paper it doesn’t sound like all that much, but trust me it is. It’s a big mountain to climb. One that I’m pretty excited to scale if I’m honest. Platform building might be the dishwashing job of a writing career, but in the end it’ll make what I love into something more than a hobby and something I can call a career.

Workshop Woes

There are three sorts of workshopers: The people who love it. The people who hate it. And the people who think they don’t need it.

workshop
For some this looks like an inviting sign. For others it might as well herald the way to the first circle of hell. http://www.writingforward.com/

I’m an oddity. I enjoy workshopping and revising. Not just enjoy, I love it. There’s a certain thrill that comes from printing out the words I’ve sweated and bled over andgiving them out to others to read and assess. The week between handing the pages out and getting them back I’m always filled with nervous, excited energy. Quicker to smile. Easier to laugh. After, I spend hours revising and with each word I delete, the lighter I feel. It’s like the freshest breath of air I could take. I love it.

But many don’t feel the pleasure of the thrill. It’s uncomfortable for them. It’s not pleasurable pain, but simply and exclusively painI get that. I do. It’s scary. Your babies, your words, are going to be scrutinized and picked apart into unrecognizable thrashing pieces. That’s terrifying and not something many people truly enjoy. Totally understandable.

What I don’t get are the people who think they don’t need it. The people who refuse to take the advice they’re handed with goodwill just confuse me. They sneer and turn away, but offer their two cents like it’s a gift straight from god’s ass, when really it’s like everything that comes out of an ass: shitty.

Okay. So, I’ve had two workshop groups so far. My last one and the one I’m in currently. They’ve both been immeasurably beneficial to me both personally and as a writer. I’ve gone from ‘holy shit this is shit’ to ‘this is pretty alright.’ Big leaps, I know. In each group there have been people who look at it with sour faces and upturned noses like their nostrils are a gift that everyone should be gazing into. It’s not because they don’t like workshopping, because I could understand that. It’s because they think they don’t need it because what they write is already good enough…. like……..????

Now tell me how a writer, an artist, is going to look down on improving their craft and refuse to accept they might need some advice on their words. Writing is an art. Even the crappy little harlequin romance novels they sell at Krogers are art. They may not be good or original art, but they’re art nonetheless. And as any artform it can always always always get better.

That isn’t to say that all advice is good advice. It’s not. I’ve gotten some truly shitty advice in my time. Some monkey scratching its head in confusion advice that I laughed at with friends later on. One girl told me I needed to add some steampunk elements to my realistic modern day novel. And that I should only use white characters because it would be discriminatory not to have white people in my stories…. yeah, sure. Let me get right on that. However, I’ve also gotten critiques that were life changing, at least the live’s of my characters. My writing is better for them.

Part of growing as a writer is being able to distinguish between shit advice, and good advice. Thats’s what the people who think their work doesn’t need critiquing are missing out on. Yeah, maybe they’ve been turned against it by crappy advice or people who genuinely didn’t understand their work. That’s a shame and it happens. There will forever and always be people like that. To be honest, wading through the people who can’t tell their own asses from a hole in the ground or the difference between your work and a toilet is worth it. There are gems out there that will make you better. They might make you feel like shit, but that’s only so that your work will cease being crappy. Workshops are worth it. Your art will thank you.

On finding a hook

Laurie manages to sum up many of the problems I’ve had myself.

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

If you have read my blog, you probably already know that I wrote two books before FIRSTS that I ended up shelving. Both were New Adult contemporary. Both meant a lot to me when I wrote them. I learned a lot from each one, about writing and about myself. I fantasized about seeing those books on bookshelves someday. I was sure that they were good enough, that somebody would have to see the potential.

Needless to say, that didn’t exactly happen.

And now I’m so grateful for that.

Of course, at the time, I wasn’t. At the time, I felt defeated. I grappled with the idea of giving up. But when I look at those manuscripts today, I know why they didn’t work. It’s not that the writing was terrible or the plot was stupid or the characters were one-dimensional. It wasn’t that one particular thing was egregiously wrong. It’s just that something was…

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Writers Who Don’t Write

typwriter
Here is a hipster typewriter for all your hipster needs.

I will inevitably fail. Every writer and anyone ever really, will fail. I might not ever succeed or get anything published. There’s a chance, a pretty large chance actually. If that day ever comes, I want to be able to look back on my life and say, I tried too hard, I was too persistent, and not that I didn’t try at all. This is why what I’ve observed lately from other people has been so incredibly strange and foreign to me:

People who want to be writers… don’t write.

There are about 15 people in my current creative writing workshop. Of those 15 I’d say that about 4 of them write recreationally outside of the workshop including me. Now, everyone in there is in some way majoring in Creative Writing. They say they want to be authors, writers, something along those lines. But when I ask if there’s anything they’re working on, they say no, not really.  Then when I ask if they think they’ll be writing anything soon, they again say no, not really.

Okay, to be honest, I can understand why this happens. We’re in college. Life is hectic. Life is hard. Got it. But it’s not just young college kids that want to be writers but don’t write. It’s older people too, and not just middle aged old, but right out of college old. Friends who have recently graduated have gotten jobs, and apartments, and lives that take up a lot of time. And they don’t write. They think about it, but they don’t do it. Again, I can understand why this happens.

But here’s the thing:

If you don’t write, then you can’t be a writer. And if you don’t make time, then there will never be time. It’s as simple as that.

So write like your life depends on it. Write like it’s the only thing that will satisfy  your overwhelming thirst. It doesn’t matter if what you’ve written is completely and utter shit. The first things that any person writes is shit. I’ve gone over the first novel I wrote, and my face was stuck in a cringe the entire time. Awful, horrid, terrible stuff. But you know what? I wrote it. Having a pile of shit words is better than having nothing at all.

So to everyone who is in college, out of college, or wherever you are in your life, make time to write. Because if you don’t write, then you can’t be a writer.