December Wrap-Up & Excerpts

Thankfully, this December has not been like the last two.  On the whole, it has been enjoyable, maybe not productive, but not completely lacking in creativity (I wrapped 108 presents because I said I wasn't going to help other people wrap this year & I never keep my promises to myself...).

Christmas is over, & here we are in the latter days of the year + my pregnancy.  I am huge.  No, seriously, if I could show you without traumatizing us all, I would.  Wolfgang is carrying massive + low, & I am at my wits' end to clothe the bump without looking like a tent.  I am not Abraham, that I should be living in tents!  The last week or so has seen an increase in painful Braxton-Hicks + actual full-abdominal contractions, so while I have no idea how far away active labour + delivery may be, at least I know my body is moving in the right direction.  It's the only part of me that can move...


Between Christmas & Wolfgang, I can't boast a lot of writing, but I'll share a little of what I have.  It's one of my favourite things to do & hopefully you'll enjoy it.  Proceeding...

penslayer excerpts

To me he was like a light left on in Goshen.
adamantine rewrite

 Dammerung set a supporting hand on the table; lingering light jumped off a gilt band on one finger. “You and I think alike in that, my dear,” he replied. The fingers and the band of light drummed on the blood. “But I am insatiably curious. Having got my head in the trap, I might as well squeeze in the rest of the way and see who set the thing—and for whom.”
 “Not expecting to catch an Overlord, I’ll warrant,” growled Goddgofang.
“I haven’t been caught yet,” said his father. “But you’d better catch Simon.”
 There was a sudden scuffle, the dark worsened, and I felt my organs float up through the roof of my skull before silence clamped down on my senses.
ethandune

“My kin were gypsy-folk,” I explained. “Not servants. But I am part of Dammerung’s household because…because it is good to be so,” I finished, overcome with confusion and not knowing what for.
The golden hair had fallen down again, covering much of the girl’s face except her mouth, turned in profile to me; I saw a faint curvature to it, like one testing a wound. For a long while Jennalaide said nothing, sitting so while my silence hung in the air…then, gingerly,
Because it is good to be so. I would have sworn in my wrath it could never have been so, not in the House of Cheval, not among the de la Mare brood. They carry the blood of my house on their heads, and all this wretched while I have hated them as only woman can hate, dying inside of the thirst of it. Then God Almighty laughed and shook the pillars of the heavens, and he threw down that devil’s cub to me. I thought he should have fallen like lightning, but—” her voice snagged on something sharp and ragged “—he came to me like rain.”
ethandune

Dammerung straightened of a sudden and got to his feet. “Poor Simon! You want it answered and tidied up at once, for you are walking in the black and the white of youth.” He looked down at me with something inexplicably soft in his harsh, bony features. “One day you will learn that even justice takes time.”
ethandune

"I may give ground, but I never back away."
lamblight

"MY LORD, I AM TRYING. You are asking me to do a thing which Christ himself did not accomplish until after his resurrection!"
"Is not now after the resurrection?" Achim Funderberk replied coolly. And, when I bit my tongue to dull the sharpness of it, he smiled. "Then you should be able to do it."
blueshift


a happy new year to you all! xoxo, jenny penslayer

Confessions From A First World Author

lookit me, i'm writing a blog post!


If you have been a writer + on the internet for any length of time, you've probably noticed a distinct clique has grown up around the concept of "writers."  Typically we're introverted, bookish, possibly nerdy folk who for some immature reason think "how to build a bomb" is funny in our search history.  Lots of people around me pin gobs of writing-related quotes on Pinterest, they scour the internet for inspirational images that kind-of-sort-of resemble characters that they may-or-may-not mean to write one day, & they read copious amounts of books.

I will be one of the first people to tell you that I think reading is almost essential to good writing, but here's the thing.

i am not a bookworm
 
This is true, & this is not a negative-brag post, as if I expected everyone to cheer me on in my negativity.  No, this is just a simple fact.  I have never been a fast reader, I have always been picky, & I have always been impatient.  By + large, I've always rather hated research - a source of personal dismay when I see so many of my contemporaries chasing after research like a duck on a june-bug.

For me, however, reading can be a real strain.  Not only does it take a lot to catch + hold my fancy, a book also has to go up against my inability to sit still for any length of time, lengthening the time it takes me to finish a book by ridiculous proportions.  I don't like reading for reading's sake; I like reading for the sake of the content/execution.  The number of books I read in a twelvemonth is so easy to keep track of that I've given up keeping track, because such a small number grows depressing after awhile when one is bombarded by the idea of the internet author scarfing down books by the fistful.

literary peer pressure is totally a thing

Here's a part of me which is not painted so glowy-white: I am susceptible to the self-esteem issues inadvertently imposed on me by people who can actually read at a decent pace.  This is (one reason) why I don't usually post book reviews, or even tell you what I'm reading (Old Paths by J.C. Ryle & Gone With the Wind by le duh Margaret Mitchell): because there's usually nothing to tell.  I read at a snail's pace, with all the frequency of Haley's comet coming round, & the maddening pickiness of my mother's cat who is half-starved & is too particular to eat the enormous array of options presented for her well-being. It's a wonder I actually read anything to completion, at my rate. 

the end

[there is no moral to this story. i wanted it to make you feel better about yourself if a) you happen to be like me, or b) are better than i am at reading & therefore superior.]

December || It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times


i love christmastime.  

I used to think people who started decking the halls for Christmas right after Halloween were crazy, but now I don't mind because time goes by SO fast, I want to enjoy Christmas as long as possible.  (Yes, maybe you dislike the "rampant commercialization" of Christmas, but that's nothing new & that's living in a capitalist economy, folks!  That whole argument is not a fight I want to put a dog in because I'm too busy enjoying Christmas.)

Except...not?  The past three years have been horrendous duds for Christmas.  This is not something I like to admit because I'm afraid people will think I'm blaming them.  No, it's not their fault.  The past three years have seen some massive changes in my life, coinciding with Christmas, & they've just been really hard to handle - especially when they've been coupled with physical pain + depression.  Not really conducive to festive cheer! 

This year is one of those three, & while I'm working hard to push off the encroaching ennui, it's lingering there.  I haven't had any complications with this pregnancy (thank the Lord!), but in many ways it has been enormously harder than my first.  My body is just. plain. exhausted.  It's already begun telling me "no" to simple tasks, like picking up my daughter.  Very discouraging, when I have a month left to go! 

So, now writing = I can't even, & blogging = likely not.  I am glad I have the kind of "job" that I can just stop when the going gets too rough.  Right now, the going is really rough.  I've been dithering about posting this for several weeks, but now's the time.  I am in survival mode (translation: napping all the time).  This hiatus is unofficially scheduled to end or be punctuated whenever, as I may randomly conjure post ideas when I'm under no obligation to write them, & I may even get crazy + switch out a naptime with some writing.  Anyway, The Penslayer will show up in your blog feed if that's the case.

it's been nice knowing you O____o

YES! Your Shockingly Simple Guide to Being Impossibly Awesome

cait drews writes a 50,000+ word novel in 3 days

mirriam neal draws a practically perfect tiger, having never drawn one before in her life


It's REALLY ANNOYING, ISN'T IT??  You've all got at least one friend who can just do something that you consider impossible, & they get it right.  You're partly happy for them, but mostly you feel like an itty-bitty insignificant bug & no it's not their fault but gee you don't amount to much compared to their accomplishments, right?

can you ever measure up?

Well, no.  I've heard it said that "comparison is the thief of joy," & it is.  (I haven't yet conquered this problem, but I recognize that it's a problem.)  All our art is measured by our own level of achievement, not someone else's.  Even Peter, when he started pointing fingers at John & saying "what about him," got the clapback from Jesus, "what does that matter? YOU follow me."  All artists are trying to become "better," & even when someone is, from your point of view, impossibly better at something than you are, just chill: you're not on their road, & how you get along is what matters.

but can you get from bleh to impossibly awesome?

You totally can!  And I'm not even selling anything!  The problem is, we're looking at where we are & where they are, & the distance seems - is - impossible to cross.  I just can't write 50,000 words in three days.  I can't draw a peacock in full flight & have it look breath-taking.  For me, it is legitimately impossible & no amount of pinterest pep-talk is going to change that.

the incremental upward

Take any aspect of growth - exercise, art, spiritual improvement - & you can see right off the bat that punctuated equilibriums are rare if not out of the question.  I can't go from physically unable to do push-ups, to churning out thirty at a go.  Duh.  I haven't built up to that level.  I can't go from scribbling a few paragraphs every few days to buckling down + vomiting up a full-sized novel in the span of time Jesus was in the tomb.  Not happening!  I am not that kind of magic.  (if i was, i would totally be doing it right now) I can't go from struggling/failing daily with this body of sin to being holy as my Father is holy just like BLAM halo + all.  Like all human beings, I'm a progressive creature: sudden catapults into perfection do not happen.

The key.  ||  Stop looking at the far distance in relation to where you are.  Look at your art just as you would look at an exercise regimen.  Where you begin may be pitifully small, but at the moment that's all you can do The trick is to work + build + increase.

the impossible is only impossible because we want to be there now

And it just doesn't work like that.  You have to build up to it.  Cait Drews worked hard to teach herself how to "sprint" write, a process which took time, & now enables her to write lots of words for long stretches of time.   She built up to it.  Mirriam Neal had never drawn a tiger in her life, but she has taught herself how to "see" a drawing & to communicate an image through her motor skills.  She built up to it.

There isn't anything massively special about Cait or Mirriam (sorry, guys!) which prevents you from achieving the impossible too.  You have only to accept that you can't get from here to there in a shot: it takes incremental improvement to achieve.  


but once you've done it, look at what you can do! <3

NaNoWriMo Check-In + Ethandune Snippets

HAVE I BEEN ABLE to keep up with the daily wordcount?  Pfft, noooope.  Have I been writing?  Yes.  Am I content with that?  No, but I probably should be.  But you don't want to hear all my excuses because THAT'S BORING & probably you have excuses of your own which sound a lot better than mine (I'm still partial to mine, though).


You have twelve days until the end of Nano!  I want you to remember three important things & I am not making up their importance.

1.  if you finish nano with the 50,000 wordcount, you accomplished the goal of completing nano!

2.  if you don't finish nano with the 50,000 wordcount, YOU. STILL. WROTE. ON. YOUR. STORY. which means it's that much closer to being finished, & that is no small consideration.

3.  if you decide(d) to drop out of nano because it's just too much for a story which needs more time + care, you are exhibiting the mark of a mature individual in recognizing what you + your story need.  quickly-made trash is still trash.  do what's best for you! <3

ethandune

I always manage to write my novels in the season opposite to the one I'm experiencing.  Take Ethandune, at the start of summer, while I'm prepping for the holidays & it's getting into winter (by "getting into winter" I mean today wants to be a high of 78 because the sc piedmont is bipolar).  However, many years of writing in this kind of wacky dichotomy has made me better at compartmentalizing them in my head, so hopefully summertime Ethandune will not wind up in the first draft to have suspicious overtones of Christmas...

snippets

...like a wound which does not hurt until you notice it, the smell of the thing hit me two seconds after I realized what I was seeing. It was jumbled together at impossible angles; it took me another moment to see that it was no longer completely connected with itself.
ethandune

All the rest of that day I had a grey, light-headed sense of being always on the verge of vomiting, but the vomit never came. Dammerung looked up as Goddgofang and I entered the sitting room; there was a sidelong glare of light over the chamber, muting everything, stinging my eyes. I heard Goddgofang’s voice coming from somewhere hollow. I saw the Overlord’s face, without moving, suddenly had a peculiar colour to it which felt like my stomach.
ethandune

...with a sigh, he put down his book and hefted his lean frame out of the chair, eclipsing the glare into a cruciform shape and muting all his features into a halo grey. 
ethandune

He seemed a good deal older then, coming away from the leper’s bedside, than he had even when we had approached. I wondered if he was truly always that age, that peculiar blackened weight which had little to do with the silvered hair at his temples, and if he had a kind of off-hand glamour at most times thrown over the dark to hide the drag of it from our eyes.
The lull came with us as we went down to the hall, broken by Goddgofang once, coming down behind me, with his father behind him.
“Do you ever get used to it?” he asked quietly.
And from above and behind on the stair, Dammerung’s voice in the dark: “No. You just get better at hiding it.”
ethandune


Think Tank Followup: What Editors Have to Say About Editing

how do you edit?

I ASKED & YOU ANSWERED.  I'm a mental muddle when it comes to editing, so I was thrilled to get some awesome feedback on my think tank post for editing.  As promised, I'm going to showcase these answers & break them down as I've thought about them.

One thing I've found helpful when figuring out what to keep and what to cut, is to evaluate what the story would look like if you didn't have that scene. Would the story survive? Would it still make sense? If not, it's valuable enough to keep. If it's unnecessary, either cut it or alter the scene so it pulls it's own weight.

This is some of the best fundamental advice. Your story is made up of the scenes you collect + weave together, & people notice how odd it is when there is something extraneous included.  People save up the scene in their minds, waiting for the revelation of its importance...but the importance never comes - & that leaves a bad impression.

As Tracey pointed out, though, it isn't quite as simple as does this work or does this not work.  Oftentimes, scenes are obviously crucial to the plot; sometimes, scenes are obviously random & need to be hacked out.  But occasionally you'll write a scene which isn't quite what the story needs, but it could be, & you have to find a way to "alter the scene so it pulls it's own weight."  So your options are:

yes - it stays
no - it goes
renovate scene
ugly crying

I actually love the process of perfecting, and changing words, paragraphs and scenes/characterizations and details to build a richer world and picture. If you need to edit as in CUT scenes, get a third-party involved.
Also give your writing space and then coming back and reading it to oneself as if it was a novel from the library. The flaws pop up strongly at you and often one can see what should be changed.

A huge help in editing is to leave it alone for awhile. While you are writing a manuscript, you are geared into conquer-virgin-territory mode: you're ploughing ahead into the semi-unknown, often leaving a battered trail behind you.  When you are done writing, give it a rest: let your mind wind down from ex nihilo mode.  Once things have cooled, you'll have a chance to go back & look critically at what you've written.  You're in a separate frame of mind, this time for editing + refining, not blazing a trail.  Don't underestimate the importance of this break.  You need space from your first draft to be able to assess it fairly, & it's very hard to do that when you're still gung-ho for the writing stage.

...All the same, you're always going to be the writer of that first draft, & you're unlikely to completely forget what it was like writing it.  Despite your best intentions, this can cloud your judgment, so having another person look over your work, with no prior explanation, to see if the story communicates itself rationally, is SUPER helpful in getting a day-old colt of a draft on its legs.

My biggest tip is to read it aloud to myself. This helps me catch repetitive words/phrasing, and make sure it's flowing properly.

What you may or may not have caught on to yet is that I am an abysmal writer.  It's true.  When I am writing, I am 99.9% blind to "what I've done," & focused on "what comes next."  So when I happen to go back & look at my writing, I've been known to find the most outrageous mistakes in grammatical construction, & even have missed a word or supplemented an entirely wrong word in the fever of my scribbling.  And this is only with the occasional glance back: I dread to think what I'll discover when I really sit down to edit.

The problem is, your brain is really good at adjusting for mistakes when communicating to you.  Is a word missing, or a word duplicated?  Don't worry about it!  Brain's got it handled.  You won't even notice a thing.  But if you set yourself to reading out loud, you're much more forced to pay attention to the text & take care that the cadence is correct, you haven't used the same description more than once in the same page (*guilty*), your dialogue isn't as stupid as a drunk squirrel on a highway, etc.  This is definitely an embarrassing exercise, especially when you flub up as often as I do, but it's also really helpful so here's some humble pie to go with that Thanksgiving dinner I hope you scheduled time for in the midst of Nano.


thank you, ladies!  your advice is phenomenal.  <3

Think Tank || Your Editing Tips!

IT'S HALFWAY THROUGH NANO & who wants to think about editing?   ...Yeah, I didn't think so.  But rather than thinking about editing your work-in-progress, I want to think about editing as a whole - & particularly how you confront it.


personally, i hate editing

I feel no creative gush while editing as I do when I'm writing a first draft.  Parsing, examining, patching up holes, trying to add more story to a flow that was so organic at the outset...not a lot of fun for me!  But editing has to happen because none of us can write a perfect manuscript on the first try.  Sad, but true.  Since I've got one eye on the market for editing tips anyway, I thought I'd throw out a forum for my followers.

share your editing tips!

Yes, do!  So many people have such beneficial insight into editing which I // you // others might never have thought of before.  I want to compile all your advice & put it together in a followup post.  Do it for science!  Do it for your children!  Do it for the future of the human race!  Also do it for me because I hate editing & I need help.

Is Prayer Actually Ruining Your Character's Credibility?

IF YOU ARE FOLLOWING The Penslayer, there is a pretty good chance that a) you are a writer + b) you are a professing believer. This puts you/me/people like us at a high risk of including our faith in our novels (gasp! the nerve!). But say we decide to do the ghastly inexcusable & include tenants of our faith in our stories; our faith makes our lives phenomenally better, so it should do the same to our novels, right?


christ did not die to save your novel

Does this sound sacrilegious??  Because yes that sounds sacrilegious.  But let's actively (not just academically) take our faith seriously for a sec & put our faith + our art in such blunt terms.  Oh.  No.  Okay.  Jesus' atonement + the work of the Holy Spirit within me does not make me a miraculously better writer, & the inclusion of a character's relationship with God in my novel is not infallibly assured to be golden.

Christ's work of redemption?  Real.
Your character + faith?  Fiction.

Before we move on, I suggest a healthy awareness of the fundamental difference between a VERY REAL THING & a thing you totally made up in your head possibly during nano + should not be taken seriously because we are fallen sleep-deprived humans.

jenny.  dontchu ask me to tear my faith out of my art.  

FACT NUMBER ONE: humans are awesome & can entertain philosophies that they don't believe as if they actually believed them.  Being good at this trick makes you a) better able to process opposing views & b) better at writing.  Guess who has gone through the juvenile stages of writing in which basically every character was a cookie-cutter Christian?  Yeah...  Not a great move for stellar writing.

FACT NUMBER TWO: no you don't have to divorce your faith from your writing!  Your faith is what gives your soul life + substance, it's what roots it + makes it grow.  You don't want to deny this kind of aid to your art, right?

the blindside bible smack

Let's briefly outline the plot of a novel I may have written // may have read // may be aware exists in Christian fiction today.

(typical)
  • INTRODUCE MC - everything seems normal, character isn't perfect but usually not too bad
  • SUDDEN DIRE DRAMA - our pretty vanilla character is now in peril (life-threatening is standard)
  • UNEXPECTED VERBIAGE OF HELP FROM GOD - universally thin on theology, substance is nonexistent, uncomfortably reminiscent of certain Galileans in a certain fishing boat in a certain storm
  • SECONDARY CAUSE SAVES THE DAY - danger &/or life-threatening peril is removed
  • MC BRUSHES SELF OFF - continues through the plot with no recognition that perhaps God heard that pitiable prayer
(following is optional)
  • MC + OTHER CHARACTERS indulge in an existential discussion which has no bearing on the plot, in which the mc quotes copious amounts of scripture which we had no reason to believe the mc knew or relied on - other characters are usually moved // impressed by these arguments
(typical)
  • MC + OTHER CHARACTERS PROCEED THROUGH PLOT - including more dire peril, life-threatening situations, extreme exertion, & surprisingly no reference to faith again
  • THE END - God usually goes unmentioned

...Not only is this yucky, it's embarrassing; because you know you've read this or done it.  Yep.  Me too. But you can see from this angle how damaging it is.  It turns God into exactly the sort of person irreverent folk choose to view him: a cosmic sugar-daddy to whom we owe no constant obligation, & who is just there when life starts to spiral out of our control.

deus ex machina...without the deus

How do we avoid these embarrassing fox-hole prayers by which we mean well but which actually poison our entire novel?  Do not be alarmed, neither let your manuscripts be troubled - the answer is not that hard.

you'll need to adopt two concepts which seem mutually exclusive at first, but which work perfectly together

FAITH BEFORE CRISIS  ||  Let it be established before your character is in danger of his life that his faith is of universal importance to him, defining all he does - not a crutch he grabs when he starts falling.  God is not an outside handhold that we reach for when we stumble, but the life which lights us from within, focusing our vision, training our minds, governing our actions.  When God is recognized as such both in reality & in our fiction, both our lives & our art avoid the fox-hole stigma.  In short, let God being in everything, & nothing will seem sudden or crutch-like.

THE SPEAKING SILENCE  ||  Once your character's...character...is established for the reader + the rest of the cast, there is relatively little need to reiterate the character's stance.  This seems to directly contradict what I said above, but it does not.  A city on a hill does not move; when a man has taken his position, he gains more credibility by his immutability than by dashing headlong after every sign of trouble like a dog trying to catch fireflies.  Other characters know exactly where the mc stands on any given issue: arguments are unnecessary.

silence is more intimidating than discussion.  discussion can be fought, words can be wrangled, strawmen can be set up & knocked down.  but you can't grip silence.  fools are windbags, but a wise man holds his ground.  a comfortably determined silence will give your character more weight than a hundred petty arguments.

if christian fiction has lost its credibility, wherewith shall it be made creditable again?

Unfortunately, it is currently basically useless, & ought to be thrown out, trodden underfoot by men.  My advice is to remember that faith in fiction is not a crutch, it's a backbone; it is not a glass of water, it is the lifeblood.  However your plots unfold, avoid the unexpected deus ex machina prayers, the convenient moral discussions, & the subliminal message that God is only there because we feel like we have to mention him (as Christians), & then he is brushed aside as soon as we perceive we can stand on our own.  These are lies which do no one (including the novel) any good.

know where you stand + stay there
strength + honour ;D 

NaNoWriMo Check-In + Ethandune Snippets

AS I WARNED YOU AT THE OUTSET, I am only loosely doing NaNo - in fact, I only ever loosely do NaNo, in some way, shape, or form.  This year, not only am I not starting a new novel (I'm not sure I've ever done that for NaNo), I'm not even gunning for 50,000 words.

(jenny.  that's not nano.)


No, not strictly speaking, no - that's not NaNo at all.  However, while I don't have a chronic illness, growing a baby does reduce one to "spooning," & I have to eek out my energy sparingly, because I basically have none at all to give.

(jenny.  nano is just sitting + writing.  how energetic can that be?)

My exhaustion is as much mental as physical, so it really is crucial that I rest - old-fashioned, conked-out, eyes-closed rest.  Napping is an Olympic sport.  So the story is, if I have to go out of the house at all, for anything length of time, on a given day, that is a day I will not write.  I don't even try to push it.  I only write on the days that I will be home, quiet, + rested.  No one wants to deal with a boneless, exhausted, agonized maman who was too stupid to stop working when she should have & not overload herself with things-to-do.  There's benefit in the hustle, but wisdom in knowing one's limitations.

When I do write, I do not try to keep up with the projected wordcount of traditional NaNo.  TRANSLATION: I just aim to write the daily wordcount (1,667 words) during each writing session, rather than try to keep pace to write 50,000 words by the end of the month because I simply cannot & Ethandune would be a sorry mess if I tried.  I would be a sorry mess if I tried.

if you have "excuses" or limitations in conquering nano, & just use the opportunity to provide motivation to your work, i hope this makes you feel better! i'm right there with you. i am a slow, slow, SLOW writer, a pantser to boot (??), & i am HEXhausted.  but i'm still doing this.  yes.  because i care.

(**Oh, & my husband + I are starting an independent doughnut business.  Trying out flavour combinations, filing paperwork, networking, studying + taking food photography...how much time could that possibly take up?? Bah haaaa.)

snippets finally ye gads

“Do you suppose, on your own, you could handle the affairs of the place satisfactorily?” asked Ireton, politely.
The earrings jangled. “Me? The Lord save us! I can cut expenses with my horsewhip, but for the long-term management of Mondegreen I have no training and no natural art.” Suddenly she stopped, and her profile was darkened by an inward oppression. “I really believe,” she went on gently, “that we have come to the last days of the house of Blackthorn.” She forced a smile to cover the wound and looked directly in Youngblood’s face. “Maybe the right thing to do would be to let it lie in the dust and be dead, like an old dog, than to torment it to life any longer.”
ethandune

Dammerung was longer-limbed, and reached it first. He went down on his knees with a ripping of breech-cloth and hefted the figure over so that I had an unexpected, ghastly shock of bloodied face and disarrayed hair.
ethandune

She handed him the copper coffeepot, pausing to stare as he heedlessly took the smoking object without any apparent sensation of its heat. “I don’t remember the half of what we talked about,” she admitted. “I had a nasty stabbing headache. Your father kept Casparic on his toes, though—I remember that much. And I thought I had a sharp tongue!”
Goddgofang smiled. “Oh yes, I’ve seen him do that sort of thing. He likes to do that to people he’s not fond of.” 
ethandune

I flew to get them and leave as soundlessly as possible—but not, as I passed back through the sitting room, without shooting a curious glance at the pages of Dammerung’s book. The lettering was too distant for me to decipher, and I got the impression, with only one hurried look, that they were not letters, but some form of hieroglyph. I bounded out the door with a cold chill, those indistinct images flickering like charms in the wind before my vision. 
ethandune


“Come on back, sirrah,” Goddgofang said softly, so soft I hardly heard. “I’ll let you have first pick of spears next time, eh?”
Golightly smiled like one overcoming the throb of a wound.
ethandune

Fantome Rex was first to the door’s threshold. Dammerung swung a leg up over his horse’s neck, but paused a moment looking down at our host, the meteors of the rain streaking through the lanternlight around him. “We regret Secy Coeur de Leon was unable to come, although he had his heart set on it,” the Overlord said blithely. Taking his off toe out of the stirrup, he slid to the ground like an otter slipping into water. “But don’t be too cast down!” I could hear the iron smile on his face. “I’ve brought along Ireton, who, materially, is just as good.”
ethandune

Floating light in the mist caught the headstall of Jennalaide’s grey and winked out like the flick-flick-flick of a bird’s warning call.
ethandune

how is your nano progress?

The Penslayer Blog Design Makeover Reveal!

This is it! HERE IT IS! Words cannot express how thrilled I am to unveil the new look of The Penslayer - at last!  To all of you who have borne with me during the past few months with my bleak, harsh, black + white template, you deserve a medal!

I can't say enough good about my experience with Hannah Rose Creative.  Her branding + design process is nothing if not thorough, Hannah herself is positive, communicative, passionate about design & about making your design say you.  For instance, I like to dress in black, but I prefer to be surrounded by white.  So you can imagine how my monochrome + minimalist heart just soars whenever I look at this sleek, shiny, "simple" design.



WHAT'S NEW

  • My social media icons at the bottom of the page are shiny gold & just waiting for you to check them out. ;D

  • New to The Penslayer & want to know who the author is?  My author bio page is no less sleek & easy to access above my (totally beautiful + shiny) header!

  • I'm a real blog!  I've purchased my own domain name: I'm no longer "thepenslayer.blogspot.com," but now just "thepenslayer.com."

little tommy tadpole began to weep + wail
for little tommy tadpole has lost his little tail
his mother didn't know him as he wept upon a log
for he wasn't tommy tadpole, but mr. thomas frog

  • Visual happiness!  No matter the content of a blog, good or bad, your opinion is shaped by the visual appeal (or lack thereof).  So now you can read + enjoy The Penslayer as I've always wanted you to.

Welcome to a brand new chapter in The Penslayer blog's book!  Good things are coming.  I feel it in my bones.


The Contemporary Writer's Ultimate Guide to #BossGirl


You've decided to write a contemporary novel.  Your main character will be a girl (called from here on out the (F)emale (M)ain (C)haracter).  You know contemporary, you know girls, this should be a breeze.  But no!  Nothing worthwhile ever came easy, & the modern-day FMC is no exception.  There are a LOT of hurdles your FMC has to jump over to become the shining, standout protagonist you want her to be.  Let's get started!

1.  KNOW YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA
Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, they have their purpose, but your FMC needs to be focused.  So does her phone's camera lens.  Consistent posting on Instagram & a firm branding style of photography will help your FMC standout not only in her novel, but will be a role model and inspiration to millions of girls across the globe.  Before you sit down to write your novel, make sure you know exactly what kind of aesthetic your FMC needs on her Instagram feed to promote the feel & plot of your book.

bonus tip!  ||  secondary characters viewing your FMC's "instagram stories" are a great way to break up the action while still showing the reader what is happening.

2.  RELATEABLE SETTING IS KEY
Your FMC is going to be saving the world, but every hero needs a home base.  For the sake of variety so readers don't get bored, I would recommend at least two firm environments in which to write your FMC's world-saving brainstorm sessions.

|| contemporary loft suite || this is best set up as an open floor plan, with original brick walls exposed & tasteful feminine decor placed around the room.  this takes your FMC from "ordinary girl" to "successful woman" in one simple but CRUCIAL leap.  gone are the days of writing FMCs in frilly bedrooms!  this is the day of the #bossgirl.

|| coffeeshop // starbucks || a delicate hand is necessary for this extremely vital aspect of your FMC's rise to #bossgirl status.  starbucks indubitably leads the way for social markers such as the pumpkin spice latte, & scenes in starbucks or with starbucks coffee instantly trigger a subliminal message in your reader's mind that "this girl is part of the 'in' crowd."  however, a well-rounded FMC will also be ethically conscious & will patronize a favourite independent coffee shop, cluing in your readers without stating the obvious that "this girl is concerned for her local economy & enjoys the socialization of the local community."

bonus tip!  ||  this coffee shop set is an ideal place to stoke up any romance you might feel led to include in your novel.  be sure to research the coffee industry & the types of men who run it to pick your best male main character.

3.  ON POINT IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR GAME
Want to save the world?  It's really hard to do when you feel uncomfortable with your outfit or makeup.  FMCs, you may not feel like you have a lot of time to devote to your physical appearance (that's okay! #wokeuplikethis is also super attractive & will stand you in good stead), but some personal grooming tips are KEY to insuring your #bossgirl card is delivered.

|| that perfect messy hair || so tricky to achieve, yet so important - & saving the world just makes it look better! invest in some tried-&-true hair products designed to create that messy, beachy, lived-in look, which will appear so on point & yet so effortless, no one will know how long it took you to perfect it!

|| sunnies || you can never spend too much money on a good pair of sunglasses. these are classic, alluring, protect your eyes from harmful radiation, & can pull a "bleh!" look to "yeah!" look in the blink of an eye.

|| brows are boss || it is a must must must must MUST that you invest in good brow products & maintenance. nothing destroys a look so quickly as weak or frizzy brows.  take the time to fill those in with expert chiseled lines - it takes practice, but your career & storyline will thank you! when you can conquer the on-trend look of brows-on-point, you can conquer anything.

bonus tip!  ||  my favourite is the anastasia beverly hills pencil (with spoolie!), which comes in lots of shades for an ethnically diverse cast, but benefit also has a huge array of options for those of you who would like your FMCs to have more to work with.

4.  HAVE THE RIGHT PHYSIQUE
Short, spunky girls have dominated the contemporary novel scene for a long time now, but society hasn't forgotten Barbie.  Who do we mentally envision as the #bossgirl?  That's right - the tall, sleek, tastefully athletic, fashionable girl.  Yes, it may be hard for your FMC to find pants the correct length, but you can always have them tailor-made by an ethically-sourced seamstress (bonus points!).

5.  KNOW THE MODERN VIRTUES
We are SO over the teenage drama of love triangles, freaking out about college, etc.  Sure, no one really knows what she's doing, but try this mindset on for size: confidence at Kanye-levels.  THAT'S attractive.  With a cup of coffee & some phenomenal confidence, your #bossgirl FMC will be a role model for countless readers around the world!  She won't be sidetracked by petty emotions, love-life woes, or Netflix binge-watching, she will be a woman of singular vision bent on saving the world, & subsequently will become a positive magnetic influence drawing in the perfect #bossgirl tribe // cast of characters to support her.

A NEW GENERATION OF FEMALE ROLE MODELS HAS ARRIVED

This is where we punt the '90s whiny teenage girls out of our lives & welcome in a brand new edition of heroine - bigger & better in so many ways!   This #bossgirl is the future.  Got what it takes to write her?  You go, girl!


* this post is satire, which means it's completely true & will hurt XD

Why Older People Will Save the World (& Teenagers Won't)


WHY AREN'T THERE MORE OLDER PEOPLE // OLD SOULS IN FICTION?

From where I'm sitting, movies & books are chockablock with KIDS.  I got stuck under a salon dryer in front of a TV playing "If I Stay," & basically the entire time I was half-angry that the girl COULD NOT SEE that the boy was no good, & half in awe that people could get away with making an ostensibly engaging film (??) composed largely of just two teenagers making out & fighting & making out.  This is what kids watch?  This is what kids read?  A bunch of OTHER (thinly fictional) kids blundering around like everything is normal + okay when everything is so obviously NOT normal + okay, without a sensible individual in sight.

1.  GET YOSELF TOGETHER
I just finished "Sense & Sensibility," & yes I loved it!  I am yours truly too much like Marianne but the fact is I appreciate Elinor & strive to be more like her:

not cast about by every wind + wave of emotion
capable of swallowing my pride for the sake of reason
attentive to the distresses of others despite what i may be suffering myself

In short, MATURE.  And guess what?  Elinor was only, like, nineteen or twenty years old.  Oh em gee, she's just a kid, she's just discovering herself, she's - I can't keep this up.  No, Elinor Dashwood, although a fictional character, was written by a young woman basically the same age, & provides proof that YOUNG PEOPLE CAN BE MATURE.  The problem is, all of the role models I see snogging around are basically worthless.

2.  MATURITY COMES WITH AGE
It's just that, for some of us, it comes faster...or slower...depending on how much you push yourself.  You don't have to turn thirty & then suddenly get your act together because now you're an "adult."  Nope, you can start much earlier, & it makes an otherwise confusing process just a little less excruciating.*

IF your main character is in that most trying age of being a "young adult" // teenager, why not, for the sake of healthy novelty, SKIP the highschool drama & the boyfriends & the Pinterest & the "adventure is out there" tropes.  Instead, you could actually have a sensible, well-balanced, SANE character who is trying to navigate your plot + life & trying not to make too much drama for himself in the process.  If your character needs a mental leg up, there's always Mr. Miyagi as a role model additional character.  People with sense get better with age, so don't discount the importance of older people helping your stupid clueless teenagers.  Because TEENAGERS ARE STUPID.** 

(* i look back on my teenage self & think, "...you were an IDIOT.")

(** this is an offensive, broad-brush statement & i hold to it so you can try to avoid being stupid if you are in fact a teenager.  forewarned is forearmed.)

3.  WE'RE PUTTING THE FATE OF THE WORLD IN //WHO'S// HANDS??
Did nobody think this through?  Out of everybody - everybody in the world - the fate of our country / continent / world / universe rests on the shoulders of someone who isn't even old enough to legally drink??  There has been some SERIOUS mismanagement here.  Oh, we ALL gonna die.  This kid doesn't know how to file tax forms, & he's going to save us from certain destruction?  We //ALL// gonna die. 



4.  OLDER PEOPLE // OLD SOULS ARE NOT BORING
You think maturity is musty & dull?  You think "settling down" is the worst thing to ever happen to you?  Then you have been delicately sheltered from one of life's greatest truths: BEING MATURE IS AWESOME.

not wrecking your body with drugs + alcohol?
not dealing with hormonal school drama?
owning a house?
having a comfy bed with an actual, dependable bedtime routine?
eating healthy, home-cooked meals that your body will rejoice to eat?

How is this NOT awesome?  People who say being wild + crazy is better are either lying or they don't know better.  I'M HERE TO TELL YOU BETTER.  Sensible, mature people take care of things (laundry, bills, the mysterious prophecy which dooms you to save the world).  They know how to handle responsibilities (shopping for groceries, mopping the floors, making sure you don't get stabbed by shadowy brutal enemies while you try to save the world).  They have lots of wisdom to impart which you would probably die before attaining on your own (change the air filters in your house, don't turn on your car in the garage without opening the garage door first, never split up or go out at night when something is trying to kill you).

5.  YOU DO NOT SEE THE WORLD CORRECTLY
Little young adult characters, don't lose your dreams + ambitions.  They give you motivation & help make the world a better place (assuming your dreams don't include becoming a terrorist).  But let's face it, you don't even know.  At the same time you're dealing with hormonal trauma & you think your life is awful, you also think life is magically hunky-dory & everything will pan out.  Well, NO, not if you don't man up & take care of things.

Maturity + responsibility make people STABLE.  Your same-age friend is going to freak out & stress along with you (not helpful) whereas a mature adult will give you straight-up common sense advice (very helpful).  

6.  GROW UP & GET OVER YOURSELF
The teenage years, my little young adult characters, are NOT your golden days.  Nope, they're basically a blundering mess & I'm only 26 but I am appalled to see highschool students allowed to drive massive constructions of metal at insane speeds down public roadways.  Guess what!  If you have any sense of self-betterment, you will seek out maturity, save the world, & have minimal love-triangle drama scars to show for it (they are not a badge of honour, they are just proof of your stupid).  Not sure how to be mature?  Find someone who is!  Trust me, you & your novel will be glad.

+ BONUS COUNTER ARGUMENT:
"But young adult novels with teenagers are so RELATEABLE."

get out.

We have friends.  We have the internet.  We have people who relate to us by the BUCKETload.  But if you actually want to improve, you need role models who are BETTER THAN YOU (see, Elinor Dashwood).  Drama, heartache, struggles, obstacles to overcome - they happen to mature people too, you know, & mature people JUST GET BETTER.  Wouldn't that be a worthwhile type of character to present to the reading populace?

yours truly, 100% tired of seeing reviews exclaiming that the mc was just so dumb



How To Compose Alchemical Magic (& Still Live)


(Na)tional (No)vel (Wr)iting (Mo)nth is just around the corner, & normally I'm all, "ugh, whatever, I have better things to do," & I moreorless avoid the incredible stress of writing 50,000 words in a single month (some of us really struggle with that, okay??); but for some reason I am a flaming masochist in terms of making myself do work when I should be resting, & my brain said



"hey"



"what if you wrote 50,000 words on ethandune in november"



TO WHICH I AM NOT COMMITTING because then you could reasonably commit ME; but since lots of people are crazy & still loose on the internet, I thought I would share some of my tricks for coming up with stuff to write & how I make myself write (more to the point), because NaNoWriMo is insane & yet we keep trying to do it.  Here is to mutual fear & gnashing of teeth.

1.  READ TERRIBLE LITERATURE
A nearly surefire way to pump the old creative juices, read truly terrible writing.  I know the usual advice is to read GOOD writing, but that's getting you only halfway.  You need to be angry.  You need to have motivation.  You need to have PURPOSE.  So remind yourself that the world is full of HAPSOLUTELY hellawful writing that passes as literature & gets published (for money!) & people buy it (for more money!!), & you OWE IT TO SOCIETY to write your awesome book & bring balance to the world.

note: it helps to have a grumpy-cat attitude about most things in life in order to pull this off. if you're usually optimistic + generous, this trick will be harder for you to achieve.

2.  LISTEN TO UPBEAT MUSIC WHILE DRIVING
Prerequisite: you need to be able to drive.  I am a) an aggressive driver, & b) I tend to drive the same routes whenever I go out, so spatial-long-term-memory-guidance-drones in my head take over & I'm often free to just think.  If I can get Siri to find songs on the internet for me (is that really so hard, Siri??), I can ramp up my imagination to the speed of my music & my car.  They say you need to go after inspiration with a stick but I find running it over with a car is more effective.

note: this is a terrible idea & i never recommended it. you were never here.

3.  ACTUALLY OPEN UP THE DOCUMENT & LOOK AT IT
When all else fails & I can't come up with scenes on my own while I do the rest of my life, I will drag my inverted camel carcass to the computer (mentally whining & complaining & hating myself because I am a mature adult), I'll OPEN UP THE DOCUMENT, & actually read some of it.  Get back in the vibe.  Kind of sort of but not really commit to maybe writing another paragraph.  Sometimes I find myself writing more than I thought I would. 

note: a mixed drink will significantly diminish the inner "fight" attitude against buckling down & writing, & will make your writing appear momentarily the bomb.com, but sadly i cannot pursue this aid at present & duh reasonable precautions apply to everyone attempting this including minors, pregnant women, teetotalers, people prone to emotional weeping (mirriam, i'm cautioning you), & anyone who hasn't had a decent intake of water during the day.

4.  DON'T GET ON INSTAGRAM/FACEBOOK/PINTEREST/TWITTER - & DON'T WASTE TIME BLOGGING

:|

yeah...



5.  IGNORE ALL THE PROPS
Yes, you'll want a nice fancy playlist & a perfect Pinterest board detailing the exact aesthetic of your novel, but the TRUTH IS writers came up with killer books without the aid of these mechanisms, & you can too.  These are fun but really they just waste time.  Indulge them ONLY WHEN YOU CAN; if a teenytiny voice in your head is saying, "ooh, I'll get to writing just as soon as I find this one particular song & a picture of my main character which is 100% perfect, this will help me, I don't need to feel guilty - " then you are ABSOLUTELY GUILTY. 

note: the long-forgotten trick to writing?  it's WRITING.

These are the five methods I use to actually write my (disconcertingly coveted) stories.  Also Dammerung.  That's definitely motivation.  Yep, basically whatever you are doing now is probably just as good // better than my method because you are not lazy + stupid like I am, so here is your chance to gloat!  Meanwhile, I will be taking a nap & NOT WRITING AT ALL because I am in my third trimester & I am unbelievably exhausted it isn't even funny I am so ready to be done with this why is January so far away.

are you insane & are you going to participate in nano?  IT WAS NICE KNOWING YOU.

Why Being Authentic Is Killing Your Brand


WHERE ARE ALL THE SHOCKED EMOJIS WHEN YOU NEED THEM??

The big thing these days is to "be authentic;" be yourself, don't apologize for who you are, be "real," be honest & vulnerable & #darlingmagazine & I don't even know what.  It sounds good, right?  Yes!  Open up!  People love that!  Down with the impersonal corporate machine!  This is the day of the lone entrepreneur! 

STAHP.  REWIND.

It's all well + good to get on Pinterest & see the motivational quotes about being honest + real, but there's a huge mistake they make & nOBODY SEEMS TO ADDRESS IT. I'm going to because I like being negative + poking holes in people's balloons.  Well, mostly Pinterest's balloons.

THE AUTHENTIC MISCONCEPTION

What is "authenticity"?  You can have two definitions:

being original // not a copy
+
being true to one's beliefs

Pretty cool.  No one wants a copycat or a sycophant (copycats are tricky to feed + sycophants are such delicate plants, they are an enormous burden to keep up with).  Being YOU is a good thing!  ...Right??

Yes & no.  If you are representing an idea (author, doughnut-maker, part-time executioner), you DON'T HAVE THE FREEDOM TO BE FREE.  In terms of your interaction with the public, you have committed to a persona that you need to uphold & which needs to be reliable so that customers (readers, pastry enthusiasts, not so much convicted criminals but they're people too), can keep the concept of YOU + YOUR BRAND dependably in their minds. 

oh hey jenny aren't you one to talk

You are definitely looking at someone who is trying to move from "just being myself" to being a definite brand.  There is a lot more to ME than what I portray on my blog because my blog isn't strictly about ME, it's about THE PENSLAYER - it's about writing, it's about my works, it's about my thoughts on becoming better at my craft & how you, too, can improve! 

does this mean i'm not authentic?

Nope!  This does NOT mean I'm not authentic.  This does not mean I'm faking it when I get on my blog & post only a snapshot of who I am.  It means I'm

// edited //

If I take an Instagram picture of part of my house, it's really part of my house - but it's only a square lookie-hole into my environment.  It's real.  It's authentic.  But it's also edited & it's what I want you to see.  It gives you the impression I want you to have.  Is this evil?  Is this manipulative??  Well, okay, it's manipulative but no it's not evil.  If I want to be a definite brand with a definite purpose, & reliably deliver the same genre of goods to the public, I can't afford to be a catch-all dumping-ground for my entire brain/personality.  I have to choose what parts of me will best express + represent my "business front." 

DOES BEING AUTHENTIC KILL YOUR BRAND?

YES  ||  if you fall into the trap of assuming "authentic" means everything you think, everything you like, every tiny change you make, every fad, love, obsession that takes hold of you from week to week.  This is confusion, & confusion destroys a brand.

NO  || not if you are authentic TO YOUR BRAND.  Not if you are authentic to who you have determined you need to be in order to intelligibly express the concept of your brand. 

clarity
consistency
singleness of vision

are what your brand needs to stand out & shine in a loud, loud world of social media + marketing. 

well okay kettle but you're the same colour as the pot

(Yeah, & it's my favourite colour...)  But no, in all seriousness, this is NOT something I have mastered, but it is something that I've become more aware of in the past eleven months as I overhaul myself + my home.  I've learned how important it is to edit, to focus, to hone.  The CLEAR VIEW of who you are becomes a CONSISTENT EXPRESSION, which creates a RELIABLE CONCEPT of YOU.  For the outside world looking in, whatever demographic your customers fall in to, this is invaluable.  No one wants to depend on chaos + confusion.

DON'T JUST BE AUTHENTIC.  BE EDITED.

Killing the Stigma: What EVERYONE Needs to Know


It doesn't matter if you are expecting, planning on expecting, maybe one day expecting in the distant future, or don't want to have children at all.  This post is for everyone because postpartum depression impacts SO MANY OF US, & even if it won't happen to YOU, it may happen to someone you know & the best way to help that person is to UNDERSTAND what is happening.  Postpartum depression is actually a serious, sometimes life-threatening malady, so DON'T take this lightly!  I know this is not writing-related, but it's a big deal for me & I know others have faced or may face this obstacle.  I want to help.

naysaying the naysayer

IF YOU ARE EXPECTING this may sound like I'm assuming that you will have postpartum depression (PPD), & I'm just a huge pessimist, raining on your baby-bliss parade.  This is 100% not the case.  It is unfortunately very common, & very likely, that a new mother will experience such a wild crash in hormones post-delivery, that it results in PPD.  You can't MAKE yourself not have it if your hormones DO crash, just like you can't MAKE your heart start or stop, or MAKE your stomach not digest food.  I am not a party-pooper!  I want you to know that PPD is something to anticipate & prepare for, because you can't stop it just be sheer will.  This is out of your control.

IF PEOPLE SAY YOU DON'T HAVE PPD do NOT, under any circumstances, believe them!  Your hormones are in your own body, your thoughts are in your brain - you know something isn't right.  No one else can feel your emotions for you.  You are the judge.

(i have been told off-handedly in the past that i was not depressed. it was not from a doctor, it was not after even a moment of reflection or time spent listening to my symptoms.  this hurts.  this kind of response is unfortunately tailor-made to COMPOUND the emotional issues, not create a support which could further your road to recovery.  so folks, if a mother tells you she is depressed, NEVER, EVER, EVER SAY SHE'S NOT.)

NOTE || "baby blues" & PPD are NOT the same thing. "Baby blues" are a usual phenomenon when your hormones naturally go berserk for a few days or a week after expelling the baby.  Your body was chockablock with hormones during pregnancy, & now it's trying to reset for a new phase.  Hormones are not the bee's knees & nothing they do is very friendly, but "baby blues" should pass in a few days.

(not exhaustive list of) postpartum depression & anxiety symptoms

There are many expressions of PPD & postpartum anxiety.  You may experience one, two, four, five...& qualify for the diagnosis: you don't have to have ALL the symptoms - this isn't Pokemon.  I'm going to highlight some that I had to deal with, but know that there are more.

THE INADEQUACY TERROR  ||  I vividly recall trying to breastfeed my daughter early in the morning before one of the grandmothers came to sit with her.  My husband had to leave for work.  I felt I was on the clock.  My daughter wouldn't settle.  She was crying, & I began to scream for my husband & then dissolve into hysterical tears because I believed I COULD NOT DO THIS.  Those words don't fully describe how I felt.

  • i felt i literally, actually, completely, could NOT nurture my daughter
  • i was 100% in terror that someone would come take her away
  • i was deeper-than-the-grave ashamed of my weakness & outburst
  • i thought someone would take my daughter away
  • ditto

THE MORBID TERROR  ||  Another vivid memory, waiting for my husband to come home.  It was winter, it was dark, & time seemed to take longer than it should have.  I began to think something had happened to him.  I began to believe something had happened to him.  I was sure he had crashed & died, & that I would be left the rest of my life to raise our daughter alone.  Do not laugh at this.  This is not like everyday, garden-variety morbid fantasy: this notion latched hold of my brain & would not be shaken loose.  I was a hysterical crying mess by the time my husband arrived - with takeout dinner.

THE FLIGHT DRIVE  ||  Another common expression of PPD, which I felt periodically, was the desire to run away.  There is NO LOGICAL SOLUTION presented by this urge: you just HAVE it.  It can be an urge to run away from your family completely, or (as in my case) to run away with your child.  It can be fueled by irrational panic, or it may simply be a lone but powerful urge suggesting that you NEED TO RUN AWAY.  This is PPD talking.

THE BLACK HOLE IN YOUR CHEST  ||  Probably the first thing people think of when someone mentions depression,  it's that hollow-but-leaden weight in your chest, dragging you down, blacker than my entire wardrobe.  It is an inexplicable, unshakeable, unexpected depression - there is no better word for it: it's more than sadness, it's a crushing of the soul.  The world, like mine, could be full of sunshine, support, & smiles, but all I felt was a deep, dead sorrow.  

THE HARM FANTASIES  ||  This is probably the worst part of PPD that I've experienced.  I was, thank God, never close to succumbing to these thoughts, but I was plagued by sudden, unpremeditated thoughts of throwing my infant daughter over the railing down the steep basement stairs.  I considered cutting myself when my sadness was almost more than I could bear.  These thoughts were never serious for me, thankfully: they were suggestions about contemplating these actions.  But that they cropped up in my brain was terrifying enough!

THE GUILTY SILENCE  ||  None of the above is the expected view of motherhood.  None of it is NICE.  None of it seems HAPPY or CONTENT or GRATEFUL.  As mothers, we're aware that what we're feeling does not match with what we think is expected of us.  What we are feeling terrifies us!  We feel unutterably guilty.  So we shut down.  We close our mouths.  We don't reach out for help.  We tell ourselves we need to "just get over it."  We are afraid

  • people won't understand
  • people will tell us to "buck up"
  • people will think we're crazy
  • people will think we're trying to shirk our maternal duties
  • people will think it's just due to sleep deprivation
  • people will take our children away from us

There is precedent for each one of these to make our fear just that much stronger in our minds.  Mothers have been brushed aside, their struggles consigned to "womanly weakness," they have been judged, censured, & ignored - when their problem is NOT THEM, it's a need for postpartum medical treatment to correct something that is physically wrong & mentally impacting their lives.  Women with PPD

  • are NOT lazy
  • are NOT insane
  • are NOT insensitive mothers
  • are NOT broken

They are flesh-&-blood human beings whose bodies have experienced a catastrophic upset in their critical hormonal balances, & they NEED MEDICAL ATTENTION.

(note: i had both an advantage & an obstacle to face, for my own mother had suffered such severe PPD that she has needed to continue medication to this day. i knew i was at risk & that i needed to look out for symptoms.  AT THE SAME TIME, when the symptoms came, i was afraid they weren't "good" enough, they weren't "critical" enough, that i didn't have the right to claim PPD.  DON'T FALL INTO THIS MENTAL TRAP.  seek help as soon as you notice a continuance in these (or other) symptoms. you are important! never underestimate your struggles because someone else may have it "worse.")

BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS

Yes, it is possible you may have PPD.  DO NOT DESPAIR.  Here I am, with the effects of PPD still in my brain, & I'm a survivor.  My daughter is flourishing.  You'd never know, unless I told you, that I have PPD.  Here is what helped me:

FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED  ||  I had the warning.  Being aware that PPD is a possibility does NOT increase your risk of having it.  You either have it or you don't - but knowing about it beforehand & knowing the signs to look out for makes the recovery/correction process SO much easier, quicker, & avoids severe scarring on you & your family.

EXCELLENT DOCTORS & MEDICATION  ||  My doctor is the chillest bomb.com & I am so thankful to God for putting me in her hands.  I was able to discuss with her beforehand my fears of having PPD, & postpartum I was able to go to her with my symptoms, which resulted immediately in an effective anti-depressant prescription (yes, I was still able to breastfeed!).  Never underestimate modern medicine where it has proved effective for so many.  It's cliche, but TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR.  We're dealing with a mental illness that could potentially harm you & your child: BOTH of you deserve the safety of a stable mind & reliable hormone balances!

(note: something that prevented my mother from getting immediate help was the belief that she just needed to "have more faith" & her emotions would go away.  this is a lie.  this is a damnable lie.  i thank the Lord that we HAVE a medical body that offers us effective medicine for actual, physical problems like PPD.  it's not a "lack of faith," it's a physical illness expressing itself through the mind.  you can't just get over it.  you can't just pray it away.  God has graciously given us a means of correcting the issue: take advantage of that!)

SUPPORT SYSTEM  ||  My husband & I live in the same city as my parents, his parents, & my brother + sister-in-law.  We get together frequently throughout the week.  We have gone to the same church for as long as I've been alive.  In short, I HAVE PEOPLE TO DEPEND ON.  This is an enormous benefit for the mother suffering PPD.  One of the worst things you can do if you have PPD is to shut yourself up in your own mind & try to "take care of things" yourself.  You CAN'T.  You are actually, physically ill: you need support & clear minds to help guide you.

note for mothers: if you don't have a support-system, do everything in your power to get one!  church, work, online friends - whatever & whoever, find people you can trust & tell them what you may be / are facing.  YOU NEED THEM.

note for family & friends: if a new mother in your circle shows signs of PPD, or honours you with the privilege of being told she IS suffering mental problems, ON NO ACCOUNT BRUSH HER OFF.  she is ill & she needs your help.  her baby needs your help.  immediately show her that you care, that you understand, that you are there for her.  NEVER take her symptoms lightly.  your compassion could be the gateway to her healing.  NEVER try to rationalize her communications.  NEVER try to argue her into a "right way of thinking."  take everything she shares with you at serious face value & offer her support, understanding, & love.

thank you

Although this is just a cursory overview of PPD & its treatment, I apologize that it is such a lengthy post.  However, I feel extremely strongly on this issue, & I want women to be prepared, for their friends & family to be ready to offer support.  Mental illnesses are invisible, but real, serious, sometimes life-threatening.  Mothers, there is nothing wrong with YOU, but there is something wrong with your body.  I want to share the hope of familial & medical help because it IS there for you to take!  Whatever postpartum looks like for you, my desire is that we all cherish our families & live a stable, loving life with our babies.  <3

Can This One Genre Really Boost Your Audience Appeal?


It was late.  I was tired.  I had a headache.  I had taken Tylenol PM, Zzquil, muscle relaxant, + melatonin.  I was in bed.  I had nothing to write with.  So I opened "notes" on my phone + blearily scrawled a memo for a blog post, hoping that I would be able to decipher it come morning.

"don't have an agenda just creepy sometimes"

That was it.  Fortunately for you, I'm not going to leave you to figure out where to put the emphasis on this horrible piece of grammar, I'm going to make sense.  I've had coffee, I can do this.

reader, meet horror

1.  Just Because You're Not "In" This Genre Doesn't Mean You Can't Borrow It
When pitching to agencies + pigeon-holing your book for the market, you have to come up with SOME definitive genre to put your book in.  People are heels-over-head in love with pigeon holes; we have to humour them.  But the actual content of your writing can - probably SHOULD - incorporate elements from more than just a single genre.  Be bold!  Be brave!  Surprise your readers!

2.  This Genre Element Is Incredibly Effective
I see a lot of writers employing some method of torture/pain on their characters to evoke an emotional response in the reader.  This on many levels is an immature tactic.  Yes, if well done it can create sympathy + evoke compassion toward the afflicted, outrage toward the antagonist, etc., but it is tricky to pull off.  (Don't avoid it, though!  It DOES have a place!  Just don't shoot your character full of arrows to make your readers cry + have done.)

The value of horror lies in the emotional trauma inflicted, not merely on the character, but on your reader.  The reader is no longer merely a bystander watching the plot unfold, the situation goes directly to the psyche of the reader with a sucker-punch impact.  You don't even have to minutely describe the pain (physical or mental) of the character: the description of the situation is enough to bear the impact directly through the character to the reader, creating a "ghost-character" of the reader.



I gathered up the shaking, tumbled kid from the snarl of briars, lifting it to the mass of furs over my chest, but as I attempted it, the little thing suddenly spooked as though struck by an electric current, squealing in my arms and nearly hurtling back to the ground as I shrieked and struggled to grasp it.

“Hold still—hold still!” I cried. “Where have I hurt you?”

In the weird moongloom I saw it crane back its head to look at me with one eye—and that eye, rolling, rolling, slowly backward to my face, stark-white and stricken mad.

Sh-h-h-h-h-h…” said a ghost-wind from the wood. “Don’t shout. You’ll scare the poor thing.

My arms slackened and the kid fell in a lifeless pile to my feet. In the great black arch of the wood-mouth, into which the overgrown track ducked and vanished in an instant, there was first a rustle in the air, as of dry leaves shivering in a funeral breeze—a sudden, huge sense of a body there, looming toward me—and then I could see it. Two rows of shining teeth and canines like a tiger’s, coming toward me in the darkness. No head, only the teeth smiling, smiling like they would laugh at any moment. Then a nose materialized, first with black holes for its nostrils and white with bone, flooding over with a dark skin only a shade paler than the night. The eyes jumped out at me in two sudden silver flashes, throwing twin bars of glare across the dark, and then the whole thing had come full from the woodshore before me, horse-big and horse-shaped, without it ears and without any muscle on its frame to hide the gaunt outline of its bones.

Boo, little bunny.

My heart. In my throat. A huge, bulbous, swollen vessel throbbing so hard I felt I would vomit and throw up blood.

No?” it asked; smoke-tendrils which might have served as ears swivelled upward with sadistic amusement. “You don’t like that?

The ground kicked up under my feet and I hurtled backward with a guttural scream wrenching in my ears; at the same instant, above me, the creature’s skull opened from the jaw with a crack, doubling back over its own neck with a burst of reddish powder-cloud and a ripping noise like a butcher breaking open the ribs of a pig. The dark flooded in fold on fold over the thing until it was completely obscured…and then flowed off it backwards again, revealing, not a macabre horse, but something fairy-shaped and man-formed, white as death and shrouded with its own grey-mottled wings.

Is this more becoming to you?” it smiled.

Its teeth were the same.
adamantine rewrite

The imprint of the images on your nerves stays awhile, doesn't it?  Very little of the protagonist's feelings are described: I've left the narrative description to carry past her to you, the reader - so you don't need me to tell you how SHE feels, YOU feel everything for her.

3.  What Can Create Horror?
Again, it needn't be physical pain.  This doesn't have to be an employment of weird slasher-flick moments in your writing.  Your plot will dictate IF you use horror, WHEN you use horror, + HOW you use horror.  Here are some aspects to keep in mind:

SUCKER PUNCH  ||  I've got lots of comments on my writing, saying it is "graphic" + "violent," and yes to an extent there are those elements (periodically, in their proper places) in my writing.  But the knee-jerk reaction,  which belies the power of my use of horror, isn't because of the degree of violence or graphic imagery, it's in the unexpected blow.  The reader didn't see it coming, didn't prepare for the hit to the nerves.  That's one of the number one aspects that makes a horrific moment so powerful: you are totally defenseless to the shredding of your nerves.  Yay!

GROTESQUE, SURREAL, UNNATURAL  ||  Most well-hinged folk find the twisted + bizarre to be unnerving.  It gives us, at the very least, a sense of unease, and can quickly increase in revulsion.

(Tip: converge something WRONG with something aaaaaaalmost right.  In the description above, I've nearly given you the image of a horse - very familiar - but I've stripped it of muscles + ears, rendering it almost right but completely + macabre WRONG.  The reader feels this intuitively + a boat-load of graphic imagery is NOT necessary to make an emotional impact.  Also see "uncanny valley.")

& YEAH YOU CAN BE GROSS  ||  Because gross is a mainstay of horror.  Again, the caveat applies: don't just be gross for the sake of being gross, be smart about it!  Yuck, gross, unsanitary, death, decay - we are both spiritually + physically designed to revolt against their presence.  Here is another place the reader + protagonist instantly share a common reaction.

4.  How Is This Going to Positively Impact My Readers?
Sometimes, it won't.  See above, where some readers have accused me of being too graphic + too violent.  Some people just DON'T LIKE horror.  They don't WANT yuck.  They don't WANT the macabre.  If so, then stories containing this element are not for them.

But the strength of this element lies in the link it creates between the reader + protagonist without the labouring process of explaining + detailing the protagonist's feelings.  As readers, we WANT to be connected with the story.  We want to feel like we are there.  The instant bond of horror achieves this.  The story stays with the reader because he has experienced it, rather than merely digested the words.

in conclusion: don't write off horror as merely sadistic slasher motifs: it can be a very effective tool for the writer to communicate emotion to the reader.  have fun with it!

images via pinterest