Hurry Up and Wait

May 6, 2021

So, it's been a hot minute since I've made any updates to my site. Progress on Mark of the Champion has swung from long periods of waiting for beta readers (to be fair, one of them was waiting for me as well - we did a manuscript beta swap), to painstaking word count reduction, adding details and filling small plot holes (that of course increased the word count again), to the present, where I'm patiently waiting for my sensitivity reader to return my manuscript after a solid month of apprehension.

The stretches between milestones for MOTC are partly due to health issues for two family members. My husband Fred has had several medical appointments ranging from lens replacement surgery in his left eye, to crowns on his teeth, to twice-yearly brain MRIs to verify he's still cancer-free. My mom's had a condition called venuos stasis ulcers on her legs for a year, although the last should be clear soon. She's had trouble moving due to strokes and mini-strokes, and she's endured two falls that temporarily impeded her walking. I'm happy to report that she's moving again with a wheeled walker, but still needs support, as she lives alone. Between Fred's needs, Mom's needs, and holding down a full-time job, I frequently deal with overwhelm and exhaustion, and thus don't spend as much time maintaining my website, social media, etc. as I should.

While I'm waiting for notes from the sensitivity reader, I've been doing research to completely rewrite "The Knight at the Museum." My beta feedback showed me that I need to raise the stakes in terms of suspense, action, and magical events. I'm visiting buildings similar to how I think the museum would look, to see how the architecture would benefit or hinder my heroes. I hope to have a brand-new version complete by the end of May for another round of betas.

Once I've implemented the sensitivity reader's suggestions/notes for MOTC, I will book the developmental editor. I already have one in mind, but since progress on the book has been so slow, I may have to wait for months. My target timeframe for the release of Mark of The Champion is in either August or September of 2022, so I've got some time, but booking anyone is still a nail-biter. I'm also apprehensive about commissioning character art and the book cover for MOTC. Part of the problem is I can't commission art for one of the characters until he's vetted by the SR. Hopefully I won't need to make many changes to him.

In non-book news, Fred and I got a new (to us) car! Our old Toyota Yaris, that we bought new and drove for fourteen years, was close to 195,000 miles on the speedometer. The 'check engine' light had been on for over a year, and the engine itself started to give out. We traded it in for $500 and bought a 2015 Toyota Venza, a larger car with four doors, a roomy back hatch, a rear-view backup camera, and Bluetooth. There has definitely been a learning curve with this car (I've set off the alarm by mistake three times), but we love our new ride.

Gradually I will bring the rest of my site up to date. I still have issues with the URL not working without the (www.) in front. I've looked into all the website building companies, and not one has been as easy to use or maintain as my good ol' Google Site. This may change in the future, but for now, this is my online home, and I'm glad you came to visit.

Character Sketch: Keoki Kapono

December 18, 2019

Keoki Kapono is the Ambassador for the Unified Realms, under the constitutional rule of Queen Toria. Born and raised on O'ahu, he has equal parts Hawaiian and Scottish heritage. Keoki serves as mentor, sidekick, and father figure to Sheila Berenger, a young woman accidentally marked for a challenging destiny.

The beginnings of Keoki as a character come from my fanfic-writing days. His first incarnation was in a massive Star Wars fic I wrote after the release of "Revenge of the Sith." (The fic is unpublished, and always will be.) He was a blue-skinned native of the planet Korriban, a descendant of members of the Sith race who went into hiding when the fallen Jedi, who became the powerful Sith Lords, took over. (I imagined the original Sith weren't evil, just Goth.)

Blue Alien Keoki shared many traits with Earth Human Keoki: gravelly voice, a longshoreman's profane vocabulary, berserker fighting skills, and a deep well of compassion. When I began the first draft of "Mark of The Champion," even when I was still defining who Sheila was, I knew who I wanted to be her travelling companion. Keoki is both Obi-Wan, and anti-Obi-Wan, to complement Sheila's mix of idealism and sarcasm.

Keoki Kapono (art by me)

Keoki in MOTC has had a hard sixty-five years. He had an abusive father, lost people close to him to disease and tragedy, and served time in prison. In addition, he's connected to an entity made of one hundred demons combined. Some aspects of his backstory arose from my research on the plight of Native Hawaiians throughout history, from the arrival of the first missionaries and colonists to today. Other aspects were based on the experiences of people I know.

This is the first sketch I made of Keoki when I could no longer stand to only see him in my mind. He wears a black leather Harley-Davidson vest over a black tank, black motorcycle boots, a black Glengarry bonnet, and a kilt made with the official State of Hawai'i tartan. (He doesn't wear his family tartan, which reminds him of his father.) His toolkit includes a first-aid pack, several magical stones and other items, a bastard sword, and a flask of Jack Daniel's, his occasional coping mechanism.

A few months after I completed this sketch, I commissioned the amazing Riley Schroeder to draw a portrait of Keoki that was closer to how I imagined he looked. You can see his portrait, and those of all the other principal characters in "Mark of The Champion," in the Gallery.

How to Write a Novel in Just Ten Years

September 23, 2019

Ever since I was in grade school, I wanted to be a writer.

This is a line you read at the start of many writers’ biographies. It’s followed by reminiscing about how the writer consistently wrote stories from childhood to the present day, a steady stream of short stories, poetry, songs, novels, essays, flash fiction, microfiction, scripts, comics, etc.

I was never that prolific. I wanted to be, but something always held me back. Perhaps the reason was legitimate, or purely imaginary. There were rare creative spurts when I collaborated on a fanfic with a friend. When my well of words ran dry, I tried other creative pursuits like music, theater, and art.

But ever since I was in grade school, I wanted to be a writer.

That sentence is woefully incomplete. The way it should read is, Ever since I was in grade school, I wanted to be a writer who could hold a library's worth of facts and details in her head, and had a masterful grasp of the English language with a vocabulary as large as Merriam-Webster. I wanted my prose to wrap around the reader’s brain like a cozy blanket whenever they opened my book. I wanted to be a writer who could handle any genre that interested me, from the most passionate romance to the most technical sci-fi, and everything in between.

Fanfic was fun, and great practice. But as the years wore on, I despaired at my inability to create an original tale.

There was a story I wanted to write, but could not figure out how to do it. I had a rock-solid concept that was rarely seen on the big screen or on tv, and I explored that concept via a failed screenplay attempt. I wrote a hundred-and-twenty or so pages, with a beginning, middle and end, but the contents were preposterous. I’d done little research on the topic, I couldn’t connect with my own protagonist, and it had unrealistic action, leaps in logic, and overall cringe throughout.

I filed that script under “practice,” never to be seen again.

Years later, I went back to college to earn my bachelor’s degree in communications. I started at Fullerton College, where in addition to an A.A. degree, I received an award for a one-act play, “Stardust,” that I’d written in my creative writing class. (It didn’t hurt that the award came with a cash prize of $125 - my first paid writing gig!) With my spirits bolstered and confidence restored (somewhat), I began planning two projects: a fan film, and a novel.

The novel attempt came first, in 2007. This time, I had a clear vision of the story. I knew what the protagonist was like, I could relate to her, and I had some original characters from an unposted fic that were perfect for it. So I pantsed my way through the first half of the book. While I typed on my AlphaSmart Neo during lunch breaks at work, I was amazed that I came up with so much original content at once. I was on a fantastic creative high.

And then it all crashed.

The text was still there, backed up with backups of the backups. But storywise, I’d slammed into a concrete wall as thick as El Capitan. I could not figure out how my characters would retrieve an important artifact from a far-off world, and had no clue how to choreograph the following large action set-piece. Not only that, I didn’t know what the climax of that set-piece would be, where my characters would go from there, how the final battle would come about, and how it would be fought. It all seemed too big, too ambitious for me to tackle, and far beyond my level of skill.

So, late in 2008, I gave up on it. The last file sat on my AlphaSmart, a cliffhanger I thought I’d never resolve.

It was the best possible thing I could have done.

I turned my attention to obtaining my film degree. My primary goal was to develop the skills to make my passion project, a comedic Star Wars fan film called “Anakin’s Assignment.” (You can check it out on the “Films” page - the link is above.) I had ideas for original films, but I wanted to complete the fan film for a major competition. While attending Cal State Fullerton, I watched a lot of movies and television, took classes on story and screenwriting, and completed two student films, with the help of my wonderful husband Fred.

The year 2011 arrived - the best and worst year of my life. I graduated summa cum laude from CSUF with my degree in Communications: Radio-TV-Film. I’d also completed “Anakin’s Assignment” and submitted it to the contest.

It didn’t even place.

I was crushed. A lot of ugly sobbing in my car followed. There is a lot I could say about the contest and the films in it, but that’s all sour grapes.

After my initial mourning, I got back in the saddle to try again. Fred and I worked on some video projects for a friend’s internet TV show, and I was preparing a new short film. Fred had completed a wood sculpture that is now part of the permanent collection of a prominent Chicago museum.

A week after he sent the sculpture, at the start of October, Fred had to have emergency brain cancer surgery. After steroids administered to keep the swelling down aggravated long-hidden injuries in his intestinal tract, he had a colostomy operation four days later.

What followed was a year of radiation and chemotherapy, in addition to Fred learning to live with a bag hanging from his abdomen, and me learning how to change it for him. It was a very hard year, filled with doctor and therapist appointments nearly every week. Fortunately the colostomy was reversible, and in December of 2012 it was taken down and sewn up.

I had to do a lot of growing beyond my comfort zone to deal with all the medical issues. Not only that, my great writing inhibition had returned. My one saving grace was that I could journal for hours on end, and that’s exactly what I did. For a long while, it was the only therapy I had.

In 2016, I began seeing a therapist whose specialties included mental health for caregivers. I told her about my stubborn writer’s block, and she was instrumental in helping me dissolve it with a focus on self-confidence and exercises to dissolve perfectionism.

A year later, in the summer of 2017, a fully-formed idea for a novel popped into my head. I got my composition book to write the skeleton of a plot, completely jazzed that I would have a project for NaNoWriMo. So I wrote down the bare bones of an outline, and started constructing the personalities of the characters.

Then I got stuck once more.

It occurred to me that my most memorable characters lived in the abandoned draft of the novel I’d started back in 2007. So I opened those files, scanning through the old pages to see if I could cannibalize some of the characters from it.

And then something happened.

I got into the story again. I fell in love with the characters all over again.

Not only that, I knew what happened next after the end of my last file.

This novel, that I’d started when I was fresh-faced and uninformed in 2007, was the story I was meant to write.

All I needed was an outline of the second half.

So I got out my composition book, started asking myself questions...and the answers came to me. And what those answers revealed was amazing. Connections were made between the past and present. Vague plot points became crystal clear and added meaning and dimension to the story. Inconsequential things I’d unconsciously threaded throughout the chapters suddenly became super-important in logical ways. New and existing characters changed and developed and became three-dimensional beings.

I knew how to write action. I knew how to write intimate drama, friendships, and love. My prose wouldn’t be perfect, especially not on the first draft, but I could get it down on paper or in a file.

It was like this book was given to me.

And I know that it wouldn’t have happened had I not had eight years of heartbreak, of triumph, of despair, of giving and receiving unconditional love and support, of struggling to make doctor’s appointments, of laughing so hard at our circumstances we were pounding the floor in hysterics, and of training in college, which taught me critical thinking, how to do research, and to develop an analytical and appreciative mind whenever I watch a film or TV show, or read a book.

"Mark of the Champion" is about what happens when a born hero you know is taken out of commission, and you have to become the hero to save your friends, your universe, and yourself. It’s now in its fourth draft, about to be sent to beta readers, and is due to be published in 2021.

Never, ever give up on your projects. But if you do, remember, you can return to them at any time.