The Game of Kings

It was a rainy day, the kind of drizzle that never stops, only sinks into your bones. It was entirely too cold to go out, not that I would have anyway. Not when there was an entire section of fantasy novels calling my name in the warmth of the school library and no commitments until the end of the lunch break.

The seats and table were wooden, with more than enough space to crack open a book and be absorbed in the story without too much discomfort. On the other side of the table was a slight distraction though.

A teacher and a student rolled out a mat of sixty four blue and white squares and then set up the board. I watched momentarily as they started playing the game of kings.

Ingrained into my psyche was a previous match. I had been at the top of my primary school academically and had foolishly thought this adapted itself to all manners of skills, chess included.

Facing off with one of my newer classmates, that was the first and only match that I was quite literally beaten in four moves. My memories lingered there as I watched the two of them play, slightly jealous, mildly self sabotaging, and somewhat interested.

Which leads me to where I am today.

I meant to write a lot more, I really did. But here comes the but…

For the last 10 years I’ve had a suspicion that if I got better at Chess, some of those skills might translate into helping me figure out complex story-lines for my fantasy novels and boost my critical analysis skills as an added bonus. Two years ago, that led me to an occasional lesson and puzzle but hardly more than that.

Well, fast forward to the COVID crisis we find ourselves in and one of my school mates getting wind that I was even borderline interested in playing.

Two months ago I had played somewhere between 2-8 games in 12 years. In the last two months I’ve played nearly 20 games and increased my puzzle rating by about 400 points.

Why does this matter to you? Why should this game matter to me?

First and foremost, it is me directly confronting the demons of my past. Yeah, I had hubris and I got knocked down, but that should have never stopped me from getting back into the ring and trying. I hate that I let it go for so long without looking into how to get better and how to be comfortable with losing as long as I was learning from those losses.

The type of attitude that I am cultivating right now is going to be a massive benefit to writing and career.

But again, why should this matter for you? Well, consider it a cautionary tale. If you get knocked down, you can crawl your way back out and keep marching forward. It also helps to have some friends who will push you along.

(And on another positive note for Chess, its nearly meditative state definitely helps me put all the grim news aside for a little while. Maybe that’d work for you, but if not, find something that does.)

The Other Magic by Derrick Smythe

Towards the start of social distancing I saw a promotion for this book pop up on twitter and, upon realizing it was a Kindle Unlimited title, immediately borrowed it.

I don’t want to say a ton about the plot right now except for this, if you like fantasy that feels like it has a large world plan and history, you’ll probably like this. Throughout the writing there were nods to a much larger world that the author had lovingly built.

With that said, the writing comes across as a debut work. It isn’t as masterful as the books I typically go for. A good deal of the book is also a travel arc for some of the cast and I found that I enjoyed the story of one of the side characters better than the character who is supposed to be the MC.

(I say all this knowing that at least one of my own manuscripts could use a good deal of revisions dealing with similar problems).

In summary, I liked it well enough that in a couple years when the next one is out I will probably read it too.

Shall We Begin? – Flash Fiction

Most of the students watched the teacher, eyes still dimmed by stress and sleep deficiency, while the others were quietly gathering their ingredients for the class. The scent of primrose percolated the air as the students prepared their flasks and the lesson’s supplies.

The quiet calm of of the early morning was disrupted as glass rattled and cracked. One pair of unfortunate students had mixed too much dove tail with black powder.

The teacher rolled her eyes, “Remember , we don’t mix ingredients until I say so.” She glanced meaningfully in the direction of the two. The bubbling and rank as a pig-in-the-mud smelling mixture continued to boil over.

Just as the teacher was finally about to begin. Another student burst through the door, “Professor!”

She glanced over at the late comer with the intensity of a crouching tigress.

The student gulped, visibly, “I’m.. sorry I’m late.” he stuttered as he practically ran to his seat.

She moved to the board, ready again when another student fell off their stool, dosing off.

“Enough!” She roared, lighting flashed from her fingertips, arching toward the board. The professor had had it with this class.

The class bolted upright as if the electricity had touched them instead.

“We are going to begin. No more sleeping.” The professor turned to the board, scowling at the black burns along its formerly smooth green surface.

Practice & Social Distance

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Hi,

I know the world seems even crazier than usual these days. Wanted to drop in and say: I’m ok, so far my family is ok, and that I hope all of you are ok as well.

For the first time in a while, I’ve actually had time to dig in and focus on the craft of writing and not just generating ideas. To that end, I’ve been working on a good deal of flash fictions to build on my story telling skills. The theory being that if I can be brief and build up my skills bit by bit, the skills should be transferable to the full length novels I am working on.

I’m hoping to share at least one of these flash fictions per week with you all since I think we all could use a few good stories right now.

I also have a few other post ideas during this time. We’ll see if they end up as good on screen as they sound in my head (I’m sure the other writers can relate). These include book reviews (I’ve had more time to read lately) and more “Tools of the Trade” that highlight different things I’ve found helpful while writing.

Stay safe!

JR

p.s. Here’s the first flash fiction I’m sharing:

A Noise in the Kitchen

The griffin huddled under its blanket, watching the news. Hearing a sudden noise from the kitchen he bared his teeth, growling out a “Who’s there?”

The noise continued.

The griffin rose, lithe muscles still hidden under his fuzzy pink blanket as he crept toward the kitchen. A low growl emanated from deep within his chest, and then he saw something that made his heart skip a beat.

There, on the counter was a beady eyed abomination chewing on a crumb. The griffin screamed and ran back to the couch to cower under his blanket.

The mouse kept eating, hardly fazed.

Prompt: “Write a 50 word story in the comedy genre. It’s about a beast and should include a blanket. Also use the sentence ‘Is anyone there?’ Bonus prompt: Civilization has come to an end.” – https://thestoryshack.com/tools/writing-prompt-generator/

My Complex Relationship with NaNoWriMo and Editing

I have talked about NaNoWriMo before on this space, usually an update that I’m A) doing it and B) telling you all vaguely about what I’m working on.

So for the sake of tradition, I’m doing that again this year (cue the sarcastic “yay!”).

No, but seriously, since my first time in 2015 I’ve used both the official NaNoWriMo and the Camp NaNoWriMos to crank out drafts. One year it was a novel, one year it was supposed to be a short story collection, and another year I finally rewrote a novella into a full length novel. Last year I skipped out on it do to an increase of work responsibilities and time commitments.

The main problem right now (besides lack of work/life balance) is that as I go back and edit those stories I inevitably get frustrated with the skills gap between where I want the story to be and where it is now.

That is why, I keep going back to the computer and drafting out new ideas and new novels, because each time I do, my writing abilities improve with the practice. The ultimate hope is that I’ll take what I learned and rework those first stories into something a good deal more polished and ready for publication by plowing ahead and practicing with new works.

This year, NaNoWriMo for me is not so much about the final word count, but finding and tweaking structures that work for me. It’s also about getting back into the habit of writing stories every single day even if it’s less than 1,667 words.

I don’t anticipate “winning” this year or perhaps any year but my first, but I do hope to have a finished rough draft of a new one-off fantasy story within the coming months, one with substantial notes and outlines completed alongside the writing of the story itself.

JR

*For those of you who are curious, I’m currently at around 6,900 words. I’m projecting that I’ll finish the month between 35-40K. The story is planned to be 80-90K.


Why I’ve been away…

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Hi all.

I haven’t posted in a long time.

I’m still here. I’m still working on projects.

But that’s kind of the problem. I’ve been so busy with work and everything I’ve been trying to write, that I really have not had anything to say here for a while.

I know that as someone who is an emerging writer/author, I am supposed to be developing my platform. But, I’m also not going to waste any reader’s time with fluff.

You have important things to do and so do I.

So I’m still around and you’ll see posts when I feel like I have something valuable to add. Until then, be safe and carry on with whatever your own creative projects are. 🙂

2018

I know it’s been awhile since my last post.  I was moved into a different position at work in what was a sort of horizontal promotion that came with a good deal more work.

You should be seeing me around more often once I get a balance figured out again between work, writing, and life in general.  

This year has been a series of learning, some successes and some not quite yet’s.

I did submit stories this year, and while they have not yet been accepted for publishing, it’s giving me chances to go back and make fixes in between submissions.  I’ll be making another submission either sometime before 2018 ends or shortly thereafter.

Another win this year has been finding several writing communities and authors willing to share what they’ve learned.  I’ll be taking these skills into the next year with me.

The work I’ve done on the researching process has also been instructional, especially in regard to my own story notes.

I do believe there are some advantages to resolutions and taking stock at the end of a year.  But, I find that the most helpful version of goal setting is when it is done more often than just at the end of the year.  Measurable data points and timelines for smaller segments of time help as well.

In the spirit of the season, I do practice reviewing all my goals and setting general courses for the coming year (bullet journals for the win with this).  Because there is inherent value in self reflection. 

So may you all have a happy and blessed new year, and may your writing improve tenfold.  

Research: The Tools

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall

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I was thinking about where I should start the series on research.  After much thought, the appropriate starting place seemed to be on tools that I have used previously and am currently learning.

The Basics

Pen/Pencil/Highlighter – I tend toward pencils for general note taking, pens for writing down free-writes and my own ideas quickly, and highlighters for going through my notes. I also tend to use highlighters for important themes in printed material, and adding a bit of spunk to my own handwritten headers.

Notebook/Papers – Index cards are fun for quick ideas and short notes to shuffle through later (one of the pros is that they’re easy to put into the order you decide on).  Otherwise I tend toward both loose-leaf and bound notebooks.  With both full-page options I use headers and an index so I can look up what I need with ease.*

Planner – A planner gives me space where I can set down both my own deadlines and those imposed on me.  It helps me to figure out what I need to do, and by when.  I’ve been stressed out enough with late-nighters due to procrastination and since then I’ve done my best to avoid them.

Coffee – Lots of coffeeeeeeee! (Or tea for those of you tea drinkers out there).

Digital Tools

Zotero – This is a little more academic in nature and not as necessary for fiction writing.  But I am working through learning it for when I head back to school as, by all accounts, it’s a useful note taking and citation tool.

Microsoft Word – Has footnote/endnote/citation functionality.  Can be organized fairly well if utilizing the headers and index functions.

OneNote/Evernote – Digital Notebooks.  Can be organized by notebooks, sections, pages.  Easy to copy and paste from websites.  Also easy to search through notes.

Scrivener – Breaks down documents into chapters, sections, and research.  There is a lot of versatility in moving sections of papers around.

Places

Wikipedia – I typically go here for a brief overview of what I’m looking for and then follow the links provided in the references section.

Google Scholar – Academic article search.

Your Library’s Catalog – Websites to help you search through your own library’s book catalog.

Your Online Search Engine of Choice

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

*Lest you think I am super organized and on top of my life, let me assure you I am not.  Generally the index gets updated much further along, when I’m finally tired of flipping through pages I should I have written down earlier.

 

New Series and New Focus

gray cardinal direction compass

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One of the things I have struggled with is the question: what should this blog be like?

To date, it has served two primary functions: to share some of my stories with you in addition to providing general aid to fellow writers.

As someone with a business background, I know that I should be using this space to build a personal brand. But as a creative, who loves life and the messiness that entails, it irks me to put boundaries around something that should be a creative outlet.  So far, I think I’ve found a happy medium, but there is always room for improvement.

Here’s why I’m spending a little more time reflecting on this, there’s a high chance I’m going to be headed back to school (more on that one day).

If this happens, the writing time I had is going to decrease exponentially and what time I will have should be devoted to finishing the edits on my novels, in addition to generating a few more short stories.

However, this is not a “blog on hiatus” post. I’ve decided that starting now, whether or not I return to school, I need a little more focus and strategy behind what I write here. My current plan is as follows:

  • Topical series
  • Occasional microfictions
  • Any publication announcements
  • Occasional posts regarding anything I think is helpful for writers or readers
  • Occasional book reviews

My first topic is research. I’m at the point where I need to get back into the habit of studying and researching for papers, but more importantly, in ways that I can then apply to the stories I’m creating. As of right now, I see my new series of posts focusing on the how-to’s of finding resources, evaluating resources, pulling the research together, and all tools I’ve found for the steps above.

Because these are expected to be a little more deep than my previous posts, I’m also anticipating that I will be sharing here at a rate of 1-2 per month, instead of the 2-4 I usually aim for.  This should give me time to write and refine my posts, while also providing ample links to resources for those here.

So to all readers, new and old, I hope you enjoy the coming changes! And thank you for continuing to follow this blog.