Book Research: The Sphinx and The Art of Seduction

Research for my most recent submission to my critique group included the Sphinx and the art of seduction. Let’s talk about the Sphinx first and save salacious discussion for later.

THE SPHINX
First, the correct spelling of the monolith standing guard over the Great Pyramids of Giza is S-P-H-I-N-X. Someone who shall not be named kept spelling it “sphynx” which is not the same as the Sphinx. A sphynx is a hairless cat. The Sphinx in Egypt is a mythical creature with the head of a human and a lion’s body.

The internet is full of information about the Sphinx, but I was more interested the monument’s little-known facts. Some of its secrets and mysteries. The first is the underground tunnels and chambers. They can be accessed at five points: a hole in the top of the head, another in its back, one at ground level at the end of the monument, a crud doorway on its north side, and a hole between its paws behind the dream stela. Fringe speculation suggests another access point under the Sphinx’s ear, but it has be debunked. It’s actually a fitting used to affix a beard, which the remnants found near the paws. Sadly, the underground world of the Sphinx has been excavated more than once and doesn’t hold any more secrets or mysteries. And unlike the Great Pyramids, visitors cannot venture into these tunnels and chambers.

Tunnels and Chambers inside the Sphinx

What’s the dream stela, you ask? It is a rectangular stele (an upright slab similar to a gravestone). According to archeologists, the Sphinx’s stela is about a dream Thutmose IV had as he rested in the shade of the monument. At the time, the Sphinx was covered in sand up to its shoulder, and it promised to make Thutmose ruler of Egypt if he clears the sand away. Thutmose did, and he became king.

The most interesting facts are the Sphinx’s riddles. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx guarded the entrance to the city of Thebes. She would ask travelers a riddle to allow them passage into the city. Anyone who could not answer it was devoured by her. The first riddle: which is the creature that has one voice but has four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet at night? The answer: Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then uses a cane in old age. Oedipus solved this riddle, and according to the myth, the Sphinx killed herself. There’s a second riddle: There are two sisters; one gives birth to the other, who in turn gives birth to the first. Who are they? The answer is “day and night.” Technically, the riddles aren’t connected to the Egyptian Sphinx, but they are still really cool.

Now for the fun stuff…


THE ART OF SEDUCTION
Bad boy antagonist, Damion is a master of seduction, a purveyor of sensuality. I, on the other hand, am not so proficient at the art. I needed a little help to make his actions and dialogue fit his persona and stumbled upon Robert Greene’s book, The Art of Seduction. Who knew there were nine types of seducers? Not me, so a little bit about each of them for future reference:

The Siren plays on the notion that men are always searching for new experiences and adventures. Her calm, unhurried demeanor combined with a dazzling appearance instantly captures man’s attention. There’s a danger about her. She makes him pursue her, always a bit out of his reach. You know, men like the chase.

The Rake is a man who incessantly pursues a woman by showing her ardent devotion. He seems to be madly in love with her and uses words and language to show his devotion. Like the Siren, there’s a sense of mystery about him. He uses his reputation as a lady’s man and recklessly in love to his advantage. Every woman wants him, but she’s the only one who has him.

The Ideal Lover is a fantasy lover who makes himself irresistible to a woman by giving her what seems to be missing in her life. Think Casanova, who presented himself as the epitome of what a woman desires. Or Madame de Pompadour, who become the adventure that King Louis XV needed in his life. Your homework is to google both of these characters to enrich yourself.

The Dandy offers the kind of forbidden freedom that most people can only dream of but never achieve. A non-traditionalist, a dandy often relies on insolence to attract the opposite sex. But a male dandy is not aggressive. He’s sophisticated and graceful. A metrosexual man. A woman dandy has masculine qualities in her appearance and attire. Examples include Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, and Lou von Salome. as prototypical examples of male and female dandies. All of them seduced a large number of people using their ability to break conventions and represent an almost forbidden freedom. More homework for you.

The Natural has an irresistible innocence about him. He’s impish, vulnerable and defenseless, open and spontaneous, traits that make the object of her desire lower his guard. His persona, a refreshing experience in contrast to the daily seriousness of adult life. Greene’s example of this type is Charlie Chaplin. Who do you think is a more contemporary Natural?

Charlie Chaplin, circa 1920

The Coquette plays with emotions. By alternating between unexplained warmth and coldness, he creates tension with anticipation. A sense of insecurity, not knowing what is coming next. A bit narcissistic by making his target relentlessly pursue him until she reaches the point of no return. Then he pulls her back in with a show of warmth and attention.

The Charismatic is self-sufficient and driven. He uses his powerful personality and his way with words to sway emotions. His target looks to him to save her. He seduces her by creating contradictions like cruelty and kindness, power and vulnerability, etc. I admit I fall for charisma because I’m a romantic at heart.

The Star is a fascinating creature with a larger-than-life persona. He appeals to his target’s attraction to the strange and mythical while playing up his human qualities at the same time. Jack Kennedy is a classic example of this type of seducer.

John Fitzgerald KENNEDY. 1952.

Now you have your homework assignment. Let’s have some fun and post your answers (thoughts and questions, too) in the Comments.

Letters From Home

Blair backed her SUV into the double-wide driveway. The tail lights blazed red, and it lurched to a stop. She opened the door with such force, it snapped back on her leg. Using her foot, she pushed it open until it held. Her arms loaded with her computer, messenger bag, and lunchbox and her morning coffee cup in her hand, she used her shoulder to shut the door.

The hatch on the rear of the vehicle and the garage door levitated in unison. Blair shuffled through the interior door, greeted by the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. For a moment, she was her seven-year-old self, sneaking one of them from the linoleum countertop. Her computer bag slipped from her shoulder, breaking her reverie.

“I’m home, Grandma.” She dropped her lunchbox and traveler cup on the kitchen counter. Grabbing a cookie cooling on the dishcloth, she walked through the great room into the multipurpose dining room/office.

Grandma sat at her antique writing desk, a dip pen in her hand, scratching on the decades-old stationery. Looking up from her writing, she gazed out the window. “Hello, my dear. How was your day?” Her back to the doorway.

“Hectic as usual. Thank god for the advent of online grocery shopping.” Blair walked over to her grandma and kissed her head. “I don’t know how I’d get it done without it.”

“Like the rest of us did. Driving to the store, walking the aisles, and checking out at the register. It was not so long ago,”

“I remember crowded aisles and long lines.” Blair plopped her bags on her desk in front of the bookcase. She took a bite of her cookie, trying to catch the crumbs with her hand under her mouth.

Grocery shopping was a Saturday morning ritual for her mom and the rest of the world. As a kid too big to sit in the cart, she spent half of the time dodging the baskets of other distracted moms. Boredom replaced her anxiety, waiting in one of many lines snaking around the row of registers.

“How is this week’s batch of cookies?” Grandma dipped the tip of the pen in the ink well. “Do you think your grandpa would approve?”

“For sure.” Blair nodded and stuffed the rest of the cookie into her mouth. “So will your grandson.”

The screech of the yellow school bus’s brakes called her to the window. The bus door swung open, and her son, Drake, bounded down the steps, jumping to the pavement and racing towards the house at full speed. She smiled, and her heart swelled with motherly love.

Blair greeted him in the garage with a monster hug. “Hey, buddy. How was the first day of school?” With skilled efficiency, she loaded the nine white plastic grocery bags in the back of her SUV on her arms.

“It was good.”

“What did you do?” She already knew he did nothing, but asked him anyway.

“We started learning cursive writing. Like Gran uses.” He skipped through the door, putting his new Batman lunchbox on the counter next to her lunch bag. He snatched a warm cookie from the dish towel.

Blair grabbed another one and followed him to the office. He burst into a sprint, excited to tell Grandma about learning cursive writing. He was fascinated by her script and loved to watch her write with the dip pen since he was about four years old. The ebb and flow of the movement across the paper mesmerized him, quieting his fidgeting. Their interaction warmed her heart. She was grateful for this connection between them. And even more thankful for his interest in something at school.

But the imperfection of handwriting made her shiver. The messiness of erasing unwanted words and phrases. Or the dreaded scratch-outs. The time it took to rewrite the material over and over until it was perfect. Pounding on a keyboard was far more productive. The delete and backspace keys, champions of the console. 

“Hi, Gran.” He took a bite of his cookie and embraced his grandma, facing the doorway now.

She kissed his head of messy brown hair. “How was school today?”

Crouching on the floor, Drake opened his new blue camouflage backpack and pulled out a glossy red folder covered in bouncing soccer balls. He opened it and removed a piece of paper from one of the pockets. The letters A-G, upper and lower case, were printed vertically on the left. On each row, practice areas with solid horizontal lines on the top and bottom with a dashed line in the middle.

Drake jumped up and put the worksheet on the writing desk. “Look, Gran. We started learning cursive today.” He pranced in place, his voice bubbling with enthusiasm. 

“Oh, marvelous.” Grandma glanced at Blair over her shoulder. “I thought schools had stopped teaching cursive?”

“News to me. Maybe, they’re bringing it back this year. Why I don’t know since it doesn’t help the kids pass the standardized testing.”

Blair scrounged around in Drake’s backpack, pulling out a thick manila envelope. A white label with ‘Welcome to Third Grade’ printed in block letters was adhered to the front. She unclasped the fastener and pulled out a stack of forms.

“Good lord, I’ll be up half the night, filling out these forms and finishing my brief.” Blair rolled her eyes and slapped the envelope on top of her laptop bag. “Why can’t we sign into our kid’s online account and update anything from last year? Check a box if there are no changes required. This pushing paper is so inefficient.” She struggled to hide her annoyance from Drake.

“Gran, what’s your letter about this week?” Drake asked.

“Now that you’re learning cursive, I’ll tell Grandpa about it.”

“Why do you write to him?” The innocence of a child. The same question every week and the same story.

“It’s how we talked to each other when we were separated during the war. We didn’t have computers, smartphones and the Internet like military families have nowadays. No, we only had pen and paper, and victory mail was our version of email.”

Grandma peered at the framed pictures on the desk. One of Blair’s grandpa in uniform, another of her grandparents on their wedding day. The third one with them and a baby.

“After sending a post, I remember waiting for a reply. For weeks, I anticipated our mailman’s daily deliveries. Twice a day back then. Until one day, it wasn’t the mailman at my door, but a Western Union messenger with a telegram.”

“Grandma, enough. Grandpa has been gone for over seventy-five years now. It’s ridiculous to think he actually gets them?”

“Stop being mean to Gran.” Drake scolded Blair every time she criticized their grandma. He liked her stories. A time before technology complicated their lives with the expectation of instant gratification. Before information and entertainment were at their fingertips. 

“We may be blessed with long life, but I’m glad we aren’t an immortal family. Someday, we will be reunited. Until then, writing letters helps me stay connected with Grandpa.”

“But still cursed because we’ve been forced to live without Grandpa and Mom for so long.” The tone of Blair’s voice, full of melancholy with a tinge of resentment.

Both of their loved ones’ lives were cut short by physical injuries. Grandpa, killed in action during war. Her mom died from injuries she sustained in a horrific crash with an eighteen-wheeler. The accident report stated speeding and improper lane usage as the cause of it. The truck driver, unhurt, was late for his scheduled off-load time. If he missed it, he would have been forced to reschedule for the next day, missing his next load time.

“Because they aren’t physically here with us doesn’t mean we can’t talk to them. It’s just different than what you’re used to. It requires investing time into composing your letter. Then you must be patient, waiting for a response. It’s not like instant messaging.”

“Right, all I need is time.” Blair scowled. “A rare commodity.”

“You should try writing to your mother. She might have some insight to help you get control of your life. Like learning to close the lid on your computer and enjoy your family. And turning off your phone and focusing on your struggling marriage. Romance doesn’t happen with a push of a button. You have to invest time to reap the rewards.”

Grandma folded her letter and stuck it in the envelope addressed to Gene Miller, c/o Resurrection Cemetery, Section 32, Plot 766, Space 1. She licked the seal on the flap and attached a postage stamp to the front. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to get in the post.”

Sitting at the writing desk, Blair watched her grandma emerge from the garage and toddle down to the street. From the periphery, a white truck with the familiar blue sonic eagle logo glided into view. Grandma handed the letter and a paper bakery bag to the mail lady. They exchanged silent words and acknowledged them with head nods and smiles. 

Blair had spoken with the mail lady. She thanked her for indulging her grandma’s irrational hope and asked what she did with the letters. The cemetery administrators told her that they never received them.

The mail lady dismissed the notion of her grandma being delusional with a wave of her hand. She thought her letters were quite sweet and her cookies, delicious. But with firm conviction, she assured Blair that all postal workers were obligated by law to deliver the mail as addressed. What happens after she drops off outgoing mail at the post office, she did not know.

Blair fastened the lids of the Chinese carry-out boxes and put them in the refrigerator. Grandma wiped out the inside of the pastel yellow ceramic cookie jar. ‘Sweet Treats’ accented with green vines of pink and blue flowers advertised its contents. As a cherished wedding gift to her grandparents, the family knew to handle it with care. It’s revered status, another difference of opinion between them, but she respected it.

Grandma gathered up the remaining cookies and put them, one by one, into the jar.

Blair helped her. “I like this part of your ritual.” She smiled.

“Baking for someone is an act of love. A sign of affection.” Grandma placed the lid on top of the jar and pushed it back into the dark corner under the antique white cupboards. “You should try it sometime.”

Blair shook her head and smiled. She admired her grandma’s devotion to her grandpa, even if it was foolish. Like her persistence about Blair slowing down and taking stock of her life. She flipped the switch on the wall. The kitchen went dark except for the stove light.

* * * *

The aroma of scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered toast permeated the kitchen. Drake and Grandma’s Saturday morning ritual always started with a hearty breakfast, but Blair wished her grandma would use turkey bacon. On the rare occasion that she joined them, she preferred avocado spread on her toast and no bacon.

Blair grabbed a wild berry protein drink from the refrigerator, shaking it with vigor. “What’s the plan for you two today?”

“Gran’s going to help me with my cursive.” Drake maneuvered the stepstool to the counter and slid the cookie jar from the corner. 

“That sounds like a great idea. Maybe, Grandma will let you use her special pen.” The thought of smudged ink made Blair shudder. She loaded up with her work bags and grabbed her travel cup. “I’ll be home around lunchtime.” A bit of guilt pinched her for the white lie. She rarely made it out of the office before three o’clock on the weekends. 

Grandma handed Blair’s lunchbox to her. “In case time gets away from you.” 

Drake took the lid off and reached into the hollow of the jar.

“Hey, come on Buddy. Eat your breakfast before…” Blair’s arms went slack, and her bags dropped to the floor. Her knees buckled. She blinked in disbelief.

“Look, Gran.” Drake pulled his hand out of the jar. “It’s a letter for you.”


This story was submitted to the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts contest. The prompt was write about someone who still practices a skill that used to be necessary but has long been replaced by technology.

Book Research

I recently finished my latest submission for my critique group. My usual routine is to take the week off while waiting for my critiques to come in. The time away from writing lets my story simmer for a bit and refreshes my mind in preparation for the next round of 8,000+ words. Something fun I like to do during this time off is look back at what I researched for my latest submission.

My obsession with research comes from two sources: my career as a tax professional and a science fiction literature class. First, substantiation plays a huge role in the field of tax and accounting. An auditor is not going to buy your explanation without proof substantiating your claim. The key to indisputable proof is thorough research of the law as it applies to your facts and circumstances.

Also, a college literature course ingrained the concept of plausibility in my mind. Readers must be able to suspend their disbelief in the created worlds of speculative fiction. Plausibility is achieved on several levels, but research is essential for factual believability. In my created world, a human subspecies is threatened by extinction. In order to be credible, I spent the good half of a day researching extinction.

Hence, research accounts for a lot of my time at the computer. Sometimes, I spend more time researching a topic than writing about it. While I’m a firm believer in doing my homework, I stress about the time it takes away from adding word count to my manuscript. An inner struggle inherently ensues to rationalize that this time is well spent. When I find myself in this place, I remember what I learned from a virtual class with best-selling author, David Baldacci.

An entire lesson of Baldacci’s lecture series was dedicated to research. During one part, he talked about his collection of binders full of notes. As an example, he referenced a 3-inch notebook with his research about nuclear weapons. He used these notes for only two paragraphs in one of his books. Vindication; my research time is a good investment. Oh, and I have a lovely collection of binders, too.

For my last submission, my research topics included:
~ Burns as in first, second, and third-degree burns.
~ Swordsmanship for one never knows when a character might need to lob the head off of a menacing creature.
~ Smaug, the dragon from The Hobbit
~ Body language of horses
~ Ancient woodlands
~ Barn floorplans

Always a fun exercise, but heaven help me if my computer is ever search by authorities of any kind.

Literary Techniques

Recently, I’ve been looking for guidance about writing short stories. Why? Because short stories are recommended for new fiction writers, and I’m new to fiction writing. They help us hone our skills before delving into the complex work of writing a novel. Practice makes perfect. Mistakes can be made without wasting a lot of time because writing is an investment of time. Staying true to my nature, I ignored this advice and dove head-first into a novel. I might be setting myself up for failure, but I feel have nothing to lose at this point.

So if I’m not creating short stories to practice the craft, why am I interested in learning about writing them? Simply said, to make money. According to some sources, making money selling short stories might be as improbable as a new writer tackling a novel. The trade-off is the loss of time spent on my book. But at least, I’ll be practicing my craft using the recommended approach. A win-win from my point of view. And if I’m lucky, I’ll make a few bucks, too.

During my quest to educate myself, I happened upon a book about the subject. The Write Practice Presents: Let’s Write a Short Story! by Joe Bunting. It contains a lot of great content about writing short stories and selling them, too. While I highly recommend this resource, this post is not a book review. It is about something I learned about my own writing during this exploration.

My ah-ha moment occurred while reading a segment about the literary techniques used for award-winning stories. Namely, Pulitzer, Book, and Nobel award-winning pieces. Now I am not a literary writer by any stretch of the imagination. My genre of choice is speculative fiction, urban fantasies in particular. The style of this genre tend to be edgy; some have a noir feel to them. But my style is more characteristic of literary writing.

Let’s start with a list of the techniques cited:

1. Using long sentences
2. Using short sentences
3. Lyrical prose
4. Making an allusion
5. Using an eponym for character names
6. Be specific
7. A story within a story
8. A wide scope

Using Long Sentences
Whether it’s technical or fiction writing, I tend to write long compound sentences. Here’s an example of my writing:

Holding her Celtic cross necklace in the palm of my hand, I whispered a few verses of her favorite song, “Vincent,” into it and told her to wear it tonight to keep my spirit near her heart.

My sentences aren’t too long. The above example is only thirty-seven words, which is about average for my long sentences. Eleven words less than Cormac McCarthy’s forty-eight word sentence cited in the book. Neither of them even close to the Tim O’Brien’s seventy-seven word cited example.  

Another difference is both book samples are full of conjunctions whereas I rarely use more than one in my long sentences. Also, they disregard the punctuation rules whereas I’m a stickler about it, even if it’s first draft. I know it’s a fault, but I unabashedly own it.

Using Short Sentences
One of my favorite techniques is punctuating my long sentences with short sentences. It’s so satisfying.

Twilight cast brilliant shades of yellow and orange bleeding into red, purple, and deep blue upon the horizon as we cruised over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the gateway to our destination, Sullivan’s Island. Red brake lights flashed intermittently.

They are great at grabbing the readers’ attention after a series of compound sentences or long run-on sentences, full of conjunctions.

Lyrical Prose
My style has a lyrical quality:  

A warm summer breeze scented with the sweet fragrance of nearby lilac blossoms caressed my skin. My grandpa sat next to me. With each gentle rise and fall of the swing, his voice grew stronger and louder, drowning out the static noise ringing in my ears, until I heard his words.

I hit the jackpot with this example of my writing. It includes a long, a medium and a short sentence. More importantly, it has quite a rhythmic flow to it. I used it as my illustration because several critique partners commented on its quality. In particular, they noted my descriptive language which I think is characteristic of fantasy writing. But not so much for urban fantasies like my story. Descriptions in this genre are more straightforward, not too fluffy or willowy.

Making an allusion
This term was new to me; I had not heard of it before I reading this book. It involves making a reference to another literary work by using an image, a character, or even a direct quote. Most readers won’t recognize when an allusion is made, but it’s exciting for those who “get it.” It adds depth to their reading experience and makes them feel like they connect with the author on a different level.

Technically, I don’t make allusions. Instead I pepper a lot of symbolism throughout my story. For example, the theme of my story is new beginnings, and I refer to birch trees whenever possible as they are symbolic of new beginnings. A grove of trees is described as a grove of birch trees. A character throws a couple more birch logs onto the fire. Another character makes a cup of tea with Chaga mushroom, which grows on birch trees. Most readers will miss these subtle details, but they will be really cool for the reader who picks up on them.

Using an eponym for character names
Eponym, another literary term I was unfamiliar with, but its definition is simple. It means naming a character after someone famous in some manner. Oddly enough, I was very deliberate when I bestowed my characters with their names. I wanted them to be have significance and mean something to the reader. Some of the names I use are Lilith, Sam, Darcy, Quillon, and Damion. They are a bit cliché, but again, I proudly own it. Other names include a nod to King Arthur and Magnum PI.

I suspect I’m not unlike my peers when it comes to character names. They are something most writers are thoughtful about. If you’re a writer and haven’t thought about the role of your characters’ names, you might to think about them. On a side note, rethink using names that are difficult to pronounce. While they add nuance to your story, they can distract your readers, too.

Be specific
This technique means not speaking in generalizations, and I associate it with the artful use of descriptions. Based on examples in the book, literary writers describe blue birds as blue jays and red birds as cardinals. Or the wind whipped the willow’s branches rather than the tree branches.

If one thing is consistent in my young writing career, it is my descriptions. I’m a very descriptive writer, and critique partners either love them or hate them.

A story within a story
I’m not sure if my story within a story is comparable to this literary technique. Simply put, it means one character tells a story to another character. An example used in the book was from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, where the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina is a play performed for a drunkard who is made to think he is a nobleman. A little bit of a complicated illustration of the concept, but illustrative nonetheless.

My story involves a legend about the demise of former rulers. Throughout the tale, details about the legend are revealed, which impact the plot. To me, this scenario seems like a story within a story. In fact, a lot of the Book 2 is included in Book 1.

A wide scope
The scope of most literary novels is national or international, meaning they are set in times of war like Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Toll set during the Spanish Civil War. Or other notable time periods like The Great Gatsby’s portrayal of the Roaring 20s.

The setting of my story is contemporary, but the legend mentioned above is rooted in the early 19th century England. A time of transition between the Georgian and Victoria eras. The culture and practices of these eras are interwoven throughout my novel. Another technicality where my setting doesn’t quite fit the definition. Yet there is a presence of a historical time period.

Literary writing is about experimental styles and breaking the rules. I’m certainly not an Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, or Cormac McCarthy. But I think I’m breaking the rules of my chosen genre by using some of the same literary techniques used by them.

More importantly, I didn’t intentionally apply these technique; they came naturally to me which still surprise me. It proves we learn about ourselves as we seek knowledge. So never stop learning, make it hobby.

East is West

The woods appeared unchanged on the other side of the archway. Hanging near the horizon, the sun warmed the chill of the previous night as it began its climb. The yellow and orange foliage glistened in its rays. Dew on the green ground cover freshened the air like clean bed linens. The girl basked in the splendor of the new day before continuing her exploration of this unknown path.

Venturing further away from the entrance, the sunlight faded, and a long shadow followed her. A few fireflies blinked in the depths of the forest. As twilight waned, thousands twinkled in every direction, illuminating her way. A cool breeze whistled through the trees, intensifying their enchanting flashes. Mesmerized, she ambled down the path without purpose.

Darkness descended upon the woods. The lightning bugs danced around her. Using her hand, she brushed a few of them away from her face. She imagined her breath’s web ensnaring an errant bug. The trail of luminous juice that it left in its wake as it traveled down her throat. The thought of the magical properties it might have. She giggled and skipped along her way.

The hum of their wings chimed in her ears, compelling her to twirl and prance down the trail. Her movement synchronized with their tune. The trill of flutes, fiddles, and mandolins filled the woodland. But she stopped dead in her tracks when she heard a tiny voice ask, “Won’t you join us in our merriment?”


My inspiration for this bit of fiction was originally posted on Instagram (suzeq221) as part of my #wednesdaywriting initiative. I’d love to hear your story idea inspired by this photo. Where does your imagination take you?

Dear Critique Partner

Let me start by thanking you for your thoughtful feedback about my recent submission. It’s apparent you spent a considerable amount of time on it.

First, I hope my effort to provide a good clean copy for your review didn’t go unnoticed. I don’t believe in submitting a first draft because it inevitably includes more telling than showing, the dreaded info-dumping and careless grammar mistakes. I don’t want these obvious issues to hinder your review. I want you to focus your expertise on the story elements like plot, characters, dialogue, and worldbuilding. I think I accomplished this goal as most of your comments are related to what I’m looking for.

I noticed several of your comments were tagged “it’s only my opinionandit’s your story.” Yes, it is my story, and I want your opinion. I want to know what you learned about the world in which my story takes place in. Do you understand their culture and customs? Their magic system? Do my characters have depth, their own voice? Do you know what they look like? Do you care? Are my descriptions flat? Or over-the-top and distracting? In your opinion, what do you think about the pacing, dialogue, the rhythm and flow of the prose? Was there enough tension? So please, please give your opinion to me.

Where you commented you couldn’t remember or recall certain details, I understand. There are gaps in time between the review of chapters. I have the same problem at times. But being a hoarder pays off when it happens to me. I think I have every critique I’ve ever written. The hardest part about looking to see if I missed something is the time it takes to find the right submission. Most of the time, it’s my forgetfulness. If it’s not, I let the writer know to make the detail in question more memorable.

Another favorite comment of mine is “I’m not very good at explaining myself.” I’m sure you’ve gotten it a time or two yourself. I struggle with this remark because we’re writers. Describing a character’s thoughts, their emotions and actions and settings are the essence of our work. So shouldn’t we be able to convey our thoughts in a critique? I know it can take some time to find the right words to express ourselves, but take whatever you need to voice your impression. Otherwise, don’t make the comment if you can’t explain it. Right?

Many thanks for a couple of your suggestions. One of them triggered an ah-ha moment about how to fix a pacing problem that’s been testing my patience. Another inspired me to approach the description of a scene from a different angle. The result was a black and white noir-type setting. Escorted by the detective, the protag trudged down the shady hallway in a surreal daze. Nondescript gray walls, gray doors, gray linoleum. The dim overhead lights cast shadows as they marched towards their destination. The sterile morgue. White walls, shiny white floor, bright lights, and the stark reality. A truly wonderful writing experience for me. Thank you so much for the inspiration.

Oh, and by the way, my main character is a woman, not a man. Just want to make sure you knew since you used the masculine pronoun “he” throughout your review.

Sincerely,
Suzanne

* * * * *

The above post is my cynical look at the critique process. It is a vital part of writing, and I honestly appreciate and enjoy the feedback I receive. But at times, I question its authenticity. Yes, we are reminded to take critique comments “with a grain of salt”, which literally means to not take something literally, but to view it with skepticism. What’s the point of the critique then?

On Board ‘Seascape’ 1968, Part 2

The North Channel in Ontario, Canada
July 27 – August 8, 1968

The last six days (days 8-13) of our 1968 summer vacation on our boat, a 36’ Chris Craft named Seascape. Accompanying us on this voyage was the Playmate II with the Phillips family – Ron (captain), Joyce (first mate) and Carolyn (greenhorn) along with their friends John and Lois. I don’t recall the boat type and size of the Playmate II, but it is in several of the photos.

The log is written in my Mom’s words. I’ve only added punctuation or corrected spelling if needed. Otherwise, the integrity of her log is maintained. Italicized notes included parenthetically are my recollection of events or additional information about the story.

SHIP’S LOG – Saturday, August 3 (day 8)
What a lovely morning. Had breakfast, and before we left, the girls and I took a nice swim. John took the sailboat back to base camp to get his sunglasses. We were just about ready to send out the Rescue Squad when the red sail appeared around the corner. Picked up all our things and also a little of the debris left by some other boats and headed for Killarney on our way to Collins Inlet. Had a nice ride but the sky wasn’t looking too good. Stopped at Killarney for gas and the boats that were tied up there we’re talking about thunder squalls. Took a vote and decided to stay and head for Collins tomorrow. Got a chance to vacuum and straighten things around. Went to Jackman’s for a few supplies. Late in the afternoon we did get a small shower. Had dinner up in the Georgian Room of the Sportsman’s Inn. Very good. Docking rates went up from last year – $4 plus a dollar for electricity. All to the fellows rode around town on the motorbikes. Suzie got real friendly with the owner of 42-foot Pacemaker. Had a little Canadian Mist after dinner and us girls played one game of cards. Joyce won. The fellas girl-watched on the dock. Lights out around 1.

42-foot Pacemaker

SHIP’S LOG – Sunday, August 4 (day 9)
Another fabulous day. I think this is about the hottest we’ve had so far. Had our breakfast and headed for the second red spar to do some fishing. Got a few but there not biting like they usually do. Fished for about an hour and a half and started for Collins Inlet. Trolled all the way to Mill Lake and nothing. Tied up at the little dock by the Rock of Gibraltar. Got a party together and went back to the waterfall. Again the ice had changed things. No large waterfall at all. Found a natural bathtub and everyone had their Saturday bath on Sunday. Hunted for garnet and had almost given up when for the first time in 3 years I found what looked to be hard (quality of the stone?). Took all of them back to the boat and spent the rest of the evening washing them. Lots of mosquitoes.

Saturday’s bath on Sunday

SHIP’S LOG – Monday, August 5 (day 10)
Another real nice morning. Sky looks funny though to the South. Decided to walk back to the fishing village again to see to the dachshund and back to see the waterfall again. This time, everyone went further down and played in the small falls. Found a slide and even Nick went sliding, but not by choice.  Liz grabbed him because she was slipping, and in he went, clothed and all. Hunted for some more garnets, but only found soft ones. Did get some pretty stones though. Had a little lunch and moved down to Mill Lake. Anchored by the Verneta, Jackie, and Lake Drake from Flint. Tried to fish off the boat, but all we caught was cat fish. Nick and I went in the dinghy, but the rains came and all we got was wet. To make things worse, Liz said Elmer (the dog) had to go so we took him to an island in the rain and nothing. Oh well, a nice shower. Got really foggy towards dark. Ron heard Soo Control say that the locks were closed and all boats should drop anchor and take cover until further notice. What an eerie night. Lightening, wind and fog. Played cards, and Joyce and I couldn’t get a thing. Fellas beat 4 to 3.

Map of Mill Lake and Collins Inlet playgrounds for us

SHIP’S LOG – Tuesday, August 6 (day 11)
Morning dawned very peculiar. Around 7am, it was quite foggy, but the sun was trying to break it up. By 9:30, it was a beautiful day. Nick and Liz went fishing. Suzie and I slept in or tried to. They came back with 7 pike, Liz taking 5 and the biggest ones at that. Got things squared away and headed for Killarney. Needed supplies. Sky again looks like a real storm brewing toward the southeast. Weather very humid. Pulled into Cover Portage Cove for the night. Caught 0 fish, but had a real community fish dinner. Joyce sick to her stomach all day. Went to bed very early. Loris taught Liz to play pinochle. Sat until 11:30 discussing the world situation. Weather very funny. A full moon with a few clouds, but down towards the end of Killarney Bay, lightning.  

Cover Portage Cove

SHIP’S LOG – Wednesday, August 7 (day 12)
Morning not too good, but as it neared noon, a little better. Decided to get things together and head for Little Current. Got a few things we needed and decided to head for Oak Bay and spent the night there. Explored the eastern end a bit, but the bay we thought would be good, had a cottage built at the end. Moved back to our original spot. Tried to tie up to the rocks, but no place was suitable. Too sloping. No choice but to anchor out. Nick took the girls fishing and Suzie caught a big one. Had a wiener roast on the rocks and got ate up by mosquitos. Big full moon came up and finally peeked out from behind the clouds.

Me and my fish. Look at the smile on face.

SHIP’S LOG – Thursday, August 8 (day 13)
Got up to more gray skies. Girls had a ball playing with the dinghy. After we cleaned up a bit, Nick and I went out fishing. Only the silver flatfish seemed to work this year. Got a real nice pike, and wouldn’t you know it, the rains came. That’s twice I’ve gotten wet for a fish. Had a couple of strikes after, but only the one fish. Had a little lunch and held a conference. All in favor of trying for Meldrum Bay. Has a pretty good run, but were just a little concerned when we got near because there was one cruiser anchored out. Maybe all this way and no docks. Ivan was on hand and there were a couple of empty spaces on the inside. Secured everything and settled down or at least I thought so. The girls were fooling around on a dock that was partly submerged and Liz’s glasses fell in. Nick tried a couple of times, but couldn’t get them. Finally, John put on his suit and went in for them. Success! By this time, Nick had turned from blue to purple from the cold. Had a good stiff shot of Canadian Club with dinner. Wrapped up in a blanket and read on the couch. Girls went to bed and I knitted for a while. Moon came up big and bright. Very clear and would have been really nice if the racket on the docks had quieted down.

My sister and I playing around on the dinghy

This installment concludes our family trip to The North Channel in 1968. I want to thank my Mom for taking the time to document our trips. Although a few years are missing, there are other trips to share coming soon. Up next…1969 trip coasting the American coast of Lake Superior.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad…thanks for throwing caution to the wind and taking us on these fantastic voyages. I’m a lucky girl to have had such an adventurous dad, but I’ll never forget what happened to the Titanic.

Door to My Imagination

Being #writingwedesday, I set aside some time to write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes, it might be putting pen to paper and writing about an idea or a scene unfolding in my mind. Other times, it’s a photo that captures my imagination. Today, I used this picture as my inspiration.

Photo credit: unknown

Most photos give me story ideas when I contemplate what they say to me. I like to use the stream of consciousness style as I consider the subject. With this approach, a common theme usually emerges. And some times, my rambling thoughts morph into a piece of flash fiction or short story afterwards.

Here’s this week’s introspected look at the elements of this door in my imagination.

* * * *

Rotted wood in corner damaged left open too long not opened soon enough; two angles met but never cross never intersect; don’t run parallel one horizonal one vertical up down sideways back and forth going one way or the other; linear straight angles no curves twist of fate.

Ivy crawling on the door invasive intruding insistent on getting in won’t take no for an answer breaking down the barrier or setting boundaries sealing in thoughts emotions feelings; no door knob on outside of the door can’t get in no shelter; locks both inside outside feelings locking emotions inside keeping them out open your mind close your mind.

Ivy on the tree strangling wringing life out of it invading its trunk its core thick solid its heart and soul protected against adversity rejection abandonment; slithering its way to the branches the bearers of seeds creators of new life more than one way to accomplish a goal take another tack driven to succeed blind ambition.

Moss on the floor organic natural nature smothering the inanimate manufactured lifeless concrete stone gravel break down into soil add water sunlight life reborn the cycle; cracks on the wall cracks in armor crumbling walls more barriers breaking down nothing can keep thoughts beliefs feelings out hidden away exposing secrets insecurities letting go of doubts liberating freedom confidence strength fortitude opening a world of possibilities the world’s your oyster find your pearl.

Groundcover undergrowth over the threshold of the doorway more ivy door can no longer be closed once opened can’t be close can’t put the lid back on can of worms don’t like worms they ruin the smell of rain slimy hands when baiting a hook but good for the dirt creators of rich black fertile soil; uh-oh off track off the rails thoughts too deep too heavy pause take a breath bring it back online in line; was the door left open to let in fresh air welcome new perspectives why did the ivy invade, did it take advantage of the opportunity laid in wait for the opportunity to creep in to block the exit or seek out the negative smother it allowing the positive to come in.

Glass in door looking out transparency seeing with clarity a clear vision the possibilities of letting go not holding back wiping the fog from the window to see out; no it’s opaque clouded not veiled by curtain but obscured hiding secrets self-doubt covering up inhibitions vulnerabilities not letting anyone see the fragilities ashamed.

Light bright sunlight in meadow beyond the tree openness unobscured let in the light see the light facing fears releasing those fears open the mind to new possibilities; more dense woods beyond, doors open and close, when one door closes don’t look back look forward look for new doors to open new opportunities fresh perspectives.

Stream of thought writing is so much fun for me. It got a little heavy at times in this piece, but the contrast of ideas was compelling. Now I’ll let it simmer on the back burner while I think about what elements like characters, setting, and of course, magic are needed to create an appetizing story.

He’s Watching

This piece is an attempt at the stream of consciousness style. I’m not sure I nailed the technique, but I enjoyed writing it. It stirred my emotions, and it’s good any time we are moved by something whether it’s art, music, a novel, or a conversation. The setting is a bar where a woman is talking with a man, a friend, and she catches her lover watching them from a distance.


He’s watching us, not wondering what we are talking about; if the topics of our conversation are engaging, boring; or having his own thoughts, taking it to another level, down another path, oh the places we go, no;

He’s watching me interact with you; do I look at you when I speak, if you look at me; when I’m listening, I look at anything but you, disinterested, interested; my gazed fixed on you, my attention hanging on your every word;

He’s watching me laugh, giggle like a school girl, purr like a kitten; my smile, my lips soft, supple; coy, pouting; my eyes sparkling, affectionate, rolling, sneering; am I’m watching him, feeling his piercing wonder;

He’s watching me, am I sitting back, relaxed and at ease, sitting forward on the edge of my seat, anxious, nervous; crossing uncrossing my legs, shifting my posture, turned towards you, turned away, neutral, facing forward;

He’s watching me talking with my hands, clasping them, wringing them with doubt, pointing my finger, twirling a strand of hair, tapping them to the beat of the music, snapping in time, picking my nails;

He’s watching me, my demeanor, my presence, enchanted, intrigued, come closer, tell me more; dreary, obnoxious, he’s out of his mind, disturbed, an opportunist, preying on his friend’s lover; smitten by me;

He’s watching me, my every move, gesture, admiring, learning, who am I, nonverbal cues, signals, no words, silent observing, interpreting, contemplating, what does it mean, am I faithful, loyal; or two-timing, double-dipping;

I’m watching him as he watches me, what is he thinking about, his sweet smile, smoldering eyes, hand resting on his knee, sipping his drink, elbow on the bar, does he trust me, know I’m committed, truehearted, does he love me?

Writing Styles: Active Voice

Another writing exercise using an active voice.

Learning the craft of writing includes lots of reading, and as an aspiring writer, I read several novels over the holidays. One of my favorites was Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews.

A husband-wife team co-authored Magic Bites using the pseudonym Ilona Andrews. Published on March 27, 2007, it is the first book in the Kate Daniels series. There are twelve books from Kate’s point of view and a number of novels from the other characters’ point of view. I aspire to be as prolific as this writing team.

The urban fantasy takes place in Atlanta, where magic and technology vie for superiority. Set in 2040, Kate’s sole-surviving family member, her guardian, Greg Feldman is murdered. During her investigation, she interacts with rival factions, each with their own agenda, and an ancient supernatural being.

Kate earns her living as a mercenary in a world of shapeshifters, necromancers, and vampires. In the simplest terms, she’s badass. Obstinate and sarcastic, she wields a magic sword, named Slayer, which she carries in a sheath on her back. When looking for the leader of the Pack faction, Curran Lennart, a lion shapeshifter, she calls out, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” The undercurrent of a developing romantic relationship between Kate and Curran flowing throughout the tale is palpable and enticing.

The created world is well developed. But I’m not sure the book would have been as enjoyable if not for the bonus material including FAQ, character bios, and descriptions of the factions. I love speculative fiction, but the worlds in even well-written books boggle my mind sometimes. In this case, reading the supplemental information beforehand kept me engaged through the entire 366 pages.

For me, Magic Bites was a great case study since I’m in the process of writing an urban fantasy from a first-person point of view. I’m looking forward to diving into the prequel soon.