Agency

When we talk about “agency” in literature, we are usually talking about the protagonist of the story: (1) having the ability to act in his/her/their environment, then; (2) acting.

Simple, right?

Well, as it turns out, not for me.

Agency is something I always have to write into my manuscripts after multiple drafts. My critique partners and beta readers always come back to me telling me my characters don’t have enough (or any) agency. The character is supposed to move the plot, not the other way around. It’s a concept taught in every 101 creative writing class.

Yet… it always eludes me.

Struggling with agency is a common problem for a lot of writers, but recently, I’ve been thinking about why it’s such a reoccurring problem for me. You see, it’s not one character or one book or one series that lacks agency for me. It’s all of them. Even though I should know better. Even though I write thinking this time I’m not going to have to edit agency into my character. Thinking this time I’m going to get it right. But I never do, and I have to wonder why.

I think the answer comes from another definition.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape

[Emphasis added]. Source.

I’ve written about my C-PTSD and how it relates to my reading and writing experiences before, but though I’ve previously connected the two things, I never made this particular connection.

It’s hard for me to write agency, because my mind is wired to believe I have none.

My C-PTSD stems from childhood abuse. That’s all I’m really willing to share about that out here, exposed on the internet, but for purposes of this post, I think it’s important that it’s understood this trauma occurred when I was very young and went on for a long, long time. It shaped the way my brain behaves. Seriously. Physical changes in my brain happened and those things impact my worldview. Deeply.

Though I’m older now, and I have agency, and I go to therapy to unravel and unpack all this trauma, I still struggle. I have an extremely difficult time making decisions. I get overwhelmed easily. When I’m in a dangerous or even mildly upsetting situation, I freeze. I have the ability to control my environment, but I struggle to do so. It’s uncomfortable, and it makes me nauseous and anxious.

Because deep down, I don’t understand agency. Agency is, at its root, having some kind of control or influence over your life situation. Something I never had. And if I’m honest with myself, it scares me.

My reactions to the world taking hold of the reins for me are much better. When someone dies, for instance, I’m the most level-headed person in the room. Not being in control is something I’m intimately familiar with and have learned to navigate beautifully. Which is… different.

I started to write unhealthy there, then changed it. Because maybe it’s not unhealthy. Maybe it’s simply different. Maybe it’s how I operate. And maybe that’s okay.

And maybe this is all to say that while I believe agency is important (and I do write it into my manuscripts where it’s needed), lack of agency might be just as important with some characters, and is something I would love to see explored further.

Can you tell a compelling story if your character has no agency? And how should we even define agency? Can’t agency be taking actions to survive, even if they’re not active actions? What if agency, for some characters, is not acting but freezing? What if agency is not striking back, but appeasing? What if agency is looking at a hopeless situation from which there is no escape, but hoping for one anyway?

What if agency could be rewritten?

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Even Rapunzel, locked in her tower, had the agency to let down her hair. But her prince had to find her first. What if he never came? Would her story still be worth telling? Photo courtesy: https://pixabay.com/en/users/Emily_WillsPhotography-8096214/

Next Week on the Blog: Dreams, Failure, and the What Could Be Wish

❤ Always,

Aimee

Book Review: THE BELLES

Author’s Note: Hi all! I know I haven’t been around a lot, life has been extremely hectic. However, I do have a few posts I’ve been chewing over I hope to get to soon, about agency (eek!) and failure (double eek!). In the meantime, I’ve decided that in an effort to support other authors, I’m going to start doing BOOK REVIEWS! Woo! They’ll be sporadic as I intend to ONLY review those books I think deserving of five stars. Why? Well, because: (1) I want to support other authors; but (2) I like to keep it honest here, and I don’t five star like every single book I read; but also (3) I’m also an author who empathizes with anything less than five stars. So! I bring you my five-star only book reviews. To begin, I offer a review of Dhonielle Clayton’s, The Belles, which was my most anticipated read of the year and which definitely did not disappoint. Without further ado, here we go!

23197837Official Blurb: 

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.

But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

27783510_10105455140147238_344651365_nMy Take:

5/5 Stars.

THE BELLES, Clayton’s first high fantasy novel, is a stunning take on the concept of beauty in society. THE BELLES transports the reader to the world of Orléans, a place in which beauty is bought and bartered for and those with the power to give the people what they so desire, The Belles, are revered.

Clayton’s prose is warm and lush. It drips and flows, so I want to drink in every word. Beauty is reflected in every aspect of the piece, but so is the price that must be paid to obtain “perfection.”

In addition to the take on beauty that permeates the page, Clayton’s depiction of female relationships was something that had me thinking for hours after I left Orléans behind. Her characters were relatable but not perfect. Never perfect. Camellia Beauregard (“Camille”), the story’s protagonist, makes decisions I cringed at, not because I judged her, but because her choices forced me to examine myself. Put in Camille’s shoes, I might have done some of the same things, and Clayton’s intricate use of language allowed me to make that connection both instantly and deeply, leading to a greater appreciation of Camille’s situation and the world of Orléans.

In short, I highly recommend picking up a copy, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Buy Links (click me and buy Dhonielle’s book because it’s so good, and I want everyone to read it and love it):

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

That’s all for now! Hope everyone is doing well!

❤ Aimee

 

The Big 3-0

Y’all! I’m turning 30 next week!

And because I want to do something fun and special, BOTH of my novels will be FREE on Amazon Kindle from Thursday, February 22, 2018 through Saturday, February 24, 2018. This is the FIRST TIME EVER you’ll be able to get a free digital copy of my second novel, The Blood Mage so mark it on your calendars, share it on your social, pass this blog around, tell all your friends, and GET READY!

Oh, and if you’re new here and want to learn more about the Changing Tides series that will be free next week, check out the homepage for the full blurbs and Amazon links.

Have a great weekend everyone!

❤ Aimee

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2018 Writing Goals

Well… 2017 has been a bit of a rough one if I’m honest (which I try to be). It’s been a difficult year to create for me and many others if Twitter is to be believed. But when I sit down and push all the noise aside, I realize I did accomplish quite a bit in the last year, which I will now reflect on.

  • I hit (and surpassed) the elusive 100 book sales mark for my debut novel The Wheel Mages.
    • Note: 90% of self-published books will sell less than 100 copies, so this is a real accomplishment even if it doesn’t seem like much in terms of sales numbers.

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  • I published the second book in my Changing Tides series, The Blood Mage.

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  • Although I didn’t make into Pitch Wars this year, I did enter, which was quite a feat. Plus, it means I have a novel ready to query for (hopefully) a traditional publishing deal. The King’s Blade features a diverse cast of characters including a triumvirate of Deep Sea power by way of a competent assassin, a mermaid magician and scientist, a young king who has a knack for political maneuvers and on land, you’ll find a human prince who is softer than my average male character and a budding naturalist himself. I did more research for The King’s Blade than anything I’ve ever worked on, and I am immensely proud of it. Read more about it here.

With all that said, I do have some pretty serious writing goals for 2018. Let’s see if I can accomplish them!

  1. Create a real marketing strategy for my Changing Tides Series and execute, execute, execute!
  2. Pay off the editing fees for The Blood Mage.
  3. Finish the draft of the third book in my Changing Tides Series and get it out for developmental edits at the very least.
  4. Start querying The King’s Blade for a traditional deal.
  5. Finish my beta reads!
  6. Read, read, read (my TBR is out of this world and I can’t seem to stop buying more things to add to it!)

All you writers out there: What did you accomplish in 2017 and what are some of your goals for the New Year?

Happy Holidays everyone!

❤ Aimee

 

We Love Soft Boys — But Soft Girls?

Alena, the protagonist in my debut novel, The Wheel Mages, is sometimes labeled as weak. I don’t usually comment on the label, because I see why people call her that, and I think it’s important for readers to have room to formulate their own opinions. However, there’s something about the label that rings of a double standard to me. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, or the frustration I’m facing in my own life that is finally compelling me to speak on it, but whatever it is, here we are.

Alena’s backstory is one of sheltered confinement. Because of her value to the Sanctum, she’s been hidden. Before the novel begins, she has spent the last five years in almost perfect isolation. The isolation makes her naive, while her emotions, driven by her ever-changing element (water), make her as variable as the river.

She is in a constant state of flux. Her opinions are mutable, and her emotions propel her forward, often landing her in positions that frustrate readers. She doesn’t rule her feelings nearly so often as they rule her. She’s rash and (arguably) irritatingly dependent on the main man in her life, Nikolai, who has served as her mentor and protector for the past five years.

In the first book, she is not a feminist’s feminist. When she meets Catalina, the fiery former love interest of Nikolai, she explodes in a fit of jealousy. Isolation might have protected her, but it has also stunted her emotional growth. She will grapple with this throughout the book, and indeed, throughout the series.

Bitterness rose with the thought, acrid in the back of my throat, but I fought it down. I would not allow myself to fall prey to that again. Not after Catalina.

~ The Blood Magesequel to The Wheel Mages

When I first wrote Alena, she was much more stoic than she appears in the final version of the book. The scene where she erupts in fury over Catalina’s presence, throwing an epic temper tantrum (albeit in private), did not exist in the first drafts of the novel. It was added after a lengthy conversation with my editor wherein she urged me to dig deeper into my protagonist’s feelings. Alena, at first, did not read like an eighteen-year-old, especially not one who had spent the past five years completely hidden from the world.

That’s perhaps because she was being written by a twenty-eight-year old who had just spent some time in a mental health facility doing a whole lot of soul searching. A lot of maturation happens in the decade between eighteen and twenty-eight. That’s not to deride teenagers (in fact, I think today’s teens are a world more enlightened than I ever was), but it is true. A lot of growing occurs in a decade–any decade–and I’m sure when I’m thirty-eight I’ll say the same thing of my twenty-eight-year-old self. At least, I hope I will, because I want to keep growing.

One of the things I love about young adult literature, and have always loved about it, is that there is so much room for growth within the characters. The internal journey for main characters is as interesting, if not more so, than the physical journey taking place on the page. Exploration of this growth is something that has always fascinated me, perhaps because my own development has been so slow moving.

But the journey Alena takes is, perhaps, a controversial one in today’s climate. She is, after all, a young woman who is driven by her emotions. I understand that in a time when the badass, woman warrior is the go-to main character for young adult fantasy, Alena might seem… soft. Too typical. Too weak. Too dependent. Too exactly-what-we’ve-been-fighting-against-aren’t-you-a-terrible-feminist. It was a risk to write Alena the way I wrote her, but at the end of the day, I wrote what I knew. Alena’s story is one I’m familiar with.

Because honestly? At eighteen, I was a terrible feminist. Actually, I wasn’t a feminist at all. I was brash and completely ruled by my emotions, which were prone to shift by the minute. I cried a lot and screamed and engaged in far too much self-pity. I fell hopelessly in love with men who were terrible for me and to me, yet would do just about anything to cater to them. I thought much less about the amazing women who surrounded me than I did about the sometimes horrible men I fell for, and in the end, I was burned by this confused loyalty. I surrendered friendships I’ll never be able to get back to please men who weren’t worth a single hair on the heads of those women. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is part of my story. For me, feminism didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still not a perfect creature when it comes to my feminism (or anything else, really). Neither is my protagonist. She’s floundering, struggling with her identity. She’s trying to figure out who she is and what she stands for, and the fact is she simply doesn’t know the answers to life’s big questions. But she’s willing to learn, and she tries (but sometimes fails) to keep her mind open.

In this way, she is the queen of the internal monologue. She thinks about her feelings a lot. Whether or not she makes the right decisions concerning them is a question the reader can pose to him/her/themselves. I am not telling a morality tale, I’m simply telling the emotional journey of one young woman trying to find herself in a messed up world. And unfortunately her journey (as it is for many of us) is not clean, or pretty, or comfortable.

The reaction to Alena, and other female protagonists who get pinned with the label “weak,” does make me wonder about double standards, however. I see cries for soft boys in YA in reaction to the alpha male, and I wholeheartedly agree we need to see more soft boys in books. I’ve written a soft boy into The King’s Blade in direct juxtaposition of the alpha-male type my main character has spent her life in service to. I love soft boys, and I hate that they’re underrepresented. But why do we cry for soft males, then spurn soft females as weak?

I understand that in some ways, we reject soft girls as a confirmation of stereotypes about the female gender role. But in my view, that’s reactionary feminism. It’s defensive instead of offensive. The thinking goes something like: The patriarchy says women are soft, thus we should portray women as hard. The thinking is simple, but it doesn’t allow for the entire vision of womanhood to shine through, only a sliver of it. Women are not a monolith, yet our heroines are starting to make it appear as though we are. Why, for example, do so many of our heroines these days so closely mirror heroes? Why do they have to be sword-wielding, physically strong killers who hide their emotions? Why can’t there be room for both hard and soft girls, the same as there is room for both hard and soft boys? Why can’t our heroines be both emotional and strong? Emotions, after all, are powerful things, and learning to harness them can be a lifelong struggle that takes immeasurable strength. Why also do we consistently link physical prowess to some kind of intrinsic perception of “strength”? Can’t a female character be considered strong of spirit without ever needing to wield a sword or shoot a bow?

And, most of all, why can’t we give our female heroines a little space to grow?

Just some things to ponder on this (here in Philadelphia) rainy Monday.

❤ Always (and please don’t hate me),

Aimee

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Slumps

So in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m in a bit of a writing AND reading AND marketing slump.

Right now, what I wish I could do is give you some great advice about how I conquered it. But I’m failing to conquer it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve edited a chapter of my third book in the Changing Tides series here and there. I’ve gotten words on the page in short story format for an adult audience. But I haven’t done any real work on marketing, and I’ve been lackluster when it comes to working on my TBR. Usually, I can read a YA fantasy in a sitting. Recently, I’ve been lucky to get a chapter in here or there.

Which leads me to a point. Writing and reading are inseparable. Writers are readers first, and if you’re not reading, it’s very likely you’re not writing. Reading is how, at least for me and many in my writing circles, we replenish our creative wells. The first thing I say to any aspiring writer or author is: “Read. Read diversely and frequently. Read everything you can get your hands on. In your genre and out of it.”

When I’m not reading, I’m almost always not writing either. When I’m not writing, it’s hard to market, because some of the enthusiasm I have for my own work is lost. I forget what it’s like to be an author. Maybe it’s the hum-drum of the 9-5, maybe it’s the trying to reestablish a social life, maybe it’s being caught up in emotionally exhausting friend and relationship drama, maybe it’s because of the slight worry I have about money right now, but whatever it is that’s preventing me from reading has to be stamped out.

With reading, will come the writing. I’m sure of it.

Anyone have any advice for reading and writing slumps? I’d love to hear it!

❤ Always,

Aimee

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New Review of #TheBloodMage

Hi all!

Sorry I haven’t been around! If you’ve read my last two posts you’ll know I’m still struggling with mental health issues as well as trying to find a proper work/life balance. I think I’m getting my head back in the game slowly but surely and hope to come back to regular posts soon!

Because of everything going on I unfortunately didn’t get a newsletter out this month, but the next one will be sure to be action-packed! At least I hope 🙂 If you’d like to sign up  you can do so here.

In the meantime, check out this new review of The Blood Mage by My Life, Stolen by Books.

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Work-Life Balance

I haven’t posted in 16 days even though 16 days ago I said I was back from my hiatus. As it turns out, I wasn’t.

Work-life balance is a new thing for me to struggle with. Mainly the “balance” part. I’m one of those people who tends to be all in or all out. Right now, as you might have guessed, I’m all out on the work scene. Of course, I’m all in at my 9-5 (bills to pay and all that), but I’ve been neglecting my writing. Not just the blog and the social media presence but actually writing.

Originally, I thought my creative well was dry, but that’s not necessarily it. I’ve done a lot of writing, but it’s been of the journal variety mostly. My mental health hasn’t been good the last month or so (a guy may or may not be involved in some of this), but I’ve also been trying to create relationships with some new friends. For an introvert, that takes a lot of time and emotional energy. Time and energy I would usually devote to writing and/or revising.

I feel a bit lost on my journey. A bit listless. Unfortunately, The King’s Blade didn’t find its way into Pitch Wars and though I was hopeful that if it did, it might put some fire back under my ass, maybe it’s for the best. Maybe I needed a break more than I thought. Maybe I’m not ready to come back. Maybe I need to remember there’s more to life than pumping out books and hiding in my messy apartment and trying to live through my characters. Maybe I need to remember I have to live through myself first to truly breathe life into the characters I create.

Or maybe I’m just making excuses for my lack of get up and go.

Either way, one thing is for sure: This journey ain’t getting any easier.

Work-life balance anyone? Sound off in the comments.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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There is Time

Authoring is hard. And those seventeen hour days finally caught up to me.

Here’s some truth: Being an author doesn’t only involve writing and editing. It involves answering emails and posting on social media and writing blogs and marketing. It involves updating your website and keeping track of trends in the market and thinking of innovative ways to sell your work. It involves reading and reading and reading some more, inside and outside of your genre.

And if you work a full time job (like so many of us), that means a lot of late nights and weekend hours. The reality of being an author is much less illustrious than the movies make it out to be. Over 77% of self-published authors make less than $1,000 a year from their writing. For traditional authors, that number is still 53.9% making less than $1,000 a year.

I don’t know about you, but $1,000 a year really isn’t going to pay my bills. Especially considering my rent is $1,200 a month, and I’m single. So I work a full-time job. A vast majority of authors work part-time or full-time or have another income to help out. And at the end of the day, the full-time job has to come before writing. Because I have to eat. And not live on the street.

So I work my 9-5:30 (or later), Monday through Friday, and I write/edit/market/blog/Twitter/Instagram/Facebook during the evenings/into the wee hours of the morning and on the weekends. But that kind of schedule catches up to you.

In my world, things started to pile up. My apartment was a mess. I was ordering out too much because I felt like I had too much to do to go to the grocery store or cook (which increased my expenses). My diet suffered. I drank too much caffeine. My dog got antsy and bored. My social life suffered. I hardly left my apartment. Sleep was something I daydreamed about.

So I promised myself that after I submitted to Pitch Wars I would take a break. Not just from writing, but from everything. From social media, from blogging, even from reading. I needed to recharge my batteries.

At first, the author anxiety almost destroyed my much needed authoring hiatus. For the first few days of said break, I found myself in the presence of my friends without engaging. Instead, I sat in a literal corner silently obsessing over what I had to do. I have a third book in a series to finish revising. I have continuing edits to The King’s Blade to hammer out, because regardless of how it does in Pitch Wars, I’ll be querying soon. I have an idea for a women’s fiction novel that’s itching at me. I have emails to answer. I have reading to do. I have to post on social media to keep my presence up. I have to write a blog. I have to do, do, do.

The “break” didn’t come easy. I had to force myself to take it. But after three or four days, I started to slide into it. There is time became my mantra. It’s okay not to write every day. It’s okay not to read two books a week. It’s okay to leave my phone on the charger. It’s okay to take a day or two to respond to an email. It’s okay to take some time to clean my apartment and go to the grocery store and catch up on Game of Thrones and sit outside with my friends for hours doing nothing but shooting the shit.

We only get one life. Writing is my passion. It’s what I love to do. But when it becomes a chore, I’ve lost something. And that something is the fire, and I need the fire to write.

So writers, as hard as it can be, go ahead and give yourself that break. You don’t need to write every day. There is time.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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The Wheel Mages is an Award Winner

I’m back! I apologize for the delay in blogging, but I’ve had a whirlwind end of July/beginning of August! I attended the Romance Writers of America Nationals where The Wheel Mages was up for an award through the Young Adult Romance Writers of America chapter (YARWA), and The King’s Blade, which you can read more about here, was submitted to Pitch Wars for consideration, so it’s been a busy few weeks!

But I have news!

The Wheel Mages, my debut high fantasy novel, won third place for YARWA’s Athena Award for Excellence in New Adult Fiction! I’m so humbled to have been part of the competition. And for any romance fans out there, I would definitely recommend the RWA’s Nationals! I didn’t get to stay for the full conference because I had Pitch Wars things to do and the budget didn’t really allow for it, but it looked like a heck of a good time if romance is your jam!

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So now that The King’s Blade has been submitted to Pitch Wars, I have three full weeks with no writing deadlines whatsoever, and I’m sort of at a loss of what to do with myself! Since this journey began in January of last year, I’ve always had something on my plate. My biggest goal is to use this time to relax, reboot, and refresh (and catch up on my ridiculously large TBR).

Anyone have any reads they’d recommend?