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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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?

Calling Book Bloggers

Hey all! So with The Blood Mage due out this summer (official launch date and cover reveal happening here on Tuesday), I’m currently looking for book bloggers/reviewers to receive a digital ARC sometime in June. I don’t care about the size of your social following or how many blog readers you have. If you’re new and trying to build a following, great! Me too. Let’s work together!

Here’s the deal. To receive an ARC for The Blood Mage you must meet the following requirements:

  1. You’ve read The Wheel Mages. Haven’t read it yet? No problem, if you’re a book blogger and you’re interested, shoot me an email and I can hook you up with a digital copy of The Wheel Mages. You can then decide if you’re still interested in receiving The Blood Mage.
  2. You have to have a way to read the book digitally. I’m not doing hard copies of ARCs, this is digital only. I’m self-published and operating on a dwindling budget, so physical copies of ARCs were just not financially viable. That said, I’ll have the book available in epub, mobi, and PDF, so I can accommodate almost all ereaders.
  3. You’re willing (and able) to post a review of the book between July and August, 2017. I know this is a time crunch, but never fear! If you can’t meet the deadline, I’d still love for you to read it, just send me an email, and I’ll get you a final copy after it’s been published.

Haven’t read The Wheel Mages and trying to decide if it’s worth it for you to commit to reading two books in a short time frame? Let me give you some bullet points about the Changing Tides series!

  • Young adult, high fantasy
  • Self-published, professionally edited–developmental and copy/line editing
  • Strong female protagonist (and strong female friendships!)
  • Elemental magic
  • Romance
  • Plot twists
  • Trope-bending
  • LGBTQ rep (lesbian, not MC)
  • Mental illness rep (PTSD, MC, second book)
  • Diverse cast
  • Eastern European, late 1800s inspired

What are other book bloggers saying about The Wheel Mages?

“It was so refreshing to read such a mysterious and captivating book. I highly recommend this book and I can’t wait to read the next one.” – A Bibliophiles Book Blog

“The world building was exquisite, and the characters’ developments were written so well, that I just want to go back and read it all over again.” Shihtzu Book Reviews

“This book is action-packed, bubbling with magic and such a page turner.” – Adoread

“Aimee’s writing style for this book was emphatic, eloquent, and crisp.” Maxxesbooktopia

So, all that said, if you’re interested, please send an email to yours truly at aimee@aimee-davis.com with a link to your blog and your preference of digital file!

❤ Aimee

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The Last Birthday

Today, I turn 29. I’m joking it’s the last birthday I’ll ever celebrate. I’m almost not a twenty-something anymore, and it feels a bit like losing a shield. But in all seriousness, it’s really just another day.

That said, it’s another day where I shall go ahead and do some self promotion. Because it’s MY day (also George Washington’s, any other Pisces in the house?)

I’m going to share with you all some of my favorite reviews of The Wheel Mages and hope to convince you that if you haven’t jumped into the world of the Sanctum yet, now’s the time (looking at you Maas fans, we have until May until her next book is released).

So… without further ado, here we go! Read to the end – there’s also NEWS. And sign up for my newsletter! I’m getting it all in today, y’all.

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News! My trilogy is no longer a trilogy. I know, I know, I had reservations about this as well which I plan to completely outline in a post later this week or next week, but I promise the decision was not taken lightly and it was very thoroughly discussed and debated with my team of trusted beta readers as well as my editor. In the end, expanding the series was the best choice for the characters.

Have a great day everyone!

❤ Aimee

Launch Day

It’s raining here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had trouble sleeping last night which isn’t entirely unusual. At midnight, I couldn’t resist posting on my personal Facebook page that I’d received a notice from Amazon that The Wheel Mages went live although it wasn’t part of my “launch plan”. Sometime around 3 or 4 am, after I’d fallen asleep to the glorious voice belonging to Sir David Attenborough, my German shepherd, Gabi, had a dream so intense she “ran” herself right off the bed.

I woke to the sounds of yipping and a struggle with the sheets as she tore them trying to cling to the bed. She couldn’t hold on and fell with a dramatic thud. I spent about half an hour trying to convince her to come out from under the bed. That incident combined with the rain made me a little apprehensive about launch day, I’m not gonna lie.

But you know what? So far, it’s been splendid. I got up as soon as my alarm went off and sprung to action. Facebook posts, messages, and texts flooded my phone. I didn’t realize I had so many people cheering for me. It made me feel immensely blessed. I almost cried. Only almost, though, because there’s still work to be done!

I hopped onto the computer to throw out some tweets and make an announcement on my official Facebook page. Everything is falling into place. Except the print version of the book—that isn’t ready yet. Remember how I said you shouldn’t throw last minute plans on your designer? Uh huh.

It’s all right, there’s still time. As my dad always says, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

When I checked out my book on iBooks (figuring out how to link to an app was not something I was expecting to deal with this morning, by the way), I saw it was related to Game of Thrones and Tolkien. No lie, look!

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One of my friends sent me a picture of her electronic copy sitting spine to spine with Harry Potter. Wow. I’m still reeling. I’m a published author y’all. Published. The dream I’ve held since I was old enough to grip a pencil has finally been realized. After years of struggle and dozens of manuscripts, after hundreds of thousands of words and tens of journals filled to the brim with writing, I’ve finally done it. What an incredible feeling.

You know, when I started this post, I planned to write about how I got here. I was going to lay out the whole process of writing leading to publishing but I’m having difficulty finding the technical words when I’m so overwhelmed with emotion. That post will come but for now, I’m simply going to bask in this feeling while it lasts.

I hope you all enjoy The Wheel Mages. I know I enjoyed writing it.

❤ Aimee

P.s. In honor of Giving Tuesday, 50% of launch day proceeds will be going to HeARTsSpeak, an international organization I’m a member of which is dedicated to helping artists connect with shelter animals to improve their chances of finding a furever home.

A Room of My Own

Author’s note: This post was written on October 21, 2016 before the website was launched. I hesitated to post it because it’s deeply personal, but I decided when I launched this book that I would be transparent with my readers and hopefully give some encouragement for those who are currently struggling.

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Today, I sit down to put the final touches on my debut novel The Wheel Mages before I send it to the copy editor. It’s a time of great joy for me. I spent the first hour of my day dancing to Sia in my living room with my German shepherd, Gabi, chasing me, loving this grand game. But as the adrenaline that comes with ending the task you’ve been focused on for so many months wore off, I became reflective.

I’ve been thinking about Virginia Woolf a lot this morning. I remember reading A Room of One’s Own for the first time in a high school English class. Virginia Woolf spoke to me in a way no classic author had before. Through the practicality of her message I felt a deep romanticism of writing—one I shared and it made it feel like she was truly speaking to me in the most personal way.

When I was in college studying creative writing, my dorm room was covered in quotes from my favorite authors—Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Christina Rossetti, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Dante. But affixed above my head was a quote from Woolf:

“Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.”

I didn’t know it then but that quote would take on a new life for me many  years later.

You see, The Wheel Mages originated in a dark place.

In late January of this year, I self-committed to a behavioral health facility for suicidal ideation. I’d been having the thoughts for a long time but for whatever reason, that night, the dam broke and I knew I had to make a change or I wouldn’t survive.

Behavioral health facilities do not allow patients to have pens or pencils in their rooms, and the use of them is closely monitored in common areas. At first, this situation didn’t bother me. I hadn’t written anything of substance in years and it never occurred to me that might be something I’d want to do. Thoughts of what I wanted had fled not long after I graduated college.

But after a few days, my mind started to clear. Long hidden desires and dreams resurfaced. Through the fog of the medication, I saw the outline of what could be. It was like looking at a shadow at high noon—impossible and fuzzy but somehow still there.

During my years-long battle with mental illness and addiction (two dirty words, I know), I lost so much. Relationships with men and friends and family, my health, my spirit, my sanity. One after one, pieces of my life tumbled down around me like boulders falling down a mountainside. I watched them fall in silence because I felt I had no choice. No matter how hard I loved or fought or lied, the boulders fell. Eventually, I gave up trying to stop them.

For a long while, I lived like that—in stasis, in a cocoon of my own making. I existed, nothing more.

I think the thing people often don’t realize about mental illness and addiction is that while all the visible losses the person suffering sustains are indeed terrible, the greatest loss is unseen. It is often one of the first stones to fall but it isn’t a boulder—it’s a tiny, insignificant looking pebble that starts the slide. It is the voice of the sufferer.

By the time I found myself behind four layers of locked doors, lying on a plastic bed with a sheet that barely covered my body, my voice had long since fallen and it had taken my desire to write with it.

The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace.

There had been no peace in my life, no freedom. I bore my problems like heavy chains and sat in a pit of self-loathing while my mind made a meal of itself, strangling me from the inside out.

In that facility, with all its horrors and interruptions, a place Virginia Woolf certainly never meant to be the room of one’s own she envisioned for female novelists, I began to find some freedom.

For the first time in years, my time was my own. I had no responsibility to anyone except myself. It was a violent baptism of sorts. I had been stripped bare of all my defenses and distractions, forced to confront myself in the harshest of lights.

Alena took shape in the back of my mind. In many ways, she’s a reflection of who I wanted to be at that time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the first image the reader gets of her is of her standing tall, biting back her fears. That’s how I saw her and how I wanted to see myself.

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.

As the days in that place trickled by, the story spun outward. There would be a man who loved her and another to challenge her. She would stumble, as we all do. She would fail, as I had, but she would push forward.

My fingers started to itch in a way they hadn’t in a long time. Energy I thought I’d lost resurfaced. My voice started to whisper to me, a wellspring of hope, and I no longer felt alone.

When I was released, the first place I went was a bookstore. Among the familiar scent of fresh pages, new life blossomed. I caressed the titles of works I knew, breathing them in. I remembered college and the quotes on my wall, now stored in a box in my parents’ attic. I remembered how much I’d loved Milton and how ardently I’d argued with my professors over morality in Chekhov.

I remembered, too, how I’d been taught to write fiction but had always been drawn to fantasy. I remembered the shame I’d felt and the judgment I’d borne because I had such promising talent but I wanted to waste it on genre fiction.

Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast.

I thought about writing the story of my ten-day stay in a mental hospital or about the events leading up to it but I couldn’t. If I were to find my way back to myself it would be in fantasy. It would be my path—no one else’s.

I bought all of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series and read them in two days. I ransacked my old room at my parents’ house, loading my car with books. My apartment, which had always been bare of books (looking back, I can’t help but shake my head, how deep was my despair that my world was bare of books?) was now full of them. Every flat surface held a title—Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, J.K. Rowling, Cassandra Clare—the novels of my genre touched spines with the classics of my training. I brought forth Durkheim’s work on the Elementary Forms of Religious Life and dove back into the dark writings of Nietzsche. I pulled out notebooks full of research on Eastern European history that has always fascinated me and read my old journals that even then were dripping with the deep darkness that would overwhelm me in time.

When my mind was full and saturated with art, I sat down with my legal pad and let the words bleed onto the page. The Wheel Mages was born.

Now, nearing the end of this journey and the beginning of a new one, I can’t help but look back and see how far I’ve come. For the first time in my life, I’m proud and unafraid to say so. As I sit here, settling into my desk chair with the cover page of a completed manuscript staring back at me and a light breeze drifting through my window, I feel the greatest sense of peace I have ever known.

I finally have a room of my own.

Sneak Peek (Chapter 1)

It’s less than a week away y’all! 6 days! And in celebration of the holiday weekend in which I have many things to be thankful for, I thought I’d share with you another little tidbit of my debut novel The Wheel Mages. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(P.s., if you haven’t read the Prologue, get it here)

Chapter One

The Inner Sanctum was silent and dark. Walking into the room made me feel like I was walking into a cave and despite the high ceilings and openness, my chest tightened. I felt caged and though the cage was beautiful, with its tall granite pillars and fine marble floors checkered black and white like a chessboard, it was still a cage.

I shuddered and stared down the long gold-and-silver aisle runner that stretched forward into the epicenter of the room.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the poor light provided by a single fire pit in the center of the room. Behind the fire pit sat four intimidating figures, each perched upon a marble throne. And at the top of each throne, carved into the stone, was an emblem outlined in jewels.

I walked forward, eyes wide with fear and awe. My knees trembled and my muscles felt like wobbling plates of jelly, making it necessary for me to check my footing with every step I took. Stop, I silently scolded my knees, but they weren’t to be controlled. My stomach sank. Then, at least, please don’t let me fall. If I fall, I’ll be an embarrassment. Gods, please don’t let me embarrass Nikolai.

As I continued to move forward, I tried to distract myself from my fear by looking over the Sanctum’s Four. To my far left, sat Master Bartholomew Johnson. He was from an isle in the western region of the Trade Nations, an independent, wealthy country called Glasland. The powerful island was famous for its agriculture and navy and had helped to lead the civilized world into the industrial era. Out of the dark and into the light, the Glaslandish proclaimed.

My lashes fluttered against my cheeks while I focused on my breathing. When your emotions start to overwhelm you, focus on the little things, Nikolai had taught me.

Bartholomew wore a fine red silk vest with a pocket on the right. It was fashionable and well made if a little tight. While I honed in on the exquisite stitching of his black tailcoat, my muscles solidified.

My gaze moved from the ebony, ruby-topped walking stick propped alongside Bartholomew’s throne and up to the top hat sitting upon his sand-washed hair. Above it, emblazoned into the marble behind him, was a single lick of fire decorated by rubies—fire, my opposite.

To Bartholomew’s left sat Lady Maria Garivaldi from the southern nation of Vinostio, famed for its exotic creatures and deeply religious subjects. Maria’s light brown skin was complemented by her deep green gown. Her black hair was styled atop her head in a complicated arrangement, and within it rested a lightweight tiara made of golden grapevines set with emeralds. Her throne boasted a single ivy leaf, also bejeweled with emeralds. Earth, like my master.

To Maria’s left was Master Albin Ahlberg, an imposing man whose hair was long, straight, and white. He wore tall white socks, short leather breeches, a silk shirt, and a long blue overcoat accented with green trim. His homeland was a nation made up of frigid, secretive islands in the far west called Drifafell, and the wave and sapphires on his throne announced that he was a water mage, like me. Maybe one of the last of our kind.

I stared at the sapphire-encrusted wave on his throne. If I passed the Tests, I might one day occupy that spot. I wondered, not for the first time, if Albin was the reason why the Four had been so desperate to find me and hide me away, keeping my existence secret from all but their most loyal mages. The Four all seemed wise, but Albin was by far the oldest, and peeking through the wisdom, I saw strain and fatigue. Not even a mage could keep himself alive forever, no matter how strong his will might be.

After a thorough investigation of Albin’s stoic, gray eyes, I let my gaze fall to the final member of the Four, Master Stefan Volkov, a native of Ledenstaza, the eastern seat of the Trade Nations and the home of the Sanctum. He was so swallowed by a gray fur coat and a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows I could barely see his face, but the two diamond-accented swirls of air on his throne would have told me he was an air mage even if I didn’t already know.

When I reached the edge of the fire pit, I fell into what I hoped was a graceful court curtsey and stayed that way, my gown spread out beneath me.

I didn’t need to turn and look at Nikolai, I could feel him bow and take a knee behind me. I listened to his breathing to calm myself. It was steady, strong; he was sure of me in a way I wasn’t sure of myself. He always had been. His confidence warmed me, and my shaking knees stilled.

“Rise, Nikolai Sokolov, and present your apprentice.” The voice was lilting, feminine, and dripped with a songlike accent. Maria.

“Masters, Lady, may I present Alena Kozlov of Ledenstaza and mage of water.” Nikolai’s voice was formal, but I heard the pride in it.

I smiled at the marble floor, and a trickle of warmth touched my cheeks. All I’d wanted almost from the day I’d become Nikolai’s apprentice was to make him proud. Even when I’d shunned him, fought him, distrusted and disbelieved him, there had still been a part of me that wanted to please him. He’d saved my life and though he’d never demanded anything in return, never even seemed to expect anything, I’d always wanted to repay him. Making him proud, becoming the Sanctum Mage he’d always wanted me to be, was my way of doing it.

“And do you find her worthy?” The scathing voice was Bartholomew’s.

“I do,” Nikolai answered.

“Then rise, Miss Kozlov, and face your Tests.” At the sound of Albin’s voice, I rose. My legs were cramped from holding a lowered position for so long, but I ignored the discomfort and focused my attention on the Four.

“Master Nikolai, you’re dismissed. You may return to your chambers and await the return of Miss Kozlov.” Maria flipped her dainty wrist forward, and I heard Nikolai drop his head in an informal bow and turn. I wanted to look at him, to get one last encouraging smile, but I forced myself to keep my eyes forward. Nikolai had given me strict instructions not to watch him go. “I will leave,” he’d said, “and you might be tempted to turn around, but Lena, my sprite, you must not. You must show them only strength.”

I held my blink for a moment longer than was natural, and my stomach clenched from the effort it took to hold back the overwhelming and sudden sense of despair that had set upon me.

Nikolai’s supple leather boots barely made a sound as they brushed the marble and too soon, I heard the wooden doors of the Inner Sanctum groan as they shut behind him. I was about to face the Tests of the Sanctum’s Four. And though I’d known all along I’d have to do it alone, there was a strange finality to Nikolai’s departure. No matter what happened, when this was over, I’d no longer be his apprentice.

The Wheel Mages is available for preorder on Amazon Kindle here. Keep your eyes peeled on November 29th for iBooks and print releases! 

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Process: First Draft

Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.

~ Ray Bradbury

I’m going to admit something right now that is somewhat controversial in the writing world. I am not a plotter. I don’t make storyboards or webs or charts or graphs or timelines. I just don’t. I never have (but I won’t say I never will). This little quirk of mine drove my writing professors crazy. They would assign plotting work, and I’d return with a completed story. When asked why I didn’t have an outline or the skeleton of a story, I’d shrug and say it isn’t how I write.

I’ll admit something else, too. As I write this, I’m wincing. I know plotting is super important to a majority of writers. I know I sound inexperienced and ridiculous and some in the writing world want to jump out of their chairs and strangle me through their computer screens. I know.

I also know not plotting causes major problems. I know it creates huge headaches when it comes to filling plot holes and can create stories that go on and on ad nauseam. I’ve thrown away my fair share of short stories and full-fledged manuscripts because of my lack of plotting. Hundreds of thousands of wasted words. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now and gotten down to plotting.

But (as I scrunch up my nose) I haven’t. I’m not sure why I’m so averse to it, but I am. Every time I’ve tried to sit down and plot, I’ve ended up with a prologue instead of a story line. Part of it may be impatience. I just want to write, damn it. Part of it may be the way my ideas come to me—in dreams and sudden revelations. My ideas tend to be very fragile, and if I don’t write them down in short order, I lose them. My stories proceed through my mind like movies. A scene comes to me and when I’m finished writing it, the next waltzes through the front door, demanding attention.

Sometimes, there are gaps in between scenes. For example (without spoilers), the prologue to the second book in the Changing Tides series came to me before the epilogue to The Wheel Mages. I wrote the prologue to the second book, then went back and tried to figure out how to end The Wheel Mages. I didn’t know what the end was at the time, but I knew it had one because the second book had a beginning.

My lack of plotting extends to this blog post too, for the record. I started it over a week ago and am just now getting back to finishing it. Fortunately, it’s easier to check for plot holes in a 900 word blog post than a 105,000 word manuscript.

Lack of plotting aside, the process for my first draft is relatively simple. I write all my manuscripts by hand, usually in the bathtub listening to Pandora. I find writing by hand to be more soothing than typing. It’s quieter, more romantic, and it forces me to slow down and examine my thoughts and my words in a more meaningful way.

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Here’s the entirety of The Wheel Mages in handwritten, first-draft form.

I usually write in terms of scenes, not chapters (as discussed above, see how I connected that?). I transcribe onto the computer by chapters, usually at intervals throughout the process when I’m having difficulty finding the next scene. Typing (and self-editing along the way) helps me reinvigorate my brain and get my mojo flowing again (most of the time).

As cliche as it may sound, when it comes to the story line, I let my characters guide me. I have full on fights with my characters sometimes. They really do take on a life of their own in my mind, and occasionally they refuse to do what I want or expect them to do. I’ve actually said to friends before, “Alena is being stubborn and won’t get with it.” No joke. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot:

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Please don’t mind my language!

Annoying as it may be, allowing this to happen helps me avoid snags of disingenuity. The plot I expected may not be where the story goes, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want my characters to fit into pegs I’ve created for them. Real people don’t fit into pegs or molds or categories as much as we sometimes want to force them into those places. I want my characters to be real to me, because if they aren’t real to me, they aren’t going to be real to the reader.

At the end of the day, writing is intrinsically personal. Everyone does it differently. That’s what makes it art. It also evolves. We’re always learning. As Hemingway said:

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

I try to live by that and allow myself to learn and observe and grow. I experiment. And I encourage everyone to do the same.