Fiction in Motion: Return Home

Pictured is the Rush, Ohio, train depot in 1917. (Public Domain Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Gene Goodwin had lived in that house — breathed, grown, entertained neighborhood kids in and around it. Even now, Emma could see his long fingers looped around the wagon’s handle, giggles escaping from her and her sister as he roared down the lane with them sitting cross-legged in it. Each bump jarred their bones and sent them into the wagon’s sides and each other. It had not stopped their shrill calls for him to never stop.

The house had been something in those days: properly painted, windows with crisp white curtains fluttering in the breeze, cute shutters painted green, and the roof all in order. On good days, neither too hot or too cold, Mrs. Goodwin would set herself on the porch, much like a queen, or how Emma had envisioned one while a child, waving at those passing by and welcoming fellow women from the community to join her. The porch hadn’t been screened in back then, though it was hardly nowadays either. Its tattered screen hung in places, suspended by slithers. A creature had done a number on the material, leaving tears and holes.

Still, she swallowed, lemonade now years past tantalizing her taste buds. It and the pastries had always set so right on a hot day, surrounded by Mrs. Goodwin’s garden, a collection of daisies, coneflowers, and her prized roses. The wind would blow right, catching the lilacs, which had been uprooted at some point.

Not far from where the lilacs had grown, Emma had ogled at Gene’s automobile, an ever-in-progress project. A collection of scattered tools, a disassembled frame, and a mess of whosie whatsits. His toothy smile as he pointed out components still shone brightly in my mind, along with the hint of motor oil, long after the words were lost.

He never finished it.

Even a decade removed, she remembered, like cracking open a photo album, the day the train huffed into the depot in 1921, steam billowing as it halted. The thrum of people pressing in, pushing her against her mother, rumpling her Sunday dress and almost forcing the tiny flag from her hand. Her stomach clenched. The wails of Mrs. Goodwin as Mr. Goodwin supported her emerged from the ethers of her mind as did the wooden coffin, draped in a flag. Herself? Her face burned. Her mother had lied to her—the truth, however, was Emma had not understood, wouldn’t for a while longer.

What followed was gradual. A business here and there shuttered. The once-beautiful Goodwin house declined, little piece by little piece. The parties had stopped, Mrs. Goodwin now longer held court on her porch, and the weeds took root, snuffing out her flowers. Seeing this, the town followed until downtown only had a post office and a general store. Though years later, there had been an addition, a gas station for cars passing through.

Emma knew it was silly to pin the effect to Gene Goodwin’s not-really return from Over There, but for a child, it had been one clear moment marking the decay. She could not have fathomed the greater cause, which was far messier than a train’s arrival.

The house had never recovered, even when the new owners came in—much like the town had never returned to former glories. Now its empty brick buildings with dusty, newspaper clad windows were simply a reminder of golden days that had never come again. A testament to why she had left, taking only a suitcase and a typewriter, her salvation.

Part of her wanted to cry for Gene, who had been dug up from a beautifully crafted cemetery in France, shipped and freighted back, and now forever buried in a small cemetery outside of town—left forgotten.

That wouldn’t happen to her.

Note from the Writer: This piece began as a response to a photo prompt, which featured an elegant home that had seen better days. Recently I expanded it from a paragraph to this current version for a writer’s workshop. In the near future, I would like to expand it futher into a novella.


Historical Fiction Writer On The Road

Me at the Rennselaer Library in Jasper County, IN.

I’ve never traveled for my writing before, but this September I found myself in Jasper County, IN, researching for my historical fictional novel, which I’m tentatively calling Beneath the Black Oak.  Focusing on an Amish girl during WWI and rising tensions against anything considered German in the U.S., I had been trying to place my fictional town somewhere in Indiana — go with what you know, right?

After speaking with a professor who specializes in Anabaptist history, I began to favor Jasper County, which at the time of WWI had a small Amish community — though they later moved — and also had a close proximity to Chicago thanks to the Monon Railroad. There were, of course, questions about whether or not the county would be a completely good fit, but at least with a fictional town, I have some added leeway.

Enjoyed a great lunch at eMbers Station Brewhouse in downtown Rennsellaer.

Thankfully, the Rensselaer Library had a book specifically about Jasper County during the Great War, and since it was in the local history/genealogy section, it could not be checked out through interlibrary loan so . . . ROAD TRIP!

A two-hour drive later and I have no regrets. The book was invaluable, though it poked one small hole into my planned story, specifically it stating there was no recorded opposition to the draft. But this hole comes with a caveat, namely the time period during which Jasper County and the World War was produced. The county had put it together shortly after the war to highlight its support of the war effort — and let me say, Jasper County really did go all out despite its small size. The war may have been over, but the book still reflects that patriotic fervor from 1917-18, so perhaps they didn’t want to include too much focus on conscientious objectors. Additionally, a fictional town might allow me to skirt this issue.

In addition to completing research, I was able to draw inspiration from downtown Rensselaer’s architecture, brick roads, and courthouse.

Beyond the visit to the library, I also visited downtown Rensselaer, and it gave me a lot of good ideas of what my fictional town might look like as far as architecture goes while the drive to the city gave me an idea of what the surrounding area would look like. To my surprise, Jasper County is flatter than my native counties of Elkhart and Kosciusko. It also — to my equal shock — might even be more agricultural.

There were even greater stretches of cornfields than back home, where they are more broken up by houses, barns, woods, and the like.

This was the cutest little coffee shop and very friendly! Originally it had been an alley, but they put a roof over it and enclosed it.

The Iroquois River proved to be an inspiration as well, and as I follow it and the Monon Railroad, I landed on a potential location for my fictional town — on top of some farmer’s home. 😉

Overall, it was a fun experience to travel for a book. I got to chat with a few locals, eat lunch at the coolest restaurant, complete solid research, visit the cutest little coffee shop, and just bathe in the sights with a writer’s mindset. If you write fiction where you can actually visit a physical location, I would highly recommend it — even if that place might have changed some since the time period in which your characters dwelled in it. While time passes, history does lurk under the modern veneer.

Even 100 years later, Jasper County remembers its Doughboys. Pictured is a flag commemorating the centennial of the Armistice, which is flying outside of the Jasper County Courthouse.

Indie on a Budget: Cover Design

Indie On A Budget Header Photo

Being an indie author — if you want to do it right — is not cheap. For one thing, your work will need editing, formatting, and a cover. And don’t forget to consider a marketing budget, too! For a complete breakdown of potential costs, I highly recommend Lit Chic’s post, “You’ve Got to Spend Money to Make Money.” She goes into the nitty-gritty details using her own indie experience. And she also stresses budgets and realistic expectations for return on investment.

I’m not rich. Usually, when I start to do financially well (just well, never even approaching wealthy), I either lose an organ (down two so far!), my car acts up, or my house requires repairs. It’s like clockwork. While self-publishing Acceptance,  I was suffering gallbladder attacks, which led to the organ’s eventual removal and a pile of medical bills. Now as I’m self-publishing Long Way Down, that medical bill pile is still there, so both releases have had a shoestring budget at best. Since both are short stories, I had to have very small expectations for my ROI.

Covers, on average, can cost in the hundreds. No short story (at least not by an unestablished writer) is ever going to earn that expense back. Thankfully, I have a bit of artistic capability and opted to design and create my own e-book covers.

Progression of Acceptance cover from sketch to finished product.

At the end of the process, the digital painting had 33 visible layers in Adobe Photoshop CS4.

For Acceptance, I opted to digitally paint the cover, which would feature Svein’s pet crow, Vidar. I knew I enjoyed painting in Photoshop (I actually find it relaxing), and that I could decently draw most animals, including birds.  I started with several concept sketches on physical paper and also looked at a variety of hooded crow photos. After the groundwork was laid, I completed the line art in Photoshop and then started painting. The process spanned several months since I failed to set a strict work schedule on the project. Working with numerous layers, I eventually had the entire project done and was able to add in the text after trying a variety of font combinations.

Pros: I was able to cut a huge expense from the project; in fact, the only thing lost was time. For the most part, the cover did come out looking professional, though I figure someone more talented could have done better. I also rather enjoyed the painting process, minus some major frustrations.

An outtake from the cover where I just squiggled it all out in frustration.

There were a lot of frustrations when I got to the grass, and I took it out on the painting.

Cons: It ate up a lot of time that could have been spent writing or editing. There were major frustrations where I was pulling out my hair. You would not expect grass to be challenging to paint, but it was!

Summarized Thoughts: All the other covers in The Augur’s Rose Series will be digitally painted by me. I have many mockups sketched for subsequent entries in the series, but I hope to set up an actual schedule for future covers to streamline the process.

Minimalistic Cover
Pictured is the progression of the Long Way Down cover.

Pictured is the progression of the Long Way Down cover.

I really enjoy minimalistic book covers. There is just something pleasing about them to me. And after struggling to decide what to use for Long Way Down, I finally decided to pursue a minimalistic cover. I also set my mind on completing the cover in Adobe Illustrator. The catch is I have very little experience working with this program. My co-worker Mary, a graphic designer, was willing to give me a tutorial in Illustrator, and I went from there. Much like Acceptance‘s cover, I started with pencil sketches before translating them into the design program. Using shapes and paint brushes, I gradually worked the cover until it resembled the sketches. It still did not look very good, but when it struck me to include a city-scape along the bottom, the cover came together. I also met my one-true-love: the gradient tool. This handy-dandy tool really helped add depth and interest to the cover.

Pros: It was a good crash course in Illustrator, and I learned a lot. Overall, it also took a lot less time to complete, especially when compared to the digital painting process.

Cons: Since I’m unfamiliar with Illustrator, I feel like there are tools and tricks that I missed out on when creating this cover.

Summarized Thoughts: I will probably use Illustrator again to create more minimalistic covers. I actually have one in mind for a potential November release.

Future Indie Covers

I plan to create my own covers for future short stories. I need to get some ROI on them, and that will not happen if I outsource their covers. If I self-publish my sci-fi novel, however, I plan to hire a designer for its cover. With a novel, there is a greater chance of making that money back. Another major deciding factor is the fact –that beyond a project in one of my professional writing courses — I have never designed a wraparound book cover, which includes the front cover, the spine, and back cover.

Still, it is possible to cut down on costs as an indie author,  especially if you are just starting out. However, if you do proceed with your own covers, always seek out feedback and look at other covers in the market. Also, research common cover mistakes.

Long Way Down: A Sci-fi Short Story coverLong Way Down: A Sci-fi Short Story is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, It will automatically deliver to your Kindle or free Kindle app on Saturday, July 7.

A war orphan and survivor of genocide, twelve-year-old Yuu has learned what it takes to survive over the course of twenty raids. When her latest sanctuary comes under assault, she ignores her better instincts and rescues two siblings. However, as the city topples around them, Yuu wars with herself: abandon the younger children and increase her own chance of survival or go together to whatever end. She knows all too well what hunts them . . . and she refuses to face the monsters with red eyes again.

Life Is A Whirlwind

Writing Life Header

A lot of exciting things have been happening in my writing life in 2018. For one thing, I actually got a bite from an agent! I have been querying Heritage Lost for about 2 1/2 years, off and on. After taking a break, I’d picked up querying at the beginning of this year, and unlike past querying cycles, I wasn’t getting form letters … I was receiving silence. I’d rather have the form letters than the silent rejections.

Then, while I was on a business trip to California in April, I woke up — one of those situations where the brain is just awake. Unable to slip back to sleep, I did what any person does in the 21st century: I went to browse my cellphone, and I saw the email. My innards instantly cringed upon seeing a response to one of my queries from February as I just expected a form letter rejection. I opened it, and I could not believe my eyes. It was a FULL manuscript request. I won’t lie after reading those words, I was jumping up and down in that hotel room, quiet screaming. I did not go back to sleep afterward, even though it was pretty early in California.

I’m still waiting to hear back from the agent on that manuscript, but it is my understanding that they have a fairly large backlog, so I can patiently wait. But in the meantime, I continue to focus on other projects.

New Short Story On The Way

"Long Way Down" is coming to Amazon Kindle on Friday, July 6. Be on the look out for more information!

“Long Way Down” is coming to Amazon Kindle on Friday, July 6. Be on the lookout for more information!

Back in 2014, I had participated in a micro-fiction contest that Tipsy Lit (which appears to be no more) had held. The contests (weekly or monthly, I can’t recall) limited submissions to 500 words, and each one of these contests had a specific theme, which made it a lot of fun. The theme for this particular week/month was “Choices, Choices,” and my piece — Long Way Down put three unattended children, trapped in a war zone, into a rather precarious situation. The piece stuck with me, and over the years, I have been expanding it to its current state.

Having no word limit, I enjoyed being able to dive more into Yuu’s character: a preteen who has lost her family and has been surviving on her own for so long that she struggles on whether to help a pair of siblings trapped in similar circumstances or not. Continue reading

Don’t Ditch Emotion in Pursuit Of ‘Strength’

The saying goes that boys don’t cry, and a lot can be said about toxic masculinity and its impact on boys as they grown up, especially if they don’t fit the mold of what it “means” to be a “proper” man — showing too much emotion or pursuing certain interests, for instance. This is crops up in fiction with male characters, some of whom seem almost divorced of certain emotions. It can lead to some very uncomfortable situations frankly as characters fail to, well, be human. Continue reading

Reflecting A Real World

I’d briefly mentioned the importance of offering a diverse cast of women in the post about “agency,” and now, we are going to explore that thought in depth. Diversity is an important component to include in any story — and not just with female characters, of course — because it is good for the reader and it is good for the writer.

For readers, diversity offers a greater possibility that they will develop a personal connection with at least one character — and through that connection, the story becomes more personal. It is also a way to introduce readers to walks of life they might not be familiar with. As for writers, it stretches the creative writing muscles and allows us to step into an infinite supply of new shoes, as it were. I also believe a diverse cast opens the way to a more interesting story that sometimes takes writers down paths we might not have considered for the plot beforehand. It also opens the opportunity to shine the light on women who aren’t always portrayed in fiction — or positively portrayed.

Often times, women in fiction get pigeon-holed into set molds, particularly as damsels, femme fatales, or the unfleshed out “strong” woman (just check out for the basic feminity tropes).  Women in real-life are a full spectrum with different interests, goals, physiques, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and personalities. By showcasing those differences in fiction, a layer of realism is added.

A multitude of different women can also reduce the “wedge” effect discussed in Monday’s blog post. By having women that a FMC can relate to, get along with, or simply work with, it lessens the starkness of the only other woman within the covers of the book being viewed so poorly by the FMC as she has other women in her life that she likes and/or values. Of course, there is no excuse for not fleshing out that antagonistic character or villanizing them without supporting actions within the narrative’s framing.

Diverse female casts allow for the exploration of various relationships and how people from varying walks of life might interact with each other. There is also the opportunity to further explore different choices and how characters have a right to their choices even if others wouldn’t necessarily arrive at the same choice or even agree with them. It can make for interesting drama (not the junior high type of drama) and a chance to really push readers’ (or even the writer’s) own understandings.

For some reason, women characters have picked up a reputation for being hard to write — not everyone is of this opinion, of course. Really all it takes is pausing, looking at all the women in your life, or going to a coffee shop or some other public space, and actually watching and listening. Or as Campbell Soup would say, reflect the “real, real life” happening in front of your eyes on the page.

Women’s History Month Writing Prompt: Galentine’s Day

In the spirit of Leslie Knope, our Patron Saint of Waffles, throw a Galentine's Day celebration. It might not be Feb. 13, but this is the perfect opportunity to explore your fictional women's relationships.

In the spirit of Leslie Knope, our Patron Saint of Waffles, throw a Galentine’s Day celebration. It might not be Feb. 13, but this is the perfect opportunity to explore your fictional women’s relationships.

I’m a huge fan of Parks and Recreation, and while it is March and not Feb. 13, I felt Leslie Knope’s Galentine’s Day would make a great foundation for “Women in Fiction” Week’s writing prompt.

The Prompt

You will be gathering your fictional women (from one book/story or across a collection of your works) for a Galentine’s Day celebration. They will talk with each and interact with each other, for better or for worse depending on their relationships. Conversations should pass the Bechdel Test, or not center around the men in their lives (Brief mentions are OK). Use this prompt as a means to explore character relationships and, of course, have fun! If you choose to share your response to the prompt on your blog, please share a link in the comments below — I’d love to see them.