Why Did I Shelve my Manuscripts?

Why Did I Shelve my Manuscripts?
Photo by Min An from Pexels.

It is a very simple question. I’ve had a history of sharing here, and some of the stories shared are actually complete. Shelving books can mean putting a completed manuscript aside never to publish, it could mean planning to return to a piece later, or stopping through the development process. It happens every day to writers of all genres, and creators of all sorts of media. It’s a source of fear and anxiety in a lot of folks, not only because they may fear never finishing a masterpiece, but also because there’s a lot of judgement. As I’ve been working more diligently on completing my body of work, and reflecting on works I’ve stepped back from, I’m left wondering if that shame is misplaced. There’s millions of reasons creatives do not publish or complete a project as planned. A director starts a film and runs out of funds after their sets get rained out, or a painter hits a creative block so the massive canvas haunts their studio’s most shadowed corners. A creator could hide a story away like so many adult fanfiction authors looking back at their youthful works that are best left buried far away in a vault next to the Arc of the Covenant. The choice may be from embarrassment, but then there’s the other creator whose heart breaks at the 10th rejection letter telling them to polish it more. As I became an adult I loathed my brain because I had probably dozens of notebooks, sketchbooks, and day dreams with stories I loved that were constantly being shelved. In the last 4 years I have become much more committed to completing my stories, and I have shelved almost every major story I started, most with tears in my eyes. It hurt at times like I was admitting defeat and reminding myself I’m not talented. I’m not the gifted kid anymore, and we can call it imposter syndrome, but I felt like a grand con-artist in my worst moments. So why hit the breaks and do that to myself; why change subject and project?

In a way I want to just say it’s my ADHD and writer brain being a tag team made in Hell, but stopping a project and putting it aside is not giving up on it. A manuscript can be brilliant and masterful while the author still needs to hone other skills, and my works were far from masterful though I hope they’re brilliant in some way. However as I worked on Mind and Frost, The Hell I Burn Through, and Murderous Desires there came a point where I began to feel like I bit off more than I had the capacity to chew. I’d write and write. I’d work with my workshop diligently (kinda…sorta) and then I’d step back. In that moment, staring at printed pages and pen scratch there was a clarity. I realized three things: 1) Mind and Frost alongside Murderous Desire are too complicated because I need stop being afraid of how people perceive my writing 2) I am not ready to give my work the weight it needs to tell these tales how they need to be told. No. Actually, how I want them to be told. Southern gothic is my home place, but in 2019, as I graduated with my social work degree the revelation came that I needed to shrink to expand.

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I didn’t just put them aside in shame. I recognized what every writer needs to recognize, they can tell these stories inside them. These stories are escaping for a reason. We need to embrace it and it is necessary for a creator to recognize that they need to polish themselves through working on projects less close, less massive in their hearts/minds, and then when they’ve used other works to build more skills they’ll be able to more adequately share themselves. When creatives take the time to reflect on their skills, their journey, and what they want to give their audience and the world it can be a powerful turning point. By working on the manuscripts I have been the last two years I have completed four short stories, two erotica, and one fantasy novella which is now being rewritten again (draft number 8.5). The funny thing is my writing has gotten so much better. My story telling and characterization have been heavily praised by my friends and my workshops. It is as though my growth as a person has fed and been fed by the choice to step back from those big lofty ideas and projects. When we hold ourselves accountable to those most potent concepts that we say must be this and must be that, we can lose the bigger picture. We can lose the craft because we’re saying “I must be ready!”

It is not a failure to not be ready and it is ok to rethink your previous belief you were. It’s not shameful. It’s not lack of confidence. Sometimes it’s a blistering awareness that until you move further on your journey there are other stories you need to tell, and that will liberate you.

Have you ever put a project on hold? Are there projects you paused and in the end you were grateful so you could come back to them when you’re ready? What do you think it means to be ready?

Character Descriptions, Racism, Diversity, and Whip Cream (

What if I told you the very descriptions of characters helps maintain a status quo so ingrained that most authors never even think about it?

Not sure where I’m going?

I’m talking about character descriptions in writing, and how descriptions shape our understandings of the world. We describe characters with a rich number of descriptions, but often we encounter the same descriptions across various books and authors. The same way we’ll watch film and encounter the same visual clues about whose probably good and who is probably evil. Without question this happens in any media, but it is often nefarious. Without realizing we begin to process, internalize, and respond to the depictions of people relating them to what we see and believe to be true in the real world.

Gone with the windFor example, often darker skinned plus size black women are cast in maternal roles or as “angry” or “sassy” black women in media. (Yes I did link to an article I wrote). Being dark skinned in general is associated with criminality and negative pathology. Colorism has real world impacts, and repeats itself in stories again and again not just in black communities. A character whose dark skin isn’t dipped in exoticism or described as reflecting athleticism is often portrayed as homely, over sexual (actually fairly common in Japanese Anime), and often overly emotional or without readable emotions. Sometimes characters, such as Morgan Freeman in Robin Hood or half of his movies, possess emotions that are subdued and/or placed squarely as second to the lead.

For all the intellectual and world aware writers these stereotypes are tied to descriptions repeatedly, confirming and suggesting that those stereotypes aren’t just common but in some cases the predominate experience of X or Y person.

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from the awesome http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/post/101115852994/shoorm-the-east-asian-women-colored-hair-trope

As a fairly dark woman who has recently moved into an apartment building with a lot of Asian students I have encountered nervous hesitation on elevators. As a black woman who attended a wonderful liberal arts college full of well-meaning white folk, I have seen the curious glances wondering what I’m doing there. I have also, in virtually every setting, seen the shock about how “articulate” I am or that not black Americans are “Urban”. The word urban has been constantly interchanged with “black” over time, black characters often don’t speak outside of slang, and far too few black people are described as educated or intellectual. People learned from the stories they encountered from real life stories to fiction.

These images and words shape how we interpret our world in a feedback loop. You bring your outside associations and you get feedback as to whether your right. I grab my purse when I’m around men in elevators because my parents and the news and such drilled into me the dangers of being a single woman. So when I read a story about a woman alone in a tight space with men I expect to have my anxieties confirmed or denied. That’s the loop.

No reader is outside of society, and when they encounter the same descriptions of black characters being aggressive or the stereotype of the “cool”-kind of alternative Asian girl (usually with a streak of hair color and a bob hair cut) they reinforce the subtle cues we encounter elsewhere. We develop associations with certain words. Black becomes evil, sassy, undesirable, and represents a lack of innocence and youth. It wasn’t just readers who were racist (and bad readers) who thought Rue in Hunger Games was white. It was that those people have been taught to 1) to assume whiteness of people. In other words People are white. Other-people are not. They’re people with a hyphen at the front. 2) Because Rue is portrayed as a sweet, innocent, and in some ways pure character she couldn’t be anything else but white. She is also a stand in for Prim the protagonists sister.

Racism and prejudice were factors, but this wasn’t unique. Readers read innocent, helpful, a touch quiet…and saw white, blonde, and all those things D.W Griffith portrayed as needing protection. Many of these readers weren’t avid racists, burning crosses, they were the same people who saw Miley Cyrus trying on inner-city brown cultures and “friends” as costumes, and called her trashy while tearing up Hannah Montana posters. The same people who are probably now praising her for getting over that “phase” (read appropriation). For those people soft black girls don’t exist, and her character being portrayed by Amandla Stenberg was simply beyond everything they believed to be true, and those beliefs didn’t just appear. They were created, learned, and reinforced.

Black isn’t innocent. Innocent is light. Alabaster skin is flawless, and at worst portrayed as reflecting vanity. Black skin takes on value in an objectifying tone reflecting food, which in many cases reflects sexualization (chocolate is sensual). I don’t know about you, but I ain’t never heard of a white girl being called whip cream or an Asian girl honey gold. But maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. Yet even with that said how many Asian girls are more than the cool alternative girl, the smart girl, or a china doll? How many Asian women are more than dragon ladies or ninjas with a cold often sensual demeanor? How many Asian women are described as exotic with verbs to highlight supposed fragility, submissiveness, and hyper-femininity. How many asian men are emasculated in even the most romantic descriptions down to a soft pretty boy handsome? We can go on and on to find very limited descriptions of non-white people. Plenty of people roll their eyes at this, but sociologists, anthropologists, journalists, directors, writers, and others have been documenting this phenomenon for centuries. Literary analysis, like any media analysis, is a reflection of times and trends from language usage to social norms. Because of that how we describe characters and see characters described has a deep and lasting impact.

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Sexy whip cream mama.

Inevitably it impacts creatives. A costume designer will use short hand visual cues to help convey character, and writers will do much the same. The difference between passion and anger is often a matter of color for black women; The difference between passion and being overly emotional/sensitive is a matter of color for white women. So when a writer describes the black character as savage, animalistic, enraged, malicious, or uncontrolled then describes the white character as impassioned, possessing a righteous fury, and then makes the reasons for the anger clear if not rational it stands out. Critics of this sort of article often like to accuse people of censorship or controlling what is being written. But here’s the thing…I don’t care that the characters are described that way in one novel or two. But that those descriptions have been part of a long standing narrative against black people that appears in book repeatedly is a problem. This problem is still a problem regardless of intention.

book1Revealing Eden (hereafter known as Pearls) by Victoria Foyt received some attention a few years ago for its flat out ignorant perspective and language surrounding race. I read parts of it a while ago, but found that it read quite similarly to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a reflection of race and racial dynamics only a white person would write. Not to say white people can’t write about race in educated ways, but there is something particularly white about Pearls from the fact that Foyt tries and fails to grasp what slurs are or where they come from.

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To me the problem wasn’t the blackface. In fact in the hands of a better and more educated author it would have been splendid to deeply explore the evolution of beauty and desirability when the highly praised features of light skinned peoples become utterly undesirable. In a completely different way, check out Get Out for a version of that exploration of black bodies value v.s Black lives value in white or light spaces. Instead what Pearls offered was a lackluster exploration of race from the perspective of someone who has no conception of what prejudice truly is both in general and in herself. You can’t explore racism  from this benevolent position while referring to a black man as being primal and savage. Yeah…the descriptions of blacks are just not good. Of course as the antagonists blacks are supposed to make the reader think “what if white people were treated like black”. Whether in this book or another so often benevolent intentions or descriptions like chocolate, mocha, etc. render bodies to consumption which is sort of problematic. Negative intentions or descriptions . Again we enter the feedback loop. Again intention does not matter because we’re already in the loop.

 It isn’t just a matter of what you see either. By not demonstrating POC and others as well-rounded human beings with variety you perpetuate stereotypes. Not seeing a nerdy black boy, or a Asian weightlifter can be just as educational as only seeing them as a gang banger and as passive. Silence, in this case not showing variety, is a statement.

Its paramount to realize it isn’t just writers, directors, etc. going “We’re going to portray Asian women as submissive or alternative only. We’re only doing urban gang banger blacks and Latinos. Oh and all Indians will be generic doctors or cab drivers.” Often its a matter of what we don’t see as well.

A friend of mine showed me an article on a wordpress blog written by a student who was told the word “hence” proved she didn’t write her paper (I will try to find it). Why? She was Hispanic. In writers workshops not using the signifies, i.e stereotypes, people expect has brought people confusion and some bloggers I have followed have reported being told their manuscripts main character didn’t “seem black” or “just doesn’t read as latino” by white people when they themselves are the same race, ethnicity, etc. of their character. These situations are instance where race is in a box of behaviors and descriptions. The lack of seeing or believing that people are diverse in language use, interests, and more is just as  limiting as defining people as speaking AAVE or being nerds because when those people and characters do come along they aren’t “believable”.

Now let me say this…regardless of whether you personally felt disheartened by a lack of characters like yourself, or if you believe that no one is affected by anything they see or hear that this is real. You can find countless stories easily from people who never saw themselves on television or were, for example, forced to play the bad guy because the kids reasoned that the bad guys were black or weren’t allowed to be the princess because princesses were so often white and “fair”. So often as a nerdy black girl I encounter individuals more than willing to attack black people because they were bullied, or who say they never felt like an outsider as though everyone who says and analyzes the opposite is lying. None of that changes the social, economic, or political narrative that has serious impacts on the realities of POC and others.

So how do writers and creators respond to this trend? Do you have ideas of how to respond? How to flip the script?

Check out my next post and leave a comment below if you’d like

Writing Subversively: Diversity in Character Descriptions

Writing and Absences

Writing and Absences

Howdy, so I’ve not been abducted by aliens (yet), but I’ve been largely and somewhat sadly absent from this blog. My absence is in part due to the drain of school work and the struggle of not having the energy and drive to continue throughout the semester However I have some thoughts I’d like to share, as I get back into the habit of posting.

While sitting at my internship or staring dead-eyed into the pages of a textbook all I want to do is write more. Even when I’m doing nothing the urge to write is there when the ideas are not. You can imagine how frustrating it is to have such a strong desire, but then look at the page and NADA! NOPE! Brain gone bye-bye. Still this has been somewhat affirming because that means I really care about writing. Oddly, this has also driven me to pursue submissions to various magazines again. Last year I submitted to about 20 different places and heard back from ,I think, two if any. I wasn’t angry or depressed about it. The situation just made me switch focuses as I kept hustling. I resolved to try and improve my submissions, but I stopped because while some people can operate without direction I can’t. So I figured I would take my time to develop and finish some stories…which brings me to another issue.

As I’ve been thinking and planning submissions I’ve found myself struggling with something I have been trying to fight…I very rarely finish my stories. I’ve been trying to figure this out for years now and while the usual answer authors give is that they lose interest…I think I have another problem. Finishing stories, as I have been, is both satisfying and frightening. A finished story can disappoint you, and worse to make it shine it has to be developed, which means possibly discovering the story isn’t actually good. Call it commitment phobia, but it really stinks.Concluding a story even to later edit it seeds this strange doubt that I can’t quite get over except by forcing myself to write more. Truthfully I think this can be easiest when I limit distractions, turn off wi-fi and ignore everyone. This isn’t a matter of just being distracted, but of forcing my brain to focus. Now if I can’t write regardless then I won’t write. Why? Chances are I will barely string words into a pleasing sentence.

But those things are actually a very small part of the issue. The truth is it is hard to finish a story when that means finishing the story. I hate good-byes. I do. I have a problem letting go for a whole host of reasons. Over the last week I have been using submission deadlines to push me.

Will this work out?

Maybe.

Happy New Year My Lovelies!

Leading Questions: “I Love You, Lois Lane. Until The End of Time.”

A wonderful example of analysis of the hero and the importance of relationships.

Magnett Academy

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 26, 2016.

Love - All-Star Superman #12

Every two weeks in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Mark Stack will ask Comics Bulletin’s very own Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Why are the best superhero comics love stories?

I just got out of The Lobster, which is arguably a love story. Love isn’t a genre of story though. I’m not sure what exactly you’d call it, maybe a mode or a goal? But I’m certain it’s not a genre. Romantic comedies aren’t a genre, they’re just a trope…

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Weighing Justice With a Jury of Her ‘Peers’

Weighing Justice With a Jury of Her ‘Peers’

This is such a visceral and potent piece. I highly reccomend you read it.

Longreads

Susana Morris | Longreads | September 2017 | 20 minutes (4,997 words)

I received the notice for jury duty with mild annoyance. I hoped I wouldn’t get picked as I put the date of the summons on my calendar. I thought about how jury duty would throw me off my work schedule; how I didn’t want to participate in this particular part of civic life in small town Alabama; how I didn’t want to help someone, probably another Black person, go to jail.

But I didn’t spend too much time worrying. It was summertime and the date, during a week in the middle of September, seemed an unpleasant blip on the road far ahead. I pushed it out of my mind and tried to enjoy the remaining pieces of a waning summer in my sleepy southern town.

Eventually the summer break gave way to the fall semester, though the weather…

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Fiction– hopefully one of many short stories inspired by my travels and work over the past few years dealing with themes like identity and cultural exchange

Source: Fiction– hopefully one of many short stories inspired by my travels and work over the past few years dealing with themes like identity and cultural exchange

A writer I know rather well with an enjoyable writing style has put out this awesome read, and I’m so excited to read him again. Go give a little love, why don’t you?

Reblog: The New Trend that Kills

…wherein this story gets a cliché title…

via Microfiction Monday #7: The New Trend Kills. — my Lit Corner

I highly reccomend that everyone try to incorporate reading three micro fictions a week. They’re quick ways to get your imagination engine running. For writers they’re amazing ways to learn and practice how to condense a story. For readers, especially of genre fiction, this gives you a quick potent fix of your favorite stories. We don’t always have time to sit down and read a whole chapter, needless to say a whole trilogy. Seeking out micro fiction can be a great way to get a wonderful story into your day’s schedule. They’re short enough for lunch breaks or coffee breaks. They’re great for when you just can’t concentrate on anything for long periods of time. Being mom or dad or gran, or babysitter means you do a lot of running around, but you just might be able to read a whole piece of micro fiction before someone needs their next cup of juice because they changed their mind about wanting the glass of milk you poured five minutes ago. By searching blogs for short fiction, or buying collections on kindle or nook you may find exciting new authors and stories that stick with you forever.

Trust me the right micro fiction by the right author is totally worth it!

Second Draft Share: The Hell I Burn Through (Chapter One: Part One)

Second Draft Share: The Hell I Burn Through (Chapter One: Part One)

Continuing with the Southern Gothic theme of the last post, here is the current opening of the novelette I mentioned, The Hell I Burn Through.

Chapter One: Part One

Incense mingled with the smell of soil, salt, roses, and graveyard dust, filling Sula’s nostrils, as She sat in the darkness of the parlor. She exhaled, holding her hands out over the water bowl in front of her with her eyes closed. She inhaled again, and got a strong whiff of the graveyard, mossy, yet almost like rotten thyme and cooked spinach. Maybe it was strange she’d come to like it, but growing up around goofer dust,taken from old cemeteries, had that effect on those who’d grown up in that world. Miss Faye hated that word, goofer. Apparently it sounded far too low country for her tastes. No matter what you called it, Sula found its comfort. Somehow it still didn’t feel like she could breathe the air, despite this being her element, her birthright. The tension in the house was already thick, and it felt all the thicker when Miss Faye gave her work. But that was simply what life in the house entailed, and always had.

In her mind, Sula saw the room as though her eyes were wide open. Sula knew which way the flame of each of the twenty seven white and black candles around the room flickered, and she knew what direction Miss Faye, in her ocean blue headscarf and yellow flowers chose to pace. She could see herself too, sitting at the little table at the center of the room with the bowl in front of her, the woven dime bag satchel of whatever bodily matter brought to use to the right of the bowl, and the burning incense in front of the bowl. The bowl held filtered rain water and her reflection, which was almost perfectly still due to the bowls construction. Supposedly, according to Miss Faye, it’d been a gift for Sula though Sula was only allowed to use it when Miss Faye asked. Some people called helping themselves a gift, Sula knew, and Miss Faye had always been one of those. Well, at least, as long as Sula had been alive. Sula peered directly at herself, and realized she still had some sleep dust in the corner of her eye and that if the shoulder of her blouse fell you could see where Miss Faye had taken a switch to her shoulder yesterday. The bruise was a deep purple against her brown skin.

If Sula couldn’t do what Miss Faye wanted today? Well, then she’d be in for a world of hurtin. She had to focus. She had to breathe. There was nowhere else. No one else. There was life and there was death. There were no borders except the ones she’d been taught, and she’d been taught to break them down to find the universal connections between past and present; here and there. Somewhere a distant ancestor’s breath matched her own. Somewhere a flower blossomed. Somewhere became everywhere, and Sula breathed. From the recesses of her mind her grandfather whispered “Let yourself fall,” and she, ever the obedient girl, slipped down into everything. Before her eyes, in the dark, glitter began to flicker and there came her target, Mr. Johnson. He was a kind man to children, and often gave Sula fresh fudge from his cart for free every Christmas, and whenever he’d been by to see Miss Faye. His bald held gleamed, his once muscular body stretched from a yawn so big his fifty year old round belly jiggled. Once upon a time Miss Faye had been crazy about him, but she’d been crazier about the social club Mrs. Johnson headed.

Sula was gonna miss that chocolate and gooey fudge.

**Chapter One Part One of Draft 2**
The Hell I Burn Through is a southern gothic of intriguing whimsy and fascination with the world of southern high society, african american conjure, mojo, sensuous affairs, innocent loves, and good down home  cooking. 

The Hell I burn Promo
The promotional cover! Coming this Fall to a Kindle near you.