Thirteen

I let my mind drift, let the sound of beeping monitors and bustling nurses fade into the background. I’ve always been good at escaping. Mentally, anyway.

There was a time I tried escaping physically, too, when mental escape wasn’t enough. It was a night not so long ago, the night before I could officially call myself a teen, and I told myself that thirteen was young.

Thirteen was strong.

And maybe, I thought, if I could make it home, Jess wouldn’t have to spend our birthday at the hospital.

By the time I ripped the tubes from my nose and the I.V. from the back of my hand, the nurses had me surrounded, reminding me that age meant nothing. Not to my fatigued muscles and not to my fragile bones, strong and vibrant only eight months before.

Jess stayed by my side the entire day following, celebrating my newfound teenage-hood with the very nurses who kept me prisoner. I hate her guilt. I hate the way it makes her decisions. For as long as I can remember, Jess and I have celebrated our birthdays together, since I was born on her third. But I begged her not to that time. It was her sixteenth, and I begged her to spend it the way a teenage girl should.

But as usual, Jess never left my side. Instead of boys, music, and dancing, were tears, infection, and a catheter.

Instead of trendy clothes were hats, and even a mildly attractive wig.

I stare out the blackened hospital window now, unable to sleep. I take my thoughts elsewhere, somewhere far away and safe.  Somewhere where I am healthy and strong. In that place, I’m not poor, brave Haley, but beautiful, powerful Haley.

I draw my finger along the scar that stretches from the middle of my ribcage to just above my belly button, where it splits and continues down both sides of my abdomen—branding my stomach with the most horrific, twelve-inch upside-down Y. The raised skin is still sensitive, even raw in places, but I imagine it smooth, imagine that I wasn’t just opened like a lily six months ago.

I feel my hand over my silky head and imagine hair, too, imagine braids and ponytails and the annoyance I would feel when the wind blows it in my eyes. I would give anything to feel that annoyance again.

I feel a draft against my uneven skull instead.

It used to be red, my hair. Fiery and full of light, as Mom used to say. And once upon a time, my freckles (which seem so out of place now) matched.

My eyes burn and I set my jaw against the quivering.

I’m supposed to be strong. The strong, young cancer patient, smiling to give her mother the same hope she faked herself.

But Mom is gone and the nurses cackle outside my cracked door as though life isn’t slipping away in the rooms around them. For the first time in months, I’m alone—really and truly alone. And my solitude frees me.

I leave my bravery on the rolling tray table, along with the pudding I never touch, and let the tears spill. Tonight, I just want to be pretty again.

I want to dance like I used to, like gravity isn’t my worst enemy.

I want my first kiss, and though I know it’ll never happen, I imagine the way it would feel to have a boy’s lips against mine. Maybe Mark’s, the boy whose name decorates last year’s hot pink binder.

My solitude is interrupted when Mom enters the room, catching me in the middle of a breathless, teary gulp. She sees the tears drenching my cheeks and drops her purse at the door, rushing to me. For the briefest instant, I regret everything, because Mom could always cry at the drop of a hat, and usually I can soothe her.

But I’m still weak from leaving my strength on the tray table, and all I can do is cry the way Mom usually does.

Something strange happens when her arms encircle me. I feel something I don’t understand, coming from deep within and swelling in my chest. Then a warmth, the very warmth I’ve been fighting against. It too enters my soul, and my weeps drain me.

I don’t want to be alone, I realize, never again. But I’m not, because for the first time since the diagnosis, I absorb comfort from the same arms that rocked me as a young child, the arms to which I used to run, and the arms I’ve only recently rejected. These arms, warm and soft and smelling like childhood, give me something I can no longer give everyone else. They give me what I lacked all along and what I realize I’ve always wanted.

Thoughts of dancing again, maybe with her; thoughts of running and thoughts of hair, so long it tangles; thoughts of laughter and a body that knows no bounds.

The arms of my mother give me hope.

***

This is a piece I wrote about four years ago–a piece inspired by my little sister and her experience with battling liver cancer at age thirteen.

You Asked Me Anything…

Last week I told you to ask me anything, with the chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card, and I got exactly twenty questions! Well, here’s where I answer them. Read through (or don’t), and at the bottom I will announce the winner of the drawing! The questions were great, and thank you to all who participated. I wanted it to be quirky and off-the-wall, and though they were definitely that, there was also some great thoughtful ones. It was a fun experience! So, without further ado…

What is the date of a moment in your past you’d love to go back and relive again (but don’t tell us why)? It’s hard to pick just one, but July 30, 2015–the day I met Ryan, as well as three other amazing friends.

How much money is in the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow? Money? That crock is empty, so I would find another source of income.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: yea or nay? Yea! In fact, when Alex asked me this question on Twitter, I ran to the kitchen and made myself one.

How much time do you spend on Twitter? This one made me laugh because, really, when am I not on Twitter? In all seriousness though, for all its downsides, Twitter has introduced me to some of my best friends and it’s a great place for the writing community–in my experience. It saved my life in a very dark time, and it’s how I found my first publishing contract (a pitch contest). So though I don’t know exactly how much time I spend on it (I don’t keep count), I have mad appreciation for it.

When you write: silence or music? If music, what kind? Why, to whichever you choose? I find it goes both ways and it depends on what I’m writing. Am I editing at the time, or actually writing? Am I in a crowded place, or at home in silence? When I do listen to music while writing/editing, it’s always instrumental. I find movie scores to be my favorite background noise to writing, if there is going to be any noise or music at all. And though this isn’t music necessarily, I have even written to the fantastic sounds of a forest (if you have Google Home, ask, “Okay, Google–what sound does a forest make?”). If I’m being honest though, mostly, I write to silence, and I find that the best. The reason is I get very easily distracted, especially in recent years with my illness and brain fog. Silence keeps me focused.

“What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” (with a link to this YouTube video) Well, shave his belly with a rusty razor, of course.

If your life was a movie, who would you cast as the major players? I would say ScarJo for myself, but she would play a better me than I can (and look a better one, too).

What is your favorite faery tale? Beauty and the Beast, hands down.

If you could go back and have any meal over again, what would it be? My mom’s teriyaki chicken, back during a time when everything with my family was fun and innocent.

Anime? If yes, which is your favorite? If no, consider Miyazaki’s works. Unpopular opinion: I never got into anime, so I can’t say I have a favorite (because I haven’t seen much). I also haven’t seen any of Miyazaki’s works. *waits to get hit with rotten tomatoes*

What’s a random skillset most people wouldn’t know about you? This one was really hard for me to come up with, because I feel like I don’t really have any random skillsets. I feel like I don’t really excel at anything (cue my self-depreciating side). I had to step away from this one and think about it for a while. What I came up with is this: empathy might not be a skillset, but I do excel at it. In fact, I might excel too much at it. Sometimes, it’s hard not to get bogged down by all the emotions of those around me, or those I love who are struggling. But it has helped me be a better mother, partner, daughter, sister, and friend.

Cake or pie? Now we’re talking. Do I have to choose? I mean, they’re both great. BUT…if I was forced to choose, I would say cake.

If you could forget one experience so you could enjoy it again for the first time, what would it be and why? This is so hard to answer, because there are so many things. But the one I’m going to go with is being published for the first time. It happened in a slightly weird way and didn’t quite go the way I had hoped (that’s not to say it wasn’t a great experience), but I would love to experience a debut book again for the first time.

What book do you wish you could read for the first time again? The Passage, by Justin Cronin.

Exactly HOW MUCH wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could transform into a ten-foot robotic humanoid with a strength equal to fifty-three Hulk Hogans and hands the size of your average moose antler? Well, I would assume that in this situation, he would be able to chuck quite a bit of wood. Maybe even all the wood.

Who would win in a fight: passive-aggressive Rambo, or Gaston that actually learned empathy? Sorry, Gaston, but I think passive-aggressive Rambo would kick your ass.

What is your favorite 80’s movie? Breakfast Club

Have you ever fallen in love with someone online? Um, yes–with all of you!

Think of a classic/acclaimed book. What do you dislike about it? Okay, I’ll pick The Giver. I actually really liked this book, despite its ambiguous ending (maybe even because of that ending). But one thing I felt was lacking were the details. Its message is transparent and it almost reads more like a short story, where some things happen and just are, for no other reason than to move the plot forward. I love the message of it, but I wish there would have been more substance to it.

Is Batman a superhero? What qualifies a superhero, though? If you’re looking at the strict definition of a superhero (“a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers”), then no, Batman is not a superhero. Does he do super things and have a lot of money and cool toys with which to do the super things? Yes. But…no. He is not a technical superhero. *waits again for rotten tomatoes*

That’s it for the questions! Thanks for reading, and thanks again to everyone who participated! Last but not least: the winner of the $10 Amazon gift card is…*drum roll*… Cory Tucholski, from Twitter!

Calling all Questions

Hey, everyone! For my next blog post, I want to do an AMA…with benefits!

Do you have writer or book questions you’ve always wanted to ask? Questions about the writing process? Personal questions? Even off-the-wall creative questions? Ask away and you could win a $10 Amazon gift card!

When I say AMA (ask me anything), I mean it: anything! No question, no matter how personal, is off limits.

At the end of the week, I will do a drawing of all the participants (those who asked me questions), and one winner will get a $10 Amazon gift card from me–hooray!

So, send me your questions, either in the comments on this post, on Twitter, on Facebook, or email me at jennie@jennieritz.com!

Veil of the Rose Prologue

Hello, everyone! What have I done to keep myself busy while anxiously awaiting feedback from my beta readers (for THE GIRL MADE OF GOLD)? Well, I’ve been editing book two of HEMLOCK VEILS. It’s been so much fun jumping back into that world that I haven’t visited in far too long. I’ve missed Henry and Elizabeth dearly.

My point to this? I decided I want to share the prologue for book two (VEIL OF THE ROSE, which is a lose Sleeping Beauty retelling, but based in the same world as HEMLOCK VEILS and picking up a few months after HEMLOCK VEILS left off). So, if you’ve read HEMLOCK VEILS and want a hint of what’s next, check it out. If you haven’t read HEMLOCK VEILS, read this anyway (if you want, I mean). It doesn’t offer any spoilers, really. Just new insight we didn’t get with book one. Regardless, enjoy!

Celebrating the birth of a baby would prove a menial task for most immortals. Especially for other Wardens of the Magical Realm. But nothing had ever been more of an honor for this old man.

The new mother lay in her hospital bed, one shoulder of her gown untied. A blanket covered her recently bulging belly, and a barrette held back sweat-plastered hair. Her face flushed, her skin glowed. It defined the greatest kind of exertion, but her eyes defined a love of the highest capacity, one not even the immortal man had ever felt. Nor any man for that matter.

With occasional tears, the mother smiled and cooed soft noises at the infant in her arms—red, tiny, and wrapped in a pink blanket, and wearing a cap full of hair the color of her mother’s. The baby’s eyelids drooped with drowsiness only newborn babies could own: a drunkenness on mother’s milk. The father, just as teary-eyed, put an arm around his wife. They met each other’s eyes when their child’s would no longer open, and the old man, standing in the doorway, felt like an intruder on an intimate family moment. Out of respect, he looked down.

This baby wasn’t just any mortal though. She was special to the old man, which made her special to the other Wardens of this continent. One at a time, with the exception of the eldest, they entered the stark hospital room, joining father, mother, and newborn. Good health, a loving and loyal heart, courage: they placed their personal blessings upon the infant, her only acknowledgement of them the occasional twitch of a petite finger, embellished with a nail so teeny it was hardly visible at all.

At the Wardens’ blessings, the look on the new mother’s face was one of tolerance, at best. A Warden’s gift of fertility had given the couple what they’d prayed for, but the mother had dismissed the miracle of their pregnancy nine months before as a work of God.

The old man didn’t doubt that, but all prayers are answered through different means. It’s a mortal’s job to decide for themselves by which means those prayers are answered. To this woman, it simply couldn’t have been through her husband’s strange friends.

When the old man’s turn arrived—number eight of the nine Wardens—the mother’s smile turned from one of tolerance to one of warmth. She had grown fond of him during her pregnancy. He didn’t hold her disbelief against her. In fact, she was the way humans were supposed to be. They were supposed to be close-minded to this life. Even most the angelic souls are.

He bent and kissed the mother on the forehead, her skin warm and slightly sticky. After peeling the infant’s pink blanket slowly from her chin, in order to better view her, it hit him, what she was. He recoiled, staring at the chafed but beautiful miracle of life before him. The one he was partly responsible for. Roland, his eldest Warden brother, watched from the hallway. Technically his leader, and last of the nine, his eyes penetrated the old man’s back.

The old man turned to meet them, narrow but unreadable, while the other seven Wardens conversed happily to the side. Roland listened carefully, no doubt interested in what blessing the old man would place upon the baby. Roland too seemed aware of how special she would be one day. Only this knowledge seemed to have a different effect on him than it did on the old man.

He broke Roland’s gaze and turned back to the new family, meeting the father’s grass-colored eyes before his own fell upon the baby girl. In placing his hands on her head, he swallowed deeply, breathing through the rush that washed through his body. Discomfort radiated from the hallway, from Roland—lingering like a dark shadow over a heavenly landscape.

The old man spoke, blessing the baby with the same intuition and gifts her father had: the ability to see things and beings for what they truly were. And being moved by nothing more this his disheartening suspicion that Roland felt no reverence for this occasion, the old man whispered an added blessing on the baby: an immunity to curses.

However, he sensed that Roland, who would be the last of the Wardens to bless baby Elizabeth, would find a way to twist the old man’s blessing.

The Plotter In You

Outlining: you either love it or you hate it. If you hate it, and would rather write by the seat of your pants, you’re what we call a pantser. They say there are two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. But I think you can be a good mix of both.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation in my writing group about the difference between plotting and pantsing, with an emphasis on storyboarding. It was received well, so after a few requests, I have decided to put all the juicy information in a (long) blog post.

Both plotting and pantsing have their pros and cons. What are you–a plotter, a pantser, or both? I, personally, am a bit of both, though I lean heavily on the plotting side. I outline, think of all the story beats, write each scene on sticky notes, and then plot it on my board.

But usually, the plot changes as the story progresses, and by the third act, I have to completely re-plot the remainder of the story just to keep my head on straight. By then, the outcome of the story has transformed into something I hadn’t expected when first plotting it out. And you know what? This is a good thing! Even the most ardent planners can be surprised with the direction their stories take.

img_0624.jpg

What my process for plotting THE GIRL MADE OF GOLD looked like when I first started.

I mentioned that there are pros and cons to both pantsing and plotting, so let’s start there. Some of the pros of pantsing are:

  • It lets your creative side take over
  • As author Jessica Pennington said in a writing panel at Denver Comic Con last month, “It becomes less about me and more about the characters.”

Some of the cons, however, are:

  • It doesn’t work well with deadlines
  • You may run into the all-mighty Writer’s Block more frequently (I have a writer friend who is currently in this situation)

Or, as Chuck Sambuchino said (on pantsing), “Writing a book this way gives plotters hives.” I think that even the most creative, brilliant pantsers have something to gain from plotting. And that’s why for the majority of this post, I want to focus on plotting. Some of the types of plotting are:

  • Writing general outlines
  • Writing the different story beats, or events
  • Daily diagrams: diagram the scene you’re going to work on each day (some people do this, plotting out the scene they’re about to write, and do it on a daily basis, rather than plotting the entire novel at once, before writing a single word)
  • Book Bibles: notebooks with backgrounds on every character, details of the town in which your story takes place, etc.
  • Some use the Fantasy Fiction Formula (by Deborah Chester), and use what’s called the SPOOC (structure, protagonist, objective, opponent, climax) method. If you’re unfamiliar with it, look it up. Many writers find it very useful.
  • Storyboarding

All methods are effective and we are all so different, and work in such different ways, that what works well for some might not work well for others. Some writers even use a mix of all of them.

So, storyboarding. Why storyboard? Because…

  • It allows feedback and input from others, including your agent and/or publisher
  • It also prevents dead endings and stuck middles
  • Helps us view the story as scenic rather than expository (the whole showing vs. telling thing)
  • Helps us find the arc of the story
  • It’s right-brained and creative (it is a visual representation of the story but also allows us to view the logical progression)
  • It helps us remove scenes that don’t advance the plot
  • It helps us find the right pacing and rhythm
  • It allows us to write faster

I can attest to the writing faster part. Back in 2014, it took me about a month or two to plot out every single inch of HEMLOCK VEILS, so that when the time came to write, from start to finish, it took me only three months to write the entire 117,000-word manuscript.

“Storyboarding can greatly increase the ease and speed of writing a book,” Chuck Sambuchino says. “A journey can be a lot smoother if you know where you’re going… The magic of a storyboard is turning a book idea into a visual tool, which makes the story’s structure much easier to grasp and handle.”

While there are different methods of plotting, there are also different types of storyboarding (linear storyboarding, “W” storyboarding, etc.). And there are different methods to storyboarding (drawing it out on a white board, drawing on paper, using sticky notes or notecards, using software like Dramatica Pro, etc.). But the one I want to focus on in this post is the “W” Storyboard method.

First of all, if the idea of structure and outlining makes you fall asleep, remember you can keep it fun and engaging! Color code with markers, colored pencils, or even different sticky notes, and be as detailed as you’d like. You can even use pictures. Remember this is YOUR project–do what will motive YOU.

The “W” Storyboard Structure

There have been many variations of this over time, but the general points are the same, with a three-act structure (beginning, middle, and end). You can use it for any genre, whether you write fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, etc.

fullsizeoutput_3784

My favorite W storyboarding structure (sorry it it’s hard to read).

You can draw imaginary lines through your W and divide it up into three acts.

Act 1 (25% establish)

  • Point 1: Triggering Event (the most important place to start your story)
  • Down arrow: Setting Up the Problem (increasing the tension or drama)
  • Point 2: First Turning Point (the first low point, where things bottom out)

Act 2 (50% build)

  • Up arrow: Recovering from the Problem (where hope or new ideas provide positive momentum)
  • Point 3: Conflict/Dilemma, or the Second Triggering Event (the “pop” moment, where your story percolates and then explodes)
  • Down arrow: Deepening of the Problem
  • Point 4: Second Turning Point, or the “Black Moment” (the lowest point in the book, hence point 4 being lower than point 2 on the W picture above)

Act 3 (25% resolve)

  • Up arrow: Solving the Problem (it builds toward the resolution; new light or understanding has developed, and it brings a sense of completion or change)
  • Twist/Epiphany, or the “OMG Moment” (complications arise on the way to the resolution)
  • Point 5: End/Resolution (positive momentum builds)

There are different ways you can get started. Author Mary Carroll Moore brainstorms a list of 25 topics, chooses the 5 key points, and then places the points on the W.

Tips and Thoughts

  • As Mary Carroll Moore says, you’re placing islands. But those islands must become continents, and storyboards provide that needed structure.
  • One thing that is easy to keep in mind is that all your positive events in the story are always on the upslope and the negative events are always on the downslope. This is a great formula for where to place things.
  • The W doesn’t have to be perfect! It can be all over the place, forming little squiggles or W’s within the larger W. As long as all five points of the W are met, it doesn’t matter how many ups and downs there are in between.
  • Ensure it always reflects up and down momentum.
  • Act 1 must always be on the downslope.
  • Act 2 is partly up and partly down.
  • Act 3 is always on the upslope.
  • Right-brain thinkers are random-oriented and might enjoy the randomness of islands, so this helps them with structure.
  • Always consider theme, voice, and pacing–they should be reflected on your storyboard.
  • In your final edits, make sure the inner and outer story and dilemma are there.
  • If your storyboard ever blocks your writing, go back to your brainstormed list of topics.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t have it all figured out at first. Just fill in what you know, and then fill in the rest as you go.
  • Your storyboard should change and grow; a static storyboard will not serve your book. Like I mentioned before, new things come up, new characters might be introduced, etc., and you want to be able to accommodate. Storyboards are great for organization, so add new ideas as they come to you!
  • Do. Not. Be. Afraid. Of. It! It might seem overwhelming, but you will probably find it to be more of a friend than a foe.

How do other authors plot their books? Some examples of what other people do (just to show you how different we all are), are:

  • Betsy Dornbusch writes her tagline first, then the back cover blurb, then a whole synopsis.
  • Travis Heerman uses Scrivener for plotting and composition, but then uses MS Word for editing.
  • Mary Carroll Moore uses three different “W” storyboards–one before the first draft, one during revisions, and one during the final edit.
  • Hilary Mantel has a 7-foot tall bulletin board filled with bits of dialogue, plot ideas, and descriptions, and once she’s found a way to use the pieces, she removes them from her board.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro spends two whole years researching and then one whole year writing the book. He has giant binders with flow charts, including not only plots, but character sketches and memories. I would call these binders Book Bibles.

Lestat from Interview with the Vampire may have been talking about being a vampire when he said, “The dark gift is different for each of us,” but I like to think he was talking about us writers. That’s the gist of this here. If you take anything away from this, let it be the reminder that we all have our own methods to our madness. I just hope that I (with help from resources by other great authors) was able to shed light on some helpful tips.

So, what is your process?

The Journey Begins

For my first blog post, I thought I’d introduce myself. First of all, for those of you who don’t know, I am Jennie Ritz, formally known by the author name of Jennie Davenport. In the past, I had one novel published under that name: HEMLOCK VEILS, a paranormal romance that was a loose retelling of the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. To see my past blog posts/progress, visit my old, less-appealing site, jenniedavenportauthor.blogspot.com.

Right now, my project is a YA (young adult) paranormal romance. Sticking in line with the fairy-tale-retelling tradition, it’s a loose retelling of Rapunzel. What can I say–I love fairy tales and all things romance and magic. Currently, I’m in the revision process and my manuscript, titled THE GIRL MADE OF GOLD, is out with beta readers!

I’m a mother of three boys, I live in the best state around (Colorado), and I have an amazing partner by my side. Life has its ups and down, but those things always remain constant.

On this site, I will blog about all things writing, magic, and romance. Follow me for updates on my writing progress, writing snippets, news, and more!