TagI have no idea what I am doing

New Writing Guide — So, You Want to Write Your Own Light Novel?

My post “In Defense of the Original English-Language Light Novel” has been getting a lot of attention, and as a result I’ve had a bunch of aspiring OELN authors coming out of the woodwork to ask me questions. This is fantastic–obviously–but often I just don’t have the time to sit down with them like I want to. So instead of trying to cram a bunch of information into a private message, I had some time this weekend and decided to make a guide to writing and publishing an Original English-Language Light Novel that I can point them at.

 

 

What I’ve discovered during these exchanges is that I’m often not the first OELN author they’ve contacted, but I’m sadly one of the few that have responded. I know from my own experience starting out that there are a few authors out there who can come off as aloof, but others just seem to want to keep the pool of OELN small, even actively discouraging interested writers. What I’ve learned from experience [and practice] is that the larger the pool gets, the more interest it garners—and interest is good! Established authors should mentor fledglings, give them tips, and help guide them toward success. Excluding people gets us nowhere as a community. I have made some amazing OELN author friends in the past year and found wonderful stories in the process. There is no downside to this unless you let ego get in the way.

 

 

So this is my contribution to expanding the number of original English-language light novels out there. You can find the guide under the new [aptly-labeled] “Guides” section of the site menu. If you’ve ever considered writing something of your own, [OELN or otherwise] take a look! It can seem a little daunting at first but with good information, hard work, and a lot of passion–you too can write and publish your own OELN!

 

Believe in the me that believes in you!

Atlantis: TVC Volume 3: Complete!

Finally, I’ve completed volume 3!

I know it took longer than expected due to health issues and my surprise baby, but man does it feel good to finally have it done! As of the first draft it has twenty-six chapters, and is roughly one-hundred and four-thousand words long. This will change as editing starts and beta feedback is received, but so far that makes it almost twenty-thousand words longer than volume 1–and I actually ended it early. That’s right, in the timeline it was slated to go on for at least five more chapters but the thing was getting massive. I scaled back, folded the remaining events into volume 4 [Yes, there is a volume 4 planned!] and ended it in what I felt was a good spot.

In the beginning there wasn’t really a plan for a number of volumes. I completely “pantsed” my first book, [This is a valid writing term, I swear.] deciding to just write and see where it went. I thought maybe it would be a standalone, but by the time I reached the end of volume 1 I realized there was a lot more story left and drew up a more concrete timeline of events. Together, the first three books deal with Achine’s rise to the throne and make a decent trilogy. I didn’t plan it that way, it was just a happy accident.

We are going to be moving soon, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. I have hopes that this year I might be able to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever because I have plans for a new series–one radically different from the fantasy feel of the Atlantis books–and I’m hoping to put out volume 1 of it as a NaNo effort. From there I am hoping to alternate between the two series, possibly working on them in tandem at some points. Until then I am going to take a break from writing [except for edits] because there are plans to release physical versions of the first three Atlantis books, which I am really excited about! But it is going to take some time and work to get them revised and properly formatted for print.

As of this posting the digital version of Atlantis: TVC volume 3 should be released this Winter, while the print editions for all three books will be available closer to Spring 2018. [This is subject to change without notice.]

Insert Witty Joke About Writers and Alcohol Here

Sometimes my writing brings me to strange places. This time it has lead to me making my own liqueur.

If you’ve read volume 2, then you remember a scene with someone sipping Sweet Summer out of a glass on a balcony while attempting to wax nostalgic as they drank. The Tirtessian alcohol makes a few appearances in the first half of volume 3 as well, and I got to thinking… would it be possible to actually make this?

With that thought fresh in my mind, I purchased ingredients and began to experiment. I don’t want to spoil anything too much, but I will say that trying to construct a foolproof recipe has been a test of my patience. I read up on how to make liqueur, made tweaks based off recipes similar to what I was looking for, and waited. The minimum waiting period of each batch is two weeks, and the first one failed spectacularly. I mean it was completely, utterly undrinkable–like turpentine and furniture polish had a nasty baby in my cupboard.

I started on a second batch and made some adjustments after more research. The results were much better than the first go, but it was watery somehow, and not what I wanted. I ended up trying to boil it to get it to condense, and I think that messed it up. That one was discarded as well.

So I started the third batch and held my breath, going for broke. After the two week wait I was apprehensive, and spent a long time carefully straining the cloudy, pale yellow liquid. At this stage it did not look appetizing in the least! It began to take on a brighter hue and cleaner appearance as I removed the byproducts, and my hopes began to rise.

Finally, I had strained it as far as I could and it had magically turned into something close to the bright, yellow liqueur I wrote about. Success!

Well, visual success, anyway. I mean, it looked and smelt like what I wanted, but how did it taste?

I drank a sip of it hesitantly from a small glass. It. Was. Amazing.

The final recipe feels so wasteful because after all is said and done you discard about one-half to two-thirds of the batch in order to clarify it–but what is left is a brilliant, semi-opaque, syrup-like liqueur that coats your mouth in the most wonderful way. I made it in a mason jar, and when you pop the lid off the smell of citrus perfumes the air around you. It’s not sour, like I expected. In fact it’s incredibly sweet, and that makes it feel like you aren’t drinking alcohol at all. My only regret is that I could not strain it well enough, so it’s a bit cloudier than I feel it should be. I may try to pick up a paper filter and see if that helps. [Multiple runs through a fine mesh sieve and a tea sock is how I got the result I have, so we’ll see if I waste money on that or not.]

It’s a surreal kind of indulgence to drink an alcohol that I made up, while writing the story I concocted it for–in some parts, as my characters are drinking it.

To keep it accessible to everyone, I still need to develop a non-alcoholic version. I’m not exactly sure how I am going to manage that, as the alcohol is a key component that drives the chemical change; but I have a feeling that despite my misgivings the non-alcoholic version will be the easiest to make. There will be little to no wait period–failure can happen faster than ever!


The recipe will be released close to the publication date of volume 3. It will be included in the bonus content of the book itself, and here on my blog.

Note: I wrote this over the summer, as I write some posts months in advance but don’t publish them until later. I’m clarifying since it follows my last post. The only thing I am drinking right now that would raise eyebrows is iced coffee, ha ha. [Though according to ACOG, you can drink up to 200 mg of caffeine safely. Let’s put that old wives’ tale to bed for good!]

Though… this would be a great time to work on my non-alcoholic version of Sweet Summer.

The Fragile, Fallible Writing Ego

Have you ever hit a block–one that isn’t exactly a writer’s block, but more of a confidence block? That’s where I’m sitting right now. I’ve been binging on media lately, which means I’m watching a lot of TV.

One of my favorite shows [with the worst airing schedule in the universe–pun status is: “unintended, but not unwelcome”] is premiering a new episode daily until mid-August, and it is consuming my brain currently. I just came out of season 3 of Sailor Moon Crystal, binged all of Gravity Falls, and ReLIFE; but this show destroying what is left of me. There are so few well-written shows nowadays, and the ones that are done right are just… explosively right. And despite the fact that a novel is a completely different medium from a TV show, I still sit here and think, “I will never be that good. I will never write anything remotely that good. Dammit.

After that, moving my cursor across the blank page becomes the most arduous task in the world. Even if I want to write–even if I’ve been excited to work on a scene–it’s beyond me. I don’t know if all authors have this issue, or if they just push through it until it’s gone. If I try to work through it, all that comes out is drivel. Letting Future Me “clean it up in editing” results in Future Me having to rewrite all of Past Me’s crap.

Meanwhile, my chronic illness is getting worse and some days I can’t even think well enough to handle staring at a wall much less write. So when I have a good day, and I want to write but can’t, I just make it worse by berating myself for not being able to take the opportunity. Thus, I watch TV, and… it’s a horrible cycle that just keeps going.

What stops it? A perfect storm–a good day health-wise where something within a show, book, or game stands out and sets off a spark of creativity inside of me; something that whispers that maybe everything I write isn’t trash, and that I can do this because I am the only one who can tell my story the way it needs to be told.

 

The Masks We Wear Online

Yep, this again. Another post about social media.

I have three main social media pages I try to keep updated: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter–mostly in that order. I have found considerable positive traction on Instagram [of all places!] and I am gaining a little ground on Twitter now, which I honestly didn’t expect. It goes to show that if you throw yourself at something long enough, eventually something will stick. Though now all I have in my head after typing that is a mental image of me beating the hell out of Twitter like it’s an old console TV on its last legs.

I’ve considered a YouTube channel for a few months now, but that also involves the artistic side of my light novels so it gets backburnered easily. [And we all know what the comments section is like over there…]


Roughly, yes.

Social media has been my bugbear for a while now, but you already know this. I’m a private person by nature, and it’s been difficult for me to come out of my shell while lacking that magic confidence anonymity lends people. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Despite this being stated a century before the internet would even become a thing, it seems to be more true now than when it was originally coined. Human nature doesn’t change much, and with the exception of a few outliers, we all want to be liked and accepted. It gives people a sense of value to feel like others appreciate them and their ideas.

Creators put the intimate workings of their mind on display for people to pick apart and dissect–whether it be music, writing, or artwork. Social media makes two things easy: putting your ideas in front of millions of people the world over all at once, and allowing them to judge it–and you–from behind the safety of their own mask.


Sometimes multiple masks at once…

I don’t like taking off my mask. It’s not that I am secretly a cruel or unpleasant person, [Though I feel that I am much more amicable online than off…] but that I feel my discomfort and worry bleed through my words. I’m scared. I hesitate. I re-word, erase, and refine: “Will they like this? What if someone thinks it’s awful–what if it goes viral for being terrible?” [Like that last one? I always jump to worst case scenarios.]

But to be a writer–nay, an author–you have to have a thick skin! That means you can’t be afraid to take off your mask. You can’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there! You need to handle criticism and praise with equal parts grace and aplomb. If you even hint at uncertainty, your peers will repeat this as if it is a magic incantation that will remove your doubt. I even find me telling myself this sometimes, which is awkward.

So what is a writer to do when they need to be honest and real on social media in order to connect with others in an authentic way, but find themselves full of anxiety and fear? They either stop writing, or do the exact opposite of what they are instructed to do: they create a new mask.

But… the goal was to not have a mask, right? Well, we see what happens when famous people use social media without their masks on–it doesn’t work. They alienate people, and quickly; a few of them even lose fans, and access to their own accounts for it. So you end up creating this half-mask, like the Phantom of the Opera, where you are both open and honest, but also guarded. Telling people how they should feel is stealing their agency–if something someone says about you or your work bothers you, you have every right to be upset about it! But the way you wear your own mask when others are watching says more about you than any thinly-veiled rant or tear-stained tweet ever could.

Ultimately, the magic author incantation is a lie. You cannot follow it as written. There is no way you can completely turn off your ability to care what others think about you, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise. We’re only human, and fall easily back into old habits… we trade one mask for another. It’s not a bad thing; this way we can fulfill the spirit of the incantation while being honest to both ourselves and our followers.

I believed in it for too long. I tried to bend my own feelings to fit it, trusting that it was right despite it feeling all wrong. I should know by now to listen to my gut, even when it contradicts what seems like solid advice. I took an impromptu trip to visit family recently, and had a lot of time to think about my online presence while not having much of an outlet through which to curate it. I didn’t pack my laptop, so I had what I could reach with my phone. [It was mostly Instagram, and it was largely pictures of the forest around my parent’s place in Missouri. It was… quaint… and you didn’t miss too much. Just some lousy photography of trees, flowers and my poor, misplaced-but-well-taken-care-of cats.]

I worried about leaving it quiet for so long, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Now that I’m back and updating, having had this revelation about masks, I am seeing a better response to my posts and tweets. It’s kind of magical in its own sense, but I know that it’s because I learned from my past experience, and was willing to go against what I was initially told to do.

The lesson in this is: Don’t be afraid to be yourself online, but don’t forget to protect yourself either. Remember that we’re all wearing masks out here–even when at first glance it may appear that some of us aren’t wearing one at all.

Injured! [Again]

So, uh, I tore my left rotator cuff a few days ago, and now my arm is in a sling.

Pro: It was my left, so I can still draw. Con: Can’t type. [Doing this single-handed right now, so it’s short.]

So if you don’t hear from me for a few weeks, don’t be horribly surprised. [I’m still going to put short things up on my Facebook and Instagram because I can copy/paste.]

For now, enjoy this video of me sketching some Atlantis characters!

https://www.facebook.com/authormelissawong/videos/745902278873010/

Second Chances

One of the awesome parts of self-publishing is the ability to manage everything yourself. One of the horrible parts of it is the ability to manage everything yourself. So, you have to own any awful decisions you make.

The original cover of Atlantis: TVC volume #1 was a debacle. I originally made my artwork too small, and since it wasn’t vector it didn’t scale up well. I was in love with the concept of past and future Achine standing back to back and I didn’t want to let it go–nor did I want to start over from scratch. I compromised by scaling up the colors, and re-traced the lineart to be larger in Illustrator. The end result was what I launched the book with. It looked okay from far away, but close up… it was a mess.

When it came time to make the cover for the second volume, I tried to use the same template and the graphic designer part of me revolted. She threw up, then proceeded to mentally beat me until I learned what I had done wrong. I did learn, and I set out to redesign the cover template from the ground up. Once I finished my shiny new template I was forced to admit that the old concept for the first volume not only looked awful, but it was probably hurting sales, and needed to be changed.

Yesterday I rolled out the new cover in anticipation of the release of Atlantis: TVC volume #2 later this month. I have to say, I am really liking both the new template and the new image for the cover. It is leaps and bounds better than the old cover, and will hopefully give a boost to sales since volume two is coming out in a few weeks.

Speaking of which, here is the new volume #1 cover side-by-side with the cover for volume #2. Sneak peek!

If you missed it the first time around, volume #1 is available to read for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime account. If you don’t have either of those, it will be free for everyone for a limited time this weekend! [November 7th – 8th, 2015] You can find it here.

Rolling With the Punches

Yesterday I was cleaning up the room we’ve been staying in in preparation for our move, when my daughter handed me a red plastic bowl. Inside of it was a dead spider, curled up and dried out. I cried out, “There’s a dead spider in here!” and she happily replied, “TA-DA!”

The day before I also posted an excerpt from a story I’ve been fiddling with [while I let volume #2 sit between edits] on a writing forum I frequent. It’s urban fantasy, and I’m not really a fan of it that I can tell, but the plot demanded nothing less than me going outside my comfort zone. I was having trouble with a supporting character and said as much, but I welcomed any critique people had to offer.

That morning, before my cleaning session, I hopped on to read the replies and received a huge shock–I had one review, and it tore the piece apart. This wouldn’t have been an issue, except that most of what it was tearing apart was based on incorrect information. My first instinct was to be insulted [which is pretty basic human nature] that the person couldn’t even take the time to read it without skimming. But, as I said, I frequent writing forums, and have been training to ‘take a punch’, so to speak.

I’ve been on both sides of critique before, and I know it can sting, so when I offer crit myself, I try to do due diligence; I carefully read the excerpt through once, then go back and read it again, taking notes the second time. If I don’t have time to sit and read the whole thing, I just don’t do it, because that isn’t fair to the author. Technical errors are one thing–they’re wrong because they break established grammar rules and it breaks concentration. Those jump out pretty quick, and are usually done because the person doesn’t know better. Go ahead and note those first. If you can tell me how to fix them–not just that something “seems wrong”–even better!

But then there is the content aspect of the story, and that becomes more difficult to critique; you have to ask yourself, “Can I give a truthful evaluation of this story, even if I do not like what it is about?” This means that if you normally read murder mysteries, can you read an epic fantasy story without telling the author they are doing it wrong because there aren’t enough serial killers for your taste? If you can’t be objective, you should stick to technical errors, preface it with, “I don’t read these types of stories normally, but…” or back away slowly. But sometimes when you put your work out there, you will get people who forge ahead anyway, because you asked for it.

And now we come to the content part. For starters, this person definitely skimmed because throughout the crit they kept demanding answers to questions that were already answered in the text that was posted. [Main character’s name, where the story started, etc. Strangely enough they started using the character’s name after they demanded to know it, which was odd in itself.] In the excerpt, the main character finds a book in her grandparent’s basement, and her grandmother tells her to take it with her when she goes to school . The person writing the critique demanded to know why she stole the book.

At this point, I really wanted to write off the whole crit because it was obvious that the person offering it did not read it all the way. I even asked my husband’s opinion, and he thought it was someone trolling me when I showed him. My husband hates my writing, and has no problem telling me when I am being too sensitive about anything, so clearly something was off.

I wanted to respond. Knee-jerk reaction: I wanted to point out all the things this person got wrong or missed. I wanted to be snarky, to be defensive, to point out how obnoxiously confusing it is when they tell me three sentences is too long to spend talking about the airport, but in the next statement tell me I should have described the chairs in the terminal more and made the character say/think something this character would not think or say. But the number one rule of being an author is that you don’t engage with negative reviews, and I felt that it could also apply in the case of weird, incorrect, semi-aggressive feedback. The only one who ends up looking bad in those kinds of situations is the authors. They look desperate, and defensive–even if they’re trying their hardest to not be.

In the end, I thanked the person for their feedback, and they thanked me for taking it so well. I didn’t expect them to respond–so that was a shock–but the part about me taking it well floored me. Part of me wondered if I was supposed to take it well at all. Most writers should take critique well, especially if they ask for it. Negative feedback regarding your story isn’t about you as a person, it’s about your writing. You can’t let your ego get in the way of improving your work.

Then they told me it was an interesting story, and to keep working on it. At that point the whole thing hit levels of absurdity I wasn’t prepared for.

After I packed/cleaned a bit and mulled it over, I took a shower and realized the spider story kind of applied to this. As writers, we put ourselves out there, delighted grins on our faces, dead spider in bowl. After seeing it that way I spun it around to the opposite view; the person offering the crit is just another person. When you put your work out into the world, be it art or prose, people will find it. Whether or not they like it is always a variable you can’t account for. What made this critique so weird, I finally realized, was that it was smothered in the personal opinions of the person writing it, and they wanted it to be a completely different story. Even critically-acclaimed authors get people who don’t find their work appealing. Did you hear about that guy who lambasted Terry Pratchett recently? Dear gods… I’m not even going to link it and drive traffic to the article, but it was cringe-tastic. It was so bad, it needed a portmanteau.

But even the harshest review can have seeds of truth in it, and this strange critique I received probably does too, once I figure out what is actually valid advice. So now when I return to it, I’m going to go over what I wrote and see if I can see what this person was seeing. In the meantime, I’m also waiting to see if anyone else gives feedback, so I can compare it to what this person said.

I’m still very confused by it as a whole though. So, so confused. [Like, why did they think she stole the book?!] But it does make me realize that I take my beta readers a for granted just a tiny bit. Thank you, guys, for always reading carefully and being concise with your feedback/suggestions. I appreciate it. I so do!

P.S: I’ll have Atlantis: TVC Volume #2 ready for your eyes after I move, I promise!

Finish Line

I have so much good news to report!

For starters, we found a place to live! We move in the second week of September.

Because of this my mood improved, and I stated writing like a person possessed–so much that I finished the book yesterday! The first draft of Atlantis: TVC Volume #2 is now complete!

I made homemade sushi for dinner last night in celebration! I was planning to make it at some point this week–which is why I had the ingredients on hand–but tonight seemed like as good a time as any. So now full of sushi, I sit and… wait.

Yeah. I Wait.

After I finish the first draft I let it sit for at least a week before I go back for edits. Any sooner than that and I’m too close to having written it. I need to look at it with fresh eyes, so that any inconsistencies, misspellings, wonky grammar, or lost words jump right out at me.

So I can shoot them in the face. [Hell yes, Michael.]
Until then I will have no idea what to do with myself. We’re living in a dining room, so I can’t start the artwork aspect yet, and I don’t typically start it until after second edits in case a scene gets cut. Plus I don’t want to plunge into Volume #3 quite yet in case edits change bits of the story.

So until then… free time. Sort of. What’s that like?

If you need me, I’ll be in the corner with my 3DS, beating the snot out of some monsters using weapons made from bits of other monsters.

The Treasures of Maps

It’s funny how varied the places are from which we look back. Sometimes it’s merely a few months; maybe a few years.

Other times, it’s seventeen years and it completely takes you by surprise.

I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about how Atlantis: TVC was originally conceived while I was in high school, in geography class; because sitting around after finishing a test is boring as… well, staring at a wall. [and if not, you now know.]

I was digging around in my documents folder and I found a stash of old files related to the original concept of Atlantis from the 90s that had somehow survived four hard drive failures, and moving across three laptops! One of those files was a map.

While this isn’t the original map–the true original one was drawn in pencil in the notebook of a former friend along with several early iterations of Achine’s design, and is long lost to me–it’s the closest thing I still have of it. It’s a horrible scan, with the levels screwed around to remove the lines from the notebook paper, then colored sometime in 2000/2001 in Photoshop. I cringe when I look at this. Cringe. Then I remember that I was fifteen at the time, and teenagers aren’t known for their cartography. I redid the Atlantian map last year when I was in the planning phase of Volume #1. This is the current map, the one you see at the front of the books.

Like night and day! You can see where I actually did research into geographical features and map making instead of half-assing it like Teen Mel did. Things moved; were renamed, rearranged. You can even see the original sigil on the first one, and how it has changed too. [It had an arrow in it, and was three-toned for no damn reason. Teen Mel made some bad choices.]

My point in dragging this out is that reflection is good. Keep your old stuff–look back on it frequently. Laugh at it. Cry if you want to. Cringe. Hold it close, because it’s precious.

Wait, what?

Yes, it’s precious. There is no way to measure how much we have grown if we have no point to compare it to! I’ve been feeling down about everything lately–and it has started to bleed over into my work, bringing my writing to a halt. But you know what? Seeing that stupid old map [circa 1998, yo!] made me realize that I may feel bad now, but in the future I will look back on this point and feel like I am doing better than right now. It was fortunate that I stumbled upon it, because it reminded me that my future self will always be better than my current self as long as I keep moving forward, practicing, trying new things–improving.

Here’s to many cringe-inducing looks backward to come! Now if you’ll excuse me, I also found an old fanfic I wrote from the same year, and I have plans to read it and hate myself. I’m sure it’s horrible.

If you need me, I’ll be hiding my shame behind this cat…