Tag Archives: amwriting

Research Road Trip: Queen Whilamena State Park

(I’ve edited and re-published this post from last year because I wanted to add more pictures and remember a fun road trip while I am sheltering in place. I hope all of you who read this are safe and healthy and I wish nothing but the best for you during these difficult times. I love you all!)

Last Summer (as I write this) I drove down to Mena, Arkansas with the intention of hiking in the morning at Queen Whilamena State Park and driving around in the afternoon exploring the teeny-tiny towns surrounding the state park.

The drive down was really pleasant. But then it started raining. Thankfully, by the time I got to the Queen Whilamena Lodge and Restaurant the rain had stopped BUT there was fog EVERYWHERE!

I had not checked the weather on my phone. I didn’t even think about the possibility of anything but clear skies and humid air (Summer in Arkansas, y’all). But that is not what I got.

There was a fleeting moment where my heart sank and I thought, “I drove all this way and now I have to go home…”

But then I took another look at the fog, which was literally getting thicker by the minute and I thought, “HOLY SHIT THIS IS PERFECT WEATHER FOR A HORROR NOVEL!”

I mean look at that! That’s amazing!

If I’d gone on a “normal” day I’d have hiked, got some nice pictures of trees and buildings, and gone home with nice things to think about but this–the fog, the rain–gave my setting character. Or my setting looked at me and said, “Acknowledge that I am a force of nature!” while slapping me in the face.

And there was this really nifty fungus on the trail that was all glistening and fleshy. I almost walked face first into a MASSIVE spider webs trying to photograph it.

A new beginning to Havoc’s Moon bloomed in my mind. I got to make rough stage blocking for an action scene and took pictures of this one specific outcropping from multiple angles for reference later. I was so inspired IT WASN’T EVEN FUNNY!

So the moral of this story here is think about what your setting is like in bad weather. You never know what will happen. But also, it’s important to visit, if you can, where your book is set because you’ll get to think about concrete details you may not have considered from your chair at your writing desk.

And I learned that my main character’s favorite food is not pizza like I thought it was, but fried green beans.

You never know what’s going to happen when you go out on location.

Good luck and happy writing!

How I Edit As I Draft

I write fiction one of two ways:

1. I write without editing and go, go, go until I stop or feel stupid (I’m working on that last part).

2. I write a few pages and then when I get stuck/confused/forget my train of thought I re-read and edit what I just wrote.

Sometimes I’ll set something aside and look at it again the next day. Sometimes I’ll delete and re-write a sentence 10 times before I feel comfortable enough to move on.

My ideal way to write is to just sit down and have the ideas flow out of my brain like a magical river.

This rarely happens. And it never comes out perfect.

Pulling ideas out of the air is more fun for poetry. But my fiction likes fermentation more than spontaneity.

What on earth does that mean?

I use the word fermentation because (like my academic writing) I need to think for a long time and brainstorm (aka daydream) about my story before I actually write it. Because that’s how my brain likes to structure stories.*

Now, when I write poetry I’m a complete “pantser” or discovery writer. I love the unknown of the blank page. Not so much when I write fiction. I’m not a complete “plotter” and if I write an outline I end up spending more time on that than actually writing. But I need some sort of structure to jump off of.

I am a huge fan of free writing. I love hearing other writers talk about it, I love witnessing it. I even love doing it but for the last 2 years I’ve been hopping between 3-4 established drafts of different projects so the opportunities to actually create prose have been few and far between.

I have added new paragraphs or expanded chapters here and there, I call this filling the p(L)ot holes. But not actually writing what I would consider “new” material. Now, here’s the thing. There is one big place in Work In Progress 1 where I need to write at least 2 brand new chapters. There are three places in Work In Progress 2 that need at least 20,000 words of new material. And I need to write a new ending for Work in Progress 3.

But even though I have set up deadlines for myself (again) this year and am DETERMINED to finish these particular projects THIS FUCKING YEAR I am having serious trouble getting into a creative groove and writing this new material because, I feel like, I’ve been editing and considering (too much) where my decisions have taken me and the parts of the storyline that I’ve already locked in place. I’ve closed myself off to just pulling random shit out of the air and running with it.

Editing while I write isn’t bad, sometimes I need it to remind myself where I left off or revisit the tone I was going for, or I found a better tone and I need to change it. But then I either

1. Get distracted and forget the image or feeling I was trying to insert into that section.

2. I get bogged down by all the grammar fixes and structure changes I needed to make along the way and by the time I get to the end of the edit I’ve lost the momentum/motivation to write the new things.

Does this happen to you too?

And then I get upset at myself because how can I ever not want to write?

The problem I have with brainstorming is I sometimes (okay, I a lot of the time, I’m working on it) I feel like I have to get everything perfect in my head before I can write it down. And then I get frustrated or overwhelmed.

I don’t really have a solution to this problem other than I have to REMEMBER to remind myself, whenever I feel that way, that writing is fun and I want to tell my story. Be as stubborn and persistent as you need to be to get the words out.

One thing that has been helping me is a kind of trick or game I’ve started playing with myself. When I’m stuck I challenge myself to write as SHITTILY as I can. To write the worst draft ever. On purpose. Because I can go back and change it later. (Now this might be the start of a vicious cycle because the worse it is the more I have to edit later while I’m trying to write new material and then I tell myself to write that badly and I do and on, and on, and on).

Another thing that I do is if I find I need to cut a big chunk of text or an entire paragraph out but I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do, I copy it over into another document and save it for later. If I never use it again I can always delete it or turn it into a “deleted scene” that I might post on my blog later. I hate having a digital folder filled with loads and loads of files but if that’s what I need to do to keep writing, that’s what I need to do.

I hope this little ramble has been helpful. Camp NaNoWrimo starts tomorrow and I wanted to send something out that, maybe if you write like this too, will make you feel less alone.

My Camp project this year will be Book 2 of my paranormal horror series, The Slaughter Chronicles. I’m hoping to finish all the things with Book 1 over the summer and publish it this winter. If you’re interested, you can check out the series’s prequel novella right here 🙂

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*I keep saying my brain like I’m compartmentalizing. Is that part of the problem?

Photo by Tamara Gore on Unsplash

Outside 3: 4 micropoems

winter yearning

spring hunting

summer burning

autumn starving

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spring burning

summer hunting

autumn yearning

winter starving

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summer yearning

autumn hunting

winter burning

spring starving

*

autumn burning

winter hunting

spring yearning

summer starving

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Photo by Quinsey Sablan on Unsplash

Red Lineage

A poem inspired by Khadijah Queen’s 2014 Naropa SWP Workshop at the Jack Kerouac School Of Disembodied Poetics.

Red Lineage

My name is jess tying the hawk’s leg red.

My mother’s name is red springtime in a land she wasn’t born.

My father’s name is red markings of the bombs.

My sister’s name is lovely flower red.

My brother’s name is unstoppable fission red.

My grandmother’s name is sorrow on a soft, red wind.

Her mother’s name is went back but couldn’t find them red.

I come from a people known for bombed cathedrals, long voyages across the sea, and bootlegged moonshine.

Remember me.

How I Wrote My Author Bio…

And kept updating it through the years…

I have had real trouble over the years figuring out how to present myself as a writer in a professional capacity. Having an author bio is a necessity in both traditional publishing and the independent writing community. But do I know how to write one? Maybe? Kinda?

Not really. Just like I have trouble writing a book synopsis, when I have to look at and summarize my writing self in 3 or 4 sentences my brain does the buzz buzz buzz flatline.

(Side note: I drew a comic strip in high school and one of the characters was a cat named Flatline. I need to bring back Flatline.)

All I know is when I re-read my author bio it felt stale. And cluttered with useless anecdotes about me as a person that didn’t really tell you anything about what I do or my writing.

At this moment, I’m re-organizing and “re-branding” my blog and my author bio along with it. So I thought I’d share my process and research with you.

Freelance Writing has a crisp, concise list of 6 rules that will help focus the content of your bio.

Scribe Writing focuses on the importance of the author bio in relation to marketing and also has 6 steps/rules for writing the bio. Also, a fancy template.

reedsyblog also has an author bio template and an approachable, conversational tone.

All three authors of these posts say pretty much the same things (use 3rd person, list your “credentials,” add a memorable personal detail) but the best advice I’ve heard for writing an author bio—and writing in general—is to look at your favorite authors and see how they do things.*

Two of my favorite authors are Janet Fitch and Chuck Wendig. Fitch’s bio is short and sweet; the first sentence talks about her most successful book, the second sentence talks about her 2nd most successful book, and the third sentence tells you where she lives. Wendig’s bio is a slightly longer paragraph. It mentions his blog and a laundry list of awards and publications, as well as where he lives and who his agent is.

Fitch’s bio does not employ the “personal touch” that Freelance Writing, Scribe Writing, and reedsyblog recommend. Wendig’s does a little bit at the end but it is more of an afterthought and a nod to his personality, and does not interfere with the informative content.

Back in the early 2010s my author bio also included a looooong laundry list of awards and magazine names that unfortunately no longer exist. Basically a long string of italicized letters that tried their best to put you to sleep. I also included “interesting” personal details like:

Daydreams about deepsea fishing.

Only writes when the cats let her.

Likes to (do something) and (something else) while sounding clever and esoteric.

Is surprised when she uses the word “esoteric” correctly.

I also included my day jobs in my author bio because I thought it was important that you knew that I was a STRUGGLING writer who had to SACRIFICE her writing time to feed herself (and her cats).

All of which is not relevant to my actual writing. You can get me as a PERSON by reading my blog or scrolling through my instagram.

It feels like the advice out there today gives you the option to include extra bells and whistles on your bio to be as punchy and fetching as possible while conveying ALL THE INFORMATION in a small, tidy package.

I want to do things differently this time. I want to include details that are writing-supportive and stand the test of time. Because I really don’t want to write another bio next year. So here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Jessica Halsey was born in Arkansas.

She writes poetry and contemporary fantasy and horror fiction.

Is there really anything else you need to know?

She wrote The Echo of Something Hitting for her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College.

Is the phrase “horror fiction” redundant?

She will self-publish the first book in her paranormal werewolf series, The Slaughter Chronicles, sooner rather than later.

Too much?

Okay, here’s the “final” draft:

Jessica Halsey writes poetry and genre fiction. She is the author of three chapbooks and The Slaughter Chronicles, a contemporary fantasy/horror series about werewolves. She wrote The Echo of Something Hitting for her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She was born in Arkansas, USA.

*Please don’t copy someone else’s bio and paste your name in it.

The Librarian: Short Story

(for Suzie, my best librarian friend)

THE big table makes you look smaller than you are. Like a little morsel, a macaroon, a petit four alone on a dinner plate. You twitch, fidget. You curl your spine protectively over your phone screen despite the towers of books that surround you. Ponderous tombs of science, philosophy, and madness.

The World Atlas Extraordinaire sits on a stand older than this building next to you, propped open to the Pacific Islands, resplendently corralled by the cartography of the currents, dancing whorls of sacred scarification.

Each time the door slides open your eyes dart around in your skill like scared rabbits. You’re looking toward the door now; the shining glass, the herald of the morning sun. You are waiting for someone.

I like to pretend you’re waiting for me—but the girl walks in. (Besides, I’m already here.) The girl with the navy blue sweatshirt and hair the color of milky oil sliding off a dead whale. Her face is younger than mine. Of course, she is younger. All of you are. Her uniform skirt bisects her thighs perfectly, exposing her beautifully formed knee caps and the lacy pattern of veins and arteries flowing under her skin. Her sock-less feet are so dainty that her sneakers could easily be mistaken for ballet slippers.

She should be a ballerina with long, tangled hair. But she is a student and so are you. But you are not wearing a uniform. What day is it? Sunday? Monday? Where is the nearest school?

More importantly, what time is it? It must be near Lunchtime. I’m beyond famished. Even when I eat Breakfast and Second Breakfast I’m still a bottomless pit.

She sits as you stand. You do not hug like I expected you to but you do touch her shoulder as you lean over her chair. You ask her if she needs anything. She doesn’t. She pulls out a notebook and her headphones from her pink polka-dotted tote bag. (I have a bag too but it is not made out of polka-dots.) You walk away and she begins to scribble viciously across her blank page, her ears full of music I cannot hear.

Maybe she is a poet. Poets are delicious. They taste like burnt sugar and apricot pipe tobacco. (As opposed to artists, who usually taste like soggy, fermented herbs.)

When you return her head is bowed as if in prayer and your arms are bursting with books. Paris, Venice. Belgium, Madrid.

Travel or History?

What war, if any?

What’s your poison?

And why ignore the atlas? It’s been sitting right next to you the whole time. Just like I have. Surely maps are not obsolete. I know GPS exists now-a-days but you need more than travel diaries to travel. You have to know how to get where you want to go before you even think about going there. (I speak from personal experience, of course, but rarely does anyone listen to me…listen and survive, anyway…moving on.)

She plucks her headphones out of her ears and gives you one of the most dazzling smiles I have ever seen one human give to another. Her pink-frosted lips form the shape of the softest thankyou I have read anywhere, on paper or on flesh.

Maybe you’re planning to run away together. She’s already ready. Her tote has extra clothes and a very sharp knife hidden at the bottom (a gift from an overprotective mother, no doubt. Mothers should be overprotective). And you look like you have the money to buy anything else you two might need for a—what is it called? Funny, after all this time I still don’t know your words for it.

Getaway? Suicide?

When you only live from one meal to the next? No worrying about where to sleep, what to see next? Vacation?

No, you will have nothing to go back to. When you leave it will be for forever. Your family will disown you, will harry you through the halls and hedgerows, mazes and ballrooms and strip the skin from your sorry carcass if you ever return—no wait, that’s me. Not you. Sorry.

I’ve been living from one meal to the next without worrying about where I will sleep or what I will see next, unless it’s food. I eat food, dream food. I always look for food. But my version of you abandoned me long ago.

How long will you wait before you change your mind and leave her?

Good thing you’ll never find out. You’ll never get the chance to betray her. As you sit and study the geography of possibility I creep closer.

The shadows ebb and flow around your feet.

She doesn’t have time to dig out her knife.

(Copyright 2019 by Jessica Halsey)

The Librarian isn’t interested in working today. Don’t bother her.

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The Librarian (short story) copyright 2019 Jessica Halsey

Photos by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash