My Double Life Crisis

A Guest Post by S. Usher Evans

Stars and CompassWhen one thinks of science fiction, one imagines space ships, gruff characters surviving the harshest conditions, and lots of faster-than-light zipping across the galaxy. Identity crises and learning to love oneself aren’t usually at the top of people’s lists. Even less so – using a science fiction book to heal emotionally and conquer one’s fears. But that’s exactly what happened when I self-published my first novel, Double Life.

At the end of 2013, I was in a pretty dark place, and finally decided to seek therapy to help me deal with the war in my head. In the first session, I mentioned how I seemed to have two completely different people living in my head. The first, Whit (my real name), was an intense, marathon-running, dog-rescuing, home-remodeling consultant who had aspirations of executive leadership. The other was a dramatic, creative, fearless (and utterly shameless) author whom I gave the moniker Suni (as in Sunny; Sun’s Golden Ray was my first screen name way back when).

The “girls,” as I call them, never really got along. So, obviously, the therapist suggested that I consider embracing both halves of myself. In that spirit, I created a Facebook page and told everyone I was releasing a book. Although there are many in the ol’ “mind palace,” I opted to revise and publish Double Life, the first book in a science fiction series. I chose this story as it was the most complete, not knowing that it was almost a perfect allegory to my own impending dual-identity crisis.

In the book, my main character, Lyssa, is living two distinct lives. She very much would like to be a space pirate bounty hunter, but, being a female, is not allowed to play with the men. To pay the bills, she’s stuck in her old life, struggling with a side of herself that is reviled by everyone, including her own family. I never actually saw the parallels between her journey and my own, until I was doing final revisions at the end of the book.

Lyssa travels to a fantastical place between heaven and hell. This netherworld was a plot device to help my wayward main character come to terms with herself, smashing together the two halves of her so she could accept both of them equally. She reflects on the hatred of Lyssa and how many people have abandoned her, and realizes that she, too, has abandoned herself. In fact, she’s been the worst offender.

When I wrote that paragraph in the manuscript, it elicited an emotional response so deep I felt it in my soul.

As I sat there, stunned at my own words, I realized that I, too, was guilty of abandoning myself. I had put aside writing and creative pursuits because I was afraid what others would say, afraid of being myself, afraid of being broke, afraid it would result in some catastrophe that I would never recover from. Everything I was doing with my life – even running the marathons – I was doing because I was afraid. But I wasn’t going to be afraid anymore (There were a lot of “Let it Go” solos in my car for a few months).

Eight months later, I’ve published Double Life  and written its sequel (due out in March). But the biggest change I’ve seen in myself is my own happiness. Life is not perfect, I am still anxious, emotional, and stuck in a job that I do not enjoy. But just as Lyssa learns both halves of her double life can work harmoniously together, Whit and Suni have banded together to rationally (and irrationally, when needed) work through whatever life throws my way. I have stopped letting fear dictate my every thought, finding peace in chaos, courage in the face of the unknown, and confidence that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.

I think that the more fantastical the setting, the more truthful the confessions. Science fiction takes readers to the deepest reaches of space to expose real human truths. For me, it took a journey with a stubborn bounty hunter to understand that it’s impossible to find your heaven while putting part of yourself through hell.

About Our Guest Blogger

IMG_0003_2S. Usher Evans is an author, blogger, and witty banter aficionado. Born in a small, suburban town in northwest Florida, she was seventeen before she realized that not all beach sand is white. From a young age, she has always been a long-winded individual, first verbally (to the chagrin of her ever-loving parents) and then eventually channeled into the many novels that dotted her Windows 98 computer in the early 2000’s. After high school, she got the hell outta dodge and went to school near the nation’s capital, where she somehow landed jobs at National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, capping off her educational career with delivering the commencement address to 20,000 of her closest friends. She determined she’d goofed off long enough with that television nonsense and got a “real job” as an IT consultant. Yet she continued to write, developing 20 page standard operating procedures and then coming home to write novels about badass bounty hunters, teenage magic users, and other nonsense. After a severe quarter life crisis at age 27, she decided to finally get a move on and share those novels with the world in hopes that she will never have to write another SOP again.

Where to Find Her

About Her Book

DoubleLifePiracy is a game. How much are you worth?

Since she was a little girl, everyone – from her father to the Great Creator himself – told Lyssa Peate the same thing: she’s worthless. But when she becomes the pirate bounty hunter Razia, she can see the price tag on her own head. Employed by one of the four pirate syndicates, she uses bank transactions and her considerable wits to capture rival members. At least, she would be if Razia’s boss ever gave her a chance. It’s a man’s world, and all she’s allowed to hunt are purse snatchers while she languishes on probation.

To pay the bills, she’s stuck in her old life as Lyssa, discovering and analyzing distant planets and selling them for cash. She’s doing just enough to stay out of trouble, pretending to be continuing her father’s mysterious research while away for long periods of time. Her slimy boss is always asking questions and even assigns one of her younger brothers, Vel, to intern with her. Already struggling to keep the balance between her double lives, she tries everything to rid herself of the kid…

…until the universal police mistake Lyssa’s intern for Razia’s hostage.

Where to Get Your Copy
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Smashwords
iBooks

How I’m Writing a 30-Day Novel – A Special Journal

If you’re joining us for the first time today, this is the fourth installment in my series about writing by the seat of your pants. I’m calling it a 30-day novel series because my ultimate goal is to write a complete novel in 30 days or less.

By the way, here are the links to the previous lessons:

This installment is also the final installment before novel writing begins, but more on that in a moment.

Time To Start a Journal

Any of you who have followed my blogs for any length of time know I keep journals. I love to journal. Personal journals. A general writing journal. A journal for each story. Even journals for each painting. There is no such thing as a bad journal so far as I’m concerned.

Followers of Indie Plot Twist will also know Danielle recently wrote an excellent series of posts on journaling to become a better writer (you can read the first post here).

What you may not know is that I walk every morning as weather permits. The one-mile walk gives my brain time to disconnect from the act of writing and from technology.

It doesn’t always mean my brain isn’t working on writing, however.

On one day late in the second week in the life of The Candidate, I went for my walk as usual. But every person I met and several things I observed prompted thoughts about the story at large or about the lead character. Each one was like a window opening to provide a glimpse into the massive house that this story will become.

It wasn’t surprising to have a walk like that. It has happened before.

But it was surprising to have so many of the ideas present situations and possibilities I’d never before considered for any character. Personal glimpses into human nature and how that nature might influence my lead.

So when I got home, I sat down, picked up pen and paper, and began writing.

And writing and writing and writing.

Here is a sampling.

Is one of the things the lead character struggles with a dogmatic, black-and-white attitude? If so, does she need to learn compassion? Is the discovery of the need for compassion (for deceived and deceiver alike) what she needs to learn, along with obedience?

and

I saw a women walking. She had a cell phone pressed to her ear. She didn’t acknowledge me in any way when we met. I’ve seen her before. She had a cell phone then, too. Same lack of acknowledgment. What if the lead character has a similar experience, remarks to herself how people willingly isolate themselves, then realizes she’s doing the same thing and puts her phone away?

and

Smokey came to the porch when I went out to walk. I gave him food. He was gone when I came back. Use my anger at Pepper when he attacks Smokey to inform the anger one of my characters feels when he or she sees someone being victimized.

There’s more to that day’s journaling, but the more important idea to arise from my walk was the need to be more observant. Pay more attention to the people I encounter and the places I walk through, then write down the significant things when I get back home.

Then use that material to help me get into a character’s mind and skin to understand how he thinks or the way she might respond to certain situations.

The new journal is called Notes From My Morning Walk  and I intend to add to it regularly. The goal for now is to record sights and situations that contribute to The Candidate, but there are other stories to tell, too. Many stories.

The larger goal is to become more aware of human nature and the interactions of the people around me. One can never observe enough of human nature, after all.

Conclusion

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this is the final post before writing begins. This series was written in June, as I prepared for Camp NaNoWriMo’s July event. All the while you’ve been reading these posts, I’ve been working on the novel.

But this isn’t the end of the 30-Day Novel Series. I’ve also been writing weekly updates on the Camp NaNo experience and the progress–or lack thereof–of The Candidate. After all, writing a 30-day novel is about a lot more than just the run up to writing. It’s about the writing!

So join me next week for the next installment and the next stage in the journey to writing the 30-day novel.

Journaling to Become a Better Writer III – Getting a Grip on Your Emotions

Hey, guys! It’s week three of the Indie Plot Twist clinic, Journaling to Become a Better Writer. If you missed the first two lessons, here’s where you can read about Recognizing a Story Worth Telling and Honing Your Observation Skills.

This week we’re talking about one of the most important elements of any novel, conveying your character’s emotions. Once again, journaling is a great way to practice this skill. 

crying statueHow to Do It Wrong

Beginning writers often struggle to help their readers get in touch with their character’s emotions. Sometimes we make the assumption that anybody would know how the circumstances we’re describing would feel.

Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it’s not. Either way, if we fail to let our characters express their emotions, the characters come off as unfeeling and unhuman. When that happens, the reader is unable to bond with the character and quickly ceases to care about the character and his problems.

Fortunately, keeping a journal can help in this area, too.

How?

By getting you comfortable with conveying your emotions.

Breaking Things Down

In the first lesson, I talked about how to recognize a story-worthy life event. One of the criteria was that the event had an emotional toll on you. In other words, you felt one way or another about what happened. This lesson is all about how to write about how you felt.

For the scientists and mathematicians amongst us, we’re going to break the emotional process down. (Scary, huh?) Specifically, we’re going to break down how to write about your feelings. Because, believe it or not, the ability to express our feelings in writing doesn’t always come naturally. It’s an art. And it can be learned and improved upon.

So here’s the break-down on analyzing the emotional process:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did it make you feel?
  3. Why?

Let’s go into a bit more detail.

What happened? Okay, never mind. This part is pretty self-explanatory.

How did it make you feel? Try putting a word to it. Angry, sad, frustrated, elated. When you actually write your journal entry (and especially when you write your novel), chances are you won’t actually use that word. You’ll use details to show, not tell. But naming the emotion can help you focus your awareness of how you felt.

Why? Why did the event make you feel that way? This is your journal. Elaborate. Explore your emotions. On one level, we’re using our journal to practice writing our emotions. But on another level, we’re also psychoanalyzing ourselves. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. No one’s ever going to read this but you. My personal position is that if you can’t delve into your own deepest feelings, you’re not likely to get far delving into those of your characters.

Elaborate, Please

An SUV sat in the parking lot. The engine idled, the only sound on the abandoned street. Clouds of exhaust curled along the ground. A big man stepped out of the passenger side door. With the headlights in my eyes, I couldn’t make out his face. By the faint cab light, I registered another big guy sitting behind the steering wheel.

Two of them. One of me.

“You ready?”

Like, no? I contemplated making a run for it. Locking myself in my apartment. Counting on my dog to bark and growl at the door with her hackles up and her teeth glistening with drool.

So, if you had to pick a word to describe how I felt in the middle of that situation, what would you say? Scared? Yep. Paranoid, actually. My mind was running away with me. Don’t worry. Nothing happened.

But here’s the lesson: Don’t assume your reader automatically knows how you felt. Take the time to describe it–remembering to show, not tell. In fiction, if you don’t take the time to describe your character’s emotions, you actually rob your reader of half your story. They don’t just want to know what happened; they want to know how the character reacted.

The first paragraph in my above example uses details to set the scene, and the details I chose support the theme of “scary.” The second paragraph highlights why I found it so frightening. The last paragraph describes my reaction: I felt like running away and counting on my dog to protect me.

At no time do I say, “I was scared.” But I think you get the gist.

If you’re still trying to get the hang of the whole “show don’t tell” thing, don’t sweat it. When you’re writing your journal, go ahead and write, “I was scared,” or whatever. The important thing is to be honest with yourself about your feelings and to express them on paper. Finesse can come later.

Conclusion

However you end up writing your emotions, remember the three elements you should put on paper in some form or another:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did it make you feel?
  3. Why?

Learning to explore your own emotions can free you up to delve deeper into those of your imaginary characters. It all counts as practice.

Homework Assignment

I think you can already guess what’s coming.

  • Think back on an event that gave you a strong emotional reaction. Ask yourself what happened, how it made you feel, and why you felt that way. Now go write a journal entry about it.

As always, homework assignments are purely optional. And again, due to the personal nature of these assignments, no one is required to elaborate in the comments. But if you have any questions or thoughts you do want to share, please feel free! Or if you want any help privately, I welcome you to send me an email.

Next time, we’ll be talking about how keeping a journal can help you develop your author’s voice. That’s coming up on Wednesday the 23rd. If you haven’t done so already, you’re welcome to subscribe to the blog, so you won’t miss out on class.

And don’t forget–Carrie has two more lessons this month on time management techniques for writers. Her classes are running on Saturdays. Drop in and enjoy!

Tweet it!

Clinics in This Series:

Check out the Journaling Book!

Journaling to Become a Better Writer by Danielle Hanna

If you like this blog post series, you might like the book, too. What do your novel-in-progress and your journal have in common? Maybe more than you think. Your life, after all, is a story. The tools you need to take your craft to the next level may be hiding right under your nose.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Blio | Smashwords

 

 

 

 

Journaling to Become a Better Writer II – Honing Your Observation Skills

Welcome back to the Indie Plot Twist journaling class. If you missed the first lesson, here’s the link: Recognizing a Story Worth Telling. This week, we’re going to talk about how keeping a journal can help you hone your observation skills, and thus add dimension and detail to your writing.

What Details Can Do for Your Story

The sheriff’s deputy pulled open a door marked “DISPATCH” and ushered me through. Banks of glowing computer screens displayed unblinking images of the insides of jail cells. A wall of glass overlooked the lobby on one side and the cell blocks on the other. A voice crackled over a radio in ten code, and a man with a headset answered with equally unintelligible numerology.

The nerve center of the county. Communication central. The all-seeing eye.

I smelled pizza. Turning around, I located a food-splattered warming oven and a rat’s nest of paper plates and Styrofoam cups. 

That’s an excerpt from my journal–a behind-the-scenes tour of my local sheriff’s office. This particular snippet showcases the details I picked up on while I was in the dispatch room–not just what I saw, but also what I heard and even smelled.

Adding telling details to your novel helps plant your reader in the story world. It helps bring the story to life. It can even help make your setting more human, like in the above example. This high-tech room didn’t smell like electronics or new carpet; it smelled like pizza. And nobody bothered to keep the snack station clean.

Keeping your eyes and ears open when you’re out in the real world is a valuable skill to a writer. Any setting you find yourself in, any person you encounter, any unique object you run across, can sprout a story idea or add an element to your work in progress. Incorporating real-life details in your journal gives you practice for using imagined details in your novels.

In order to write details, you have to first observe them. That will be the focus of today’s lesson–training your mind to observe the details in the world around you. A discussion on how to write them could fill a whole ‘nother writing clinic. (In fact, plans are in the making …)

Hyde Park, LondonGrab Your Notepad

Have you ever seen an artist with a sketchpad in the park? They’re practicing their drawing skills by working off real-life models. The ducks in the pond, the old man on the bench, or the whole landscape. In the process, they’re training their eye to capture details.

That’s not a bad idea by any means. But as a writer, you’re going to grab either a notepad, your laptop, a voice recorder, or any other device of your choice and put your observations into words. Go to the mall, go to the coffee shop, go to the park–go anywhere, and just start jotting down everything that comes to you through your five senses.

Most of your observations will probably be based on sight, but don’t overlook the other senses, wherever they can apply: sound, touch, smell, and taste.

The Telling Details

You’ll probably come home from that experiment feeling like you’ve been blindsided by a million meaningless minutiae. Don’t worry. You have.

In good writing, you never list off all the details. When you do so, you end up with a meaningless laundry list. Instead, you only take time to mention the telling details.

What do I mean by telling details?

coffee shopImagine yourself back in that coffee shop again–or wherever you chose to run your observation practice session. If you had to use only one word to describe that setting, what would it be? Cozy? Chic? Clamorous? Meditative?

Choose a theme. Now ask what details from your list support that theme. Lead you to that theme. Maybe your coffee shop of choice was cozy traditional. The rough-wood floors, the criss-cross bay windows, the wrought-iron stools, the antique cash register, the old-school jazz music. Any detail that doesn’t strongly support that theme can be laid to the wayside.

Unless it’s a surprisingly contradictory detail. Such as the smell of pizza in the high-tech dispatch room at my local county sheriff’s office. Jarring details like that can add an element of humor, surprise, or humanity to your writing.

Training Your Mind 

You won’t always have a notepad on hand or the opportunity to whip it out. But that doesn’t mean you should fall asleep on the job. Particularly if you want to practice your detail work in your journal. You rarely face major life events–the stuff you end up journaling about–with a notepad in hand or the attitude that you’re in it for story writing practice.

But on a certain level … you are.

Or at least I am.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a personal mess I’m in–my writer’s brain never sleeps. Even in the middle of the most difficult situations … my mind is busy recording details. Because I know I’m going to want to journal about it later. In detail.

For the above description of the dispatch room–I had no writing or recording device of any kind, other than the brain I was born with. But for years, I’ve been training it not only to observe everything, but to remember as much as possible. I haven’t hit 100% accuracy yet, but I keep getting better.

I’m going to tell you right now, there’s no way you’re going to be able to walk into a room, look it over, then remember everything. That’s why it’s important to understand the notion of telling details.

Because it is possible to walk into a room, identify the theme, then zero in on, observe, and remember the stuff that really matters.

To help me remember what I observe, I mentally put my observations into words, as if I did have a notepad in hand. Then I drill those words over and over until I memorize them.

jade necklaceI don’t necessarily get fancy with my wording. Simple is better when playing memory games. For instance, I might notice that the woman I’m talking to is wearing a necklace featuring a carved jade stone. I might simply say “Jade” over and over. That will be enough to jog my memory later. Maybe even enough to remember how the soft green tone blended soothingly with the frills cascading down the neckline of her creamy-colored blouse.

By training my mind to observe important details in the middle of any situation, I accomplish two things:

  1. I’m prepared to write about any situation in detail.
  2. I drive myself crazy because my writer’s brain never takes a break.

But it’s a fun kind of crazy. People have actually noticed that I stare at everything when I go someplace new. What the heck. Why hide it? I’m a crazy writer and I like it.

Conclusion

The ability to work with details is super important to bringing your story world to life. And just like the artist who sketches from life models, we can work from life models to add authenticity and realism to our stories, too.

Homework Assignment

Again, whether or not you do homework is totally up to you.

  • Grab a word-recording device of your choice (notepad, laptop, voice recorder), go someplace (anyplace), and jot down as many details as you can. Pay attention to all five senses–sight, sound, smell, feel, and taste. Afterwards, choose a single word or phrase to describe the place, or a person or object you observed in that place. Now identify the details that support your one-word theme and write a description. This is a good exercise to repeat often throughout your writing career, just as artists make frequent trips to places of inspiration to sketch what they see.
  • Advanced class: Go someplace you’ve never been before. Don’t bring your notepad. Identify a theme for the place. Then pinpoint a handful of details that support that theme. Memorize them. Go home and write a description of the place. Now make a second visit to your location and see how many details you got right. Trust me, this is a super-fun exercise, even if you get half your stuff wrong. Keep practicing, and you’ll see improvement.

Next Wednesday, the 16th, we’re going to talk about how journaling can help you tackle the challenging subject of writing your characters’ emotions. If you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss out on classes!

Tweet it!

Clinics in This Series:

Check out the Journaling Book!

Journaling to Become a Better Writer by Danielle Hanna

If you like this blog post series, you might like the book, too. What do your novel-in-progress and your journal have in common? Maybe more than you think. Your life, after all, is a story. The tools you need to take your craft to the next level may be hiding right under your nose.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Blio | Smashwords