Character, to Thine Own Self be True

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Confession time: I’m a big nerd

No, it’s not true.

I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but this cool writer persona is nothing but a façade.

I’m bringing this up because what I want to talk about comes through one of my hobbies, roleplaying games. I was hooked on roleplaying games in high school with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons second edition, and I continue to game today (I’ve recently fell in love with Fate Core). It might come to no surprise to you that I’m, like 98% of the time, the Game Master of these games (the one who makes the story the players play in). As a result, I’m the one that knows/understands all the rules and I’m the one that helps everyone make their characters (the personas/people they’re going to be in the game).

It’s the character creation aspect of gaming that I want to talk about today. (This might sound like an intro to roleplaying games, but stick with it and I’ll bring it back around to writing. Promise.) So, creating a character can be as serious or as whimsical as you’d like it to be. For instance, in the current game I’m running, one of my friends got the idea to be an eighties’ business man that got turned into a vampire, but is inexplicably stuck in eighties. Another one of my friends ended up being a mermaid stripper. As you can see, things can get pretty out there if you let them.

What’s this got to do with writing? You might be saying. Give me a minute, I haven’t got there quite yet.

That’s two of my friends (the vampire and the mermaid), but I have to talk to you about my third friend (for privacy sake we’ll call him Dudley). Dudley came in, all serious like, and had a pretty solid idea for his character, came up with a good backstory for him, but as play began quickly became frustrated with things. Why wasn’t his character working the way he thought it should? Why was he having such a hard time doing what he wanted? His character is awesome, why is everything so difficult?

Let’s jump back to my vampire and mermaid friends. When we all sat down to make characters, my two friends were instantly struck with the ideas for a vampire and a mermaid. They were equally struck with the ideas that the vampire should be mentally stuck in the time period he loved the best—the eighties—and that the mermaid was fascinated by humans and ashamed of her mermaid heritage. Everyone thought this was funny, or a good reason to have a mermaid on land, and so they went with the ideas. As the game progressed they jumped into their characters’ traits and fun was had by all.

Now let’s talk about Dudley. Dudley made a character backstory that came out to make him a doofus. First, he learned about the magical in the world by being attacked by a magical being. Then he gave himself an “evil imaginary self,” which is a dual personality disorder (indicating that the trauma of the attack was too much for his weak mind to bear). Then it turns out that because he survived the initial attack by the magical thing, the magical thing has taken a liking to him and keeps coming back to play with him. On top of that, the vampire character has taken advantage of him twice in the backstory, one time causing a magical backlash onto Dudley’s character giving him a “false aura of power.”

All this adds up to, doofus.

However, as that fateful first gaming session commenced, and I, as an attentive and mischievous game master, began poking at Dudley’s character he got increasingly frustrated. Again, his character is awesome, why is everything so hard. Needless to say, Dudley went home a bit miffed about the whole thing (not the intended outcome of playing a game with your friends).

Everything’s okay now. We talked about his character, I told him my take on things, and he’d already thought about it and agreed that he should embrace the doofiness of his character. (To be fair, I did offer to help him make a new badass character).

Yeah, whatever. This still isn’t about writing.

Okay, okay. I promised to bring it back to writing, and we’re here now.

What happened with Dudley and his roleplaying character is a common problem that writers have. They have a cool character concept, but when it comes to putting the character on paper they struggle. This isn’t so much a ‘how do they fit into the story’ in a grand sense, but in a much smaller sense. In a scene by scene sense, a ‘why is this character in this scene’ sense. It’s a meshing of your concept for the character concept and their role in the story.

To bring Dudley’s character back up: His concept for the character was a badass wizard, when the execution of his character creation made him the comic relief of the group.

It is very important for you, as a writer, to line up character concepts with character motivation and character roles in your story. If you don’t it can be a shoe horning effort to find a place for your character in your story.

Alright, let me give you a literary example of what I’m talking about, just so you don’t think I’m talking out my ass. What am I going to use to prove this? Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.

Stop the eye rolling! I can hear you rolling your eyes, you know. The Internet is a magical place, it allows me to do that.

Are you done?

I’ll wait.

Okay. Bear with me, and I’ll walk you through the steps here.

So, we’re going to be comparing Twilight to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Let’s get the perfunctory disclaimers out of the way first. I love Dracula, the movie with Gary Oldman and Wynona Ryder. If you haven’t seen it and you like vampire movies I highly recommend it. I also acknowledge that Bram Stoker’s work is a classic and pivotal to the Gothic tradition. This is not me telling you that it’s not an important part of literature, or that you shouldn’t like it. This is me holding it up as an example of shoe horning.

So, we’re going to comparing Twilight to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We’re doing this because they are basically the same story: immortal creature of darkness finds his one true love and struggles to be with her because of his dark, immortal nature. They also have the same character concept in Edward and Dracula, immortal, strong, fast, predatory.

What we’re going to do is start with a scene and walk backwards through the story to find how the character fits into the story.

Let’s start with Dracula first. Remember: Dracula=immortal creature of darkness.

Here’s the scene: Dracula has found Mina in London and has just bitten her to turn her into an immortal creature of darkness to they can be immortal creatures of darkness together. Bwahahahahaha!

So…we know Mina is in London because she lives there. Dracula, though, why’s here there? Better yet, how’d he find Mina in London, I hear it’s a fairly large city and fairly congested. And Dracula has been chilling in Transylvania for the past six, seven, eight centuries. Well, it helps that, 1) one of the people from London, like the second person, Dracula knows is insane, and just so happens to be in an insane asylum run by the doctor, that’s courting one of Mina’s friends, who, coincidently, Dracula has fed upon and turned into a vampire earlier in the book. Because London only has about fifteen people in it, according to Bram Stoker’s viewpoint. Oh, and 2) the other person Dracula knows in London is a reality lawyer who just so happens to be Mina’s fiancé and had a picture with him so Dracula could see it. Going back to the first question, why is Dracula in London? Why, diversification of course. I’m immortal, and the sole ruler of an entire country, with all of Europe at my fingertips, but I want to own half a dozen rundown houses in London.

Have you spotted the shoe horning yet? It would seem Bram Stoker had a great character concept, immortal creature of darkness, was once a man who lost the love of his life, and damned himself to find her. And he does find her! I just feel like it took a lot of shoe horning him into the story Mr. Stoker wanted.

Now let’s look at Twilight. Remember: Edward=immortal creature of darkness.

Here’s the scene: A car has just lost control in a high school parking lot. Edward jumps between Bella, the love of his life now, and the truck, stopping it with his immortal creature of darkness strength.

So…why is Edward there? Edward, is in Forks because it has horrendous cloud cover that allows him and his family of vampires to walk around in the day (quiet you! I know the reason why and we’re not here to talk about that!). Yes, okay, but why is Edward in high, being that he’s 150 years old? Well, even though he’s 150 years old, he still looks seventeen, in order to keep up appearances and lead semi-normal lives, he and his “siblings” attend high school. They’re still the creepy kids in the school, but it’s better than being the creepy kids that live in that house waaay out in woods and never come into town except when they want to show off how cool they are.

See how easily Edward fits into the scene? There’s no magical coincidences about Edward knowing half of Bella’s family before he even meets her.

Character concept meets character role seamlessly. Say what you will about the actual writing or the story, but Mrs. Meyer’s planning of the story is spot on.

So, if you’re having trouble finding a reason your character is in a scene or the story at all, maybe you re-evaluate the concept you have of the character and the role they’re playing in the story.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

PS: this is the last update before I post A Dinner for Crows. It’s finished. Yay! I just need to edit it a bit and then I’ll be putting it up. I know it’s been a long time coming. It’s almost as if it’s hard to write a novel that’s any good.

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With the Bath Water

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There’s an old saying: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (you know, when you toss the water out of the metal/wood tub you used to clean your baby). Basically, it’s going for just because you had one bad experience don’t let it sour the whole thing for you. Examples include: just because one date went bad don’t stop dating; just because you had a bad time playing Monopoly don’t stop playing board games all together; just because you had a bad day at your job doesn’t mean stop working. Stuff like that. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the saying applies here, but it comes to mind when I think about this.

So, a couple months ago, in April (which is now three months now that I think about it), I watched an episode of The Know (video game news show on YouTube). The episode was all about Andrzej Sapkowski and The Witcher videogames. Quick update for those maybe not aware: The Witcher videogames are based on Andrzej Sapkowski books which feature the world of the witcher as well as the main character of the games (Geralt of Rivia).

I’m bringing this up because it’s been stuck in my brain for a while now, and I thought about it again when I sat down to write this. I’m not going to get too specific on what went down (if you’d like the story, including Sapkowski’s quotes, you can find the episode here), but the gist of the whole thing is: BOOKS are the end-all and be-all of storytelling, and videogames are crap for babies!

Let’s put aside the fact that the first game takes place five years after the events in the books, making them stand alone stories on their own. Let’s put aside the fact that these games are considered some of the best storytelling in videogames. Let’s even put aside the face that the people making the games are fans of Sapkowski and thought they were honoring him, and he just shit all over them.

Let’s put all that aside. What he said is still one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

Now, am I saying every videogame is a masterpiece? NO. GOD, NO.

That being said, I’ve read some pretty shitty books.

Here’s what I’m saying, society and culture evolve. As an example, when I was a kid in the nineties, and videogames were picking up steam, a common parental disparagement was: do something else, you can’t get a job playing videogames. Now there are literally thousands of people doing just that. To give the argument a more literary context; history, of a person, of a tribe, of the world, used to be oral, handed down from one person to another, then we had books filled with history on every subject you could imagine, and now we have access to a world of information in our pockets.

Videogames too have gone through a similar evolution. From Atari’s Pong, literally a digital version of ping-pong (and not a very good one), to arcade machines meant to take your quarters, to consoles for in home gaming. It’s not just the hardware that’s changed either. I’d like to mention a couple games now, Firewatch and That Dragon Cancer, both of these games are commonly called “walking simulators.” They’re called that because they are first person (the whole screen is your POV) point and click adventures (you use the mouse to click on things on the screen to pick them up and learn something about them). With walking simulators, the whole point of the game is the experience of going through the story with the main character, seeing how it unfolds and resolves. In the case of That Dragon Cancer, the game tells the story of the developer’s child dying of cancer. Not only did making the game help him(?) deal with the loss, he hopes that it can help other people deal with similar losses. Again, these videogames focus more on the story than the “gameplay.”

Now I’m going to mention, Until Dawn or any of the Telltale game series (Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead, Batman). While these games have some stunning visuals, and larger than life characters, the focus of these games is also the story, specifically the choices you make during play that affect the story one way or the other. There might be some quick time events (pressing certain buttons when prompted before time runs out), but basically you’re watching a movie where you get to pick what the main character does in each scene.

Writing a videogame, or having one of my stories turned into a videogame, would be pretty cool, and I would jump at the chance. Live the dream!

Here’s what I’m trying to say: don’t close your mind. There are many ways to tell a story. There are many ways that culture can evolve, and different ways it can be influenced. Sapkowski has decided that videogames have no poetry, instead of a) seeing the poetry that’s there, and b) contributing to videogames so they have more poetry. Remember, at one point television was a fad, and I dare say there’s some awesome storytelling going on there right now. Just stay open to the possibilities of storytelling.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

P.S.: Things are going slower than I’d like. A Dinner for Crows should be coming in the next month or two.

Phallacy? No, It’s Totally True

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Exciting news!

Phallacy: a Little Shop of Porn Mystery is out and you can find it here.

I hope everyone has a chance to pick it up and enjoy it. I think it makes for a funny and saucy addition to the library of my works.

Sabine is a savvy business woman who has managed to make her porn shop a success by making it a boutique that promotes sex for couples. AJ and Rocko are her grandsons, working at the store until they figure out what to do with their lives, but generally being directionless. This all changes the day they come into work to find the store has been robbed. With no proof of a robbery, and the store’s reputation hanging in the balance, the brothers rise to action. AJ and Rocko bumble their way from seedy rival porn store to the dark dungeons of an S&M club in search of help. Rocko even works up the courage to call his ex-girlfriend, a cop on the vice squad, for help. Will they find the missing merchandise, or will each lead they chase turn out to be false? Find out in: Phallacy, the first Little Shop of Porn mystery.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

The One With All the Updates

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Hey All!

Just thought I’d drop a line on what’s happening with everything.

So I’m currently working on three projects. The first is A Dinner for Crows, the story I was posting for National Novel Writing Month. Yes, I’m still working on it!! Things got a bit hectic here, and writing became a back burner thing for a couple (few) weeks, but things have been ironed out, and I’m back in the swing of things. I’m hoping to be done with Crows by the end of June. When it’s done I’ll be putting it up on the website for everyone’s enjoyment. 😀

The second project is actually an older project I recently found while rummaging around my computer. It’s called Phallacy: A Little Shop of Porn Mystery. I originally wrote the story to be a graphic novel. I met a very talented artist when I was going to conventions named AJ Sabino–you can find a link to his artist page on the sidebar–and his brother Rocko. I talked a lot to the two of them at my first convention. I just couldn’t get over their names; saying they sounded like an adult version of the Hardy Boys. With that statement, my mind went off on its own and came back with this story. I talked to AJ about him illustrating it, but life happens (on both our ends), and I ended up forgetting all about it. Well, I recently found it. Talked to AJ, asking if he minded if I just published it on my own as a story, and he said he’s cool with it. So, Phallacy should show up (I’m hoping) by the end of May or beginning of June. It’ll be up on Amazon, and due to the mature themes, it’ll probably be a bit more than my other novellas up there (to discourage all the youngsters reading my stuff). True to its name, it is a mystery story, but I was watching a lot of Venture Bros. at the time so all the humor is influenced by that.

The third thing I’m working on is a novel in short stories. Inspired by the world of Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant, I’ve been writing about a sorcerer by the name of Troublesome Knock. Troublesome Knock is the character’s taken name. This follows the rules of magic that state everyone has three names: 1) your True Name (which no one knows, not even you); 2) your Given Name (the name your parents give you when you’re born), if people know your Given Name they can control you, and you have no defense against their magic; 3) your Taken Name (by taking a name, you seal your Given Name, thus cancelling the power people have over you, unless they learn your True Name). So, the novel, which is four novellas following the same overall arc, follows Troublesome Knock who’s quit the magical world, but slowly gets pulled back into it. I’m having a lot of fun writing it. One of the things I’ve done, is have everyone’s magic manifest differently, so while each person can do the same spell the magic looks different. Troublesome’s magic manifests as shadows. Other manifestations in the stories include wind, light, smoke, and butterflies. I’m in the middle of editing the third story. I have extensive notes on the fourth. And when it’s all finished, I’m going to try throwing it in the ring of publishing. If someone picks it up, then who knows when it’ll see the light of day. If enough people pass on it (or I get frustrated with all the rejection), of course I’ll put it up on Amazon. In that case, it’d be next summer or fall for its release.

For those of you who are fans of Amsterdam and the Murder Twins, Reiner Rotterdam, and my Zodiac story, I haven’t forgotten about them. I’m hoping once I get the current projects in the finishing stages I can turn my attention back to those stories.

So that’s where I’m at right now. The writing is keeping me busy. Just the way I like it.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.

Determination Maturation

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Hey. There’s been a lot going on here. A lot of stress permeating the air. It’s put a damper on the writing.

And that’s what I’m here to talk about with you. Losing your determination, your will, to write.

This is not the same as writers’ block, though it can certainly contribute to it. It’s not the same as writers’ block because it can come over you even though you’ve been writing fine, and even have some great ideas coming to you.

It’s not about bad writing, or no writing, or over writing. In fact, I’d say, it’s causes are mostly external. Basically, it’s just life, LIFE, coming at you too much, or too fast. As life—LIFE—does this, you sit down to write. There’s nothing wrong with your writing, but in the back of your mind everything that’s going on keeps coming at you. [Yes, I know that other writers will tell you to take all that emotion and put it into your writing. And yes, I know that we—oh, I do it too—write to retreat from the world for a while, or help us process what’s going on.] I’m not saying this isn’t good advice, or that it doesn’t work. What I’m talking about is when, for whatever reason, that’s just not working. Then you have that thought. You probably know the one. The thought: ‘What am I doing?’ Then you start thinking of all the things you could be doing instead of writing. All THE THINGS that could be fixing your problems, or be better for you, instead of making up stories. This thinking leads to an apathy towards your writing. You don’t see the point of doing it.

As a writer, you’re part of a very subjective craft. There’s a lot of rejection involved in doing what we do, both professionally and personally. It can be easy at the beginning to lose your determination, but even long time writers can fall prey to this.

John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars. It was an international bestseller, and they turned it into a movie. And then he stopped writing for a while. Which some of your, I’m sure, are confused about. Well, here’s the thing, everyone seemed to love The Fault in Our Stars. It was hugely successful. How do you follow that up? What can you do that tops that? Some people were calling it a masterpiece. There’s the expectation that anything he writes from now on is going to be as good, if not better. How can he care about his next story when he’s made his masterpiece? How can he care about his next story as much as he did that one? And if he doesn’t care as much about his next story as much as he did for that is it going to be nearly as good? Is it worth writing if he doesn’t care that much?

There are many pitfalls being a writer, putting yourself out there, including success. 😊

Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story in her book Big Magic about meeting a man at a book signing. This man had been writing for fifteen (twenty?) years, but hadn’t gotten published. He asked her what to do. She told him to try doing something else, but if he didn’t feel as fulfilled as he did when he wrote, then he’s a writer and he must deal with it. (It’s a good book. I recommend it.) This man had been writing for twenty (fifteen?) years, and had finally lost his determination. No writers’ block for him, but he couldn’t see the point anymore.

I think loss of determination is even more insidious than writers’ block. You’ve probably seen my post about writers’ block, and what to do about it. But with loss of determination, the setting in of apathy, you lose connection with the thing that drives you. It’s hard to pick that back up.

Now, there are two things you can do here. (There might be more, but I don’t see them, so we’re going to stick with two.) The first thing is, take a break while. Maybe a week, maybe two, possibly a month. Give yourself time to untangle yourself. Let the urge to write build up again. Maybe during this time some of things causing stress in your life will be resolved, thus taking that off your mind.

This can work, but the problem with this method can be getting back into the writing routine. Not always, but it could happen.

Of course, sometimes the loss of determination can be born of frustration. The frustration of not being published, of continuous rejections, of seemingly not getting anywhere with your writing. (Ironically, the only way to solve any of those things is to keep writing.) So, method one won’t really help.

In this situation, method two is the way to go. Method two is, what I like to call, finding the fun in writing again. It’s exactly like it sounds, find the fun. Go back to the first things you read that made you want to write and re-read them. It could mean finding something you’d never read (fluff reading) and reading that. It could mean writing something you’d never write, a short love story if your thing is horror. If you’ve been writing a novel, try writing a play (or taking one of your short stories into a play). Sit in a coffee shop and try to come up with stories for the people you see come in for coffee. I’m a big roleplaying nerd, so I create characters (in various gaming systems) and write backstories for them. Maybe write a blog post *cough, cough*. (Excuse me.) Do anything that’s truly only for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. It’s very freeing. It can help you re-connect with your writing, which is what you need to do when this happens.

Recently, I was talking to someone about getting my MFA in Fiction. The person looked at me with disdain and confusion and said: “What can you do with that?” At the time, I didn’t really say anything, the conversation including some bad news for me, but on retrospect I wish I’d said: “You dream.”

It’s all well and good to pay the bills, to eat, but that’s just the body. What soothes the mind? What makes you get up in the morning? As writers, we are the keepers of dreams. We have the privilege to share our dreams with the world. And that’s worth staying connected to.

Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Dream yourself, dream well.

Exposing Yourself, The Hard Way

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Let’s talk about the ultimate goal of writing.

Is that a foreboding enough opening for you? Are you scared? Because fear is what I want to talk to you about today.

The ultimate goal of writing is: sharing your work with people. That’s what getting published is, putting your work out there for people to read, to experience, to absorb, and to form an opinion about.

It’s that last part that a lot of people find terrifying. The fact that people will have their own opinions about what you wrote.

How dare they!

I know, right. I don’t know about your stories, but my stuff is great.

They should just enjoy the story I wrote and keep their mouths shut!

You see, we see eye to eye on this.

Okay, let’s be serious now. First, if they kept their mouths shut then they couldn’t tell if they liked it either. Secondly, the whole editing process—you know, the part I go on and on about as an integral part of the writing process—is based on people reading your work and talking to you about it. Lastly, even after the editing is all done, and you’ve made the story you want and love, there are still going to be people that comment and critique it, because that’s the way the world works.

Some people are afraid to write, or at least put their writing out there, because of this criticism. It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. You’ve put so much time, effort, so much of yourself into this piece of literature. It’s your baby. You don’t want people to tear it down.

If you want to be a writer, one that shares their work with the world (gets published) then you just have suck it up and grow a thicker skin.

I really wish there was a secret for not letting things get to you, but there just isn’t. There are going to be people who read your stuff and just don’t like it. They won’t get certain things, or they won’t like the pacing, or how you describe something (combat for instance). They’ll feel the need to *ahem* blog about it, or write a review on your author page, or tweet about it. And you have to know their opinion is out there. There’s just no secret formula or method for dealing with it.

Let me share. There’s a review forAmsterdam and the Murder Twins in: The Oysters on Amazon.com (I’m not sure if it’s still there) that’s less than flattering. Overall the reviewer liked the story, but was confused about the pacing and didn’t know why there was a dirty cop in the story. They gave it a three -starred review, but the way they put it about the pacing and the dirty cop bugged me for a long time. To be honest, I’m not even sure why. It just did, but I got over it with time. I haven’t even thought about it until I went to write this. Another example (and this one is really personal), involves Superiority Complex. A friend of mine bought a copy of it, an actual physical copy, which was cool, they didn’t have too, and I saw it on their shelf. I took it down, amazed to see it there. I asked if they liked it, and they said they did; they liked the characters and the setting. So, I flipped through it, because that’s what I do with books (I like how the pages sound) and see all these pen marks all over the pages. Apparently, as they were reading they edited out spelling mistakes and some grammar things I missed (and it seemed there was a lot of them). At the time, I was very upset and embarrassed. I was upset because I don’t write in books, and here was a copy of mine scribbled in. I was embarrassed because this is out there online and in hard copy. It was a shock to me that my friend had done this. Why couldn’t they just read the book and liked it? Why had they taken a shot at me? Of course, they didn’t, but that’s how I felt at the time.

(I know they read the blog, so excuse me for a moment. I’m fine now. I actually find it funny.)

There’s a separate point to be made here about self-publishing not having the same support structure as mainstream publishing, but I’ll leave it for now.

I’m going to keep going, and these next ones are pretty cool. Keep reading.

I used to go to conventions before life got in the way, and money, and at one convention a group of guys came over to the table. These were teen guys. I wasn’t expecting them to buy anything, just because I was selling novels at a comic convention. But they came over, and I like talking to people, so I talked to them. As they were looking over my books, they asked if I was the same Samuel Eden that wrote Snowfall. I said I was and asked them if they’d read it. They said their friend read it and liked it so much they made them read it. Then they asked for my autograph. It was the first time that I’d ever met fans. It was really fun finding out I had some. The last example (yes, we’re getting to the end), also comes from a convention. I was at a local con, and this girl (also in her teens) came up to my table, her mother and brother in tow. She asked me if I was the author of the books I was selling, and I, of course, said yes. She proceeded to talk to me for half an hour (?), an hour (?), a while. We talked about writing, we talked about her writing, and the need to write, places to get published (there are a lot if you’re a teen—check the sidebar for one such place), and how to find more. Before she left, she gave me a hug. I guess I must have helped her. I’m glad I did. Now, she didn’t know me before she came to my table, but me putting myself out there as a writer made it possible for me to meet her. So it counts!

Here’s the point of today’s blog. When you put yourself out there, yes, you’re going to have some bad experiences (relatively speaking), but if you don’t put yourself out there then you don’t get the good experiences either. I vote for putting yourself out there. I hope you do too.

Until next time: Be you, be well. Write you, write well.

Editing is 20/20

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Hey, all! So, today I want to talk about focus. Focus in your writing, of a scene or of a chapter.

For example, say your main character is a hard worker. In the first chapter or two you show a couple, three or four even, scenes where they work hard. Now, chapter three is here, we’ll say chapter three is twenty pages, ten pages are filled with the character working hard, and ten pages are filled with an interaction with a family member. This interaction is supposed to be meaningful, a bonding point.

Based on this info, what should the focus on chapter three be?

That’s a bit of a trick question. Sorry.

See the way chapter three is set up now equal focus is given to the scenes of the character working hard as the family interaction.

Roughly speaking, equal space, equal attention/importance.

Let’s add to the example. Let’s say when asked about the story, you say it’s about this person’s life, their family bonds and becoming an adult.

Okay. Got it?

So, what should the focus of chapter three be?

If you said on the family interaction and bonding, you’d be correct.

If you want the focus of the story to be on this character’s life, family, and maturation, then that should the focus. Giving equal space to scenes of mundane labor that the character does, then leaves behind with no problem, only takes focus (the readers’) and time (yours) from the family interaction.

This isn’t to say the character being a hard worker isn’t important, but it becomes characterization. Once you’ve shown us they’re a hard worker then it can be dropped to the background. Unless their work begins to slip later on, or something interesting happens with/during their work, then, please, show the readers that.

Another example for keeping focus (from my writing group), was a story that’s a quilt of several people’s lives. Each character got their own section. So, we got to (let’s say) “Claire’s” section. The author introduced “Claire”, then promptly introduced “Roger”, who we learned a lot about. Then the author introduced “Stan”, who we got a lot of information about. Then we met “Stephanie”, who was this nice girl with mean ambition. Then “Claire” came back, and the section ended.

When I read this section of the pages the author gave the group, I found it difficult to see why “Claire” was there. We got very little of her in her own section. I think what the author was going for was a sense of “Claire” feeling out of control in her life, feeling like a bit player. This can work, the author had a solid idea for it, but the execution of the section made “Claire” a bit player. It took the readers’ focus away from “Claire”. The other characters can come into “Claire’s” life/section and be larger than her, but the readers must always have a firm gaze on “Claire”; what she’s feeling, what she’s thinking, while these larger characters are horning in on her. However, at least in the draft I read, “Claire” seemed to fade to the background completely when these characters were on the page. Then when it came back fully to her, we didn’t get that much reflection from her, almost none, before the section was over.

My point: you have to keep the focus where you want the focus.

This may sound simple, but everyone, EVERYONE, struggles with this. It demands an awareness of your writing. An awareness that takes time to build up, to hone, and to keep. The thing that makes this awareness a slippery thing to hold on to, is that you’re you, writing your story. You have all the information in your head, something that’s obvious to you about the story/in the scene might not be obvious to someone else who’s reading the story.

An interesting exercise to try, is finding an older story of yours. Just read the title, maybe the first page, to remind yourself what the story was about. Then write down the point to the story, the focus, what you wanted to accomplish with the story. Now go put that off to the side, and go read the story. Does your story conform to what you wrote down? Where was it lacking? Were there any bits of information that weren’t in the story that needed to be there/or you thought were there?

There have been several stories of mine, where people have read them and been confused by something; and I’m like: “How can they be confused? It’s obvious why this is important!” Only to re-read the story and realize I never actually explain the important thing. It was all in my head why the important thing was important, but I never actually put it in the story. My bad.

Whenever I think about focus, I think about an old black-and-white Humphrey Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon. In the movie the Maltese Falcon has been stolen, it’s all over the news, which they show you. Bogart’s character is a private eye who is hired to find the Maltese Falcon. At some point, he’s attacked by people who want him to stop looking for the Maltese Falcon. He starts to have feelings for the woman who hired him to find the Maltese Falcon, and is ultimately betrayed by her because she wants the Maltese Falcon.

Can you guess what the focus of the movie is? Yes, there’s violence, there’s love and betrayal, there’s the underlying issues of trust and relationships, but these all happen, the characters all meet to participate in said acts, because the Maltese Falcon has been stolen.

So, that’s what I think about when I think about focus.

Until next time: Be aware of yourself, focus on yourself. Be aware of your writing, focus on your writing.

The Potential of Potential Explained…Potentially

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Oooo, first post of the new year. Lots of pressure for something good. It was so much pressure that I kept put it off. Then I got to thinking about things, things writer-ly and whatnot. I came to the decision to talk to you about something deep and meaningful to me as a writer.

The blank page.

There is something beautiful to me about a blank sheet of paper, or a blank Word document. Winter is my favorite season because of the snow, and I guess that’s what it reminds me of, snow. The type of landscape after a good long and hard snow, that makes the world a white, pristine thing.

It’s calming for me to look at a blank page. It’s a space of nothing, of empty. A few times, right before I’ve started a story, I’ve sat back and stared at the blank page, soaking up the anticipation. There’s a silence to blank page that allows me to order my thoughts, the calm before the storm you might say.

Just think about it, the blank page. It’s a simple thing, flat, empty, featureless. Yet, it’s so much more. It’s whatever you put on it. If you use it for notes, then it’s a source of knowledge, a mini-library for science, or history, math, your own thoughts. As a receptacle for fiction it’s an even grander. What will it become today, for you? Will it be a pirate ship (a lot of my wonderings start with pirate ships). Will it be a space pirate ship, or a Spanish galleon? Will the focus of the page be on the hero or the villain? Will its views be as simple as black and white, or will it be covered in gray? Will the page be magical or hard bitten?

The potential (bringing us back to the title) is endless. Not only for the page, but for your words.

If there’s any resolution the new year brought to you as a writer let it be this one: take time to study a blank page, give it a good, long look. Then, by all means, fill the damn thing up!

It’s great to still be here with you.

Until next time: Be you, be well. Write you, write

Have You Met My Brothers: Na, No, Wri, and Mo?

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Okay, so let’s talk about November, the National Novel Writing Month.

It’s clear from my posting that I “lost” NaNoWriMo. A lot of things happened in November that made it a rough month. First, I started off the first week sick, but I still wrote that week. A part of the writing was stubbornness, a part of it was me making a promise to everyone out there in the ether of the Internet that I was going to do it. All I did that first week was write and sleep though, so it was a rough start, but a good start. I like to think the second week went well too. It was the third week that things started to unravel. I seriously hurt my ankle on Monday of the third week, couldn’t take time off work, and I have a job where I’m on my feet all day. So, I was completely wasted when I got home. I tried to work, but my quota of pages took a nose dive. It was clear by the middle of the third week that I was not going to complete NaNoWriMo. It took some of the pressure off. I was able to get some really good writing squeezed out of what I did do.

This was the first time I’ve ever participated in NaNoWriMo; and one of the points of the exercise was to share my impressions of it. Which are, as follows. 1) It was fun. I had fun. Not because of the deadline, not just because of the story, but because every time I sat down to write I thought of all the other people that were writing that day/week/month as part of NaNoWriMo. Writing is a very solitary act (at least the beginning part of it where it’s just you), and taking part of NaNoWriMo made me feel a part of something, a community of writers. This, in turn, made me think of everyone that follows this site, and how I hoped seeing me writing would inspire you to write. So, the togetherness (as separate as it was) was pretty cool. This was a surprise for me. 2) Writing with life is hard. Especially if writing isn’t what you use to pay the bills. I want to stress what I’ve talked about before: if you want to write, you need to cut out time to do it. I got a few pages after work, before my wife got home, and in the mornings on the weekends before she got up. Sometimes my wife has to work on the weekend, Saturday, and that’s a boon of a whole day! Yay! My point is: if you’re a writer you have to write, so you have to find time to do it. 3) Just because you “lost” NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean you’re not a writer, and it doesn’t mean the story you’re writing is over. The story is done when you say it’s done. I felt bad, at first because I didn’t get the fifty thousand words. I’ve written that in a month before, so I was upset with myself. However, my situation was different when I did that, so that mitigated some of the despair. The other thing that dulled the grief of the lost, was the fact that the end of NaNoWriMo isn’t the end of the story for me. I’m going to continue the project because I liked it so much. I’ve got a good start on my hands, I like the concept and the characters so I’m going to keep going. I think, for any writer, that’s a good thing to take away from NaNoWriMo, it’s a challenge, but (and I think this is the point they’re trying to make) it’s not about whether or not you actually get fifty thousand words in a month, but that you’re writing, and that you keep writing. My wife works with someone who “finally beat NaNoWriMo” and got the fifty thousand words, but the story “needs about forty thousand more to be complete,” so she’s finishing it. That’s awesome! Again, NaNoWriMo is a jump start, a starting point for creativity and writing, not an end goal, not a finish line.

Those are my biggest impressions of the NaNoWriMo challenge. I think it’s fun and useful. If you’re not a writer, I think you should try at least once to see what comes out of you. You might be surprised. If you are a writer, it can help you find the fun in writing again (it did for me), and can help you feel a part of a community that sometimes is sorely lacking in the profession.

I would like to say, in case it was too subtly slipped into the last paragraph, that I am continuing A Dinner For Crows. Like I said, I like the concept and the characters. So look for it around the website (not soon-soon, but soon-ish).

Until next time: Be you, be well. Write you, write well.

A Dinner For Crows-Part 3 (21865 words)

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Po rubs at his still stinging eyes, the tears haven’t fallen yet, it’s more a nervous tick at this point. Clarissa looks at him with concern writ huge on her face. She glances towards the living room, but rushes over to him instead of going after Danny.

“Are you okay?” She whispers it, but Po doubts Danny would hear her if she shouted.

Po nods forcefully. “I wasn’t expecting it to be this bad. I thought…I hoped he was past this.”

“At least he’s calm.” Clarissa darts a look over her shoulder. “That’s good, right?”

Music booms from the living room, causing them both to jump. Po might have screamed, he’s not sure, it was drowned out by the music if he did. Clarissa looks at him and gives a slight smile. She reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. Po holds up his phone, Mr. Carver’s number on the screen, all he has to do is hit the call button. Clarissa nods, they slowly walk into the living room.

The Carvers have a surround sound setup in their living room. There are speakers mounted in the corners of the room with a few tower speakers scattered about too. Danny stands in the middle of the room, hands up in front of him, face straining, pushing on the air in front of him, looking for all he’s worth like he’s trying to move something that isn’t there.

“I can see the music.” He shouts at them. “If I concentrate hard enough I can make it visible.”

Danny stands there dumbstruck. Watching his friend strain at nothing, hearing him talk about seeing things; Po’s heart drops into his stomach, he’s breathing too fast. The words ‘he’s seeing things’ loop through his mind, they make him dizzy. He turns away from the scene, unable to see his friend like this. There’s a pain in his hand. Looking down he sees his fingers white, wrapped around his phone, his whole hand shaking.

He brings the phone up, ready to call Mr. Carver.

Clarissa hits his shoulder, Po jumps from the contact, forgetting for a moment she was even there. He looks at her, she hasn’t taken her eyes off Danny. She still doesn’t look away as she paws at Po’s shoulder, finally getting a grip and turning him around.

Po turns to see Danny still straining at the air. He’s about to look away again, when something shimmers in the air around Danny’s hands. Po blinks several times to clear his eyes. He decides there’s too much going on for him, between Danny, the blaring classical music, Clarissa. Po takes a step back, wanting to get outside so he can call Mr. Carver in peace.

There’s a burst of static from the speakers. When the music comes through again, there’s golden lines pulsing through the room.

Po stops moving, stops breathing, his mind seizes. The world seems to lose its color, everything but those golden lines. They pulse with the music. Po cocks his head, the lines don’t pulse with all the music just the percussion. Danny reaches out, grabs at something, and red lines appear in the air. They vibrate with the violins.

Still holding the lines, Danny twists around and smiles at them.

“How are you doing this?” Clarissa shouts over the music, a smile splitting her face.

“I told you, with magic.” Danny lets go of the golden lines, they fade slowly, reaches out, and the green of flutes appears.

“Stop it.” Po pants where he stands. His voice doesn’t carry past him.

Clarissa moves up to the flute lines, tentatively reaching out and touching them. Her fingers go through them with nothing happening to them, she runs through the line, giggling as she does. She turns around with a grin barely contained by her face. “Nothing happened.”

“Why would it?” Danny shakes his hand around, and the line wobbles back and forth, but the music is unaffected. “It’s just a visual representation of the music you’re hearing. It’s a harmless Glamor.”

Po takes four sharp breaths to fill his lungs. “Stop it.” He pushes the words out, but there’s no force behind them.

Clarissa runs back through the flute lines, and over to stand next to Danny. “Show me another one.”

Danny lets go of the violins, reaches out, and brown lines, humming with the oboes, appear in room. “They remind me of chocolate.”

Clarissa laughs. “They do, don’t they?” She reaches out and twiddles her fingers in the oboe line.

“Stop it.” Po finally finds enough voice to be heard. Danny and Clarissa turn to look at him.

“Po, what’s wrong?” Clarissa takes a step towards him, her joy muddied with concern for him.

Danny stands there grinning. “Isn’t this great?”

“I said, stop it!” Po runs over to one of the tower speakers and throws it to the floor, the sound fades from it, but the room is still too full. Po races to a wall mounted speaker and jumps for it. He only manages to push it facing the wall.

He tries to jump for it again, but arms wrap around him from behind. “Po, stop.” Clarissa’s voice in his ear is panicked.

Po pulls himself out of her arms and jumps for the speaker again. As soon as his feet leave the floor he feels hands on his back, and he’s smashed against the wall.

“Po, don’t do this.” Clarissa’s voice in his ear, her breath is warm and steady. “Danny’s not crazy.”

“Isn’t he?” Po push back off the wall. When he feels Clarissa move away from him, he turns to look at her. “What’s that mean then? Huh?” He looks her directly in the eyes, and he can see how confused she is. “That’s means magic is real, does it?” He takes a moment, hoping she’ll answer him. “That means the world is crazy.”

“I was just as surprised as you.” Danny steps next to her. Po realizes the music is off. Danny gives him an apologetic smile. “Not that the symbols meant something, I’ve always believed that. I mean, I was surprised when…” He waves his hand around in the air. “You know.”

Po looks at his friend. For the first time in years, he doesn’t know what to think about him. Best friend. Crazy friend. Magic friend.

“I need to go.” Po pushes off the wall walking out of the living room.

“Po, don’t.” Clarissa runs after him. At the front door, she reaches out and grabs his arm.

He wrenches his arm away. “Don’t touch me!” He spins around to glare at her, eyes wide and unblinking.

She takes a step back. “Po, this is good news.” He lets out a bark of a laugh. “Danny isn’t craz-”

“Stop saying that!” Po steps towards her, closing the space between them to almost nothing. Clarissa holds her ground. “Magic isn’t real!”

“What if it is?” Clarissa’s voice is a rush of air, barely audible. Her gaze turns distant as she says this, a smile slowly growing on her face. After a moment, her eyes focus again and she leans in, nose-to-nose with Po. “What if it is?”

Po steps away, back hitting the front door, panic rising in his chest. “It isn’t.”

“Excuse me, Clarissa.” Danny steps out from behind her, steps up to Po. He smiles at Po, and for a moment Po remembers his best friend before the journal. Without really wanting to, Po relaxes some. “Rough day?”

Po almost screams at him, feels the urge boiling inside of him. Instead, he forces a jittery smile onto his face. “You could say that.”

“You were worried about me.”

“Of course I was.”

“You’re so protective, it’s one of the things I love about you.” Danny reaches out to put his hand on Po’s shoulder. Po’s whole body tenses, Danny’s hand hovers over his shoulder for a second or two before coming to rest on it. When Po doesn’t feel anything but the weight of his friend’s hand, he relaxes. Danny gives his shoulder a light squeeze. “I’m seeing auras, flashes of symbols around people. When I answered the door, I saw a horseshoe on your chest.”

“Great, so I’m your good luck charm.” Po squirms under Danny’s hand, but Danny doesn’t move it.

Danny lets out a low chuckle. “Of course you are, but the horseshoe is also a symbol of protection. You’re a protector. You’ve certainly protected me over the years.” Danny looks him in the eyes. “Even from myself.”

Po looks down at the floor. “I don’t know if I can live in a world with magic.”

Danny squeezes his shoulder again. “I know I can’t live in a world without my best friend.”

Po’s head darts up, he stares into Danny’s eyes, searching. “Do you mean that?”

Danny nods. “Say the word, and I’ll never bring up magic, or symbols, or the journal again. I’ll put it all away.”

“You never have before.” Po shakes his head in disbelief.

“You’ve never asked me before.” Danny smiles turns reassuring.

“You…you’d do that for me?” Po reaches up and grabs his friend’s arm.

“I’m not going to lie; it’d be hard as shit. The way this feels is awesome. It’s not just physical, but knowing I know something about the world no one else does is a kick.” A snicker escapes his lips. He clears his throat, the smile dropping from his face. “But yeah, if that’s what you want.”

The boys stand there looking at each other. Their history, all the years they’ve known one another, filling up the space between them. Po takes a deep breath.

“Do I get a say in this?” Clarissa’s annoyed voice, comes from behind Danny.

Danny half turns, stepping to the side, so both him and Po can look at her. “Of course you get a say.” Clarissa smiles and nods. “Club rules, majority vote wins. I’m voting with Po.”

Clarissa’s expression immediately turns sour. “How is that fair?”

Danny shrugs. “That’s democracy.”

“How could you do that?” Clarissa crosses her arms. “You’re the one who translated the symbols. You’ve been doing magic all day. You said yourself, that it feels great knowing something about the world no one else does.”

Po looks from Clarissa to Danny, watching his friends as they debate this. He watches Danny nod, only years of experience with him allows Po to catch the twitch of Danny’s eye, indicating he’s sad.

“I said it would be hard as shit.”

“See.” Clarissa flings her hands into the air.

Danny’s eye twitches again, but he doesn’t raise his voice. “Let me ask you a question.” Clarissa nods. “Do you trust Po?”

Surprise strikes Clarissa dumb for a moment or two. “Of course I trust Po.” Clarissa looks past Danny at Po. “You’re my best friend.”

“Would you say he’s got the best judgement out of the three of us?” Danny continues like this is an interrogation.

Clarissa shakes her head from side to side and shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe? He’s the most mature, I guess.”

“Okay.” Danny crosses his arms across his chest. “So, I’m not going to do this without my best friend. The person we both agree has better judgement than both of us.”

Clarissa opens her mouth to say something, closes it, opens it again. She taps her foot for a minute or two, clearly she’s trying to think of an argument. After a minute, she sighs heavily. “Fine. You know what I want to do, but I’ll go along with the vote.” She stares at Po. “What do you say, Po?”

Po feels panicked again, being on the spot. He’s only seen a look this intense on Clarissa’s face when she’s taking tests. He looks to Danny. Danny still has his arms crossed, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. Po wonders how he could be relaxed right now. He thinks maybe it has something to do with his fate being in someone else’s hands. Po can’t believe his friend trusts him so much. He takes a deep breath to steady himself.

“You know,” Danny speaks without opening his eyes. “Even if we decide not to do this, there’s nothing stopping you from learning magic on your own.”

Clarissa has been slouching, but at Danny’s suggestion she stands up straight, arms dropping to her sides. Po can see her mind working already. He knows she’s thinking about what books she’d need, and where she’d need to go to find them. He knows that’s what she’s thinking about, because that’s what popped into his mind as soon as Danny said what he did.

“Okay, let’s do this together.” The words are out before Po can stop them.

Clarissa looks at him, confused. “Are you sure?”

Danny smiles and pushes off the wall, opening his eyes to look at him. “We don’t have to.”

Po shakes his head. “No, I want to.” Clarissa smiles, her eyes lighting up. “But the first time something crazy happens we stop. Okay.”

Danny reaches out and squeezes his shoulder again. “Of course.”

Clarissa shakes her head. “It’s magic. Define, “crazy.”

Po shrugs. “Someone gets hurt. If someone gets hurt, we stop.”

The smile drops from Clarissa’s face. “Yeah, okay.”

Po swallows several times, mouth dry. Immediately he wishes he could take back the decision. His eyes dart from Danny to Clarissa, both so excited. Some of his regret over the decision melts away, knowing that if they didn’t do this together Clarissa would probably do this by herself. The tightness in his chest doesn’t lessen with the consolation though.

Po tries to take a deep breath, but only pulls in half as much air as he wants. Coughs rattle his chest. Danny and Clarissa look at him with concern. He waves his hand in front of him. “I’m fine.” He takes a slow breath to calm himself. “How do we do this?”

Danny looks to both of them, grinning. “Wait here.” He runs upstairs.

Clarissa stands at the bottom of the stairs, tapping frantically on the railing. Po’s hand cramps again. When he looks down, he sees he still has his phone in a death grip. He shoves the phone in his pocket, fingers aching when he lets go. He concentrates on breathing. Danny pads down the stairs too soon for him.

“Okay.” Danny flips through the pages. “I was looking over this part of the book last night.” He turns the book around to show them. Po doesn’t move from the door, afraid to get close to the journal now that he knows it’s real. He can make the symbols though, still confusing as ever.

Clarissa reaches out and touches the page. “Which part is this?” She looks at Danny questioningly. “This isn’t a part we normally focus on.”

Danny nods. “It isn’t.” He turns the book around to look at it. His eyes gloss over, go distant.

After a moment, Clarissa reaches out and pokes him. “Danny?”

“What?” Danny starts, looks from the book to Clarissa. “Sorry.” He shakes his head, walks into the living room. Clarissa follows him, looking back at Po, motioning him to do the same. Po sighs, pushes off the door, and follows his friends back into the living room. “This isn’t normally a section we look at, no.” Danny continues. “But after what Christine and Riley said yesterday I started re-thinking what we knew about the book and the symbols.”

“Wait, Christine was right about the symbols?” The joy in Clarissa’s voice is unmistakable. “Wait, Riley was right about something?” As is the disbelief.

Danny holds up his hand. “I’m not going to tell him.”

The gesture, the comment, is so “Danny” it brings a smile to Po’s face.

“So, as it turns out the book might be written in code.” Danny closes the book, keeping his finger in it to hold his place.

“You mean other than being in symbols?” Po can’t help speaking up. Since he got Danny’s text the world has felt on fast forward. He keeps looking for a way to slow it down.

“Yeah, besides that.” Danny doesn’t seem to have caught the sarcasm. “It’s like Christine said: symbols are symbols because they’re universal. So, I looked back at my notes and applied her theory that the writer of the journal layered in meaning.”

It’s hard for Po to pay attention to what Danny says. Half his brain keeps yelling at him that magic isn’t real. Another part of his brain keeps waiting for Danny and Clarissa to break out laughing, the whole thing a gag somehow. A tiny part of his brain believes Danny, it hasn’t made up its mind on whether magic being real is good or not.

“…That’s when I translated the sentence: Follow the light.” Danny smiles at them. “I didn’t know what that meant at first, and then I remembered what Riley said about the blank pages and the reflective pages being a code.” A look of distaste comes over Danny’s face.

Po wants to yell at him. To say: ‘If you don’t want your business known by people, you shouldn’t talk about it in front of them.’ He doesn’t speak up, realizing it’s just a way to derail the conversation, put it on a track that’s more comfortable for him.

“…book is written in sections. The sections following the flashes are real.” He opens the book up and shows them the pages again.

Clarissa’s face scrunches up. “That’s like a third of the way through the book.”

Danny nods. “Yeah. It’s behind a section that starts with a blank page.” Danny closes the book and sets it on the coffee table. “I think the sections after the blank pages are fake, intentional gibberish.” He shrugs at them. “I’m not sure. I have to double check.”

Clarissa nods in agreement.

Po’s brain won’t stop screaming at him. “This doesn’t make sense. Yesterday, you were you, and today you can do magic? Just like that? Overnight?”

Danny smiles at him. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“Explain it to me.” He glances at Clarissa. “Explain it to us.”

Danny holds up his hands defensively. “Okay. It was late by the time I figured everything out, but I didn’t want to stop.” He shoots Po a look that says, you know how I am. Po nods. “I was translating a section, it’s about connecting with primordial power, I was half asleep. At some point, I must have fallen asleep, but the symbols didn’t go away. I dreamed about them. When I woke up, things were different. I was different.” He holds his hands up in front of his face, moves his fingers around. “I can understand the symbols, and other things. The book mentions connecting with power on a subconscious level. So, I hypnotized myself, put in key phrases to help me access the power.” He smiles at them, shrugs again. “It’s not so much that I know magic, but I have access to a pool of power. I can manipulate it to do things. Not much at the moment, but I’m sure with practice-”

“And this is what you want to share with us?” Po still can’t believe what he’s hearing. “You want to hypnotize us?” Po remembers when Danny became obsessed with hypnotism, a couple years after finding the journal. Danny jumped on anything “mystic” back then. It never seemed to work when they tried it.

“I kept the books. I’ve been practicing. Why do you think my grades are so good?”

“Hypnotism?” Clarissa laughs.

“Not hypnotism per se, but the study of mental-ism has helped me improve my memory.”

Clarissa’s face scrunches up again. “You’re cheating?”

Danny shake his head at her. “It’s not cheating. I’ve maximized the potential of my mi-”

“Shut. Up.” They look at Po with open mouths. “You want to hypnotize us.”

After a moment, when he doesn’t continue, Danny nods. “I want to put you into a trance state, through which I can guide you to the power I’ve accessed.”

“You sound like a cult leader.” Po rubs at his chest, the tightness still hasn’t gone anywhere.

Danny wiggles his fingers at him. “Join me. Join me.” He laughs. “It’s not like that, bro.”

“It’s never worked before.” Protests keep popping up in Po’s mind.

“We were young. I didn’t have magic before.” Danny’s smile deepens. Po’s getting tired of seeing his friend’s face like that.

“I’m up for it.” Clarissa steps in front of Danny. “Hypnotize me.”

Po’s gut twists, an acid taste fills the back of his mouth. “Do me first.” Po steps around the couch and sits down.

Clarissa glares over her shoulder at him. “Why can’t I go first?” She narrows her eyes at him.

Po looks at her, doesn’t want to say, but she doesn’t look away. “In case something goes wrong.”

Her eyes go wide. Po’s guessing it hadn’t occurred to her that something could go wrong.

“Nothing’s going to go wrong.” Danny reassures them.

“Then it won’t be long, will it.” Po settles into the corner of the couch, tries to get as comfortable as he can.

“You don’t have to this.” Clarissa is back to glaring at him. “I told you, I can take care of myself.”

“Yeah.” Po meets her eyes. “And sometimes that means letting others take care of you.”

Again, surprise rushes over her features. Her face flushes, Po will deal with her anger later. She turns away from both him and Danny. “Fine. You win this time.” She walks out of the living room.

Danny looks after her and then at Po. “Chicks, right?”

Po wonders just what it is she thinks he’s won. “Yeah, right.”

“Okay. Are you comfortable?” Danny’s voice is suddenly serious. Po nods. “Good. Do you remember how this goes?”

Po nods again, closing his eyes, and breathing deep and slow. He concentrates on his body, relaxing every part of it. Everything relaxes quickly, until he gets to his stomach. It’s been doing flips and heaves for a while now, and it takes more than a few seconds to calm it. He’s surprised by the amount of tension there is in his shoulders. Relaxing his back, he falls deeper into the couch.

“You look relaxed.” Danny’s voice comes at Po soft and steady. “You’re in the first trance state.” Po thinks he hears Danny move, but he’s not sure. His first instinct is to open his eyes and look, but he curbs it. If he doesn’t trust Danny this isn’t going to work. “I want you to focus on the sound of my voice. Let everything else drop away.” The world goes quiet for Po. “I’m going to reach out and touch you. Don’t open your eyes.” Po feels Danny’s hand take his, he doesn’t move it off his lap though. “You’re doing fine.” Danny applies a steady pressure on Po’s hand. “I want you to sink lower with me. I want you to imagine your limbs are made of stone. Your arms. Your legs. They’re so heavy you can’t move them.” Po imagines his limbs are stone, cool, gray, and heavy; just like that he can’t move his body. “Good, you’re in a deeper trance state. But we’re going to go deeper. I’m going to take you deeper.” There’s that steady pressure on his hand again. “You’re going to feel warmth spread from my hand into yours. You’re not going to worry about this. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m just helping you get into a deeper trance. I’m helping you connect with what I connected with.” Danny’s hand heats up, almost uncomfortably so. Po tries to move his hand away, but his arms are still made of stone, so they don’t move. The heat lessens, entering Po’s hand and shooting halfway up his arm. He feels his muscle twitch involuntarily. From there the heat seeps upward, to and then past Po’s shoulder. It passes into his chest, and his middle begins to fill up. “I want you to take as much of the warmth as you can.” Po takes a deep breath, imagining he’s sucking the warmth into his body. It plummets into his stomach, pools there for a moment, then rushes into his legs. Four more deep breaths and his entire body is warm. Sweat breaks out on his skin, everywhere at once. “That’s good.” Danny’s voice sounds strained. “I’m going to count to three. When I get to three, I want you to open your eyes. I want you to observe the world. I will continue to talk to you, to guide you, but I want what you see to take priority.” In the state Po’s in, all he can do is accept everything Danny’s saying. “Nod your head if you understand.” Po nods his head. “Good. One, two, three, open your eyes.”

Po languidly opens his eyes. Danny sits on the coffee table in front of him, still holding his hand.