The Nonverbal Kid’s influence on my writing

My younger son, Benji, is nonverbal and autistic. I don’t share it much because one of my primary responsibilities is protecting his dignity and privacy. And it’s usually not relevant to this site. But like any person important to you, his influence is always there in my writing, nevertheless. In this post I’ll share one of the ways my craft has changed because of him.

Ben has a limited vocabulary, though his communication includes expressive gestures and sounds, not just words. In talking to us (people who clearly are too dim to understand), he’s practically speaking three languages, and often, more than one at a time. It’s not his problem when we can’t figure out the translation; it’s ours.

To an outsider, however, it might create an uncomfortable situation. Not because that person is a bigot who despises neurodiversity, but because they are walking in unfamiliar territory. I liken it to me meeting a Black man for the first time (in my memory, he looks like actor Brock Peters in his Star Trek days). I was just a little kid, terribly shy around strangers, and before me stood a person so completely unlike every person I’d known in my secluded little rural town. At least, that’s the lie your brain tells you. In every aspect that I could see except skin color, he was like my neighbors.

I hadn’t been taught to hate or even dislike Black people; I just had some unintended bias to push past because my world was filled with people who looked like me and had basically the same beliefs and ancestry.

It’s one thing to know there are a variety of people in the world. Seeing them is another. Further still, interacting with them changes your perspective in significant ways. Watching Black people on TV wasn’t the same as meeting them. And meeting one certainly wasn’t the same as having people like him in my daily life.

I choose to believe the same lack of experience is true for people who aren’t sure how to react around Ben. It could be uncomfortable at first, but the smallest effort by them can overcome that. I don’t think they can do it alone, however. As Ben’s father, I believe one of my responsibilities is to help people with this, which also helps him.

Now, I grew up as a Boy Scout and I’ve always cheered for the underdog. I’m predisposed to helping others and recognizing those who are disadvantaged. But there’s a distinction between that and being an advocate. Believe it or not (sarcasm), there’s a difference between adding a rainbow frame to my Facebook picture and standing up to LGBTQ bigotry when people post it. Advocacy requires deliberate action, and I can help by leading through example, by sharing posts like this, and by injecting it into my books.

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Learn about your writing by talking with people

At a recent happy hour for a departing colleague and friend (aka Trusted Reader #3), the subject of my writing came up several times. I’m at the point where I enjoy this more than I once did. Part of it is comfort, part is the practice of refining my synopsis, and part is knowing more about the story and what I’m doing as a writer.

I’ve written about the difficulties I’ve had here and here.

As stressful or scary as this might feel, it’s an important part of the writing process. Even if you never want a person to read your writing (which I consider a shame – share with us!), it will help you as a writer.

I’ve talked about the importance of developing this skill in the context of pitching your story. But there’s another benefit, and that’s to the story itself.

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Word Casualties #10 – For the love of all that’s holy

Sometimes….you might just plop gibberish upon the page.

When I’m in the zone, I type around 100 words per minute. That’s not elite status, but I’m definitely moving. My brain, however, is processing the story much faster. Passages aren’t necessarily being fed to the page in order, and oftentimes, sentences aren’t landing with the words in their intended sequence. It’s a bit of a wires-crossed thing that requires some adaptation, patience, and editing.

An unfortunate, though sometimes hilarious consequence, is some serious gibberish. Although it breaks my rhythm, I usually delete these things immediately because they’re too horrid to live on the page another moment. However, since I started this series of Casualties posts, I’ve decided to save some of the better ones as examples of just how wrong an experienced writer can go.

As always, I’ve created some definitions, and the correct words (if I’ve deciphered them) follow that.

CASUALTIES

Hiuefully – a well-saturated color

Initiatititive – making the first move on a sexy date

Tjamls – beasts of burden that tjaverse the djesert

Habyart – a question posed to the entrants of rural art shows: “Habyart?” “Yessaidoo!”

Consticuous – something stuck to the wall and definitely out of place

Priviledge – born with the right to stand upon the precipice

Viluminous – an evil glow

Predigestion – what happens to chewed food slathered in saliva

Predamentary – the basics for stalking prey

Harbordence – a thick fog hanging heavy upon the docks

Trhaventily – seriously, I got nothing here. A flower? A kind of fancy silk lace?

CORRECT SPELLINGS

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Writing Update: August 7, 2021

I started working on Samor’s new story in December 2019. It’s been a journey of considerable challenges and delights. Some things have gone very well. Others, hmm, not so much.

Part of my writing process is reflection. I regularly look back at what I’ve accomplished. I think it’s a critical step because writing a book is a difficult journey filled with self-doubt. When your energy is low or your mental defenses are down, abandoning a draft can feel like the only viable option. But take heart! Energy always returns. Defenses are rebuilt! Reminding yourself of your good work will replenish your creative tank.

Here’s a list of ten accomplishments and discoveries of the last twenty months.

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Writing Is Weird

It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’ve had the day off from work. Ahem, a day off from the office job. It’s allowed me to put in some writing work. I knocked out just over 2,000 words today, interspersed with some family responsibilities. As satisfying as the day has been, that’s not my purpose for this post.

I’ll just say it aloud: Writing is weird. It really is. You sit, you think, you write out thoughts. Some day, not today, they make sense. Hopefully, to others besides yourself.

I planned to write something of a scene today, and as I consider the labyrinthine journey I took as I worked, I’m surprised – and pleased – with the results. For those of you interested in the writing process, I whipped up a quick post to shed some light on my own methods and madness. Be advised, Dear Reader, this will be a strange walk through one writer’s mind and his storytelling process. Consider yourself well-warned.

* * * * *

In my second novel, my protagonist has been raised without any knowledge of his past life. Like his sister Tildy in the first book, the world thinks Samor dead. But as the children of a Queen and King, their worlds are filled with paintings, books, people, and other references that provide insight into their family and their early lives. The children do not realize this, but assuming I do a proper job, the Reader will.

As I was getting ready for the day, I started debating what I might write about. My mind followed Samor’s book journey and decided I would have him discover the painting of his parents. Tildy does a similar thing in her book, and neither of them recognize the experience for what it is: the first time either of them have beheld their parents – or the infant images of themselves.

Parallel scenes like this are one of the reasons I wanted to tell their stories in separate books. It also allows a fair amount of compare and contrast, which is a handy way to derive inspiration: Oh, Tildy handled the experience this way? How would her brother handle it differently? And what are their shared reactions?

OK, so I’ve set a goal, a destination, for my scene. How do I get there? (For spoiler-y reasons that I won’t explain here, the portraits have been hidden. The why isn’t important to the scene.) I now needed a beginning and a middle.

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Oh, You Just Sat Down and Wrote?

It’s 7:30 on a Sunday night. Beside me sits a glass of whisky and ice. I’ve poisoned it, some might say, with Coca-Cola. And that’s fine for this ending to a long day because I’m desirous of the effects, if not so much the taste.

Much of these first three paragraphs was written, and re-written in the car this evening, while listening to Neil Gaiman’s The View From The Cheap Seats (It’s one of three books I’m currently enjoying. The softcover Brimstone by Preston & Child sits beside the whisky glass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone awaits my ears when I get to bed, whenever that might be.).

The Gaiman writing is good, as he usually is, but I think there’s more than that pleasure contained in this particular work. It also contains some unspoken encouragement for writers, and I wonder if other people realize that when they read it.

I’ve hardly been writing since the pandemic was declared in March. The Gaiman book, and another huge relief that occurred this week, have served to remove some of the weight that’s been crushing me. Today, some pent up energy was released.

I’ve already mentioned that I began writing this post ahead of time, and that’s much like the new story I sat down to type this morning. Similarly, it formed in my head before I knew I was going to do any writing. As I showered today, two distinct lines popped into my head, as though I had discovered a thing that existed or was remembering something whispered to me in my sleep.

The first was a title: The Time Travel Tinkerer.

The second was the opening: Putter was a tinkerer, a time traveler, and a bastard. At least, that’s how people would have viewed him, if they’d known what he’d done. Or would do, depending on their places in time.

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Squeezing in writing time

As I mentioned in Whatcha writing during isolation?, I hadn’t been doing much writing. Thinking, yes; time at the keyboard, no. I also stated that I was taking a break.

I think that means different things to writers than many other people. You see, much like the famous Ross and Rachel argument on Friends, whether I was on a break could be debated.

We. Were. On. A. Break!

Since it’s Fathers’ Day, and I’m writing, I think you know the winner in my particular debate.

I was putting a lot of thought into the future of the series, and I don’t mean whether I’d get published or whether I should shelve the project. I was contemplating the ongoing storyline and the eventual intersection of Tildy and her lost brother, Samor (for a little preliminary info on him, go here: the Prince).

Much needs to happen to create the dynamic between them when they meet. Without being too spoiler-y, they are both heirs to the throne. Due to the patriarchy of their society, many will favor him; however, as the first-born, Tildy will also have a legitimate claim, as far a many are concerned.

Before I digress too far, there are beats in the story that must be hit and I need to determine the best books for them to occur. When does Tildy realize this? Book 2. When does Samor achieve that? Book 3. And so on.

So, I’ve been taking notes. Lots of ’em.

Yesterday, I found myself with a little free time. I pulled up Evernote and started popping notes into the appropriate manuscripts. After an hour or two, I’d added maybe 30 total notes into nine manuscripts. You can verify that here: Progress Tracker.

That’s….an ambitious project.

Yeah, which is why I need to understand where the overall story is headed. Otherwise, the – let’s call it writing math – isn’t going to add up at the end.

Equally important, it was a telling thing because I wasn’t “in the writing mood” and the house was hardly free of distractions. The perfect writing environment isn’t sustainable for a married guy working through a pandemic as Summer arrives with two dogs and two kids. I’ve changed my approach to ensure I’m spending my time working, not waiting. Fortunately, I started that transformation years ago.

For me, writing has never been limited to words appearing on a page. Having a similar philosophy will help you spend more time working and less time waiting. Good luck!

–Mike


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, June 2020

Enticed by Pepper – Writing Exercise

I was going to shut myself away in a quiet room, but my wife’s making homemade chicken noodle soup and the enticing smell is irresistible. It’s the smell of home, but a nostalgic kind. A place where hungry people come in from a wintry outdoors and suddenly find themselves ravenous in a warm, aromatic kitchen.

And so, with no preparation, I sat down and wrote a little about it. I don’t know what this is. Just stream-of-consciousness stuff. I provide it as an unedited example of how easy it is to get writing momentum some days, especially when you’re not overly concerned with structure or other grammatical rules.

I’m writing at the kitchen table

with headphones in.

It keeps out the distractions of home life

Yet allows me to stay within my family’s presence.

I sit here so I can smell my wife’s homemade chicken noodle soup.

As it bubbles on the stove

Its pepper enticing, the rich broth,

the concoction of ingredients that dance merrily in a savory swirl

“Pepper makes me sneeze,” I said as a kid.

It no longer has the effect I pretended it had back then.

Now, it’s an enticement, I want to bask in its aroma

and be inspired by cauldron thoughts

and salivating mouths,

of cooking herbs found near the camp

fresh-picked and green,

their earth nourished by a nearby brook that delights in its passage.

I cannot hear the roiling water as it swirls upon the stove.

It waits for noodles, thick and grand, pleasures each to taste.

And so I type, I write.

I take white pages and darken them with hope.

With no planning save that which can be done in preparation to sit

and bask within a kitchen breeze

its peppered breath a kiss,

A promise,

An inspiration.

Perhaps it will be worth editing later, or pieces will be borrowed for something else. At the very least, it got my mind ready for the other writing I intended to complete. And it got me hungrier.

It’s time for a luncheon interruption.

Homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots, onions, celery, and big thick noodles.

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, March 2020

Organic growth in your story

I’m spending a quiet Saturday afternoon writing and playing around with some scenes in Project Two. I was struck by how one thought led to another, and before I knew it, I had connections to two different scenes and to Tildy’s book (Project One).

Stephen King's On WritingIt reminded me of a section in Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’m reading for the fifteen time. In the first part, entitled C.V. (section 28 for those of you who own it), he talks about the genesis of Carrie. He wasn’t actively writing a story; he wasn’t even working on an idea. A memory led to a thought, which led to the recollection of a magazine article. “Pow!” he writes, “Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea.”

The following example isn’t the lightning that Mr. King caught in a bottle for Carrie, but I think it’s a nice look at how organically this stuff happens sometimes. You’re not steering toward something; you’re just holding on to see what happens. Suddenly, you discover that two unconnected scenes have a common thread. It’s new to you, but it’s the kind of revelation that makes you feel like it already existed, you just finally uncovered it.

  1. Tildy celebrates her birthday in The Starfall Omen, so I have a similar scene with Samor, her brother and the hero of Project Two. Contrary to her experience, his is a disappointing day. He receives three gifts from his father: the first is books, and to contrast with Tildy, he isn’t happy. The other two gifts are TBD.
  2. Tildy has a scene in which she prepares to sneak out, and I describe the items she’s wearing and packing. Samor goes through the same, buckling a traveling belt that he’d received as a gift. At the time, he grumbles because he was never allowed to leave the castle.
  3. Pow! A convergence of scenes that are several thousand words apart. Gift + birthday = now I have a second disappointing gift for my birthday scene. Expanding upon it, both Samor and his father, the Steward of Empyrelia, realize that it will be some time before he can travel with it – they must keep the Steward’s son safe, after all.
  4. Finally, I go back to Samor’s dressing scene in which he’s preparing to sneak out. Instead of recalling his disappointment in the gift, he’s smug about being able to use the traveling belt much sooner than his father intended.

Part of this change happened because I set myself a mystery. Not a whodunit, just an unanswered detail (Samor’s birthday gifts) that I knew I’d fill in later. It sat their, lurking, until I remembered its presence when I had good use for it. If you’re counting along, you know there’s one last gift to discover. I can’t wait to learn what it is.

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, February 2020

What else have you written? #1

Since I post regularly on social media about my writing, people often ask me variations of the question, “What else have you written?” Unbeknownst to most people who know me, I’ve tried my hands at a number of projects. As I was perusing some old files today, I came across a comic book I pitched to Marvel in 2007. Yes, that Marvel. And while it was rejected, I still love the concept. There might even be a theme or two that I loan to The Lost Royals…we’ll see.

The historical origins of this story are true. Fifteen hundred years ago, Attila the Hun was poised to ransack the unguarded city of Rome when he was met in Northern Italy by Pope Leo I. Catholic legend says the image of St. Peter threatened Attila, and the great Hun fled westward away from Rome.

The following memorandum from one of my main characters suggests otherwise. Without further ado…

BLACK MEMORANDUM:

For the eyes of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

Transcript of the audio diary of Jonathan Harper, Vatican Order of the Adherents. Demon Hunter.

Diary recovered in Vatican City, in the ruins of the Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini, which was destroyed by demons and Hellfire escaping the lost Porta de Infernus.

The fifth century A.D. The once-great Roman Empire is divided in two and disintegrating. But with one great empire dying in Rome, another was rising to take its place.

The Church began to solidify its power under Pope Leo I. Halfway through his reign he would turn back one of the most fearsome conquerors Europe has ever seen. His name is Attila, leader of the Huns. Enemies and tribesmen alike name him ‘the Scourge of God’.

Pope Leo met the horde with a few advisors, some gold, and the Word of God.

The Pope pleaded with Attila, asking that the Huns spare Rome. And for some reason, they did. Church scribes say the spirit of St. Peter appeared to Attila. Fearing his holy blade, the Hun then turned his men westward and away from Rome.

But history is often recorded by those who can favorably rewrite it. My research indicates Attila first accompanied Leo to Rome where Leo revealed a dark and terrifying secret. A secret that frightened the fearless Hun. A secret that required the building of Vatican City to hide it.

And I am about to unlock this secret, though I know not what it is. Jonathan Harper, April 18.

End Transcript.

Cardinal Emanuel Esperanza

(EE / ff)


That’s the teaser I included with the script and query letter. Man, it takes me back. I had so much fun creating the story and bringing the characters of Jonathan Harper, Grace Chang, and their supporting cast to life. Not only did it combine two of my passions – history and writing, which were my college majors – it was a project that took full advantage of the comic book medium. I hope to get back to it one day.

I share it as an example of something a writer put their heart, blood, and sweat into, but hasn’t yet found additional life in publication. It happens, we’re crushed, we move on and live to write another day.


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, February 2020