Whatcha writing during isolation?

Nothing.

I should be writing something. I always should be. But I’m not.

At least, I hadn’t been.

When Covid-19 started to get serious back in March, but before a pandemic was declared, I’d been working on agent submissions. That carried me into early April.

I don’t know whether this is the worst time or the best to query. I guess we’ll see. At the very least, maybe it will provide some interesting insight into the industry. If you’re wondering, I’m 0-2-1 right now. When the agent just stopped repping my genre, I’m counting that as a tie. Glass half-full, people!

But the stresses of two parents working from home with a special needs child began to mount. Additionally, I no longer had those simple moments where I just worked on the story in my head: the daily commute, waiting in line for lunch, boxing class, pumping gas, and so on.

I tend to be a creature of habit. I’ve created a number of different ways to get my brain ready for writing. I’ve described them here:

Unfortunately, stress, frustration, and exhaustion have been deadly foes these last eight weeks. Something had to give – or break – and it certainly wasn’t going to be me. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force:

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

So, I created a new tip. I took a break. In hindsight, it was 50% conscious and 50% deliberate in the way that a person stumbles down the stairs but stays on their feet.

Physically and mentally, some pressure was relieved. I didn’t attempt to write. I didn’t blog. I even paused my agent submissions. I’ve written through some tough situations – insomnia, unemployment, hangovers, work stress, death – but I knew this situation was different.

However, that small voice between my ears kept reminding me that something was missing. I listened, but knew I’d get back to it once we’d sorted out life in isolation.

And so, here and there, I’ve started working in my head again. Rolling over in bed, half asleep, to jot something down (note: that’s how the reptilian slither-withers came to life). Giving myself permission to chase a character down an unfamiliar path. Write this post. It feels good – natural. I’m not surprised, but the reassurance that your skills haven’t dulled, well, that’s a nice feeling.

A loss of momentum for writers is inevitable. Some call it writer’s block. Others, the vengeance of an angry muse. Regaining your momentum is no guarantee of success; however, giving up is certainly a guarantee of failure.

Don’t give up on your writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, May 2020

I Did That Thing I Hate #1

Yeah, this is likely be the first of several posts in this category because I keep falling into traps of my own devising.

movie poster

Before Christmas I did that thing I hate. I’ve heard from several unpublished authors who do the same thing, and they hate it, too.

A note of preface. I’m going to overuse air quotes throughout this piece so you can see how ridiculous one “writer’s” brain is.

So, at an event in December, someone introduced me as an “author”. Gasp!

Because many of us are hardwired to distinguish ourselves from authors who have been “actually” published, I said something self-deprecating to ensure these people knew I wasn’t a “real” author. I needed to forestall the inevitable questions about my “book”.

It didn’t work.

The awkwardness probably didn’t phase them and I’m certain neither of them is writing about the exchange two months later.

To many of us writing a book, “author” is a title of veneration which we cannot “earn” until our work appears on the shelf of a “real bookstore”.

Now, I’ll pause here for a moment so you can say something like, “Man, writers are weird/dumb/insecure gumble-goos.”

Yes! Thank you! Sigh.

While you’re SMDH’ing, I’ll mention that it took more than a decade before I’d even accept being called a writer. Seriously. I say this as a person who’s been paid for copywriting, editing, proofreading, and (lord, help me) straight up creative writing. I even had the title ‘Letter Correspondent’, but I wasn’t a writer because that wasn’t “real” writing.

Tired of the quotes yet? I am, and I fricking wrote this.

Ralphie from a Christmas story

Anyway, I knew I was doing that thing I hate exactly as I was saying it. Much like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as he drops the F-bomb, except things worked out a smidge better for me in December.

You see, I was secretly pleased that the subject had been broached, though I’d never say it aloud. I was pleased because there are a few days a year where writers do want to talk about their craft. As a result, we had a nice conversation during which I explained the plot, my protagonist, Tildy, and my motivations for writing a book with a thirteen-year-old heroine.

Not only did it help break me from my shell, it helped me practice my pitch, which for many writers is harder than completing an entire book.

And so, WRITERS (you see I abandoned the air quotes several paragraphs ago), be proud and unafraid, even if it requires you to rewire your brain a smidge.

Good luck with your non-air-quoted writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, February 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

Cast of Characters – Project One

I started Project Two in the last month, and I’ve begun defining a number of character traits. Including my protagonist, Samor, I’m starting to see some life in my soon-to-be colorful cast. Earlier this week, a blurb (i.e. snappy synopsis) for a new character popped into my head and it inspired me to think similarly about my other characters.

So while I’m not ready to share Samor’s cast (Project Two), Tildy’s book is complete (Project One), and I can easily whip up something to share. A bit spoiler-y to those who want to enter the book with no details whatsoever.

*     *     *     *     *

an example of Tildy's approximate look

Tildy’s skin tone, though her hair is lighter and much shorter.

Tildy – Our heroine! A princess smuggled from Evereign as the kingdom fell and her parents died. She was lost in the wilderness, the sole survivor of the caravan taking her to safety. No one knows that she – or her fraternal twin – still live. She is whip-smart, well-read, and fearless, inspired in equal parts by Hermione Granger, Princess Leia Organa, and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. She is a shapeshifter of a sort, which means she can be any kind of girl in the world, whether in skin tone or body shape. Unlike most girls, however, she gets to choose the form she is most comfortable in. Well, sometimes, which makes puberty more challenging. Marvelous as this talent is, her ability to grow wings is what she values most. She hasn’t quite accepted the witch as her adoptive mother, despite their twelve years together.

The witch

The witch describes herself as a butternut squash.

The witch – Long has she lived as a recluse of dangerous reputation in an equally perilous garden. She has a power hinted, but not seen even by Tildy, and a darkness that sometimes shadows her face. Wants nothing more than to hide her adopted daughter from a world that despises the unusual. Unnamed for now, for it is well-known that one does not use a witch’s true name, even in a book, lest terrible things befall you.

Fietha – A clever merchant of impeccable reputation…to the wary buyer. He is one of the few men the witch seems to trust, and his friendship with Tildy sets her adventure in motion. This is the character readers wanted more of – sorry, you’ll have to wait for Project Three!

Demensen – An old crofter from the witch’s past, lately returned with tales of monsters and death, and nowhere else to turn for help. Continue reading

Project Two Begins

Officially, on December 30, 2019, amidst busy holiday activities and the search for a lit agent, I began the second book, though it has two previous beginnings which I’ll cover below.

For those of you following the creation of Tildy’s story – and I thank you for that! – we now travel hundreds of miles north, to the borders of the Frozen Blight where lives Tildy’s brother in the ice fortress of Yrrengard.

Similar to his sister, Samor was also presumed dead but smuggled from the capital city of Evereign. Whereas she was lost in the wild, he escaped under a dead child’s name to be raised by new parents who will always see him as a reminder of the son they lost. To add to their bitterness, they are raising the heir to the throne, a weighty duty that overshadows any affection they might feel toward the baby.

Tentatively entitled: Continue reading

Author’s Journal – 12-20-19

It’s been a lazy writing week since my last post, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on the project.

1. I got kicked in the face by the flu. Knocked me out for two days, and it’s about the only thing that keeps me from putting any thought into my work. Through the fever and lethargy, I did manage one related thought, however: I wonder when my print order will be complete?

2. Turns out, it was done in a day. I work for Thomson Reuters, and our Copy Center gives us a nice deal on personal printing. I ordered six copies of the 373-page manuscript and had them spiral bound with plastic covers. They’re now taking up considerable space on our table as I prepare some mailings.

Wonder Woman pushes buttons

Continue reading