If you have ever received a story critique from me (you lucky dog, you) I’ve probably harped on and on about filler and filter words. It comes up in 90% of the stories I read.
I just made that statistic up out of thin air, but it’s how I feel, and that’s what’s really important, isn’t it?
Filler words get talked about on a lot of writing blogs. We’ve all read, and probably ignored, countless articles about how they weaken our writing and felt that it doesn’t really apply to us. (Really. See what I did there? My own blog pieces are full of the bastards.) Filter words are trickier, and they aren’t discussed as often, but I’m going to shine a light on the ugly blighters today and hopefully scare them out of your writing.
If simultaneity is the death by a thousand cuts, slowly draining your story’s momentum, then fillers and filters are equally dangerous. If I had to stretch this metaphor–and of course I have to–filler words are death by suffocation on Peeps marshmallow chicks and filters are death by toe-suspension. Or something.
Okay, let me explain what I mean by Filler and Filter words before you decide if those ridiculously nefarious images make any sense.
Filler Words: Put your story on a diet
Cut the fluff. Trim the fat. Tighten your prose. It’s time to put your writing on a word diet.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying short story crafting over the past couple of years is the power of brevity. If you are writing a 1000 word flash fiction piece, you must make every word count. You cannot afford to waste precious words on fluff.
I’m looking at you, filler words.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Filler words like: just, that, very, really, literally, totally, quite, perhaps, actually, almost, slightly, simply, absolutely; Filler phrases like: in order to, due to the fact that, etc.
Seeing these filler words in a list, they seem totally innocuous. These are common, every day words that slip naturally into our writing because we use them in our speech. First person narratives tend to be the worst offenders for this reason, but fillers can slip into any POV. The trouble is, in written language, these words do nothing but drag us down.
I get a lot of push back when I point out filler words, for some reason. A lot of writers seem to think that they create a conversational voice and add authenticity to their stories. And in some, exceedingly rare cases, this can be argued if one is writing in a particularly deep POV for a particular kind of character.
For the moment, though, please humour me and lets assume that you are not that special case and your filler words are unnecessary dead weights dragging your story into the depths of the oceans of despair.
Examples: How to cut Filler Words
Ex. 1. a) Breanne really wished that she could just disappear. (8 words)
b) Breanne wished she could disappear. (5 words)
Ex. 2. a) The wind was quite cold and the trees almost bent double. (11 words)
b) The trees bent double in the cold wind. (8 words)
Ex. 3. a) Josie popped into the shop in order to grab a coffee before work. (13 words)
b) Josie popped into the shop to grab a coffee before work. (11 words)
Yes. I know. You’re already rolling your eyes at me. Surely saving two or three words here and there isn’t going to make or break your story? Spoken like someone who has never tried to write flash fiction!
But do you see how much cleaner the above sentences sound, simply by removing the filler words? It’s a subtle different that adds up if you apply it throughout your story.
Now, I dare you to search your latest manuscript for the words: very, really, that, and just.
It’s not just a few words here and there is it?
Depending on the length of your story or novel, I’m betting you have hundreds if not thousands of filler words waiting to be culled. I know I do. I’m getting better at not writing them in the first place, but my drafts are still full of them.
I actually love going through my first draft, cutting the fluff, and then deciding where to spend my newly freed-up words. Particularly when I’m confined to a tight word count.
The fact is, filler words give your writing a diluted, wishy-washy feel. Write with conviction, commit to your images, tell the reader exactly what is going on and don’t be afraid to be specific. Cutting the fluff will give an automatic boost to the pace of your story and make your meaning clearer to the reader. It’s probably the only foolproof diet plan in existence.
Filter words, on the other hand, are trickier.
Filter Words: Strip down and get intimate
Now that your story is sporting a trim new silhouette, it’s time to show off. Filter words are all about how close you allow your POV to get to the characters thoughts, emotions, and sensory experiences. You want to eliminate words that filter your characters experience unnecessarily.
I like to think of POV as a movie camera. How your reader experiences your story has a lot to do with where you place this imaginary camera. Panning across a scene from far above shows a breadth of detail with little depth. The closer you bring the camera in, the less the reader will know about the big picture, but the more they will get to see of your character’s actual experience in the world.
I, personally, like an intimate POV. It allows for greater emotional investment and deeper immersion in the story. Of course there are times when a narrative requires a little distance, and I’m not going to argue about that. But for the sake of this post, I’m going to assume you want your readers to BE your characters while they are reading. Culling filter words is how you will do this.
Filter words can be broken into two main categories. Sensing and Thinking. Sensing filters are verbs like: to see, to watch, to smell, to feel, to hear, to taste, etc. Thinking filters are verbs like: to know, to wonder, to realize, to think, to seem, etc.
And the worst offender of all, which probably deserves its own post, is the verb “to be”
Again, these words are ubiquitous. They seem harmless. But they are not. They hold your reader at an emotional distance from your POV character, effectively preventing them from fully immersing themselves in your story. That’s bad.
Filter words unnecessarily filter your story through the characters perceptions when, in a tight first or third person POV, the reader should actually be the character. Filter words are a constant reminder that the reader is reading and not experiencing your story first hand. That’s very bad.
Examples: How to cut Filter Words
Ex. 1. a) Sarah felt a stab of panic in her heart. She heard a scratching sound on the other side of the door. She wondered if maybe she’d forgotten to let the cat back in. But then she noticed something she couldn’t ignore. She smelled damp earth and rotting meat. Sarah knew that Rob was back from the grave. (57 words)
b) Panic stabbed Sarah’s heart. Something scratched outside the door. Had she forgotten to let Mittens back in? No. It couldn’t be the cat. The smell of damp earth and rotting meat oozed in through an open window. Sarah backed away slowly. Rob, fresh from the grave, called out softly, “I know you’re in there, Sarah.” (55 words)
Ex. 2. a) I was walking down the garden path when I smelled the sweetest scent. I looked down and saw bright purple flowers at my feet. It seemed like they were growing out of the cobblestones themselves. I wondered who had planted them there? I heard birds chirping in the trees and felt the warmth of the sun upon my face, and I realized that I hadn’t been this happy in weeks. (70 words)
b) I meandered down the garden path when the sweetest scent tickled my nose. Bright purple flowers waved at me from the cobblestones at my feet. Who could have planted them? Birds chirped gaily in the trees and warm sun kissed my cheeks. I hadn’t been this happy in weeks. (49 words)
I hope I’ve illustrated how much more you can show a reader, in equal or fewer words, when you eliminate filters. Again, as with any of the examples I come up with off the top of my head, these are not brilliantly shining beacons of literary genius. But, in the first example I was able to add detail to the scene without adding extra words. In the second example, I conveyed the exact same information, using stronger language, in far fewer words. All I had to do is get rid of the filters.
The thing is, if you tell a reader that “joy bubbled in Ali’s heart, like fizzy cream soda” we know that Ali is the one feeling this. To say “Ali felt joy bubbling in his heart like fizzy cream soda” is redundant, and it only serves as a reminder to the reader than he is not there with Ali, experiencing this joy with him, but a mere observer.
To Be or Not To Be…
Definitely not. “To be” verbs, like was, is, am, were, and all of their various tenses can almost always be eliminated to create a stronger image or sentence.
Bob was looking around the corner. –> Bob looked around the corner.
Sheila was wearing a bright green hat that was drooping on one side. –> Sheila wore a bright green hat that drooped on one side.
I was sad. –> Grief crushed me.
Eliminating “to be” verbs simplifies your sentences and, in some cases, forces you to show an image or emotion rather than telling the reader about it.
Now Forget Everything I Just Told You
At least for the first draft, try not to worry about any of this too much. It’s the kind of fussing that really slows down the writing process. My advice is to save fillers and filters for later on in the editing process. You can’t edit what you haven’t written yet, and all of these rules can bog even the most experience writers down.
But I would like you to try applying this to one of your own stories and see what you think! Let me know how it goes.
What do you think about fillers and filters? Were you aware of these terms before? Have you read about them and ignored them repeatedly, like I did for years? Tell me all about it in the comments!
Out of the Darkness…
Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic themes are all the rage in Science Fiction these days. Arguably, they always have been. Sci-Fi has been a sounding chamber for early warning signals, from George Orwell’s vision of an omniscient government in 1984 to H.G. Well’s prediction of the atomic bomb in The World Set Free, and in some ways that is its greater purpose. Beyond simple entertainment, speculative fiction gives an outlet for great minds to explore the “what-ifs” of new technologies and the effects, both positive and negative, on the world as we know it.
Human nature being what it is, we are drawn to the dark side. Readers and writers alike dive into worst-case-scenario disasters with a kind of morbid fascination. Is this how it will end? Is this what will become of us?
Indeed, dwelling on disaster can be cathartic. We can console ourselves that at least our world isn’t that bad yet. Or that, if it gets that bad, it will still be possible to survive. As with the infamous “preppers,” considering catastrophic events in a logical way and planning for future solutions can be a great way to cope with the anxieties that surround the uncertainty of our fates.
I’m not suggesting you start hoarding cans of sardines and dehydrated mashed potatoes just yet, but hear me out!
Pessimistic Science Fiction has its purpose. Fear can catapult people into action. A lot of sci-fi scares are not all that far fetched, and sometimes fiction is more effective than reality at forcing people outside their comfort bubbles to think about the consequences of their cozy lifestyles.
However, there are risks to clanging the old doom and gloom bell too loudly and to early. People easily become desensitized to alarm. We have seen the effects of this first hand in public opinion on climate change and if/how/when we need to address it. Skepticism, and the desire to maintain the status quo, will win out over making small, necessary changes that cause us minor inconvenience and costs.
… And Enter the Light!
What is SolarPunk?
SolarPunk, a relatively new subgenre of science fiction, is making lightwaves in some circles. It all appears to have started with this post HERE from 2014, and has evolved since. Ultimately, SolarPunk is a response to SteamPunk’s romanticization of the Industrial Revolution and the nihilism of CyberPunk. It envisions an optimistic future in renewable energies and sustainable earth-centric practices are woven together to create egalitarian societies in which which the art, craft, and science of renewable energies takes center stage and egalitarian societies that are more community driven than corporate controlled.
That’s cool and all, but who cares?
Consider the ways that modern environmentalism has stagnated. It has become an echo chamber of like-minded people talking amongst themselves and becoming more and more convinced that they are right. Unfortunately, that conviction has been slow to translate out to the general public and into official channels. My feeling, is that one of the reasons for this failure is not that environmentalists are pushing for too much too soon. It’s that they are trying too hard to uphold the status quo.
Our visions of the future look too much like our current lives. It assures us that we don’t have to change too much. We’ll still drive cars and trucks, the fuel will just be a little bit different. We’ll still eat meat, farming practices will just be tweaked a bit. We’ll get better at taking care of the earth and you’ll hardly even notice the difference!
Science Fiction to the Rescue!
Fear of being labelled as extremist or alarmist has silenced a lot of brilliant people. The goal now seems to be a slow seep into public consciousness rather than radical change. Maybe this will work, maybe it won’t. I don’t have the answers, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. Other, more informed, people have discussed it better than I can. Check out this article on Medium.
But is this really the future that we want? When we imagine these brave new worlds, do we want it to look like the world today? As a reader and writer of science fiction, my answer is an emphatic NO! And I wonder if maybe we could inspire greater participation in the green movement by showing people how wonderful and exciting and DIFFERENT our world could actually be if we chose to make radical changes in our lives.
This all sounds a bit fluffy…
I mentioned the need for optimism in science fiction in a discussion with a writer friend the other day and I was met with some reluctance. Optimism sounds fluffy, doesn’t it? Where’s the conflict in a perfect world? What’s the point of stories without struggle?
Well, let me just clarify that for a moment. Optimism is not perfection. And it’s not easy.
We are primed for pessimism, these days. Just turn on the news, read your social media feeds… bad things are happening, and even when they aren’t we catastrophize good things because that’s what we do. Maybe it’s a survival mechanism that has been twisted by technology, I don’t know. What I do know is that it is increasingly easy to become anxious, depressed, and pessimisitc.
It is a heck of a lot easier to imagine a dystopia than a utopia. People question uptopias, critics pick apart any idea that dares to be too hopeful. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And it doesn’t mean that if we succeed, we’re going to have a boring story.
The best books are always, in the end, about people not places. People are not perfect. Perfection is poison: to conflict, to character development, to tension, you name it.
A a world that envisions solutions to current problems will have problems of its own. Characters, even in the most utopic world are going to butt heads with life. I invite you, fellow readers and writers, to explore what social, political, interpersonal, environmental, etc. conflicts look like in the exciting possible-futures of SolarPunk.
Are You Up to the SolarPunk Challenge?
If you have read any SolarPunk, drop your recommendations and thoughts in the comments. I have no experience in this subgenre yet, and I’d love to dive in!
Writers, would you care to join me in a little challenge?
Write a flash fiction story in the SolarPunk genre and leave your link in the comments. I’ll write one and post mine in the Story Laboratory by the end of the Month. Let’s see what we can do with a little sunshine!
I have been away for a little while, and I think it’s driven some of my bloggie friends to desperate measures to make sure I’m still alive. I’m fine, really! I’ve just been busy melting water on my stove to make coffee and wash dishes while our water treatment system was on the fritz…
Just kidding. Well, not about the water (but it’s fixed now)
I’m actually very honoured to announce that I have been nominated by Matthew Whiteside of “Seeking Purpose Today” for the Mystery Blogger Award! Matt and I did a fun interview a few weeks ago, which you can watch HERE. He’s a fellow sobernaut and creative force, and if you don’t follow his blog already, you should.
Matt is full of enthusiasm for life, support for other humans, and his blog is overflowing with motivational rambles and casual brilliance. Read a few posts and get inspired to do what you love. It honestly has that effect on me every time!
So? What is the Mystery Award?
“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me
As a recipient of the Mystery Blogger Reward, I am magically compelled to reveal secrets. It’s in the contract. So, here are three things about me that may or may not be news to you:
- I have been sober for exactly 200 days today. Quitting drinking is one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done. I want to say it has changed my life. But it would be more accurate to say that it has changed the way I perceive my life, which is really a much greater challenge.
- I do not write because I enjoy it. Many writers say that they love writing. I do not. Writing is hard work. It is a struggle. It is frustrating more often than it is rewarding. I don’t write because I enjoy it. I write because I am compelled to do it. I am driven to challenge myself through my writing, to improve myself and my writing with discipline to the craft. The joy for me is in those fleeting moments of success when I accomplish a particular challenge, communicate a difficult idea, make a connection that wasn’t there before.
- I love power-lifting even though I suck at it. Moving heavy things is my preferred method of exercise (although I have had good fun with cross country and back country skiing this year and fat-biking in the warmer seasons)
But Wait! There’s More…
I am also contractually obligated to answer five questions posed by the person who has nominated me for the award. So here are Matt’s questions and my answers…
- Why are you on this planet? I am not a spiritual kind of person. I don’t believe in fate or higher-purposes or anything like that. I don’t think anyone is born for a particular reason. However, since I am here, I believe in making the best of it. For me, that means doing the best I can at the things that are important to me, supporting the people I love, and taking care of my little slice of earth.
- Are you Happy? This is another trick question. Happiness is not a continuous state. If we were happy all the time, happiness would have no meaning. I am generally content and at peace with myself. I have moments of joy and happiness, and moments of all the other emotions on the spectrum. I do not believe that happiness has any more value than any other human emotion and it is a mistake to place too much emphasis on attaining it. Trying to capture and sustain happiness is the surest way to unhappiness that there is.
- What is your favorite Myth? I’ve been reading a lot of Norse myths with my kids lately, and one of my favourites is the one where Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir, is stolen by the giants and Thor and Loki dress in drag–pretending to be the goddess Freya and one of her maidservants–in order to get the hammer back.
- How tall are you? I am the shortest person in my family, at a measly 5’9″. Technically, I’m taller than my mom, but not by much and only because she’s shrinking. I guess I’m taller than my kids, for now. My husband’s family towers over me, and the kids aren’t far behind.
- Can you make me laugh? Please Explain? I think I have, once or twice. The trick is figuring out when I’m being serious and when I’m not. I always think I’m hilarious, especially when I’m pretending not to be.
Now It’s My Turn!
Now I get to nominate a few of you hapless bloggies… My victims are:
Simon Farnell of “Planet Simon” – Simon has tons of interesting Sci-Fi goodies on his blog and has been supremely supportive of my own attempt at blogging. We have plans to do some collaborating and guest posting, but I’ve been slagging off a bit. Give him a follow, and tell him I’m sorry, will ya?
Teresa Grabs of “The Haunted Wordsmith” – Teresa is a master of flash fiction and micro fiction. I read often and don’t comment enough. I highly recommend following her work!
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this:
- Thank whoever gifted you and include a link to their blog
- Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
- Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
- Answer the questions from the person who gifted you the Award
- Choose bloggers that you wish to gift the Award to no more than 3
- Ask 5 questions of your choice with one weird or funny one
- Notify those you gift the Award to
My questions for you:
- What writer or book made you want to be a writer?
- What is the value of speculative fiction in the modern world?
- Is there anyone that you will not allow to read your work?
- What is your most impressive physical feat?
- Coffee or tea? And how do you take it?
Oooooh, that smarts.
The first time you receive real critical feedback on writing, or anything, can be painful. It can be painful after you’ve received hundreds of them. Thousands. Any time you are told that what you are trying to do isn’t working sucks.
It does get easier, though. Receiving feedback is a skill you must hone just like giving it. Here are my tips on how to receive creative writing critiques with your dignity intact!
Check Your Ego at the Door
Yeah, yeah. I know. Easier said than done. How do you separate yourself from this brilliantly shining piece of art–it’s ART, dammit! You’ll never understand me–that someone has just defecated upon?
Well first of all, just stop. It’s probably not that great. It’s a draft, and drafts are supposed to be crap. Even if it’s a late draft, if you are at the stage where you are soliciting creative writing critiques, you are still in draft mode. You are asking for other writers’ ideas on how to improve your writing craft. Right?
If you’re not, then you need to go back and read my initial article on what a creative writing critique actually is and how to give one. Go ahead. Click it. I’ll wait.
Okay. Are you back?
So we should be in agreement now, that you never ask for a creative writing critique when what you are really looking for is someone to tell you how wonderful you are. If that’s what you want, send it to your mother. She probably won’t read it but she’ll probably still tell you she thinks you’re neato. At least, I’ve been told that’s what other people’s mother’s do. Mine tells me she doesn’t understand anything I do and wonders how she went so wrong…
In order to check that Ego, you have to realize one thing. It’s a big thing. Are you ready?
You Are Not Your Writing!
Do you hear that? You are not your writing, your art, your job, your hobby, your anything. You are you, and these are things you do. Sometimes you do them well, sometimes you don’t. No matter how good you are you can always get better. And no matter how good you get, you should never define yourself by the things you make and do.
Identify with the process not the product.
You are a writer, you are not your writing. So when someone says that your story isn’t working for them, you don’t have to take that personally. In fact, if you take it personally you will never get better. You will live in fear of failure and judgement, wallowing in self pity and unrealized dreams. You will stagnate, because you will never be able to show your work to anyone (except maybe your mom). And we have to show our work. Because that’s how we learn and grow and flourish and become the glittering unicorns of greatness that we were always meant to be.
When you accept that you are not your writing, it will become much easier to view it objectively. This numbs the sting of a rough critique, especially if it, too, is written objectively. Which, to be perfectly honest, it might not be.
Objective vs Subjective Feedback
Ideally, your critique partner will be skilled and experienced in delivering constructive criticism. But, of course, this will not always be the case. Delivering creative writing critiques is as much an art as the creative writing itself. Sometimes you will receive feedback from people who are still early in the learning process. And that’s okay, because we are all still learning how to receive feedback, too. We all need practice.
Practice makes PROGRESS!
How can you tell if the critique you have been given is good or bad? Good criticism is objective and focused on the actual writing rather than you as the writer. Poor critiques are subjective, confuse the writing with the writer, and are sometimes, but not necessarily, delivered in a condescending or hostile tone.
The trick is, being able to tell the difference.
- Focus on the facts. That means, they critique what is there on the page. Word choices, sentences structure, character’s actions, etc. They do not make assumptions about your beliefs and critique that. Ex. “Wow, Charlie is a really despicable character! Can you provide more evidence to show why he is the way he is?” vs “This is totally misogynistic and gross. What is wrong with you?”
- Are familiar with the genre you are writing in and aware of the expectations of that genre. Romance stories have happy endings. Mysteries have a reveal. Some things shouldn’t be messed with.
- Offer clear examples and actionable suggestions. These should be presented as possible ways around a problem, rather than prescriptions. “You can bring the POV in closer by eliminating some of these filter words. Consider the difference between ‘Charlie realized it was too late.’ and ‘Charlie checked his phone and groaned. He’d never make it in time.'”
- Never attempt to re-write your work, change your voice or style to suit the personal preferences of the critiquer.
- Are aware of potential biases, and disclose them within the critique. Ex. “I don’t really enjoy romances, so take this with a grain of salt…”
- Are based on personal opinions, assumptions, interpretations and beliefs. To some extent, all critiques are a bit subjective. It is impossible to completely divorce yourself from your opinions and experiences. However, a good critique won’t point out a first person present narrative as a flaw just because the reader doesn’t like them.
- Confuse the writing with the writer. We all have to write conflict, villains, and disasters. Good stories are rife with bad things happening to our beloved characters. It is possible to write a homophobic character without being homophobic yourself. Good critiques will be able to tell the difference. HOWEVER, it is perfectly valid for someone to point out when it isn’t clear if a particular bit of nastiness belongs to a character or is an overflow of your own personal opinion. If someone points out something like this in your work, thank them profusely. It may save you a lot of negative reviews and bad press. Or identify something you need to unpack with your therapist next week. Either way, say thank you.
- Forget that they might not be the targeted reader. If you ever receive a creative writing critique that tries to steer your piece into a different genre, a different POV, or a different style of writing without very good reason. “Oh god, I hate vampire stories. Can’t you make Fang a werepig instead?” Flag it as a personal preference problem and move on.
- Assume that how they would have written your story is better. This is the worst kind of critique to get. It’s in extremely poor taste and is best ignored if for no other reason than that you will not learn if someone else does the work for you! Never mind the fact that the people who attempt to re-write other people’s work are usually the least qualified to do so.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
So, you’ve received your creative writing critique. You’ve read it. You aren’t crying anymore. Much.
What do you do now?
First of all, thank your critique partner for their time and insights. Even if you just spent the last half an hour screaming at your computer about how said critique partner is an ignorant worm who wouldn’t know quality writing if it crawled up their arsehole and died. Yes. Even then.
Because whether you liked what they had to say or not, this person took time to try to help you become a better writer. And even if they don’t know how to write a proper critique and can’t tell an opinion from a fact to save their life, you can still learn from their comments.
Yes, even poorly written crits are valuable. They still highlight potential problem areas in your piece. They still help you to identify what works and what doesn’t work. Even if all you identify is exactly who your intended audience is not.
Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?
Yup. You survived. Now, you need to do it all over again. Why? Because getting more eyes on your work is what is going to help you decide what is advice you need to heed and what you can safely ignore. If that one weird girl from the back of the class totally digs your favourite sock puppet metaphor (Yeah, I loved it) and ten other people just don’t get it… maybe you need to kill that darling.
Or, you know, accept that what you’re trying to do isn’t for everyone and be okay with that. That’s okay, too.
Whatever you do, do it on purpose.
Is there something you’ve always wondered about the writing, editing, or critiquing process? Do you need me to clarify any of these points? Hit me with your best shot in the comments.
Want to practice your own critique writing skills? Check out my Story Laboratory! I dare ya…
Pixie Forest Publishing, a fun little indie press, has a brand new collection of short fantasy stories coming out on March 8th! Pre-orders are open now, click HERE to snag a copy of Magical Reality. I’m here with Jensen Reed, author of “Heir” in this anthology, and co-owner of Pixie Forest Publishing.
Q: What was your inspiration for “Heir?”
A: I responded to a prompt in Writing Bad. It was a photo I found by Stefan Koidl that pictured a little boat above dragon bones in water. I wrote basically the opening paragraph as the prompt response and once we decided to do this theme for the anthology I knew it would fit perfectly!
Q: Who is your favorite character in your story and why?
A: I really love Jo. She has such a strong personality and I love her quirks. I also love how much Lincoln loves her though.
Q: Do you have a favorite story in Magical Reality? If so, why is it your favorite?
A: I absolutely adore “Misspelled” by Olivia London AND Melissa “Sell’s Mall of Magic.” They are both exactly the type of story I had in mind with this theme.
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: Be inspired, write out the scene that comes to mind, meet the characters, build their back stories, write, rewrite, edit, send to betas, polish. Oh and lots of caffeine.
Q: Is fantasy the genre you usually write in?
A: I dabble. I love fantasy, horror, I write romance, and I’m attempting sci-fi. But I mostly love feeding characters to zombies and making readers cry. 😉
Q: How long on average does it take you to write a story?
A: It honestly depends on the length. I’ve been working on my zombie apocalypse series for at least 5 years now, but I have written and published ten short stories in the last year.
Q: How important was research to you when writing this story?
A: This one, sorta. The most research I put in was for the spells that Jo does. The rest I just made up as I went.
Q: What are you are currently reading, and what made you grab that book?
A: This answer is going to change several times by the time this interview goes live, haha. I have been inhaling books this year as part of a goal to read more. I’m currently reading The Whispers by Greg Howard because I saw it at Target and fell for the cover.
Q: What are you writing now or what are you planning on writing next?
A: Lots. The Refuge series books one and two (zombie apocalypse), Painted Hearts (modern magic about a vampire who lives in a lighthouse), This Is Stupid (sci-fi), and several short stories for more anthologies.
Q: Do you have any upcoming releases?
A: Salty Tales anthology by Stormy Island Publishing launched on March 1st. I have a little Nicholas Sparks-ish romance in there. I am aiming to release Ranch (zompoc book one) this year as well as one of the two novellas I listed above. I have three more anthologies releasing soon too.
Q: Wow! You’re busy! Where can we find you if we want to keep up with all of this?
Facebook: Author Jensen Reed
WordPress: About Jensen Reed at Pixie Forest Publishing
Goodreads: Jensen Reed
Thanks, Jensen! I’m excited to check out Magical Reality! Make sure you check out Pixie Forest Publishing for more great reads. If you are a writer looking for a home for your own novel or short stories, check out their upcoming anthologies and the submissions guidelines.
Well, I’m trying out a new look here Sarah Does Sci-Fi. What do you think? I am still in the process of cleaning up my categories and tags, but that’s a bigger project than I can tackle in one day and I really need to get back to writing. Please do let me know if you find any broken links or other weirdness. Thanks for putting up with the chaos during construction!
We are in the middle of a midwinter deep freeze. Lows of -42 Celsius overnight. I can remember very few winters that have been this cold as relatively far south as we are. My husband, who works in the real north, suffers through a few weeks of the -40 stuff every year but this is unusual for us. He’s in his truck right now, and I’m trying not to think about what will happen if he has truck or trailer problems. It’s unforgiving out there.
School busses are cancelled and the kids have a fort built in the living room. We’ll be hiding inside today. I’m going to make bread and do some writing. I really can’t complain.
But the cold has got me thinking about freezing. Not the freezing of fingers and toes and the tips of your nose, but that full body/brain freeze that only really happens because of fear. Fear of getting hurt, fear of looking stupid, fear of failure. You know the freeze I’m talking about. Would-be writers suffer from this all the time, myself included.
This thought started to solidify for me this winter when the kids started skating. We all bought skates, even though my husband and I haven’t been skating in 25 years. My husband didn’t do a lot of skating growing up and was never great at it (so he says). My dad has always played hockey, right up until he broke his ankle a few years ago (in his 60s!), and I learned to skate young. But when we got on the ice for the first time, I was the one who froze.
Ice is hard. And slippery. And I was exquisitely aware of how vulnerable I was in my now middle-aged body. It was terrifying. My husband, who is naturally athletic and, it seems to me sometimes, completely immune to fear of physical injury, took off. He was a little shaky at first, but pretty soon he was doing just as well as most people out there.
In the end, I did fall. I had a nice purple knee for a couple of weeks. But it took falling, and getting that fear out of the way, to allow me to move forward. It hurt, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I knew, suddenly, that I would survive if it happened again. And when you’re skating, my husband reminded me, you fall just as hard when you’re standing still and when you’re going fast. So you might as well pick up the pace! Next time we went, I wasn’t doing half bad. I still have to work on my technique and my ankle strength, but I’m not afraid to move and (mostly) not afraid to fall anymore.
With the kids, it was different. They’ve never skated before. It wasn’t all that long ago that they were learning how to walk. This was totally foreign and scary and they didn’t know how to handle it. My son, who has inherited my (lack of) athletic prowess, has been convinced since he was tiny that he will be a hockey player. That enthusiasm skips a generation, apparently. He envisioned himself as a pro. So the rude shock of having to learn how to do this thing, just like everyone else, was incredibly frustrating.
The first hour that we were out, the kids basically just fell over. Got up. Fell over again. They were in tears; I was nearly in tears (my knee really hurt!). My son kept saying, “How can I learn anything if all I do is fall down!” And I told him that every time he fell down, his body was learning what not to do. If you step like this you fall. If you lean like that you fall. And eventually, once it had eliminated a bunch of “wrong” motions, it would start to figure out the “right” ones.
I mean, I was just making that up. I didn’t want him to be frustrated. I honestly had my doubts that any of us would figure out this skating thing this year.
But sure enough, by the end of the two hours that we were on the ice, all three of the kids were shuffling around and mostly staying upright. And when they fell down, they were really good at getting themselves back up again.
Even more interesting was the fact that my son who, like I said, has my natural cautiousness and lack of athleticism, was doing much better than his twin sister who, despite the fact that she has my husband’s fearlessness and agility, quickly loses interest in things that don’t come easily. She doesn’t get angry or frustrated, she just moves on to the next thing, like running around the bleachers with her cousins.
To see my son skating, you’d think he was having a terrible time. His eyebrows were furrowed and he frowned in concentration. There were a lot of breaks and tears of frustration. But when the skates were off and we were back in the truck he lit up, and couldn’t stop talking about it. He had focused on his goal and powered through the challenges just out of sheer determination to be a hockey player. And maybe that’s just what he’ll do!
But guys. This story is not about my kids.
It’s about me. It’s about us. It’s about learning to love the struggle of getting better at the thing we are passionate about. It’s about failing, and failing repeatedly, because it’s the only way that we learn. When have you ever learned anything by being good at it already? Never. You might coast for a while on natural ability–that’s what I was doing when I chose to study English Literature in school–but eventually, if you want to grow, you have to fall on your face. You have to make mistakes. You have to try new things, and mess them up, and try again.
I’ve never actually enjoyed writing. Writing, at least in the draft stages, is a lot like hard manual labour. It is the equivalent of getting a shovel and digging until you find clay. Digging until you have enough clay that you are ready to make something. It’s the re-writing and the editing that is the real art, I think. That’s when the magic happens. That’s when you sculpt your lump of clay into what you want it to be. But you can’t edit a blank page. You can’t finesse the words you haven’t written yet. So sometimes you have to force yourself to sit down and write. You’ve got to dig.
You can’t let yourself worry about the what if. What if what I’m going to make will be no good? What if no one will like it? What if the thing I’m trying to say is derivative and pointless? That’s when you freeze. That’s when you get “writers block.”
Because none of that matters. If what you write is a bunch of rubbish, that’s fine. Then you go back and work it again. And the next time you try, it will come out a little closer to that piece of art you are envisioning in your head.
So I hope you aren’t freezing this winter. But I do hope that you fall on your face a couple of times and, more than anything, I hope you pick yourself up and try again.
I read a wonderful flash fiction piece the other day, by Jennifer Stephen Kapral called “The Alien in 36B.” In it, Kapral describes the experiences of an alien ambassador travelling by airplane with a bunch of humans and it is both funny and poignant. I loved the descriptions of the alien’s kaleidoscopic ability to see germs, and I think some of my germaphobic friends and readers will appreciate his disgust at being crammed into an archaic flying tin can with a bunch of coughing, sneezing, bacteria ridden humans.
However, what struck me most was the parallels between this alien’s experience with humans and the experience of immigrants, particularly visible minorities, in North America. Kapral expertly injects a sense of otherness that is so subtle I had to read it twice to catch all of it. The alien “[whose] bones felt heavy with the weight of being constantly watched” must consider his every word and gesture so as not to offend his co-passengers. In a polite, everyday type of conversation he “steeled himself, anticipating an insult.” Even something as simple as passing a drink to the woman next to him, which he doesn’t want to do because he is disgusted by the germs he can see on the cup, becomes a potential political battleground because “humans were extraordinarily talented at taking small, meaningless incidents and turning them into worldwide scandals.”
It made me think of the way we expect people to participate in daily rituals that seem harmless enough to us. Simple politeness can carry the weight of cultural expectations we take for granted. A handshake, a shared meal. To a person of a different religion or different culture, there may be a hundred socially ingrained rules they must break in order to appease out sense of “normalcy” or “politeness.”
I also wondered if it would take the sudden appearance of an alien species to finally make humans see that we are in fact more similar than we are different. Is that what it would take for us to really believe that we all belong to the so-called “human race.”
This kind of “otherness” is an integral part of the science fiction genre. In order to speculate about future worlds, species, societies, we must first be able to imagine ourselves as the Other. Some of the best SF writers today are minorities: women, people of colour, LGBTQ+, immigrants, people with disabilities, people with mental illness; I believe this is because writers who have experienced being “othered” by a majority have a better sense of the anxiety, fear, frustration, and loneliness that comes with being different. One of the reasons science fiction is so popular, I believe, is that it gives people a glimpse of a world that is so different that they can imagine themselves belonging there, when our own world seems to reject them.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced being “Other”? Do you feel that it helps you connect to science fiction as a reader (or a writer)? What did you think of the story? I hope you read it!
If you liked that story, and would like to read more, I highly recommend subscribing to Daily Science Fiction‘s newsletter, or at least checking out their site any time you want a quick read. I hope to see my own work up there some day, but I keep publishing it to my blog instead of submitting it. What a terrible habit!
I know I mentioned this back in October, but I have a story in Corrogatio IV: The Midnight Massacre from CrushPop Productions, which is a collection of horror, gore-core, and thrash type stories. It’s FREE to download here if you want to check it out! Seriously, go check it out. I’ll wait…
If you enjoyed my piece, “Sanctuary” you will be excited to hear that I will be doing a fiction series for CPOP that builds on this story. I’ve got the whole thing plotted out, and just got the go ahead to start writing. I finished my draft of Season Episode One today and plan to finish one episode a week until I have the first season completed. These are, of course, drafts. So I’ll need some time to fine tune it afterwards and I’m not sure when the release is going to be, but I expect sometime in the second half of the year.
I don’t want to give too much away until it’s all finalized, but I think I can safely say… post-apocalyptic vampire hunters are coming your way. And it’s going to be glorious.