Category Archives: Writing

Depression and suicide

I just watched Sue Klebold’s talk about her son Dylan and started crying halfway through.

When someone is in an extremely suicidal state, they are in a stage four medical health emergency. Their thinking is impaired and they’ve lost access to tools of self-governance. Even though they can make a plan and act with logic, their sense of truth is distorted by a filter of pain through which they interpret their reality. Some people can be very good at hiding this state, “
Yes, he probably had ongoing depression. He had a personality that was perfectionistic and self-reliant, and that made him less likely to seek help from others.”

The reason I started crying was because what she said could as easily be said about myself.

My journey with anxiety and depression started as a young child.  I still remember every episode that I experienced.

The ‘asthma’ attacks that weren’t asthma, but panic attacks. Sitting on the thinnest branches in the tallest tree, singing to myself because I felt sad. I was around ten years old.

Climbing onto the top of my cupboard as a teenager while I felt so blue that it was disabling.

As a twenty something, bursting into tears because I couldn’t afford to buy a cup of coffee in a coffee shop. I did have coffee at home. Not being able to get up in the mornings, I just wanted to sleep.

With each bout of depression the severity and duration got worse, until I was in my late thirties and cracked completely.

That was the first time that I accepted that I couldn’t deal with it by myself. I have been diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder or Clinical Depression as some call it. I am on medication and had therapy to find out how my depression started also how to change my thoughts.

For the most part I am back to being a functional human being. But the depression is always lurking in the background and sometimes it is a daily fight to stay on top. I have to force myself to do what needs to be done.

One of the debilitating effects of depression is the feelings of guilt for not being enough. Knowing that I can do better, but never having the energy to carry it out.

Yes, I had/have a suicide plan. I’m not sharing it (I won’t give someone else a readymade plan) and I’m not suicidal at the moment. The medication has erased that filter that I used to look through. I am aware that it isn’t a solution.

What stopped me before and still does, is the fact that I have a responsibility to be there for my kids. I can not commit suicide because of what it would do to them.  Their needs above my own.

If you are reading this and feel suicidal, please don’t be like me. Don’t be so independent and self-reliant that it stops you from asking for help.

Google hotlines or just walk into any hospital if you feel that you can’t live anymore. There are people that can help and understand. Please ask for that.

Everyone Has a Story: Anthology One

This book is a breakthrough in so many ways.

First of all, I don’t believe anything like this has ever been done before. Why? Because it contains 12 stories, written by 32 authors from 8 different countries. And it isn’t the “who wrote the best chapter” type either. There is a starter of 500 words that has been thoroughly edited. Then ten 500 word chapters that are each booked in advance. There is a guideline regarding what needs to be added to the serial in whichever chapter has been booked. BUT it is not about the serial itself, it is a basic outline for a short story. Beginning, middle and end. If you want to see it in action go over to The Story Mint.

Secondly, this was my first experience in editing and I managed the progress of the Anthology, using my administrative experience to keep track of the whole progress.

Now it is available for sale! The first time any of my fiction writing has been published!  Woohoo!

 

So if you reaaaally like me, go out and buy this book.

 

The Story Mint Serial Chapters

THE STORY MINT SERIAL CHAPTERS

The Third Shadow – This was the very first serial at The Story Mint.  You’ll see how much the writing of all the members just got better with the next serials.  I wrote chapter 7

Cold Courage – Quite a bit better than the previous serial, but still very much a learning curve. I wrote chapter 6

House Hunting – We all enjoyed this one. It was fun writing a ghost story. I wrote chapter 5

Deep River – This one was quite a challenge for me. I am in no way an extreme sports fan, so white river rafting took a bit of effort on my part.  I wrote chapter 9 and added a nice twist that Mrellan used to great advantage in chapter 10.

Great work, Sumanda! Bringing it all back around, tying in the fire and why Susan would care for the oaf. I almost like him. It felt like you got so much in with only 500 words. And what a cliffhannger for the last author. But did he really say “son”?

Nice wrap up Sumanda. I don’t know about cliffhanger at the end but certainly a mystery that adds some spice to be resolved. I like the factual description of pink bubbles from the lung injury too. Great chapter.

That is a nice one.  Well done.  I really liked the reference to her scars and that he saw past the physical, even perhaps found them beautiful, to see and know her.  Just by his brief words I feel like Artie still hasn’t learned his lesson about being conservative or mature!  His son?  Oh, boy!  Does he have a son?  Or does he want her to give her a son?  Or is teh sun in his eyes….haha. It seems that many people here don’t like Artie.  I have to admit, I’m not to fond of him either. Nice chapter indeed.

Thabazimbi Heat – I wrote the serial starter on this one and I really enjoyed the experience.

Fontaine’s Enterprise – This one also gave me a few grey hairs but stretched my writing capabilities nicely. I wrote chapter 10

There’s always something interesting about a story that has no neat ending; a story that lets the murderer walk away, especially if it happens to be a bent cop. Sumanda’s use of the initials in the logbook – DS – as Smits initials, I’ll bet was one of those moments when a writer suddenly gets a flash of inspiration. It changed the story from a very good one to a memorable one. It also gave us, I think, our first story that not only had a great starter but also a great conclusion.

I just re-read the story from start to finish. What a great collection of writers and chapter that flow together to make for a very engaging read. This ending stands out as the starring peice that tied it all together. BRAVO

The Bond – Another serial starter that I wrote.

It’s a start to alot happening in this serial. My one question is “sweeties” is an English phrase. “Mommy” is American. Where is this story set? “Mummy” is used close to the end
I guess the boys have one parent British and the other American. My American wife calls me a “sweetie”…..sometimes.
My gosh this is good, it gave me chills to read it. It will be a challenge that I’m not sure I’m up for, but I’m taking a chapter.
Sumanda has written a serious look at the paranormal/horror genre and it has started with one of those ice cold drafts that chill one to the bone. We are seeing a gradual change from writers as they get used to serial writing. There is now an ‘Earnest’ attempt by all to improve the standard of writing and creativity. A team spirit is emerging, highlighted by better continuity and intriguing hooks. Well done Sumanda.
It is so cool to see some of the comment writers now taking part as well as new members. Rock on “Minties”.

Crown of Thorns – I remember doing a lot of research to get this one out. I wrote chapter 9

Tremendous effort. Sumanda has kept the high standard of creative writing that has marked this serial as the all time best in my view. You can’t just invent this kind of pros. You have to research. I loved the hook. Our hero has turned old prematurely and that definitely follows faerie folklore. This has changed my mind about faeries.

Wow, you had me transported to another place. I felt and saw every detail. It was magic! Very clever and well done. And the end was stunning! Great to have you back writing Sumanda!

The Infection – Here is the editor’s comment on my chapter 10.

WHEW!!!!! What a compelling chapter! What a wind-up! What a surprise!!!! As I first started reading, I thought, Oh, yeah, that’s a good way to resolve this. And then it continued and changed! And what an eerie conclusion! Terrific Syfy! omg! GREAT chapter! GREAT conclusion (or, actually, (dum de dum dum), it will go on. And on… oh, it is deliciously clever!

I also won the best chapter of the month with this one.

Okay, Sumanda. You have set yourself up for a solo author serial – to carry on from here. I think thats a great idea, don’t you? This is so well ended but still open to be followed. I loved this.

Changing places – I wrote chapter 2.

Great Chapter! Was a surprise today morning when I just logged on to Story Mint and found it uploaded, without any announcement on the face-book page. The story is gaining momentum and getting crispier. Lets see where it goes! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this Sumanda Martiz. It made my day!

This is a chapter written by someone who has a lot of experience with IT. There’s nothing here that says that but it’s obvious and that is what makes it such a good and interesting piece of work. There is a lot of information here and yet it doesn’t get bogged down into boredom. We know such a lot more about the main character and the cherry on top of the cake is the created mystery by one short sentence – ‘And then it got weird.’ Great chapter. Nice to see the return to serials of an old ‘Minter.’

This is a fabulous chapter and I couldn’t find any deviation from the preface. You have given the character depth and built a very powerful story line. Fantastic!

The Bal Maid of Great Condurrow – Another serial that is still in progress. I wrote chapter 2 and chapter 10.

Chapter 2 comment

Loved this. The story is gathering momentum and the mystery getting deeper by the page turn. What is even more interesting is seeing how the language is tackled and every writer is different. Sumanda injects just enough to get us in the mood but without going over the top. The script reads smoothly and puts us into the 18th century as we read the first paragraph. It’s a joy to read. Loved this, Sumanda. Two hooks at the end – a shock and then a mystery. Great stuff.

Chapter 10 comment

You captured the voice of the characters and the tone to match the period this story is reflecting. But you also gave us the historical and political situation of the Bal Maids. This was well researched and authenticated the chapter. Great effort!

Wait till I tell you – This serial is progressing fast. And chapter 4 is up.

What can I say – another great addition to this surprising and colourful serial.

What a wonderful truth this story holds. Also beautifully crafted Sumanda

Silver Shoes – After a fantastic discussion on writing and speculation regarding men with cellulite and stretch marks in chapter 1, here is my chapter 2 in this slice of life serial. I also wrote chapter 7.

Chapter 2 comments

Twist Untwisted!!! Great Job, Sumanda Martiz… I wonder what will happen next?

I like this has returned to a bit of ground level. We are back in weddingville.

Chapter 7 comments

And on and on this great serial goes. When a group of writers get the collective ‘feel’ for a serial it takes on a life of its own and you wish it would go ‘on and on.’ Sumanda’s chapter is a wonderful example of a writer really getting into the plot with nothing looking (reading) false. Reading this was almost like watching and listening to a conversation with the girls – a fly on the wall documentary. So natural. Terrific chapter, Sumanda.

What a perfect way to follow on from Donna. I loved the nuances. The people’s other lives like Aunt Glenda who hates daisies. What a gorgeous touch adding many layers to the story. This is becoming an exceptional story with comedy and mystery…Where is Vic? for example and the little girl?

ho ho ho…what else can go wrong on this disaster- prone wedding day??

Dear me ! How is this going to end?

Great fun to read!

The Bridge – I believe this is the first time that I’ve written chapter 1 in any serial. Another fun writing experience.

This is a great chapter, Sumanda. And the way you have developed Bettina’s character is very clever, especially her speech. It will be a challenge for me to continue in that vein. Wonderful writing!

This is an excellent chapter. The interaction between the two women is almost audible with each accented word. Each woman had her distinct character and the kindness Stella shows towards Betina show a compassionate while troubled woman. These two characters and the scenario are beautifully developed.

Good chapter. A little confusing in the beginning though.

Missing Pieces – This one is next up. So what am I going to do to Max and Mia in chapter 7?

Do you mind? – A story about tomato hatred and anger issues. I wrote chapter 6 and chapter 8.

Nice chapter, Sumanda. He seems like a man coming undone, one tomato at a time and I really liked the twist at the end.

Mary and the Bushrangers – Australian historical, I wrote chapter 4.

Well at least the story is at last moving into another phase. Three chapters about how a young girl is kidnapped away from a man she doesn’t want – by two more men who want her at first and then don’t. Now she is, we hope going to meet the love of her life – unless he gets rid of her in a card game. Gosh this is exciting. At least Sumanda has tried to bring life to this lack-lustre serial. My opinion is we left this too long for it to be booked and in the meantime the serials ‘moved on’ Written with good description and a knee in the groin to move it forward, Sumanda has breathed some life into the story and woken the characters’ up. Well done Sumanda

Very pertinent comment. I think the problem I’m thinking outback Australia, early 1930s period and then something happens and I have to rearrange my thinking. Tricky story well handled Sumanda.

Silver Spheres – chapter 3.

This chapter has a great twist at the end. Sci fi is definitely your thing Sumanda. You have a terrific imagination and ability to draw the pictures that make your character real. I can see the relationship with Layla being that of mentor and the man from her vision is significant. Be interesting to see how these relationships develop.

I have found that Sci Fi allows the writer’s imagination to run riot, explore and push the outer bounds of a life none of us have lived or experienced yet – BUT in an ordered and understandable way which makes the reader think – “Yes, that is possible or at least feasible” Sumanda has written a wonderful chapter that twists the imagination and gives us more insight into the minds of the players. They are special people doing special things – why? What are the silver spheres and what is their function – collective mind control or individual teaching aids? In Sci Fi anything is possible as long as the writer/creator takes us on the trip as participants and not just spectators. Sci Fi is for those who want to be involved in the wild imaginings of the creator of the story. Sumanda has achieved just that together with an ending that encourages strange images and thoughts in a dark recess somewhere at the back of our brain. Well written and thought out, Sumanda. This one is top of my list.

This serial is progressing so nicely and at pace. Chapter 3 already and we know the characters that have been introduced and we are familiar with the perspective that these “beings” have on our world. We also have many “rules” around their situation, the experiences they are yet to have and the process Emily is going through.

Flight – This hilarious story of an air hostess that it afraid of flying. I wrote chapter 1.

You have done an excellent job at creating flow of writing style and pace from the first chapter, well done.

Fairy Blessings – I wrote both the starter and chapter 1, now I’m helping my son to write chapter 2.

Starter comments

What a delightful starter! Wistful with a touch of wickedness.

Sumanda, fantasies are a little out of my comfort zone. However i just love the scene you’ve captured. It’s just beautiful. And it will be good for me to try something different. Fantastic starter!

Chapter 1 comments

This is really nice and written with a soft stroke of the pen. Although some fairy stories have an element of wickedness about them, they should also have characters that we warm to and want to help, nice little innocent girls for example. Sumanda has written a little mysteriously and added that softness of the girl who is discovering something that maybe only she, apart from the medicine woman, will eventually figure out. The fawn interests me and adds that fantasy element without being to intrusive. Loved this, Sumanda.

I really enjoyed the pace, all the hustle and bustle of a fair. I was right in there with Kali. Grandma Aimes and her wisdom provide excellent foreshadowing which we might see start to take shape in Kali. And yes, like Ray loved the Fawn….I look forward to seeing how it develops in the story also. Beautiful, gentle, insightful crafting of your chapter, Sumanda.

Eleven – I wrote chapter 4.

Wow, Sumanda, you have captured a picture of South Africa that is so vivid, i can see it.
‘Imagine New York cut down to ten stories and sprawled over ten times the area. That is what most of Gauteng looked like.’ Wonderful description.
Have to add it to my list of places to go!!! Haha

Yes, I agree with Roseyn. You have captured South Africa, the matriarch elephant was awe inspiring. The Mopani worms sounded delicious ): I wonder if you could have described what they tasted like and looked like. Great chapter and great insight into S. Africa. Wonderful!

Havoc – I wrote chapter 10.

Great chapter and with a good twist. Well done in bringing this to conclusion.

What a twist at the end. You brought the threads together and the people all turned out to be not as they seemed but this was convincingly done. Engaging writing as always and a great pace.

Retribution – I wrote chapter 10.

Wow! What a great strategy for this chapter and an excellent delivery, providing us with the snippets that we need to progress the relationship between such combatants. Bringing Mirembe into the story once more in the way that you have generates a belief that all has ended how it was meant to. I found this an exciting read.

Wow Sumanda, once again you have demonstrative your fantastic storytelling skills. You’ve tied the story up and shown the reader the way forward for breaking the spell.

Running scared – I wrote chapter 10. Sometimes if something is broken beyond repair, you just have to break it completely.

This is a very clever way of dealing with a serial that for some unknown reason threw up so many inconsistencies it became easy to lose the thread and write in new information that did not build on the narrative. This ending gives the serial credibility.

Gacgon the Sorcerer – I wrote the starter as well as chapter 1.

Starter comments:

Wow!! Loved the starter. A new genre to explore. Took me back to the days when I used to read Harry Potter books to my children. Now I will get to write my own magic tale!!!! Great job Sumanda.

I’m not passing on this one. Another serial we can explore our own imaginations with. Lovely starter from Sumanda. Full of mystic antiquity and lots of dark corners where rats and little boys scamper to safety. And what is coming out of the pot? Not stew but a big bowl of magic. I can’t wait to taste the concoction and turn into a handsome Prince Charming – well almost. Brillient starter.

This incredible starter made my imagination go wild. Again, not a genre I’ve tried but how can i resist. Great stuff, Sumanda.

Chapter 1 comments

Super chapter Sumanda. Very vivid description and great character development. I have big shoes to fill for sure!!

Sirias 3 – I wrote chapter 10 of this space drama.

This was a clever end to this story. What a great solution to have parasites eat their hosts and solve the problem of the parallel universes and people and to destroy the aliens who like resonance by giving them dissonance….perfect. Your creative imagination is inspiring Sumanda.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

First of all, I’d like to thank Jonathan Ball Publishers for the opportunity to read this fascinating book.

I’ve been putting of writing this review of Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. I’ve even started re-reading it to see if I could figure out why I was procrastinating so much.

The thing is, this book stirs up a lot of emotions. From “Jip, I fully agree with you” and “I’m exactly the same as that” to full blown “OMG!”. I think the moment of most unbelief was where she explained how she tried to train the dog.

It’s a very basic story. A mom explaining her parenting technique and relating her successes and failures. She’s a very driven person, raised to always achieve the most and expecting the same of her children. Her main fight was trying to sustain the path she had chosen for her children against a society that didn’t agree with her methods. One thing I can tell you is that I’ve got a whole lot of respect for the open manner in which she tells her story.

She brings up three points where she believes that Western parenting differ from Chinese parenting.
1. Western parents are mindful of a child’s self-image and will praise the smallest success, whereas a Chinese parent assumes that their child is strong and will act accordingly. (My own summation)

This is very interesting. Because what that means is that Western kids are praised for mediocre performances while Chinese are criticised for good results. This got me thinking. I remember my dad being extremely proud of the fact that I could recognise some of the birds in the field. He bragged about it, but because I knew that I hadn’t really made an effort to study birds I didn’t feel as if I deserved that praise. In effect I had let him down. What we (as Western parents) tend to forget in our praising of the least little thing is that kids are smart. They know when they’ve deserved the praise and when not. Working hard at something to achieve success produces the greatest feeling of self-worth. Should we push our children to work harder at something if they show any interest in it? Does that mean I have to put effort into getting my son into an art programme because he loves drawing?

2. Chinese parents believe that their children owe them everything.

This for me was an eye opener. The reason behind this idea is that the parents do everything for their kids, thus the kids owe everything to the parents. And this is where a major difference between Chinese and Western parenting comes in. The Chinese mother will spend long hours every day working with the kid to get the desired results. They PUT IN THE TIME. Is the Western parenting model a selfish one? Sacrificing time spent drilling the kids to have Me time? Granted I can’t see myself forcing my kids to practice for 5 hours a day. The most amazing thing is that she managed to be a 200% mother drilling her kids, while maintaining a full career.

3. Chinese parents believe they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own preferences and desires.

How I wish I had the conviction for something like this. I’m not even sure what the best is for myself. Do I actually have the ability to choose for my child? And that might just be the whole difference. I don’t trust and believe in myself, how can I be expected to choose for my child? What if I’m wrong?

The whole book is about how successful her methods were with her oldest daughter and how her younger daughter kept fighting it right till the end. She hasn’t thrown in the towel with her younger daughter, but has decided to change tactics. But both her daughters have the same drive that she has and the will to succeed has been firmly established.

It’s a book that has made me think and re-evaluate some of the preconceived ideas I’ve had about parenting.

Cemetery Tales 1

One of my favourite memories of my childhood was the time we lived with my grandparents next to a cemetery. My grandfather was the superintendent of cemeteries in Pretoria. One of the perks of his position was free housing next to Sandfontein Cemetery It was located on the southern slope of Magaliesberg and while we stayed there, a highway was being built just to the east.

Soon after they moved in they noticed lights in the cemetery that didn’t have any electricity. My gran wasn’t one to go “Oh, Gosh! What now?” She bullied my granddad to go into the cemetery with her so that she could see where these lights were coming from. Now in those days, you got these plastic flowers that were covered with a plastic dome. The domes turned out to be the moonlight reflecting off the flowers on the graves.

The new highway included blasting through the mountain where the highway had to cross the mountain to the North. Natural habitat being invaded made the jackals and snakes retreat to the least affected area; the cemetery. Now imagine a cemetery filled with lights particularly on a full moon and jackals crying. Real monster movie material!

My uncle played guitar in a band that used to play dance music. Two-step music mostly. This was in the eighties and all the favourites were played. My cousin and I used to dance between all the adults. Boys our age not being interested at all. They preferred playing outside in the dark and getting up to various naughty things. And that is how my brother got a ticket for driving without a licence at the age of twelve.

Because of the very low living population at the cemetery, my uncle, and his band used to practice in the Rondawel next to the main house. It’s not like the neighbours were going to complain, right? They regularly practiced until just before midnight. Once they finished, they would have coffee provided by Gran. One night that they practiced the full moon came up very late. We were all well aware of what happens in that situation. But one of the band members believed in ghosts. He walked out the front door, saw all the lights in the cemetery and heard the jackals howling. For a fairly big guy, he moved with remarkable speed to his car, jumped in and locked the door.

Okay, so this is where I get my mean streak from, Gran walked over to the car, knocked on the window and told him calmly that a locked door wouldn’t stop a ghost. Right then he pleaded with the rest of the band to pleeease can they go now?

My granddad used to love practical jokes and telling jokes. So, I have no idea if this story is true or not, but…

Granddad told us when he was younger and he was working at another cemetery, they found a guy in the bottom of a grave that had been dug for the next day. When they took him out he told them what had happened after asking for a match first.

He was out drinking and when he walked home, he decided to take a shortcut through the cemetery as it would be a much shorter route. But since there were no lights in the cemetery, he fell into the open grave. This accident removed most of his drinking buzz. Try as he might he couldn’t get out of the six-foot deep open grave. He tried everything he could think off but failed miserably each time. Knowing that someone would help him out in the morning he picked a corner and took out his cigarettes only to realise that he didn’t have any matches on him. This turned into another search, but alas cigaret in hand came up empty on matches. With regret, he seated himself again in a corner. He was sitting there for about half an hour before the second guy fell into the same open grave. The new guy went through the same motions trying to get out without success. Once he gave up and took a seat in an opposite corner the first guy asked the new one if he had a match by any chance. He said in one move the new guy jumped out of the grave and he was stuck without a match again.

Forgotten

Sometimes mothers do something inappropriate to proof a point. Like the other morning when I deliberately took my six-year-old, tantrum-throwing daughter out of the car and drove away. Yes, I do know that is probably social security worthy, but I only drove around the corner, turned around and picked her up again. Plus I chose a very safe spot to do this. The tantrum, however, was gone.

But what happened to me as a child was easily one of the worst mistakes a mother can make. We were living in Germiston, Gauteng and went to visit family North of Pretoria. At a rough guess about 120km away from home. During the visit, it was decided to not make lunch, but rather to go to a restaurant in Pretoria North a suburb of Pretoria.

Since I was very small my dad used to ask me how we would drive to a familiar place. He still remembers the little-crooked finger that I used as a toddler to show him which way to turn. It was a game we played a lot. So by the time that at I was eight or nine, I had a fair knowledge of roads. When we left the farm to go to the restaurant, I was feeling very “grown up” and decided to drive with the women instead of with the men who had all the kids. The restaurant had parking areas on two different roads. The men used one and the women the other.

I whispered to my mother that I was just going to the ladies room as they were paying the bill. I walked out of the toilet and saw that no one was left in the restaurant. I quickly walked outside just to realise that they were gone. I have always been a fairly independent person and decided that since it only took 5 minutes by car to get back to the farm, that I would walk there.

But at that age, you have no understanding of how far a five-minute drive could be. I started out full of confidence. The first kilometre was going well. Even the two families that stopped and offered me a ride I waved away with a smile. I knew where I was going and didn’t need help. By the end of the second kilometre, I was sure that I was turned around. Suddenly I didn’t recognise the road anymore, the sun was starting to go down and I knew I wouldn’t make it.

So I turned around and walked back. By this time, I was crying as you might expect. About 800 meters back from where I turned around a small yellow bakkie (a South African way of saying a small pickup truck) stopped next to me. I can’t remember if he was young or old. I do know that he wasn’t very young, but I had no idea what age he was.

He told me that he had seen me walking the other way earlier and that I was obviously upset as I was walking back. By this time, I didn’t want to walk anymore and got in. My faith in my direction capabilities was completely shaken. So I told the man that he could drop me off at another one of my uncles. I was positive that I could tell him where that was.

We got to my uncle’s house only to find the house empty. The man decided to take me to the police station so that they could help me get home.  A very friendly officer drove me first to his house, where his wife gave me cookies and a cool drink. I think that was probably just to settle my nerves. I remember that they had this beautiful garden with a newly built swimming pool. There was no water in it yet since they were still in the process of having a dolphin picture added. I thought the dolphin was so cool.

Then the officer asked me if I think I could remember the road now. I told him that I’m sure I could. I even described the little dirt road you had to take because of the new road being built. On the first drive by I missed, but on the second time I got it! The sun was starting to draw water (an Afrikaans saying “die son trek water” that describes the way it looks when the sun starts to touch the horizon and light shimmers in the heat) as we pulled into the driveway of the farmhouse.

Now you might think that my mother must have noticed the fact that I wasn’t around. Unfortunately, she hadn’t, when my aunt told her that I was there with a policeman she wanted to know what I had done wrong. Her explanation was that all the kids drove back with the men and since they arrived first the kids were all gone playing on the farm and that she didn’t know that I had been left behind.

Mastering the art of writing serial chapters

A blog post for The Story Mint.

During a discussion with Suraya, she explained to me what the benefits are for writers that take part in the serials:
  • An ability to be concise
  • Improved research skills – very important
  • Skilled writing, because you become clear about what you want to say and know you have no room to waffle
  • An understanding of point of view and how to write from a character’s point of view
  • Understanding of tenses and how to keep it consistent
  • The skill of keeping a consistent point of view
  • The skill of keeping location descriptions consistent
  • Understanding of how to keep the story moving forward
  • An understanding of how pace affects writing.
My method of writing in the serials is to not read the serial until it is time for my chapter. This helps me in two ways. First, I don’t build up an expectation of where the serial is going, so no unresolved expectations remain in my mind when writing my chapter. Secondly, I’m reading everything for the first time so I pay attention to each word.
Another thing that I do is to copy the starter and all previous chapters into a document without looking at who the author is or the comments after each chapter. Once I’ve completed my chapter I go back to read it. This gives me an unbiased approach to writing my chapter.
By a stroke of luck, I got five chapter ten’s to write in succession.
What I’ve noticed before and again with these last serials are the following:
Logical errors
These are the features in the serial that makes the reader doubt the validity of the story. Let’s take an extreme example, if the serial is about a trip up Mount Everest, describing the scene when you reach the summit as a leisurely stroll isn’t logical. So how do you prevent making a mistake like this? Go through the previous chapters and your own, then ask yourself – Is this logical? If you take a day off before doing this it helps to give you perspective on your own chapter.
Continuity errors
This happens when you contradict facts that have been written in previous chapters. I found that I made these mistakes when I had preconceived notions of the serial or characters. That is one of the reasons that I stopped reading the serial chapters before my own. As an example; a character is described as clear faced in chapter one, but then described as having acne scars in chapter eight. Small contradictions that make the reader “hiccup” when reading the serial. Other types of continuity errors are unwarranted changes in point of view and change of tense.
Lack of pace
This is one of the more challenging problems. Each story has a timeline that varies according to the type of story. Some serials take place in the space of a day and others might continue over several months or years. The timeline of the serial is sometimes determined by the starter or the first two chapters. Again this is where you can ask yourself if it is logical to stay within the same day as the previous chapter, or if time has moved on. Don’t be afraid to add to the timeline with a few sentences if you think it is warranted.
Take into account that a serial about a journey would require a description of how the journey is progressing. But, if you are writing a chapter in a mystery you don’t have time to describe the journey from one place to the next in detail unless it directly affects the mystery. This is where you have to question where this serial is going. Are you adding to the main theme of the serial?
Lack of research
This isn’t always a problem when writing about something that you are very familiar with or is common knowledge, but when you are not and don’t do the research it can create questions in the mind of the reader. The first example would be Cold Courage one of the first serials, where I didn’t do the necessary research on how long a fissure takes to form on a glacier, or in House Hunting where I didn’t check how a whistling kettle makes a loud noise. Those were things that looked good to me in the chapters, but readers who had actual experience on those two aspects found it jarring.
Chapter framework
Preface and chapters 1 and 2 are setting the scene and introducing the characters. Background and character development are important in this part.
Chapters 3 to 7 should build the tension. These writers should also remember to keep their writing in character and follow up on the cues from previous chapters while leaving the chapter open for the next writer to follow on.
Chapter 8 starts to bring things to a conclusion/climax and chapters 9 and 10 tidies up loose ends and concludes the serial.
Therefore, these writers need to make sure that the story and timeline lead to a believable ending to the serial. This is also the reason why The Story Mint prefers that you don’t add new characters in the last three chapters. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but ask yourself if it is truly necessary or if what you want to achieve can be done with the established characters.
Cliff-hangers
This is another aspect that I’ve noticed and have found myself guilty of. I have learned to let go of my ego and write the chapter to fit in with the serial, to not try to add a cliff-hanger to every chapter just because I can. Sometimes a cliff-hanger adds to the story, but frequently it doesn’t, especially not if the next writer can’t figure out what to do with it.
With a 500 word limit on chapters, it is important to understand that the pace and objective is to add to the story in a way that is consistent with the type of serial you are writing. The 500 word limit is there because when writers learn to write 500 words well they will be able to write any length of story well.
Recently, Suraya pointed out the following to me. I believe it is very good advice:
  • Read and study the previous chapters – draw up a timeline or references if you need to. I’ve done it. Add questions to the chapters when you find something you don’t understand or want an answer to. If you have these questions, so will the reader. Try to incorporate these answers into your chapter. You won’t be able to include all but focus on the main points.
  • Strive for consistency – keep the protagonists in character, maintain point of view and tense.
  • Do your research – especially if you are adding information that can be checked online. I spent two days doing research for The Bal Maid of Great Condurrow.
  • Leave the chapter open for the next writer.
Some questions you can ask when reading the chapters:
  • Why?
  • How?
  • Is this logical?
  • Is this in character?
  • Did I check the details I am unsure off?
  • Is my chapter moving the story and timeline along?
  • Did I follow up or expand on cues in the previous chapters?
And the icing on the cake is the anthology of serials that The Story Mint wants to publish. Just imagine being a published author! Remember not all of us “old Minters” are published yet. We want this just as much as you do.  😀
Happy writing

How to create a believable character

A blog post for The Story Mint.

No matter what genre you are writing in, you will have to create characters that populate your story. Creating characters might sound easy, give them a name and carry on with the story, right? Ever read a story where the character seems like a cardboard cut-out? Or seems erratic in his/her behaviour? The main reason this happens is because the character wasn’t created ahead of the story.

I found a character worksheet on the Harlequin website many years ago that truly helped me with creating a believable character. Even the peripheral ones. The easy answer is that for any character to be believable, you, as the writer must know everything about him/her. If the character is real in your mind you will automatically show this in your writing.

Your first start is to capture the physical and emotional characteristics that you want this person to have. Add their age, colouring, height, emotional baggage (we all have it), motivations, state of mind, occupation.

Then you add their connections to other characters and how they relate to each other. These characters also need description so add that as well. Even if your character is a fisherman with five daughters, but his only part in the story is going to be a short interaction with your main character for two or three paragraphs. His family life shaped him and knowing this will define how he will react. This is called backstory and every character has this.

By building a complete history for each character, that person becomes real in your mind and the interaction with your other characters will reflect a well-rounded character even though you may not use ninety percent of his/her background in your story.

 

The character worksheet is no longer available on Harlequin’s website so I’m adding it here:

 

CHARACTER WORKSHEET

 

Physical Characteristics

Name:

Age:

Birth date:

Birthplace:

Height

Weight:

Body Type:

Hair:

Eyes:

Nose:

Mouth

Clothes:

Personality Profile

Strenghts:

Weaknesses:

Ambition:

Beliefs:

Self-perception:

How others see him/her:

Hobbies:

Moral values:

Eccentricities:

Most defining characteristic:

Current Situation

Marital Status:

Educational background:

Occupation:

Food preferences:

Drink preferences:

Car:

Pets:

Present Problem:

How does this problem get worse?

How does this problem get resolved?

Synopsis about childhood:

Relationships

Spouse:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Best friend:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Mother:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Father:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Child:

Age:

Occupation:

Location:

Spouse:

Grandchildren:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Sibling:

Age:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Effect of previous relationships on present situation:

Gacgon the Sorcerer

The moon silvered the night as the cloaked figure shambled up the road to the castle nestled in the cliffs. Tired and annoyed, he gave the postern gate three thumps with his walking stick.

Minutes later the guard opened the view port and grumbled, “What?” with a sleep cracked voice.

“Go to Frederick, tell him Gacgon is back.”

The guard looked more closely at the man and rushed to open the gate. Not many would enter the castle by faking to be the owner. And he definitely didn’t want to be the one to keep the sorcerer out of his own home. The sorcerer wasn’t known for his compassion.

“Also tell him that you were sleeping on duty.” It was said with complete indifference. Gacgon firmly expected the guard to do exactly as told. The guard would lose his job and would be unable to put food on the table for his family. But his fate was out of Gacgon’s mind the moment that he crossed the flagstone courtyard.

He was ready. Years of research and the last year collecting the items needed for his triumph was at an end. The thought of the council’s regard after this act of magic convinced him that it was impossible to fail. That tiny lingering speck of self-doubt was all that stopped him from sending for witnesses to the magic. Once he was in possession of the fyredrake, the Council of Sorcerers had to acknowledge him the most accomplished sorcerer of all time.

No one had attempted this in more than a hundred years. Records relating to their creation were insubstantial, spotty at best. The fragment of parchment found while he studied the habits of the Hiato dragons gave him the clue to solve the riddle.

A controlled fyredrake excited his imagination to the extent that he was unable to concentrate on anything else. It took ten more years of study to ferret out all the legends regarding the fyredrakes. The snowspurt mandrake essence was the one ingredient that was the hardest to find.

He kicked awake a keep boy as he entered the main building.

“Tell Mrs Ratleigh I am home and have need of her in my laboratory.”

“No need sir, I was expecting you to get back tonight. I’ve prepared some mead for you as well as something small to eat,” Mrs Ratleigh said from the side entrance. The keep boy scooted into a corner out of Gacgon’s way.

“Good, Mrs Ratleigh, I’ll take the food and drink in my laboratory. We have much to do tonight,” Gacgon said and started up the winding stairs to his laboratory.

Mrs Ratleigh knew when her master was impatient. She grabbed the platter with the food and drink that she had prepared earlier and hurried to the laboratory.

Gacgon already had his largest cauldron next to the fire that he started with a simple spell. He was prepared for the exhausting hours that the fyredrake spell would take.

Genres and what they mean

A blog post for The Story Mint.

I have probably read every single genre there is. For me reading is a compulsion. I read notices, I read signs and one of the things I’ve come to despise are the advertisements in public toilets. Because I cannot not read them!

Since there has been a discussion regarding the genres of The Story Mint serials, I thought a brief overview might just be a good idea. This post will only focus on fiction. One thing that has to be remembered is that there is a fair overlap in genres. You might have a romance with elements of crime or a crime story with a bit of romance in between. The difference is usually found in the writing itself. Read a Harlequin book based on a crime, the story itself is romantic and the focus is on the romance between the man and woman, the crime is a secondary plot and is used to increase the contact between them. Then read a book like a Lee Child’s suspense and you have a crime story with a hint of romance. In this instance the romance is more a form of character building than anything else.

 

Chick Lit

Chick Lit is a sub-genre in Romance. It is written with female readers in mind, but always features a strong female character that is not going to fall for the guy as a matter of course. She is self-assured and comfortable with who she is. She also knows exactly what she wants and goes for it. Don’t be surprised if the woman does the chasing in this genre.

 

Contemporary

These are realistic books. Often this fiction fits into our current lifestyle. Included in this genre is the Slice of Life sub-genre where the aim of the story is to describe a slice of life. Contemporary books also overlap with other genres.

 

Crime and Mystery

These are your detective novels. It usually starts with a crime or mystery and the investigation into it. Think Patricia Cornwall or Dan Brown and you have a good idea of what this entails.

 

Espionage

These are the spy vs spy novels. My favourite espionage novels are the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy and the Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum, but not the movies. The Cold War was a great time for espionage books. Current espionage books tend to go more into electronic espionage as the latest Tom Clancy novels are doing.

 

Historic

These books are fictional stories based in a historical time. The Bal Maid of Great Condurrow is a perfect example of this genre. Jean Auel’s books are also historical although quite a bit further back in history.

 

Literary

These books are the classics, the ones that are prescribed reading. Think Chancy, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. My personal favourite is “Much ado about nothing” from Shakespeare. Oh and “Emma” by Jane Austen.

 

Poetry

This should be easy to spot. Poetry has many forms, but there are definite indicators that will show immediately.

 

Prose

These are written mostly for theatrical purposes. Shakespeare obviously also falls into this category. There is a lot of dialogue and action.

 

Romance

These are the stories where the main element is the budding romance between a man and a woman. Nora Roberts is probably one of the best known in this genre. But since romance has such a large sub-genre list, it would take a blog on its own just to explain the various sub-genres.

 

Sci Fi/Fantasy

These two I have to split because there is a vast difference between these two genres.

Sci Fi is any story based on elements of new technology, futuristic and quite often on space travel and other planets. One of the pioneers in this field was Arthur C Clarke. As you can imagine there are several sub-genres in this field.

 

Fantasy is a completely different genre. There are also a lot of sub-genres in this field. Probably the most well know author of High/Epic Fantasy would be JRR Tolkien with “The Lord of the Ring”. One of the aspects of fantasy is the ‘world building’ that takes place, making these types of books large in word count. Fantasy books are also quite often written in serials. Technology does not play a role in this genre. Fantastical creatures, quests and the Good vs Evil, with Good winning most of the time. Then there is also the ‘magical thing’ that Good has to master to be able to win usually against astronomical disadvantage. Since this is my personal favourite genre I can give you several authors that were/are masters in this genre: David & Leigh Eddings, Brandon Sanderson, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon (who also writes great Sci Fi), George RR Martin, Margaret Weis, Pierce Anthony, Robert Jordan, Raymond E Feist, Robin Hobb, Terry Brooks and the fantastic Terry Pratchett.

 

Suspense

When the writing keeps you on the edge of your seat because you can’t leave the book before finding out what happens. “We need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver is an excellent example.

 

Thriller/Adventure

These two also need to be explained separately. Although they are very similar it still is two different genres.

The Thriller is the one where someone is being chased or threatened by violence and death. One of the sub-genres is the Psychological Thriller where the mental state of the person is being attacked.

Adventure is your typical Greg Bear novels. These are the stories that follow a person(s) to a place/event and the ‘adventure’ that they experience. A good example of this is the Deep River serial.

 

Westerns

Stories set in the American west during the late eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries. Cowboys, highway men and all around shoot outs in saloons and single street towns.

 

 

There are a few genres that are not on the profile selection. These are some of the more obvious ones.

Young Adult (YA) – These books are aimed at the younger reader, mostly the 16 to 25 year olds. Think “Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead or the Martha Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin.

Horror – The ultimate horror writer would be Stephen King. Until today I still don’t know what happened in “Pet Cemetery”, I was just too scared to finish. But I loved “Carrie”.

Erotica – This is a sub-genre of Romance and for obvious reasons will not feature on The Story Mint. It is basically porn in book form.

Children’s Books – This falls mainly into two categories, the picture story books for small children low on word count and always with interesting graphics (“The Gruffalo” is my favourite). The other is aimed at the child reader for example “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”.

Comedy – If you start laughing after the first paragraph you are reading a comedy. These also have several sub-genres. I have to say that in my opinion, the British are the masters of comedy. Jeremy Clarkson, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman are the first that come to mind. My favourite quote is from the back blurb on “Mort” by Terry Pratchett – “Death comes to us all, but when he came to Mort he offered him a job.

 

New genres are constantly being added or added as sub-genres, because of the variety that gets added with each new author’s point of view. So don’t stare yourself blind at the genres that are listed. There is always a new way of telling a good story.