Writing is like Cooking

I like food and I like food analogies. So, here’s a good one.

To put it otherwise: once you got the basics about making sure vegetables are tasty, meat is cooked, and seasoning can be fun, you’re good with experimenting.

Baking, on the other hand, is a chemical process that can easily be thrown off if you mess with the ratios, so don’t experiment unless you’re experienced.

Bread-making is an esoteric process control by ancient chaos gods, it doesn’t matter how experienced you are, if you experiment you may end up summoning the Devourer of Worlds.

People think that writing is like bread-making: pray to the gods and maybe sacrifice a goat beforehand, and there’s no guarantee of success.

However, I would argue that writing is more like cooking: once you’ve got a few elements under your belt, you can experiment to create something knew. Sometimes, it’s awful, mostly, it’s pretty good, and occasionally, you’ve created the next worldwide food craze.

So, what are the elements of good writing? I’d say there are seven.

Setting

Setting is where the story takes place. It can be as specific or as vague as you want so long as it provides the arena in which the story can unfold. Maybe it’s “Somewhere in the desert at night” or it’s “October 16th, 1972 in the bedroom Helen had shared with her husband for fifty years, in the house on Mulberry Street in the small town of Haven, New Hampshire.”

The setting is kind of like your cooking vessel. It provides the environment in which the story can happen. It can set the mood and be a touchstone to help orient (or disorient) the reader.

Certain vessels are better suited to certain cooking types – and certain settings are better suited to particular stories – but I can tell you from experience, you can still saute onions in the bottom of a stock pot if you don’t have a saute pan.

Theme

When you’re cooking, you really need a fat to grease the vessel. It makes sure nothing sticks, makes the good you’re cooking tastier, and adds satiety to your meal. You might be able to go without when cooking, but it really improves your food.

Similarly, a theme is sort of the background “thing” that your story is actually about. It’s “what’s at stake.” It’s the story you’re trying to tell outside of the plot.

Try to write down what your story is about. Not a summary of the plot, but what it’s really about. That’s the theme. For example, on Monday 7/14/19 I’ll be posting a short story called “The Curse of the Bear.” I love that story, and what it’s about is “You can’t overcome the pressures of society until you can accept yourself as you are.” That’s the butter. Or olive oil. Or whatever.

Now, look, you can go without a real theme. Just like you can just boil chicken and steam broccoli, but you’re not going to get a very tasty meal.

Conflict

Conflict is the heat. If you’re going to cook something, you have to apply to heat to it. Or, in the case of ceviche, acid. But sushi doesn’t need cooking. Neither does salad. How does conflict apply to stories here? Shut up, the analogy isn’t perfect, besides, sushi rice isn’t raw and please don’t slap raw meat onto your salad. Also, roasted nuts and seeds are far tastier on a salad than raw ones, so try it.

Anyway, conflict is the heat. It’s what keeps your readers hooked. It creates tension and anxiety. Conflict is what has to be resolved in order to have a plot.

Incidental Comics has the best example, frankly.

Characters

Here we get to the meat and potatoes.

Characters are the food you’re cooking. They’re the ones getting cooked by the conflict and they’re the ones being processed through the plot.

Now, all characters are going to have certain qualities: history, motivations, personality, and development. You have the protagonist and most of the time you have an antagonist, but maybe not, unless Nature or Self become a separate character in those conflicts.

You can have a lot of characters or only two, or maybe only one. And different characters are suited to different conflicts. Just as a tough piece of meat does better with a long, low heat, a character with a lot of issues is going to do better in a conflict of Person vs Self.

Plot

Plot is the process of cooking. Okay, this is where the metaphor gets really iffy.

There are certain steps you have to take when cooking, and they have to be taken in a certain order. You can mess things around sometimes, but, there are certain ways you cook that will get you to a particular dish. For example, if you’re going to make gumbo, first you need to make a roux.

Now, Christopher Booker argued there were nine basic plots, but only seven were worthwhile. This is a really good article about it if you want to read it, but briefly, they are:

Overcoming the Monster (eg, the movie Fern Gully)

Rags to Riches (eg, Cinderella)

Quest (eg, Odyssey)

Voyage and Return (eg, The Road to El Dorado)

Comedy (eg, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Tragedy (eg, Medea)

Rebirth (eg, Beauty and the Beast)

Mystery (eg, literally anything by Agatha Christie)

Rebellion against the One (eg, The Giver, or really any dystopian fiction)

Pacing

Each food you cook is going to take a different cooking time. Potatoes take longer than spinach. A thick pot roast is going to take longer than scallopini chicken.

Your story is going to require careful pacing in order to get a good meal out of it. Or… something like that.

Pacing is where you build and relieve tension. A story that goes by too quickly exhausts a reader, but one that goes by too slowly bores them. Pacing also allows you to give the reader a break. Maybe you need to give the reader a laugh after so much emotional anguish. Does it break pacing? No, it creates it.

Point of View

Finally, POV is the seasoning. Now, don’t act like I’m just throwing this in here because the metaphor is getting away from me.

Let me tell you a story: my brother-in-law grew up without eating any seasoning. His mother never used any seasoning whatsoever when cooking. Mashed potatoes? They were were boiled and mashed, and that was it. If you wanted salt or pepper on it, you could add it at the table.

My sister moved in with them while they were looking for a place to live, and BIL started taking over cooking. His parents so enjoyed his cooking that they begged my sister and him to stay even after they purchased their home.

You need to season your food when you cook, of you’re going to have a very sad meal. If you don’t have the right POV, you’re going to have a very confused story.

Now, you can have multiple POV characters, you can have first, second, or third person (limited, multiple, or omniscient). You could have past, present, or future tense going on. You could have an unreliable narrator.

If you’re going to make a great curry, you need like a million different herbs and spices, but all you need for a good steak is salt and pepper. If you’re telling a simple, linear story, you may only want a single, first person POV. If you’re telling a complex story with a ton of actors, you may want multiple first person POVs, or omniscient third person, or multiple third person.

Having the right POV only improves a story.

So what are you supposed to do with all of this?

Every story needs every element listed above. That’s that.

But, not every scene needs every element.

I saw a tweet this week which is why I’m writing this article at all. The original tweet asked if the author should cut a chapter that didn’t drive the plot. A lot of the responses were they, indeed, they should. If it doesn’t drive the plot, cut it without mercy. (and I’m sorry, I can’t find the tweet.)

I argued otherwise. I argued that as long as the scene does at least two of the seven above (establish setting or POV, set pacing, create conflict, develop character, enhance theme, or drive plot), it’s worth keeping.

A story that only has scenes that drives plot screws with pacing. A story with scenes that only develop characters has no real plot. A mess of POV creates a disaster, but without characters development or conflict, no one will care.

A well-crafted story, like a well-crafted meal, has every element, at least once, in the process.

Good luck, my friends, and just keep writing.

© Ainsel Greenwood and AinselGreenwood.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ainsel Greenwood and AinselGreenwood.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Maybe I’m in Over my Head

I started The Blackwells because I thought it was going to be an easy story I could write. I had developed a short outline that I should have stuck to. However, I wasn’t satisfied with that outline even when I began. And that outline has changed significantly along the way.

What I’m saying is I’m sort of out of my depth here.

I really should have written at least a first draft of The Blackwells before I started posting it on my blog.

So, I’m going to put that on hiatus for now.

I still intend to post original work every Monday and articles every Thursday. However, Monday posts will be short stories I have actually cleaned up and edited.

I’m not giving up on The Blackwells. The goal is to write a few drafts and get it polished up before I start posting it again.

This blog is a learning process to help me become a better writer. I want to thank you all for your support so far. I’m going to do better for you.

The Blackwells – Othorion gets a Letter

Othorion waited patiently behind two other lieutenants, who chatted anxiously between them. The shorter, a red-haired, narrow-shouldered elf, had taken off her gloves and was biting her nails. Her companion, a pale elf with a slight limp and a ragged scar from the side of his mouth down his chin, leaned over her.

“Only three captaincies available this time,” he whispered to his nervous friend. “And look how many lieutenants are already in this room? How absurd is all this?”

The shorter lieutenant pulled her hands away from her mouth long enough to whisper, “Very,” before she went back to biting her nails. She made a face, saw she was bleeding from one of her fingers, and clenched her hand into a fist, fingertip pressed against her palm. “But our captains wouldn’t have put us up if they didn’t think we could do it.” Her words were more confident than her tone.

“I think mine just wants to get rid of me.”

They stood in line in the Martial Commons, a brutal, squat, square building of gray stone that seemed to have emerged like a wart among the far finer, more elegant face of eastern Heliohart. There was a Martial Commons in most of the Empire of Faydark’s cities to coordinate the Emperor’s Children, that is, the army and the navy. Othorion had seen a number of the Martial Commonses in different cities, and Heliohart’s might be the ugliest. It had been built nearly two hundred years ago when Faydark pushed for a consolidation of power. Rumors held that each of the Martial Commons were connected by some magically-powered device that allow immediate transportation from one building to another, and that were all of these devices initiated at once, the entirety of the Empire could be transported, though exactly where the theories didn’t agree.

Heliohart was a landlocked principality, so the army generally used the Martial Commons as a sort of gathering place, but today the navy had taken over it over, as lieutenants waited to learn the exact date and times of their written and oral exams for captaincy. Even with just the elves in Heliohart’s Commons, the likelihood of getting a captaincy was one in twenty. Throughout the Emperor’s Navy, the likelihood was easily one in one hundred.

Othorion smirked to himself briefly. It wasn’t that Othorion was so smugly certain of his inevitable success in gaining one of the three captaincies available when dozens or even hundreds of other lieutenants were vying for the same position. He would never be so foolish as to think that.

No, Othorion was only certain that he would do the best he could and that everything else was out of his hands.

He blinked.

Of all his siblings, he was probably the one who worried the least. Upon their mother’s death, Ynaselle had taken it on herself to be their father’s housekeeper and even the family’s liaison and ambassador. She had always worried about her siblings, but not she was downright anxious. Vithian was constantly concerned about what others thought of him, always ambitious, always afraid of failure or even the perception of failure. Jaonos, well, he pretended he had no concerns, but Othorion saw how shadows passed over his face when he thought no one was watching. Perhaps Jaonos had shared his concerns with Vithian, with whom he had always been close, but Othorion doubted it. Vithian would have said something by now. Vithian could never keep a secret.

Othorion didn’t worry even though he had every reason to do so. A life at sea was dangerous. If disease took hold in one crewmember, the entire ship could fall. Malnutrition was a constant threat. Fire and drowning were, of course, too. And even though months could go without any confrontation, confrontations could easily end in blood and death.

Othorion never worried about that. Certainly, after brushes with death, Othorion was nearly prostrate, overcome with nausea and the echoes of the fear as it drained out of him. When he rose every morning, knowing that it could easily end in disease, hunger, or death, though, he didn’t worry.

Three other lieutenants passed him, walking out of the Commons. One recognized him and touched center of her forehead and nodded. A human habit. Othorion touched his lips as the trio passed. He was plain elf but for having one blue eye and one yellow eye. They had met when Othorion had originally joined, and this elf had been the recruiter who guided him.

“I’ll have to leave tomorrow if I’m to make it to the written exams in time,” another of the trio was complaining as they left. “Why would they hold an exam in Furosia?”

“What happens if I just don’t go to the exams?” Another asked.

“You’ll be arrested for dereliction of duty,” the heterochromatic elf said. Othorion wasn’t certain whether he was joking or not.

The line moved forward, and Othorion was fourth in line.

He supposed the reason he didn’t worry as much as his siblings was because he was more thoroughly himself then they were. How odd, he considered. For the first few years of his life, he had been raised as a daughter. He had changed everything about himself after only a year at The Tressera School with Ynaselle. It had taken him years to be willing to wear something other than black or gray again, despite his father and brothers regularly choosing jewel-toned hues. Although, he mused, he still tended to prefer to wear his black and white navy uniform than more fashionable civilian clothing. He had kept his hair short, even has the fashion moved toward long hair for all elves. He changed his name.

Once he was thoroughly himself, thoroughly Othorion, he never doubted himself again.

Jaonos wasn’t himself, as the blood heir of the Blackwells. He wasn’t dutiful, ambitious, or even particularly clever. He worried, Othorion was certain, because he would never be the Lord Blackwell he knew he needed to be, because he would be happiest if he were allowed to live his life without any responsibility.

Years before, Othorion had seen a seaside village in which a particular class of dwarves lived with seemingly no occupation. They would fish until they had some fish, climb a coconut palm until they had a coconut, and spent the rest of the day sleeping in their canoes, or upon the beach or on the docks. If a boat needed fixing, they would fix it. If they had no fish, they’d roast a pig. But they seemed utterly determined to do as little work as possible, and perfectly happy to satisfy only their most basic needs. It was almost a religious sect Fasriel had told him; they believed that life was meant to be enjoyed and that any work beyond the bare necessity was an affront to one god or another, Othorion couldn’t remember which. Jaonos, he thought, would have been happy among them.

Vithian, on the other hand, made a terrible priest. He was too ambitious, too involved in the material world. He had no room in his mind for the spiritual when he could instead learn about what was happening in this city or that Court or this other part of the world. He was more interested in sports or politics than in anything religious. He might, Othorion realized, even be an atheist. That wouldn’t preclude him from being a priest, but it certainly didn’t help.

And then Ynaselle. Ynaselle was too clever. She wanted too much to do something useful, to be something useful. Yet, she had consigned herself to a life where she would be little more than a lord’s spouse, her responsibilities and occupation totally dependent on that lord. Or, gods forbid, she would be a Lady of the Chamber, her occupation almost exclusively limited to producing the next generation of Blackwells. Their mother had been a perfect Lady Blackwell, and Ynaselle had aspired to be the same, though she would never be happy as such.

Othorion pitied his siblings. He could live as himself, while his siblings found themselves pinned into lives they would never enjoy. He didn’t miss the irony of that. He wondered if there were anything he could do to help them.

“Excuse me,” an elf behind him said, touching his shoulder. “Are you in the line?”

Othorion pulled himself from his revelry to see that the line had moved on without him. It was his turn. “My apologies,” he said, hurrying forward.

Othorion had already been told, of course, but the Emperor’s Children tended to make changes without notifying those affected, so he checked to be certain.

There had been a change, he saw.

He was surprised to see a line struck through Rothniel and the word Heliohart written in tight, blocky handwriting. The times had been changed as well. The written exam was three days sooner on the first day of the exams, the 7th of Rammas, and four days after Ynaselle’s dinner. His verbal exam was listed as the last day of the exams. Othorion frowned, then straightened. There was no time written for his verbal exam. His stomach turned as he stepped back. Something very serious had changed.

Othorion turned on his heel and hurried out the door. A sudden and powerful urge to get to the safety of home washed over him. Perhaps not even returning to the house his father kept in Heliohart was safe enough. Perhaps returning to Blackwell and Pheasant’s Cross was the only place he would be truly safe. He hurried down the stairs.

“Lieutenant!”

Othorion paused at the bottom of the steps. He was suddenly reminded of a story from another Court, he didn’t remember which, of some Lord’s child accused of mutiny hiding out in their family home. She had argued that each the ancestral home of princes and lords were technically nations in and of themselves and not even the Emperor could trespass there. Othorion brushed the thought away. There were so many lieutenants, it didn’t have to be him.

Othorion felt an icy touch at his spine as he turned back toward the Commons.

The heterochromatic elf stood at the top of the stairs, watching him. His blue and yellow eyes were now heavily lidded, nearly black in the shadow of his brow. His face carefully neutral. He wore a smile like a mask, and Othorion noticed that he did not wear the pearl and iridium tiara of navy lieutenants, but the plain bronze band inlaid with five ruby chips worn by military police.

“Almost missed you,” he said. He walked leisurely down the steps, once more touching the center of his forehead.

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Othorion said, not feeling that way at all. He touched his lips once more in greeting.

“I knew I had recognized you, though I wasn’t certain you were Lieutenant Blackwell. You’ve grown since I saw you when you first signed on to the navy.”

He stood nearly a head taller than Othorion, though Othorion was rather short. When he reached the same step as Othorion, he pulled a letter from within the hem of his coat. It was sealed with yellow wax and the seal of Faydark.

“I’m glad to see you’re sitting for your captaincy exams. I’m always happy to see the elves I recruited excel. Best of luck.” He bobbed his head as Othorion took the letter and then continued down the stairs.

Once he had passed, Othorion opened the letter. He felt his heart sink as he read it.

He was to be taken into custody after his written exam. There would be a trial to determine the truth of Reconna’s charges. Othorion swallowed. Perhaps his siblings didn’t need his help as much as he needed theirs.

Othorion crushed the letter in his hands. He decided he wouldn’t tell them. They had their own concerns.

© Ainsel Greenwood and AinselGreenwood.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ainsel Greenwood and AinselGreenwood.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Write What You Know

When I was in 1st grade, my teacher had us make a little 12-page book using cardboard, paper, and duct tape, and we each wrote our own little story in it. That was when I realized I wanted to be a writer.

By the time I was 10, I was writing novels – none were very good, but boy-howdy could I pump out a word count! It was then that a teacher gave me advice that I think all of us have heard: write what you know.

Even then, I knew that wouldn’t work: what the hell does a 10 year old know?

I feel that advice is a little misplaced, though.

I like fiction. I like fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. And, as you may have noticed from other posts on this blog, that’s what I write (shut up, I did write those words). And a lot of what I read (and write) doesn’t take place in any real universe. So, here’s the question: how can I know anything about a world that doesn’t exist?

I want to re-think the Write What You Know advice.

Write What You Invent

The great thing about the fantasy/scifi/horror genres is that you don’t have to know anything; you can invent it. All of Narnia is made up – C.S. Lewis famously included a lamppost in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to prove to Tolkien that, yeah, you totally could include that in a fantasy story because you can just make it up!

Tolkien, obviously, took it the other way. Entirely. He created a vast and intricate world, with centuries of history and just… multiple languages. I’ll never get over that.

Absurdist literature works this way, too. All of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is the greatest modern example of absurdist literature out there, and if you haven’t read it, seriously do. Does any of it make sense? Not really. Is it still wonderful? Absolutely.

However, I think it’s worth noting that, even when you make it all up, there does have to be a central string that holds it all together.

The greatest fantasy/scifi/horror stories take place in a world with an internal logic. It doesn’t have to make sense (see Lemony Snicket) outside of its world, but it does have to make sense within it. And the story you’re trying to tell has to make sense in the world you’re telling it in.

Tolkien was telling an epic story about the struggle of good and evil, and how that struggle is not always as simple as it seems it should be – we need a vast, intensely detailed universe to tell this story.

Lewis was retelling Christianity in Narnia. Like Tolkien’s, these stories are also about the struggle between good and evil, but the lines are obvious and it’s obvious whose going to win. Narnia is an allegory; it has to be told in a world where heavy symbolism can exist side by side.

Snicket, on the other hand, is telling the story about how “good” and “bad” may not be good divisions at all and that part of growing up is navigating a world that may not always make sense. An absurd world allows Snicket to examine these themes through many lenses.

If you’re going to make it up, be prepared to dive deep down into that.

Write What You Research

Or maybe it’s research what you write, but I wanted to keep the format.

Anyway, part of the great thing about writing is it can be what you want. But, let’s admit, if you’re not writing in the fantasy/scifi/horror genre, you can’t always just make it up.

If you’re writing a historical fiction, you’re going to want to be well-versed in whatever historical fiction you’re writing about. If you’re writing in a real world setting, you might want to brush up on what that place (and the culture where that place is) is like, you know, where things are and what it looks like. That sort of thing. Words.

Bernard Cornwell pumps out historical fiction all the time. His The Saxon Stories are somewhat fictionalized story of one of Cornwell’s paternal ancestors. A great deal of the story is made up. The protagonist is fictional, but based off a real person. Many of the characters in the book existed, but they’re actual character is shifted to fit Cornwell’s own imagination, and Cornwell’s played with the actual historical timeline.

But what no one complains about is how it is historically inaccurate. The series is amazing, well-researched and incredibly immersive.

Alternatively, you have his book Stonehenge. Stonehenge is nearly entirely made up. We have no idea why people built Stonehenge, but Cornwell writes one possible explanation while creating an immersive world using research he’s done on what we know about the people of that age.

Important Note

You may also choose to write a character or characters who are a different race, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or so many other qualities. I would encourage it: the value in creating characters who are not like you both give people who they are like a chance to see people like themselves (representation matters, yo), but also helps teach others to empathize with them.

But, do you research. Talk to people. Ask questions, LISTEN. Read up on people’s lived experiences. Make use of sensitivities readers. They’ll help you understand things you may never have before, pointing out areas you need to research more, and creating characters that are multidimensional and far more real.

Research is also a shockingly good place to find inspiration. Learning more about the characters you’re writing and the places where they live can create new avenues of storytelling you’ve never thought of before.

Write What You Learn

Writing is a great learning process.

I mean, not just the mechanics of POV, pacing, etc. Those are all important, and everything you write will help you teach that, too.

No, I mean, think about your WIP. What are you trying to say with it?

So, some of the best advice I ever got was to tell your story in a single sentence. Not a synopsis. But a summary.

In my first article, I described a story I had spent years writing about a girl who had been kidnapped by fairies as a child. It was a fantasy story, but it dealt with a lot of the psychological scarring she had experienced after losing her family and being told for so long that what she thought had happened hadn’t.

But, the story was about how sometimes, the only person you can save is yourself.

Ultimately, when I was writing the story, that was what I was exploring. That was what I was trying to learn.

The project I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo (can’t start preparing too early, right?) is about how growing up is as much about what you leave behind as what you take with you.

You may not know what you’re trying to learn as you’re writing. Sometimes, you have to get it out on paper. You may have to go through a couple of drafts.

Ultimately, though, when you’re writing, you’re trying to say something. You’re trying to explain something. There’s something you’re trying to learn and that you’re trying to teach.

That’s what you need to write about.

Conclusion

Write what you know is fine advice, but I don’t think that’s what it really is trying to tell you.

Write what you invent, what you research, what you learn. Or rather, know what you write. Even if you know it because you made it up, researched it, or learned it as you write.

Whatever you do, just keep writing.

The Blackwells – The Brephochae

“I don’t think I’m so naïve,” she said to herself. Vithian and Jaonos always called her naïve; it had always galled her.

The last time Vithian had returned to Pheasant’s Cross from sequester, Ynaselle had found him and Jaonos sitting up late one night by the fire. Vithian had moved a chair close to Jaonos’s so that their heads were close together. Each held a drink in their hands, and they whispered conspiratorially to each other.

Ynaselle interrupted them, asking what they could find so secretive. And Vithian had told her. One priest – Vithian would not name who – was a counselor. He would listen to the confessions and guilty concerns of all those that would come to him, and then he would gossip with other priests and postulants about what he had been told.

This counselor had an elf – a fourth or fifth child of some merchant – who had come to him with a problem. This elf had been smuggling Saprexun silk into the Court of the Oak and Birch.

“One night he meets his mistress, as they have always done, but she’s distraught,” Vithian said, a grin spreading across his face. “You see, her family sells silk in the Court – legally – and they’ve been having some issues. People didn’t want their silk when they could get Saprexun silk under the table, and she feared her family might be ruined.

“Well, our smuggler also has a bad habit of drinking out of his senses, so he tells her not to be concerned. He was the smuggle selling the Saprexun silk, and when they married, he would be rich. So, what do you suppose she did?”

Vithian paused, as if waiting for an answer. Ynaselle glanced to Jaonos, who sat back in his chair, his drink up to his lips. He watched her glassily and smiled.

“She blackmailed him!” Vithian exclaimed. “You see, she was already married – our smuggler knew this – and she had no intention of seeking an annulment. Why not take the money now?

“Now, that wasn’t the end of his issues. He had hired a caravaner to transport the silk from Saprexus, and this caravaner had had some terrible luck. News had spread about silk and other, shall we say, secret goods, making their way to the Faydark Empire, and brigands were scattered along the highway. The caravaner needed to hire more security, which meant he needed more gold from our smuggler.”

Vithian stood and poured himself another drink. “Jaonos?” Jaonos waved away to offer of another drink. He was already well sauced as it was, Ynaselle saw. Vithian held a glass toward Ynaselle, who shook her head.

“And that wasn’t the end of our smuggler’s troubles. He had a friend amongst the inspectors in the Court, who would just stamp whatever the silk was hidden in through. This friend was being transferred though, and our smuggler would need even more gold so he could bribe another official.

“He went to his lenders for assistance in all of these new costs, and, they were not patient nor particularly generous. Needless to say, our smuggler was in some terrible trouble. So, he sought out help from our counselor friend. What do you suppose the counselor told him to do?” Vithian had asked.

“Turn himself in, I hope,” Ynaselle said. Vithian and Jaonos both laughed at her appalled expression.

“Oh, poor sweet Yna,” Jaonos said. He shifted slightly, moving in his chair like he were floating in it rather than sitting.

Vithian continued. “Our smuggler had never actually seen his lender – I suppose I should have said so sooner – but it made it difficult for our smuggler, because if he didn’t know who his lender was, well, he had nothing over them. So, the counselor told the smuggler to bring his lender, to the sequester. The two would do the whole both drinking from the same cup so no one was poisoned thing and discuss their problems through the veil that the counselor normally sat behind.

“Obviously, the elf couldn’t get any quarter from his lender, and both left angry and bitter. But the elf woke the next day to find that his mouth was purple. What surprised him, though, was that, when he entered the exchange, he found the mother of his mistress. Her mouth was also purple.”

“She was the lender,” Ynaselle said.

Vithian spread his hands before him. “They had both drunk from the same cup.”

“The counselor had put ink into the wine?”

“Well, how else was the lender to be revealed?

“The mother understood that, too, when she saw that him, and told him that she would not be requiring him to make his payments until his smuggling business was back in order.”

“That’s horrid!” Ynaselle declared. “Smuggling, adultery, blackmail, bribery, usury! And they just continued on as they had?”

“Oh, Yna, don’t be so naïve. There isn’t an elf in the Empire who doesn’t break the law when it suits them.”

Ynaselle had turned to Jaonos, who was already half asleep. He motioned with his drink in agreement, sloshing part of the liquor out over his robes. Ynaselle left Jaonos and Vithian laughing, determined to believe that her mother and father would never engage in such activities.

She took a deep breath and shook her head. Perhaps things were not as simple as she had believed, but it unsettled her. Let it be, she said to herself, and continued on to the Brephochae.

The Brephochae towered over the street in glistening glory. Its spiderweb of glass seemed to ensnare a large garden of trees and flowers that grew nowhere else in The Empire. Many were gifts, Ynaselle recalled, from merchants and visiting nobles from elsewhere in the world. The conservatory itself was a miracle of botany. It housed plants that grew in the air and drifted from tree to tree throughout the day, huge carnivorous plants that had to be fed meat regularly, and even a breed of orchids so rare that some believed that the last living ones grew at the Brephochae.

The spiderweb clung to the sides of the white-walled, high-spired living area. Lady Erro would be near the top of one of the spires, where ambassadors from other Courts and even other kingdoms would stay when they visited. The spires were now draped with the banners of the Heliohart and Passerine Courts in celebration of the recent marriage annoucement. Ynaselle couldn’t help but wonder if the Little Prince Lianthorn had been staying at the Brephochae as well. The banners would be salt in his wounds.

Ynaselle entered the Brephochae through its vaulted doors. The interior was as filled with living things as the spiderweb greenhouse. A small river coursed through the floorway where small gold and red fish merrily swam. The carpet was a living moss so thick Ynaselle was always tempted to take her shoes off when she crossed it. Espalier fruit trees lined the walls so that any elf could simply pluck a pear or plum should they wish. Elves sat across the great entry hall in seats made of braided vines or saplings or tree trunks and particularly large, sturdy mushrooms. They sipped teas and spritzers, speaking in low voices. It wasn’t just elves, Ynaselle realized. A small group of humans stood around one large mushroom, somewhat befuddled. They didn’t seem to know what to do with it, while another demonstrated how to balance atop it without tumbling off. He failed, sliding off as soon as he lifted one leg to cross over the other.

A clerk with a high forehead, narrow nose, and yellowish cheeks wove through the crowd, occasionally motioning a servant to take bags to rooms or deliver refreshments. Periodically, he would remove a key from his great ring to give to a servant, then fastidiously place it back on his belt while the servant led the visitor to their rooms.

Ynaselle lifted the skirt of her robes and began to make her way to him. She needn’t have bothered. Almost as soon as she began her way across the room, the clerk turned toward her and was by her elbow in moments.

“Yuven Blackwell, what an honor to have a visit from you today,” the clerk said in a nasal voice. “May I get any refreshments for you?” He seemed to be looking at her through closed eyes, and she wondered how he could navigate the great room without his eyes opened.

“No, please,” Ynaselle said. “I’ve come to visit my friends, the Tarnyns. May I be led to their room?”

The clerk bowed deeply, then waved his hand in no particular direction. A servant wearing the short green and brown robe of the Brephochae uniform appeared, bent at his waste in a permanent bow.

“It would be my pleasure, Yuven Blackwell.” He handed a key to the servant and bowed again. “Should you need anything else, do not hesitate to ask.”

The servant walked through the hall so quickly and smoothly that it seemed like he floated. He dodged around parties without interrupting them as if he were just another part of the room which the guests ignored entirely. He waited for her at the raiser.

The raiser was a crystal compartment, filigreed in gold-leafed steel and carpeted in the same lush moss. Water poured over it from above in a gentle water fall, feeding the small riverlets at its based. The servant opened the door for Ynaselle and the veil of water parted to allow her in.

As soon as the servant stepped in, the raiser rose in an arch over the great hall so that Ynaselle could see the hall in a bird’s eye view.

“Servant,” she said, “is the hall designed after some actual landscape?”

“Yes, Yuven Blackwell,” the servant said. She was surprised by his sonorous voice. It was deeper than she had expected, and she wondered what his singing voice must be like. “It is designed as an exact replica of the river country to the east of the Mural Mountains. The humans there call the land the Dorin Garden, after a local deity. Legend says that those blessed by Dorin will be protected and fed by the rivers, as the rivers will bring them whatever they need.

“The gnomes are the natives of the area, though, but their name for it is yet unknown. If you would like, we can explore the other major halls, all of which are replicas of natural landscapes.”

Ynaselle smiled. “Another time, please.”

The raiser soared up the vaulted ceiling. Floors flashed by, each designed, she imagined, after different locales. The raiser came to a stop at one that looked like a riverbed. Crystal covered a floor made almost entirely of smooth white stones. Water poured over the edge under the crystal, where it would form the waterfall and rivers in the main hall.

The servant stepped out, delicately offering Ynaselle his hand to help her step down. He said no more as he walked her down a hallway of doors to the door that must be the Tarnyns. The servant led her into the antechamber, a small foyer.

It was not carpeted in moss or stones, but in black and orange tiles. The walls were charred wood and lined with beautiful but impersonal paintings. Dark wood tables held blue and white vases of flowers at intervals, while a small sitting space of charred wood and blue cushions huddled in one corner.

The servant entered the main living suite to discreetly announce her presence. She only knew the servant had left when she heard the front door shut again.

Ynaselle sighed. If the servant had reported to Nithnael, Ynaselle expected that she would be made to wait. Rather than taking a seat, Ynaselle began circling the foyer, examining the vases and paintings.

She came to the small table by the door to the living area and saw it held several letters. Ynaselle glanced around to make certain she was alone before she pulled the small pile over so that each address was visible. She recognized many of the names. A tailor, a florist, a lord, which surprised her.

“Do you find my correspondence interesting?”

Ynaselle jumped and spun about, a blush rising in her cheeks. She had not heard Master Tarnyn’s approach. “I’m so sorry!” Ynaselle blurted out. “I hadn’t meant to intrude.”

Master Tarnyn’s face was utterly impassive. With one hand and an economy of movement, he shuffled the pile of letters back into a pristine stack and picked them up. “If you hadn’t meant to intrude, you shouldn’t have gotten caught.”

Ynaselle opened her mouth to apologize once more but stopped. What an odd thing to say. Shouldn’t have gotten caught rather than shouldn’t have snooped. Her brow furrowed briefly in her confusion.

Tarnyn flashed her a secretive smile when he saw she noticed and motioned her to the sitting room. “Unfortunately, you have missed my sisters and Yuven Vetsian. They went out this morning with my wife, so you find me alone today.”

Ynaselle entered the sitting room and took a seat in a small chair. Master Tarnyn did not sit immediately, but instead simply watched her from where he stood. Ynaselle couldn’t read his thoughts on his impassive face. She admired how well he controlled his expressions.

“I had come to invite you and your family to our home for dinner,” Ynaselle said. “I am sorry I have missed them, but I hope that I can leave that invitation with you.”

“Of course,” Master Tarnyn said. He waited a moment as he continued to examine her, meeting her gaze without embarrassment. Usually, to be so closely examined, Ynaselle might feel nervous or upset, but not with Master Tarnyn. She didn’t sense any ill will from him, even if she couldn’t guess his thoughts.

“May I get you anything?” he asked abruptly. “Tea? Spritzer?”

“No, thank you.”

Master Tarnyn plucked a small sprig of rosemary and placed it into a chilled glass. He drizzled a thick, purple syrup over the ice, then poured the sparkling water over it all. Again, Ynaselle was impressed by the economy and efficiency of movement.

When he sat down with glass in hand, Master Tarnyn looked back at Ynaselle. He wasn’t smiling, but there was a slight upturn at the corner of his lips that made Ynaselle a bit more comfortable.

“Did you find my correspondence interesting, Yuven Blackwell?”

“Again, allow me to apologize.”

Master Tarnyn waved his hand. “I’m not upset. I’m curious what you make of what you saw?”

Ynaselle blinked, sitting up just a little straighter. “Well,” she hazarded after a moment, “I can’t make heads or tails of what it is you actually do.”

“Oh?” Master Tarnyn said. He sipped his drink.

“I know something of the Court of the Mirror. The Tarnyns are a well-respected family, but, if you will forgive any impertinence, hardly in the strata that many of your friends seem to be from.”

Master Tarnyn lifted his eyebrows but said nothing. He waited for her to continue.

“The Tarnyns are doctors, lawyers, and perhaps a few have been clerks and secretaries for aristocratic families, but none that would connect them to Lady Erro or Lord Petdove or Lord Zinthyra. And I can’t guess your profession from your correspondence. A tailor, which is hardly unexpected for anyone, a draper. I’m not certain what profession would include letters from a carpenter, a florist, and a silversmith together, though.”

“I am letting a house.”

“But without letters from an estate agent? Or a cabinetmaker?”

“Hmm, perhaps,” Master Tarnyn consented. “What do you make of it, then?”

“That if I want to know what it is you do, I shall have to get to know you better.” Ynaselle smoothed her robe over her knees. “And not get caught again. I hope, then, that you and your family will join us for dinner.”

Master Tarnyn offered her a quick smile and nodded. “Of course.” He sipped his drink and sat further back in his chair. Ynaselle decided she rather liked Master Tarnyn and, if Mistress Tarnyn was anything like her sister Merioleth, would very much like her, too. It was a pity that she rather liked the entire family, except her old friend Nithnael.

“I understand your father is indisposed at the moment. Is he well?”

Ynaselle folded her hands in her lap and nodded. The room suddenly felt a bit colder. “Yes, he is recovering. He shall be well enough for dinner. He is pleased to make a better acquaintance of you and your family.”

“I understand that Alennia made an excellent impression on him.”

Ynaselle could guess that he understood that from Lady Erro, but she smiled and nodded. “On myself as well.”

Master Tarnyn nodded his approval. When he said no more, Ynaselle stood and bobbed a quick bow. “I am disappointed to have missed your sisters, but I shall be happy to see you all at dinner.”

“I look forward to it,” Master Tarnyn replied with his secretive smile.

Ynaselle left curious about her new friends.

© Ainsel Greenwood and AinselGreenwood.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ainsel Greenwood and AinselGreenwood.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Rejection Sucks

And I’m not going to give you some saccharine-sweet truism about how every time your piece gets rejected is another step toward it being accepted. Yeah, you can learn from rejection, when the rejector actually gives you some criticism. But, rejection still sucks.

And it’s a kind of suck that you don’t really get used to.

You can experience rejection in all manner of ways in every aspect of your life, and yet, whenever it happens, you can’t help but feel disappointed.

It’s something that you’re told to expect as a writer. And you will get it. It can take many forms, too, not just rejection from publishers. Rejection from readers hurts just as much, even more so. And don’t get me started on critics.

Rejection in all its forms, whether it’s “We won’t publish this,” “We won’t read it,” “We don’t like what we read,” or, “What we read really sucks, and here’s all the reasons you should never read Ainsel’s stuff again,” hurts.

It’s also a part of being a writer, because even when you’re on top of the world like J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series, you’ll end up the scorn of your former fans, like J.K. Rowling with tweeting weird things she never included in the canon about her characters.

You can let rejection tear you down. You can let it stop you. And I can see why you would want to. More than once a week, I wonder if I should keep writing. So I get it. But, may I suggest an alternative?

Acceptance.

There’s a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy out there called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It’s got a pretty zen feel to it, arguing that the problem isn’t that we have thoughts and feelings that make us unhappy, but rather, that we fuse with them.

Think of fusion like this: Let’s say you take a fashion risk and wear a shirt you wouldn’t normally do. Someone, apropos of nothing, tells you that your shirt is hideous. Maybe it’s a shirt you like. Maybe you spent a lot of money on it. Whatever, you start thinking, “I have a horrible sense of style. I should never have worn this shirt.”

You’re embarrassed and disappointed, and you decide not to try any new styles.

You have fused with your thought. You have taken the thoughts “I have a horrible sense of style” and attached your identity to it.

What ACT argues is that the thought “I have a horrible sense of style” is just a thought. It has no real meaning. Is it true? According to ACT, doesn’t matter if it is. The question is, Is this thought helpful? If it’s not helpful, you need to defuse from the thought.

When it comes to writing, it’s really easy to “fuse” with your negative thoughts. It’s really easy to see that you’re not the next Stephen King, and think that you’re a terrible writer. “I’m a terrible writer,” is just a thought. It has no real truth to it, and you don’t have to fuse with it.

Similarly, when your short story or novel or poem or piece of artwork is rejected, it’s really easy to fuse with that and feel that you were rejected.

So, what do you do?

There are plenty of exercises that help, but I prefer the following:

When I noticed I’m having a harmful thought, and that I am fusing with that thought, I stop and say to myself, “I notice that I am having the thought that I have a horrible sense of style. I want to thank you, Mind, because I know you are trying to help.”

Usually that’s enough to distance myself from the thought.

And when I experience an authorial rejection, I find myself saying “I notice that I am having the thought that I’m not a good writer. I want to thank you, Brain, because I know you are trying to help.”

“I notice that I am having the thought that I could only write twenty words today and that I will never get published. I want to thank you, Brain, because I know that you are trying to help.”

“I notice that I am having the thought that because my story was rejected by a publisher that I am never going to be a real author. I want to thank you, Brain, because I know that you are trying to help.”

You see, your brain regularly throws out random thoughts to try to identify dangers. Is that a snake in the weeds? Is that a tiger by the water? And that’s great when you’re actually surrounded by danger. But when you’re surrounded by office settings and research notes, it can make you feel pretty trapped.

ACT argues that you will always have these negative thoughts. The point is to accept that you have them, allow them to pass, and move on with you life.

The next part is commitment. While you can get a “values worksheet” to help you write out all your values, let’s assume that you’re visiting this blog because you want to write, so writing is a value for you. So, you commit to writing.

When that niggling feeling comes that you want to quit writing because of the rejection, you ask yourself “Does quitting writing help me live a value-driven life, when writing is one of my values?”

That answer should be self-evident.

So, rejection.

1) Accept rejection will happen.

It just will. The most popular authors still experience rejection. They still have readers refuse to read their writing, publishers refuse to publish it, and critics calling it garbage. Accept that it will happen.

2) Learn what you can from the rejection.

Maybe the publisher will tell you why they rejected the piece “the viewpoint keeps shifting,” “there’s nothing at stake for the character,” or “this is a cooking magazine, please stop sending us your Star Trek slash.”

Take the advice that is helpful.

3) Learn that some rejection will not be helpful.

My mother loves me, and she believes I am a very good writer. She, however, likes neither fantasy nor horror. She will never regularly read anything I write because I insist on writing in genres she just doesn’t like. It’s a form of rejection. It’s not a form that will help me learn anything.

And sometimes you just get a form letter saying something about how this just doesn’t fit them at this time and they wish you the best in the future, feel free to submit again!

That’s going to be a lot of the rejection you experience. Learning to decipher which is helpful and which isn’t will help you going forward.

4) Write

That’s it. Commit to writing and write. Take a deep breath, recognize when you’re fusing with a thought that you shouldn’t, and move on. 

But, Ainsel, how do I write when I’m so miserable over a rejection that I feel like my world is caving in?

Start at the beginning. First, if rejection makes you so miserable that you feel like the apocalypse has landed on your doorstep, that means that you are fusing with the rejection. You are thinking you’re a terrible writer who will never be published, and you need to work a bit on your self-awareness and re-examine that. 

Take a deep breath, take ten, notice that you’re having these thoughts, and let them pass.

Then, well, let your imagination run for a bit. Maybe do some daily writing prompts to prime the pump. Maybe read through your ASeOWME IDEAS! folder to remind yourself that you are a good writer. Maybe toy with a pet project for a day or two. I have a comic I play with (not that I can draw to bring it to life, but I can still use it to inspire me) in my darkest times.

Then get back to your project and write.

And just keep writing.