//the problem of pain

In our writing circle, my friend Arielle and I are known Givers of Pain. Our readers frequently rail at us for emotionally destroying them [cue diabolical chuckle] but something I’ve noticed is that the idea of writing pain is frequently misconstrued and misused. I’m not saying I’m a professional at writing pain – but I’ve been doing it for a long time, and there are some things I would like to say on the subject.


This is my main issue – and one of my biggest issues with Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. His books are filled with barbarity, violence, pain, death, and atrocity – but most if it has no meaning. It simply happens. It’s a continual shock factor, sure, but ‘shock factor’ is fleeting and relatively pointless. If you want to write about pain, it has to have meaning. A couple years ago, a good friend wrote and asked me how I was able to write characters who were basically huge jerks – and have them remain lovable. She said she was trying to do that, but it wasn’t working. I told her the character needs a reason for why he behaves the way he does. Simply acting like a horrible person isn’t forgivable or understandable – there needs to be reasoning and logic behind the behavior. The same goes for pain in novels. Inflicting pain just to inflict pain is irresponsible and eventually pointless.


There’s a difference between getting a paper cut and witnessing the death of a loved one, but frequently they’re treated the same way by authors. The pain needs to be understandable and relatable. We haven’t all witnessed a horrible murder, for instance, but all of us have been through some kind of emotional wreckage, and that’s what we can relate to. I’m currently introducing my mother to the world of KDramas, and I frequently say KDramas taught me how to write. How?


The basic KDrama formula is ‘create lovable characters, then make them suffer.’ It sounds pretty simple and sadistic, but these are the stories that make me feel the most, that stay with me more than the rest. They leave deep marks. They know how to write pain. The pain has reasoning, consequences, and results. When characters die, it’s for something. When a character feels emotional pain, we feel it with them, because we understand it. So really, the KDrama formula is ‘create lovable characters, then make them suffer for reasons that will resonate with the viewer.’ I can’t stand flippant pain, or authors who think it’s all right to throw meaningless tragedy after meaningless tragedy at the reader. Example: In my JuNoWriMo, This Curious Madness, Alice is locked up in the Red Queen’s dungeon along with the White Rabbit. The Red Queen is in possession of the Hatter’s heart, rendering her able to control him despite his own wishes – and while he has treated Alice as kindly as he can up until this point, the Red Queen forces him to beat Alice unconscious. This all sounds awful, but it isn’t pointless. For Alice, it’s a major point of character growth. She has become strong enough to forgive the Hatter and to understand it isn’t his fault, and for the Hatter, it’s almost a breaking point. It’s where we see who he truly is, and the things he’s forced to do. Pain needs to have meaning.


It’s all very well and good to have pain and tragedy, but that shouldn’t be all a book is. I like many tragic things, but I can’t stand tragedy if it doesn’t have something to lighten it up. Nobody wants to finish a novel, show, or movie and feel depressed, bleak, or hopeless. There needs to be something to lighten the mood – humor, kindness, something to juxtapose against the pain.


There must be meaning to the pain, and there must be a light in the darkness. To write pain, being ‘heartless’ is overrated – the more heart you have, the better you can write, understand, and portray pain. Have a heart.


//JuNoWriMo is finally over!!/How is JuNoWriMo over already??

The Scene

I’m writing furiously to finish up This Curious Madness before JuNoWriMo ends. I am also discussing finer points of the novel with one of my favorite women on the planet, Arielle.


Roughly 35 Hours Ago


Arielle: ??


Arielle: *sits back and thinks about that for a second*

Arielle: Whoa.

Arielle: WHOAAAA.

Arielle: THEY AREN’T.

Arielle: WHOAAA.


Arielle: And I love them, too….and THAT’S A SHOCK. Because I LOVE snark. And yes, IT IS VERY WEIRD.

Arielle: All the snark in this book comes from secondary characters…

Me: The MINOR characters are snarky, but the main ones aren’t and THIS IS STRANGE AND FEELS LIKE A NEW POINT IN MY LIFE AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING.

Arielle: There isn’t even that much snark in it compared to the Salvation series.




End Scene

Of course the scene didn’t really end there; we talked for probably another half hour before I had to leave and really put all my focus on writing; but the conversation startled me in the best way. Every time I do a Novel Writing Month, I learn a multitude of new things. I learn what to do and what not to do; I learn from the flaws of a quickly-written first draft, I see what needs to be improved, and I see where my strengths lie. This was the first month, however, where the strength of my novel hasn’t been in the witty banter or sarcastic remarks…and it was really freaking exciting. (And bizarre.)

The ability to write wit, sarcasm and snark has been one of my main writing strengths. Unfortunately, like any strength, it can be too strong – and frequently does. I’ve always felt that a character with no snark is one that I can’t possibly give my heart to when I write – and yet, I did it over and over in This Curious Madness. The Hatter has a soft sense of humor, but is a pretty serious guy. The White Rabbit has no discernible sense of humor at all (I’m sure he will in the sequel, but he hasn’t really had much reason to own a sense of humor thus far). Alice has wit, but she doesn’t really realize it – and the wit is mostly contained in her ‘Notes to Self.’ The sarcastic characters are secondary ones – Dee and Dum and the Cheshire Cat.

The funny thing? It works really well. This is by far my most successful Novel Writing Month product. Granted, it needs roughly 40,000 more words (It only has about 64,000, although I don’t feel bad about it – that’s still 14,000 words over the minimum) to be a complete novel, but it has everything I tried for. It has characters I adore, a plotline I adore, a FEMALE MAIN CHARACTER who pretty much stole my heart, two competing ships that both break my heart, a bittersweet ending, and loads of color and creepiness. It’s exactly what I wanted from JuNoWriMo, and more.

But I can’t get over the lack of snark. This is probably the biggest stepping stone my writing has taken in two years – and was excellent preparation for the novels I’m plotting/attempting to finish. I’M SO READY.

I’ve had numerous people ask me, “How does it feel to be done with JuNo?” and the answer is:

I have mixed feelings. I’m content – this was my best Novel Writing Month ever. I’m dissatisfied, because This Curious Madness needs a lot of work. I’m free to work on art commissions, to plot and write in various things, to give focus to Storyseller University, a month-long program by Kevin Kaiser (the first time I’ve had school in years! If all school was like this, I’d enjoy it all). I’ve been able to watch some KDrama episodes. I’ve been able to talk with friends. I have my life back, and I’ve learned some invaluable lessons (and don’t tell anyone, but I signed up for Camp NaNo this month with the goal to write 20,000 words – although I’m probably splitting those words between Acceso, Kenna, and No Dark Disguise).

Did you do JuNoWriMo? How did it go? Did you learn anything? Give me details, people!  *grabby hands*

//malice in the palace, or, EVEN MORE wonderland!

I’m not going to bother giving much of an introduction to this post. JuNoWriMo has been a blast, and I’ve been motivated by the fact that I’m not sure I’ll actually have it wrapped up in time to write ‘the end’ at midnight on June 30th. If the end of the month arrives and I’m not finished with the novel, I’ll drown my sorrows in – you guessed it – the coffee I’ll be able to have again! (Not that I’ve missed it.) For those of you doing JuNoWriMo – I hope you’re having as much fun as I am! More power to you!


Yet the truth of the matter remained – the Jabberwock could find anything or anyone, and if knowledge was power, than the Jabberwock was the most powerful figure in Wonderland.//

“You need to stay where I can see you,” he said over his shoulder as she jogged up next to him for the third time. “I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.”

“What,” Alice snorted, “you don’t want to have to chase me for five yards until you catch me?”

“No,” he agreed. “I don’t.”//

“Politics, not politics. It doesn’t matter to me.” The Hatter crouched down and began to lay the cards down in front of him.

Alice recognized the pattern for Solitaire. In her group therapy visits, she’d met people obsessed with all kinds of things – eating paper, sniffing hair elastics, listening to recordings of dogs barking. The Hatter’s interest in cards did not seem to be obsessive in nature; he treated them like things he was used to and familiar with, like friends.//

Alice chewed on her lip in frustration. “Why did the Rabbit call her the Red Queen? And why’s he called a Rabbit, for Pete’s sake? He looks just as human as you do.”

“Calling the Queen that can get your head detached. Best just to call her the Queen of Hearts. And his full name is the White Rabbit, although I suppose that’s more of a title than a name.” The Hatter stretched his long arms over his head. “White because he’s a coward. Rabbit because he runs and hides.”

Alice would have guessed the ‘white’ bit was because of the hair, but what Hatter said dug under her skin like a splinter. “He didn’t act like a coward.” Twitchy, but not cowardly…although he did run away and leave me with the Hatter.

“He’s not,” said Edwin amiably. “Until things get too dangerous – he’s a runner and a hider, like I said. Fighting comes in second.”

“He was laughing when he fought.”

“Just because he’s afraid to do what he does doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy doing it,” said the Hatter.//

The treasury was dark, save for the two flickering wall sconces on either side of the Queen. She sat cross-legged on the floor with a box by her left side, the lid flipped open. It was a plain box of tusk wood, carved from the teeth of Toves in the Tulgey Woods. She held the contents in her hands, warm and fragile. She stroked it gently with the tip of her finger as though it was a cat, but it did not purr. It had no mouth. //

Beyond the field was a structure that reminded Alice of an exotic palace – or a tomb, like the Taj Mahal. The center structure rose and swelled and grew to a sharp point. It shone orange and blue in the setting sunlight, casting glimmers across the smaller roofs surrounding the main turret. Behind the palace was scattered a handful of outbuildings. Smoke drifted from each of them, the same shade of blue as the flowers the workers were methodically picking.

“What is this place?” Alice shaded her eyes from the red glow of the sun, staring in apprehension and admiration at what lay before them.

“The Chrysalis.” The Hatter pocketed his cards and began to walk through the grass. “We’ll be spending the night here.”

Chrysalis? “Is it a palace?”

He glanced back and motioned her forward again. Alice was too tired to protest; she only sped up as fast as she could and reached his side. “Something like that,” the Hatter answered, once he was satisfied with her position. “It’s owned by Shari Lankra, the Caterpillar.”

So the Caterpillar lives in the Chrysalis. Of course. Why not?//

Before the Hatter could respond, the second guard appeared, walking behind a breathtakingly beautiful woman. The gates opened as if by magic and the woman walked through, the patterned silk of her wrap-dress floating behind her. Her butterscotch skin gleamed, and her lips were the same blue Alice had noticed across the grounds. There was no jewel in the center of her forehead, Alice noticed, but glittering tattoos wound around her hands and up her arms, too intricate to fully take in with a glance. //

His head snapped up and he rose a little, moving back, suddenly wary of the tight network of branches over his head. He held his knife with the flat of the blade angled toward his wrist. It was his favorite hold; defensive, better for slashing than stabbing.

Another dark blur swept overhead, just above the first layer of branches, and the Rabbit turned, following its movement.

A disembodied voice chuckled. “Why so serious, cotton-tail?”//

“Well,” said the voice abruptly, “I’m bored now. Have fun getting infected and all that. Maybe running away would have been smarter this time – but you’re not useful for your brain, really. I’ll tell the Queen you said hello.”//

“The Queen is not known for her virtues,” said the Caterpillar, with a melodramatic sigh. “And unfortunately, patience is widely regarded as such. Will you take dinner with me?”//

Note to self: Do not ever leave your heart alone. Not even for two seconds. Keep a solid eye on it.//


//a glimpse into madness – junowrimo snippets

I’m thoroughly enjoying This Curious Madness – a lot. A lot a lot. The characters surprise me at every turn, and while it’s a challenge creating a more ‘adult’ Wonderland, with characters who bow deeply to the originals who inspired them while remaining true to their new forms, it’s exactly the kind of challenge I love to tackle. I hope I actually have this draft finished by the end of June, because I have other things on my plate – but I adore this novel so much I’m not sure I could put it down after this month! I hope you enjoy this look into my progress. What about you? Do you have a favorite snippet from your current WIP?


The Knave sighed. “It would be easier if we could just…” He drew a finger across his throat. “Kill the little vole.”

            “Pull out her teeth, cut off her limbs, but for goodness’s sakes, don’t kill her,” the Queen snapped.


“The Hatter isn’t necessary. I can handle this.”

“I think you can.” The Queen tapped the mirror’s face with a black fingernail. “It’s just that I know Hatter can.”


“And are you happier now that you’re more rooted in reality?”

“Are you?”


“I don’t need a boyfriend. I need a throne.”


. The last image she remembered was her own reflection. She stood before a mirror twice her size in height. Her reflection smiled at her.


The Dormouse reached both arms out and gave a deep bow. “Quite so, your Radiance.”

“Stop with the titles, mouse. ‘Your Majesty’ does just fine.”

“As you say, your Majesty.” The attendant’s large irises were the color of cherries, and swallowed the whole eyeball, leaving no room for white. He brandished a note, seeming to pluck it out of thin air, and handed it to the Queen. “This just arrived for you, brought especially by the March Hare.”

The Queen made a face of distaste and took the note. “Is he still loitering downstairs?”

“No, he’s loitering in the courtyard.”


“A bit overdressed for our day off, aren’t we?” the Dormouse asked, sneering and praying the sneer wasn’t sheared off by a flying joker.

The Hatter smiled and put the cards in the pocket of his waistcoat. “Dressed to kill,” he remarked, walking past the Dormouse and retrieving his hat from its hook. It was a bit battered and used, the only part of his outfit that was less than impeccable. “Isn’t that how it’s done?”


Alice yanked open the cutlery drawer and pulled out a chopping knife the length of her elbow to her wrist. She had long ago decided that if anyone ever broke into her apartment, she would use this particular knife to see them back out again. Jack said she was paranoid. Alice said she was prudent.


“The Heir is waking up. The Duchess needs you to go find Alice Little and bring her here before the Hatter does.”

The Rabbit twitched.

Overland and the Hatter and the heir to the Ivory Throne – breathe. Relax.

“Remember, if Alice dies, so do you,” Strauss reminded him, scratching his headful of thick, green dreadlocks. “You can’t kill her. But if you get a chance, cut the Hatter’s throat.”

Slowly, the Rabbit smiled.

There was a silver lining to this errand after all.


“WHY ON EARTH WOULD I ORDER WHITE ROSES?” Jay ran his dirt-smudged hands through his hair. Fortunately, his hair was the same brown as the dirt, and it was nicely camouflaged.

“You’re shouting,” Alice told him. Jay was seventy percent deaf, and had a tendency to raise his voice without realizing that everyone else could hear him just fine.

Jay turned around. “What?”

“YOU’RE SHOUTING,” Alice repeated.


“If the trip is too long, the fries are going to cool off,” she warned him.

He gasped. “We can’t let that happen!”

“I’m serious. Cold fries are no joke.”


There was no blood gushing over his fingers, dripping onto the grass below him. Instead, red and ivory mist unfurled from the gash across his neck, filling the air like smoke from a wildfire.


Alice had read a news story once of a girl who had fallen down onto subway tracks. Seconds before the train arrived, she rolled off against the side of the rail, under a small overhang. As the train whipped by, the girl had said she hadn’t seen her life flashing before her eyes – there had only been the sound of the sucking, roaring wind, and she had clutched at whatever she could to keep from being dragged to her death.

For the first time, Alice knew how she felt. She felt as though she was lying still while the world rushed past her, screeching like a subway train. It was like riding a roller coaster and realizing you forgot to buckle, and there was nothing to keep you in your seat except your willpower and the arms of the person who had kidnapped you.


Note to self: horses here can chew through chain. I want to go home.

//I’m on time, I’m on time for a very important date


I had aimed for a more relaxed, efficient kind of ‘No this year. In some ways, this is working out – I don’t have much to do this month besides driving practice, a few meet-ups, a diet, TFI posts, etc. Although aiming for three thousand words a day isn’t exactly realistic. For some reason, This Curious Madness likes to be written from about three o’clock till I decide to hit the sack – earlier, and I end up staring at the computer and typing maybe ten words an hour. Why do novels have to be so finicky? (Finicky. Finnick. Finnick Odair. Hmm.) Although I’m shoveling some of the blame onto this detox – I think I know what an eighty-year-old feels like. My j o i n t s! No, I wasn’t addicted to coffee. Shut your face. (At least, blessedly, I’ve escaped a headache. And it’s not all coffee’s fault, either – this whole detox thing is really grinding on every female in my family. My Dad seems to have escaped the worst of it, for whatever reason.)


Still, I’ve achieved more than the necessary word count each day, and hope to reach thirty pages by tonight. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous entering into this novel – after all, I had to give it a) a moral b) a strong female protagonist and c) a good dose of madness. That last one, I’m usually good with – but I’m much better at writing male characters than female ones, and as I’ve said before, Wonderland is a pretty amoral place if you go by the original novel.

Imagine my surprise when, mulling it over, I realized that I didn’t need to ‘give it a moral’ – morals can infuse the entire thing (duh. I know) – and that I think I’m actually doing pretty well by Alice (in fact, I have more female main characters in this novel than in any other of my books – Alice, the Red Queen, the Duchess, and the Caterpillar). My favorite characters are the Hatter, the White Rabbit, and the Jabberwocky, although the Jabberwocky hasn’t officially made an appearance, and I’m still struggling with the Bandersnatch. (Who, as of yet, does not exist.)

My ‘writing’ half the time looks like this –

Me: Hey, Riah.

Riah: What.

Me: Want to rewatch another episode of Faith?

Riah: Sure.


Me: Hey, Riah.

Riah: What.

Me: We should marathon the Rurouni Kenshin movies again.

Riah: Sure.


Me: Hey, Riah.

Riah: What.

Me: Big Bang’s new MV is out.

Riah: Oh, let’s watch!

But I am getting writing done. And the allotted amount, thankyouverymuch.

That pretty much sums up the last three-and-a-half days; if I can keep going at this rate, I have a good shot at a completed novel by the end of June. How’s your JuNo going, fellow lunatics writers?  Are you behind, ahead, or regretting your life choices? Could you maybe find my Bandersnatch and tell him to show his face? I’ll give you the coffee, which I can’t have.