Writing Year in Review: 2019
Aside from publishing “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind,” my thriller novella, I didn’t achieve any writing milestones in 2019. On the other hand, I did write several thousand words in my sci-fi action novel, Riding Through the Dark. I started tearing apart Fearless, my romance novel, and sewing up a more thoughtful outline for it. I also hired an editor to do a developmental edit of my coming-of-age novella, “Finding Mister Wright”, and I started work on revisions there. But I don’t have anything concrete to show for those projects, yet.
Part of my difficulties with meeting goals this past year had to do with work and life interruptions. We can’t help those. One thing I discovered, though, was that my writing mindset increased whenever I got a little win. This usually came in the form of a reaction or comment to some kind of prompt. The tricky part of prompts is that they don’t always mesh with my stories or characters. So, I got to thinking: Why not control that by making my own prompts?
How to Prompt?
There are lots of different kinds of writing prompts: photos, phrases, key words, character traits. I don’t think I could name even most of them, let alone all! I know I need structure for my prompts, as well as variety. When considering which way I wanted to go, and taking into account my habits and style, I knew I couldn’t stick to just one format. Then I thought about time. The year has 52 weeks in it. The alphabet has 26 letters. Every two weeks, I could focus on one letter. That seemed easy, straightforward, and variable enough that I decided to go for it. Get ready for…
Writing in 2020: BonusParts from A to Z
I love writing stories. I also love talking about my stories. Nobody wants to listen, though, which is where this website comes in.
Every 2 weeks or so, I’m going to talk about my stories, from A to Z. The first post will be based on the prompt of “A”, and what “A” makes me think of when it comes to my stories. The next post, I’ll move on to the prompt “B”, and so on. I’m putting no restrictions on what I’ll write: It could be an article, a character sketch, a story excerpt, or some idea I haven’t come up with, yet. I’ll keep my focus to stories finished or already in progress. This is not the time to start completely new stories! I simply don’t have the time, haha.
My hope with this year-long challenge is that readers like you will learn something new about my stories and process, and maybe leave me some feedback. Even if I end up just shouting into the void, I think the more regular attention I’ll need to pay to my stories to keep these prompts going through the year will help me stay on-track with my larger writing endeavors.
What say you, friends and followers? Want to join me on my 26-week writing adventure? What are your writing goals for 2020?
Beginnings and Woes
For many moons, I railed against the first-person point of view. That might have been influenced by Beverly Cleary, who used it to great effect in the children’s books that filled my youth. I associated first-person narrative with books directed at kids … and Victorian gothic tales, which are in many ways similar to children’s literature. (Don’t @ me. I specialized in Victorian Lit at university and I won’t be swayed in my opinion that those books are basically great, sweeping, gory morality tales. And I love them for that.)
When it came to what we’ll call popular modern adult fiction, though, my experiences with first-person POV were disappointing. What I read of it felt “shove-y”, like a teenager in desperate want of attention. Characters who wouldn’t shut up in their own heads, telling me what they were feeling all the damn time. In my own attention-grabbing behavior, I ended up throwing more than one book across the room because of it.
I realize now I was simply reading the wrong first-person POV books. Bad first-person POV books. Really, really bad ones.
Around 2010, I became interested in detective stories. I’d always enjoyed police procedurals, and I’ve always wanted to write a detective story. The problem is, I’m not smart enough to come up with a crime to baffle a detective who’s reasonably good at their job. So, I started watching – and reading – the books on which some of my favorite TV detectives were based. At the time, that was Longmire and Inspector George Gently.
Craig Johnston (Longmire) and Alan Hunter (Inspector George Gently) are wonderful writers. It’s no wonder A&E (later Netflix) and BBC picked up their stories for televised popularization. Their writing is lively, witty, and, at its best, capable of lifting the reader out of their own self and into the lives of the characters on the page. And many of Hunter’s and all of Johnston’s stories are written in first-person! Due to my enjoyment of those series, I actively sought out other detective stories in the same vein. That’s when I discovered perhaps the greatest first-person crime novels of all time: Ross Macdonald and his weary but dogged private detective, Lew Archer.
It didn’t hurt that Lew was played onscreen in 2 films by the greatest actor of all time, Mr Paul Newman.
My life as a reader and as a writer has not been the same since.
Macdonald’s prose practically sings off the page into my head with every line. I’ve caught myself laughing aloud to Archer’s snappy repartee. Lew feels like a real man with real desires, hang-ups, and ambitions fulfilled and lost. The stories make me love being a reader, being able to enjoy a master – undisputed in my mind – working their craft. As a writer, the books inspire me to examine what I put down on my own pages, to write with clarity and purpose but never by sacrificing honesty and genuineness in the characters. I’ve found myself going back and re-reading all of the Lew Archer books multiple times, not just for the enjoyment factor but because each reading offers me new insight into craft, skill, and the characteristics of the first-person perspective.
When I read Ross Macdonald, I want to write as well as Ross Macdonald did. That’s not going to happen, but it’s a worthy goal. And every time I pick up my pen or open my laptop, I take that challenge to heart and try to put my best work forward. I’m even thinking of giving my own first-person noir a try.
What’s your take on first-person POV? Do you have a story that changed your mind one way or another? Let me know!
I’d had a Goodreads account for a while, but I hadn’t really used it. It felt like yet another social media commitment for which I have increasingly shrinking time. But a fellow writer and friend of mine – Christopher Mari (check out his books via the link) – recommended that I grab my own Author page at Goodreads. Apparently, it’s a good source for connecting with readers? And since I’ve got a published book under my belt, now, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
Here’s a screenshot of my Goodreads Author Pagemy Goodreads Author Page:
The long-form URL is https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18760553.Mayumi_Hirtzel?from_search=true
As you can see from the screenshot, my Goodreads “blog” is simply an RSS/Atom feed from my blog here. So you don’t have to follow anything different to keep up with me and my writing adventures. But maybe someone will find their way from there over to here, and I’ll be able to welcome some new friends!
Are you an active Goodreads participant reader or writer? Let me know in the comments, and we can connect!
World Building in Fan Fiction
I enjoyed the first Pacific Rim film. Watching it, I wanted to learn more about that world. For that, I did a little bit of reading and poking around the Internet (mainly the Wikipedia article). While that gave me a gleaning of information, I wanted to do something a little bit more.
I didn’t always like world building. It seemed tedious. But as I’ve started to create my own worlds, I’ve come to appreciate the craft of others’ worlds. It’s just that some worlds lack the specific piece I’m looking for, which is why I write fan fiction.
In the first Pacific Rim movie, I loved the design of Cherno Alpha, the Russian robotic monster-hunter Jaeger. Cherno’s pilots had a great fight scene but were handed a raw deal in the script (along with the Wei triplets and their Crimson Typhoon Jaeger, which had to be one of the coolest ideas for a robot ever). I was in the shower one morning when I got the main ideas for the Kluge twins, competitive brothers caught in the swirl of war with the Kaiju but somehow still distanced from it…until it becomes personal to one of them.
I wrote a drabble based on this personal connection (“Worth Dying For”), but here’s the backstory for the brothers, written in a world-building buzz of one sitting almost 5 years ago…
The Brothers Kluge
Ein and Albert Kluge are fraternal twins from Ulm, a city in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, born September 23, 2000, to parents Inge and Erhard Kluge, a chief engineer at Zwick Roell Group. Brash and competitive, especially with each other, the twin boys grew to adulthood in the far-reaching shadow of Kaiju attacks, each one always trying to one-up his brother for skills and smarts. Their father desired them to stay in Germany and continue their work with him at Zwick, but when they came of age, they enrolled in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps Jaeger Academy. They believed their close genetic bond would make them excellent candidates for the Ranger pilot program (q.v., Gage twins, Wei triplets). However, while their mental and physical scores were significant, they failed out in first cut, being particularly incapable of successful Drifting with one another or anyone else.
Morally winded, the Kluge twins resigned themselves to returning to Germany and their “disappointingly conventional” heritage as material testers like their father. Before they were dismissed from Kodiak Island, though, first-generation Ranger and instructor Stacker Pentecost suggested that, while their competitive nature with each other would prove disastrous in a Conn-Pod, it could be highly beneficial in a research capacity:
“It’s not all about piloting Jaegers, you know,” Pentecost said. “J-Tech Engineering needs checks and balances, too.”
Ein looked at his younger brother. Albert looked back at him with the gleam of a new grin. They turned to Pentecost at the same time, and at the same time said, “When do we start?”
Having agreed to training and assignment at the Vladivostok Shatterdome, the Kluge twins soon became Jaeger Engineers. They contributed to upgrades in design and armor on Jaegers Nova Hyperion and Cherno Alpha. During their assignment at Vladivostok, Ein developed one-sided and mostly-hidden romantic feelings for Ranger Sasha Kaidanovsky, one of the pilots of Cherno Alpha. Albert advised his brother to steer clear of both Sasha and her husband Aleksis, but Ein remained devoted:
“You’re a fool if you think you have any chance with Frau Kaidonovsky,” Albert said, snorting under his breath.
Ein wilted. “I know she will never be mine. But I cannot ignore that which beats in my heart. So I will do everything in my power to help her. With or without you, Brüderchen.”
When the Vladivostok Shatterdome was closed in 2024, Cherno Alpha and her J-Tech team, including the Kluge twins, were relocated to Hong Kong. On 8 January 2025, Hermann Gottlieb’s predicted Double Event occurred. Kaiju Leatherback and Otachi attacked, destroying the Jaegers Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha.
On hearing the news of the Kaidanovskys’ deaths, Ein Kluge was never the same. Neither was his brother Albert.
I’m one of the winners of 4amWriter’s “Save El Lobo Writing Competition”!
Head on over to Kate’s page and read her update, which includes all the winning entries. And, if you should be inspired to write your own wolf story, let me know. I’ll howl for you!
For those of you who are interested in how I approached this particular challenge, read on….
Whenever I set my mind to a writing challenge, the first thing I consider is what I can bring to it: style, scenarios, conflicts, maybe a plot twist for the ending. For Kate’s challenge – to write a short story or poem featuring wolves in a positive light – I knew I wanted to use description, to depict the beauty of a wolf in nature. After a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, letting my brain percolate, I came up with the not-very-subtle twist of a photographer using a sight and taking a “shot” much like a sniper might. The hunt of a photographer waiting for the perfect shot is much like waiting for the perfect moment when a target comes into the crosshairs. It would also allow me to tell a story in mostly-silent descriptive and action passages, a technique that’s been prevalent in my pleasure reading, of late.
Once I’ve got my scenario, I figure out who’s going to play my primary character. Given the plot I’d come up with, my PC needed to be a human. I’ve got a stable of go-to characters, but I wanted to do something a little bit different, this time. The main protagonist, Aksel, is a combination of bounty hunter Axton with a little bit of domestic dad Rob McAllister thrown in. Neither of those men can go anywhere without their respective partners, so I dropped in Aksel’s buddy Harald as something of a counterpoint to Aksel’s skill, and to give him someone to reveal his success to in the end.
Next, I just…start writing. Some images and descriptions flow fine, while other parts are obviously less polished. I even double-up on some phrases when I free-write, to play with the order of words and see how they fit. The picture below (click on it for the full-resolution version) shows my original draft in all its messy, stream-of-consciousness rawness.
As should be fairly clear, I don’t edit when I free-write; I just keep typing until I complete the idea. This free-write went on too long – almost 200 extra words too long – and it needed plenty of reworking. That doesn’t mean something good didn’t come out of it along the way, though.
This challenge’s tight word count confines – we were allowed 250 words max to tell the story – meant that I had to choose carefully what was worthwhile to the story as a whole. A lot of the setup and extraneous action had to go. For example, Aksel’s buddy Harald’s dump in the ice pond, as well as a slightly deeper explanation of the men’s relationship, neither of which did much for the main plot. I also really liked the idea of the protagonist facing down the white wolf alone.
The last bit – the reveal of the purpose of the photo quest – came about completely by accident, when I was typing out the men’s dialogue. I hadn’t even considered the relationship between Aksel and his father until those words came out from Harald’s mouth! I liked it a lot, though, even if it meant going back and figuring out a new lead-in for the story.
All in all, I like the final submitted version. It changed along the way, as stories tend to do. It even changed titles, from “White Wolf Hunt” to “Eyes of Gold Fire”. Since I’d already decided in my head that Aksel’s father had died, I could have had the primary character spend the entire story alone. But, I liked him having someone with whom he could share that tiny triumphant moment of the photo reveal. Because stories are better when they’re shared. Just like this one.
What’s your process for writing challenges? Have you submitted your writing to any contests lately? What did you think of my story of Aksel and the white wolf?
It’s been a rough start to the new year. Work has been busy, yes, and social media has become a larger part of my job. Between that and
homework home life, some things just need to get pushed to the side.
When life gets me down, I enjoy revisiting the stories that brought me joy, either in the creation, the characters, the story, or sometimes even just the memories of the process. Back in 2011, my NaNoWriMo project was a romance story called Fearless. I loved those characters so much, I returned to them in a 10-years-later glimpse in one of my “Finding Mister Wright” short stories (the story is no longer available online, but you can read about my reasons for writing it at the link). That’s not what this post is about, though.
Whenever I go back to older writing, I always get the urge to re-do it. In the case of Fearless, the story is already undergoing a major overhaul, but the guts of it are still there. The original scene below was one of the first things I wrote for this story, and it was conceived as a teaser opener, so online readers would know up-front what they were getting into. When I opened this up again the other day, I still liked it…but I knew it could use some work. The “rewrite” version below is not a final version, but I think it does do the job a bit better than the “original”. You’re welcome to read the comparison or skip over it; it’s there mostly as a personal prod that this is a work-in-progress that should get some of my attention.
Most of my free reading time is devoted to pleasure books – on my bedside table right now are a Mankell Wallander crime book, Sapkowski’s second collection of The Witcher short stories, Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, and a few others – but reading those stories of which I once felt proud for finishing gives me pleasure, too. Of course, it would be nice if someday some other person can enjoy a story I’ve written, but the journey is one of progress. I’ve said before that writing “The End” when we finish a story isn’t really The End. There’s a long road of re-reads, rewrites, and re-evaluations to be done. But it’s also fun just to play, and to wonder what could be.
So, I’m not dead…though, there are days when it feels like I’m not much more than that. As for you, dear friends, read well, write strong, and be excellent to each other out there. Your stories are worth telling.