Hey folks! We’re back at it! For this issue of Author’s Spotlight, I’d like to introduce veteran author Ken Gordon!
1. What is your favorite genre to write and why?
Philosophers Dante and Oscar Wilde had opposing points when it came to art. Dante felt art imitates life, while Oscar Wilde felt life imitates art far more than art imitates life. I tend to subscribe to the Dante view of art, as, for me, art certainly imitates life. As a result, my favorite genre is non-fiction. I have written books in the fiction, non-fiction, and children’s categories and have found writing in non-fiction gives me the greatest release and satisfaction. In this genre, I am able to step out of who I am, view life and its challenges, and provide perspectives and answers, which are otherwise much more difficult to provide, while living life on the fly.
2. What influenced you to become a writer?
I have always loved to write, however, I understood that loving to write does not make one a writer. What influenced me to take my passion for writing beyond a passive love and into an active endeavor was a search for topics relevant to my circumstance. At one point, I suffered through a very difficult situation and sought books to help manage the state in which I found myself. Unfortunately, I found no books relevant, or specific, to my circumstance. Hence, I found Plato’s saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, a truism. I found myself in need and there existed a gap. Out of necessity, I filled the gap with my own musings and experiences. I found catharsis by stepping into that gap. That experience made me believe there are others who could benefit from my journey and this realization was the genesis of my transition from one who loved to write into one who is a writer.
3. Do you have any tips or suggestions for up-and-coming writers?
Absolutely. Just start! There is a proverb that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is so true as it relates to up-and-coming writers. So many people want to write a book, intend to write a book, and promise themselves one day they will write a book. Unfortunately, that is as far as it ever gets – intentions. The time is never right. You will never have enough time. You will never have enough to say, in the beginning. You will never have the entire thing thought out. However, as the African proverb states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. In writing, the first step is to just do it. Just start. Do not worry about how it will end. Just start. Do not worry about having it all sorted out in your mind. Just start. Do not try to finish before you start. Just start. I convinced myself I did not have enough time. I convinced myself I did not have enough to say. I convinced myself I was not enough of a subject matter expert. I convinced myself no one would find value in my experiences or expressions. So, I sat idle. But a close friend encouraged me to just start, so I did. Once I did, it was like turning on the spigot to my soul. The information flowed out of me. I am that close friend encouraging you to just start. Once you do, you will find it will flow and when it does, you will bless countless people. And you will likely never know you did. So, for the sake of all those strangers who will benefit from your expressions and experiences – Just start!
Author’s Note: About four years ago, I was introduced to Brian Ketley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany, a book of over 200 writing exercises designed to help transform your fiction. After sifting through prompts about synesthesia, atypical days at work, and practicing negative capability, I arrived at a prompt titled “What If?” In the prompt, I had to choose a historical event and write a short story centered around its opposite outcome. What if the South won the Civil War? What if Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor? I opted to choose a lesser known, yet just as deadly, event in U.S. history: The bombing of “Black Wall Street”, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1920s. The bomb, dropped on the intersection of Greenwood, Archer, and Pine, inspired the title of my work, GAP (This event was also the inspiration behind the popular song “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by GAP Band.) In this work, I wanted to emphasize the craft of elements of dialogue, dialect, and plot.
Greenwood Province, Tulsa, OK 1927
“Notha roun’ on me, Scotty! We live, baby!” said Count from the large stage.
The crowd roared with excitement. His band was visiting from Harlem and Tulsa ain’t know how to act. But that’s how we do it here in Greenwood – stompin’ our feet to the sounds of Swing. The smell of pipe smoke wisped through the thick air as the bass from the band shook the wooden floors of the GAP club.
I nodded. The GAP club bustled with the poignant personalities of many – the ladies rolling their lovely brown bodies to the sounds of Count Basie’s band, while the fellas stared in awe, sippin’ the remainder of their scotches. I lined up ‘bout a dozen shot glasses on the sleek, wooden bar and a couple of youngins watched as the bourbon danced into each of ‘em.
“Not for y’all.” I winked. They giggled.
“Oh I know, Mr. Scotty! My Daddy’ll tear my raw hide if I tried!” said young Clyde Stradford. All the girls giggled – their petite brown hands over their mouths. I couldn’t help but smile.
He’d just finished up his last year at GAP High School and had been accepted to one of dem fancy schools up North. Harlem University is what dey call it. “Well, we’on want that. You’d miss the celebration.” I replied.
“Yessir. Can’t believe it’s been a whole six years.” Clyde shook his head.
Now, we usually don’t let the youngins in this joint, but tonight is a special night. It’s the sixth anniversary of the Greenwood Province that almost ain’t exist.
‘Bout six years and some change ago, I was sittin’ in the lobby of J.B. Stradford’s hotel, waitin’ for my wife to finish up in the powder room. Stradford’s joint was the epitome of black excellence – it had over 54 rooms, a ballroom laced with crystal chandeliers, red carpets, and satin table linings. Most people would never believe he’d been born a slave. That night, we were coming to see a brotha named Edward Ellington from D.C. play with his band. Stradford said he had no doubt ol’ Ellie would make it big.
My eyes were glued to the headline of the Tulsa Star, our local newspaper:
Dick Rowland Protected by Greenwood WWI Veterans
Ol’ Roe was accused of accidently tripping over a little white girl in an elevator at the Drexel Building a few months ago. She screams and everyone reacts – y’all know how that goes. After he was arrested, a few of our Elders marched up to the courthouse to protect Roe from the angry mobs that lurked. They had just lynched ol’ Roy Belton the year before and we ain’t need another headline like that in our newspaper.
As the story goes, a lynch mob approached the group and asked them what Roe was doing with a pistol. Roe looked the men up and down and replied that he’d use it if he needed to. They got into a scuffle and the gun went off. All hell broke loose.
“Still readin’ deh madness, eh?” said Coolie as he sat next to me, peering at my newspaper.
“Coolie”, or Ian Baptiste, was a musician from one of dem islands in the Caribbean and man did he drive the women of Greenwood buck wild. If it wasn’t his long curly jet-black hair, it was surely was his dark skin contrasted against his dark blue eyes that kept them coming. He was opening for Ellie tonight.
“Yeah, man,” I sighed, “Hopefully, you an’ Ellie can take our minds off it for a while. We can’t wait to hear the set tonight.”
He bowed his head graciously, “Life back on deh island jus as wicked, yeh know? At least we have community here.”
Next thing we knew, Stradford came runnin’ out of his backroom, yellin’ to the top of his lungs, “Y’all run in the ballroom! The mob’s comin’! The mob’s comin!”
It was just before sunset and the shouting of quite a few men could be heard in the distance. Everyone jumped up and hustled all of the women and children into the ballroom. I stood up, lookin’ roun’ for my wife, MaeBelle. She and Stradford’s wife, Posie Kay, came runnin’ out the powder room like some chickens wit’ the heads cutoff.
“Scotty, they got me sweatin’ in this satin dress, damn it!” she said. The red dress complimented her ebony skin.
“Where Stradford? Tell ‘em I’m gonna get my pistol!” said Posie Kay, making her way toward her office. Coolie stood in front of her.
“Posie, deh mob’s comin’. It’s not safe.” He said.
Posie Kay looked Coolie from head to toe, “Coolie, get yo ass out the way! I ain’t lettin’ dem white boys take-”
Stradford came between the two and threw Posie Kay over his shoulder. He looked back at Coolie and gave him a nod. We rushed the women to the ballroom, with Posie Kay fussin’ the whole way.
All the men guarded the ballroom, ready to die. Stradford, in his red velvet suit, went outside and stood in front of his hotel – the pistol in his hand just as dark as his complexion.
“Stradford, you crazy? Get in here!” shouted one of the men.
Stradford turned toward us. “If them white boys want my hotel, they gonna have to fight me for it!”
I shook my head. Yeah, he and Posie were made for each otha.
We could hear the mob in the distance – or so we thought. It was the GAP militia, Greenwood’s very own army, charging toward the white mob and they managed to detain the group. Some say the mob worked with the U.S. government to try an’ bomb us – I didn’t doubt it. Once we got wind of this, Stradford, Coolie, and myself went over to meet up with the militia. Stradford’s oldest son, Renald, was one of highest ranking officials.
“Renny, what y’all gonna do wit’ ‘em?” asked Stradford, shootin’ daggers at the now powerless mob members, “Sendin’ back ain’t gonna stop ‘em from tryin’ this again.”
“I know, Pa.” nodded Renald, glancing the mobsters, their face as red as his father’s suit, “Y’all let us do our job. You won’t be hearing from them again.”
Renald’s words sent a chill down my spine. To this day, we don’t know what became of those mobsters. Did he kill ‘em? Hell, dey didn’t have a problem with tryin’ to kill us. Dem fools had 99% resentment in their eyes an’ 1% guilt. I ask myself why I only focus on the one percent.
A few fellas grabbed their shots of bourbon as J.B. Stradford walked onto the stage.
“Thank you, Count for that bangin’ performance! I wanna introduce our next act: He came on back to Greenwood to bless our ears! Welcome Edw- ‘cuse me, Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians!”
The crowd went wild as the sounds of “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” richoted off the walls of the GAP club. I snapped my fingers slowly to the beat of the music. MaeBelle came and leaned over the bar.
“You look good in that red.” I said with a smile.
She grinned, “Don’t I know it?”
I noticed a flower sitting neatly in the side of her hair.
“What’s that there?” I pointed.
“Oh this here’s a posie from Posie Kay,” she smiled, “She said a whole mess of ‘em started growing in that land behind Stradford’s hotel. I heard the Natives gonna build a monument back there or somethin’.”
Here’s a list of things I would buy if I received a dollar for every time I was told my creative writing degree wasn’t practical:
A large island in the South Pacific. I would name it Black Magic Isle and would declare myself the sultan.
The Empire State Building. I would turn it into a mall and various other entities, like the Burj Khalifa, speaking of which…
The Burj Khalifa. Because why not? After all, I’d be quite wealthy, and I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai.
“Oh good. You have a business minor to back you up.”
– Random chick I met in an Uber
It’s a stigma as old as the sands on your favorite beach: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life…because that profession probably isn’t hiring.” Every creative, especially writers, know this feeling all too well. The perceived notion that if it’s not vocational, then it doesn’t pay. What non-believers fail to realize time and again is that writing isn’t just a hobby- it’s a necessity to keep businesses booming, economies thriving, and people educated, informed, and entertained. How isn’t that practical?
“Why would you listen to a twenty-something- year- old ‘kid’ with no medical background?” – Overheard from a former co-worker
And let’s not forget various other niches, such as social media copy, web copy, content writing, blogging, article writing, editing, etc. Don’t customers typically read product descriptions before they make a buying decision? Don’t salespersons take marketing documents to close deals? Don’t you read reviews about restaurants before deciding to spend your money there? Don’t you have a favorite show on Netflix? These things aren’t auto-generated by a bot embedded in the processor of some supercomputer. They are planned, written, and edited by professional, talented, and gifted writers. A world of opportunity exists for us.
“Why would you change to an English degree? That’s not what we hired you for.” – CEO, Past employer
The reason why you should never let a non-writer tell you writing isn’t practical is simple:they haven’t and probably never could do it. These are the same people that will be forced to sit through a mandatory “The Art of Storytelling” workshop, mandated by their employer. A workshop that’ll likely be facilitated by that English professor whose degree they said wasn’t “practical.”
The best thing you can do, writer, is bet on yourself.
Find a community that supports you. Join Wattpad, Medium, or WordPress to connect with other writers like you. Put your work out there for the world to see. Create a portfolio showcasing your best work.
Read. Read. Read. Explore how other writers use craft and storytelling elements to resonate with their audience.
Author’s Note/Trigger Warning: I realized I hadn’t posted any of my creative work. I dug up this short story I wrote back in 2018, centered around the 9/11 terrorist attacks in NYC. The prompt called for short story centered around an atypical day at work. It surely is a day we will never forget. Rest In Peace to all the victims.
Good Morning Kafka,
I hope classes are going well. Are you sure you want to take a full course load this semester? I always advise my interns against it.
Anyhow, please complete following tasks today:
Order the office lunch at Vinny’s. They are usually busy this early, so I’d recommend going in person.
Please schedule social media for all of next week. Post content related to Fintech since we are hosting the Annual Technology ball next Friday.
Submit our survey to the Springville Most Talented Awards. It would look great if we were to win again this year.
Please draft a press release and a blog post to go out on Monday.
It’s your turn to plan an exciting event for office! J Let me know what ideas you come up with.
Find some potential background photos for our upcoming company holiday party.
Let me know if you need my assistance.
CEO, Caesura Capital Investments
P.S. The Finance department is looking forward to your presentation today!
Kafka buried his face in his hands. He’d forgotten about the damn presentation. The thought of trying to fulfill these tasks on two hours of sleep plagued him as he read Neil’s email for the third time. Kafka looked up at his reflection in the glass computer screen; his brown eyes were virtually sunken in, his brown skin looking rather dry, and he hadn’t been able to afford a decent haircut in about a month. He knows Professor Jones didn’t give a shit about him, having to be at work by 7 am the next morning when homeboy assigned that random ass critical analysis. Nor did Professor Craft when he decided to give the class an Excel file and told us to clean the data. Or Professor Kim. Or Dr. Umami. No, no. But Kafka couldn’t blame them. After all, they were just doing their jobs. He had nothing to blame it on but his tumultuous love affair with procrastination. And boy did he like it rough.
“Kafka, did you need some coffee…or a nap, perhaps?” asked Val, as she walked by his desk.
Kafka quickly straightened up. “Oh no, Val. I was just thinking about what I wanted post on social media for the upcoming tech event.”
Val nodded. “That’s good to hear. You know Neil puts a lot on you a lot because he cares about you.”
And when did Neil become an expert on caring for interns? His ass is always “working remote” on a yacht off the coast of a random tropical island. Or in the case of this week, islands. The Keys of Florida or something like that. Caesura Capital Investments was founded by Neil’s grandfather, Caesura Herring, then passed down to Neil’s father, Monroe “Ro” Herring, then of course to Neil. Folks around the office call Neil, “Red Herring”, because he never pays attention to the task at hand. He thinks it’s because everyone knows his favorite character is Red Foreman from That 70’s Show, but they’d rather not inform him of the truth. Val Herring is Neil’s younger sister and, you guessed it, CFO of Caesura Capital Investments.
Kafka half-smiled. “Thanks, Val.”
Val winked as she walked away- the click clacking of her stilettos a cacophony in the ever quiet office. Kafka looked around his undecorated cubicle. The iridescent lights inside the office reflected off of a shiny silver name plate embossed KAFKA ABDUSEMED, Intern.
He couldn’t explain it, but something about the way the letters of his name dug into the silver metal stirred excitement in his belly. He looked at Neil’s email and dragged it to his secondary monitor and pulled up search engine on his primary one.
He typed “How to start your own company” in the search bar. And within a millisecond his possibilities were endless.
“Plotting your escape?” said Dre, as he entered Kafka’s cube. Dre, formerly known as Aleksander Glasgow, reminded Kafka of a birch tree – tall, lanky, White, and always smelled nice. After some time working with the company’s satellite office out in Chicago, Aleksander had a cultural awakening, if you will. After feeling so accepted by the community there, he returned to New York insisting everyone call him “Dre”, the nickname bestowed upon him by the illustrious Black delegation of the Southside. He also met his fiancé, Brie, while there. And before you ask, yes. Yes, she is. Kafka disregarded most of his co-workers, but Dre made this place more bearable. He was like the older brother Kafka never had.
“Something like that.” Kafka laughed, leaning back in his chair.
“Hey, so I was thinking I should get a tattoo on my arm?” Dre said smiling.
“Of what?” Kafka asked.
“Maybe ‘Chi-Town’ or ‘Windy City love’?”
“Dre, you’re from suburbs of Syracuse.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t fulfill me, bro. You understand?”
Kafka shook his head. “Yeah, I feel you, bro.”
“Man, whatever. You can’t say anything to me with a name like ‘Kafka’. Why did your parents want you to become a German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist?”
“My Dad isn’t known for his intellect, you know? Just does shit without thinking of the consequences.” Kafka laughed, only half joking.
“Yeah, I bet. Well speaking of fulfillment and interesting white men, I have a meeting with some investment bankers on the 103rd floor and they took a liking to you last time. You wanna go?”
“Ah, I’d love to man, but Herring’s gave me a laundry list to do. Can’t go way up there right now. Matter fact, I have to go to Vinny’s to order lunch.”
Kafka grabbed his jacket and walked with Dre to the elevators. As they walked, Kafka found himself staring out the windows. He used to be afraid of heights, but after some time working at Caesura, located on the 40th floor, his fear subsided. New York was busy as usual. Her hustle and bustle is why Kafka fell in love with her in the first place. The sun’s rays shot through the windows and gently kissed Kafka’s brown skin and illuminated Dre’s.
Dre sucked his teeth. “When’s Red Herring’s goof ass coming back anyway?”
“Who knows?” Kafka laughed. “How’s Brie?”
“Brie’s wonderful as usual. We went to Harlem last weekend to get her hair done by the Dominicans, and now they call us café con leche. ”
“Yeah, I bet. See you in a few man!” Kafka smiled as he watched Dre step into the elevator going up. Dre smiled and waved.
Kafka had never seen so much smoke. It was so thick. So black. It was moving so slow, it looked like it’d stained the sky. He was standing off in the distance, outside of Vinny’s, and his neck stiffened as he stared this cloud that erupted from the side of the tower in the middle of NYC. Among the screams, gasps, and the “What the hell was that?”s, Kafka found himself thinking about Dre. Did he make it out? Kafka began counting the floors, hoping the impact hadn’t affected 103. 2. Did you see that? 14. Was that a plane? Did a plane hit the tower? 16. 35. 61. 84. Oh my God, all those people? 184.108.40.206…102.103. Dre, where was Dre? Where was Val? Where was the lady that smiled at Kafka every morning when she emptied his trash? Where was Dean, the accounts manager, who just became a father for the first time? 108. Where was the man in the plaid coat he’d seen walking in this morning? 109.110. Kafka found himself out of floors. He’d reached the top of the building and it had all been engulfed by the thick black smoke. Was that a fucking plane? Someone yelled. Oh my God, a plane! A plane hit the tower! A man screamed. Kafka looked down at his hands. He’d never seen them shaking so violently. The lunch order for the office had fallen from them onto the sidewalk some time ago. Val’s quinoa salad busted all over the ground, while Dean’s bean burger was no longer the sum of its parts. The artificial cloud had blocked the Sun. Fire engines roared, and the police sirens bellowed through the streets of NYC, but they were unmatched to the screams of the people they passed.
Speaking of fulfill, I have a meeting with some investment bankers on the 103rd floor and they took a liking to you last time. You wanna go?” You wanna go? Yeah, Kafka wanted to go. But where? Part of him wanted to run into the burning tower and find his friend. Part of him wanted to get out of NYC as fast as he could. Where was Dre?
Hello to all the writers out there and reading this blog!
It is well into the month of November, so it is time for a shameless self-promotion party; please do not be shy about your work.
Writers need to be their own best publicists, and we should also help each other!
Let the world know about your book(s)!
Promote them as much as you can!
Shout to the world about your writing!
Tell us about your book(s), and leave an image and a link if you can.
Here is my shameless self-promotion: my latest nonfiction book can help writers who have issues with finishing first drafts of their books. If that is you, I offer direct, practical advice on how to Get The Draft Done! Helping Writers Finish Their First Draft by Charles F. French.
In order for as many people to see your work as possible, please Tweet, and…
As I meander my way through the writing community, I have come to discover that the discourse around fiction writing mirrors that of religion vs. spirituality – “spirituality”, in this case, being the craft and storytelling elements that make up fiction, such as tone or dialogue, while religion, or interpretation of spirituality, mirrors genre (ex. most monotheistic religions believe in a God, but a Christian’s interpretation of God may be different from someone who is Muslim.) Though two works of fiction may differ in genre, fundamentally they share the same elements.
For example, take conflict. In Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, the characters are presented with a conflict of character vs. fate. Given less than twenty-four hours to live, both find themselves trying to navigate the five stages of grief, all while trying to determine how to leave a legacy in the hours they have left. Rufus questions his fate in a phone call with Death – Cast: “How do you know? The End Days. How do you know? Some list? Crystal ball? Calendar from the future? (19)” Conflict plays out differently in Roselle Lim’s Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. The antagonist’s battle to find herself outside Chinese cultural norms comes to pass once she required to return home after her mother’s untimely death. I argue that the title character’s conflict is character vs. society – she wants to live out her dreams but is tasked with to do this within the confines of a community she resents.
In both works, the parallelisms to reality, whether that be the looming thought of our own demise or deviating from what we are taught is “normal”, are what make the premises not only relatable, but perfect foundations for world-building. In They Both Die, their world is centered around death. From Death Cast phone operators unsympathetically informing “deckers” they are living their final twenty-four hours. To television commercials using the dreaded ringtone in their advertisements. To social media streams of people documenting their last days. Unfortunately, this is not too far off from current events. In a time where is not uncommon to see someone’s demise on Facebook Live or YouTube, the Death Cast world is becoming less fictitious. In Luck and Fortune, Natalie escapes the grasp of her traditionalist mother, but must return to her siloed culture to truly thrive.
The environments we are born into shape us. This is ever present in the way we communicate, aka dialogue/dialect. Originally being from a small town nestled in coastal Georgia, home of the Geechee people, and being of Caribbean heritage (Barbados), I can relate. Regional shortened language, coupled with dialects spoken within a certain community (ex. African American Vernacular English) make for a plethora of “nations within nations.” I have recently started working with domestic fiction, so dialogue is an important factor. Given my cultural background, I do like to incorporate different dialects in my work. I tend to stick with dialects I am familiar with, as I do not want to stereotype or misinterpret ones that are foreign to me. Natalie use of words like “paifang”, “calligraphy”, and “Sono andati?”, are indicative of her Chinese heritage.
Still, Natalie’s reluctance to return home did not surprise me – her tone displayed an ethos of resentment coupled with regret from the first few pages. Lim’s bird symbolism (symbolic of human life), the rain that followed its departure, and the description of the turbulent relationship between Natalie and her mother confirmed the melancholy nature. Tone, though sometimes hard to detect, I believe is important to establish. Admittedly, my works tend to be “dark”, so I use diction that is a little more formal, but I do like to incorporate voice to add variety. Silvera does a great job of mixing tone and voice in They Both Die. While both Mateo and Rufus exhibit tones of distress (ex. “I’m freaking out already, a hundred thoughts immediately drowning out everything around me. (3)”), Silvera does add some comic relief, while also giving insight into some of the flatter characters. Take the scene when Rufus learns he has less than twenty-four hours to live and his friends will not leave him:
“You two are straight up shadows,” [Rufus] says.
“That because we’re Black?” Malcolm asks.
The situation, though serious in nature, has a moment of normalcy, and reminds the reader that the characters are still young adults.
Although they have varying degrees of importance, based on genre, mastery of craft and storytelling elements prove imperative for any type of writing. This requirement supersedes type: genre, literary, creative, or professional writing alike. Just as a building requires the support of a solid structure, or doctors need fundamental knowledge of the human body, all writers would take pleasure in being privy to the elements that form the discipline that’s afforded them so much joy.
Writers, you know the kind of feedback you would want to receive, yeah? So, make sure you are giving it.
It is no secret that we writers tend to be sensitive about the perception of our work. Audiences only see the finished product – not the late nights, pounding of the backspace key, countless drafts, and the various experiences that influence the births of our literary brainchildren.
Since we know how it feels to be the subject of criticism, let’s practice the highest degree of professionalism and tactfulness when the shoe is on the other foot.
Here are a few best practices for giving constructive criticism:
DO: Focus on the craft elements, not the content. Every story is comprised of basic craft elements. These include character, setting, plot, point-of-view, etc. When drafting your critique, focus on the author’s use of the elements. What traits made the character stand out? Did the narrator effectively describe the work’s setting? How did the POV contribute to the tone of the work?
AVOID personal opinions! Your personal opinion does not matter here – your professional one does! You do not have to the like the character’s name. You do not have to like romance novels. You do not have to like stories set in the 1900s. Remember, you are critiquing the effectiveness of various craft and writing elements. Don’t like detective fiction? Doesn’t matter. Try this – analyze the work as if you are the intended audience – what would they look for?
DO: Include examples from the text. Use quotes from the text to support whatever observations you make. For example, if you get a sense that a character has strong, domineering personality, perhaps cite examples of dialogue or visual imagery that helped you come to that conclusion.
DO: List the things that worked well FIRST, then include improvements. People tend to want the good news first. When structuring you critique, try separating your feedback into two sections: What’s Working and What’s Not Yet Working. Under the second heading, be sure to include suggestions for improvements (remember, these are just suggestions – the author has the autonomy to use them or not.)
AVOID Overcomplimenting or Over criticizing. Constructive criticism is a balancing act. The goal is to ensure the writer produces the most effective and engaging work for their audience. Try to find at least three elements that worked well and two areas for improvements.
Great writers need even better editors. Follow these tips to make sure you’re both!
For this week’s Author’s Spotlight , meet the incredible Justine Torres, an up-and-coming novelist:
1. What’s your favorite genre to write and why?
Currently, my favorite genre to write is epic fantasy. I have so much fun with it. I absolutely love this genre because we are world builders. And growing up those were my favorite kind of stories to get lost in for hours on end. It was a place where I could escape from day-to-day life; still do to this day! And for anyone who knows me, I have a slightly overactive imagination and can be a little bit dramatic, so the sky is the limit for me!
2. What influenced you to become a writer?
My reading teacher in the third grade Miss Terrino. She made me fall in love with reading, and she always told me my imagination was going to take me far. Even though I started out struggling with reading and writing, she made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to. She passed away the year she started teaching me; I never forgot her or her words of encouragement. I owe her everything when it comes to my writing. Every time I feel like giving up, I think of her and keep pushing forward.
3. Do you have any tips or suggestions for up – and – coming writers?
This one took me a while to think of, not going to lie because I am still going through the ups and downs of what it takes to be a writer. So I will share with you what I have learned so far. Don’t give up. Even when it feels like everything is going against you, hold on. I am sure this is something many people have heard before, but every mistake you make, every failure you experience is a lesson learned, so learn it. And don’t let the rejection you receive hold you back, because unfortunately, in this industry, you will receive rejection. Not everyone is going to see your story the way you see it. Find the people who see your vision, and want you to succeed. Keep fighting, and always remember why you fell in love with writing. Hold on to that why and never lose sight of it.
Most of my favorite characters tend to hail from the world of anime. When I was younger, I was captivated by their expressive features, high intellect, and passion to overcome whatever plight they were given. As I aged, however, I found myself paying more attention to the backstories of said characters. This gave me a deeper understanding of the human experience- instilling in me the power of perspective, while showing me just how much your environment can influence the person you become. These parallelisms are what I believe makes characterization so important. Sure, I watch these shows for entertainment, but I can appreciate the Aesop-esque nature of them as well. These qualities were best personified in a character named Prince Zuko, a gifted fire bender from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show (it was adapted to film, but real fans don’t speak of it) follows the story of Aang, the long-lost Avatar, on a journey to master all four elements – fire, water, earth and air (he is already an air-bending prodigy).
The Avatar world is divided into four nations – the Fire Nation, The Water Tribe, The Earth Kingdom, and the Air Kingdom. “Benders” from each nation can control and manipulate the element from their nation. Zuko, the banished Fire Nation Prince, has but one goal: capture the Avatar. He believes this will restore his honor and his father, Fire Lord Ozai, will accept him once again. After Fire Lord Ozai discovered that Zuko (a child at the time) spoke against the Fire Nation, he challenged Zuko to an ‘agni kai’, or a duel in front of the entire Fire Nation. Zuko pleaded for this father’s forgiveness, but it was too late. Zuko is not only banished from the Fire Nation, but his father severely burned Zuko’s left eye (this is known as the ‘mark of the banished prince.’)
As the show progresses, however, Zuko learns that true strength does not manifest itself from rage, rather inner peace. This is largely due to the help of his tea-loving, peaceful Uncle Iroh, aka “The Dragon of the West”, who we learn lost his only son to war. According to Zuko, in his showdown with Fire Lord Ozai, “He’s [Uncle Iroh] the one that’s been a real father to me.” Zuko eventually teams up with Aang and his friends and together they save the world from the Fire Nation’s wrath. Fire Lord Ozai is defeated and Zuko ascends the throne.
I think Zuko’s character is a mix of “The Rebel” and the “The Explorer” archetypes, balanced out by Iroh’s “Sage” archetype. Unlike many “villians”, Prince Zuko is not one-dimensional. He is a well-rounded, complex character that makes you root for him, and (arguably) has the best character development in the series.
What makes Prince Zuko an effective character:
His Gradual Maturity – Zuko’s development mirrors that of the average human. We certainly do not mature overnight. This process takes years of grit, triumphs, and pitfalls.
Complexity of Emotions – As mentioned before, Zuko is far from one-dimensional. As the series progresses, we are given insight in to how his upbringing and environment influenced the person he was. We see Zuko filled with hatred and rage, but also depressed and defeated.
What traits do you think make for a memorable character?
I think I have always had a passport to explore the writing community. Still, it was not until middle school that I flirted with getting my official literary citizenship. My eighth-grade literature teacher, Mrs. Miller, would give us a random prompt at the start of class each morning. I can recall yanking out my 49-cent composition notebook, taking the first fifteen minutes or so to jot down any narrative I could stir up quickly. At that moment, my classmates and I were one and the same. Even if it were only for the first thirty minutes of this class, we had come together for a common goal – catharsis and the exchange of ideas, emotions, and the genesis of a support system. For a long time, I thought I was an anomaly. Being an author, or being a writer, even, was worlds away. This shaped my understanding of the need to feel connected, wanted, and heard. We see this narrative quite often nowadays with the advent of various social justice organizations. The commonality is community.
In the article Do Writers Need To Be Alone to Thrive? , Katherine Towler calls her writing community “very rewarding and enriching.” I, too, find my writing community rewarding. As we live amid the digital age, we have access to hundreds of communities at our fingertips. Whether it be a specific genre, like the Horror Writers Association, or something more general like PEN America, there’s seemingly something for every writer. Presently, I’ve taken note of a few writing communities that I see myself joining. The SNHU Writer’s Community is reminiscent of Twitter (with its micro-blogging structure) and Facebook (the “like,” “share” features), making it rather easy to navigate. This proves intuitive for me, as I am an advocate for social media both personally and professionally. The community demonstrates usefulness, in that it is alive and well – we can ask questions, get advice, and feedback about our work in real-time.
The Authors Guild and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs too, resonated with me. Though their missions differ, I was impressed with what I saw. The Authors Guild, for example, stands for fair payment, distribution rights, and the right to retain ownership of their copyrights. The Authors Guild found a void in the writer’s journey and is successfully seeking to fill it. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs takes a more academic approach in their mission, and the perks to membership reflect that. I especially took note of the Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, which pairs new writers with established ones. Imagine being able to meet up for coffee (post-pandemic) with an established writer? It would be like looking into the mirror, conversing with your future self. These are the type of support mechanisms I would want to receive from a writer’s org -they guide every step of the writer’s journey.
A disadvantage to this, currently, is the physical connection. In The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer said, “If you write a piece and everyone in the room listens as if there is nourishment for one ear…then it will not matter afterward if you hear a dozen separate reactions, for you will at last have the certainty that you are a writer” (10). Sure, we have video chat, but it does not quite compare to seeing your audience in the flesh, feeding off their energy and undeniable presence. But even before 2020 happened, life did. Kids, workplace obligations, and other various externalities kept us from maintaining the connections we made in these writing communities. So how do we retain these connections when life is such an uncontrollable variable?
I think the keys here are empathy and accountability. Just like with our writing processes, managing relationships in the writing community takes work. Could we intermingle an accountability partner in our writing processes? This isn’t a final solution, but I believe leveraging the writing communities we have access to can and will make us better writers. Have you answered the call to your literary citizenship?