Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. I, for one, have enjoyed stepping away from my fiction for a time and spending time with friends and family that I put on the back burner while pursuing publication.

As 2011 comes to end, I cannot help but reflect on the year as a whole. A lot has happened to me both inside and out. I took the effort to make this blog a priority. I helped start a writer’s group with two amazing and talented individuals that has become a cornerstone of my writing progress. I drummed up all the moxie I had and began seriously writing my first novel. I participated in National Novel Writing Month and discovered a potential that I never knew existed inside of me. I have released that little goblin living inside my head that whispered doubts in my ear and infused me with fear of failure.

I will reap all the benefits of these actions in 2012. By mid to late summer, my first book, The Bloodsong Swords, will arrive. My fiction baby will have been birthed, reared, and grown prepared to face the world on its own two feet. I know that not everyone will like it. I just hope that more people like it than not. 

It is an exciting story full of colorful characters and places that span over 1,900 years.  There are gangsters—a lot of gangsters—vying to fulfill an ancient prophecy and they all have supernatural powers. If I had a gun to my head, I would call it science fiction, but really, it is so much more than that. It is in essence an urban science fiction historical action thriller. Obviously, genre bending is going on in all directions. 

I dedicated December to my day job. Retail work takes on a completely new level of insanity during the holidays and I have had little free time to write. January will be a very important month. I still need to finish my first draft. Then the editing and rewriting begins. I am going to make a bold statement and say that 2012 will likely be the most important and pivotal year of my life. By the time 2013 rolls in, I will have transformed from an aspiring writer to a self-published author and life will never be the same again.

I want to thank everyone who has followed my journey thus far. I wish everyone an exciting and safe New Year’s celebration. Cheers to 2012!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Secrets of a First Time Wrimo

November was a long and bumpy road. As you probably noticed, I have been very quiet of late. My head was down and my mind fully focused on reaching my goal of 50,000 newly written words for National Novel Writing Month. I achieved my goal! The real world was dead to me. Only my imagined world was worthy of my attentions. I ended November with 50,066 words and won my very first NaNoWriMo.

I hope that nobody thinks my pretty little web badge means that this was easy for me. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I wasn't sitting pretty at my desk all month, whistling a tune, and typing away while blue birds fluttered around my head and small woodland creatures applauded around my feet. It was painstaking, terrifying, and absolutely insane!

I will preface this by saying that I bent the rules and wrote a novel that I started over the summer. What can I say? I’m a rebel. I already had one complete chapter of 8,711 words. I did not apply that chapter toward my final word count. I will also say that while I had 15 of the characters already in mind, they were nothing but faces, names, and basic motivations. In some cases, they were only names.

Week One, 7,229 words:  The first week was strange. I thrust myself into unfamiliar territory. I did not write a single word on the first day. I had stage fright. I wasn’t sure what to do other than to type.  On day two, I cranked out over 4,000 words. “This is easy,” I thought. “50,000 words will be no problem at all.” How I lied! The rest of the week I putt-putted like an old jalopy. By the end of the week, I was 4,000 words below par. One unexpected side effect to plunging headfirst into a fictional reality was the dreams. Every night I dreamt such vivid and lively dreams that when I awoke, I felt as though I never slept at all.

Week Two, 7,506 words:  I spent week two staring at a brick wall. My characters would not speak to me. They would not speak to each other. My fictional world was a gray haze and my plot made no sense whatsoever. Every word I typed felt clunky and forced. I was as a child lost in a mammoth grocery store crying out for her mother. I learned that a week two slump is common among Wrimos.  This knowledge did something to boost my ego but that boost was very short lived. By the end of the week, I was 7,000 words below par.

Week Three, 6,889 words:  Week three was a famously raucous pity party with full on streamers, balloons, and pointy cardboard hats. “I’m probably not going to make 50,000 words,” I told friends, family, and coworkers. “But it’s okay,” I said with a brave face, “I have a better sense of my story and more words than I did before.” Inside me was a big ugly ball of disappointment. It stared me in the face and spat out insults. I considered cheating. If I added my previously written chapter to the word count, I would be sitting pretty. I chose not to. I couldn't bring myself to sully the process. I pressed on despite my anxiety.

Something miraculously profound happened inside me on Sunday November 20th. The labor pains stopped and I held in my arms my screaming infant novel. He stared up at me with eyes of wonder. I looked down at him and I knew exactly who he was and what he wanted to say. I embraced him close to my chest and rejoiced. “I am a writer,” I said. It no longer felt like a partial lie. I am a writer. I vowed to reach my goal. If not for myself, then for my story and all the glorious people and places therein. By the end of the week, I was 14,000 words below par. C. L. Kay Living the Dream Gold Ink Pen Blog GraphicWeek 4, 28,442 words:  I cracked my knuckles and got to work. This was it. I had nine days to scrape out as many words as my fingers could type. I literally ate and slept my novel. I shut off my phone and ignored my messages. I woke up hours before work and typed. I toted my notebook and scribbled during the bus-and-two-trains commute to work. I scribbled while scarfing down lunch.  I scribbled some more during my commute home. In the evenings, I typed up what I wrote during the day and typed some more. I typed until my eyelids weighed a ton and my mind was swimming. I allowed myself 5-6 hours a night for sleep and those hours turned out more dreamful and less sleepy.  I tossed and turned. My characters that a few weeks prior wouldn’t talk to me now talked nonstop.  “Shh, I’m trying to sleep,” I said. “But we have business to conduct,” they whined. At one point, I literally forgot how to spell “pour.”

I’m pretty sure I hallucinated that weekend. I saw things and heard things that likely were not there.  If it weren’t for my boys in the red Indian head sweaters, the Chicago Blackhawks, I would be wearing a straight jacket right now. Hockey was just about the only thing rooting me to reality (they have the third best record in the league right now. Go, Hawks, go!). On November 30th, I still had 6,125 words to go. I made a giant pot of strong coffee and went to work. By the evening, I hit the magic number and sighed a massive sigh. I cracked open a bottle of wine, poured a glass, and validated my word count.

I am extremely proud of what I have achieved. My novel is by no means finished and by no means publishable. This shitty first draft still requires at least another 50,000 words. After that, I will begin the long journey of editing. I plan to have a version to share with the world by August 2012. Writing a novel is no longer a distant hope. I have evolved. At long last, I am living my dream!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Its a cool and gloomy day here in Chicago. I'm off of work and attempting to self motivate. 

I've not been writing much as I've been fighting off a nasty cold virus and a mysterious painful pulled neck muscle (mysterious because it happened out of nowhere. Perhaps it's the Universe's way of telling me to slow down, relax, and stop letting things get under my skin). I have a short story in progress and the ladies of my writer's group (Moxie!) are expecting more pages of that very soon.  And of course the omnious shadow of NaNoWriMo looms over me. November 1st is only five short days away and I'll begin my crash course in speed writing.

For those of you unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) is a not-for-profit endeavor by the Office of Letters and Light: "A fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing." The goal is to write 50,000 new words in just 30 days.

A pie chart illustrating strategic plan for surviving National Novel Writing MonthI don't like to fly blind. I'd rather be prepared. I research and read into almost everything I attempt. Based on my findings I've created a few simple plans of action to cross that 50,000 word finish line. It's a three prong plan, "pacing, structure, and caffeine."

The first is to stick to a strict day to day word count of 1700. That way I have a small and attainable daily goal that will keep me on pace.

The next part is to write out on index cards all of the scenes I need for the novel and arrange them in some kind of preliminary order. This way if the white page begins to threaten me, I can pick up the next scene card and continue rolling. That's what I'm putting together today. Some bones.

And lastly, I plan to stock the pantry with lots of coffee. 

Well, lots to do, lots to do!  I better get to it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why The Sacrifice Is Worth It

Writing is a solitary activity. Do it consistently and your laptop will become your best friend. You’ll clasp your notebook like a security blanket. You’ll wear black for days at the loss of your favorite pen. You’ll eat many meals out of Styrofoam containers. You’ll forget what household chores are.  And you’ll spend little to no time with the people you love.

You’ll receive angry texts, curious emails, and plenty of phone calls asking, “what’s up with you?” or “where have you been hiding?” If you’re lucky, you’ll explain that it’s nothing personal, that you've been committed to your writing goals, and your loved ones will accept that and proudly support you.  If you’re unlucky, feelings will be hurt and ties will unbind. You may even find yourself half a pint deep in a tub of ice cream asking “is all this worth it?”

The answer is incontrovertible: YES.

Everyone has dreams and desires, goals and plans, but few have the courage to restructure their lives in the profound ways necessary to achieve them. One day, with a copy of your book in hand, you’ll look around and notice those standing with you. Those loved ones believed in you, stood by you, and comforted you during your self-imposed isolation. You’ll owe them undying gratitude and be all the richer for it. 

Baggage has no place in a writer’s life besides on the page. I can no longer focus on what was. I’m taking baby steps on my path with eyes locked on the future. I’m planting seeds, making connections, and watching new life grow. I’m listening to that quiet voice deep inside me that yearns to tell stories. It grows louder with each day. I simply refuse to feel guilty about dancing to my own tune. 

I’m offering a sincere and heartfelt thank you to every single person out there that is supporting my dream. If you’re reading this, you’re definitely one of them. THANK YOU. C. L. Kay writer writing write newadult youngadult scifi sciencefiction fantasy magicalrealism oldbook bloggraphic amazon kindle book ebook novel shortstory facebook twitter pinterest instagram wattpad

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

5 Keys To An Effective Writers Group

I helped to form a writers group a few months ago. I and two other writers gather biweekly to discuss our work and cheer on our progress. We even created a group on an online writing community site to keep in touch between meetings and lay the hammer down on each other if needed. This has become a powerful and invaluable motivator for me to reach my writing goals. Here are five insights into what I find makes a group work:

1—Keep it small:  You want to be able to read work from every member and give reasonable feedback to each person. This will become complicated with too many members. Reading the work of others will inform and improve your own writing. Remember to read as a writer. You want to notice the craft as well as the story. You might find a key technique to unlocking a scene you have struggled with. You may find a point of view you haven’t attempted that would fit perfectly for a story or chapter you are stumbling over. 

 2—Have a variety of topics:  In my group, each member has some formal training in fiction writing but none of us has published in a prominent way. We all strive toward publication in the near future. It does not matter if every member is writing the same genre or to the same audience. In fact, it’s often helpful to read something dissimilar to what you’re working on. If you all worked on a story about talking animals for 2nd to 5th graders, the group can become competitive and therefore useless.

3—Keep clear guidelines:  We strive to send out at least 1000 words for each session. This number gives a focus and everyone is clear on expectations. This is a small enough amount to easily complete over a two-week period yet large enough to make good forward progress. We also have a simple policy of no excuses and no disclaimers. Everyone has a busy life these days. We work multiple jobs, have families, and other obligations that get in the way of our goals. Make sure the group guidelines are fair to all the members. You should want every member to succeed!

4—Focus on the writing:  Everyone works at their own level. We don’t care if you’re producing a novel, short story, creative nonfiction, graphic novel or children’s book as long as you’re writing and submitting something for the group to read. I often hear horror stories about people leaving groups because the critiques turned into bashing sessions.  This is unnecessary. Critiques should apply to the craft and your gut reactions to the story. This keeps personal feelings out of the mix. What passages did you find effective? What confused you or caused you to stumble? What stuck with you after reading? Some aspects of craft to keep in mind are movement, sense of place, dialogue, sensory and character descriptions, voice, tone, point of view and vantage point.

5—Have fun:  The odds are you will quit a writers group that bores or shames you. You’re likely taking things far too seriously if you’re not having fun. A writer’s group should be a safe place to experiment with story ideas and craft. You should never feel that your work is under par or under valued. Keep the tone light but constructive. Meet somewhere lively like a coffee shop or restaurant where you can talk, giggle, and not disturb other people. If you’re having fun, you are likely to stick with it and with each week, closer to achieving your writing goals.

an infographic describing how to effectively use a writers group

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How I Fight Off The Winter Blues

Today it's nippy outside. The high temperature reached around 60 degrees and a nagging drizzle fell all afternoon. Overnight, we'll experience 44 degrees. The sun is setting earlier each day. The Autumnal Equinox is only nine days away. I can already feel my energy changing. I am less energetic. I am craving heavy comfort foods like soup and mashed potatoes.

Winter in Chicago is in a word, brutal. Freezing temps, snowy mess, and frigid winds off Lake Michigan make outdoor life a kind of hell. Most people do lots of complaining about the winter weather, me included. Don't judge--we have to complain or we might go stir crazy. 

In my family we gauge the seasons by jigsaw puzzles. I could come home from school on any given winter day and find our dining room table covered in a work in progress. Around the unfinished puzzle border there would be stacks of shallow boxes full of tiny pieces grouped by color and visual texture. It's just something we do to pass the time when it's too cold to enjoy the outdoors.

As I grew up I discovered my own way of fighting off cabin fever. I paint. I'm self-taught but I do love it. Colorful smears of acrylic paint cover almost all of my winter pajamas and sweatshirts. I recently rearranged my office/creative space to maximize room for the upcoming painting season.  Below is a creation of mine from last winter that now hangs in my living room. I call it "Reach Beyond Grasp." Reach Beyond Grasp

Seeing as I'm in the process of finishing a NaNo novel, I don't know how much painting I will be doing this year. It will take work to find the proper balance between writing and painting. November is entirely scheduled to my novel for NaNoWriMo. After that, I'll allow myself plenty of time to indulge in my favorite cure for the winter blues--a brush, a palate and a canvas.

Monday, September 5, 2011

National Novel Writing Month

I've done it! I am an official participant in NaNoWriMo 2011!  While I am both excited and terrified about the prospect of compiling a 50,000 word novel during the month of November, I know it's the right thing to do. This endeavor will force me to complete my work in progress and rid me of my bad habit of editing as I go. My strategy is to pace myself at 1700 words per day to make things more manageable.

If you're already a member, please feel free to add me as a writing buddy. You can find my profile here.

I will definitely keep you updated on my process during November. Wish me luck and cheers to shitty first drafts. C. L. Kay write writing writer fiction sciencefiction fantasy magicalrealism book ebook novel shortstory publish publishing selfpublish amazon kindle facebook twitter wattpad blogger pinterest instagram

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's All Inside

A page from an eighth grade autobiography showing the author wants to be a writer when they grow up

The above image is the last page of an autobiography I wrote for a final project in Eighth Grade English. It appears that my thirteen-year-old self knew her destiny even if my adult self spent loads of time denying it.

I opened every door I came across during my young adult life. I searched for something new or better--something that clicked. I went to four different colleges. I majored in Law Enforcement, English, and Interior Design before coming full circle and receiving a BA in Fiction Writing. What I've learned is that the answers are inside me. If I search deep enough and honestly enough, I can't go wrong. 

I'm glad that I saved this autobiography. It serves to underscore my desire to share stories with whoever is willing to read them. I wish I could go back in time, hug that thirteen-year-old girl and tell her to seize her dream and never look back. She was wiser than she gave herself credit for.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Flip Side

I often hear unpublished writers say that they are fearful of the process or that people will not like their work. It is true that there will be people out there who won’t like what you have to offer. This is true for everything from art to politics to science. Someone will be there to voice their dislike. It’s simply human nature to be opinionated. This is what gives our world such immense diversity and color. 

Why not focus on the flip side of this?

There will always be someone who enjoys your work! It is now easier than ever to reach millions of people with minimal effort. The numbers game alone dictates that there will be people out there who will connect with your stories. Put those fears aside and deliver something. In time you will build your brand and with it your audience. 

On that note, I have a novel to finish! So I’ll leave you with this quote from Sylvia Plath: C. L. Kay Enemy To Creativity Sylvia Path Quote Aged Paper Texture

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Enjoying The Season C. L. Kay Summer In Chicago Graphic Grant ParkI notice I haven’t posted in quite a few weeks. There’s a simple reason for that. I’ve been enjoying the season!  Summers in Chicago are far too short and too easily allowed to slip by. I’ve spent a lot of time relaxing with books and movies, listening to bird song outside my window, watching the neighborhood ignite into a fervor of human activity and feeling the moist caress of Summer’s kiss on my skin.

I hate Winter. I know what you’re thinking: “You live in Chicago! Winter should be in your blood.” And perhaps it is. Furthermore, that is most likely the reason for my despise.  Winter is dark, sullen, heavy, depressing, and above all COLD. Not at all good for the spirit. Perhaps one day I’ll move to a warmer climate where I can enjoy temperance on a regular basis. Preferably, somewhere that nature lives in better harmony with civilization. But for now I’m going to focus on making the most of what little bright, tangy, uplifting Summer that I can. 

We’ve come upon on the threshold of August and I can already feel Earth’s orbit once again transporting me toward that desolate of seasons.The days have noticeably shortened. Summer’s swan song string of 90-degree temperatures has arrived, heralding the coming Autumn.

And with the coming of Autumn so close at hand, I am grateful for one very important thing: the emergence of a potentially fruitful collaboration with two wonderfully positive and talented ladies with equal desire to carve a niche in the world of fiction. That’s right, a writer’s group. It has all the makings of success and through the end of glorious Summer and the calming luxury of colorful Autumn we’re sure to come upon a rhythm that aids us all in beating back the breath of big, bad Winter. We have goals (my personal goal being to complete a first draft before the new year), we have enthusiasm, and most important of all we have moxie!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Parallel Earth (Alternate History)

Alternate history fiction (also known as alternative history, allohistory, or uchronie) is a subgenre of fiction that takes place in our world, yet has strayed from our actual history. This subgenre usually has a science fiction, literary fiction, or historical fiction emphasis and has been in use since as early as the 4th century. Considering my personal science fiction bent, I prefer to call this subgenre Parallel Earth—the story takes place on Earth, but Earth of a parallel Universe where things are not quite like the Earth we live on. 

As a massive fan and writer of Magical Realism (the most popular current form of which is Urban Fantasy)—fiction that takes place in our real world but contains fantastical or magical elements—using a parallel Earth as a setting loosens up the boundaries and provides a wider range of fantasy elements for use. I have in fact created an entirely fictional Midwestern city so that I am not shackled by actual geography.

Working on a novel with characters that are centuries old has depended almost entirely on strategic divergence from the actual history of civilization in small ways. With 10 protagonists, 5 antagonists and 19 secondary characters that fill out my story, it makes for a lot of research. I have been very conscious of having these changes make sense and in many cases logically link up with actual developments in Earth’s history. I’ve done quite a bit of brushing up on ancient Roman history and culture and will have plenty more to do with several isolated times and places as referenced by the origins of my large cast of characters.

How do you readers out there feel about stories that take place on a parallel Earth?  Are you distracted by historical inconsistencies? Or do you welcome a view into what might be rather than what is? C. L. Kay Parallel Earth Graphic Earth And Moon From Space

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why You Should Ignore The Goblin

I stumbled across this evocative image today: a typewriter craftily morphed into a hungry looking mechanical creature that appears ready to gnaw the fingers right off of unsuspecting hands. It comes courtesy of an amazing sculptor from Oakland, CA by the name of Jeremy Mayer  (More of his amazing creations can be found here).

The moment I saw this angry fellow I had two reactions. The first was to laugh at the cleverly constructed character. The second was to cringe at how often I envision my laptop is staring up at me with that same expression. These days writing feels like more of a chore than it should. 

The annoyed little creature I see in my mind begs the question “what am I doing wrong?”  Should I start writing at a different point in the story?  Is there more research needed before I can move forward?  Or should I simply scrap this project in favor of different material?

Perhaps some wisdom lies in the Hogwarts' Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson from third year teacher Professor Lupin. Just like the riddikulus charm used to defeat the boggart, I will imagine my writing goblin wearing a funny hat and laugh it into submission. If that doesn't work, the least I can do is ignore it. C. L. Kay Ignore The Goblin Angry Typewriter Graphic

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Truth About Discipline

I love writing.  I truly do.  The process of creation and discovery feeds my soul.  Imagination rules my existence.  What I have a problem with, however, is discipline in my craft.  It is often a challenge for me to fit in quality writing time. Courage Quote by C. L. Kay Pen And Notebook Green Tint
I was always a good student in school.  I received top grades in college.  However, I did tend to procrastinate a lot on my writing assignments.  I know how to work and make the most of my time when I’m at the keyboard.  My issue isn’t that the time doesn’t exist or that I don’t desire to work.  I do fear the white page.  I do fear that the work will be horrible.  These are common writer’s issues that I’ve already learned to deal with.  So really, I’m not exactly sure what the reason is for my apprehension. 
I have a job four to five days per week in order pay my bills and rent, eat food and get to and from my job.  That leaves me with 48-72 hours per week that can be dedicated to my work, minus chores and of course sleep (one of my favorite activities; dreams deeply inspire and inform my work).
So, what is the deal?  I chalk some of it up to inexperience.  I have never worked seriously on a novel length project before (unless you count the 100+ page manuscript I worked on before studying fiction writing.  It is horribly written but conceptually golden).  It takes a lot of courage to jump into a project and make mistakes.  I have to constantly remind myself of my “shitty first drafts” mantra.  Am I simply a coward finding her courage?  Doubtful.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be walking down this path in the first place.  Perhaps all I need is some time and consistency.  So far I have been consistent, however slow the pace may be. 

If any other writers out there have advice on how they push themselves to get their work done, I’d love to hear it. I’m always willing to learn and try new techniques.

Monday, April 11, 2011

It’s All In The Name

The most fulfilling and rewarding part of being a fiction writer for me is when the characters I’ve birthed begin to walk on their own two feet.  Once I have them firmly realized, they always speak and operate in ways I had not previously conceived.  It’s as if they begin to breathe and act of their own volition and now guide me to where they want to go instead of me forcing them into my perceptions of how they should act. Character Names Quote By C. L. Kay Old Paper Texture In the birthing phase, I reflect a lot on the type of person I want the characters to be in order to have an engaging story.  This can include personality traits, physicality, quirks, psychological state, moral code, family background, education, social status and all the rest.  Though for me, the name is most important thing.  Once I have named a character, place or group, I’ve given it a specific energy.  There is much power in a name.  I like using unusual or unlikely names for characters.  Most importantly, the name must encapsulate the aura and essence of the character.

The opening paragraph of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is Humbert Humbert’s treatise on the power of the nymphet’s name.  And let’s not neglect to mention the connotations of such a name as Humbert Humbert.  Villains’ names are the most fun for me to create.  Some of the most memorable fictional names come from villains.  Lord Voldemort, Darth Vader, Professor Moriarty. 
The act of naming gives power and life to the idea of the character.  It is akin to spiritual ceremony.  Once the Rite of the Name is complete, the subjects rise into their own authority.  While the idea of the character is the body, the name becomes the breath and blood that animates it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It’s A Slow Journey (And I Don’t Care)

It seems like an eternity since I have written for this blog. And no wonder. With one measly follower and not a lot of writing going on, what could I possibly have to say and to whom? Nevertheless, some changes have occurred. So why not throw it out there?

I recently picked out an old story from my earliest days at Columbia College with the intention of polishing it and submitting it to any publication I thought might want it. As soon as I began editing, an entire new world presented itself. Characters appeared out of the ether and situations never previously conceived flashed in my mind’s eye. “Write this down,” they begged. “Give us life.” And so it has become a mission for me to spend time with these characters, get to know them, and tell their story. Consequently, it’s a slow process but just like the Confucius quote I recently read, "it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."

roses laying on wood table with confucius quote overlayI will not stop. I’ve spent far too much time questioning my talent and the market and the supposed impossibilities of making a good living as a fiction writer. I’ve adopted a strict I-really-don’t-care attitude and it suits me. I’ve stopped beating myself up and comparing myself to others. The blinders are on and my resolve is set soley on finishing this book. By this time next year I’ll be in the money, making a comfortable living doing what I love.

The second point I’d like to make here is that anyone out there thinking ebooks and epublishing is just a passing fad needs to wake the heck up. It is the present and the future of publishing. In fact, as you read this, the entire publishing paradigm is taking on a new shape and I refuse to be left behind. I highly suggest that anyone who is serious about writing to do your research on this. There are lots of fantastic opportunities, particularly for new authors hitting the scene. Don’t say I didn’t give you heads up.