The Feeling – and a Short Story

It’s been a crazy month! But it’s been a month of new experiences.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was doing a lot of research about the writing world. Well, I now have something to show for myself. Red Line Magazine has graciously accepted and short listed my submission to their ‘Conflict’ issue, so

you can now read my new short story, Rules of the Altar!

I don’t want to give away the plot – it does, after all, rely very heavily on the reader not knowing what’s going on while they’re reading it – but they described it best as the bedroom of a couple in meltdown, so let’s leave it at that. I look forward to reading what you think of it! I’m incredibly proud of it, and I’m so happy that they thought it was good enough to be short listed. I’m currently reading the other amazing stories on the list – I just read Don’t go, darling boy and it’s so well written, I’m still a little heartbroken by its characters.

Thinking about short stories and what makes a good short story has had me thinking about stories in general. Hank Green, it seems, had the same thing in mind:

I have decided that the thing that sets us apart as people, that makes us capable of air conditioning and hot showers and lunar landings and nuclear war can be summed up in one word, and that word is ‘stories’. If this sounds a little froofy to you, let me remind you that there was a time before email, before phones, before newspapers, before the written word even. When humanity was first benefiting from the massive utility of passing tremendous amounts of information from generation to generation, the vehicle for the passing of that information was the story. Stories were, and I think that they still are, how we define ourselves and our culture and even our technology and science. Every human society that wants to behave differently first has to change the stories that they tell. Stories, in songs, in books, on the stage, on podcasts, around the campfire help us define who we are. We are made of stories.

(do I mention the vlogbrothers too much on this blog? Pff, of course not.)

There’s an amazing weight set on the line Every human society that wants to behave differently first has to change the stories that they tell, but I’ll save that for another post.

2014-10-10 17.32.26I generally write short stories all in one go, so before beginning my writing I go through a very long process –  lasting anywhere from a day to three months, in my experience (let’s include fanfiction when talking about short stories, since they’re basically the same thing) – , and it includes a lot of brainstorming, staring moodily out of windows, reciting dialogue at myself in the shower, researching obscure facts, going through a thesaurus to discover the word I’m thinking about, making a general outline for myself, finding pictures and poetry and songs that fit… but I wondered, at which point in all the writing that wasn’t actually writing, did I say “okay, now I’m ready to write this”?

Before I wrote Six, I spent about a month and a half trying to understand what I wanted to put into words. It all started with a friend from the Narnia Fic Exchange mentioning something in a review of another one of my stories that prompted me to think about a relationship between Bacchus and Calypso. I started out with an idea of some sort of romantic, witty conversation – and ended up with something that wasn’t quite different, but was extremely different at the same time. While doing research about the gods and trying to understand their mythology, I spoke to friends from islands in the Pacific about the legends in their own cultures. I discovered that many legends from opposite sides of the world seem to overlap – and I began a hunt through six different cultures to try and find similar characters. But even when I had a list of names, I still didn’t quite know what I wanted.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Useful links for the stressed writer!

I’m extremely busy at the moment, working on my own stories, editing my own work, editing friends’ work and studying for upcoming tests… but what I’m doing in between all of this is a ridiculous amount of research about the writing world. Since I came across so many great sites during my adventures, I thought it might be good to share them with you, since you might find them useful, too!small

Clever Girl Helps – For all your reference help and advice! Possibly the easiest and most comprehensive tumblr writing blog I’ve ever found. You can ask things, but you’ll probably find all of your answers somewhere in their tags. I think I’m writing most of my novel thanks to this blog.

Cathy’s Comps and Calls – I’m poor and not really earning any money right now, so finding writing contests worth my while that don’t require an entry fee is tedious work. Thankfully, this wonderful person compiles writing competitions and calls for submissions by deadline–and they’re all free!

Tip of my Tongue – You’ve probably heard of this one already, but it’s great to have when you can think of the definition but are having a hard time coming up with the actual word.

Writing With Color – I literally just found this a few hours ago, but it’s a great blog for advice writing characters of color. In my opinion, no matter what your character’s ethnicity is, you should really read at least a few of their posts. They’re great.

Writing Contests – Another well-organized list of contests that you can filter through tags according to what you’re looking for!

The Review Review – Okay, so I haven’t had the time to go through everything, but the two articles I did read are extremely useful to me when it comes to submitting work to literary magazines and trying to understand what editors are looking for.

Have you discovered any other great sites lately that might help us tackle the challenges of the writing life? Please share them with the rest of us in the comments!


*and do I know why there’s a rat on that pile of books? No, I don’t, but I suppose he’s an intellectual rat.

Pre-NaNo Confessions

It’s the 31st of October, which means that tomorrow I will begin a 30-day marathon in which I intend to write 50,000 words (or more) and complete a new novel.

So I suppose these last less-than-24-hours are for me to admit a few things to myself (and to you).

1) I have about two chapters outlined. Which is nowhere near as much of an outline as I’ve had for my novels in the past. Except Dark Unicorn… but that was in 2008 and I’m not entirely sure that I still have the capacity to pants my way through an entire novel.

2) Tonight at midnight, Starkid will release their new Star Wars parody, and it’s very likely that I won’t be able to stop myself from watching all of it instead of writing.

3) I don’t have any money. Which means I can’t buy this awesome -yet overpriced- beautiful hat, which I suspect doesn’t really have much to do with the era I’m writing about (I’m too lazy to check; don’t judge me) but with which my fingers would fly because it’s so amazingly inspiring

Please ignore the terrifying look in my eyes. The hat is awesome.

Please ignore the terrifying look in my eyes. The hat is awesome.

4) My novel has no title. Which is pretty terrifying, if you ask me, because people keep saying “Oh, you’re writing a novel! What’s it called?”, to which I respond: “Umm… Untitled?”. And for some utterly obscure reason that I cannot comprehend, I feel the need to call it If my eyes were blue. Which is weird. Because it has absolutely nothing to do with anything, and I don’t wish my eyes were blue, either.

5) I don’t really have a novelling soundtrack set up, either, which I’ve had in the past… my only obsessions are Lo-Fang and a couple of other random songs, which I’m sure I’ll quickly grow tired of after listening to them on repeat for over two months.

6) I’m slightly terrified. But I know I can do this…  I think. I’ve done it before, so I can do it again. And I think that if I just force myself to keep writing, I’ll be able to successfully produce enough gibberish that can be later rewritten and polished and refined until it bleeds.. and be turned into a beautiful, meaningful book.


I now gift you an excerpt of what I call a ‘Character Interview’, which is basically where I write myself into an encounter with my characters and interrogate them about what they’re doing. Desperate times call for desperate measures… such as self-insertion.

“So,” I say presently, taking my notepad and balancing it over my crossed legs. “I need you to tell me what happened in May.”

They share a glance. Otis is still looking at her by the time she turns back to me with a wry smile. “It’s a lot of information. A lot happened very quickly… and I think you already know the answer to the mystery.”

“I do,” I concede. “But what I don’t know is which steps you took to get to the answer. Also, I’m confused as to how your families are involved in all of this,” I lowered my voice. “And the government.”

Otis has his eyes on me now, and he’s reaching into his pocket.

“He has pictures,” Evie explains. “And… well… it started with

This is where my document ends. Because, evidently, neither Evie nor I know how it started. If that doesn’t show the state my novel is in at the moment, I don’t know what does.

But, as C.S. Lewis said…

“Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia

And indeed, I do feel that I’m going to be sick. But it makes no difference. This novel needs to be written, and I will write it.

Oh, and happy Halloween.

Writing diversity without propagating oppression

I was shocked when I realized that my FMC was, in my head, a young, Caucasian, blonde girl with a slender body. The main underlying theme of my novel is about prejudice and oppression! It’s amazing how the media brainwashes us to immediately think of that sort of character in a leading role.

I’m appalled at my own reaction to this realization. When I realized what my mind had voiced, I immediately started trying to justify my FMC’s whiteness “it would be too complicated to make her of any other race”. Then I thought “I can just make one of the side characters of another race.”

Yes. I, Nasim Mansuri, a mix of South American, Persian and ‘American’ blood, am scared to make my characters diverse because it would be too complicated.

And obviously this wasn’t a conscious attitude; as soon as my brain was able to coherently form those thoughts I just knew I had to make my FMC something other than white. Because if I’m having these subconscious attitudes towards diversity in media, then imagine how ingrained it must be in our culture!

It made me remember something I read about in tumblr some months ago, about the Netflix show Orange is the New Black. I don’t actually watch this show, but tumblr was quoting Jenji Kohan, the creator, on why the FMC in that show is white:

“You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”

I’m not even going to start on the complexities of our society and why it was necessary for Kohan to need a ‘Trojan Horse’ to get her story across to her audience. But the fact that it’s necessary is sad.

And why? Why is my gut reaction to shy away from writing a character that is anything other than white, because I think she’ll be difficult to write? I’m a complete collage of races; I should know that this isn’t difficult at all, especially with the knowledge and resources I do have thanks to my background.

Looking at my reluctance to write an African American or Asian FMC, though, I partially understand. I don’t think I would dare to write a character from a culture so different from my own without the appropriate research. I’m terribly afraid of not accurately portraying the character and her family. And I don’t think that just Googling stuff is enough research in this case. We’re all still ignorant about so many cultures even though we often interact with them every day. And a poorly written PoC character can certainly cause more harm than good; the last thing I ever want to do is end up propagating the same stereotypes that ignorance and racism have been shoving in our faces for centuries.

So instead, I’m going to do a bit more research and create a mixed-race character. Hopefully my grandma will be able to share her experience as a Latina girl in the 1950s, and I’ll be able to touch on more of the prejudices that existed during that time.

I’m sick of only reading books with Latinas as main characters that solely revolve around the fact that they’re from Mexico/Cuba/etc. So I’m going to write a funny, kinda crazy Science Fiction novel with a possibly half-Ecuadorian (?) girl who has to solve a mystery and the plot doesn’t center on her heritage, even though she does suffer prejudice because of it and it’s one of those subtly dystopian things. Because we need to become used to the idea that main characters with diverse backgrounds are normal.

And I’m sure there are books out there with mixed-race main characters that have a plot that revolves around something other than their heritage, but frankly, I can’t think of one (I know many people envisioned Katniss from The Hunger Games as a Native American, which I think is awesome, but sadly since that was never explicitly stated… yeah, my brain immediately imagined her white. Hollywood I hate you), and I think that’s evidence enough of the fact that there simply aren’t enough novels like that. If there were more of them, I would have stumbled upon them and I wouldn’t have to be perplexed at the way my brain works right now.

I’m hoping that  I’m not more ignorant than I’ve already discovered I am, and I hope I haven’t offended anyone with said ignorance.

What’s your experience writing diverse characters? Do you have any good books to recommend that have a plot that doesn’t solely revolve around a PoC MC’s heritage?


If you’re looking for helpful resources when it comes to writing diversity in fiction, this thread is amazing and covers so much.

Also, in case you’re like me and spent years trying to find out what these acronyms are… MC: Main Character, FMC: Female Main Character, PoC: Person of Color (yes I know most people know this, but I didn’t until recently! PoC made me think ‘Pirates of the Caribbean, so I hope I can’t be the only one out there).

And a confession: I did kinda edit this post.

Ten strangely related things and one convoluted genre

Apparently the genre I’m planning to write is science fiction alternate history mystery. Which rhymes, and sort of makes me wonder if it’s really a genre or if it’s more of an awkward combination of words. Also, a friend just told me that the genre is officially called dieselpunk… but I just found retrofuturism, and now I’m confused… so I might just keep going with science fiction alternate history mystery

I took it from Century of Rain’s wikipedia article, so it must be real, right?

Not that I’m writing a Century of Rain ripoff (though I’m sure it would be a successful ripoff; that book is awesome). I’m just trying to find an accurate way to label a story that so far seems to be including the following things:

1. A stubborn American Latina FMC journalist.

2. A quiet but adorably witty and startlingly intelligent photographer MMC.

3. No actual romance. At least I don’t think so. If I end up shipping people too much it might happen, though.

4. Villas built in orbit for famous people in the 1950s.

5. Slightly insane Rock Stars hiding an elaborate crime.

6. Lots of glittery clothes.

7. Racism and misogyny.

8. A vicious system built to oppress female intellect (wow, wouldn’t that be horrible).

9. A really, really fun adventure.

10. Quirky humor and non-stop action.

Somehow, these ten points need to connect together perfectly to form the most entertaining novel I have ever written. And somehow I have to come up with exactly what it’s about before November sneaks up on me.

I think it’s time to send out a few emails and try and get the information I desperately need to conjure up an accurate setting in which this story is meant to unfold. And I need to come up with a proper title.

What’s the weirdest genre you’ve ever written or read?

NaNoWriMo 2014 Plot Bunnies

It’s October 12th and NaNoWriMo preparation has officially begun! And here’s a cool picture of a bear.BEAR

I’ve spent the last month playing around with a bunch of plot ideas, none of which were (or are, sadly) more than just a general idea of  what I’d like to do. This year, I don’t feel like revisiting any of my old ideas even though I have a pretty long list of stories that are waiting for me to write them. I want a completely new, stand-alone novel that will be both entertaining and profound.

So I eventually decided that I would write either a Cat Adventure Novel or a Gritty Political Novel…  without really having characters in mind for either. And since I’m more of a planner than a pantser, not being sure about what I was going to do was pretty annoying. So here I’ve transcribed a hyper-enthusiastic list of Pros I wrote on the 22nd of September (because Cons would make it even more complicated):

Cat Adventure! Pros:

1. Cats!

2. Graceful spycats

3. Seeing cities from the roof

4. Grouchy, scarred cats

5. Violence and darkness and scary

6. Witty cat humor

7. Good sight-seeing

8. Basing characters on real cats

As you can see, I get rather enthusiastic when thinking about cats.

Gritty FMC drama! Pros:

1. Strong emotional story

2. Non-stop thriller!

3. Realistic female character!

4. Dealing with real world issues

5. Dark & Mature themes

6. Cool sight-seeing of urban stuff

Okay fine, I get enthusiastic about pretty much anything.

And sight-seeing is apparently something I think both novels would have be capable of having, though I’m not entirely sure of what I meant by that.

In the end, I somehow came up with another idea that embodies the original emotions behind both plot bunnies and though it may seem a bit more like the second idea, it has the same crazy/funny/adventure tone to it that I really feel like writing nowadays. I’ll be posting the official synopsis sometime soon, when I can make it look a bit more coherent; because believe me, if I made a list of Pros about that it would still have a ridiculous amount of exclamation points in it.

But for now, the general idea is this:

Set in an alternate version of our own 1950s, in midst of a society that has managed to become exceedingly advanced in its technology despite continuing to be plagued by misogyny and racism, a young mixed-race journalist and her photographer friend discover a strange conspiracy lurking beneath the glittering surface of the speedily evolving Rock and Roll industry. 

The idea will probably mutate about a million times before November ends, but this is what I have in mind at the moment. And speaking of plot bunnies: I usually actually sew a plot bunny before I start NaNo, but I don’t think I’ll have the time or tools to do so this year… so it’ll have to wait.

Now I’m off to browse through all the new content in the NaNoWriMo site! And see, I’m starting to get the hang of this having-a-semi-regular-blog thing…

Are you writing a novel this November? What will it be about?

Before readers there are listeners

My window

The view from my bedroom window

Sometimes I talk too much. I admit it; I get carried away with what I’m thinking about and could go on for ages if nobody says anything.

Mostly this happens with people I’m very familiar with (my family and my closest friends), and sooner or later they’ll shut me up, kindly or unkindly. But I still keep talking.

“So then he goes and kills her because she betrayed him, and meanwhile everybody else has no idea what’s going on because nobody even knew that his clone existed… so the rebels are getting together to plan how to kill this group of people, but–”

“…umm…ok…”

Sound familiar? Maybe not. But it’s kind of the story of my life.

And yet, somehow, talking to people about your plot, whether it’s telling them about why you think your MMC has a particular fear of chickens or explaining to them the entire story that you mean to tell in full detail (this one tends to lose people rather quickly if it’s of epic proportions) has one really good result:

Your story grows.

Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, sometimes it just appears in your brain, but either way, talking about your novel will help your plot. You will unconsciously add a detail that hadn’t been there before.

“So he sneaks into his father’s office, and he gets the key… because his girlfriend’s sister works as a janitor there! Wow, that’s actually a pretty good idea! I hadn’t thought of it before! Anyway…”

Aha! So now there’s another character that can be developed, and new plot twists that can be explored because of them.

Or, (in the case that the person actually understands what you’ve been talking about for the past half hour) you will respond to a question or doubt that the other person has.

“But wait, why did she move to that city? I don’t understand.”

“… because… her best friend… died when she was a child and… it traumatized her…”

YES! Now your character has a trauma that can make them more complex, or can even trigger other events throughout the story.

Now, of course, there’s the problem of annoying your friends and family to the point of them never wanting to talk to you again about anything related to writing. That is why, sometimes, we feel a bit alone with our ideas. I could say something dramatic and beautiful about writing being a “lonely task” or something along those lines, but though it’s partially true, beautiful things such as the internet can bring us comfort when we are in need.

The key is to get all your spectacular ideas together, wait some days until a certain time has passed in between your novel-related conversations with this person, and then explain all you want! There are people who actually understand what you’re telling them, and who will even give you advice when you need to find out how to do a certain operation, or how a certain faction of the government works.

In my life, that person is my mother. And there are two other friends of mine who have heard the entire plot of my story and understood (as far as I know).

It’s good for us to have somebody who knows what the book is about, and will give you advice, or simply will listen. We need to have somebody who will listen to us, even when we don’t make sense. It helps us develop our story, and gives us inspiration and encouragement to continue writing. Because to continue is one of the hardest tasks when writing a novel, if not The hardest.

Who listens to you?