Today, I am featuring author Carl D Jenkins, whose story “In the Valence” is included in the anthology “A Bond of Words,” alongside my own brand-new story, “Rhythm of the Bug-ity Beat”
What is the hardest part of writing for you? What is the easiest?
The hardest part of the writing is just making the time to sit down. I’m an introvert who works in mental health. I absolutely love it, but it naturally leaves me drained and it takes a while to recharge my batteries enough to give the story the attention I think it deserves.
The easiest is easy. Character development. Most of the time, the characters just are. They are not really any different from anyone else you might meet. Treating them that way saves me so much effort trying to remember how they would react, what their motives are, and when they first accessed plot point whatever. I cannot say they are friends, because sometimes they are begging for consequences right out of the gate. But I can give them dignity and respect, so the primary means of motivating them when they get stuck is to write a future scene. Since they know what’s coming, it gets easier for them to work their way through the obstacle course in between; it’s a lot like weekend for the workaholic.
But, what I truly enjoy – I know you didn’t ask – is the research. Observing and knowing things is what gives a writer his stripes, and I’ve always enjoyed the “5-minute research” option for anything that catches my attention. And not YouTube or Bubba Joe’s non-professional blog, but some reliable source that has put in the work needed to actually be adept. Sure, Bubba Joe may help you identify the questions you want to ask, but his Uncle Cecil and Aunt Melba’s recollections of their drunken neighbor’s life in the exotic military is basically still just opinion. The internet has made that easier, but sometimes you just need a library. The best part, you only have to know enough to make your character plausible, and you only have to remember it long enough to write the story, but writing a character smarter than yourself about something lets you explore so many rabbit holes you might never see as a reader.
What is your ideal writing snack?
I’m writing or eating. I was a cook for fifteen years, and you don’t get to sit and enjoy meals when you’re working. All this time later, and if it is on my plate, order one is to get it gone so that I can get back to the task at hand with a clear and focused mind. And clean hands. So, if I need to pause to eat, it’s hydration and carbs.
Snacking when not on a task is different. Dried fruits, nuts, or dark chocolate will serve the purpose. True junk food is always in single serving packaging, no matter the size, so I stick with things that can just be a handful on the run.
What self-editing tools do you use before you send your work to a professional editor?
Most of the time when I first reach “The End” I immediately read back through the whole piece. This will be when rewrites are done, and I always change things. I know I said the characters are just there, but I don’t outline and things show up in a world that you weren’t expecting. They do in life, too, but you can’t go back and foreshadow in life. In a story, you can go back and plant the knowledge that Jake’s hair is red, that Alex is a girl, that Pennywise loved balloons as a child. You can elaborate the layout of a garden where it was introduced so that the reader knows where to turn during the chase scene without accidentally ending up in the front yard when the stable is out back.
Then I find time is my best friend. I’m pretty good with structural editing and big concepts, but I have to let the story lay fallow while it drains out of my head to edit. When you live in a forest, you stop seeing the trees. Then I’ll focus on one character at a time. Scrivener can help with that, but several softwares let you write in scenes to start with. You can jump from Joe to Joe to Joe and make sure his voice does not sound too much like Sally. You can make sure you didn’t leave too large a clue that this character was not human before your reveal, and make sure you didn’t insinuate otherwise with word choices.
Beta readers are integral. And you need to make sure you have ones that aren’t just going to say “good job” or “I loved the part about Suzy and Brad” or “This is not in line with my spiritual beliefs, so I left in the closet for three months while you waited on me to tell you I didn’t read it.” You want Betas who will tell you what sucked, what they had to read three times to understand, what happened so fast they missed everything important. That’s not self-editing, but it is very helpful to the last stages. You need to clean up most messes before you give a WIP to a Beta or you just turn them into proof-readers. Anyone can spot your typos and correct them, but if it’s all typos, they stop seeing the plot, and the plot is why you wanted a reader to start with.
After I have weighed and changed things the readers pointed out, I run it through an editing software. There are dozens of choices. I currently use Style Writer. It lets me chose the type of story, the target audience, and which version of English I’m writing in. Most importantly, it doesn’t just do; I have to select all changes and it points out bad, possibly bad, and probably to smart/dumb choices. One of my common trends is passive voice, which sometimes I want, but usually I don’t. It points that out.
The other trend I’m trying to shake is tense agreement. I seem to love to switch from past to present and back. Editing software will not catch this. It is probably the thing that gives my editor the most grey hair at this point. And my editor is the only reason that using a writing software is functional. The first piece I sent off was so red I had to take note and improve. Had I sent that one through the software first, I never would have submitted it anywhere because I’d still be trying to sort through the software’s suggestions.
What is it that you want a reader to take away from it, be it one emotion or a thought or a memory?
Life is full of moments. We let so many of them pass us by. This story drew from several trips I had the fortune of being able to take. Several of the characters are essentially real – I took large liberties. I am always very present when I get to travel, and those moments we are present keep us young. Time does not pass faster and faster as we age for any other reason than we stop being present in as many moments as we can. Many of the moments we do stay aware of are repetitious. (E.g. the time with a grandbaby.) Be present in all of it. You only get one life. A hundred things a day will interest you if you are paying attention, but weeks will go by in a blink if you are not. Fill the moments with joy. Let those around you be comfortable being themselves so that you can be aware together. What was the line from Before Sunrise? “Spirit is alive in the space between us”? or something to that effect. Let your spirit be alive.
Did your story play out as you planned it?
Absolutely. I had already written a draft of this story years ago, with a focus on one particular holiday. When the call for this anthology came out, it was in contention from the start, although I wrote several other things as contemplative pieces first. In the end, I decided that this story could fit quite nicely if I added in a bigger bond between the two MCs and highlighted all of the other connections. I stitched in other moments to make it a more complete story, but what I wanted from the start was for you to be able to connect with the thrill of a journey, the power of the stones, and the simple love one can enjoy within a circle of complete strangers if we only let ourselves participate in life.
There are only two named characters. Bina and Carl. Carl carried a lot of my spirit as I was able to travel, and the core of Bina in the story is a real person, who really did write a thesis on Stonehenge. The newspaper scene was a real memory, but a lot of the feel of the scene was from other times with other people. I wanted the focus on them, so not giving names to the other characters was intentional. I think you could still feel the importance of their presence and recognize that they all had their own stories intersecting in this one place and time where everyone just got to share themselves as they were. Pretensions and expectations were always within reach and not entirely avoidable but being able to set them aside is what let the time become timeless and durable.
So, go out and love one another for who you are, and let the spirit in between breath deeply of that love.
Pick up a copy of “A Bond of Words” in paperback or eBook at any book retailer worldwide, including Amazon. If you purchase the paperback directly from Scout Media, you will get another ‘Of Words’ anthology of your choosing in eBook for FREE as well as a FREE companion soundtrack download!!