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The fog is easy enough to navigate.

One foot in front of the other,

You only need to see the step just ahead of you.

But even the strongest will

Will only get you so far without an anchor.

 

And that’s just the fog.

 

When the gray dissipates,

When the world returns,

It doesn’t happen by degrees.

The fog doesn’t ease you back into the vibrancy of life.

Instead, you’re hurled right back into it,

Headfirst and without a moment to catch your breath.

Suddenly, you can see any number of paths before you.

 

You don’t know who you are anymore.

 

The fog is safer,

You just keep moving forward.

One foot in front of the other.

Now that it has finally abandoned you—

And that is what you wanted, right?—

Now you have to know who you are,

And where you’ll go next.

 

How long has it been since you were you?

 

Too long in the fog,

You’ve lost your sense of direction.

The map was obscured.

A battle fog made the world much smaller, and,

To your dismay, much easier to navigate.

A 4 x 4 square is more easily managed

Than acres of possibilities.

 

When the fog clears

And you can see much more than

Just that single next step,

You realize you’re lost.

You find yourself taking one step at a time—

Deep breaths, in and out, like you have for so long—

Until the safety of the fog returns.

 

Whoever you are remains lost in the gray.

If you’re an editor or hope to become one, this is something you need to understand.

No, no. Listen. You really need to get this. It’s so important, in fact, that I’m going to explain this two ways, one of which will be using this handy little graphic.

I made dis.

See that big, pink peg? Good. Now look at that tiny little hole at the bottom. Would you be able to push that big peg into that tiny hole? No. Stop trying to get creative. It’s not a challenge. Wasn’t a trick question. The correct answer is no. You cannot fit a big peg into a little hole.

Think of that hole as a bucket. Visualize a bucket. You’re standing over the bucket, looking down into it. That bucket shrinks every time you drop a load of edits into it. The bucket processes your edits, makes some adjustments, and shrinks. Then it’s ready for the next load of edits. But it’s no longer big enough for the big peg, remember? It’s smaller now, ready for the manuscript edits. And once you drop those in, that bucket’s going to shrink again. And once you’ve made it to the proofreading phase, that bucket is tiny.

The bucket is your author’s endurance. Their stamina. Their patience. And most of them have what it takes to get through this process, otherwise they wouldn’t have tossed their hard-earned duckets your way in the first place.

But if you try to shove a big peg into a tiny hole, you’re going to break the bucket. Worst case scenario, you’re going to break your author. If they’re familiar with the editing process, you’ll simply break their trust in your competence. Neither is a win for you, but the former could very well destroy a new writer’s motivation and love of the craft.

Futurama and its characters property of Matt Groening, I shouldn't even have to tell you that.

Don’t get me wrong, if you spot a horrendous mistake that has to be fixed, point it out. People make mistakes, even editors. It happens. We get so focused on certain aspects that other aspects fade into the background. This is why a first pass of high-level edits is sometimes done repeatedly, especially if you find multiple types of developmental or structural issues. The more editing a work needs, the more opportunity for errors to arise during editing. So it is possible to find a higher-level problem in the manuscript editing or even the proofreading phase.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m referring to, specifically, is offering suggestions for improvement on plot or story or character arcs or world building specifics at the proofreading stage. There’s a time and place for setting the pace and establishing ground rules, and the finish line ain’t it.

What does any of this have to do with backward compatibility? If the graphic above works for you—if you’re sure you’ve got a firm grasp on this whole peg thing—you can stop reading now. If you’re an author or editor and familiar with analogies, then I’m sure you’ve got this under control. But if it’s still not clicking into place, I’ll go the one step further just for you (and because it’s the title of my article, for crying out loud).

Backward compatibility is when a hardware or software system can use peripherals or files created for previous versions.

For example, in November 2015, Xbox announced a backwards compatibility feature that allowed users to play select Xbox 360 games on their new consoles. For those of you digging this analogy better than the pegs and holes and buckets, let’s apply this to the phases of editing.

I’m going to pick on Nintendo for this analogy; they’re a perfect fit. For our purposes, we’ll look at NES, Super Nintendo, and Nintendo 64.

You’ve seen them, right? If you haven’t, google Nintendo game cartridges. Look at some pictures. Compare the three different cartridges.

Nintendo-cartridge-comparison
Nintendo logos and shit aren’t mine; they’re Nintendo’s. Come on, man, it’s like you’re not even trying.

At a glance, you can see that the actual game cartridges for each one were different. What do you think would happen if you inserted a Nintendo 64 cartridge into an NES? Something akin to trying to drop a big peg into a tiny hole, yes?

Those systems aren’t backwards compatible. Neither are authors. You can’t play a developmental game on a console designed for proofreading. Your author cannot start the whole editing process all over again just because you think the book would be better if we tweak this one thing.

Well, okay… they can. But they are going to hate you. And rightly so.

Even Playstation 2 consoles got testy when you tried to play PS1 games on them, and they were supposed to be backwards compatible. Some games did just fine. And you can do some light copy or line editing during the proofreading stage. You probably won’t break anything. But DO NOT force unnecessary high-level edits onto an author during the proofreading phase.

Authors are not backwards compatible.

BFF in a Box

© Copyright 2016 Jessica West (West1Jess)

All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a review.

For information, please contact Jessica West at jpwest6@gmail.com or via her website, west1jess.com. Thank you for respecting the work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

For Kara.

 

Keep reading “BFF in a Box”

When you walk into a room filled with balloons, you expect to see party hats, to hear someone singing the birthday song. To smell cake and ice cream. You can almost taste the red punch the instant you lay eyes on the first shiny balloon.

The rectory doors slammed shut behind her and Cameron jerked back instinctively, jamming her elbow on the steel partition between the double doors. The only light in the kitchen that was on, the one above the sink, reflected in dozens of balloons; so many balloons, she couldn’t even see the stainless steel appliances her mother had insisted on upgrading to when her dad had become pastor and they moved in. Or the crappy faux marble counter tops. Her dad had drawn the line, and capped the “remodeling” budget, there. She couldn’t even see the doors on the other side that led into the adjoining church.

“Hello…” Balloons—red and yellow and blue and every color in between—shifted as though the one word had caused a breeze. “Mom? Dad?”

She hadn’t seen this many balloons since her twelfth birthday party, the last one her mother had ever thrown for her. There had been no more parties after Cameron’s eyes had started turning red. Her mother homeschooled her from that day forward. It was like everything had stopped, except church. Even then she made Cameron sit on a little wooden chair in the hall between the sanctuary and the kitchen, out of sight of the congregation. She’d snuck away and into this kitchen many times in the years between her twelfth birthday and this one, her nineteenth. Since the kitchen was so close to the sanctuary door, she could hear when services were over. That had been her cue to plant her butt in that hard wooden chair again.

Standing in the kitchen now brought it all back; daily baths in the tepid water of the baptismal font; holy water eye drops; her mother diligently standing over her, praying, until Cameron fell asleep each night.

She turned around and pushed the door open, desperately hoping to get back into the house and as far away from the church as possible, but paused on the threshold.

I never should have come home, not even for Kacey.

She felt trapped with her memories, but she’d never escape them, not even if she left. They would always be with her. She’d never be free, not really.

Tears sprang into her eyes. Fear. Guilt. Her niece’s first birthday party was something she just couldn’t miss. She had begged Lilly not to have it at the church, but her older sister couldn’t understand why. And if one couldn’t provide a good reason why a course of action was a bad idea (or a good one, for that matter), then Lilly did whatever she damn well pleased. That was just her way. Cameron never could bring herself to tell anyone, not even her therapist, that her mom had thought she was half-demon.

So she told Lilly she’d be here for Kacey’s first birthday party. She was Kacey’s godmother, after all. How could she say no?

Now, in the quiet, mostly dark kitchen filled with balloons, frozen in fear, she was regretting that decision.

Just memories. Stop it. It’s fine. Everything’s okay.

Cameron took a deep breath, then pursed her lips to force it out slowly. Closing her eyes, she took another. She opened her eyes to exhale and the breath got caught in her throat. The balloons were leaning toward her. Collectively. She let out her breath on a whoosh as though she’d been sucker punched and the balloons leaped back. They swayed and swirled for just a moment, then stilled again, thankfully held in place by strings all tied to various door knobs and drawer pulls. Those were fairly new as well. Somewhere around her fourteenth birthday, her mother had read that silver helped ward against demons. So instead of buying birthday presents with the money her dad had given her, her mother had replaced the hardware in the kitchen and made Cameron ‘test’ them daily.

The irony of a ‘good Christian woman’ seeking advice from pagan teachings made her doubt her mother for the first time in her life. It had also led her to seek those same teachings herself. But she had found nothing helpful about a person’s eyes turning red when they were in distress. Or going through puberty. After she turned eighteen, the red eyes thing had become much easier to control. Not that her mother had cared. She never ceased her daily ‘cleansing ritual.’

A surge of power starting at Cameron’s core, in her heart, shot through her body. As inexplicable as ever, a wave of sensations blasted over her. Perfect clarity in her mind. Exceptional vision; she could even see her reflection in the nearest balloons. She stared into the red one, ignoring her red eyes but not forcing them to fade back to brown. They were beautiful, in a way. Not wicked, as her mother had always claimed. Anger coursed through her veins and she clenched her fists.

Pain bit into her palms. The powerful sensations fled when she looked down at the claws, where her fingers should have been, hooked into her palms from balling her fists. They retracted immediately as the last of her strength and bravery left her. Trembling, she collapsed on the floor, the balloons above her wavering like waves crashing against a shore.

She drifted toward passing out, but fought it. Am I drowning?

The absurdity of the thought brought her a rush of frustration. “What the hell am I so scared of? Balloons?” She sat up, glancing at her hands. Not even a scratch. Like the red eyes and the strange emotional responses, she didn’t have an explanation for the healing, either. A brief dizzy spell passed almost as soon as it had begun, but she stood slowly, carefully, and faced the balloons once more. She could do this. She had to.

“Enough, Cameron.” She knew where the door to the church was. She knew there was nothing to be scared of in there. And she would face those things she was afraid of and take the power away from them.

She shoved against the double doors and into the hallway that led to the sanctuary. Cameron stopped half-way down the hall. A door in the middle led to the baptismal font. That was where she would start. She would cleanse herself, as her mother had tried to do so many times, but this time, she would free herself of the fear of what she was. She was just Cameron. That was it.

Turning the knob, she found the door locked. Anger like she had never felt before ignited a burning need deep inside. She lashed out at the door, swinging her arms wildly, catching glimpses of long, black talons and dark red, muscular arms. Beautiful, like my eyes.

Then…

Silence.

Cameron stood before a shredded door, only one thing on her mind: within that pool, she would free herself from the fear of what she was or she would die trying.

Turning her gaze to the water, she spotted her mother’s body floating face down. Her mouth dropped open and she could only stare.

Her mother’s puritan black dress was pulled taught at the waist, the fabric extending down into the pool as though something grasped it. And she wasn’t actually floating. Her body was relaxed, but rested just an inch or so below the water’s surface.

And then it hit her: someone was holding her mother in the water, had held her like that until she drowned. And that someone was still in there!

She couldn’t make sense of anything else, but something inside compelled to move.

Hurry.

Cameron approached the edge of the pool.

Come in.

She took the three short steps into the pool and approached the center of the small area.

Please!

With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and plunged under the water.

Help me, Aunt Cam.

Her eyes flew open and she stared into a pair of blazing red ones so much like her own.

Kacey let go of the black dress and reached out to Cameron, who gripped the child’s small arm and stood up, pulling them both free.

 

Three years later…

 

Cameron let Kacey push the buggie once they were inside Wal-Mart. She could almost find the birthday party supplies all by herself now. Her memory was remarkable, not just for a four-year-old but period. She remembered the night she almost died, the night she drowned her grandmother instead, though she was a baby at the time.

As smart as she was, Cameron still worried she would at least ask about Lilly. They had found her body, riddled with stab wounds, lying on the kitchen floor beneath all those balloons. Kacey never mentioned her mom, though, or her grandfather, for that matter. They’d found him in his bedroom closet, a shoe box with ammo between his legs and the gun he’d used to kill himself still in his hand.

Kacey had accepted the news of their deaths as if Cameron had simply said it was raining. And after a brief Q&A session with the local police, the killings were deemed an open and shut case and the two of them were free to go. If Kacey’s father ever came into the picture, Cameron would have to deal with that when, and if, it happened. She didn’t even know if Lilly had told him about Kacey and the little girl never spoke of him either. The only person she did ever speak of was her grandmother, and only when she woke screaming from a bad dream.

For hours after waking, she would cry, “I’m not wicked, granny, I promise. I’m not wicked.” And Cameron would hold her tightly and rock her until they both drifted back off to sleep.

In the light of day, those dreams were banished to the back of their minds. They were free.

“What kind of decorations do you want, little bug?”

As soon as the party supplies came into sight, Kacey squealed and abandoned the shopping cart. Cameron pushed it over to the Hello Kitty section and her niece started throwing pink paper plates and cups into the cart. She couldn’t reach the party favors, so Cameron grabbed those, her hand hovering over a pack of balloons.

She looked down at Kacey and raised her eyebrows.

The little girl shook her head. “I hate balloons.”

“Me too.” Cameron grabbed some candy to stuff in the treat bags with the toys and Kasey threw a table cover into the basket.

“Okay, little bug. We’re all set on the decorations. Now let’s go pick out your cake. You want Batman, right?”

Kacey stomped her feet in pretend indignation, but her eyes remained a calm, warm brown. “Aunt Cam!”

Cameron followed Kacey away from the party aisle, doing her best to ignore the mylar balloons, filled with helium, floating above their heads.

It’s okay, Aunt Cam. We’re free.

 

 

Do you enjoy stories about demons?

I mean real demons, the ones who thrive on suffering, those who have no boundaries. The worst of the truly wicked.
Check out Sin Eater, a dark urban fantasy serial co-written by P.K. Tyler and Jessica West (me). Try the first episode for only 99¢.

Everyone knows the publishing industry has come a long way from a time during which publishing houses were the gatekeepers. Now, authors can bypass big houses (and their dubious, unnecessarily complicated contracts) altogether. Create Space makes it possible (and easy) to offer print copies to your readers without having to take a risk on physical inventory or, Heaven forbid, run out. Their print-on-demand process is simple, and they offer plenty of resources on their website so authors can even figure out how to format their own books. Amazon KDP goes hand-in-hand with Create Space, offering every independent author everything they need to establish and build a career. And that’s only scratching the surface.

And there are those brave souls who build a website, blog their hearts out, and try to sell their books directly. God bless ’em, I don’t have the balls to go that deep. (There’s a joke in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.) But there are still more options available to you. Since 2013, I’ve spent at least a little time every day exploring various options. I’ve looked into Patreon and Inkshares. I have limited experience with both, but I’ll give you my opinion.

Patreon can work if you’ve got a social media or blog following already who enjoy reading your work and want to financially support that work. But you aren’t going to build a following there. So focus your efforts more on doing the work and finding folks who enjoy the work you do. But once you’re there, consider how Patreon might be better for not just you but your readers. They set the sum they’re willing to support (monthly or by creation, as low as $1). And you offer incentives that make higher pledges seem an even better deal. It’s a viable option, if you have a following of readers who are buying your books anyway.

Inkshares is a-whole-nother beast. Recently (as in today) Nerdist’s latest contest opened up to Inkshare’s authors. I was so excited about this, I jumped in a few days ago and started writing, uploading a couple of chapters and a cover to Inkshare. Now, to win the contest, you have to get more pre-orders of your book than anyone else entered in the contest. When I saw the theme was Video Games, I didn’t even care about winning, I just had to write something for this. Unfortunately, as I worked through the steps to set my book up for pre-orders, I noted that each book would cost my supporters $20! Granted, they get the eBook and a signed paperback, that’s still more than I’m willing to ask folks for. So this isn’t the right platform for me. But I’m sharing this because it may be a good option for someone else. If you can get at least 250 pre-orders for each book within 90 days and you’re okay with the $20 to pre-order pricetag, then go for it!

As for me, I think I’ll just keep it simple for now. Amazon (as crazy as they are sometimes) has been pretty good to me so far.

Sin Eater (Complete First Season)

From Award-Winning Author Pavarti K. Tyler and Speculative Fiction Author Jessica West comes a Dark Urban Fantasy serial about evil and the next step in its evolution.

I am delighted, honored, and just plum tickled to have been nominated for the Why I Write blog hop by two writers I respect and admire.

Drew Chial‘s prose is poetic, his stamina with each blog post and story impressive. Not only does he write, but he Photoshops his own stock photos. You can find a gallery of those pictures (and I highly recommend you check them out) at his blog, along with a treasure trove of articles offering writing and blogging advice. His book, Terms and Conditions, is also available for free alongside many other truly unique works of fiction of the Horrific Fantastical variety. Find out why he writes here.

Mark T. Conard is the source of my intelligence. He doesn’t give me the answers, so much as he encourages me to find them for myself. His blog offers philosophical topics for you to mull over, as well as quotes that have been hilariously ducked with. Follow his #AndShit and #ShakespeareBitches hash tags on Twitter for endless hours of entertainment. He writes Noir Fiction and Essays, many of which you can find at Amazon. Read his Why I Write blog hop here.

I’m sure I’ve answered this question before, but it’s definitely worth revisiting because the answer evolves as I grow as a writer. Why do I write? When I wrote the first draft of this post, I had a general idea of where I was going. By the end of it, I learned something very important about myself; the real reason why I write.

When I started writing in April of 2013, I did so with the hopes of learning a new skill that I could possibly use to make a little money. From the beginning, three new worlds opened to me; a world I belonged to because it was filled with people just like me, a world (more accurately, worlds) where anything was possible, and a world I felt safe in because nothing bad had happened or could happen to me or my loved ones while I was there.

I escape to these worlds as often as possible, and stay as long as I can.

The world of social media opened up and bloomed before my eyes in the form of WordPress blogs and Twitter. I’d never imagined there were so many people who lived in an alternate universe, just like I did. These writers (and even some actors and models) chase their dreams in a much more literal sense than just pursuing their goals, the same as me.

We concentrate on the quivery visions that appear only in daydreams. We strive to bring to life every leaf dancing in a shaft of daylight, every tear running a mascara-laden trail through beige foundation. Our characters lead us through conflict while we hope against hope, into despair when we lose that hope, and out the other side to a place where a new life awaits them, perhaps not quite what they expected, but much better than it could have been. Through it all we try to convey those stories to others (whom we fondly refer to as our readers) with the same desperate vivacity with which we received them. It’s an exquisite release when we can manage to do just that.

The world of people who do what I do is one I visit frequently. I do so in spurts, but when I’m there, I’m adrift among a sea of my kind. The worlds I create are worlds I visit in even shorter bursts, and only when I’m able to persuade my muse to come along. Thankfully, she’s generous with her time and usually nearby. I write to escape to those worlds, but that doesn’t answer the question, not completely.

So why do I write? To pretend I don’t live in a world where bad things have happened to me, or to those I care about. People who know me often tell me they wish they were as strong as I am. I write, though, because I’m not strong enough to live in this world all the time. Writing offers me a way to escape temporarily, to live in a world where I’ve never lost someone who meant the world to me, where the horrible things that happened to my loved ones never happened, where I have always been treated with love and respect, and where I didn’t almost die at the metaphorical hands of my worst fear.

I write to reach out, to explore, and to escape. I write not just to pretend other worlds exist, but to pretend that this one doesn’t. I love my life as it is now, but I traveled a long, hard road to get here. And sometimes, I like to pretend I took a different path. Writing allows me to be someone else entirely, a writer only and nothing more, for a brief moment of respite. It took me a while to see it, but that’s why I write. Those three worlds help me deal with this one.

If I hadn’t been nominated by Drew, I’d have asked this same question of him. And Mark was nominated by Drew, and he nominated me, so I can’t ask him. I am fortunate enough to have met quite a few excellent writers/bloggers, and I’d love to nominate them all as a sort of blog-hop, group-hug type deal. Though I can’t pick them all, I’m pretty sure many of them have already written a Why I Write blog post. I know for sure Graham Milne and Joanne Blaikie have. And I know @Raishimi has been nominated already. I’m going to grab a few of my closest confidants, favorite writers, and most trusted friends who I’d like to know even more about.

J. Edward Paul, who writes stuff, does art, and flings mail. (I’m a fan of his Cloudwalkers, personally.) His blog: J. Edward Paul

Woelf Dietrich, who fantasizes a lot, and sometimes writes about it. (The protagonist in The Seals of Abgal is one that stays with you.) His blog: Wo3lfMad

Daryl Rothman, who drops the vernacular, and it’s really quite impressive. (The Awakening of David Rose is coming soon, and I. Can. Not. Wait.) His blog: Daryl Rothman

M.J. Kelley, writer of non-fiction, fiction, and comedy, and Workshop Moderator Extraordinaire. (Who I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with on an upcoming workshop.) His blog: Write Draft Repeat

Whaddya say, guys, why do you write?

She came to me in a dream, commanding me to open my eyes and see beyond the scene.


 

The first day of Autumn had cooled the air just enough to make standing outside pleasant. Birds sang among golden leaves shimmering in a soft breeze. Nature cared little for the plight of man.

Officer Blake Hardy ran through standard procedure, pausing in his assessment of the accident only to take a breath between statements. The coroner standing at his side nodded his assent and made a few brief notes on a pad, then replaced pen and pad in the front pocket of his white lab coat.

The Crow arrived, as she always did, minutes after the coroner.

The police chief was a stickler for details, especially after the botched investigation of the murder of the previous DA. He’d taken enough heat from the media to warrant the termination of his position with the force, but his connections had gone higher than state. Even so, one more mistake and he was out.

So he hired The Crow, a meticulous, cold woman, to stand over their shoulders and make sure they were doing their jobs. Naturally, they resented the intrusion. Even worse that their warden should be a woman.

She stepped out of her black Crown Victoria, dressed to match head to toe. She pulled off a pair of black leather gloves only to replace them with black latex ones. No one knew where she’d gotten them, or why she’d even bothered. One look at her, though, and no one really wanted to think too hard on the matter. Her long, black duster billowed out behind her in a sudden gust, and she dipped her head forward and held her wide-brimmed hat in place.

She approached Hardy and Dr. Death (a nickname Hardy had given the coroner on one of their many nights spent at the bar avoiding their wives) just as the coroner was wrapping up his assessment.

Guy was probably texting, cell phone’s on the seat. Didn’t see the logging truck stopped ahead. Plowed right into it. The jolt likely knocked the ties loose, the log slips from the bundle, crashes through the windshield, and smashes into his chest. Died instantly, so … time of death is,” he glanced to his notes to check the time the accident was called in, but The Crow interrupted.

Her voice belonged to that of a night-club singer from back in the twenties; pure, rich, deep. It didn’t match her flat, objective tone.

He did not die instantly.” She stood with her hands clasped before her, only the pale skin of her face showing among all the black she wore. Her eyes darted about the scene, never let to linger.

Hardy would have let the comment go, had it been anyone else. That specific detail mattered little in the course of things. It wasn’t like a murderer would go free on a bit of improperly processed evidence. How long the guy had survived with a log lodged in his chest was irrelevant, and his patience with her was non-existent. “What difference does it make?”

Dr. Death followed with, “It doesn’t matter. Couldn’t have been more than a few seconds anyway.”

She met their eyes, each in turn, and each man took an involuntary step back. “If he had died instantly, his hands would be resting on the seat beside him. The difference, Mr. Hardy, was an infinite moment of torture for the deceased. A moment during which he brought his hands up in a frantic, hopeless attempt to remove the log crushing him.” She turned her dark eyes on the coroner. “He died struggling, gasping for air while even that caused him unimaginable pain. He fought until the end, and in his final moments, his hands came to rest on top of the log that killed him. I assure you, Doctor, those few seconds mattered to him.”

She didn’t miss the shamed look on either of their faces. Her black eyes, an unsettling genetic abnormality, never missed a thing. It was why they called her The Crow.