Fiction Friday #7: Write the Prompt with Me!

The Prompt

Writing prompt #7

I couldn’t find the actual website this prompt used to belong to. It took me instead to a Game of Thrones online game… Well that’s alright. Anyways, let’s get to the prompt.

As always, 30 minutes and enjoy your writing everyone! Don’t forget to leave a comment about what you think of my version, or where you’d want your own prompt to go.

If you have any prompts you want to see on this website, be sure to leave them in the comments section.

And for even more prompts, check out my Pinterest board just for writing prompts!

*WARNING THIS PROMPT CONTAINS VIOLENT IMAGERY*

The Writing

I inhaled as the creature rounded Tommy once more. Not today, I begged. Please, just not today.

The monster was a milky pink with layers of skin folding over its body like an obese worm. No eyes, only two small slits where eyes and nose should be. And his mouth was ripped open to his ears, filled with several rows of razor teeth.

Of course, my friend couldn’t see the thing licking his ear. He probably couldn’t even feel it.

But I could.

“Claire?”

My eyes snapped to meet his.

“What?”

His eyes narrowed and then rolled to the side. “Never mind. I’ll see you later, okay? I have to get home before my dad does.”

He adjusted the strap of his backpack on his shoulder and walked away from me. I took a breath as the creature vanished in a single blink of my eyes. Like its existence had popped out like a bubble. As long as it was gone, I didn’t care.

As I waiting for Tommy to turn the corner and start on my own way home, I noticed a rustling in the leaves.

I walked towards it, numb in my fingers and face. Just thinking about all that I was yet to see today. They had started to show up when I was seven. My aunt had been arguing with my mom when my dad came home. Then they all got into it. The next thing I know, some freaking ugly-ass creature blinks into existence, slices mom and dad’s throats and leaves my aunt to go to jail for the crime. Now I live with my grandma. If you can call “living with” a situation where I don’t even usually see her. I don’t know if she leaves the house or is just hiding in one of the massive rooms so I can never find her. Either way, I’m on my own.

I realized that I was now standing in front of the bushes. Two black-pit eyes were staring back at me through the shrub and several feet below my eye-level. The eyes swayed from side to side until I made out its gaping mouth in the darkness. Filled with row after row of yellow teeth.

I took a step back.

The creature beckoned me forward, pushing its frail hand — from which long black nails jutted out — through the branches of the bush.

I can’t tell you why I moved forward. There’s no reason why I should have. But I did.

I entered the shrub as I started to hear shouting from across the street. A group of kids — two girls and one boy — crossed the street and raced towards where I had been standing. I stepped farther back into the bushes, knowing full well that the creature still stood beside me, gawking. Not really moving, just staring at me and the scene that was unraveling before my eyes.

“Claa-ire,” the shortest girl called out in a song-like tone.

“I swear I saw her,” the other girl said.

“Yeah, I definitely did too.” the boy said. He had something he held in his hand that was sharp on the end. It caught the glint of the street lamp like some sort of glass dagger.

I recognized them all as my classmates, with varying degrees of feelings towards each. The boy was Jake, the basketball center and often too quiet to make assumptions about. The other girl I had seen before but only knew her name as Trisha. The short girl was Hailey, the only one in most of my classes and someone I had personally tried to avoid since we had met.

“Shut up,” Hailey said, brushing her cropped curls behind an ear and raising a hand to silence them. “Maybe we can hear her.”

I knew the art of silent breathing. When I was in bed at night I was often “greeted” by these strange beings. If I hid under the sheets without making any sudden movement or noise, they would often just stand there until morning. One time I accidentally coughed and the loudest moan echoed off the creature’s lips. I had run out of the room and searched through the house for my grandma all night. And I still didn’t find her.

“She’s definitely not here,” Trisha said.

That’s when Hailey and Jake turned in towards her.

“You tipped her off, didn’t you?” Hailey demanded, grabbing the sharp tool from Jake’s hand.

Trisha took a step back with her hands raised at her chest. “Um, no — why would I do that? I told you, I thought she was weird. I wanted to go through with this.”

Hailey’s chin lifted up so she could make eye contact with Jake, and he nodded.

Then two things happened. A shadow appeared behind Hailey and latched itself onto her back like some sort of felt fabric sewn to her skin. Only the shadow’s hand wrapped around her hand and dragged it forward as she pushed the dagger into Trisha’s body.

Jake grabbed Trisha’s arms and pulled them behind her back as the Hailey-shadow combination plunged the knife in two more times.

“That should have been Claire,” Hailey said, wiping her dagger off on Trisha’s shirt. On the only spot she could find that wasn’t drenched with blood.

Trisha was still gasping for air. But only for a few minutes. Then she was gone.

And so was the shadow.

In my paralyzed fear, I realized that the creature in the bushes was still beside me, breathing faintly. As I noticed it again, its hand reached out at me. I flinched, but not before one of its claws brushed against my skin. It scratched the surface, but not in a normal way. Instead, it left a symbol, almost like a rose but with thorns built inside of the petals.

And somehow I knew at that moment: these creatures might be more complicated than I had first thought.

Even More Fiction Fridays!

Fiction Friday #6: A fugitive running through the graveyard leaves it with ghosts

Fiction Friday #5: A curse of constantly dying terrorizes two lovers

Fiction Friday #4: Witchy quest for Necromancy spell

Fiction Friday #3: Vampire Noir mystery action in a fancy restaurant

Fiction Friday #2: Mutated human wolf creatures

Fiction Friday #1: Giant battle with a human killing machine

6 Methods of Self Care for Writers

Take Time Off Main Projects

Bicycle clock

If there’s anything that can help a writer, it’s taking a break from your WIP. You may want to wait until you finish a first or second draft to do this. Another great time to pause your writing is when you’re facing major roadblocks in the plot department.

Tuck your writing away. Save it for when you’re itching with excitement to write again. In the meantime, read a book. Watch a movie. Don’t think about your main project.

It might also be helpful to take some time to write something else. This can be a great time to explore a different idea or genre. Writing daily writing prompts can be a great way to keep writing while also taking a break from your main work. Be sure to check out my post for reasons why writing prompts are super helpful for writers.

Share Your Writing Wisely

Hand holding flower

When your writing is in its beginning stages, you may feel like you want to share it with the whole world to make sure you’re on the right track. DON’T. While your writing may be fully realized in your mind’s eye, what people are seeing is a newborn child.

That’s why it may not be wise to share your first draft. You might have written a masterpiece, but chances are, you’re writing still has a far way to go. And that’s okay! Sharing your writing too early can be discouraging and can prevent you from moving forward on your project. If you do share it with someone, make sure you specify what you’re looking for regarding feedback.

Explore Non-Writing Hobbies

Painting supplies

Although it may seem like a good idea to just branch out in just the genre that you’re writing, it’s also helpful to try new activities besides writing. Going on walks, drawing, playing video games, role playing, sewing or knitting — all of these different activities can help you relax an over-worked writer’s mind. You might even find that previously convoluted or messy ideas untangle themselves when you’re in the middle of one of these hobbies.

Hobbies are great stress relievers. But they also help you relax your mind. Like breathing a breath of fresh air in the mountains after being surrounded by city pollution.

For me, sketching, yoga, and playing guitar are super helpful when writing has become stressful.

What hobbies help you relax?

Find a Supportive Writing Community

Group of girls

For a long time, I viewed other writers as an almost threatening presence. The artistic community can often turn so competitive that we turn against each other. Who gets published first? Who “succumbs” to self-publishing? Who gets represented by an agent?

Does it matter? Not really.

On Twitter, there’s a giant community of writers who all use the hashtag #writingcommunity and #amwriting. They show support by following, they repost other writer’s tweets, and they’re incredibly encouraging. I’m sure like any social media, this group might have it’s negatives, but there are plenty of other online platforms for writers to gather, as well as physical groups for writers.

When I think of writer’s groups, I think of the old group that Tolkien and Lewis belonged to called the Inklings. They used to meet for a drink and work on writing together. Maybe you just have a small group of friend writers who can help you process your writing. Maybe you meet over video chat.

The next time you see the chance to join a writer’s group, give it a chance. As writers, we need to support each other and lift each other up. If one of us succeeds, we all succeed.

Be Kind to Yourself Daily

Person in field with mirror

The writing world can be tough at any level. Whether you’ve received your first bad review or just can’t figure out a character’s motivation for taking her next step, YOU as a writer need to take a moment to be kind to yourself.

Tell yourself 5 things you love about your writing abilities. That’s right — compliment your own writing. Get as big-headed as you want.

Next tell yourself 5 things you love about yourself besides writing. This might be harder, and that’s okay. But it’s also important to remind yourself that you are more than a writer. You have a set of unique characteristics.

What do you love about yourself or your writing?

Spend Time with Your Critiques

Person at riverside

After you’ve pepped yourself up a bit, you’re ready to face those reviews, those edits, those comments. Spend time reading critiques from your fellow readers or writers. Take time to mull them over. Keep the comments that will help your writing and chuck out the rest — and that includes all personal attacks.

Only you can choose how you receive and process your critiques. Not every review will be true, but they can also be helpful. Take your time with them and be gentle with yourself and your writing. You’ve worked hard. Now it’s time to work harder.

Pin-able reminder of self care for writers!

5 Tips for Beginner Freelance Writers

So in my quest for finding work in LA, I began to look into freelance writing and ghostwriting. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and though I love fiction writing, any writing feels “right” to me. Like many accountants love balancing checkbooks, or mathematicians love solving equations, I love completing a well-rounded article.

That’s also why writing for the blog has been quite the challenge. I’ve been working a 7 hour job — editing photos, taking photos, and content creating for a fashion company — and then I come home and work on articles for separate companies.

There’s a couple things I’ve learned in my short time in the freelance writing world, so I thought I’d share for all you writers out there.

1. Take Opportunities You Find

Person leaping across the floor
Image by Andy Beales

When I first started looking for gigs to freelance write, I was overwhelmed by the number of other writers doing the same thing. Not only were there so many freelancers, but there was also so many businesses who were hiring freelancers for different reasons. But I couldn’t seem to find a job that fit for me. I applied to several companies and heard nothing back.

But as I continued to study my options, I came across several opportunities to write. Here are just a few things that helped me get started:

  • Blog, blog, blog. It only gives you writing samples and builds a network.
  • Look for chances to submit short pieces as a contribution post.
  • Keep applying to places.
  • Study websites and other company blogs.
  • Listen. Sometimes people talk about needing a writer before they even realize they actually do.

After I started blogging, I also contributed a short story. I picked up a freelance writing gig for a SEO company that was just starting out and needed someone with a background in excellent proofreading and content writing. I also got the opportunity to write for LA Elements and go on the red carpet to interview actors and crew members about the new movie Agent Emerson.

The point is, opportunities are out there. You just have to be persistent.

2. Not Every Opportunity Is Legit

People discussing a project
Image by Thomas Drouault

After I submitted my short story as a contribution post, I received and email saying they loved my piece so much that they wanted me to be a paid author on their site. I was so thrilled (obviously!). But when I sent an email in response, I got back silence. Nothing. For over two weeks.

When I sent another email, I got back a short reply that they actually had meant to send that email to someone else. *Sigh.* Back to square one.

While this situation is pretty particular, there are going to be tons of scams out there. Be sure to look up where your writing will be posted if you contribute writing. Make sure you’ve established good communication with whoever you write for. Make contracts ahead of time. Meet up face-to-face if possible. People want writers to work for free. Don’t let that happen.

There are also tons of people who are “professional freelancers” who just want to sell you their $500 freelancer kit. If you really trust one of these people’s programs and have the money to spend, sure. Go for it. But personally, I’ve found I can learn just as much about anything through YouTube and Google. I’ve left some resources at the end of the blog if you’re interested in SEO and content writing.

3. Know That Not Every Gig Will Pay Big

Person fanning money
Image by Alexander Mils

The internet will tell you that freelancers are paid anywhere between $.03 to $.10 per word. Some crazy ones even say $1 per word. In reality, you’re more likely to get paid $.02 per word or a set payment for a project. For example, I’ve gotten paid $60 for a 600 word article. And I’m currently getting that rate of $.02 for my SEO writing. It does add up, and it can still make you a good amount of side change. But you won’t be able to live off these rates at first.

Don’t be discouraged. If anything, a paid gig is still better than just contribution posts or working for free. You can add it to your resume. Also, keep track of your assignments so you can send them to future clients as examples.

Dig into the grind of getting paid little for work that deserves much more. Prove to your employers that you’re worth more than the rate they actually pay you. Eventually you might be able to negotiate higher rates.

4. But Also Know Your Writing Is Worth Something

Person writing in cafe
Image by Kat Stokes

Above all, remember that your writing is a craft that not a lot of other people are capable of. Whether it’s fiction, poetry, self-help, SEO, brand writing, etc. You are a word artist. And just like any other legitimate job and craft, you deserve to get paid.

It’s fine to do a couple jobs pro bono, especially if it’s for a cause you love, contests, or contribution posts to major blogs. But don’t let anyone tell you that your writing is an easy thing to do and doesn’t deserve to be paid. If it was so easy, then all of these companies and websites would just do it themselves.

The world needs great writers. And they need to pay them too. Stick with your guns. You’re a great writer, and you deserve to get paid for it.

5. Make Time for Yourself

Person reading a book
Image by Nathan Dumlao

As much as I love content creating for other people, it’s important to still take time for yourself. You’re a writer for a reason, and there were probably projects you were working on for yourself before you started working for others.

If you started writing that book, keep writing. If you love poetry, keep working on your poems. Just because you aren’t getting paid for those projects now, doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time. Your passions are important. They bring you life. They’re the reason you’re a writer. And someday, those projects will come to life before your eyes.

So make time for your craft. It’ll be hard. You might have to start with a small amount or one day a week. But make time for your own writing. And make time to relax too!

What are some lessons you’ve learned as a writer? Comment below!

Resources to Help Freelancers

Canva – helps you create easy graphics for your writing

Grammarly – is great for picking up little grammar mistakes

Hemingway Writing Ap – useful for correcting sentence structure and length

All Freelance Writing Jobs – a website that shows great and diverse writing jobs

How To Have an Easy Vegan Thanksgiving

Last year was my first vegan Thanksgiving. And fortunately, my mom was so wonderful enough to go all-out for me, Mitchell, and my vegetarian sister Bri. She made us a full spread of vegan goodies.

This year, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to make it home for Thanksgiving. And we won’t necessarily want to make everything from scratch if we make a dinner of our own.

Maybe your family doesn’t know how to make their traditional meals veganized. Or maybe you just want to bring a few dishes to your meat-eating relative’s party.

Here’s a compiled list of amazing products and recipes to make your vegan Thanksgiving easy and delicious.

The Vegan Dinner

Vegan Green Bean Casserole

Vegan cream of mushroom soup

There’s plenty of recipes out there that use coconut milk for the cream of mushroom soup, but if you’re lazy like me and don’t want to make it completely from scratch, here’s a great cream of mushroom soup mix that’s completely dairy free. This recipe is based off the casserole from Mccormick.com.

  • 1 packet of cream of mushroom soup mix prepared
  • 3/4 cup of plant-based milk
  • 2 cans of green beans
  • 1 can of bean sprouts
  • 1 1/3 cup of Crispy Fried onions (most are vegan!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

All you have to do is mix everything except the crispy onions and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Then add the crispy onions on top and bake for five more minutes.

Vegan Dinner Rolls

Vegan dinner rolls

I don’t know about you, but yeast dinner rolls are one of my favorite parts about Thanksgiving. Luckily, there are quite a few of the frozen brands that are vegan.

We usually put two in one muffin tin so they look like butt rolls. But they’re perfect to split apart and slather with some vegan butter.

Vegan Thanksgiving Roast

Vegan holiday roast

Most vegans have come to the consensus that the Gardein Holiday Roast is the best alternative to turkey for Thanksgiving. I’ve tried a couple from Field Roast, but this one was definitely my favorite. It reminded me of a Thanksgiving-themed frozen Cordon Bleu, which used to be one of my favorite things in the world.

Vegan Pies!

Vegan pie crust

There are tons of pie crusts that are ready-to-bake and also vegan. All you have to do is fill it with canned pie filling of your choice. Of course, there’s also recipes to make vegan pumpkin pie out there. But if you’re lazy like me, this is as good as it gets.

My mom’s pie crust actually uses Crisco which is vegetable shortening, so all of her pies are vegan already which is amazing. I haven’t mastered the art of the pie making yet, so I think I’ll stick to pre-made.

Vegan Mac and Cheese

Vegan Mac and cheese

This mac and cheese is great baked, and it’s super creamy. If you want to make something from scratch, all you have to do is make a rue from vegan butter and flour, add cooked macaroni noodles and your shredded vegan cheese of choice. Then you can bake it at 350 degrees with some breadcrumbs on top.

Check out this recipe and swap out the ingredients for vegan ones for a fantastic baked mac and cheese!

Vegan Mashed Potatoes

Vegan mashed potatoes

Sure you can boil potatoes and mash them yourself, but why not make it easier? All you have to do is add your plant-based milk and butter of choice and boom. Mashed potato paradise.

Vegan Mushroom Gravy

Vegan mushroom gravy

You can’t have mashed potatoes without gravy! Last year we made some vegan gravy from some fancy mushrooms, but it did take quite a while. To save time, there’s plenty of vegan gravy options. But you can also make this simple recipe below. It was inspired by Cookingwithcurls.com.

Instructions: melt the butter over low heat, add flour and whisk, simmer for 2 minutes, add stock and seasoning, continue stirring until thickened. Make sure not to boil!

Vegan stuffing

A lot of stuffing mixes have hidden milk or egg ingredients or just a lot of garbage. I really like this one in particular because it has a lot of interesting fun ingredients that are both healthy and vegan. Just bake and eat!

Vegan Corn Casserole

Vegan cornbread mix

You may have already thought corn casserole was vegan (someone at one of our Thanksgivings definitely did). But just because it has a vegetable in the name doesn’t mean it’s vegan. But don’t worry! Making vegan corn casserole is one of the easiest ones out there. And it only has 5 ingredients. This receipt was inspired by the non-vegan recipe found at tastesoflizzyt.com

  • 1 box of VEGETARIAN Jiffy cornbread mix (it’s vegan, don’t worry)
  • 1 can of creamed corn (it’s non-dairy)
  • 1 can of plain corn
  • 1 cup of vegan sour cream or yogurt (like Toffuti)
  • 1/2 cup of applesauce or vegan butter

All you have to do is mix all those ingredients, put it in a 8×8 pan, and bake at 350 degrees for around 45 minutes.

The Thanksgiving Experience

Of course, one of the most difficult parts of Thanksgiving can be family. While my parents were cool with a vegan Thanksgiving (even though they still ate turkey), when we went to other Thanksgiving dinners, it was usually a little more awkward or meat-oriented. Of course, right? That’s pretty much the norm.

But here are a few tips for vegans at Thanksgiving.

  • Try bringing one or more dishes to gatherings
  • Don’t make a big deal about them eating your food or their food
  • Try not to get offended by their comments
  • Be prepared to answer questions
  • Be thankful for your family — even if they’re not vegan!

More Vegan Blog Posts

How To Go And Stay Vegan

11 of the Best Vegan Junk Foods

Fiction Friday #6: Write the Prompt with Me!

Happy Fiction Friday everyone! Can you believe it’s already #6? If any of you has great prompts you think I should write, be sure to leave them in the comments section. I’d love to know what you all are writing out there too! Whether it be these prompts or just your personal projects.

The Prompt

https://promptuarium.wordpress.com

This week’s prompt is from promptuarium.wordpress.com. I have a huge obsession with Celtic mythology. While I’ve never heard of this particular lore, I think a lot of creative ideas can come from it.

Is the fugitive innocent or guilt?

What kind of spirits would follow him out?

Does he believe in ghosts at all?

As always, spend 30 minutes writing today. And don’t forget to check out the links at the bottom of the page to previous Fiction Fridays!

The Writing

Ghostly figures holding hands
Image by JR Korpa

As I ran through the darkness, my thoughts ran loose in my mind, like a roll of paper dropped on the ground. How did I get here? How did it come to this? When did I get that stain on my only good shirt?

Blinded by my spinning mind, I tripped over a root poking up from the ground. My world flipped as my feet lifted into the air. My head angled downward. And cracked right into the glowing gravestone in front of me.

I reached for my head, wanting to feel if there was any blood. My fingers touched a warm liquid that proceeded to drip down my forward. I thrust my hands out — trying to find any kind of surface to help me stand.

Even in my haze, even between the many trees in the graveyard, I was starting to see a flicker of a flashlight. I could hear the dogs barking.

My hands took a hold of the gravestone, and I felt the blood transfer from my hands to the rough surface.

“Stupid, stupid stupid,” I hissed, kicking the stone with each word. I was going to get caught this night. That much was certain.

At the pressure from my kicks, the stone buckled as if it was made of chalk. The entire top half of the rounded stone made a large cracking noise and fell to a dozen pieces to the tangled grass.

“Caylen!” a barking voice called out from too close. “Come out now, or we’ll make it even worse when we find you!”

“Not a chance,” I muttered. And I kept moving.

I stayed crouched this time, my eyes trained on the ground to look for more roots. But every few seconds I had to blink the dizziness away and wipe the blood from dripping into my eyes. I had only just gotten out of range from the flashlight wielding police officer when a stubby gravestone caught my foot.

I flew forward, hitting the ground on my elbows this time, but getting a mouthful of grass and dirt. So much for just one stain on this shirt. I’d be lucky to get to wear it again at all. My wardrobe was the least of my problems. My knee had hit another gravestone that was only a square polished stone poking up from the ground. When I hit it, the entire stone had been pulled away from it’s original spot.

Who makes these gravestones so flimsy? Come on, Caylen, keep moving.

I stood and hobbled my way forward as fast as I could manage. Which wasn’t as fast as I preferred. I could see the iron gate ahead. I could jump it, no problem. But I would definitely be seen if the cop got too close behind me.

A crow sounded over my head as I passed under the last couple trees. My hands grasped the rusty iron gate at last. For a moment I hesitated, looking over my shoulder into the quiet night. No sign of flashlight.

I started climbing.

“Caylen!”

The voice had gotten much closer. I didn’t dare look over my shoulders. I just kept climbing. When I reached the top, I narrowly avoided the pointy bits and jumped to the ground below. My knee screamed out in burning pain, and I gasped as my hand reached towards it.

A flashlight lit up my face.

“Gotcha,” Officer Paula said. “Don’t move, kid. I’m coming over.”

I started to back away from the gate as she started climbing. But it wasn’t out of fear that she was coming after me. It was the vapor white figures materializing behind her. It was…it was like a ghost.

I opened my mouth, but I found that my breath had been stolen from me. The figures became clearer: one woman, one man. They floated into the air next to Officer Paula. For a moment they only rose higher as she climbed.

They each took hold of one of her shoulders. And pulled her to the ground hard. I heard the crack of her body hit the gravestone. She moved a little. Alive. For now.

The figures still hovered above the grass. But I was already turning to run. My heart pumped adrenaline through my injured body. I had to get out of here. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but worse — maybe worse — was that I knew I would get blamed for Paula’s injuries. Just another thing to add to the list.

The ground under my feet changed from grass to assault. I was on a road. Not great, but better. It was still quiet. A country road at the dead of night wasn’t going to get many visitors.

A chill spread along my bruised arms. I let the shivers come for a moment but paused as I started to see my breath.

“Is Caylen your name?”

I swirled around and there were the two figures — pale and white like inverted shadows — staring at me. Their feet touched the ground now, and they were fully detailed. Both were close to my age and I could tell by their similar features that they probably were related. Their clothes were older than mine by a few centuries at least, though both of them wore trousers. Though they had just pulled Paula off the gate and injured her possibly fatally, their faces were calm and examined me.

I couldn’t find my voice. My throat was dry and as cold as the iron gate.

“Caylen?” the woman asked again. She put out a thin hand towards me, expecting me to take it. “I’m Lucy. I believe you just knocked my gravestone over?”

More Fiction Fridays…

Fiction Friday #5: A curse of constantly dying terrorizes two young lovers

Fiction Friday #4: Witchy quest for Necromancy spell

Friday #3: Vampire Noir mystery action in a fancy restaurant

Fiction Friday #2: Mutated human wolf creatures

Fiction Friday #1: Giant battle with a human killing machine

Blood Fae

Blood Fae

Blood Fae
— Read on darkleigh.com/2019/11/06/blood-fae/

Hey everyone,

I recently had a fantasy short story published on darkleigh.com. If you like fantasy, fae people, and murder mysteries, you should definitely check it out.

Thanks!

Sex In YA Fantasy Part Two: How Fantasy Can Change Young Adults

Before reading this, check out Part One of this blog series.

“When I started working as a child abuse and neglect family therapist…one quick conclusion I came to was that until we are willing and able to talk openly about sex in this culture—healthy sex and sexual thought—we will never be capable of talking about sex abuse.”

Chris Crutcher

Relationships Shouldn’t Be Fantasy

Image by iam Se7en

What we read changes us. Changes our minds, our hearts, our viewpoints on the world. What we read as young adults impacts how we view other young adults. After all, this is a published book written by an adult who already went through it. Even if the genre is fiction, there must be some shred of truth in it, right? Some great example to follow?

Sure, we’re not all going to have hot vampire boyfriends, but the kind of relationship that develops between a Bella character and an Edward character is realistic right? We can aspire to have relationships similar to Tobias and Tris?

The answer is, not quite.

If we look at the trends of readers, you’ll see a large disparity between what they’re reading and literature that has examples of healthy relationships.

Fantasy alone accounts for 15% of the 577 Best Books for Young Adults Book list since 2000. Yet out of the fifteen books on YALSA’s list of books dealing with healthy relationships or relationship trauma, only one book could be considered Speculative Fiction.

As I recall reading Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent series, I remember scenes with lines like:

“I was so afraid that we would just keep colliding over and over again if we stayed together, and that eventually the impact would break me…I am too strong to break so easily, and I become better, sharper, every time I touch him.”

Right after fighting and worrying about losing each other — not because of their situation but because of their insecurities — the two have sex. What kind of message was that to me as a middle/high schooler? I can tell you that it didn’t teach me about being honest with my partner or asking if they were comfortable with going further physically.

Why Sexual Elements Can’t Be Fantasy

“Adolescent romance in dystopia—or romance in a divided, plural world—is at the crossroads of adult authoritarianism and teenage emotional growth.”

Mary Hilton
Image by photo-Nic.co.uk

While young adults reading speculative and fantasy books will know that many of the topics are fictional, they’re still emotionally connecting to the aspects that can relate to them.

And boy, do authors take advantage of that.

How many young adults fantasy books are out there right now that DON’T have a single romantic element? I can guarantee there’s not more than 20. And in a sea of bestselling paranormal romance books, it’s easy to imagine those that don’t have romance getting swallowed whole.

But I’m not saying that fantasy should have less elements of romance or sex.

I’m saying it should have better ones.

If young adults are connecting to the only aspect they can in fantasy — the romance — then we as writers better make sure it’s the best representation of sex and romance we can give.

I’m talking about consent, honest conversations, realistic expectations, protection.

In a world of dragons and magic, these elements might feel as awkward as writing a character going to the bathroom.

But they don’t have to be.

“The first characteristic of romance…is that it contains a ‘definition of society always corrupt, that the romance novel will reform.’ To the emotional awakening which the Young Adult novel generically enacts…responds, in perhaps equal measure, a form of political awakening.”

Mary Hilton

If we want to see changes in rape culture and poor middle/high school relationships, we have to examine what messages our YA books are sending. Even if these books do contain emotional manipulation or rape, are we glorifying it? Do we root for it?

This isn’t even about removing those books from our current shelves. For readers and parents of readers, it’s about knowing what’s in the book and talking about it with young adults.

Young adult fantasy novels have the power to change minds. How will they be changed?

What Will Be In Part Three

In the next part of this mini-series, we’ll look at two books that got it right. Ashfall and Lady Midnight.

Have you read these books before?

Have you read any books with terrible or great examples of relationships? Leave a comment below.

And don’t forget to check out Part One of this blog series!

Resources

Cart, Michael. Young Adult Literature from Romance to Realism. The American Library Association, 2016.

Cole, Pam B. Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century. McGraw-Hill, 2009.

Hilton, Mary, and Maria Nikolajeva. Contemporary Adolescent Literature and Culture: The Emergent Adult. Ashgate, 2012.

Roth, Veronica. Allegiant. HarperCollins Publishers 2013.

Wetta, Molly. “Booklist: Dating Violence, Consent, and Healthy Relationships in Young Adult Fiction.” American Library Association, 2016, http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/01/25/boo klist-dating-violence-consent-and-healthy-relationships-in-young-adult-fiction/. Accessed 15 November, 2018.

Fiction Friday #5: Write the Prompt With Me!

The Prompt

Today’s prompt is from TheFakeRedHead.com. I was really intrigued by this prompt, because it kind of reminded me of Happy Death Day. Let’s see where we go with this one!

As always, 30 minutes, free-write.

Write with me! It’s so great for writers to use writing prompts to improve their writing.

Let’s do this!

The Writing

Image by Fabrizio Verrechia

“I’ve lost count of how many times you’ve died in front of me,” I said.

She rolled up her sleeves and buttoned them down before glancing up at me.

“So far twenty, but I’m sure it’ll be more before we figure this out.” She didn’t say this as if it was annoying to her that she lived a life of constant death. She only stated it.

“Come on, let’s go,” I said. “The car’s parked by that streetlight.”

We started walking, and the warmth of her body next to mine was a comfort. She was alive. She was flesh and blood. And yet she was something else entirely. Though I’d seen her break both her legs in a fall, smash her head on concrete, get in accidents, and burst into flames, she was fine for the moment. Her skin was unmarked. Even her clothes were clean. But that was because I’d brought her some.

“You know you don’t have to do this,” she said. She stared straight ahead as the shape of the car came more into view.

I didn’t respond until we both had gotten in and closed the door. I started the engine. Or tried to when it turned over a couple times and puttered out.

I sighed and laid my head on the steering wheel.

“I know I don’t have to do this,” I said. “But I want to. I’ve never…I’ve never met anyone like you. And I’m not just talking about the death thing. You’re special. And I can’t just leave you to face this by yourself.”

Cami was picking at her nails, the only place with evidence that she’d been buried alive under a pile of rubble.

I turned the key again, and this time it sputtered to life. We were rolling.

“It’s not just me,” she said after we had been driving for several minutes. Her head was turned away so I could only see her curls as they brushed her shoulder.

“Wait, there’s more of you?”

“What?” she turned then, eyebrows turned up in confusion. “No, I meant it’s not just me who’s in danger. People die around me. They get sucked into this. You shouldn’t have to deal with this in your life. It’s bad enough that I do.”

At her warning, my hands gripped the wheel tighter and my eyes shifted from side to side as if I expected a semi to run a red light right into us. Even though the roads were empty at this hour, my heart was still beating fast. What if she was right? What if she was like some sort of magnet for bad luck that couldn’t be unmagnetized?

“Jake?” she said. “Can you say something please?”

“I don’t really care,” I said.

“About…?”

“My life has always been bad luck. But since I met you, it’s gotten so much better. Good things are happening to me for the first time. I can’t just leave because I’m scared.”

“It’s more than that,” she mumbled.

“It’s not,” I assured her. “I’m scared, but there has to be something I can do.”

“Tell that to the last three doctors who tried to hold me hostage and peel my skin off to examine the cell growth.”

We stopped at a red light even though there wasn’t any cross traffic. I debated running through it, but I could see the camera hanging from the metal pole. If people were still after her, I couldn’t risk it.

As I was thinking this, a black Sedan pulled up to the street adjacent to us. Even though he had a green light, he slowed to a stop. His window was too tinted to see into. He flashed his brights at us.

Cami squinted into the darkness.

“Go,” she said.

“Wh-what?” I was still trying to see into the window. I could just barely make out gloved hands.

“Go!” Cami shouted and slapped my arm with the palm of her hand.

I gunned the gas, and we sped through the red light. The camera didn’t even flash. As we drove through, the black Sedan pulled out behind us. I was already going over the speed limit, but I pressed down harder and swerved into a side street.

“Go, Jake!”

Cami’s body was twisted as she looked through the back window towards the car. It had missed the turn I made and was having to back up before following me.

“I know what I’m doing,” I said, clenching my jaw. My knuckles were white with strain. I didn’t trust myself to be one of those crazy car-chasing maniacs I’ve watched in movies. But I knew every street in this city. I knew how to lose him.

My small car squeezed down an alleyway. I circled back towards the way we had come from. I made wild turns that didn’t make sense. I never went down the same road twice. My eyes never flashed up to check if I could see the Sedan in my rearview mirror. It wouldn’t matter. I was doing everything I could to lose him.

I stopped behind an apartment surrounded by human-planted trees that made a canopy around us and the car. There was an entrance to the highway just to our left if we had to make a quick getaway. But the night was quiet for once. Both of us were breathing hard. I blinked several times to get rid of the black spots in my vision.

“Any clue who that could be?” I asked.

Cami bit her lip. “There might be more.”

“More?” I asked, with a shaky laugh. “Like more to your story, or more to your curse?”

“Both,” she whispered.

I opened my mouth to respond when our car was rammed into from the side so hard that the car flipped and started to roll. I clenched everything, letting out a yell that I knew I would regret later. When the car rattled and stopped moving, we were upside-down.

“Cami?” I said, my voice a raspy mess.

A cloud of dust surrounded us as the airbags went off in delayed reaction. They hit my lungs so hard that for a moment I couldn’t breathe. A wheezing gasp escaped my lips. As I waved my hands to clear the air, I saw that Cami’s neck was bent at an odd angle. Blood lined her forehead. Her airbag hadn’t just gone off—it had exploded. Hunks of the car had caved in between us. I could see her, but I couldn’t pull her body through the gap.

“Cami!” I yelled.

I wrestled with my seatbelt, which came undone easily. In surprise, I caught myself just in time before crumpling to the roof of my car head-first. I examined my hands and my ripped jeans. No scratch? Not even a mark? My body vibrated with energy as my ears rang in cycles of annoying tones. My door had been ripped open and hung by a slim piece of metal.

“Cami, I’m coming,” I said, crawling on all fours to the other side of the car. “Ah man.”

The entire right side of the car was smashed in so deep I could see some of the underside. I reached for her door’s handle, but there wasn’t a handle. Only compressed metal molded into a solid form.

“No, no, no,” I said. If I couldn’t get her out, that meant I had to call someone. And if I had to call someone, they would see her lifeless body. Hospitals. Doctors. Tests.

“Hey man!” a voice called out behind me. “Hey man, are you okay?”

A big man in a white t-shirt came into the light.

As he examined my non-bloodstained body, he breathed audibly. “I’m so sorry. I was driving my truck and couldn’t brake down that hill. I saw this parking lot and thought I could use it to stop. I didn’t even see your—oh gosh is there someone still inside?”

“Crowbar,” I said. “You got one?”

For More Writing Prompts, Check out…

Why I Got Married On Halloween: 1st Year Anniversary!

When I tell people that our anniversary date is on October 31, people kind of cock their heads at me and give me a strange look. “Why in the world would you want to do that?” they seem to ask.

What they don’t realize is that Halloween has brought me and and Michell closer together when we were working, during our long-distance period, and when we finally finished college.

Flynn Rider and Rapunzel Costumes – 2015

1. The First Year Is Full of Mistakes and Butterflies

This was our first Halloween as a couple and of course we had to dress up as one of our favorites! At the time we were both working at our church as worship leaders. It was also the only year of college that we were together. This year was full of learning moments of time management, getting healthy, and learning how to be in a relationship.

Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers Costumes – 2016

2. Long Distance Helps You Grow Together and Individually

In 2016 I drove to Bloomington for the weekend to go to a Halloween party. We dressed up as Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers. Props to you if you know the movie! Anyways, this Halloween was the first fall that we weren’t living in the same area. We had just started going to different colleges, and it was definitely really hard. Being able to celebrate Halloween together was just really meaningful.

Me as a Starbucks cat – 2017

3. Sometimes You Have to Be Alone

In 2017 I had to work at Starbucks for Halloween. It was still pretty fun because the kids would come in dressed so cute, and we’d give them candy. But as you can see, I wasn’t exactly a happy cat! This year was the hardest year for me. Mitchell and I were so busy and later this year he went to Los Angeles for his internship. There was a lot of learning how to manage my emotions and anxiety. We made it through, just like always.

Our wedding photo – 2018

4. Sticking Through the Hard Stuff Is Worth It

Finally made it! This is our wedding day a year ago. It’s crazy how much we’ve changed and grown as people. We went vegan, we finished college, we traveled to Taiwan and Los Angeles, we got MARRIED!

What I’ve learned is that holidays can mean something different than you would expect. Halloween has always been important and special to me as a child, and I’m so glad that Mitchell has become a part of this tradition with me.

We also learned that struggling through these years made us stronger as people. We’ve been through so much, and Halloween was just one of those great things that kept us going.

What does Halloween mean for you? What traditions do you have on Halloween? I’d love to hear about them. Comment below!

Further Reads

How Traveling Helped Me Heal

23 Things To Know Before You’re 23

Sex In Young Adult Fantasy (Part 1)

An Overview

Oh boy. This is a tricky topic for so many people. Should writers put sex in their books? How should it be portrayed? Are the relationships healthy? Is the sex safe? Is it consensual? Instead of just writing off the conversation as too difficult, let’s start talking about it. As writers, readers, adults, and young adults.

Realistic fiction writers haven’t been too afraid to approach these topics in the last couple decades, but what about fantasy?

Fantasy — you know, where both genders are usually hyper-sexualized and are helplessly pining over their supernatural significant other? Where werewolves and vampires toe the border of consent and stalking.

Maybe this hasn’t been your experience with reading Fantasy. I’ve read a couple great examples that break the mold of typical Fantasy Romance, but the question remains.

Why should writers put sex in their fantasy books?

This is going to be a several part exploration on Young Adult literature and how sex is portrayed and avoided in the texts AND by readers, librarians, and parents.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

How YA Fiction Has Been Changing

For several decades YA Realistic Fiction writers have taken on the topic of sex in their writing. I mean, it’s one of the top things teens deal with in their lives. It’s uncommon (but definitely needed, writers!) to have a high school story without an intense relationship explored. But for the majority, Realistic Fiction has tackled this topic.

Several well-known YA writers who have taken on sex include:

  • Meg Cabot
  • John Green
  • Judy Bloom
  • Laurie Halse Anderson

There’s been a push in this genre particularly to show consensual, protected, “relationship-based” sex over just writing garbage that glorifies rape, sexual assault, and abusive relationships.

Why?

Because writers are beginning to realize that YA literature impacts young adults more than anything else they read (Cart). If we want to push movements like #metoo and #timesup, then the literature has to reflect what we want young adults to know.

Something people don’t think about very often, but needs to be mentioned, is that ADULTS are writing most of these YA books. Adults who are maybe starting to get disconnected from today’s youth, but must put themselves in the minds and settings of today’s young adults.

If we want young adults to learn what healthy relationships are, we have to give them examples through what they engage with.

The Reason YA Fantasy Needs To Change

Science fiction or fantasy, makes tomorrow’s ogres real and preset, within the threatening framework of an imaginative world.  It is within this framework that the writer can challenge readers, through the persona of the protagonist, to find answers…as they identify with the main character, they begin to understand the possibilities, the greatness of being fully human.  They are empowered.

Eiss 81

Growing up as a huge reader — and knowing full well that I was getting most of my knowledge of the real world from books — I stayed far away from Realistic Fiction. I was already living in the real world. Why would I want to read about someone else’s realistic problems?

No, instead my reading list consisted of nothing but Fantasy: Magical Realism, Urban Fantasy, Fairy-tale retelling, and soft Sci-Fi. And I know for a fact that many people read nothing but the same.

Fantasy was able to reach me both emotionally and mentally, in a way that Realistic Fiction didn’t. But that meant that I had to suffer through the dozens of terrible relationships, verbal and emotional abuse, and down-right stalker behavior that permeates so much of YA Fantasy. I’m talking about Linger, Vampire Academy, Fallen, Dead Beautiful — the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong. I loved reading these books for many other reasons. But for examples of healthy relationships, not so much.

YA Fantasy As Positive Examples of Romance

Librarian Donna Freitas states that she has frequently witnessed graduating seniors who openly express their lack of education in sexual topics. Her advice is simple, reading can help. Especially Speculative/Fantasy, where the writing usually opens the door to more engaging romance.

But if all YA Fantasy books are bad examples of sex and relationships, how will those who enjoy only reading this genre get to see positive examples? And don’t give me any of that bull that parents should be teaching kids. Many young adults aren’t going to be learning how teens interact in relationships from their parents. It’s awkward for one. And for another, outside sources are sometimes easier to receive advice from than parental figures.

Lesson For Today

The take-away from part one is just to start thinking about what we read as young adults. What books shaped the way we view relationships? And what can we as readers and writers do to encourage this generation of young adults so that they can both engage with a fantasy world AND learn about healthy romantic relationships?

What are some bad examples of YA Romance books, whether realistic or fantasy?

What are some good examples of YA Romance books, whether realistic or fantasy?

And how can Fantasy actually help young adults? We’ll tackle that in Part 2!

Resources

Cart, Michael. “The Value of Young Adult Literature.” YALSA, 2008. Accessed 18 October 2018.

Eiss, Harry Edwin. Young Adult Literature and Culture. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.

Freitas, Donna. “Be Still My Heart.” School Library Journal, vol. 55, no. 2, 2009. Accessed 15 September 2018.

Further Reads