Alycia Christine

Enchanting Art, Encouraging Tales

Tag: Metamorphosis (Page 1 of 3)

SCRAWLS: Have You Lost the Plot?

Cumulous_Pontoon-AC4x6There is an old Newsboys song entitled “Lost The Plot”. Some of its lyrics read:

Headaches and bad faith is all that I’ve got
First I misplaced the ending
Then I lost the plot

While it isn’t the most famous of the band’s songs, it is nonetheless a poignant reminder never to lose focus of what is truly important in life or, for that matter, in story writing. Since the song is stuck in my head and since I talked last month about character development, I thought now might be a good time to discuss the importance of plot in a story.

So, some of you might ask, what is a plot? A plot is a just fancy word for the series of events that get your character or characters from the beginning of the story to the end of the story.

Imagine for a moment that a story is like a photograph. In a photo, you have a main subject on whom you want your audience to focus and you have the subject’s surroundings. Likewise the story’s main character (also known as a protagonist) is the story’s subject and the plot is what happens around and to the protagonist. Your main character should be interesting enough to capture the audience’s attention over any other part of the story, but your subject should also become even more interesting when viewed in the context of the larger picture of events (the plot).

Do you think that the hobbit Frodo in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series would have been proved as strong of a character if he had not endured the journey through the Mines of Moria, the death of Boromir, the trek through Mordor, or the hike up Mount Doom so that he could destroy the One Ring? I don’t.

Likewise would the namesake character of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series ever have been able to solve the riddle of the Deathly Hallows if he and his friends had not spent the past six years studying and surviving all of the magical mysteries of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? Rowling’s books are known the world over first for her title character Harry Potter and second for the extraordinary world and the intricate series of events into which he is continually thrust. In short, stories must start with memorable characters and end with intricate, well-crafted plots in order to survive in the imaginations and memories of readers.

No matter the story type (genre), all plots revolve around characters faced some form of conflict. The conflict can come from an inner conflict like a personal moral crisis (“Should I really do this?”) or an external conflict such as fighting in a war, dealing with a bully, winning over the dream girl, etc.

Some say that there are only a certain number of basic plots in all of literature, and that any story is really just a variation on these plots. I will only say that any plot you choose must have a clear conflict at its core in order to drive the story forward. I’ve included several of others’ “basic” plot examples to help you choose which situations you want your characters to undergo. Feel free to mix and match these plots so that they best suit your story.

The 7 Basic Plots:

[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion

The 20 Basic Plots (As discussed by Ronald B. Tobias in his book 20 Master Plots):

The Riddle
Forbidden Love
Wretched Excess

The 36 Basic Plots (As discussed by Georges Polti in his book The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations as translated by Lucille Ray):

Crime Pursued by Vengeance
Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
Daring Enterprise
The Enigma
Enmity of Kinsmen
Rivalry of Kinsmen
Murderous Adultery
Fatal Imprudence
Involuntary Crimes of Love (think: Oedipus unwittingly marrying his mother and like problems)
Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
All Sacrificed for Passion
Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
Crimes of Love
Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
Obstacles to Love
An Enemy Loved
Conflict with a God
Mistaken Jealousy
Erroneous Judgment
Recovery of a Lost One
Loss of Loved Ones

You can find out more about these and other plot examples by visiting:

Short stories usually have a single plot while longer stories like novellas (stories between 17,501 and 40,000 words long) and novels (stories 40,001 words and longer) tend to have a main plot that drives all story characters toward a certain ending as well as several subplots that challenge and change each character individually.

Whether a writer needs one plot or more than one to drive a story, there are certain events that help guide each plot. Aside from an essential conflict, all story plots require some form of the following sequence: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Exposition. In this case, exposition means an introduction to the story and the characters. In order for readers to understand the events of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling had to first show them Harry’s world. She does this by weaving descriptions of characters, places, and history into the story.

Rising action. This is term used for the series of plot events that cause more and more conflict to develop in the story. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, we watch young Harry go with Hagrid to take something out of a vault at Gringotts Wizarding Bank and bring it to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for safekeeping. Then someone breaks into that same vault to try to steal the mysterious object that Hogwarts teachers are now protecting. After that several other strange and scary events happen at the school like the appearance of a troll in a girl’s bathroom or the death of unicorns in the Forbidden Forest. It is up to Harry and his friends to find out why these events are occurring and to put a stop to the villain behind them.

Climax. The climax is the most exciting and important part of the story, to which all of the story’s rising action finally leads. The climax usually occurs near the story’s end. In the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the climax happens when Harry confronts the dark wizard Voldemort for the first time and tries to keep him from taking the Sorcerer’s Stone from Hogwarts.

Falling action. The plot events that lead from the story’s climax to its end are collectively called the falling action. When Harry finishes recuperating in the hospital after his confrontation with Voldemort and then he and his friends win the house cup at the school’s end-of-year feast, this is the falling action.

Denouement. Also called the conclusion, a denouement is the final outcome of the main plot. Again using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my example, the book’s denouement would be when we see Harry part ways with his friends at the train station and begin his summer holiday.

The type of fiction you write will determine the depth of the plot you’ll need. Some stories like mysteries and thrillers require a very intensive plot with many twists and turns. Other stories like mainstream romances follow a simplified plotline: the female protagonist and the male protagonist meet each other (exposition), they fall in love (rising action), some problem tests their new relationship almost to the breaking point (climax), they find a way overcome the conflict and fix their strained relationship (climax/falling action), and they end the story with renewed love for each other (falling action/denouement).

No matter what story you decide to write or what characters you want to use, using and expanding the basic principles of plot structure will help you craft a well-written, believable story. I hope this article has helped your understanding of plot and its purpose in a story.

Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

🙂 Alycia

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia C. Cooke and/or Alycia Christine Sears with love, fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: Musings Edits, Alaska Aftermath, Book Reviews, and Other Updates

Ask_the_Owl-4x6ACThis morning found me sitting in my office chair with the sun streaming through the curtains of my window and the air outside registering a crisp 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Talk about a stark contrast from the high 90s of last week! Today would have been a perfect day to curl up under the covers and sleep late, but I think talking to all of you is far more fun.

As I have not posted an update about my general activities since July, I thought I really should do that today. As many of you know, I have been up to my eyeballs in Alaska vacation photos and Musingsshort story collection edits. And while much of my time has been spent on these two major projects, there is a lot more that goes on around the Cooke-Sears household than these. So here is the rundown of the many tasks that I have accomplished and the few chores still left on my agenda for October.

Since the last update, I have:

  • Finished all of my personal edits and completed the first round of beta readers’ edits for the novel Skinshifter. Now I am waiting on second-round beta readers to finish their edits so that I can give the book a final polish.
  • Rewrote two chapters of Dreamdrifter. I now have the rough drafts of chapters 1 through 16 completed and about 85,000 words written.
  • Continued editing and organizing the contents my soon-to-be-published Musings anthology. Anyone interested in beta-reading this or future projects should contact me HERE.
  • Read the Self Publishing Attack!: The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books by James Scott Bell. This is an informative and insightful book about the self-publishing movement and what it takes to maintain your professionalism as a self-published author.
  • Read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas. This is an incredible book about the craft of writing. I highly recommend it to novices and experts alike.
  • Read One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke. This book is based on the journal of Richard “Dick” Proenneke, a man who decided to leave civilization behind for a year and a half in lieu of building his own log cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and surviving off the land. It is an interesting read for those wishing to understand what life is like beyond the hum of electricity or the convenience of running water.
  • Read Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School) by Gail Carriger. I am usually not much of a steam-punk fan, but this young adult fantasy book kept me turning the pages with gusto. All that I can say is that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is anything but a boring place to learn your p’s and q’s. Even though I’m in my 30s, I’d gladly go back to school if I could attend here!
  • Read the Bible during daily devotions. I am so proud of myself for doing this because I have not taken the time to do a daily devotional in recent years. Yay for a new habit turning into a good routine! By the way, if you are a new student of the Bible, I suggest beginning with the book of Romans and then following that by reading the gospel of John. These two books will help you understand the core principles that the Bible teaches. Also, I recommend using either the New International Version or the New King James Version (NKJV) translation. In my experience, these two English translations seem far more accurate than many others. If you prefer using a devotional in lieu of studying scripture chapter by chapter, you might try my First Fruits book.
  • Posted eight SCRAWLS blog posts discussing different writing topics and showcasing excerpts of my fiction work. In case you missed them, here are the links to the story excerpts from “Chosen Sacrifice”, “Raven’s Fall”, and “What Tendrils Echo”.
  • Posted three Flashes of Perspective blog posts teaching various photography techniques and sharing over 30 pieces of my art photography.
  • Finished several commercial photography shoots for private clients.
  • Processed and uploaded about 35 photos to my photography website. Find them all HERE.
  • Reorganized the website. If anyone has any more suggestions to improve the site, contact me please!
  • Went on a seven-day cruise with my husband through Alaska’s magnificent Inside Passage. Read the blog post about the journey HERE.
  • Culled through 2700 vacation photos to find the best photographs from the Alaska trip. I am still in the process of tweaking and uploading the best, so please be patient with me.
  • Learned how to use my camera’s video recording feature. Sometime soon I hope to include a few videos on Alycia
  • My husband and I visited my parents and friends of ours in Lubbock, Texas and visited Matt’s family in Laredo, Texas.
  • Helped my husband prepare and go through his Walk to Emmaus. He loved his walk as much as I loved mine!
  • Helped my husband prepare and leave on a three-week-long business trip. I was so bored without him that I made up chores just to have something to do.
  • Helped cook lunch after the funeral of one of my church’s members. It was a sad, but good gathering.
  • Took on a part-time job to help make ends meet. The government shut down has hit our family hard.

My goals for the next four weeks are to:

  • Finish all beta reader’s edits for Skinshifter.
  • Continue to pull older photos off of the photography website as I add new photography. I expect to add another 50 photos from vacation and an additional 20 from other photo shoots before I am finished redoing the photography website.
  • Finish the last personal edits of Musings and send it to my editor for final critique.
  • Continue to write the rough draft of Dreamdrifter. I will continue working on the book during NaNoWriMo this year. Since Musings has my main attention right now, I don’t expect to get 50,000 words written on Dreamdrifter. However, I do hope to add 20,000-30,000 words to it by the end of November.

Wow, remind me not to wait so long between updates! If you made it through all of that, you deserve a cookie! In any event, I am off to write some fiction. Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

🙂 Alycia

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: A Dash of Writing Advice – Chopping Down Your Giant Problems

Red_Balconies-AC4x6Instead of my regularly scheduled Flashes of Perspective blog, today I will continue our discussion of SCRAWLS writing advice with the caveat that September will hold not one but two Flashes of Perspective posts. I want to publish two in September so that I can show you some of the breathtaking photos that I shot while on vacation with my husband in Alaska this month.

In our previous writing lessons we discussed the fact that perseverance is the key to successful writing (and to life in general). Today I think I should give you some valuable tools to help you build your perseverance. Let’s talk about how to cut your giants down to size.

Lesson 3: Breaking up your projects so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

Getting overwhelmed is the fastest way to develop writer’s block. You should look at the big, grand scope of your story only three times: when you first create your story plot outline/summary at the very beginning of the project, when you have finished writing the rough draft’s last sentence, and when you are editing the final draft with an eye for story continuity. At these three points you can look at the big picture. However, do not pay attention to the big picture while you are actually writing. Doing so will leave you feeling daunted by the task, especially in the beginning.

Even if you are extremely disciplined, there will still be times when you feel like you are fighting an indomitable giant. When those feelings overshadow your confidence, just remember that all you have to do to defeat the giant is to knock him off his feet and then hack him into manageable pieces. As the old saying goes, how do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. I do this all the time with my writing. Instead of looking at my book as a book, I look at it as a collection of chapters. Then I look at the chapters as a collection of different scenes. Then I look at the scenes as a collection of paragraphs and the paragraphs as a collection of words.

Remember that every fiction story begins with a single idea. If that idea is good enough to sprout when planted in the fertile soil of your imagination, it will grow and branch with other ideas blossoming outward from its stem. The best stories are written records of these idea trees, organized in such a way that other readers besides you can follow the pattern of these ideas and grow to care very deeply about each upcoming idea within the overall woven pattern of the story. Most, but not all, stories are told in a chronological order because time is the easiest pattern for most readers to follow.

When I write, the practice of doing so on a constant daily basis helps to decrease my stress about the particular project that I am trying to chop down to size. I know that I cannot write a single novel in a day. After all, my novel Skinshifer is, in total, about 119,000 words long. This is equivalent to a 430-page Word document when using 12-point Times New Roman font and double-spaced paragraphs. Obviously this is a mammoth project for anyone, even a seasoned writer. To make it manageable, I broke it down into daily word counts and scenes. At the beginning of the project, I wrote down the chapter titles of the book as my outline and sometimes added a sentence or two of summary about what was supposed to happen in each particular chapter. Then I took the first scene began to write it. Sometimes I would write in chronological order from the first part of the book to the last and sometimes I would skip ahead to write a scene that would just pop into my head during a moment of musing.

Over the past eight years, I have found that my best writing happens when I give myself a minimum daily word count (300-500 words) and then challenge myself to finish writing one in-progress scene and start a new one. Most of my scenes are longer than 500 words, so I make the commitment to finish whatever scene I stopped on yesterday and then plough on for about 200 words into the next scene. Doing this usually leaves me in good shape for the next day’s work. When I am having a bad writing day and can barely type 300 words without even finishing a scene, the small word count still gives me a little boost of encouragement. When I am having a good writing day, finishing one scene and starting another makes me feel empowered and ready to take on the world. I have had days in which a two-word sentence as the best that I could accomplish and I have had days when I knocked out 3000-4000 words and still wanted to keep writing. Each of these days is a success because I still managed to write something.

My best advice is to find what works for you. Successful writing takes constant commitment. Starting out, I suggest that you make a small writing pledge that you can easily keep: writing for ten minutes a day, writing 200 words a day, finishing a scene a day, finishing a chapter a day, or whatever. Some writers I know will establish a weekly word count to spur them into writing. However you decide to do it, push yourself to keep your writing commitment every day including weekends. Do this until it becomes as habitual as eating or sleeping to you. Once you truly are committed to your writing, you will find that your writing time will stretch naturally.

I started out with reading, writing, drawing, photography, TV-watching, and gaming as my major hobbies. As time went by though, I discovered that I enjoyed life much more when I was behind the lens or had a story document open on my computer screen. Now it is a rare day that I manage even a dungeon crawl in Minecraft or Skyrim. If you told me even three years ago that most of my time would be spent writing and shooting photography, I probably would have panicked about the loss of my games. Now, however, I find myself much more fulfilled than melancholy. Photography and writing have become so much more enjoyable to me even than gaming. I am so happy when I finish a scene and I practically bounce off the walls when I finish a story. My sense of accomplishment is so much more profound when I finish a piece of writing than when I finish a game because I can keep and possibly publish the finished story at the end of the grind. The story that I just trekked through isn’t someone else’s, it is mine. That sense of ownership is wonderfully freeing.

Writing is how I exercise my imagination. What do you do to exercise yours?

Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

🙂 Alycia

P.S. – A reminder: I am still performing reorganization maintenance of the main website and on my photography website through the end of September.

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: A Dash of Writing Advice – The Dreaded Day Job

Hammering_the_Sun-AC4x6In our last writing lesson we discussed the fact that perseverance is the key to successful writing. Today I thought we should take perseverance a step further.

Lesson 2: Don’t quit your day job too soon.

Trust me when I say this. The funky thing about this profession is that sometimes it is financially profitable and sometimes it is not. This is one reason why most writers start out with a completely different job. John Grisham was a lawyer. J.R.R. Tolkien was a soldier and then a language scholar and professor. I began as a journalist and continue employment as a photographer. In each case we writers use our life experiences to add depth and authenticity to our stories.

The day job—any day job—is essential to inspiring good writing because of the unique experiences and people that the writer encounters while on the clock. After all John Grisham would have been hard-pressed to write The Pelican Brief or The Firm without his prior knowledge as a lawyer. Likewise I would have had a difficult time building the world of Sylvaeleth and its many animal-like characters without the working knowledge I gleaned from studying wildlife management in college, and my various jobs and volunteer work at a zoo, veterinary clinic, and pet store. Use the day job to your advantage. Persevere through it, have fun with it, and learn every aspect of it. We all hope not to have one someday, but use it while you have it.

Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

🙂 Alycia

P.S. – A reminder: I am still performing reorganization maintenance of the main website and on my photography website through the end of September. My goal is to make both sites easier to navigate since I will have a ton of new photos to show you all after my vacation to Alaska!

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: A Note to My Readers

TransposedTowerACS2x3Dear Readers,

It is July 30, 2013 and I am sitting at my desk staring at a two-inch thick three-ring binder full of Skinshifter manuscript and notes. Skinshifter has been through its first round of beta reader testing and revisions and its first round of copyedits. Within a few days, I will once again let others lay siege to this paper castle built of my dreams in an effort to make it even stronger than it is now.

At this point less than a dozen people know any part of the work’s contents and even less have seen its companion novella Elza and Eliza. I don’t know how all of this will play out, but my dearest wish and hope is that this series will find a sound home in the hearts and minds of many many readers.

When I began the journey of writing Skinshifter and building the world of Sylvaeleth in 2004, I had no notion of how large this project would become. A simple short story turned into the first chapter of a book which then turned into a series. Now I’m working through edits on Skinshifter, writing the last third of the Dreamdrifter rough draft, polishing and expanding the Skinshifter Appendices, and dropping novellas into the fray.

My world is exciting and scary, ordered and chaotic. If there is a bright spot to any of this mess, it is that I have crafted a work of which I am proud. You may not find it on par with the best literary work of Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Austin, Hemingway, or Twain. Nonetheless it is my best work to date and a darn fine tale. My only hope now is that the published draft eventually introducing to this world will meet your kind approval, Dear Readers, because if it does not, then I am sorry to say that I have unfortunately wasted your time…not my own, mind you, for I have learned many things along this writing journey, but certainly yours.

My goal is never to waste your time or even to help you simply pass the time. My goal when I write is to inspire your time—to make the hours you spend in this fictional world mean something very dear to you. I want you to laugh with the characters and cry for their losses, to come to know Katja and Lauraisha and Felan and Zahra and Dayalan and Vraelth and Caleb and all the other Sylvan beings as close of friends as they are to me.

I get up each morning to drop a few more words into the well of this saga because I desperately want to know what will happen next to the story’s characters. At the end of the day though, I am writing and rewriting the story in the hope that you as the readers will be able to easily follow the characters’ journey along with me. Nothing is more important to me than the friendship fostered by our shared experiences. Thank you each for your loyalty and patience with me as I build these new worlds for all of our enjoyment. I could not do this without you.

Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

🙂 Alycia

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: What’s in a Name?

KatjaPortrait1-4x6“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This famous quote by long-revered poet and playwright William Shakespeare means simply that what matters most is what something is rather than what it is named. While it is a noble sentiment, I find it nonetheless inaccurate. After all, Shakespeare’s character Juliet spouts this particular piece of philosophy when she is referring to her lover Romeo—a member of the Montague family. Romeo is, by virtue of his family’s name, a sworn enemy of hers. Romeo’s name is not just important; it is, in fact, integral to the plot of the story. And so I come to the point of my post: the paramount importance of character names.

When I write stories, the characters driving those stories are not cemented in my head as living beings until I have correctly named them. Likewise I usually do not progress in writing a story until it has its proper title. You might ask why I am so picky about names. The answer is because I believe that a person’s name offers a little peek into that being’s soul. It is the meaning of the name and the spelling of a name that helps me understand who a character is, what motivates him, and how he is likely to react to certain situations.

It is important to me that each character’s name is at least based on a real name if it isn’t actually a real name. In some cases, I will take a character name that is a combination of two or more real names. Of course, the name’s meaning is not the character’s total description. Instead name acts as a faint blueprint that allows me to fill in certain details about that character. I usually use the meanings of names to describe one of four things about a character: personality, physical appearance, history, or occupation.

A good example of a name describing a character’s personality is that of Katja. Katja is my main character from the Metamorphosis Cycle book series. Her name means “pure” or “pure of heart”, which fits her character very well. She strives to be very pure in her intentions and actions. She might not always succeed, but she does try to do what is right no matter the circumstances. Thus, it is Katja’s purity of heart that ultimately helps her through some very difficult decisions.

Other characters of mine have combination names. Dayalan is one such example from the Metamorphosis Cycle book series. Dayalan’s name is actually a combination of three: Dayal, Daylan, and Alan. The name Dayal means “compassionate or kind” while Daylan is the rhyming variant of Waylon, an English name for a historical blacksmith said to be blessed with supernatural powers. Alan means “fair or handsome”. In the book Skinshifter, I describe Dayalan as being “as pale as the snow swirling outside and unbelievably beautiful—like an alabaster visage of an elf prince. He had broad shoulders and sleek waist-long hair swept back from his oval face and pointed ears. His hair was as dark as a moonless night, yet his eyes were as pale blue as sea ice.” Clearly Dayalan lives up to the Alan part of his name at first impression. Later in the book, readers can judge how well he lives up to the other two name definitions.

Yet another character introduced in the Metamorphosis Cycle’s first book Skinshifter is Felan. Felan’s name means “small wolf”, which readers might find ironic because Felan is not small at all. He is actually a werewolf who stands about 6’9” tall when in his normal form. The reason I chose this name is because of the character’s history. Felan was actually born two months premature. He was so small and sickly as a pup that his parents honestly did not expect him to survive. It is to Felan’s credit and that he did survive and grow up. His relentless determination to overcome his disabilities is what shapes him into the powerful warrior that he is when Katja and the rest of the packmates meet him. Felan might not be small any more, but he understands what it is like to be helpless. It is this understanding that helps him to show gentleness toward others despite his intimidating size and strength.

As we see in Shakespeare’s work, characters’ surnames and last names can sometimes be even more important than their first. More than any other name, the last name can really help define a character’s history. Smith, for example, is one of the most common surnames in the English-speaking world. The reason why is simple: Smith is a common last name because being a smithy was a common trade. Every town had to have a blacksmith. Influential merchant cities needed several blacksmiths, a few silversmiths, and perhaps a few goldsmiths. In olden days, a common trade such as blacksmithing or milling was usually passed down from father to son and, therefore, so was the name. Over time surnames have lost much of their meaning, but they are nonetheless important to a character’s mentality. How differently do you expect a character to act if her last name is Walton or Vanderbilt than if her last name is Smith?

Whether you wish to use a single name or a combination name to describe your character, please make sure that it fits with some unique aspect of that character. The last thing you want to do as a writer is give a trash-talking assassin the name of Fred (the nickname for Frederick, the German name for “peace”), unless the history of the character somehow warrants the irony.

I prefer to use baby name search engines and internet data bases such as the one on to find my character names. There are also numerous baby name books out on the market. Whatever your preferred search method, I do think it is a good idea to double-check your name meanings’ accuracy in multiple sources.

Do you have any questions or comments about character names? If so, please post them! I would love to read your thoughts.

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: FREE Story Excerpt from “Sumari’s Solitude”

Sumaris_Solitude_CoverToday’s Tuesday Tidbit is brought to you by a slightly frazzled author. After finally receiving a reply from Harper Voyager on the submission status of my fantasy book Skinshifter, I got the standard rejection summary of “We liked, but we won’t publish it.” I have thus decided to hold off on resubmitting the book manuscript to a traditional publisher and instead want to run it by all of you first. I am asking anyone interested in reading and critiquing the book for free, to please contact me. I will send a .pdf copy of the book to the first 20 beta readers who contact me and we’ll go from there.

Now then, on to today’s regular post…

This excerpt is from “Sumari’s Solitude”, the very first fantasy short story I ever published.

Sumari stood near the balcony’s sheltering pillar watching the breath of the gods make living waves of the sand dunes beyond Aamanru Temple.  Her small right hand kept her dark veil in check while the left fist held the deep opening of her indigo robes firmly closed to shield her gold pendant and tattoo from the dancing dust.  She huddled near the warmth of an alabaster lamp and sadly watched the sun, Aa’s eye, descend into the desert.

“High Priestess?” a male’s voice hissed.

She turned away from the sunlit sands and beheld a lamia guard watching her curiously.

“King Draigoss has arrived, Mistress,” he said, bowing low.  “You are needed at the front entry.”

She watched him with bemusement, wondering how he could actually balance well enough on his scaly tail to demonstrate such an act of respect toward her.

“Very well, Kaa, I shall greet him.  Have you said your evening prayers yet?”

The strapping snake-man shook his human-like head.  “No, Mistress, but I shall once I escort you to the main hall.”

She smiled.  “Very well then . . . to the task at once.  We should not keep the exalted Sathe or the good king waiting.”

Kaa grinned, exposing his sharp fangs, and then slithered protectively after the high priestess—his Iklwa spear clinched firmly with both hands.  The human and lamia wound their way around the inscribed sandstone monoliths supporting the temple’s vaulted ceiling and finally descended the stone steps leading to the main hall where Draigoss and his entourage waited.

“Good evening to you, Sire!”  Sumari said as she formally curtseyed.  “What brings you to my humble hovel?”

Draigoss returned her bow and, although his bearded lips twitched at her ironic statement, he said formally, “A pleasure as always to greet you, High Priestess Sumari.  Forgive me, but I am in need of your generous assistance.”

“I freely give it as always, Your Majesty.  But first, let me see to the comfort of your companions . . . Kaa, have the slaves prepare fourteen east wing chambers for our guests.”

“It will be done, Mistress.”  Kaa put his right fist to his heart in salute and bowed before leaving.

“Ryald,” she said, turning to another temple guard, “show our guests to the formal dining den and give them whatever sustenance they require.”

“At once, Mistress!”  The other lamia guard saluted her and bowed before clapping his hands together.  Slaves slipped from the pillars’ shadows and carried Draigoss’s companions’ belongings to their chambers while Ryald politely motioned the guests through an archway and down a side hall toward the kitchen and dining areas.

The king did not follow his party, but instead stood watching his aides and personal guards march down the corridor.  He then turned to the High Priestess of Aa.

“I am sorry over the appalling length between visits,” he murmured.  “Affairs of state have kept me away from this hallowed ground and your honored presence for far too long.”

“Indeed your presence has been most missed,” Sumari replied perfunctorily.  “Come.  If you wish it, we may talk privately in my study after I call for some tea.”

The king nodded and so she motioned him to ascend the red-stone stairs with her.  They did not speak again until Sumari had led him through the labyrinth of hallways to her private chambers.  After she had sent the chamber slave to the kitchens for herb tea and fruit, Sumari shed her formal headdress and veil with relief.

“Sumari . . . ” the king whispered and pulled her into his arms before she could breathe.

“No, Draigoss!  We mustn’t!” She said, pushing away from him.

“Please, My Pearl, let me hold you a moment for my sagacity’s sake.”

Sumari finally relented and felt the comfort of his strong arms encompass her small body.  He held her protectively, running calloused brown fingers gently through her ebony tresses.

“I missed you so,” she quaked against the dusty robes covering his broad chest.

“I know. . . I missed you, too,” he whispered before kissing her forehead.  They stood there embracing until the scratch of scales against stone alerted them that the chamber slave had returned with their tea.  By the time the slave had opened the door, the monarch and priestess were comfortably seated on opposite divans and engaged in a spirited conversation about state politics.

“Thank you, Mynza,” Sumari said when the female had poured cups for Draigoss and herself.  She dismissed the female who bowed and slithered out of the room.

The priestess signaled to Draigoss in formal hand-sign language: “No doubt she’ll have her ear pinned against the door.”

“Indeed,” he signed back to her.

“Mynza!” The priestess called more loudly than necessary.

The young female lurched through the door looking abashed.

“Summon Kaa, please.  You will find him either overseeing the preparations of the east wing bedchambers or at prayer.  You will wait until he is finished with his tasks and then bring him to me.”

Mynza looked disappointed but affirmed her instructions and left.

“Nicely done,” Draigoss murmured.

Sumari smiled then became serious.  “All right, Draigoss, I know this isn’t a purely social visit.  What has happened to make you travel such a distance?”

The king nodded grimly.  “An alarming report has reached me that certain members of the priesthood plan to foil the Conversion Ceremony and possibly assassinate whomever you pick as successor.”

Sumari sat up and sighed.  “And Makili is among the conspirators.”

“How did you know?”

“I have my sources too, Draigoss.”  Sumari’s eyes narrowed dangerously.  “They must think that I will appoint a woman to succeed me.”

“Precisely.  You have made many enemies during your decade-long reign as Aa’s most faithful servant.  Many of the priests believe that the leadership of Aamanru Temple and the surrounding oasis of Daku is better left in male control.”

“It is not their decision!” the priestess growled.  “It’s not even my decision!  Aa chooses whom he wishes to serve him however he sees fit.  I have no more control over that than Makili or his cohorts.”

“I know, Pearl, I know.”

Sumari rose and began to pace the room.  “The time of decision draws near; in four days I must go into seclusion and commune with Aa during Solitude.  Hopefully, he will have the answers that I seek and offer us protection against those who would betray our faith.”

“I hope so. . . for all of our sakes. . . ”  Draigoss sniffed his tea critically.  “Do you not have something besides rooibos?  I could do with a good stout black tea.”

Sumari smiled at the familiar complaint.  “You know other tea plants cannot grow in our soils.  It is rooibos or nothing.”

Draigoss made a face and then downed his cup’s steaming contents in three gulps before starting to sate his appetite with the tray of fruit.  Sumari sat again and shared the plate with him, content to avoid discussing religious politics for the present.  She must deal with such unpleasant matters too soon anyway.


You can read the rest of the short story for FREE by signing up HERE. You can find out more about the publisher Hadley Rille Books HERE. You can buy the full Ruins Metropolis short story collection HERE.

P.S.-I will try to have the “Sumari’s Solitude” story cover up for sale on the photography website by the end of the week. Look for my announcement about it on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks!

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: Updates of Musings and Dryads

TNT_Shield_Logo_6-ACThe past several weeks have been an odd tumult of activity for me. I spent two weeks in Lubbock, Texas, visiting my parents and getting repairs finished on my husband’s car. During that time, I worked feverishly on several short stories. I did massive edits of an old story manuscript to rework it into the “Of Kelpie Lullabies” short story, which I introduced to you last week. I also refined several poems for the Musings book and continued writing the rough draft of the story “Elza and Eliza”.

“Elza and Eliza” is a very special piece to me because its events happen in the same world of Sylvaeleth where my books Skinshifter and Dreamdrifter take place. The tale itself actually occurs prior to the events of the Metamorphosis series books. The story deals with two dryad sisters who must undertake their Initiation Quest to prove their courage and right to womanhood. When war breaks out; however, their simple journey becomes a fight for survival. I have been working on “Elza and Eliza” since early April in between my recent graphic design projects of the West of the Pecos Rodeo’s program and Total Nerd Takeover’s logo (shown above). The story’s rough draft is currently about 10,000 words long and still growing. I expect it to be a proper novelette length of about 15,000 words when I finish it.

Thus far, Musings includes seven stories: “Banner Prophesies”, “Chosen Sacrifice”, “Elza and Eliza”, “Of Kelpie Lullabies”, “Song for Naia”, “Star Child and the Golden Seed”, and “Sumari’s Solitude”. I am still debating whether I should include my recently-published “Raven’s Fall” short story or my in-progress “Zoo Trips” story. Other possible stories include “Seedling”, “Orb Song”, and “Space Junkers”. I also have several poems and visual art pieces that I would like to include in the Musings story collection to add theme continuity to the book. Given the long length of some of these stories and the various themes and topics they cover, I may need to release two story collections instead of one. That, of course, is an editorial decision best left for later. For now, I will do what I do best: keep writing.

As a bonus for today’s blog post, I am dredging up a fun feature of the old Ink Blots and Tea Stains blog: the mythical creature profile. Since I mentioned dryads early, I thought I should present a creature profile specifically about them. Enjoy!

Creature Profile: Dryad

In Mythology:

Dryads, also known as hamadryads, are a type of nymph or female nature spirit. Found most often in Greek mythology, these shy spirits usually preside over groves of trees or entire forests. Usually a dryad will stand as guardian over a specific tree (usually an oak tree). She either lives in that tree or close to it. The lives of the dryads are directly connected with those of their specific trees. This means that when the tree dies, its guardian dryad also dies. According to lore, dryads usually looked like beautiful young women. Sometimes these spirits are portrayed as having light green skin and bright red, curly hair. Other times their skin appears more wooden with leaf-like hair.

In my stories:

In my fantasy world of Sylvaeleth, a dryad is a female being descended from the Nymph and the Hippocampus. Dryads look similar to humans, but have green skin, oak leaf shaped ears and red or auburn hair which resembles trailing vines. Dryads are excellent warriors and hunters, but generally prefer vegetarian diets and livelihoods built around crop-growing and art. Dryads hate fire due to its damaging effect on plants and have therefore always had an uneasy relationship with fireforger mages. When dryads seek a lifemate, they usually court and marry elves, but can marry males from other races. Any female offspring of a dryad will be dryads themselves and will leave the family unit at the age of 12 to live and work within a clan of the dryad sisterhood until they themselves marry and produce young. Most dryads will outlive their lifemates and will therefore rejoin the sisterhood soon after their lifemate’s death. Dryads are bonded to a specific tree at the time of their births and stand as fierce protectors of their trees. They have the ability to merge into the trunk of their bonded tree to rest or heal an injury. When dryads journey, they always carry a special fagot of twigs, roots, and leaves from their tree with them. This sacred fagot helps them heal from any injuries during the journey. As long as a Sylvaeleth dryad’s tree lives, she will live. If her tree dies, the dryad will die. Dryad mages are usually sproutsingers. Turned dryads are called hags.

In other stories:

One of the more famous depictions of dryads of modern literature, Ce’Nedra (or X’Nedra), comes from the Belgariad and Malloreon book series by David Eddings. Ce’Nedra is a half-dryad, half-human character beloved by fans of the series for her fierce love and loyalty and her adventurous spirit.


My work:

The Belgariad series by David Eddings:

The Mallorean series by David Eddings:

Encyclopedia Mythica:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary:


The Seared Cookie Report: an Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, email it to me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: Blog Consolidation and Website Insanity!

LadysSlipperOrchidAC4x6Many things are happening at once. AggieCon 44 is in two weeks (March 22-24) and not only I have been invited to share my artwork as part of the event’s art show, but I was also asked to participate in the Iron Artist speaker panel. While readying multiple pieces of artwork for the event, I continue creating content for the Musings anthology, Dreamdrifter novel, and website. In addition to these tasks, I have been hired as a consultant on the Total Nerd Takeover (TNT) podcasting project and the 2013 West of the Pecos Rodeo show program. I am busy, to say the least. Hopefully by the end of the month, I will have all my ducks in a row and will finally be able to announce an official release date for Musings.

Some of you are probably wondering why I have decided to switch websites from to my new site after working with the former site for only a few months. The answer is threefold: money, site flexibility, and marketability. I discovered very quickly that using WordPress would be far more cost-effective than continuing my old sites and, which are both powered through Weebly. While Weebly’s website building system is very simple and user-friendly, it lacks some of the customization features that I now prize in a website creator. Also the name of itself is harder to market than the slightly simpler The scant month that I have been working on this website, I have already seen better search engine results for the new website than for the old website and this encourages me that I made the right decision to move hosts and change domain names.

Since I have moved websites, I have decided to consolidate all of my trickling blogs: “Odds and Ends”, “Flashes of Perspective”, and “Ink Blots and Tea Stains” into one steady information stream, I think it is only fair that I give my entire collection of entries one cohesive name. So here it is: the Seared Cookie Report: one Artist-Writer’s Labored Soliloquy or SCRAWLS for short.

I chose this nomenclature as a play on both of my two pen-names: Alycia Christine Sears and Alycia C. Cooke. I believe the blog name and its acronym fit the duality of my life very well. As a photographer and a doodler, I am an artist. Yet as an author of fiction and nonfiction, I am a writer. Likewise the word “scrawls” acronym could refer to my drawings or my writings.

One of the unique features of is that I now have the ability to create a wider variety of sub-pages. This exciting fact has led me to create special pages for the books Skinshifter and Dreamdrifter. Not only will these dedicated book pages hold synopsis and story tidbits, but I also hope to link illustrated maps, full casts of characters, and a mini-dictionary of special terms to these pages. My goal with all of this work is to make sure that when the series is published, readers have a great place to go for extra information about the worlds described in these novels.

Over the next few months, I will be adding as many sketches, graphics, photos, and other pieces of art work to the website in as many different areas as I can. I want to make the site as welcoming and vibrant to viewers as possible, so if you have any suggestions please tell me.

In the end, I hope to design a virtual space dedicated to people who love art, seek truth, and are passionate about all things fantastical. I long to use my work to help inspire and encourage each of you throughout all of life’s extremes.

Thank you so much for dropping in and, as always, please visit with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and GoodReads anytime.

Enjoy and welcome to!

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist-Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, email it to me. Thanks!

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