Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Tag: words

What’s the Best Weapon against Writer’s Block? Find Out Now!

Rivulets_AC4x6Sometimes writing isn’t fun; sometimes it’s a real chore. I guarantee that you’ll have to trudge through episodes of writer’s block just as much as you’ll skip past easily-crafted scenes. But never fear because we authors have a few weapons in our arsenal to help us break down those ugly creative barriers to get to the beautiful prose on the other side.

One of my favorite personal siege engines against writer’s block is research. Now calm down before your collective groans start drowning out my sentences. Research can actually be a ton of fun because it helps satisfy our natural curiosity as human beings. The other reason research is fun is because it makes our jobs as writers much, much easier.

Imagine this: you are writing a scene where two characters are eating in the middle of a deli-style café, but you’ve never actually set foot inside a deli. It’s going to be very difficult to accurately describe what’s going on around your characters or even what they’re eating if you have no experience in a similar sort of setting, isn’t it?

We writers have words as our only essential tools for building a story, so we must describe everything to our readers. That is extremely difficult to do if we don’t understand how something works or the way an object or person looks. This is why research is so essential to writing and why it becomes one of our most important weapons against writer’s block.

There are essentially two types of research. One is what I call focused research and the other is called ambient research. Ambient research is a type of research that most people don’t even know they are doing when they do it. Ambient research usually happens while writers learn something new about a subject while they are doing something unrelated to an actual focused study of that subject. This could be anything from learning a piece of trivia while playing a game or experiencing a new place for the first time while on a vacation. Ambient research is very different from focused research.

When most people hear the word “research”, they immediately think of hours spent studying dusty volumes in the stacks of a local library. Library reading is part of what I call focused research and it is quite useful when authors need to answer specific questions in their writing. However, focused research is much more than simply wading through library bookshelves. Focused research also means that an author might need to interview a key expert in a particular field or participate in a certain activity in order to “really get a feel” for a specific aspect of his or her story such as its plot, setting, or characters. While focused research seems to happen more often for nonfiction writers, I promise that fiction writers will find it just as useful no matter their genre.

We’ll use me for an example dealing with the two types of research since I am an easy target. Like any good author, I write what I love. I am a fantasy author and I also love watching movies and reading books in the fantasy genre. I learn a lot from fellow speculative fiction authors, but I principally read their stuff because it’s highly entertaining. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s say that while I’m watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie for the thousandth time that I suddenly become interested in reading more about pirates. I pick up Tim Powers’ book On Stranger Tides, which loosely inspired a couple parts of the movie. After I read that book, I go on to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes novel because I’m still interested in reading more stories about 18th Century buccaneers—both real and fictitious. This is called ambient research because I have learned more about a particular subject through various forms of entertainment without doing a serious study of it. Some of what I have learned will be inaccurate because the information that I learned came from entertainers instead of scholars; however, some of my new knowledge—like the basic parts of a ship—will be accurate. However, if I suddenly decide that I want a deeper knowledge of the actual pirates who lived in the 1700s, my interest is now intently focused and so my research will be specifically directed toward nonfiction sources such as The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard with the specific goal of gaining a deep understanding of my subject. Hence my research will become focused research.

Because I write what I love, I don’t mind doing research of either type because the research that I do—whether ambient or focused—is about subjects that I find genuinely fascinating in the first place. I often like to approach writing a specific story by reading fiction and nonfiction books of a similar nature or subject-matter before, during, and after the writing process. This constant flow of focused research, ambient research, and general inspiration helps me more easily work around those writer’s blocks caused by a lack of knowledge. I also love to use photographs from my and other people’s travels as a guide to help me describe certain scenes more easily. I use focused research in the form of personal experience, expert interviews, scientific journals, and full-on, library-haunting study sessions for those more persistent blockades.

Whatever research you do, please remember that the key to getting the most out of research is to always make sure your stories reflect your personal interests. Making your stories personal and your subject matters interesting will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are written accurately. Accurate research is one of the best ways to create high quality writing that readers adore, so make it count. Your readers will pay attention to your story’s details and they will complain when something is incorrect. The last thing you want is to be remembered as a lazy writer, so get your details right before you share you work with the world.

For instance, if your story is set in downtown Chicago, make sure that you know what downtown Chicago looks, feels, and smells like. If your story is set in early 19th Century Montana where horses were the main form of transportation, then talk to cowboys about how they care for their steeds. Study horse anatomy, western-style riding, and tack terminology. Then give subtle hints of your new-found knowledge to build your story’s accuracy. Even if your characters set foot in a completely imaginary realm, you should do some research to find out what realistic place and time period most closely resemble the fantasy world you are trying to build. Remember, good writing drops the reader smack-dab into the middle of a story’s scene. Good research should do the same for the author.

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


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative 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!

Getting My Marbles in a Row: A Reply to Jonathan Gunson’s Recent Article

Marbled_Patterns-AC4x6I read an article by author Jonathan Gunson last week that was full of great writing advice. If you haven’t read it and you are an aspiring author, I highly recommend doing so now. The link is: Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here for you while you read.

In pondering Gunson’s questions, I myself had to give some serious thought as to my maturity as a writer and how my personal practices will likely determine my success. I have listed my direct answers to Gunson’s queries below for you to read:

While do I some editing while I write, my main frustration is keeping a set schedule. Since my main line of work is shooting art photograph for use in decorating people’s homes and offices, my schedule is somewhat flexible but it’s also very chaotic. This year I finally made a resolution to write a minimum of 300 words a weekday and to write those words early in the morning before anything else (like a beautiful sunrise) has the chance to distract me. Consistently sticking to that goal has been difficult, but I now average writing three times a week instead of last year’s once-a-week routine. I’ve also managed to double my overall weekly word count, so I’m a very happy camper.

As to the rest of the questions…

I write from my soul. It’s nerve-wracking to do that because I do care very deeply what others think. However, I care more about how I feel at the end of the day than I do what others say. Am I truly happy with the words that I’ve crafted or am I missing that deep connection to my characters and my story that I so love?

I adore writing fantasy fiction because stories of magic and mystery were what inspired my passion for reading in the first place. It is my greatest hope that I can share that joy with other readers like myself.

I have only one book published now: a short story collection entitled Musings. I don’t expect the book to be a best-seller right off the bat, but I do hope readers enjoy it and that it helps them get to know me as a writer.

I have two high fantasy novels undergoing edits as we speak. I don’t believe in publishing any work—whether it’s independently-published or traditionally-published—without a good editor’s stamp of approval. When prose is properly polished, readers can lose themselves in a good tale without having to worry about petty grammatical distractions disrupting the magic.

Thank you, Jonathan, for the inspiring post!

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


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative 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!

“Thorn Smirked at His Attacker…” A Swashbuckling Excerpt from Thorn and Thistle

Jolly_Rogger_BW-4x6I can’t believe it’s already July! With all of the work to get Musings into the hands of readers on June 20, I’ve barely noticed the past six months vanish. All that being said, I look forward to slowing down a little and writing some more fiction for you guys.

Right now, I’m working on a fantasy adventure set on the high seas that is sure to be a fun read (since it has been a blast to write). The tale is tentatively titled Thorn and Thistle. So far, I have just over 13,000 words written on the novella’s rough draft with ship wrecks, sword fights, shark attacks, and more already packed into the manuscript. I expect to finish the story somewhere around 20,000 words before doing some serious polishing, but we’ll see. I’ve never been very good at estimating story lengths. In my progress report blog a couple weeks ago, I thought that Thorn and Thistle would finish around 12,500 words. I blew past that marker yesterday with no end to the action yet in sight. I’m really grateful for that miscalculation because it means that I get to explore these characters and their world in far more depth. In any event, I hope you enjoy this introduction to Thorn and Thistle’s main character Captain Thornton Tobias Tarok, one of the most successful and fearless privateers to ever sail the Jewel Sea.

Thorn smirked at his attacker, which was not a comfortable thing to do with a split lip. “Really? That was your best?”

The Ashara mercenary growled and charged again with his drawn saber. Thorn pulled out the two extra blades hidden up his sleeves to replace the short sword lost moments ago and continued his grim work. The right dagger blade ripped through both shirt linen and skin as it deflected the opponent’s thrust. The mercenary screamed at the loss of a finger, but Thorn was quick to silence him with a left-handed knife strike to the throat. The gurgling man fell back onto the crimson cobblestones even as his opponent retrieved his own sword.

Thorn quickly dug through the dead man’s clothes and rescued a fat coin purse and two well-balanced throwing knives from his assailant’s robe pockets. He checked the other two dead mercenaries’ bodies as well before slipping stealthily from the street. It was a shame to leave the men’s beautiful sabers behind, but there would be no easy way to carry them and his own blades without looking even more conspicuous than he already did. Ah well, hopefully the beggars would find them before the City Watch did, and thus change their poor fortune. Swords like those would easily trade for a month’s worth of choice meat!

As Captain Thornton Tobias Tarok turned down a third alleyway, he stopped to splash water from a rain barrel on his bloody and mud-smeared face and clothes. He looked irritably at the tattered, blood-spattered sleeves of his silk shirt and sighed. “Yet another shirt to be tossed in the canal. That makes three. Where are these maoi-sug bounty hunters coming from?”

“You’re late,” a quiet voice said.

Thorn jumped and then glowered at the shadows to his left. “How can I be punctual when you choose to be early, Ebenezer?”

The gray-haired wizard motioned the younger man to his side. “Emperor Sung raised the bounty; he now offers 20 rubes for your head on a pike.”

The captain hefted the mercenary’s bulging coin purse in his hand. “How thoughtful of him! He must have known I was feeling unimportant,” he mocked.

“Be careful, Sea Wolf; he will start sending Ashara hunting parties after you next.”

“And what makes you think he didn’t already?” Thorn asked sourly, looking down at his ruined raiment.

“How did you escape then?”

“A couple of concealment magic tricks you once showed me took care of the first. Snapdragon powder got the second and a knife to the singer dropped the third. Look, can we talk in a cozier spot? The Panthea City Watch will notice those bodies at any moment and I don’t fancy being around when they start asking pointed questions.”

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


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative 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!

More Dental Work and a Dose of Sunset Therapy

Winter_Flower_Silhouettes-AC4x6Ever have one of those weeks in which everything actually goes absolutely right? That, thankfully, was my week last week. To say that I was pleasantly shocked is an understatement. In fact, I still haven’t ceased smiling.

The happiness began on Monday when I was able to do a beautiful sunrise photo shoot for a client. Despite the temperature being about 35 degrees Fahrenheit, I managed to get a batch of 25 good photos of an oil field work camp uploaded for the client’s review. I still have more to do to finish the project, but I’m very happy with my work so far. After I got back to the office and thawed out a bit from the cold, I continued to organize the contents for Musings in preparation for the manuscript’s critique by my editor. I also called the dental specialist that my husband was scheduled to see in late February. When I asked if there was any way to move his appointment up since he was in so much pain, the assistant said that she had just had a cancellation for Wednesday morning and asked if he could come at 8 a.m. My answer was “Absolutely!”

On Tuesday, I successfully wrote and posted my “Angling Your Perspective” Flashes of Perspective photography lesson and then began processing all of the best photos from the shoot on Monday. Tuesday also caught me pondering some of the advice some of my friends had given me the night before during dinner. They had counseled me not allow myself to draw away from others in the midst of my sorrow and that advice really made sense. Sadness often makes me feel like I’m alone in the world and that no one really understands what I’m feeling. In the midst of my grief, I had forgotten how many other people know my pain. No, not everyone in the world knows what it’s like to cope with having a best friend made an invalid by brain trauma, but all of us will experience the death of someone we love sometime in our lifetimes: friends, parents, grandparents, uncles, sisters, spouses, and more. When I’m reminded of the simple fact that everyone knows at least a little of my pain, it helps me straighten out my own jumbled feelings so that I can encourage others as they deal with their own grief. After all, we have to deal with the problems caused by this broken world, so we might as well walk through life together.

Wednesday dawned at 5:30 a.m. as Matt and I woke up, dressed, and drove to Odessa for his dental appointment. When we left the dentist’s office around 10 a.m., my husband was already feeling far better than he had in three weeks. This fact cheered me up more than any other thing. Three hours later we were home with medicine, groceries, and Chinese take-out. I was able to get a little writing done that afternoon before Bible study. After church, the evening included a quiet dinner, TV watching, and book reading.

On Thursday and Friday, I finished processing and uploading Monday’s best photos for my clients and writing over 2000 words on my novel Dreamdrifter. I also completed reading of Lisa Shearin’s highly entertaining book The Grendel Affair: A SPI Files Novel and playing a little Minecraft. I was so proud that I finally found a believable way to get my book’s characters out of the oubliette-style dungeon where they were trapped. To add to my overall excitement, I finally managed to finish weaving a couple of loose plot strands back into the main storyline!

I ended the week with a magnificent sunset shoot of the wild scrub-brush country a few miles south of the tiny town of Toyah, Texas. Sunsets are some of Bekah’s and my favorite things to watch, so photographing Saturday’s fiery sky proved quite therapeutic despite all the hard work it took for me to do the shoot. The photo at the beginning of this post is from that session. I captured the photo while teetering on a boulder halfway down a grassy embankment. Even with the cool breeze, I was sweating by the time I was in the right position for this specific shot. I didn’t mind though. The beauty in quiet moments is always worth the effort needed to achieve them.

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!

Getting Dirty at Home

This is the weekend for dirty thoughts…well, okay not just dirty thoughts, but dirty deeds and even a few choice dirty words. As I mentioned in my last entry, we have several projects to accomplish before we can actually make mainly our newly-purchased house our home. More than anything the house needs deep cleaning as it was home to smokers before we found it.

I will give only one cautionary word to smokers. Quit! The walls, floors, and ceilings of this house are coated with a greasy yellow residue and if it’s this bad in a building, I don’t even want to think about the toxic layers in a person’s lungs. Interestingly, we met the sellers during closing and I have never seen a more prune-like pair of people. Talk about premature aging! I could tell that they had smoked religiously for years because they both looked like they were in their 100s instead of in their 60s! But I digress.

In any event, since my husband and I cannot stand the house’s current stench, we called the professionals to help us clean up. I am happy to report that the house’s deplorable smoke/nicotine stench was dramatically reduced by Blackman-Mooring’s cleaning of the air ducts. I also highly recommend the use of an ozone production machine to anyone needing to de-fume a building (provided you can forbid access to the place during the machine’s use).

Once B-M finished the preliminary cleaning, my husband and I vowed to scrape the ceilings and re-paint every inch of interior to obliterate the last vestiges of cigarette stench. Since my parents were gracious enough to offer their assistance this weekend, the four of us tackled the house together.

Saturday meant that Dad and Matt lived on ladders and Mom and I stayed on our knees. The men scraped blackened popcorn from the once white ceilings while the women wiped down the walls with a bleach compound to remove the smoker stains. The day’s end found the dining room, kitchen, living room, laundry room and office all with scraped ceilings. Meanwhile the walls of the dining room, living room, and laundry room were all washed by quitting time plus most of the master bath’s wallpaper had been removed.

We were very tired when dinner finally happened, but also very proud of ourselves. Sunday will be more of the same work. Hopefully all ceilings will be scraped and all walls will be washed by sundown. And then patching, priming and painting must begin.

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