Episode 63: Delilah S. Dawson

Photo by Shane LeonardI am excited to share this week’s episode with you. Delilah is one of my favorite author’s to read  and it was a blast chatting with her!

Delilah S. Dawson is the New York Times bestselling writer of Star Wars: PHASMA, Servants of the Storm, the HIT series, Wake of Vultures and the Shadow series (as Lila Bowen), and many others. She has written a variety of short stories and comics. Delilah is on the show talking her books and comics, inspiration, and a love of Star Wars. She goes into what it’s like writing Rhett Walker of her Shadow series, and the history of other characters. Delilah also talks her journey to writing comics.
Find more about Delilah: https://www.whimsydark.com/

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characters and their insides

Character, something we can have and what we are as individuals. Some more than others. The quirky, witty sidekick softens the hard front-runner. The insecure and flawed villain makes us do more than simply hate them. The smiling stranger somehow soothes the rush of grocery store anger. Creating a character that thinks and feels and bleeds and grows, is an exercise in sleepless obsession.

And so the frenetic spiral of passion and creating begins. The hero. The villain. The conflict. The quest. These early stages of story building are some of my most favorite aspects of the whole deal and the first for me to become familiar with on my writing journey. The spark of a personality, the lines of the face. Knowing what ideas to take further isn’t always clear, and if it becomes so, it is usually after sitting down and writing it at least once. Every word written is a lot like a pebble tossed into a pond. Ripples form, they glide into others and create something brand new. Words help find ideas. Anything can slip out if you just write.

This is hard for me. My brain likes to collect every possibility and burden and task item and try to think about it all it once. My chest tightens, and I am far from a creative place. I’m learning to get into a rhythm and when to listen to the change needed. Writing and living life as a writer is in itself a living organization. Something that changes and morphs and grows. Knowing this and accepting, helps everything.

Writing full-time isn’t how I imagined when I was a kid and proclaimed to be a great author someday. Some moments are dull and frustrating; some even feel pointless.

Scene:

Dogs huddle near my side asking for their walk. Laundry piles build walls, locking us into my home office. My fingers idle above the keys. Notebooks are open. Ideas aren’t coming, and I question all my life decisions up to that point.

A similar scene:

A great, long walk with the dogs. Laundry all folded and where it belongs. Ideas are flowing, slow and steady. I’m having fun.

The main difference between the two here is perspective. Perspective is powerful. It alters the story, the taste, the sheen.

Is anyone going to figure out what’s wrong with a character arc if all they are doing is telling themselves that they can’t? (Yes, I’m talking about myself last week.)

The answer is no.

I made a lot of missteps on this draft, and once they are pointed out, they scream. It took a minute for me to digest the issues, find them, and now I’m piecing together how to fix it. Word by word, I’m mending and tightening and all the good stuff.

There is no reason why this shouldn’t be fun. The fine-tuning of fantasy world can be like ripping your hair out with hot tweezers, or it can be like riding bareback on a unicorn through a forest of talking trees. Fun and wonder can be found everywhere. That’s why I love reading and writing.

I get caught up in cycles where I fret and worry too much about the outcome and clean floors and forget how to enjoy. I think focusing on the good is something we can all do more. Not just writers or artists, but people, us humans. Having our backs isn’t us fooling ourselves.

There is so much upheaval and reaction. Slowing down and take a whiff of our surroundings helps. I’m talking to myself and to you and possibly to the angry dude with the ignorant sign by the baseball stadium. Self-awareness is an important tool. We should all use it.

Perhaps I went off the path a bit, but I don’t think so. The character’s path isn’t a clear, straight shot. Remember that as a writer and as a human. I have to. Complexity and twists out of our control. Emotions and logic. These are natural occurrences and ones that generate conflict. A sum up of that I am saying?

Have fun writing characters and the world that they live in—both in the fictional world and the real one.

My Mother’s Whispers

We are over a week into the new year, and I’ve come to the same conclusion I come to every January. Life is life. Change is unavoidable but is gradual. Goals are important. Self-awareness is key to not being an asshat. There is no magic switch.

I’m not a huge adopter of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t like putting pressure on a day due the significance tangled up with the date. I used to be a crappy, angry kid and I’ve grown into a pretty okay adult (though I have trouble coming to terms that I am one). I’ve watched people change for the worse and the better and not at all. I wouldn’t say I’m jaded, but my expectations of people stays very aware that we are all animals with instincts. It’s not always pretty.

All that being said, I decided that for 2017 I have a true New Year’s resolution for the first time kinda ever. I’m gonna stop beating myself up with words my mother used when I was a kid.

Words are powerful. They hold different meaning to everyone who hears them and lingers in the shadows. They leave bruises no-one can see. They build worlds and heroes. Words don’t go away without being digested. The past is an odd, nagging element that is significant because we wouldn’t be who we are without it. I have written before on Feminine Collective about how part of excepting myself can’t be done without excepting the parts of me that are like my mother. Regardless of the whole mess of her storm, she was my mother. I learned from her. What to do. What not to do.

Habits are tricky little buggers, especially when they are bad ones. They are like vampires. Once you let them in, they suck your blood. Nasty habits can be dormant or active but are always waiting. I was verbally abused as a child as far back as I can remember. Anytime something good happened to me she’d turn it around. I can’t even count how many times my mother spent my birthday locked in her room crying. She let all her words and unhappiness fire at me. Just when I think I’ve shaken off the urge to think the things she used to say to me, it’s back, and I don’t even see it.

As you know, I’ve been busting my ass building a writing career. It’s part of the path. If it weren’t easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m close, and I can feel it. I’m pitching. I’m making mistakes. I’m learning. I’m getting better at the craft. At this huge transitional period, the frequencies are high, and my vulnerability is maxed out. What I’m doing? I’m beating the crap out of myself with things she used to say, instead of building myself up. Anytime I have something positive to say to myself there is a small voice saying the opposite.

I don’t have a solid plan of attack except that I need to curb the habit. Being aware is the first step. I want to have my back. I want to say “Good job Jayme,” without feeling like I’m lying to myself. Like with anything, there are good days and bad. Making mistakes doesn’t make me a bad person or hopeless, it makes me human. Without mistakes, there are no learned lessons.

Notebook in hand, it’s a new year

Well, I’m back in my real life. Holiday break is over. I dropped the kids off this morning missing the preschool days where I was their main gig for the first time in a long time. This feels like a good thing. The first few days off I had trouble letting go of plots and pitch letters. In the final days of my time off, my anxiety about getting back to it started to build. I was scared of facing responses to what I’ve pitched (short and long works) and was terrified of what I’d write next.

I woke up this morning at six before the house started to stir, got my coffee, and grabbed The Lord of the Rings (a book I can’t even count how many times I’ve read. Sometimes I just have to dive in again and get lost.) I took my time this morning getting back to my chair in my office in the back corner of my basement. As soon as I stepped into the bird-covered walls, I made a playlist on Spotify of kick-ass female music while I wrote down my goals and deadlines for January.

Now my mind starts to fill with inspiration, and I gear up to edit a short story I wrote before the break. My dogs sleep by my feet. I’m feeling good. It’s nice to be back. I guess this is part of being a writer (especially earlier in the career), but sometimes I spend time trying to convince myself I’m not a writer. My inner critic tell me to do something else. But, here I am in my chair with fingers slamming against the keys of my Macbook and I feel like I’m exactly where I should be.

Life is weird. I feel strange about everything most of the time. But, I’m lucky to have an amazing family I helped build and to love what I do for a living, even if it makes me feel anxious, vulnerable, and sometimes terrible.

Happy New Year all!

-J

Life, it keeps going

The kids are at their last of school before holiday break. I have turkey broth simmering on the stove. I’m sitting in my quiet living room beside the Christmas tree, attempting to find peace. I want to enjoy the holidays and make the most of them, but I need to get my head right. In truth, lately, I’ve been feeling kinda lost.

As I wait to hear word from agents about the dystopian novel I spent the last six years obsessing over I’m trying to focus on other things mostly unsuccessfully. Not only am I pitching one book, but I have high hopes of selling the series. I really and truly feel like I’ve put my best foot forward. It’s been professionally edited. The query is tight and the agents I’ve reached out I really researched. Waiting is harder than I expected. I’m finding it hard to focus on much, but I’m making myself write because if I don’t, my mind will implode. I find myself unable to sleep after waking from stressful dreams about simultaneously getting rejection letters and being chased by zombies. They always catch me.

Short fiction is helping. I’ve been able to get a decent string of solid stories out as I spin about the future of my series and plan a stand alone  book. One night while I was staring at the wind-buckling trees I asked myself, “What do I do if this doesn’t work?” This is when my mind lets in the idea of becoming a certified dog trainer again, but then I tell myself, “No you are a writer, and you have made the decision to pursue a full-time career in storytelling.”

I feel like a fake adult.

If I shut my inner-doubt down and really pay attention, I can see and feel how close I am. It’s been an uphill battle of discipline and the feeling like I’m wasting my time, but I am close. There is this weird thing that happens anytime I send positive vibes my own way. A part of me always wants to swat the self-boost away.  I’m not sure what this is, but my inner-doubt is one of the hardest things I have to manage. I think about that scene in Erin Brockovich when Julie Roberts yells, “I’ve taken time away from my kids. If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is.” I spend about 8-10 hours a day writing, networking, and cobbling this career together. Somedays I feel like I’m awesome and others, well like I’m living in a dream world reaching for impossible goals.

Writing all this down helps, just I I thought it would. I’m not gonna hear anything until after the holidays. I need just to put it out of my mind and enjoy the holidays. There will be a lot of down time moments where I can work through the concepts I have for my next book because right now I only have annoying fragments of things that don’t make very much sense, but that’s how it all starts out doesn’t it?

Writing, worry, and focus

I’m sure that I’m in a dramatic state of mind when I say this, but, I’m all out of sorts. Like, really, really in a mood. I have been in one since Monday. It’s the first week back to work (after one off) since I submitted the dystopian to several carefully selected agents. I can’t seem to climb out of this funk and focus on anything for very long. I gotta say I wasn’t expecting this. Just like every other part of this project these feelings are new to me. My over anxious, fiction-swallowed brain wonders what this means. It’s not my lack of confidence in the work itself or how I presented it. I feel good about both of those things. So, what’s my problem?

Writing that down led me to this answer: I’m burned out.

I burned myself out, and I’m still recovering. Sure, the unknown of what’s ahead is certainly eating at my feet, but that’s not the only thing going on. I pulled something crazy off, and now I’m paying for it. I suppose that means I will be slowly getting back into the groove of things. Perhaps leaning into this rather than fighter it would allow me to unclench my shoulders. After writing solely one story for so long, spreading back into multiple projects (nonfiction work included) feels strange.

Creating a world and spending time not only inside of it but obsessing over each detail fitting into place was fun. If I’m being honest, some of the most fun I’ve had. What I experienced with the book I just finished is something I’ve always fantasized about. Perhaps some of what is going on is that I actually miss the world I created. Does that sound completely crazy? Maybe, but I run that risk every time I open my mouth.

I’ve been cleaning and organizing my house. I’m in no way naturally domestic. I’m just so damn anxious, and cleaning helps. Also baking.

Again, I know I’m being dramatic, but I feel lost this week. I have a pile of work, but I can’t stop vacuuming or putting things in themed baskets. Waiting is part of it. I’ve got to find a middle ground, perhaps have more patience with myself. It’s hard to feel like I’ve accomplished anything when nothing is final yet. Again, part of the gig, I know. I just have to suck it up. Christmas is around the corner, and I need to sell more articles, so I have to find a way to ease my mind where it needs to go. Maybe whisper to myself, “Don’t worry, it will happen.” Who knows?
So basically, I’m just whining here right now, feeling sorry for myself when nothing at all is going wrong. But, my mind does feel clearer so for that thank you.

Lost in Fiction: writing months away

I’ve been lost in a hole. Not a dark, unforgiving one. Something more along the lines of a rabbit hole. I wasn’t in Wonderland. A dark, dystopian world of my creation has had me wandering around. I’ve lost a few months in the best kinda of way. Parts have been pieces I’ve been writing for years, that haven’t quite worked and parts are concepts I’ve always longed for when I reach for something in the dystopian genre. I’m really excited about it.

If you write or are plagued with a need to create in any way you might know what I mean when I say, “Ideas are priceless. The loss of them is terrifying.” There is nothing like getting a burst of inspiration. A clear picture. I love those random moments where I’m vacuuming or showering and an idea that feels like I’ve been waiting my whole life for appears. Crystal clear images. Pieces of me and pieces of something I’ve never known. There is a beauty in it that I love, something I crave. Perhaps even at times, my obsession with getting and growing concepts gets unhealthy. Maybe that fact that it’s something always on my mind, makes me impractical or selfish. Selfish, now I’ve hit on a note. I feel so selfish sometimes. One of my favorite things in the world to do is spend endless hours writing away while I listen to music too loud. It’s amazing, but it’s just for me. Sure, someday people will read it and hopefully get something from it, but I do it just for me. I do it because I have to.

Getting lost in a story is something I’ve always clung to, something that made it possible to survive my dysfunctional childhood. Magic friends in cupboards. The fountain of youth. A beautiful friendship with a sad ending. Magical creatures that teach very needed lessons. Antiheroes on the road to redemption. Heroes in books are something that has gotten me through so much. Creating them is something I must do, so I do. I’m so thankful for my partner in life and our child that support me as I chase my dreams, while I’m distracted, while I’m unworthy. They say they don’t see it, but it’s hard not to feel bad when I’ve done nothing for hours but create made up stories. It’s my job, it’s what I’m hanging my hat on, but it feels strange.

I’m so close to something I’ve been working so hard on for so long. I can’t wait and I can. I comb over lines searching for ways to make each word be the best it can. I feel sick and alive and hungry.

As my novel enters the editing phase, I have a moment to look around at my surroundings. Halloween has passed. Thanksgiving and family will be here any minute. Add more explanation. Bring the emotion forward as I best I can. Being close to something can make the want of it so loud it’s deafening.

I must look away and just keep my head down. I’m almost there. Names in a line. Eyes waiting. I feel different this time. Writing this draft felt like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Maybe I sound like a naive, lovesick teenager. Perhaps, it’s just like that. Each one is a little better. A passion transforms into a solid concept and then, we have something worth it.

There is something about chance that ignites curiosity in me and sparks a crippling fear. Simultaneously these things come together and bring sharp, angled tracks to the ride that is building a writing career. Part of me wants just to be at a spot that I can feel like I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to, but I am cynical and practical enough to know that once I get to that point, I will be focused on the next thing.

Ivy covered doors. A castle in the clouds. The rolling hills of The Shire. Simple recognition.

Worlds to find. Places to seek. Hearts to break. I’ve been lost in a world in a way I’ve never been. I listened to myself differently that I have in the past. I wasn’t concerned with creating a certain event or trying to find the killer angle. It was the characters that lead me and the world they lived in.

In all honesty, I haven’t done much in the last few months than writing this story. Reality didn’t get as much attention as it should of. Other projects were on hold. As you know, my blog collected dust. But, here I am peeking from the pile of notebooks and many versions of Pages documents. I feel different. A little strange. Ready to pitch. It’s time to close.