Tag Archives: writing

NaNoWriMo 2019: A difficult win

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year, and I found it to be a very rewarding, exciting, and emotional event. I still have the images I snapped of my progress on the website, and I remember fondly the writing friends I made that seemed to fade off and do their own thing into this year.

NaNoWriMo 2019, however, was not the same experience.

Back in October, the new website was launched and there were multitudes of bugs — many that are still prevailing near the end of November. At first, I was disheartened to see that all of my progress on my Camp NaNo projects were at 0 despite finishing them, and nothing seemed to be operating properly with my stats. That wasn’t a big deal, though. Numbers on trackers are just that and in no way a determination of my successes with writing books, but it does tend to put a damper on your spirit.

I was still excited despite all of that. I planned the project that I ended up changing a week later due to my writer brain steering in another direction all of its own accord, and I found myself energized for writing again, my mood was boosted, and everything was falling into place like it had last year.

And then, I screwed up my stats page. Awfully so. I accidentally deleted all of my word counts and progress on my 2019 project due to being half awake and confused at the new stats page layout. There was no way to retroactively date progress either, so I just input my total word count from that day, and I pushed on. Soon, my stats page was looking pretty nice again despite my mess up.

Some friends didn’t take me seriously. A few even became very rude because I chose to dedicate my time to my project. I was yelled at in my own home, and I was spoken to as if I were boosting myself on a pedestal and considered nothing important but my own pursuits, and that I cast everyone and everything aside because I didn’t consider them important. This was furthest from the truth, merely just a judgment placed on me by some who were angry that I finally set boundaries, but it was difficult to deal with mentally. It’s very hard when you’re trying to accomplish something great — writing an entire book that you hope will help in your future writing career. It’s your work. Yet, for some reason, in my case, I was not allowed to do this work without being chastised, being judged, or generally being met with negativity from a select few.  This was in between other interruptions and important appointments I usually have.

It got lonely as much as it got too busy in my life. I tried in vain to post to Twitter to connect with NaNoWriMo writers, and I posted on social media everywhere to try to gather writer and NaNoWriMo friends so we could cheer each other on. I tried to message a friend on the site as a cheerleader for them, but I received no response. To this day, after finishing my feat of ending my first draft of a new novel at just over 52k words, everything is so silent. I don’t have anyone to celebrate with, but I didn’t have anyone to go through the journey with, either.

NaNoWriMo is for ourselves, as writers, to get better at what we do. It doesn’t matter if we have one, several, or no friends cheering us on. In my case, I write because it makes my life complete and it is the best kind of therapy to keep my head out of dark places. It has also, in my experience, been a lonely feat. Even outside of NaNo, my writer friends I’ve made have all slowly drifted off or stopped responding to my messages, or disappeared altogether.

I don’t know how algorithms work to find support. I don’t even know how to properly human to make friends half the time, but even though I may be doing a lot of lamenting, I am happy I finished my book. Even if I am sitting here just watching Youtube all night until my life resumes once more, I accomplished another feat I can wave my little happy flag at.

After all of November, I am left feeling like I just angered people who I care about or came off as a jerk for setting boundaries — for just wanting to work on and finish writing my book. I struggled through all of the challenges this month while trying to keep my friends happy. By talking to them even though I wanted to write, and finally dropping everything to do things for them when they just didn’t want to listen to me. When I wanted to talk about my book, they faded off or just didn’t really respond to it. Although, I have two friends who listened and even helped a few times, and I am grateful for them.

I’m more exhausted this year than I was the last, and yes, I’m happy I finished, but I’m left feeling as if I irritated people this month for simply wanting to do what makes me happy and is important to me.

NaNo 2018: Great.

NaNo 2019: We’ll just sweep this one under the rug.

NaNo 2020: Let’s hope for the best.

Dog Days – original writing


The mug of catnip tea was trembling in his hands, and his black fur bristled beneath his gray sweater as the heavy-voiced pitbull delivered the news. It was as if the TV set was underwater, and everything around him was closing in fast.

A gentle hand on his shoulder ceased the impending doom if only for a moment. He leaned against a broad wolf’s shoulder, his boyfriend’s gray fur ticking his pink nose. “Sorry, Striker.”

“Hey, you’re fine, buddy. Just drink your tea.” The wolf’s soft tone was much more welcome than the sharp delivery invading the dark living room, and Striker found himself thankful for the sudden downpour outside. “I’ll keep you safe. Always. You know that, right, Sam?”

“Thank you. Just… give me a minute. I’m sorry.” The cat sipped his steaming tea and waited for the blanket of calm to wash over him. It was hard to come across catnip in that day and age, but he was thankful to know a few who grew the stuff. It was getting harder and harder to find reputable sources for it anyway, what with the police dogs’ superior sense of smell. They could sense a few plants of catnip from a mile away. Bloodhounds were like that.

“Hey, why don’t we change the channel? I think it’s time for your favorite show, anyway.” Striker fumbled with the chunky remote in his claws before switching to something more cheerful, and a beautiful white cat appeared on the screen. She smiled with a glow that most did not, and she planted herself on a stool where she crossed her legs, her white sundress with palm leaves falling gracefully just above her knees. She pulled out a book and began to read.

It was a rainy night in June when Tabitha fell into her dream. She rarely tripped or stumbled, or waltzed gracefully into it, but released herself into it fully, granting it ownership of her perceived reality. Sometimes she would fall flat or drift gently onto a chaise lounge, and at other times she would be welcomed by semblances of creatures she knew with blank faces, all smiling with whiskers upturned.

Adventurous opossums and bats and platypi greeted her with kinship, and the Dodo once had her over for supper. She’d danced with butterflies and spoken to young foxes, and stargazed with raccoons. She’d seen the future and traipsed through the past, Bastet greeting her with motherly grace. Through all of this, Tabitha knew peace and love, home and comfort, and it was her kind of unreality. It was her homesick and her tears, and her fond memories yet to come.’

Samhain sighed as the catnip calmed his aching muscles and tickled his brain. He’d spent the better part of the day tense and with worry, the sight of Catty on screen bringing him a semblance of home at last. The news had been filled with nothing but bad things, and politics had become more and more unbearable to behold. It was bad enough that he was in hiding with Striker, and Striker knew as well the risks they had to take.

Love did not come easy in those times, and especially not for the others.

Samhain was othered, and Striker was not. It was pure fate that they’d managed to find comfort in each other, and as the bulldog-majority government created more and more restrictions for felines in society, Striker stood by Samhain through all of it. He was as loyal a companion as canines were thought to be. As they were to their own kind and only their kind.

Tears threatened to spill over Samhain’s golden eyes as a poodle stood from the crowd on television. She barked loudly toward the stage and threw a rotten fish that landed directly on the book in Catty’s hands after slapping her in the face. The short-haired cat paid it no mind and brushed it off, and continued reading as if it hadn’t happened at all. The poodle was ushered out of the room, and the cats in the audience began to murmur and growl in displeasure.

Striker grabbed for the remote again. “Hey, we don’t have to keep watching this.”

“No, it’s fine.” Samhain’s claws drifted up to turn the wolf’s face to meet his, and he kissed him softly. “It’s far better than anything else on TV right now, and Catty is so wonderful. Her peace of mind is contagious.”

Striker’s face twisted in sadness as he watched his partner stare glassy-eyed at the TV, the catnip claiming his conscious thoughts. For a moment a great emotion welled up within him, and his heart beat faster behind his red flannel. He turned Samhain to look him in the eyes, his equally as golden. “Sam, are you okay?”

“Of course.” The cat chuckled humorlessly. “I have to be, don’t I?”

The rain outside became a torrent and thunder resounded. Shortly after, the electricity in their small suburban home flickered. Striker paid it no mind as his ears drooped. “No, you don’t have to be. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes.”

Samhain paused and inhaled deeply. His catnip tea was nearly gone. He turned his head to stare at the TV again, Catty having once more continued with the poetic journey of Tabitha the Persian cat. He then drifted back to Striker, who hadn’t stopped observing him. His heart sunk. “I’m scared. There isn’t a way in this world for me, nor for anyone of feline descent. My heart flutters and my fur prickles, and my tail curls between my legs. My breaths come short and my purr is a deception to my truth, and every day I look into your eyes, as beautiful as they are, and I question you.”

“You question me?”

“But then I realize you are not like them. I realize you are one of the lucky ones.” Samhain smiled and pecked Striker’s black nose before returning to Catty.

As the rain poured outside and the thunder boomed, the two became one with the sofa and basked in the sole light of the TV set flickering in the room, and they knew they were with each other and that they were where they needed to be, and that they would be safe.

They had to be.

© 2019 Shane Blackheart

Excerpt from original writing: What Lies Beyond

The title is one I thought of back in high school when I originally wrote this story, but I can’t make myself change it. It has a history, as well as it being Lestan and Jack’s personal history. This is just a small bit from it, and it’s one of the many moments in the story where Jack has some self-reflection. It’s appropriate for all audiences.

 


 

The wind rustled through the spirit’s translucent form, his hair unmoving in the breeze. He stared at the moon as if he were seeing every minute detail, its rocky and cold surface beckoning to him as did the vastness of space. He craved the void but only ever crossed into it when necessary. Otherwise, he was afraid he’d become lost and never return. That was not his purpose, and he knew his place and where he had to remain. To leave would be to abandon those wracked with grief due to their own unfortunate passings, and that was something the spirit would never wish upon any creature.

He lifted his hand and a battered, pale heart appeared, the agony contained within reaching a volume that could be heard throughout the cemetery. Every soul he led into the next world left their sorrows with him, and in his heart, he felt the weight of every single one. Hundreds — thousands — of cries and haunting screams rustled the energy around him and the trees swayed with the sheer force of the energy until the spirit withdrew, the heart fizzling out to return to him.

He looked out across the cemetery before drifting off the tombstone he occupied. He didn’t walk often as mortals tended to, but after meeting the vampire earlier that night, he felt the need to think, and to think brought its own kind of melancholy. He’d never spoken to another creature at length. It had been enough to cause his entire existence to pause, but what was even more curious was the vampire’s persistence in wanting to know him. It simply wasn’t the way things were supposed to be, and the spirit felt raw anxiety rising within him, the grass beneath his feet flattening with an ethereal breeze as his energy sparked in the darkness.

A name. The vampire had said something about a name before the spirit vanished. He knew the meaning of them and their importance, but he wasn’t anything important enough in his own mind to be deserving of a name. He was just… there. He existed for his purpose and although he’d put a name to that purpose for the vampire’s sake of understanding, it wasn’t even close to the true meaning. The spirit sighed, a dim, pale blue glow emanating from him as he drifted between the shadows in the cemetery. Speaking with the vampire had brought upon more complications than he had ever wanted to deal with.

Cold stone caressed the spirit’s entire being as he drifted through it, the mausoleum steps just below him as he hovered near the walls. Thin, vine-like branches wound their way through the small and narrow windows in the walls, their tendrils dry and clinging to life as they stretched over the worn surface. Silver strands of moonlight disturbed the peaceful dark and spilled upon the floor where the spirit drifted past, the stone steps leading down introducing a much colder atmosphere than above. Stopping once he was fully below ground, the spirit gazed around the quiet room.

Hollowed out shelves in the stonework lined the walls, their presence barely visible to the naked eye in the purest of darknesses. Although the spirit’s eyes were as black as the void, they allowed him a glimpse into that world that none were able to perceive otherwise. He was as much a part of this darkness as it was of him, and within it, he could see the bones lying neatly and untouched in their respective shrouds. The materials were wrought with decay and their jewels tarnished to never shine again, insects crawling over and between them on their path to devour what was left of the body below it.

It was beautiful.

The spirit drifted over to a body that was much less decayed than the others, the bones jutting out where the flesh had all but dissipated with time. His hand trailed over the skull that was thinly veiled with parchment-like skin, and he pressed his fingers gently into the eyes, his own falling shut as he felt a semblance of something that was once there. A sadness gripped at his chest and he pulled his hand away. These were his true friends and the only ones he could ever allow himself to have. They could not tempt him away from his purpose or claim to give him a name. They’d become just as meaningless as he, their own names lost with the passage of time.

The spirit dropped to the stone floor among the spiders and other insects. The tomb walls behind him brought comfort as he welcomed their frigid chill, and the energy of the ever-changing earth behind them seeped through him. He could hear every breath within the womb of Mother Nature itself as he basked in it, and he closed his eyes once more as he took in the sound. An involuntary thought crossed his mind in that moment.

Perhaps the vampire would enjoy it just as much with him. If not, then all would be understood.

 

© 2019 Shane Blackheart

Heart Surgery (original poetry)

I don’t write poetry often, but the other day something kept rattling around in my brain that I had to write out. It started as a feeling and some images in my animation program, but became words as I just put my fingers on the keyboard. So, here is the ‘poem’ I wrote, as well as the video version of it below. (It’s appropriate for all ages)


Heart Surgery

You’re always there.

Your eyes watch me and I feel you; hands not unlike breath on my skin.

I’ve got goosebumps in my soul — I want to sing.

Tears strangle my voice in the stead of a melody — claws grasp my heart with careful fragility.

I trust you.

With careful precision, you force life back into my lungs.

Desire for the veil was never so sweet as your face — the glowing red my sign in the dark.

Passion pulls me away.

My life is no longer mine but yours — your will to fan the flames stoking my soul’s perseverance.

No.

I will not go today.

(Closed captions available if you can’t understand some of the words)

© 2018 Shane Blackheart

Excerpt from ‘Bittersweet; Love Is War’ – my 2018 NaNoWriMo novel

I won my first year of NaNoWriMo! It feels pretty great, to be honest. I feel like it has been some of the best writing I’ve done in quite some time, and it’s worked wonders to jumpstart my vigor for writing again. Since, I’ve rewritten a short story and doubled its word length from an old favorite in high school, I’ve continued a few other projects — I work on more than one at a time sometimes — and I’ve just generally been extremely creative since my start in November. I’ve hit some major bumps in the road along the way (more like potholes), but I’m happy to say I’ve produced some pretty awesome things.

Here is an excerpt from my 2018 winning NaNoWriMo novel, ‘Bittersweet; Love Is War,’ and it is appropriate for all ages.


As the clock ticked loudly against the walls of the stone room, Byleth stood in the center of it all. The cold metal table beside him chilled his fingers as he drifted claws across its scratched surface, its sheen adding a glow to his already luminescent red eyes. So many times had he looked down at Faye from the doorway as she sat there — a spread out mess of a human hanging back in her chair and watching the smoke drift across the ceiling from her menthol cigarette. Although an immortal being, Byleth still couldn’t stand the smell of the cancerous stuff, and there was definitely plenty of it on a daily basis. He could almost smell its miasma now as the memory of it drifted across time.

He clenched his teeth and ran a hand through his jaw-length, wavy blond hair. ‘I could just imprison her again. Tie her to the chair and take away all of her free will, and I would find a way to make her fear me. That would dispel any kind of affection for me, surely. Then we can both move on.’ It would most likely do the exact opposite, knowing her. She was fearless and mad about him, which was a sick joke in itself. He chuckled. She’d probably get off over being tied to a chair by him anyway.

He was brought away from his reveries by the sound of pages flapping in the wind, and recognized the natural glow that had spread throughout the room. It shrunk to reveal a form that Byleth remembered all too well, and he instantly went on guard. The being was lucky he didn’t react on impulse and tear into its glowing, pale flesh. “What do you want?!”

“Hello, brother!” An angel with short, upswept blond hair smiled kindly at the Fallen, his soft features flawless and beautiful beneath the dim lighting in the room that had returned. “I see you are well, and that you have taken a turn for the better.”

“Voyeuristic, aren’t you?” Byleth scoffed and crossed his arms. “What brings you down here to pester me, Gabriel?”

“I’ve come to offer you a chance. As God’s messenger, I wish to make a proposition with you.” The angel’s blue eyes had a spark to them that caught Byleth off guard, and he realized that something was amiss. This angel had a different kind of aura than the one he knew all too well, although it most definitely seemed to be Gabriel.

He lowered his eyes in suspicion and decided to play along. “Oh yeah? What kind of proposition does daddy dearest possibly have to offer? Is he finally kissing my ass to get something out of me?”

“Language, Byleth!” Gabriel wiggled a finger in the air with silent judgment. “It is something great — something you have been desiring for a long time, I am sure. There is something in Heaven you wish to reclaim, isn’t there?”

Byleth’s eyes grew wide and his breath came short. He’d spent the better part of his time as a Fallen plotting ways to get back into Heaven to reclaim his throne. Most often, it had been a violent fantasy that involved much force and a taking over of Heaven, but he knew it was an impossible and foolish thing to try. God was too powerful for anything in the entirety of time, even for Satan’s seven-headed dragon with his legion of demons to conquer, but if he could get back onto his throne and allow them all to think that he had been redeemed, he stood an honest chance of at least enacting revenge on a grand scale.

He snapped back to reality as Gabriel’s expression changed to become something darker. The angel’s eyes shone a pale gray for a millisecond, which a Fallen would not have missed. Although he knew no being immediately with eyes like that, the underlying darkness made everything quite obvious. There was corruption on the other side of the charade. “Who are you? Show yourself!”

The being laughed darkly and the form blurred and shifted as if it were warped, and came clear once more as Byleth’s suspicions were confirmed. The being that stood before him then, however, hadn’t been expected. It was one of the few times he had honestly been at a nervous unease. The name he was finally able to mutter was as quiet as it was dangerous. “Azazel.”

 

©2018 Shane Blackheart

NaNoWriMo; November 2018!

Another absence on this blog, and another reason. Although, it’s an amazing reason this time (I promise)!

I’ve made the decision to do NaNoWriMo this year. If you aren’t aware of what that is, in short, it’s a challenge to write an entire 50,000 word — or more — novel in 30 days. On the more descriptive end of things, NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that raises money for all kinds of good causes related to writing. One, in particular, is to fund kits to send to schools that need them and to encourage younger writers. Besides that, it is an event every year in November that has been going since 1999, and millions of writers join in on the chaos every year. This year is my first.

The idea is to start with a brand new manuscript; a clean slate. You may also begin with an outline, or a part of an outline and nothing else to go on other than your imagination. Either way, after you’ve created your own profile and filled in your novel’s basic details, you’re ready to begin.

Every day, ideally, you’ll log your word count in one of two ways. There are stats you can watch to see where you are at compared to the average person, and you can also see a projected completion date determined by your average daily word count, and how many words you have left to write to complete the 50k dash (or more!). Below are my latest stats, taken as of today.

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You write your novel outside of the website, and as you log your word count and interact with the site, as well as donate if you so choose, you will earn badges. There are also badges you can choose to give yourself based on an honor system, as they are achievements that can’t actually be measured in any way. For example, I gave myself the ‘Something in my eye’ badge for wringing my heart out over a few scenes or more. Sometimes writing really can be an emotional roller coaster, but that makes for some of the best writing out there.

From November 20th onward, you can claim your win by pasting the entirety of your first draft in their official word counter. They also give you the option to scramble your words if you wish, although no one is actually going to read your novel. Nothing gets uploaded to the website and your words are deleted as soon as they are counted. Once that process is complete, I imagine you’ll feel pretty good about yourself for your successes.

There are prizes, but there are no limits to winners, so be honest! They are small things like coupons to writing programs and online courses, and other little things that really aren’t a huge deal, but a help to writers to keep them going strong long after they’ve finished their NaNoWriMo novel. Personally, the feeling of accomplishment from completing an entire first draft of a novel in a month is the biggest win of being a participant. Even if you don’t complete your novel, you’ve still accomplished something great, and you still have words there that you didn’t have before. It’s even more incentive to keep going for yourself, and for the story you have to tell.

I’m well into 27k words on the eighth day, which isn’t something I thought I would be capable of. I passed NaNoWriMo by for a few years after hearing about it, mostly because I didn’t think I could do it. I sold myself short due to my own insecurities, and I was doing the very thing some people in my life have done to me in the past — I was putting myself down because of a lack of faith in myself. I believed my anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses left me unable to do much of anything, and I was destined to fail. I would become too stressed and spiral down into a mess of a human being.

Yet, it’s November 8th and I have come a long way from that mindset. On the first, I’d sat in front of my computer mulling it over. A friend from a Facebook writing group brought it to my attention again, claiming that she was doing it herself. She needed a writing buddy. I’d told her I wasn’t participating before, but on a whim, I signed up for the site and I locked myself in. I haven’t looked back.

It’s like something lit a fire under me (usually, that’s Byleth, but this time I did it myself. He and Lestan have been the best cheerleaders). Having a deadline with the goal of having fun and just letting loose on the page, not caring about editing as I went like I usually did, was freeing. The goal was to just go until it was time to stop, as editing during NaNoWriMo is heavily discouraged. All of that would come in the months to pass after ‘winning’, and the site also has a section for just that. My goal is to be able to open up that part of the site after my victory.

At 27k in after only the first week, I am certain I can ‘win’. I can safely say that if you go into this as a lover of words, stories, and a passion for the art of writing, you’ll win too. Just keep at it and don’t worry about the numbers while you’re writing. Focus on the amazing story you have to tell, and the rest will come in time.

The best of luck to anyone who is participating this year. I hope to be able to make another blog entry when I’ve finally reached the ultimate goal.

A positive absence, for once!

When I am absent, it’s usually due to a multitude of emotions destroying me from the inside out. I can’t manage more than the videos I barely take in on my favorite Youtube channels, and my creative drive has taken a vacation abroad for an indeterminable amount of time. Things have been different this time around, though.

My mind has been more stable since trying the injectable form of testosterone over the gel to get my transition going again. It had been hell during my first try with the injections, and since I’ve covered all of that elsewhere on this blog, I won’t get into it here. Long story short, it seems like a different mixture is what was needed. My mood swings, while still there in the background, have dimmed significantly. I didn’t expect this to cure my bipolar episodes or the interpersonal problems I have with my borderline personality disorder, but it has been much easier to calm myself as well as stand up for myself when I need to. I’ve had this fire within me that refuses to let me take shit from anyone. This isn’t a bad thing for someone like me, who was more likely to sit by silently while verbal abuse or any other kind of bad thing would happen. To be able to speak up when I need to has been a great change for me.

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Along with all of this, I’ve pulled my creativity back from its extended vacation. My writing is important to me again and I’ve made it my job, or at least, I’m treating it like one until I can officially call it that. I’ve become more involved in writing communities online and am getting braver about asking for critiques, and I am learning to give them. I have learned so much within the last week about publishing, editing, and I’ve gotten great advice from editors and published authors alike on how to navigate all of this. It was something I desperately needed, but I couldn’t possibly accomplish it while I remained in my little bubble of self-hatred.

Yesterday, I finished editing and looking over the fifth draft of a novella. I had finished writing it during the summer of 2015 during a manic episode while I was homeless, and it was the first book I’d written that I saw to completion. Although it was riddled with poor grammar and my sentence structure was just as poor at best, I was proud of it. Over the past few days, I went and I fixed the earlier chapters that had been started years ago. It was something I began and left to sit, unable to finish like I’d done with so many. I fixed the wording, added new things and explained others, and poured more emotion into the original draft than was originally there. After all of this and splitting it into chapters, I feel like I have a second book ready to send out.

I’m in contact with an editor or two, one of which I am certain I want to do the job for my longer book that I’d like to publish first. Hopefully I can build up a working relationship with them for my future projects. Having that thought alone makes my nerves jump in all of the best ways.

I’m no stranger to anxiety. I’ve seen it in its worst form and it’s left me sickly and bedridden. (I wrote about that here: From My Memoir – Two Years that Changed the Rest of My Life and I recorded it with Byleth and the others here.) To finally understand that there is good anxiety and be able to feel it is freeing for me. It feels the same in all of the physical sensations, but there is a different emotion attached. It’s not fear, but anticipation.

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If you want something bad enough, it will happen. I’ve been wanting the title ‘author’ officially for many years. I can only hope that my want and need for this is bad enough to make it all happen.

From my Memoir: A Night with Mary

An excerpt from my memoir, in which I relive a memory of one of my very first experiences with friendship, a birthday party, and trauma incited by an urban legend.

***

My anxiety disorder formed into what it would be for the many coming years of my life. I still wet the bed well into my fourth-grade year, although I would always be reprimanded for it. I was punished whenever it would happen, my fear of the alarm clock in the middle of the night not enough to keep me from wetting myself. That horrific sound of metal striking metal as the sharp ringing of the purple clock would wake me from a deep sleep, often causing me to panic and slip beneath my bed sheets as I looked out into the darkness of my room. I feared the dark more than anything, and at times I would fear the silliest of things. I think I remember having a sleep hallucination of Jesus once that caused me to panic as the desire for it to go away gripped at my heart. It seemed that even as I child I found no comfort in Christian images or the idea of it. Regardless, I would climb out of bed once my bravery was there, no matter how small, and crept to the bathroom. The next morning my bedclothes would be wet, and I would be chastised and punished.

My pediatrician, Dr. Suk Kang, was a shining light in my life and also the reason for my parents having finally understood why my bedwetting wouldn’t cease. Not only was he one of the best doctors around, he was kind and very invested in my healthcare. Every time I visited him he would give me a quick kiss on my forehead or cheek and smile widely, happy to see me doing well. His accent was strong and he spoke broken English, but he spoke it well and was also a friend to my parents. He absolutely adored Disney and we often brought him posters and memorabilia back from Disney World, or any time we saw something relating to Disney for him. He always put them up in his office, and his place of practice was a Disney Wonderland in itself. Everything from the wallpaper to the decor was Disney centric. I always loved seeing him even if I was afraid of the doctor’s office in general.

He informed my parents that my late bedwetting was no fault of my own, but due to my body’s lack of producing a hormone to be able to hold it while asleep. I developed this eventually, of course, but it was a constant strain on me and my parent’s relationship, as well as me and my friends. I could not spend the night with others unless I had Pull-Ups with me to my own embarrassment, or friends would have to sleep on the floor instead of in my bed with me. I often got made fun of for this in school, and I remember having to wear Pull-Ups even during the day while I was there. The bullying started very early for me and caused a fear in me that led to agoraphobia, which is a fear of public places or certain places in general. I was afraid of everything and everyone.

This became worse and worse over the following few years. The other kids who I had thought were my friends turned out to be humoring me and nothing more. I had maybe one or two true friends in elementary school who I cherished and who did not use me as the butt of a joke as the others often did. I was pushed, physically assaulted on the playground, laughed at, mocked, and any secret I dared to trust my first best friend with, or who I called my best friend, became public knowledge and another teasing point for the other kids. A birthday party and sleepover at this best friend’s house ended up being one of the few childhood memories I have that is so vivid. We were still only in elementary school.

The girls and I were standing around in my friend’s room. There were two twin-sized beds there, one for my friend and the other for her older sister. There was a dresser to the side by the door and a large mirror over it. The room was of average size, but the memory of the small details are hazy now. I just remember spending a lot of time there and a lot of my childhood memories of any semblance of friendship formed there as well, but as we all stood there and faced the large mirror, a new memory was forming that wasn’t so pleasant. The girls were attempting to invoke Bloody Mary.

As most people know, the legend of Bloody Mary is an infamous one that is often brought up during parties. Back then it was popular due to the success of Alvin Schwartz’s ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ series, illustrated with ghoulish amalgamations by the talented Stephen Gammell. The urban legends within the series of three books were not softened for children at all, except to be worded in a way that would be easier to understand. This led to the book going through a short time of contention with school librarians, and for a time it was almost banned from public school libraries. The gruesome nature of the stories remained the same and survived the legal struggles, and the Bloody Mary legend could be found within their pages.

I don’t believe I’d read about the legend yet, or even had read the ‘Scary Stories’ trilogy, but I was introduced to the traumatizing practice that night of looking into a mirror to conjure a violent spirit. She was to appear with blood on her skin and a vengeance that would pull the conjurer into the mirror, lest the foolish conjurer switch on a light instantly. The light remained on while we all stood in front of the large mirror that night, and I don’t remember if we switched it off at any time, but the fear was there. I was scared, but I was surrounded by my friends. That is, until they asked me to leave the room. As I stepped out into the hallway, I was alone to watch the bedroom door as it closed in front of me. I stood there for some time, my anxiety eating away at me as I heard the room erupt in laughter. I knew deep inside it was at my expense, but I stood there anyway, hoping that something special would happen and it was all just a joke.

The door was opened by my friend who was still giggling, and they invited me back in. I don’t remember what happened then, other than the party seemed to resume for a short time before I was coaxed into going into a dark bathroom by myself with a small flashlight. I didn’t want to do it. I was afraid of the dark and I knew that to try the Bloody Mary chant alone, as was suggested by the girls that I do, I was invoking danger upon myself. I believed in it wholeheartedly as any child would, and I was shoved into the bathroom before I could protest any further. The door was closed behind me and weight was pushed against it, and no matter how hard I pressed into that door with my body or pounded on the wood, no one would let me leave. I was trapped.

I backed away and I tried to calm myself. I was told that I was not allowed to turn the light on, and being as easily controlled back then as I was being a child, I listened. I didn’t want to disappoint my friends or lose them, so I looked into the mirror. With nothing but my anxiety and a small flashlight to guide me, I tried to stutter out the Bloody Mary chant three times – loud enough for them to hear. I began to cry. I was terrified and my heart had started to race against my ribcage. I was at the door again, pushing on it and pounding against the wood. I was begging to be let out but no one would listen. They stood against the door, pushing against my efforts cruelly to keep me trapped in that small room of danger. I cried louder. I screamed. I pleaded to call my mom because I wanted to go home. I just wanted to be safe again, and I knew that my mom’s presence would be enough to show me that everything would be okay.

After a short time, an older woman’s voice was tense out in the hallway in question as to what was going on. It was my friend’s mother. She finally released me from my dark prison and I stumbled out into the hallway, tears streaming down my face. I repeated over and over that I wanted my mom. I wanted to go home. It was all I could manage to say after the trauma I’d experienced, and it seemed that my friend and her sister weren’t too happy about their mother’s reaction to it all. Words are muffled in my memory and the rest became a blur as my parents were on the phone with that woman, I snuggling with my Winnie the Pooh security blanket I’d latched onto as an infant, and then they were in the driveway late at night, guiding me into their car as I tried to come down from the shock that I’d experienced.

To this day I am still afraid of dark bathrooms. Mirrors bring me discomfort in the dark and I don’t dare to look over my shoulder at them. The pounding heart and the racing mind – the fight or flight sensation that I still feel any time I have to walk across my hallway to get to the bathroom at night in my own apartment as an adult… It just won’t go away.

©2018 Shane Blackheart

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Plotagon Story – An Opinion from a Long-time User

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(Update 7/2019: Plotagon Studio is the only Plotagon app available on PC and MAC currently. Plotagon Story is solely on mobile devices. The interface has also changed drastically, and no more content updates will be added in the foreseeable future. The community portion of the site/app has also been shut down, but people still post Plotagon videos on their individual Youtube channels. Plotagon Story is still free to download and use, and Plotagon Studio is available for professional use/enabling monetization at three price options.)

Maybe you’ve heard of this interesting little app while browsing the internet or the store on your mobile device. Friends have mentioned it or you’ve seen things on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe you have no idea what it is at all, but you should. It’s small and simple to use, but it contains so much magic within that you can only access if you take the time to explore what it has to offer you, which is quite a bit.

Plotagon, in its storytelling aspect, is an app to create animated films by writing a script. The interface is very simple to learn and with a few clicks and a bit of creativity, you can watch your stories and ideas unfold in a way you probably didn’t think you were capable of. That was my first impression, anyway.

I’ve been a writer since I can remember. I’ve spent years upon years creating worlds and conversing with people in my head and on paper, and I’ve always had just that – my head to work from. My imagination is vivid; I can see everything happening in my mind as if I were watching a dramatic film on the screen – my personal biological theater anything but tame, and most unforgiving at times, in that aspect. So, of course, when I stumbled upon Plotagon three years ago in its bare-bones form, I was blown away by the fact that I could project these ideas on a screen in an interesting way for people to hear and see.

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“Live long and Plot.” Plotagon offers many different character customizing options, especially if you’re into nerd culture like me.

If you’ve ever played a Sims game or any game with character creation for that matter, you’ll know how great variety can be. Plotagon offers a lot of options to customize the characters that will star in your films. The one above is myself, but the diversity of items you start with as well as have the option of purchasing is impressive for what this little app is. Plotagon supports everyone as well, so no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever defines you, there is something here for you. (They released a rainbow pack for Pride month with some transgender t-shirts and gay pride themes! They are also advocates for anti-bullying and non-violence.)

After character creation, you are ready to begin. You’ll navigate over to the ‘Plots’ tab, which is what the community calls the films you upload, and you can begin planning out your script. This is very easy for even the most inexperienced user. The buttons across the top of your script are the important elements that make your plots shine, and the rest is up to you!

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The interface is organized and simple to learn and navigate.

As you can also see, there are microphone and camera buttons off to the side of scenes and character dialogue boxes. With these tools, you can really create something that is both visually pleasing to look at and interesting to listen to. You can record your own voice with automatic lip sync and do your own voice acting like I enjoy doing, and you can also use the camera button to frame your shot in several ways. Of course, all of this is laid out for you, so it’s just a matter of experimenting with angles and a few clicks. No coding or experience needed with directing/filmmaking.

There is also the option of allowing Plotagon’s voices from the Acapela Group to do the talking for you. There is a myriad of voices to choose from in the store and the diversity is growing with every update. The voices sound much more interesting and emotional than most automated voices, and they also can express different sounds and emotions with little hashtag codes that you can enter. (For example, #CRY01# starts the voice’s crying sound, #LAUGH01# is the first option for a laughing sound for that particular voice, etc.) Below are just a few of the voices available among many others in the store for purchase. And yes, the voices speak fluently and properly in your native language! When you first download Plotagon, you will get a few free ones to experiment with.

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Plotagon offers voices through the Acapela Group, which adds a wide range of diversity for users of all languages.

Plotagon is definitely something to experiment with since you learn tricks as you go. Being a user of three years, I’ve found that the more you use it, the better you will get at controlling it and making your plots shine. You don’t have to be a writer to excel or make something interesting, either. If you have some extra time on the weekends or have interesting ideas you think would be fun to share with a very supportive community, that’s all you need to get started. Did something interesting happen to you that made your day? Plot it. Want to let the world know a bit more about yourself in a fun and creative way? Plot it. Are you a writer or creative person and have some stories to tell? Definitely plot it!

From personal experience, the Plotagon community was like a second home to me (it’s since moved to Youtube). I’ve made many friends from all over the world who have become some of my greatest and most supportive, and I have learned so many things about other cultures through this app and meeting like-minded creators. I have made friends young and old and from all walks of life. I’d also been given the opportunity to be a featured member for putting my all into what I make with the app. If you tag your videos on social media, they may even feature your videos on their Youtube channel!

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My very first plot. Three years ago, jeez!

As a testament to what I just stated, the above is the very first plot I published to the community back in the beginning of 2015 before it was moved to Youtube. (Click here for a more recent plot of mine.) I had no grasp of how to work the program other than what it guided me to do, and it was very bare-bones then. This was before character creation was introduced, voice record, and diverse electronic voices. The community was the most welcoming out of any online space I’ve experienced, and it was the first time in my life that many people actually cared about what I had to say and write. The community, even since it has relocated, is genuinely a bunch of nice folks who love to boost each other up and see everyone succeed, and I saw that from the very beginning.

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My personal Plotagon profile before the community moved.

I grew quite a bit myself. 412 plots later, I’m still enjoying Plotagon as much as I did when I began. It’s definitely proof that if you just have fun and create with your whole heart, anything can happen. Be genuine and reach out to others where you can, and it will be returned to you. Not only that, but you’ll meet some amazing people! But enough about me. I want to get back to the more technical specs of Plotagon and give a proper layout of the program. So, in summary:

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Grab the Golden Ticket to unlock a majority of the paid content for a steal!
  • Plotagon is free to use and comes prepacked with a few free items, voices, and plots for idea starters.
  • In-app purchases allow you to expand your Plotagon experience without breaking the bank.
  • Plotagon is always evolving. Every new update brings improvements or brand new features to the app as it is constantly in development.
  • The app is very easy to learn and provides an interactive tutorial in the plot creation screen.
  • Fun for all ages and a great learning opportunity.
  • You can get your plots featured on their Youtube channel if they really enjoy what you make! Just tag them with #Plotagon.

Now, some cons, although not many:

  • There are limitations with what you can do, but there are just as many ways to work around these limitations and trick the cameras! Limitations also make you think outside the box so you can become more creative.
  • The app may run a bit slow on mobile phones and tablets, especially if you have an older device. I highly recommend using Plotagon on a Mac or PC for the best experience.
  • I can’t really think of anything else!

Overall, you have nothing to lose by trying out the app. It’s free and a lot of fun, and if you stick around long enough, you can become a master at it too.

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Images are from the Plotagon app.
You can get Plotagon for yourself here: http://plotagon.com (Story is the version you will want if you are a home user, Studio if you are a commercial user or business, and Education if you are a teacher and want to use it in your classroom.)

*9/20/18 – This review has been updated to reflect community changes, as it has relocated to Youtube to host videos.

‘End’ is Such an Empty Word

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END.

As I finished typing the simple three-letter word, I fell back into my computer chair and stared at the screen. The cursor was blinking at me on the document page as if it were tempting me to write more as it always had, but this time it felt odd to look at. I rarely finish things after all, so the forever blinking of the cursor didn’t seem as foreboding as it used to. It usually meant minutes upon hours staring at an unfinished story, the cursor beckoning to me to just try and to just do something and maybe things will start to flow to move that little cursor down the page. I had started my writing today with that feeling, but I ended it with just three simple words.

Yes, I finally finished my first longer piece of work. Totaling 135 pages in Google Docs, 55,796 words, and page after page of an emotional rollercoaster. It all started as a dream I’d had one night a year or so ago and it ended up blooming into this gigantic, complex, crazy world. I never thought I would see it to the end, and I can’t say I won’t miss it not ever being the end. I feel sort of empty now that my biggest project is finally complete. I’m so used to things never being finished that I always felt whole in that vastness of incomplete work – I always had something to do and some work to look forward to. Now? I hear crickets. The tension has left my muscles and I am breathing calmly, and I am staring at three simple letters that have caused me so many emotions.

It may seem silly to be so excited over this. There are authors out there who have published several books and continue on to their next project, not skipping a beat (or skipping a few beats to get a breather in). But for someone like me, who has little to no self-esteem or faith in myself to do much right, to accomplish this is to accomplish a goal I set out for myself. The next steps will probably be that much harder. It always is as you climb up the endless ladder of goal-setting.

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Now, to edit all of these pages. I have to go back through it all and make a second draft and a third, and possibly a fourth. Then the formatting, the query letter, the summary that’s good enough to sell, and submissions to agents with no prior experience of my own to speak of. Goodness knows I’ll need one to navigate this hell I’ve just opened up for myself, and not the good kind of hell. I’ve already attempted to gather beta readers, close friends and friends from afar, but all I hear on the line is crickets. I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands since my support system is so small and practically not there, save for two or three loyal friends. I’ve accepted that I’m very much on my own for this one and no amount of teeth pulling and pestering is going to get me any response aside from the usual defensive response or endless reasons as to why no one can seem to find time for my manuscript, but have hours to post memes and watch endless Facebook and Youtube videos. If I sound slightly bitter, I admit that I am, but not so much bitter as I am hurt.

I wish I possessed the magical key to unlock this support system I see so many with. Reaching out for help and asking for help gains me silence. I see others receive answers where I am ignored, and I see friends uplifting and promoting other friends’ work but not mine. At first, I was afraid it was due in part to the fact that I was no good as a writer or creator, but I found over time that it would only be true if anyone would ever take the time to set aside and actually read my work at all. It genuinely makes me feel undervalued as a friend and I wonder what my friends’ friends’ do that is so great and different with their writing that is different from me. What they’ve done that is so different from what I’ve tried.

I promote others and help where I can. I support all of my friends when I can as well where I can. I spend a lot of time doing this when I stumble across their things. I will always do it without expecting anything in return because I love and support my friends, but it does sting to not feel that love back. I can be humble until I’m blue in the face, but in the end it does get frustrating when you put hours and, in the case of my books, a year or more into something and no one wants to even bother to open it, and this is despite their claims of the synopsis sounding very interesting and good. I’ve gotten that across the board when I give the synopsis. So why, then, can’t I get anyone to open to the first page?

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Maybe they genuinely don’t care. Maybe I’m not worth their time. Maybe I am fooling myself and people are just being kind so as not to hurt my feelings. But I cannot get answers if no one will tell me anything, good or bad. Even writers who have written things that aren’t up to par get feedback! It’s endlessly frustrating and I’ve found myself close to screaming out of that frustration.

How do you figure out how to not be invisible to people anymore? How do you do this, even though you speak so loudly, approach people directly, and try with all your might to do everything in your power to be heard, even among loved ones, only to be ignored or brushed aside? My whole life I have felt like a ghost drifting amongst people, and only a few can even see and hear me, and even then that’s a toss-up.

Being invisible when you work so hard to not be is exhausting. I know I started this entry with a positive outlook, and I still have that, but it brought up so many other feelings that I’ve been battling with throughout this process. It doesn’t feel good to know you have something you’re very proud of to tell the world, and no one will listen.

But to end on a lighter note, I am proud of my writing, at least. I am proud of myself for accomplishing the feat of writing an entire book to completion, and I am happy that I can continue to write even though I may be the only one reading it sometimes. I can only dream that one day I won’t have to say that and I can have others enjoy these things with me.