Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

Author: N.J (Page 2 of 11)

Quote of the Month

My, oh my! A new month already! I hope you are faring well! And, without any further ado, let’s drudge up the words of a wonderful writer:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shinning; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Belated Happy Valentines’ Day!

Oh boy oh boy…

I intended to post yesterday, but I became swept up in a thousand other things. Since too many recent holidays have passed without sharing a bit of history, I couldn’t resist pulling something together.

To be honest, Valentines’ Day has always seemed slightly… odd. Love is the cherished mantra of the day; a plethora of pink and red dazzle store shelves; flowers are bought in the dozens; and chocolate is gleefully venerated. It’s usually time to rent a movie, curl up on the couch- or bed- with fuzzy blankets, and think of cupids or cute puppies.

Some people love Valentines’ Day and others despise it (both responses, in my opinion, are heavily influenced by social constructs- but that is a rant for a different day), I think that I sit somewhere in the middle.

If you have spent time reading any number of articles about the origins of many common holidays celebrated in the 20th century, you may have noticed that the church is an expert at stealing other cultures’ ideas.

Before trying to search for facts, a disclaimer is necessary: no one knows exactly where Valentines’ Day comes from. Much of what I am mentioning is based off of speculation done by historians for decades.

Let’s scurry though a bit of ancient history: Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism (which had already been established as a monotheistic religion for thousands of years); eventually, it spread to Rome, where it became the dominant religion in the 4th century CE.

Before paganism was outlawed in Rome, the local pantheon of gods looked incredibly similar to those of ancient Greece. This is where vanquished and stolen ideas come in: Valentines’ Day appears to tie back to the Lupercalia  festival annually held in Rome between the 13th and 15 of February.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar anyone?

While the connection between Valentines’ Day and Lupercalia is debatable, it seems probable enough: Lupercalia was held at the Lupercal (at the edge of the Palatine hill, where Romulus and Remus were said to be raised by a wolf) for the Roman god of shepherds and fertility: Lupercus.

Because this was ancient Rome, someone was scarified, in this case, the someones were goats and dogs. Skipping over a few details… a procession was held; young, nude men slapped women and crops within reach, with strips of goatskin (they believed that being struck by a runner of the Lupercal would bring fertility); drunkenness was rife; and laughter was the medicine of the day.

Roman paganism was slowly buried by the adamant dislike of Christians; no one knows exactly what happened to Lupercalia, until the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius seems to have moved a new holiday honoring Saint Valentine (which St. Valentine is still a matter of debate) to the 14th of February.

According to most Christian traditions: St. Valentine defied Claudius II by marrying young couples when the emperor forbid it. The story ends with St. Valentine’s execution– which made him a martyr.

However… everything previously mentioned must be taken with a salty glass of suspicion.

Valentines’ Day does not appear to have been celebrated until the Middle Ages– the oldest surviving valentines’ day card was sent from the Tower of London by Charles, the Duke of Orleans in 1415. Most seem to agree that valentines’ day become a full holiday because of Chaucer: according to Jack B. Oruch, Chaucer portrayed the 14th of February as a day of love because of its connotations with spring, whether or not he pulled on the strings of an existing holiday is unknown; if he did, the holiday in question was probably one of the numerous saint days celebrated during february.

While a February 14th feast was mentioned in the Charter of  the Court of Love (issued in 1400), Valentines’ Day did not truly become popular until the 17th century, in England. Fast forward a century: Valentines’ Day was filled with love letters and , soon, love letters became postcards with the advent of a functioning mail system. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began mass-producing valentines in the US, similar endeavors occurred in England, and- well… I think we can guess where the holiday has traveled there.

I hope all of you are having a wonderful day!

And I promise to be back very, very soon.

Quote of the Month

Hello everyone!

My, is time slipping away! This is a bit late again, but better late than never.

“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” ~ Virginia Woolf

An Update- And the Necessity of Art

Hello everyone!

My what a world we live in… I have started multiple, varied drafts with the intent of positing, but I always run into a brick wall. Part of the reason for my absence was my attempt to keep everything political off of this site, with various, small exceptions; politics has been a major piece in my life during the last few days weeks. Before that, it was the new year and forming schedules/plans etc.

Politics… despite myself, I cannot keep it entirely away from this blog at the moment. Some horrible things are happening, and some good things as well. If I am going to be entirely honest, and I wish to be, then I cannot ignore the small cavern that it has hallowed out in my life. So, this post is the beginning to a larger contemplation/discussion about art and life in these times (yes, writing will return to this blog, I promise). Hopefully you will bravely bare with me.

One of the running themes of these last few weeks has been reminder after reminder of how important art is, especially when the world is in turmoil. To be honest, society has always been flecked by turmoil, but I think the *ahem* recent events in this certain country of mostly-united states have brought so much social injustice and hate to the surface.

Stepping sideways…

A week and a half ago, my family and I went to a Writer’s Resist event held in a small coffee shop where people could hardly spread their elbows. Writer’s Resist is an initiative created to share work regarding civil rights and equality (I highly recommend checking their website). It was wonderful to hear people speak about the importance of paying attention to the world around us, and share snippets of poetry/non-fiction, and short stories.

Last wednesday, I had the privilege of hearing a Lannan Foundation interview with China Meiville; he is an author whose work I have admired for a long time, although I have not read as many of his books as I would like. His writing crosses genres and breaks many of the barriers between reality and fiction that, I think, we are taught to stay within. He is extremely active within political and academic circles, and much of his creative work deals with government in one form or another.

I apologize for the fact that I do not have any direct quotes to share with you (I am starting to wish that I had taken notes), but one thing that he did speak of is using his writing as a way to explore concepts and ideas. Hearing him speak about his work, as well as snippets of government in general, was kind of a push forward to ‘oh my gosh, I need to work more.’

Now, the last major event to mention: did you hear of the Woman’s March on Washington that occurred last saturday? After our local sister march ended, one of the first speakers was a poet: she also spoke of the importance of work. It is creative work that leads us forward. Art is something that we cling to.

My mom often quotes one of her collage teachers: “Art teaches people how to feel.” I used to scoff. Such a concept always felt corny or impossible, but it is a potently valid point. Art does shape culture, so let us create a culture where no one has to hide as they walk down the street; where we recognize the fact that we all come from the same ancestor, and that none of us are perfect. We cannot expect to love everyone, but we can try not to be drugged by hate– and we fight. We peacefully protest, we speak out, we find some way to become involved, we stand for our rights, and we do not let those who want some of us dead kick us to the ground and stomp us into bone-dust.

So, art… let’s use art to maintain some sort of sanity; whether it is our own, or the sanity of an entire town. Let’s keep our art close, and follow the art of others. Let’s make art; we need it.

I hope to be around more often, especially as this year really picks up.

Until next time my friends!

A Quote for the Month…

My goodness, I almost forgot!

Better late than never, right? Here we go:

“Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death — fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.” ~Edna Ferber,  A Kind of Magic, 1963

2017 Abound

I’m backkk!

Independence Day? Anyone? Bueller?

Excuse me…

I hope you will forgive my lack of posts since the new year, I have been traveling, and caught up in social gathering after social gathering, but I will not bore you with the details.

2017– what a year: two-thousand and seventeen… there is, undoubtedly, a lot to think about for the future: safety, life in general, work, writing, whatever you care to add to your list.

Making a list of new year’s resolutions is one of our family traditions; it is always a work in progress, but it gives a few general ideas to start the year with. If you are rolling your eyes and saying something like: ‘Yeah, right. Those never last long.” Such an assumption might be correct, but I have found that having a list is helpful in itself. It’s a great reminder for the times that you loose sight of your goals.

Anywayy… it is already the 12th (eeekkk!), but that does not mean that it is too late. No sirree! I dare you to pull out your pens and pencils, or computer, markers– or whatever it is that you choose to use…

Before I ramble even more, here is a snippet of my current list (just the writing related things):

  • Edit String and Bone.
  • Publish… a book.
  • Regularly post in this blog (I have some exciting things in mind, but it may take a bit to organize them).
  • Start working on an anthology.
  • Explore more styles and formats.
  • Pitch something to a publisher– why the heck not?
  • Complete all NaNo events, camp and otherwise.
  • Look through some older pieces of work.

Phew, I think it sounded better in my mind. Of course, it will probably change, but the intent is there!

Now, it is time for me to scurry off and try to get ready for the rest of the month. If you are making new year resolution lists of one sort or another, I’d love to hear about it, if you so choose!

Until next time, my friends (and it will be soon)…

Happy New Year!

fun vintage 80s excited celebration

My goodness, it’s a whole new year already! I wish everyone fruitful plot bunnies, dogged determination, a whole lot of inspiration, fun, and confidence in the year ahead!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Image result for snoopy winter comic

My, this year is moving quickly! I can hardly believe that it is the second to last week of 2016!

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful holiday week, filled with good food, lots of laughter, and family of one sort or another!

5 Tricks for Getting to Know Your Characters

Characters can be elusive little goblins. One of our endeavors as writing people is to track them down and figure out who they are by the tiny clues that they give us.

Sometimes those clues do not consist of much at all. I, like so many others, has repeatedly fallen into the trap of not knowing exactly who my characters are. Now, how much you know your characters is often dependent on how much you plan a story before you begin writing. I, as I believe I have mentioned, am a terrible plotter.

I come up with names, a few plot points, maybe a little bit of a personality for a few characters and ta-da, I call it ‘good enough.’ Obviously, this is not exactly conducive to knowing my characters. Usually, I learn who they are by writing. The first draft is a place to try things, it is where you figure out who you are writing about and how they feel about their world.

But, that does not mean that I am not collecting tips and short-cuts to shove up my sleeve and pull out when necessary. Today, I want to share the tricks that I have; obviously, this is an ongoing list, but why wait?

Here we go:


We describe people everyday: the guy we saw at the coffee shop with a moody look on his face; the girl who sat next to us on the bus. It’s pretty common knowledge that the best characters are usually the ones with a bit of depth; a backstory that gives them something to strive for or a few fears that they avoid facing. They are the ones that seem to most human, and the most relatable.

So, I find it helpful to start with hopes and fears. Fear is often an easier thing to begin with because it is so poignant, but that might not be the case for everyone. Maybe your MC is afraid of clowns, what would they do if they see one? Or maybe their fear is much larger and more complex, maybe they hide it behind other fears and try to convince themselves that it does not exist. One of my current MCs if afraid of someone showing her exactly who she is and believing that person; it leads to a whole host of problems in her life.

Once you know something about your characters’ fears: spend some time looking at how you can use them.

While fear often pushes characters away from one thing or another, hope pulls them toward new possibilities. I think it is important to look at both and see if they balance each other and where they do not. Remember: don’t be afraid of giving your characters flaws, it only makes them stronger.


This is related to the first: emotions are a gigantic part of our lives (yes, even if you try to turn them off), why shouldn’t they be for our characters as well? What are the emotions that drive your character? Love, hate, despair, kindness, revenge, loneliness?

Consider where they help and hinder your characters, and how you can use them to your benefit.

Is it time for an evil cackle yet?


This is one that I may have talked about before, but I think it is worth mentioning again: if you character is stuck in a waiting room before a doctor– or dentist– appointment, what do they do? Do they pick up a magazine? If so, what kind? If not, how do they distract themselves? What are they feeling?

The questions are close to endless. While this may not help in the context of your plot, it can help you understand more about what your characters do in situations that you can relate to your own life. If a waiting room doesn’t work, you can always send them to a coffee shop or other public place… What do they order? What do they think about the people they see?

Make them see a bit of the world before you drag them through you plot. It’s only fair… and they never need to know that you call it ‘research.’


Random generators can be a very good thing. While I often do not pick anything from them, they often spur me toward a few ideas worth considering.  If you are not interested in random generators, try searching for images of something that is prevalent in your character’s life– even if it is just a hunch. Photos often help to visualize a character’s appearance; a person’s clothing choices and general surroundings often reflect at least a bit of their personality– even if they purposely chose to act exactly the opposite as the way they feel.

Do not be afraid to spend time trying details on and casting them aside.


Pulling off of #3, this is something that many people seem to find extremely helpful: act out conversations with your character. What are there face expressions? How do you think they use their body language when they speak? I often find myself making funny faces while writing dialogue, strangely enough, it helps me to understand what my characters are thinking and feeling.

The conversations that you have do not have to be related to your story. Explore and see what you find. Walk around your bedroom and mutter to yourself for heaven’s sakes. Recite a mundane conversation with your character and see where it takes you. I’m pretty sure the neighbors won’t call the police…

All right, that is it for now…

I hope that everyone is having a great week!

‘Till next time (it will be very, very soon)!

NaNoWriMo: Holy Cow, It’s Over?

Hello everyone!

You’re awesome! You know that? I’ll say it again: You’re awesome!

For all of the people who participated in NaNo or similar endeavors: No matter how many words you wrote, you are a winner! As long as you picked yourself up and accomplish something to bring you closer to your goal, you are a winner! If you had to quit in the middle but swore to try again, you are a winner! If you simply tried it out and found it wasn’t for you, don’t worry because you’re still a winner!

All right? I will stop trying to convince you now, but I mean it.

I apologize for the lack of posts in November… and the last week! I had a list of drafts that I meant to finish but– well… it was a crazy month in more ways than one. Thankfully, almost all of the craziness of over for the month. My time is mine again.*evil cackling*

Let’s talk about NaNo, shall we? I’m pleased to say that I finished with double what I expected to: 100,834 out of 50k. And… the story is only slightly more than halfway over. And this is book one of a duo (or trilogy).

Elizabelle and Avery like to talk. A lot.

Did I tell you anything about this story? No? Shame on me, my friends.

I never actually wrote a synopsis so I’m going to throw a few paragraphs out and see where it goes..

The story begins a few months after the conclusion of  String and Bone; a book that I hope to publish next year (I am currently in the last third of a rewrite). *crosses fingers*

Elizabelle, Rosaline’s sister, has become Queen Regent, Protector and Guide of Pyrensia. The Bone Collectors’ created a council to run the kingdom, and they are using Elizabelle as a public face to conserve some sort of public trust. She allows them to simply because she has her own plans.

She dreams of twisting people around her fingers like twine (and attempts to do so in almost every scene), and her worst fear is betrayal. Her compatriot, and girlfriend, is a former thief from Angra. While Elizabelle prefers to fight with words, Avery’s passion lies in blackmail interspersed with occasional fist-fights.

Avery has plans of her own, but they connect to Elizabelle’s for the most part. Both of them intend to use the Council– and everyone else they can– for their own ends. They love to give speeches, and nothing is a more joyful gist than threats.

The whole story has been prodigiously influenced by the election; which means there is a fair amount of social “stuff” mixed in. Finishing it will certainly be a challenge– hopefully of the delightful sort.

My, this moth is moving quickly! Now that life is settling again, I am sure that I will be able to post more often. And my next post will definitively have more substance than this little update. I have a few drafts waiting to be finished that I’m pretty excited about, and some additions to this blog that I am planning for the beginning of the year!

Until next time!

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