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The Story Behind ‘Grace’

My name is Jeyna Lim Sue Chen. It’s the name on my birth certificate and my identity card. And, as you may have noticed, there’s no ‘Grace’ anywhere in it. So, where did ‘Grace’ come from? Why is my name Jeyna Grace on most of my social media platforms? And why the word ‘Grace’? What’s the story? As I’ve been asked quite a number of times, I’ve decided to tell its tale. And it starts… in the beginning.

In the beginning, there was science.

At the start of my authoring career, I learned that names aren’t just names – that names have the power to make or break. They can paint images without adjectives and explanations. And they should be chosen wisely. This is especially so on the cover of a book.

As I’ve discovered, there seems to be an unintentional stereotype on non-English names. There’s this subconscious preconceived notion that people without English names aren’t from English speaking countries. Thus, an English book by a non-English named author isn’t up to par with English books by English named authors. It led me to believe that English names sold better. And having a pen name to distance oneself from a certain background was considered ‘wise’. Hence why I now have one.

However, times have changed. I now hear that publishers are looking for more diversity in their author pool, and having a foreign name increases one’s chances of getting published. But, I don’t know how true that is. And I don’t think it changes anything with existing stereotypes. Still, I believe readers have a varying approach to foreign names – whether positive or negative, it is individual. But back then, I wasn’t taking the risk.

So, how did I come about ‘Grace’?

Before I continue, I need to say that I’m not a fan of The Heroes of Olympus. I’ve heard of the books, and I’ve watched that one Percy Jackson movie, but it’s not something I plan on diving into. It’s just not my genre (anymore). Therefore, my pen name being Jeyna Grace – mirroring a fan pairing of the characters – is completely coincidental. I had no idea it was a ship name. And I only learned about it when readers asked if I were a fan. If you’re wondering the same, I hope this clears things up. Jeyna is my real name after all, and I chose Grace because of faith. Yes, you read correctly.

I chose ‘Grace’ because of faith.

I believe in God. I’m sure some of you don’t, and I’m not here to preach anything to you. However, God is the reason why I chose ‘Grace’. Personally, I don’t believe I can accomplish anything without Him. What I have today – my skill, talent (?), and passion – is because of Him. Many of my stories – on this blog and as books – are inspired by Him. And the novels I have in-store are made possible because of Him (not excluding all those who have supported me – I couldn’t have done it without you too).

Putting ‘Grace’ into my pen name is a reminder to myself that I’m nobody without Him. It keeps me humble. Whenever I look upon the covers of my books, I’m instantly reminded that it is all by His grace. Pride has no place when I reflect on His guidance and blessing in my life. And it is through my belief in grace that I rest in His good and perfect plans.

I guess, the story behind ‘Grace’ is pretty uneventful. I simply wanted to make a good first impression with readers, and I needed to remind myself to stay grounded.

If you’re considering on a non de plume, I suggest finding a reason and a meaning to the name. Your name shouldn’t only appeal to your audience, but should hold value to you. You want a name that speaks to you directly and drives you to keep pursuing your passion. Don’t pick a name just because it sounds cool – you can do that with your characters – but pick a name that paints an image you want to see. Let it empower you in your darkest times. And let it break any stereotypes the world might have upon you.

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Posted by on October 5, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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The Emotional Evolution of Editing

Editing mimics the making of a blade. It is a test of endurance forged in fire. It reflects a heated steel cooling in flames. And it produces a refined weapon ready to face resistance. But unlike the art of blacksmithing, we’re not made of steel. So it’s impossible, I dare say, for the makings of a book to be without emotion. For more often than not, a book is an extension of its author. And an author is made of flesh and bone.

I believe that all authors go through a similar emotional evolution when it comes to professional editing. Though not everyone has the same response, most of us experience a facet of a particular emotion. So if you’ve undergone any of these stages, know you’re not alone. And if you’ve yet to experience them, know they’re not something you should be ashamed about. After all, we’re only human.

Stage 1: Taking Offense

“Dear editor,

Did you even read my book? How dare you call him irrational? And what do you mean ‘it sounds weird’? No, you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Similar thoughts have ran through my head upon reading my editor’s comments. I won’t deny it. I take offense almost immediately. Come on, after all my hard work, how can I humbly accept an outsider brutally criticising my art? Yes, yes, I know it’s for my own good. But don’t expect me to read those blunt statements unfazed. I am angry! Calm down? You must be kidding me. Fortunately, despite the desire to explode in pride – with a letter of detest toward my editor – I know to take my words elsewhere. I go to someone I trust – someone who understands me – and vent.

I have an author BFF (or better put, best author friend forever). Her name is Erin. She wrote the super awesome, would-be-so-cool-as-a-movie novel, The Pirates of Montana. We come from the same author community and clicked almost instantly. And as much as she’s my confidant, I am hers. We share our frustrations, voice our concerns, and celebrate our accomplishments together. We support and encourage – pushing each other to be better authors.

Now, I believe it makes a lot of difference when you have someone like Erin. People who understand your predicament can help you rationalise before you act. In a stage where you’re offended by the truth, they can realign your focus and bring to light what matters most. Thankfully for all parties, stage one isn’t long standing. And having a friend as such will help you get through it objectively.

Stage 2: Explaining Our Flaws

“Dear editor,

I explained that issue in chapter seven. It’s a metaphor about life and death. And I was trying to be creative with my words. Maybe… I should’ve been clearer with my descriptions.”

I usually sleep on the blatant truth for a couple of days. It helps me get over my initial offense, allowing me to tackle the issues with minimal emotions. Then again, who am I kidding? The fact that I’m explaining my flaws instead of fixing them is an act of emotion. However, it is during this stage that I understand and grasp the problems in my book.

As I explain a character’s actions, I understand the character better. As I unravel my metaphors, I develop a better grasp of its notion. As I cover the holes of my story, I discover new ideas to improve it. And as I question my own use of words, I find even more creative ways to express myself.

By explaining my flaws, I acknowledge those flaws. And acknowledging my shortcomings, whether in my art or in my own being, drives me toward improvement. So if you have to explain yourself, do it! You might be right about some things, but you’ll also find that you’re not perfect. And when you acknowledge imperfection, you allow yourself to imagine again.

Stage 3: Recognising An Editor’s Gift

“Dear editor,

Thank you.”

You don’t have to – and possibly won’t – take everything an editor throws at you. If you strongly feel that an editor’s change pulls your work away from your initial direction, goal, and expression, you can make a stand. You’re the author. It’s your book. But oddly enough, while we wrestle with our editors, we’ll come to realise that being an editor isn’t easy. And that having the skill to improve someone else’s work is a gift.

I’m not an editor. I have done some editing work, but not where I work with authors. I can only imagine what it’s like for editors who face authors in the first two stages above. I’m sure they’ve encountered authors who respond immediately with hate. I believe they’ve met authors who think their books are without a single flaw. Yet I’m amazed at how editors remain patient.

Of course, not all editors are on the same playing field – some less professional than others. But I know it’s their job to help. So if you have an editor who has assisted you in bettering your work, do say ‘thank you’ – a simple show of gratitude goes a long way.

Without a doubt, editing is an emotional roller-coaster. And it is through this emotional ride that an author becomes a better author, not just in skill but in personality. Editing teaches us to be humble, to acknowledge imperfections, and to embrace change. It helps us be more creative, to challenge our abilities, and to try new things. The goal of editing may be to mature a book, but it also matures us – the soul between the pages.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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Two Weeks, No Post?

For those who’ve been following me for a while, you know I don’t skip posting unless I’m on vacation. Hence, my absence is pretty unnatural. And unfortunately, if you read my recent post on my book, it’s due to a broken promise. I said I’d still be posting while I worked on my novel. However, while I rewrote The Slave Prince, I realised my attention couldn’t be directed elsewhere. So, I’m sorry.

As I’m transitioning to a new day job, I needed to complete my book rewrite before September began. My rewrite outline was confirmed on the 23rd of August. That meant, I didn’t have much time before September rolled around. So I wrote, every single day. I spent a total of 56 hours rewriting my novel, adding close to 6,000 words of new material. And, I’m still not done. Yesterday, I sent my rewritten manuscript to Inkshares. If there are no issues with the book, it’ll enter copy editing. But, if there are cracks I failed to notice during my rewrite, I’ll have to revisit the manuscript. Hopefully, it isn’t the latter.

Now that the workload isn’t as arduous, I hope to start posting again. I plan to share my experience on developmental editing next week, as it has been a pretty interesting process. Of course, once The Slave Prince enters copy editing, I’ll be sharing that experience too. And, on top of that, the book will come with a kingdom and realm map. I’m looking forward to see my world charted, and would share that whole process as well. But for today, I’d appreciate if you accept this post as a post. Forgive me for not sharing anything substantial for three weeks. Trust me, I tried. But when your book calls for you, alike a needy toddler, you have little choice but to attend to it.

With that said, if you’re new to my blog, thank you for hopping on board – I was surprised to find new subscriber emails in my inbox! Rest assured, my truancy isn’t habitual. It’s just writing season. And with readers waiting on The Slave Prince, I’ve got to get it done.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2017 in Others

 

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The Hate In Art

Recently, I read an article about a young adult novel under fire by the YA twitter community. Influencers claimed the pre-released book was racist. They questioned the publisher for publishing it. Members of the campaign advised their followers to stay clear of it. And whatever good reviews it previously received… well, those were buried under a 1-star average rating on Goodreads. But, while I scrolled through the article – it was really long, so I skimped through – I found myself frowning. I frowned not because the book was supposedly racist – I frowned because I felt for the author. And after I wondered how she faced the criticism without breaking down, I feared… for myself. Reminded that this world is unafraid to voice its opinions – most of the time in a brutal manner – I was anxious.

Yes, we know not everyone will love our work. There’ll be haters. Many will bash the good out of our art. Some will even take it personally and attack us as creators. It’s a scary world we live in. And as much as we wish for harmony, kindness, and our faith in humanity to be restored, the reality stirs warranted anxiety. It’s something we, unfortunately, cannot avoid. So, I guess now’s the perfect time to say, we can change the world, right? Alas, I can’t say that. Because, we can’t. At least, we can’t change how people chose to respond. We can’t convince others to go easy on us. We can ask, but it doesn’t promise a kinder response. However, there is hope. Because amidst the hate, there is love.

Out of curiosity, I headed to the questionable book’s Goodreads page. There, I found an average 3-star rating. Outside of Goodreads, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, it had an above 4-star rating. It’s safe to say, the heat it took prior to its launch didn’t burn it to the ground. Now, I’ve not read the book itself nor do I intend to -I’ve long past my teenage years obsessed with supernatural YA novels – but I’m glad. I’m glad for the author. Though the review section alternates between good and bad ratings, the book has its defenders. There are those who saw what some found negative to be positive. There are those who chose to give the author the benefit of the doubt. While I don’t dismiss the bad reviews, because some of them are objective, not all hope is lost for the future of this book.

Using this book as a case study, I realised how fleeting events are. No matter the intensity of a campaign, for or against something, it will come to an end. It has to come to an end. Though some crusades last decades, there’s always a finish line. Just like a ripple, its waves eventually abate. We cannot predict how long it takes, or when the remaining residue evaporates, but we can find rest in knowing it’ll end. And such is the case with hate.

I believe hate has no lasting throne. Despite its countless attempts to crown itself, through events, people, and circumstances, it’ll ultimately be dethroned. So the next time we find hate in a battle to take us down, let’s look at the end. Let’s find love in those who’d stand by us. And let’s not forget, that in time, it’ll be over. Hate may have the power to set us off track – detouring our dreams and destroying our passion – but hate can only do so within its short term. If we stand firm during it’s brief tenure, it’ll lose its power… and we’ll win the war.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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A Royal Pain

It’s been awhile since I posted something like this. I assume you have to be famous to write such a post regularly. Alas, I’m not. But no matter the frequency, to be able to write this is a blessing. Hence, here I am – on this rare occasion – to make a public update regarding The Slave Prince. And if you supported the book during the contest, or have pre-ordered it, this will be good news.

As of this month, The Slave Prince starts production. Yes, the ball is rolling! But despite the celebration, I have my work cut out for me. Unlike The Battle for Oz, The Slave Prince is receiving extensive developmental editing. This means I’ll be rewriting and editing the content a whole lot. With the first dev letter being 14 pages long, one can assume there’d be more where it came from. So… I guess it’s time I book a room in Alpenwhist. After all, it would be a while before I leave.

Since it’s just the start of production, I’ve spent the past few days responding to the general issues present in my book. At the same time, I’ve drafted a rewrite outline to be discussed with my dev editor. Also – hoping to get the book in your hands sometime in 2018 – I’m putting the writing of the sequel to my trilogy on hold. I can’t juggle two novels at the same time. But have no fear, my blog will still be here – I’ll be posting as usual.

So with all that said, it looks like everything would be smooth sailing… right? No, I joke.

Writing and producing a book isn’t easy. You probably know this. But often times, we forget. In fact, after I’d completed my countless edits of The Slave Prince, I naively thought I was done. I heaved a sigh of relief. Then, I received my first dev letter. Then, I realised I wasn’t done. And I know, I still won’t be done once I pass developmental editing. Copyediting will include another series of rewrites and edits. It would be another season of change for the book. And when I finally let go of The Slave Prince, it would be publication day. From that day on, I can only hope my hard work pays off.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all these to deter you from writing. You know me – I’m an advocate of chasing your dreams. My reason for sharing this is to cheer you on. It’s tough – I feel you, bro. But we can do it – we have the strength to trudge through every phase of writing. And, it will all be worth it. Whether our book sells by the millions or the mere hundreds, the act of bringing them into fruition is worth our blood, sweat, and tears. We just need to stay focused and don’t lose heart. With the finish line in sight, let’s give our very best in every leg of the race.

Now, if you’re a reader, I’d like to drop you a message too. I know not all books are great – I’ve read some pretty dreadful ones. But if you could give writers some slack, that would be wonderful. If you could be kind with your reviews, we would appreciate it. I know hard work doesn’t excuse horrible writing. And I know, you have every right to dislike and leave as many 1-star ratings as you deem fit. Personally, I’m fine with that. But, you can also be kind. Go easy on your words and encourage writers to be better. Choose to build dreams instead of tear them down. Because who knows, your 1-star review might just birth the next bestseller.

As I’ve said before, writing is a journey – there would be ups and downs, easy days and hard days, great sales and no sales, fans and haters. But, we don’t choose our craft because it’ll be smooth sailing from start to finish. We choose our craft out of passion. No matter where we are – no matter who we are, whether writer or reader – let’s live with passion. It gives us a purpose, and it makes life so much more interesting.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2017 in Others

 

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3 Ways To Crush A Writer’s Block

Currently, I’m working on the second book of my trilogy. And as I’m trying my best to tie up book one and prepare for book three in this middle book, I find myself struggling to keep the story exciting. In fact, closing one adventure while prepping for another has never been this difficult. Of course, I knew writing a trilogy wasn’t going to be easy. A trilogy is a huge commitment and requires more layering than stand-alone novels. However, I didn’t expect to hit a block barely midway into the series. It’s frustrating. I’m tired. But I need to get it done! So to get past this stage, I’ve been practicing 3 things. Hopefully, these 3 things would help you too… should you be in a similar predicament. After all, stuck is the worst place any writer can be in.

#1 Vocalise Ideas

Personally, I find that voicing my ideas help me generate more ideas. The more I say them out loud, the easier it is to fix and improve them. Yes, I know how talking to myself makes me look. No, I’m not crazy. In fact, I voice my daily thoughts more frequently than I should. But off late, I’ve been internalizing my ideas. I’ve been keeping them boxed, that they’ve gone stale. Realising this, I decided to give them some fresh air – bouncing them off my room wall, behind closed doors. And lo and behold, a plot twist recently hit. So, if you’re not already monologuing, I suggest you give it a go. You never know what crazy idea would come your way, simply by acting a little mad.

#2 Dive Into Similar Works

Disclaimer: I’m not promoting plagiarism. You should never copy someone’s work. But, there’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from others.

As my trilogy is about a young king, set in a medieval world of magic, I’ve been diving into similar works of its genre. I’ve been watching countless historical dramas, to grasp palace politics while exposing myself to old world architecture. Because I cannot travel back in time and work as a palace maid, it’s impossible for me to write a story based on my experience. Hence, the only way for me to gain perspective is to embrace the works of others’.

I seek to be inspired by parallel worlds – to see it play out before my eyes, and to live vicariously through works of fiction. And not only do these stories oil the gears of my own, I’m left thoroughly entertained too.

#3 Run Head First

I’ve probably mentioned this before. Wait, I believe I’ve mentioned it before. But, I’ll say it again: to get a story moving is to write it. A story cannot write itself and it needs us to finish it. So despite the herculean block, shadowing us from the finish line, we have to charge forward. We have to crush that block by writing the most horrendous chapters. Yes, you’ll need to rewrite them. And yes, you’ll want to weep at the horror of your own words. Trust me, I know. But thankfully, those words have been written – you can go back and fix them, because they’ve been written. So run head first. Charge at the wall. It’ll hurt, but the pain is worth the finish line.

As I strive to complete my book this year, I hope you endeavour to finish your own projects too. We’re all on the same boat, navigating the rough waves. But no matter what comes our way, we’re the authors of our stories and we have the power to bring them to an end. No block is too big for an author to overcome. And knowing this, there’s no stopping us.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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100 Words, 6 Years Later

I wasn’t a good writer. I’m not a good writer now, either. But when I look back at my older works and cringe, I know I’ve come a long way. So if you feel like your writing isn’t great, I want you to know that you’ll get better. If you keep writing, you’ll improve. And it’s OK to admit that you suck. One cannot progress by already being the best.

To prove my point, let me show you the opening of my first novel and the opening of my most recent novel. Right off the bat, one seems more interesting than the other.

The Dreamer, 2011

Another day indoors. Tad sighed as he stared blankly at the book in front of him. He wanted very much to be out in the field playing ball with his brothers instead of reading a 500-page manual on “How to un-root an Energy Canister”, as though removing an Energy Canister was the job only for a highly professional engineer, if that was the case the world would have plenty of them. 

Tad shut the book forcefully and peered out the window. He could see his brothers being interrupted by his father in the middle of their game. He knew automatically that they were being ordered to get back to work. 

Trails of the Wind, 2017

Father is alive.

Those three words echoed in the depths of his cloudless mind. Standing before the wide glass window, he watched as day ended its shift. While night clocked in, the clear amber sky gracefully gave way to the moon. And in the peaceful arrival of darkness, the kingdom below lit with cheerful, vibrant lanterns – a reflection of the starry canvas above.

As the crackling logs in the fireplace warmed the bedchamber, Robb made up his mind. His heart was certain. And there were no more questions.

Father is alive.

Perhaps to you, I did a pretty decent job with The Dreamer. But if I handed you the entire book, I’m sure you’d change your mind. The Dreamer was self-published in 2011. It was my first ever novel, and I’m unashamed of it. I had to start somewhere, right? So I’ve left it in the world to be judged. Because at the end of the day, it’s the book that signifies the start of my adventure.

As for Trails of the Wind, I wrote it in 2015 but only finished editing in January. Currently, it’s being pitched to publishers. It’s part of a trilogy and I’m hoping someone would give it a shot. I know I would one day write better books than this. But for now, it’s the best I’ve written. Perhaps another six years down the road, I’d cringe again.

The great thing about writing is this: no one starts great. Sure, there are those who make headlines upon their debut. But what we don’t see are the years those authors spent on improving their skill. They could’ve been writing without a single soul knowing. Unfortunately, when they make their first appearance, many assume they’re literary geniuses. Many choose to compare themselves to a best-seller, without reading the backstory. And by doing so, many feel inadequate despite their potential.

Now, I’m not saying literary geniuses don’t exist – I think there are geniuses out there. But I doubt any success can come without constant devotion to one’s craft. Even geniuses have to put in work or their talent goes to waste. So stop comparing yourselves to others, and start comparing yourself to yourself.

The best gauge of improvement is through your own works. Acknowledging that some aren’t great isn’t a confession of incompetence, but a proof of determination. And determination is all you need to reach the finish line. You can be a great writer one day, dear reader. Today might not be that day, but that day would surely come if you don’t give up.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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