All posts by D. Gabrielle Jensen

Measuring Success

“How do you define ‘success’?”

This is something everyone should take the time to consider, and reconsider because it will change. But it’s an especially important question for anyone trying to blaze their own trail. Authors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs . . . all need to evaluate and re-evaluate our definition of success in order to ensure we are still working toward it.

For me, it is comfort. The ability to do things without worrying about them.

I happened to be visiting Denver at the time of the first game of the NHL Western Conference finals between the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers. I gave a moment’s worth of serious consideration to buying tickets, only to be sidelined by the price.

Success in my art would mean avoiding those moments. In most cases, I prioritize experiences over possessions and that opportunity to experience a playoff game on the home ice is one I may not get again. I want to be able to see those opportunities and take them, without hesitation.

One of my dearest friends is getting married in California in September. When she first announced her engagement (with a ceremony planned for 2020), I didn’t think anything would keep me from helping her celebrate. Now there is too much standing in the way. Success would mean not having to make that choice.

Success, for me, is not “all about money;” it is, however, about having the financial freedom to gain the experiences.

What about you? What does success mean to you?


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Addressing the Booktok Controversy: Returning Books

In recent weeks, the hot button topic of conversation has been readers returning books to Amazon for a full refund, after they have read the whole book. Now, up until a few days ago, this was simply a conversation I felt was accomplishing nothing but elevated blood pressure.

It is not as if the people manipulating the system are poor and can’t afford to buy the books they want. Not to generalize but people living in poverty know how to budget for things they want, they don’t steal unless it’s a necessity for survival (if you see someone shoplifting bread, eggs, or milk, no you didn’t), they don’t do things to pull other people down.

The majority of the questionable morals belong to the middle and upper middle class, or upper class, who don’t believe they should have to pay for luxury items, like books. They believe they are above the law and entitled to free things.

I don’t know where these attitudes come from, but they don’t belong to people with whom authors can reason. For the most part, these authors are expending a tremendous amount of energy and time begging and pleading with these system manipulators, hoping they can impart some kind of terrific philosophical wisdom and make them see the errors of their ways.

Frankly, I think it’s a waste of time and blood pressure.

But now, someone has taken a step that may actually head the conversation in the right direction–a petition to Amazon to change their policies. Do I think it will work? Not necessarily but it’s better than begging people who don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong to stop doing it. That said, if you would like to sign the petition, here is the link.


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Trigger Warning: Talk about Trigger Warnings

Following through on my promise to hash out the drama of TikTok and Booktok, let’s take a quick look at trigger warnings.

The problem is–at its root–one of semantics.

While some people are, in fact, asking for trigger warnings, most readers should be asking for content warnings, and I think that’s what is causing the rift between readers and authors–and simply between authors.

The difference is that content warnings address sensitive material that people commonly find sensitive. Content warnings are the blurbs you see at the beginning of primetime television–The following program contains subjects that may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised–and on movie trailers–This feature has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America.

These ratings and warnings are often accompanied by broad but vague bullet points: sexual situations, suggestive/harsh language, violence, fantasy violence, gore, bullying, self-harm, animal death . . . It is a list of subjects in the movie or television show that have been agreed upon by a wide variety of people as having an adverse effect on a large portion of the population.

Triggers, on the other hand, are neither broad, nor vague, and it is nearly impossible to address all potential triggers in a work of media. Triggers are sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations that bring to the surface negative physiological responses in connection to a person’s lived experiences. Fireworks are a triggering event for many military veterans who served in active combat. Raised voices can be a trigger for survivors of domestic violence.

I use my own triggers as an example.

Snakes, basketball, and Pearl Jam’s Ten.

I hide images of snakes on my social media. I don’t like them. I had what I believe now to have been a night terror as a child where I was surrounded by snakes (think Indiana Jones) but when I woke up, they were still there, covering my bedroom floor and I couldn’t do anything but scream for help.

Several years later, my cat found a nest of garter snakes and joyfully brought them into the house, one by one, and laid them proudly at my feet. To say I was paralyzed in fear would be melodramatic and 100% true.

I have not watched a basketball game in 20 years. I associate some of my worst experiences with bullying–by peers and adults–with basketball. I had teammates throw the ball at my face (in youth league/peewees and in middle school). I had coaches actively single me out, even when we weren’t playing competitively, and make me shoot free throws until I made one (while everyone else sat and watched). As a cheerleader for a school with no respect for cheerleaders, basketball season was excruciating. Now, just watching basketball on television makes me anxious.

I am in the process of figuring out what happened in my past between a “friend” and me and Pearl Jam’s Ten album plays a fairly big part in that historical reconstruction.

But those things don’t trigger negative responses in most people.

Maybe the snakes but I have yet to see them added to any of these lists.

The point is that we absolutely can–and should–add content warnings to media, but we need to call them what they are and not try to predict and address every single reader’s individual triggers.


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TikTok Drama and Me

I have made a somewhat conscious decision to keep my nose out of the random chaos and drama that crops up among the “booktok” community–TikTok creators who focus, primarily or exclusively, on discussions related to writing, reading, and books. The biggest reason for this decision is a lot of times, I don’t find this drama until days later and then I’m just late to the party. Other times, whatever I have to say has been said–and said and said and said–until anything I might be able to contribute will be lost to the din.

But I still have thoughts.

So, I’m bringing these thoughts here.

I have struggled with content ideas for this blog, and this seems like a good source for finding some of those ideas.

I will also be scrubbing this blog, getting rid of old posts that don’t really fit the overall mission. Hopefully, I can start training the bots to find me based on what I’m really sharing.

Masks and Mental Health

In Asian countries, it is not uncommon for people to wear masks. They wear them in crowded spaces because in their cities they have some very crowded spaces. And in some places they wear them because of pollutants in the air.

This is a foreign (if you’ll pardon the expression) concept for much of the western world. And because we are not used to the practice, we’ve had some adjusting to do over the last 18 months.

And some people have not adjusted well.

I am one of them.

And the stupid thing is I’m not in the anti-mask camp. I have some opinions about the state of affairs but I’m not vehemently anti-mask or pro-conspiracy or any of that. I have seen, not first hand but through the eyes of others, the worst of the worst.

But I’ve seen a lot of other ugliness in the last year and a half, too.

So, I wasn’t really sure why I was having such an averse reaction to the whole situation. I couldn’t quite pin down what it was about wearing a mask and seeing people in media wearing them that was bothering me so much.

Because my only reaction to seeing other people wearing them in real life was that person is wearing a mask.

But seeing fictional characters on the television wearing masks really gets under my skin.

And I finally put things together.

There are a couple of things happening here. The first is my own self esteem. This is the reason I struggle with the idea of wearing them personally.

I spend every day staring at myself in a mirror. For hours at a time. Before all of this started, the person I saw in that mirror was short and overweight and dressed in unflattering clothing that accentuated the short and the overweight.

But that person could smile.

See, I was bullied for a few things as a kid but one major one was a condition called strabismus.

I actually didn’t have a word for it until just a few years ago. But as a kid it was a “lazy eye.” Technically, they’re different but similar conditions but according to the one and only optometrist who took the time to really examine me, I don’t have a true lazy eye because it responds to stimulus.

ANYWHO . . . I didn’t know that until my mid-20s but even if I did know that as a kid, imagine being a kid trying to explain the medical tech to other kids. But I have spent the better part of 35 years watching people look behind them to see who I’m talking to, even when I address them by name. And I spent most of my childhood being called cross-eyed.

Because I wasn’t diagnosed, properly or at all, until my 20s, obviously nothing was done to fix the problem. Though often the fixes don’t work and have to be done again and again, especially when they are performed on adults. So I still have a weird, wonky eye that makes people look over their shoulder for the other Jim or Sally standing behind them. And I’m still a little self-conscious about it.

No, that’s not true. I’m only self-conscious about it when someone or something calls attention to it.

Like covering up the lower half of my face so all that is left are my eyes.

I think my personal aversion to wearing a mask comes from the fact that it is constantly calling attention to this traumatic thing that I hate about myself.

I also figured out that while I’m not hearing impaired (I actually have impeccable hearing, probably because my vision isn’t perfect), I have trouble hearing people talk. I think it’s a form of dyslexia, maybe, but I hear the sounds they just don’t always make it to my brain in the right order. Which is why I hate talking on the telephone.

But then I realized . . .

What do talking on the phone and wearing a mask have in common?

I can’t see your lips.

I’m not, technically, reading people’s lips, but if I can see your mouth moving I am far more likely to understand what you’re saying to me.

And I think that is part of why it bothers me so much to see fictional characters in masks on television.

The other reason is . . . it’s fiction. It’s meant to be an escape, not a reminder.

I just caught up to the abbreviated 2021 season on New Amsterdam and Daniel Dae Kim just joined the cast. In the episode I watched most recently, they were talking about the virus in the past tense because things had calmed down from the chaos they had endured in the early months. One of the other characters says to Kim’s character, “Hearken back . . . ” and he cuts them off saying, “I’d rather not hearken back to a time when thousands of people were dying every day.”

That sums up my feelings about wandering into pandemic episodes of television shows after the fact. I’m still about a season and a half behind on Wolf’s Chicago franchise so we’ll (hopefully) be well past all of this when I hit pandemic episodes of those shows.

And I don’t want to hearken back.

I want to move forward and I want my means of escape to be escaping, not reminding.

That was a lot of thoughts for very late in the evening (or early in the morning though I haven’t gone to bed yet) but I had an epiphany . . . a couple of them, and needed to get them out of my head.


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I Write for People to Read

I write for people to read.

I don’t know if it’s the extroverted side of me coming out through my creativity, but I never understood the point of writing something you never intended anyone else to read.

Naturally, there might be people I don’t want to see something or an appropriate time for something to be read. Not everyone gets to read first and second drafts. I’m not super excited about my conservative boomer family or conservative Gen-X co-workers reading my trilogy about condemned souls that has been generously seasoned with spice and F-bombs.

I also understand, once something is published, there’s really not a lot I can do to stop those people from getting their hands on it.

But at the same time, I never kept a diary when I was the age to keep a diary. I was fairly guarded with my words because I was a teenager and teenagers are guarded with everything, but I still didn’t write anything I didn’t expect someone would some day read.

Even in my thirteen-year-old brain, I was sure my summer scribblings would one day be on the library shelves.

But I am an extrovert. I struggle with the execution, but I love (the idea of) getting acquainted with people. I love sharing bits of myself, I love learning bits about other people. I’ve always been a little awkward doing those things in the meat space and find it much easier to communicate through written words but that no one said extroverts couldn’t be paralyzingly awkward.

And my writing is a bit of myself. It’s something I have done my whole life. I’ve never known any time when I wasn’t telling stories. I probably even told stories in baby gibberish.

I want people to read my stories.

Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, all of it. I put it out into the world with the hope someone will read it and enjoy it.

Sometimes, I’ll write something, just dump words out of my brain, and send it to my sister, asking where I would find the best audience for the thing. Should I capitalize on this thing by posting it to Vocal? Is it more suited to the blog? Where should I put this? Sometimes she’ll tell me. Sometimes I think she thinks I’m overthinking.

Most of the time, I know where something belongs.

That doesn’t always mean anyone reads it.

And therein lies my biggest struggle.

I am willing to share the words. I don’t see the point in not sharing the words. But I feel like so few of the words ever get seen.


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Crafting Realistic Dialog

I’ve never set out to instruct other writers on their craft. I worked as a writing tutor in university, helping other students become better writers (or just craft better essays), and through that experience, I learned that teaching was not for me.

But recently, I’ve been trying to find new ways to make writing a consistent thing which I can use to pay some bills and it seems like sharing my tools and tricks–and, I hesitate to say, expertise–with the masses of aspiring authors is a valid path toward that goal.

To that end, I offer you my thoughts on dialog.

I hate writing dialog. Let’s get that out of the way before we go any further. I love writing action scenes–fight scenes, sex scenes, doesn’t matter as long as it’s moving–but dialog bores me to tears.

Dialog is also one of the things about my writing on which I receive the most compliments. That it is so realistic and believable. That it is engaging and entertaining.

So, in order to share how I write dialog that elicits that kind of praise, I have to take a step back and figure out what really goes into a conversation.

Perhaps it stems from my own real life experiences.

I am not a small talk kind of girl. As an NFJ personality type with ADHD, I am far more interested in the mysteries of the universe than the mundanity of idle chit-chat. Got a story to tell? Jump in with both feet. Preface with, “Girrrrrrrl, you won’t BELIEVE what happened to me today,” and swim for the bottom.

And that comes through in my writing as well.

One of the most common bits of advice given on the topic of writing dialog is to skip the pleasantries. Yes, ten minutes of hello, hello, how are you, I am well, how are you is real life but it’s B O R I N G. Just typing it out was boring, imagine finding it within the pages of what should be a riveting page-turner.*

Instead, start conversations in the middle.

Seeing the caller ID name flash on my screen, I slid the green dot to the right and lifted the phone to my ear.
Sam started talking, almost before the call had fully connected. “I’m going to kill him. I’m going to pull his still-beating heart out through his nose with a coat hanger.”
“I gather the conversation went well?”

Another aspect of my dialog is I don’t always give readers what they are expecting. The expected answer to “how are you today?” is “fine, thank you.” So? Don’t do that.

Sheila rounded the corner of the island counter to find Jamie seated on the floor, legs crossed beneath his body, licking peanut butter from a spoon. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Have you ever considered the ramifications regarding the size differences between gummy bears and gummy worms? The gummy universe must be a terrifying place.”
“For the bears, anyway,” Sheila replied, grabbing a spoon of her own and joining Jamie on the floor.

Answering a question with a question is a good way to draw out the conversation without drawing out the conversation. Answering a question with a question means neither person is going to get an answer to their own question, at least, not right away.

There is probably a lot more I could say but the truth is, I don’t really know how to tell you to write dialog the way I write dialog. Like I said before, it is one of my least favorite things about writing. But I think my best advice is grab a couple of close friends and a bottle of cheap wine and go sit under the stars. Then pay attention to how you talk to each other when you don’t have to muck around with niceties and small talk. Because I honestly think that’s where a lot of this comes from.


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Award-Winning Author

I am an award-winning author.

What does that really mean, though? How long can I milk it? Does it have a shelf-life?

I earned the title, the first time, in 1992. I was 12 years old when I won my first poetry contest. It was sponsored by the D.A.R.E. program and open to middle school students in three states. And out of some ten thousand students, I came out on top. I got four tickets to a Colorado Rockies game of my choice and a suite at the Marriot in downtown Denver.

As a senior in high school, it was mandatory for everyone on the newspaper staff to enter a story in a contest run by the local college newspaper. I earned first place for a sports writing story.

The anthology that introduced the world to Fia Drake won first prize in the Feathered Quill Book Awards for 2019.

My publisher, the same publisher responsible for that anthology, wants to be able to add accolades to all of the titles under their umbrella. So they are encouraging me to enter Fia in other contests.

The thing is, I don’t care.

I care that they want that to be part of their reputation but I don’t care enough to do it myself. It is part of my contract that they will pay the entry fees for two contests; all others are at my cost.

I’m looking, casually, at awards contests where I think I could be successful but only casually because it is important to my publisher. And as a result, I have come up with a kind of wishlist for contests.

  • Voted on by readers (read also: would someone please enter me in the Goodreads award)
  • Favor given to indie or small press authors
  • Low entry fee or entry fee that goes toward prizes

Actually, that’s really it. But even with that being the extent of my list, I am struggling to find anything that meets my criteria. I don’t even care if it hits all three, but I would prefer it be voted on by readers instead of a panel of judgey judges.

Anyway, I guess this is all to say, if you find a contest that fits what I’m looking for, drop it in the comments. I’m hitting a wall here.

Starving Artists

Some days I feel like those singers they used to feature on American Idol. The ones who had been told their whole lives they had the “voice of an angel,” but when the angel sang it sounded like a wounded cat.

Except with writing instead of singing.

I read through these elegantly-crafted blogs and even just social media posts and I question whether I am capable of conveying emotions and meaning in the same way. I have been writing, professionally, for twenty years, casually for thirty-five. But there are still moments when I feel like I no longer control the words in my mind. I can no longer guide them to the page in the ways I once did.

I have never wanted anything more than to entertain people with my work, to give them an escape from the mundanity of their everyday lives. But then I hear people talking about books they have read, emoting over the prose, choking back tears at the beauty of the story, the tragedy of the characters, and I don’t believe I am capable of eliciting such a response.

I see other authors gushing their gratitude over the number of books they have sold solely to their Booktok community or their Bookstagram community and I doubt the potential for that to be me. Because I am not writing books that touch people’s souls or change their lives. I never wanted to. But is that the reason I feel like I am back in the third, fourth, fifth grades, listening to my teachers tell my parents, “She’s just not living up to her full potential.”

But, is this my potential? Am I only meant to watch from the outside while others succeed at the dreams I have had, both consciously and unconsciously, from before I even started school?

Without even knowing what was happening, I grew up in a generation compelled to create. Previous generations have all given birth to creative compulsives, this is not new. But somehow the Xennial/Millennial generation has reared ourselves flying a bold middle finger at convention. We saw futures as starving artists and said yes, please. We are bringing back the concept of “patron of the arts,” in the form of crowdfunding, pay what you want models, and subscription services. We are figuring out ways to forge our paths while bucking convention. We have chosen to be hungry and homeless in favor of creation, in hopes of one day “making it” with our Etsy shops and our Bandcamps.

And for some, it’s working.

Just not for me.

Bored

What do you do when you can’t even figure out what content to produce to keep yourself entertained?

I have lamented this on here before (which is part of the problem) but I don’t know what to share with people. I have no interest in producing MORE writing tips or editing tips; the internet is saturated with them.

I don’t feel like I get any engagement from behind the scenes content–research bits, character sketches, that sort of thing–and lack of engagement is the quickest way to reinforce my belief that I am a boring human.

I think that’s it, ultimately. I am boring. People tell me that I’m interesting, that I have a lot to say, but when I ask them for guidance, they just repeat themselves. “You’re not boring!” Okay, but I think I am so tell me what it is about me that makes you think I’m not boring? Maybe the thing that you find interesting would be interesting to other people. I might still think it’s dumb but at least having someone say it’s interesting to them gives me hope that I just think I’m boring because I have to spend all day every day listening to the same stupid stories.

I know that those same stupid stories are new to other people and I can’t accurately gauge their entertainment value. But in this case, no news is not good news. No engagement IS engagement. No engagement is rejection of my offerings from the vox populi.

Sometimes it’s an algorithm thing. But my anxiety doesn’t understand that word. My anxiety says, “No one liked this, that means it was terrible. Whatever you do, do NOT repeat this.”

If I post too many more of these, this is going to be my brand. At least in this arena. WordPress is going to start marketing me as the Debbie Downer who has nothing valid to say. Because I keep presenting myself in that light.

I have things to say. I have A LOT of things to say. I’m just not sure if anyone wants to hear them.


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