Category Archives: writing

Polarizing Author Thoughts: Prologues and Epilogues

Polarizing Author Thought for your Thursday:

While there are exceptions to every rule, and I’ve definitely read a few in-the-dawn-of-time narratives that didn’t need to exist, prologues contain valuable information that enriches the reader experience but could not be obtained through the prescribed narrative perspective of the rest of the book/series. You don’t HAVE to read them—no one is forcing you—but you are missing out if you don’t. Full stop. You are missing out.

EPILOGUES, on the other hand, are useless, pointless, and unnecessary. Yes, I know that was redundant; I feel that strongly about it. I don’t want to be given a tidy, satisfying ending, then be slingshot ahead five years to A. have that rug ripped out from under me or B. overdo the “happily ever after” by giving us Albus Severus Potter, named after the two most toxic people in the parents’ lives (after Umbridge, of course).

And I think, that is the problem, more than anything, is putting information into an epilogue that either changes or dictates the reader’s overall experience of the story. If you are of the belief that Dumbledore and Snape were villains in Harry Potter’s story—and an overwhelming number of people believe that—it might make you angry to find out he then named a child after them. Showing us that glimpse into their future takes away our choice as readers to decide for ourselves how we feel about those characters, when he could have named him Ronald Neville. Even naming a child after Draco would have been less polarizing to the fandom. Draco Cedric.

That got a little off-track, but I really, really hate epilogues.

Remember, if you enjoy reading this, consider helping me keep it going by supporting my Patreon or just buying me a coffee.


Separating Art and AI-rtist

The art world is abuzz at the moment over artificial intelligence (AI) taking our jobs.

If you have heard anything about the Hollywood/Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) writers’ strike (here, the term “Hollywood” refers to the whole of the filmed media industry, not the city proper) and half of that strike is over the prospect of losing jobs to AI content creation. The idea, obviously, is that studios can use AI to write scripts and will no longer need to pay a dozen writers to keep a show running indefinitely.

The flaw in that logic is what happened the last time the WGA went on strike (2017). That strike led to the insurgence of reality television as well as the worst season of television in recent memory. A lot of people cite the third season of Heroes that came out of that mess as one striking example of what happens when Hollywood (still the industry) hires non-union writers to fill in where their regular writers are absent.

The point is . . . consumers of art are going to know the difference.

And there were already people gaming the system, selling work that wasn’t theirs to make a fast buck. This is nothing NEW, just another hurdle to cross. But the patrons of the arts are going to see through the soulless AI creations and stop patronizing those creations. If it looks like Amazon Prime is using AI to write their shows, people will just go to CBS, ABC, TNT, Max . . . and find something new to watch there, something that still has the soul of real, flesh and blood writers behind it.

Do I think this problem is going away? Not at all. I think now that we have it, AI “art” generation is here to stay. And for things like product descriptions for catalog sales or for an author to show their readers an image of how their characters look in their own heads, without having to use celebrity images or pay an arm and a leg for custom commissioned character art . . . It is absolutely a great tool for those jobs.

But do I think AI generation is going to replace real artists?

Honestly, my inclination is to say no, however, there is a whole new crop of youths who seem to believe technology is king and instant gratification IS all it’s cracked up to be. But I think there will always be a place in the world for artists with real heart and soul.

In the spring of 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the buzz was about the start of the next cultural era. The H1N1 pandemic of 1918-1919 helped kick off the jazz age, the age of art deco, flappers, and decadence for anyone who wanted it. To think that the pandemic of 2020 wouldn’t do the same, in some fashion, seemed foolish.

Is AI our generation’s jazz and art deco? Is that something we are meant to know in the moment, or do we have to wait another 10-15-20 years before we can really see, in hindsight, what our new art movement(s) were?

None of this is to say I don’t see a reason to worry. I also don’t see an end to the tide and maybe it’s better to ride the tide than get buried beneath it.

If you like what you read here, please consider joining my Patreon or even just buying me a coffee.

Just Buckle Down and Do It

I’ve been in a holding pattern for . . . several months now where literally nothing is getting written. I’m thinking about what I want to write, like, constantly, but when it comes time to put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, and get the job done, I have nothing.

I don’t exactly have nothing in the literal sense of the word. I have a lot of somethings that don’t add up to anything.

Meme, reads: My main problem as a writer is that I don't write because "I have a story to tell." I write because there are worlds I want to visit, ideas I want to explore, people I want to meet, conversations I want to hear, emotions that I want to express, and impossibilities I want to make real. Which means that I still need a fucking plot.

This is the truest thing on the internet at this moment. I have characters I really kind of like. I have snippets of this and that. I have somethings that don’t add up to anything. And that’s almost more frustrating than having actual, literal nothing.

I can’t nail down a setting. I don’t want to set another series in Denver or even Colorado, but I feel uncentered trying to write an urban fantasy in a city I only kind of know. Would I like to go wander around Chicago the way I learned my way around Denver? Yes. Do I have that kind of time? No. Is Google Street View an acceptable substitute? Not really.

I am not connecting with the characters. I have a pair, Val(erie) and Roxy, who I decided to approach from a kind of Sherlock and Watson angle where Watson (Roxy) is the narrator but that puts me in a place of disconnect where everything that happens to Val has to also happen to Roxy otherwise she truly is just reporting it after the fact (telling, not showing . . .). So while I kind of like what I’ve written in that style, it’s not sustainable. At least not for me. And they’re the ones I’m having the least amount of trouble with.

But the biggest problem is, as the meme suggests, I don’t have a plot. At least nothing I think is good enough to pour my focus into. So, instead, I’m writing nothing. Which is also a thing I don’t like.

As writers, we have a dozen people in our ears, at any given moment, telling us, just buckle down and do it. Write the damn book.

I’m here to tell you, sometimes it’s just not that easy.

What’s in a Name?

There was always something off, to me, about my name. The one my parents gifted me for my birthday, the one on my government issued ID. I didn’t know it as a child but sometime in the last fifteen or so years, I have worked out that it’s just not very musical. First and last, especially, are nothing but hard consonants strung together with short vowels.

It’s very abrasive.

Around middle school, I tried dropping my first name and just being Gabrielle—or Gabby or Elle or Brie—but that’s next to impossible in a small town where all the kids go to school in the same building. People get used to one thing and balk against change.

Did I grasp the opportunity to change it in college? Nope. I, too, had become so accustomed to introducing myself as Desiree that as much as I hated it, I couldn’t stop. And before long, the damage was done and all of my new college friends were on board with this thing I abhorred.

Out of college and starting a new job? Same song, different verse.

But when I started publishing, I took that as an opportunity to be known as something different. Because as much as I hated the sound of all those hard consonants and short vowels, I thought it looked just as bad. A pseudonym, a nomme de plume, a pen name was never about anonymity, for me. It was always about aesthetics and what I personally found attractive.

What I can’t tell you is why I opted to keep the D.

It seemed like the right choice at the time and was for more than fifteen years. But when other people started talking about me and my writing in more professional terms, I wished I had just stuck with Gabrielle.

It seems frivolous, now, to change it. If changing it were a need that would be different. But to simply change it because it makes my skin crawl to hear people say it aloud . . . that sounds like a lot of extra work I don’t need to heap upon myself.

A person can accumulate a lot of backlog in twenty years. There is a lot of work out there in the world with the name D. Gabrielle Jensen on it. I’ll stick with what I have, for now, and see how I feel in another couple of years. Maybe some notoriety and fame will change the way I feel.

It’s All Too Much

Three years ago, I signed up to have my trilogy “traditionally” published.

Not traditionally as in one of the major, well-known publishing houses but a small press publisher who, at the time, only had a couple other authors on their roster, not counting those who had submitted short stories for their anthologies, which were actually the flagstone of their business. The executives of this press had been privy to the creation of my story and characters and felt like I was creating something they wanted to represent.

Fast forward three years and I haven’t finished a thing since the third book in that trilogy. I can’t. I just keep getting in my own way, criticizing the original trilogy, trying to find opportunities for improvement. As a result, I have compiled quite a wish list of things I want from and included in this next book [series].

  • More humor but also more darkness for contrast
  • Better mystery/better clues
  • Higher stakes for all characters
  • Tighter story telling

And the thing is none of these things were a concern of mine until publishing this trilogy. And it’s not even because someone criticized what I had already written. No one has told me my trilogy is bad. No one has said I should have done this or should have done that. No one has said much of anything, actually, and maybe that’s the problem.

Whatever it is, is paralyzing. I can’t write because I have set up too many hurdles for myself to jump, to many mountains to conquer. I am so accustomed to writing a publication-ready (though it could be better) draft on the first go that I don’t know how not to. And not knowing how to jump all these hurdles—without tripping—on the first go has made it impossible to even approach the starting line.

Can We Talk About the Shark in the Room?

I grew up with the original Magnum, P.I., in the 80s. So, of course I had to try the “reboot.”

And I have enjoyed it. I was disappointed to hear CBS had cancelled it and excited when NBC decided to give it a fighting chance.

But now, there is talk of a romance between the titular Magnum and his . . . Well, Higgins has a lot of titles. She is his property manager, his employer, and his business partner.

And apparently, soon to be romantic partner.

Unfortunately, this is a common “logical progression” in character development, both in television and books, and often done poorly.

The one that stands out most clearly in my memories is Booth and Brennan/Bones. Their character interactions were built around an unrequited sexual tension. And when that was quelled, and they inevitably coupled (then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage) to the detriment of the entire show.

Booth and Bones was the worst for me, I think. I greatly enjoyed the show before the writers (and maybe fans) started pushing the coupling issue and then there was schmalz and goo and overprotective husbanding, and it became too much to watch. Their new chapter was the beginning of the end for me.

And a lot of other people, from what I’ve heard.

And I am afraid that level of campy, overwrought goo will be next on the agenda for Magnum and Higgins, which upsets me.

I think this is also at the root of my hesitation to read the next book in one of my favorite series. After fifteen books, the author decided to mash the main character into a coupling with the only permanently available and age-appropriate woman in his orbit.

This is a pairing I’ve expected from early on and to be honest, dreaded. I didn’t mind him with other women or her with other men but together they are terrible. And it has made me not want to read the next book. And I hate that it has made me not want to read the next book.

While I may be in the minority, I can easily say the fastest way to get me to lose interest in any fictional media is to shoehorn in a romance where it doesn’t belong. I am a little more accepting if the characters have good chemistry but even then, I’m a pretty hard sell. You have to really earn my trust in that department. And the longer you keep them apart before pushing them together, the less I am going to like the results.

Jumping the Shark

I have had a book sitting on the sofa next to me for . . . more than a year. It is the last (so far) in a series I have loved for years, probably more than a decade. I have obsessed over these books, these characters, the stories of their lives, waiting impatiently for the next release.

Now, I have it and I don’t want to read it.

Not because it is the end (it’s not, I don’t think) but because the book before presented me with something incomprehensible. Something I have dreaded for several books leading up to this.

In media, the term is jumping the shark. This refers, literally, to a scene in the show Happy Days where Fonzi, the unofficial star of the show, literally jumps over a shark tank on his motorcycle. Looking back on that stunt now, critics and fans alike share the notion that was the beginning of the end for the show. It was never the same after that.

In the years to follow, that moment has taken on a life of its own and instead of referring to that one specific moment in the life of one specific show, it now refers to the moment any show begins its decline toward the end.

It is not used to talk about book series in the same way, but I posit that is because there are far fewer book series that continue on as long as a show like Happy Days (10 years, 11 seasons, 255 episodes) or that cover a similar span of time. Also, book series have a far narrower reach in audience. While a half-hour television show is easily accessible—and even more so then, before we had hundreds of channels providing hundreds of options for every timeslot—a book series, especially at the tenth, twelfth, fourteenth book, is only reaching its own fans, people who may be more likely to overlook the moments the plot takes a downward turn.

Today, jumping the shark, or the jump the shark moment, in media can refer to a lot of things but some red flags are bigger and redder than others:

New baby—Sometimes this is an actual new baby. The central couple (the parents of a family show) have teen or young adult children who have grown up on the show and then *WHOOPS!* mom is pregnant at 45! Other times it’s an adoption or a cousin comes to live with the family. Occasionally, it is when a member of the family who was an infant/toddler in the beginning, with minimal screen time and no contribution to dialog, suddenly starts stringing together sentences and adopts their own catch phrase.

New adult—Sometimes the new baby is a new adult. A long-lost sibling, an estranged parent looking to make amends. These additions can go one of two ways. Well, three, really, if you count writing them off the show as an option. They can blend in with the rest of the cast seamlessly and the show marches on without a hiccup. Or, for the purposes of this argument, they can throw off the entire ecosystem through bad chemistry, leading to the slow demise of the show.

Resolving unresolved sexual tension—This is another one that could go one of two ways. Typically, when a primary driving force of a show is unresolved sexual tension between two characters, the will they or won’t they, “why don’t you just screw and get it over with” sentiment, resolving that tension leads to discomfort for all involved, but mostly the viewers (readers). Sometimes they do and move on. Awkwardness abounds for an episode and then life goes back to normal. Unfortunately, this is more typical of secondary and side characters. Main characters, on the other hand, tend to become A Couple, with pet names and stolen glances, smooches when they think no one is looking, acting guilty when they find out someone was looking.

This is my least favorite of the jump the shark moments. Possibly because I don’t love romance and am terribly picky about what I do like. And gooey smooshy romance is not my cup of tea.

To the end that I am dragging my feet on reading the next book in this series that was once my favorite but resolving the unresolved tension between two main characters has given me a reason to cringe. I kind of hate it.

If you want to read more of my thoughts on tropes and writing

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?

If you would like to see more content like this, or want to support my work, join me on Patreon.

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.

If you would like to know how to help this author directly, visit my Patreon.

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.

If you enjoy my thoughts, Patreon helps me find the time to share them with you. Please consider joining the community.