Author Archives: Aheïla

About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles

I Have Failed This Story…

… and it’s a like an arrow through my heart. *chuckles*

Seriously, I think I’m way too far behind on my word count to catch up on NaNoWriMo. I was already behind before last week started, and I didn’t manage to write all week. We’re in a little bit of a rush at work, so my creativity is all focused on the February update of The Sims FreePlay. When I get home, the words won’t come out. And to make matters worse, flu has been going around the office. I think I avoided it because I felt very weak this weekend and slept through most of it (meaning: no significant amount of writing done.)

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not giving up. I’ll keep writing as much as I can as a way to get myself back into the habit of writing everyday.

When I started this blog, my first challenge was to develop a healthy writing routine, and that was why I wrote blog novels. I knew that if I had even one reader, I’d feel accountable. After a couple of years of that, I thought the habit was well-anchored. What I’m realizing now is that though I’ve done my best to keep writing a little bit throughout the tribulation of the past couple of years, I’m rusty. It takes me twice the time to produce half the word count.

It’s a question of inspiration (I have exciting ideas coming out of my ears!) It’s a question of habit.

I’m thinking of going back to the blog novel format to get myself into a new regular routine after NaNoWriMo is over. Would I rewrite one of my old ones now that I know better or start a new one? I don’t know.

Only one thing is certain: I need to train myself back up.

And that’s okay!

Despite my title (I just had to!), I don’t see this as a failure, but as a sign of the experiences I have lived through in the past couple of years. They’ve challenged me, strengthened me and given me more nuances to write about. I can’t really complain. I just need to get used to getting the words out of my brain again. 😉

What about you guys? How’s your NaNo going?

NaNo Playlist Block

My first week of NaNoWriMo has been a bit of a drag. Compared to the previous years (and their successful 100k written in November), it feels weird to fall behind on the daily progress towards 50k. I know why that is, though: this is the first year I use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to rewrite an existing project.

The original draft of The Phoenix’s Wake has quite a few problems, which is why I’m rewriting it from scratch. But there are also things in there that I love, and these things that I want to preserve held me back from just pushing ahead with the new draft. Without realizing it at first, I held myself at a ridiculously high standard for a draft: it had to be better than the original, but not too different.

That’s nuts. I can’t walk that line and write 1,667 words a day. And the truth is: I shouldn’t even attempt it. The Phoenix’s Wake needs a new voice and identity. That’s why I’m rewriting it instead of editing it.

I figured that I should put together a soundtrack to help me steer myself into a new mind space for this story.

And I hit Playlist Block.

Wanna help?

I posted this of Saturday, and a couple of people have participated by joining the discussion in some way or adding songs to the Spotify playlist. I figured I would take the time to give a bit more context for the story here, in case other people want to help give The Phoenix’s Wake its new flavor.

The Phoenix’s Wake is an urban fantasy mystery that deals with themes of grief, independence/self-identity and racial segregation.

Drea Cente is the main character. She passes for Latina, but she’s actually Mayan. Since she’s a Gorgon, she looks and acts like a 30-ish year-old even though she’s 149, and she morphs from human to snake woman and can turn people into stone. She’s a bit of a hothead, fiercely loyal, and relying on others to keep organized. Without going into her personal history too much, she was born in 1866, went through a war and circus slavery until 1929, then enjoyed a few good years with Ramses. 1943 to 1963 was hell on her, and she basically quit human society. She has led a normal-ish life since then, and is now a detective with the Wilmington Myth Police. At the start of the story, she has lost Ramses and gets stuck with an untrained human on an oddly familiar case.

Keith Russo is said human and is as red-blooded American as they come. He has experience in human homicide, but has never worked with Myths before which causes him to have dangerous assumptions about how to interact with his new team. He’s stuck between doing what his superintendent wants (observe the Myths and learn better ways to control them) and what he knows to be right (protect and serve.) Drea tries her best to teach him the rope, but he tends to get in his own way (and she’s not the best teacher.) He’s 34, hyper organized and has two kids with his wife.

Ramses Cairo is an egg. I’m serious; he’s a Phoenix in the process of being reborn. Before that, he was Drea’s adoptive father and work partner. He rescued her in 1929 and took her under his wing until he spontaneously combusted in 1943. After being reborn in a Phoenix sanctuary, he exited the sanctuary, a 20 year-old version of himself with half the memories of his previous life, and rejoined with Drea (1963.) He combusted again the night before the beginning of the story, and Drea fears that he may forget her this time. She’s grieving, but trying to keep it together without him. He was the one with wisdom and social skills.

The world they live in is an alternate version of today. Since everyone started having a good quality camera in their pocket a few years ago, an increasing number of myths got photographed or recorded and posted on social media. Five years ago, the Grand Reveal happened; Myths announced their existence. Humans didn’t react very well. By now, all Myth politicians have been voted out of office, except for the governor of Delaware because the state has a high concentration of Myths. Human-on-myth violence is fairly under control, but the human public services won’t support them. Myths have their own lawyers, medical services, police, etc. but there aren’t enough of them to organize the way human services are.

Okay, I think I’ve said enough. If you want to add music to the Spotify playlist, I would recommend that you start adding tracks without checking out what others put in. This way, you won’t be influenced in your decisions, and I’ll have different takes on what my characters sound like to people. 😉

And what about you guys? Are you NaNo-ing? How is it going?

NaNoWriMo Hath Started!

Hello everyone,

I haven’t been around in the past couple of weeks because I was planning several sessions for two conferences (which were both last week) while working full time and trying to wrap my head around NaNoWriMo. All of that without killing my social life.

And I have succeeded on all account, though a little bit late on the NaNo planning bit. In fact, I just completed my outline!

2015-11-03 13.38.09

Look it! It has color-coding and everything! One post-it per chapter. Yellow = in the city, blue = at the precinct, green = at home. Pink square = clue for the case (see pink post-its on the left). Purple square = Maybe this belongs in book 2.

I extracted the outline from my first draft of that novel, which wasn’t as bad as I thought but contains way too many dead bodies to keep track off. The result is a more detailed outline than usual, but I’m rewriting from scratch and a lot of this is liable to change since I may keep the last third for Book 2.

I’m halfway through Day 3 and behind on my word count. Hopefully, I can catch up before the end of the day.

In the meantime, here’s the new opening for The Phoenix’s Wake. Hope you enjoy!

My partner Ramses sat on the passenger seat as usual, except he was an egg now. That reality sunk in while I stood in the parking lot, waiting for him to join me with a handful of pretzels.
Rami spontaneously combusted yesterday. He wouldn’t help me solve this case, and when he would come out of his shell, he may not remember me at all.
I wavered and leaned against the coroner’s van for support. Hands on my knees, I took a few quick breaths to fight back the tears. My rib cage struggled to expand as if I was constricting myself with my own tail.
That’s impossible. You’re in human form. Get a hold of yourself.
The thought tickled in my eyes, and I knew my pupils had morphed to their elliptical shape.
No. I refused to disgrace Rami’s memory by letting my mood affect me this much. He hated bad police work. Besides, the dead myth who lived here deserved my full attention.
The early morning sun warmed up my blood and, for a moment, I let the physical sensation override conscious thoughts. Between the sun rays and the caffeine, I should manage to stay awake despite the lack of sleep. The taste of coffee still lingered in my mouth, though. I wouldn’t be able to smell the crime scene properly without a palate cleanser.
I sighed and pushed myself off the van, pooling my willpower to get back in my department-issued sedan, brush past Rami and get the pretzels from the glove box.
My phone vibrated.
“Drea, are you okay? You should be home by now. Please tell me you don’t need a witchdoctor.” Nina’s voice sang in all shades of softness, but I knew she was a little angry. My roommate had been very clear when she ordered me to get straight from the precinct to the house.
“Yes. No.” I shook my head to try to align the ideas. “I got a call from dispatch halfway home.”
“You should not be working today.”
“Thanks, Sherlock.” I yanked my passenger door open. “Someone got killed. We’re understaffed. I didn’t choose any of this.”
As I sat on a corner of Rami’s seat, I wondered if I wanted Nina to cut the mothering out or to keep it going. It felt easier to do things while I was annoyed. On the other hand, I feared I’d launch into a rant that would worry her more.
Our superintendent —a norm— had been eager to apply the new federal law that forced the Myth police to take on human cops for ‘training’ purposes. The idea fooled no one; the norms wanted one more way to monitor us and learn to control us. Now that I was partner-less, the Captain couldn’t dodge the law without risking his job.
If Nina learned I was forced to partner with a norm untrained in Myth ways, I wouldn’t put it past her to storm the precinct.
“If you’re on a case, where’s Eggy Rami?”
I cringed. “Don’t call him that. He’s on the passenger seat.”
Jeffrey, the coroner, had released Rami to my care a few hours ago. No forensic evidence survived a Phoenix’s rebirth, so there was no use keeping him in the morgue.
“Okay. Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll pick up Ramses and organize the Farewell ceremony. You get your scaly ass back here as soon as you can, or so help me Dionysus, I’ll make you slough.”
I guessed that was Nina’s colorful way to tell me she’d tear me a new one. “Deal. I’ll text you the address and leave the car keys with the officer at the door.”
“Good.” A door clicked shut and keys rattled. “And Drea, he will rise again.”
“And remember what he ought to,” I replied, per Phoenix tradition, before hanging up.

On Writing – Finding One’s Voice

When reading up on writing tips, I found a few articles on how to develop a good character voice. For me, that never felt like my main challenge. Acting classes were an integral part of my personal development (I started at 5 years old and had them for 10 years), so my way into a story is always through the uniqueness of its main character. They come to me with a voice, a persona and a purpose, and the challenge is to do them justice when I transition them from my head to paper. The few ideas that formed as a setting are waiting for their character to show up so I can write them.

I found fewer articles about developing a writer’s voice, which is what I perceive as my personal challenge for a long term career.

A writer’s voice is a writer’s unique style that is recognizable from one work to another. It’s something loyal readers can expect from every book. It shouldn’t overshadow the character’s voice, yet it should be there. For several writers, it’s heavily tied to the genre/family of genres they are known for, though it’s not the only defining element.


Lucky those who know which genre they like and can develop an expertise in that. I can’t. My written projects include a bit of everything, so does my bookshelf and my notebook of future projects. Most of my stories contain bits of everything in and of themselves. I sometimes write the story first and figure out the closest genre after a couple of edits –sue me!

So what’s my writer’s voice, then?

I didn’t want to force it, but I wanted to know what it was because I’m a nerd when it comes to introspection and understanding how who I am is reflected in my art.

Also, that could come in handy to give reference points to agents when they ask my writing is similar to whose.

Here’s how I’ve uncovered my voice.

Write and Analyze

The first step is to generate a good amount of work to analyze. Novels, short stories, prompt-inspired or not; what matters is to write. Then, when I edited stories, I paid attention to trends, patterns and differentiating elements.

Drabble Day challenges were especially useful for this. The stories were short so it was easy to analyze them and spot patterns. Since other writers also participated, I could analyze how we had each tackled the theme. As I discerned elements of their voice, I also discerned some of mine.

List Common Grounds

As I analyzed, patterns emerged so I built up a list of them:

  • Character-driven
  • Elements of science-fiction and/or fantasy. I don’t go for a hundred percent realism, but I can come fairly close.
  • Strong female characters
  • I’m funnier than I thought.
  • Recurring themes: stories about different forms of supernatural foresight, characters uncomfortable in their own skin/with their own powers, feminism, identity crisis…

Of course, once I found this my brain came up with a few stories that didn’t touch these common grounds. *sigh* These were still good trends to investigate further.

Read and Analyze

The list helped me stir my reading beyond entertainment or research of the genres I write. I started researching the potential elements of my voice and picked up books that fit one of the elements, maybe two. Books that aren’t quite in my usual top choices, but are adjacent to what I like writing myself.

Whether I liked the book or not, I learned something about myself and which parts of me shine through my writing. It also helped me learn the weaknesses of the way I approach a story (like often forgetting setting descriptions) and find ways to tackle them that work with my voice (melding setting to actions).


As I read, I tweaked the list and precised it. Some aspects are things I aspire to do right because I found that they mattered to me, to the type of voice I want to have:

  • Wholesome World and Characters a la Kim Harrison: The Hollows series features a great cast of unique characters that each seem to have a life outside of Rachel’s (the MC). The world is well crafted down to key expressions that are unique to her setting. Some of it, like the killer tomato, is quirky and yet works in her serious setting.
  • Sassy quirky fun a la Janet Evanovich: The offbeat characters of the Stephanie Plum series resonate with me. Even in the direst circumstances, they’re hilarious. And the direst circumstances are a little crazy too.

And that’s as far as I got. *laughs* I wish I could tell you that I have all the aspects of my voice and all the pitfalls figured out, but it’ll take me a bit more time and research to get there (if I ever get there.) Also, my voice evolves as I go through the process and refines what really matters to me, and how I want readers to relate to me.

What about you? What elements are defining the way you write?

And if you’ve read some of my stuff, what has jumped out at you as things I should consider as my voice?

Lilac and NaNoWriMo Prep

It’s been spring for a month here in Australia, and while some days have been a bit cold, the weekends have been amazingly warm and sunny. This last weekend reached the high twenties Celsius, and I went out on a stroll at 11pm without a jacket.

This is highly unusual for little Quebecer me. I love it!

As I cracked open my windows yesterday to let the fresh air in, I realized that the tree growing in front of my bedroom is a lilac! Though the flowers are few and budding, I can already smell it when I stand at the open window. I’m pretty sure the wind will carry the scent into my bedroom once the tree is in full bloom, and I’m looking forward to that.

The other thing I’m looking forward to is NaNoWriMo. Now that October has started, I’m having planning jitters. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t do as well during NaNo if I don’t figure out the broad strokes of the story beforehand. Because October is going to rush by super fast (I have lectures to prep, too!), I may have to break my “write something entirely new” rule and settle for rewriting one of the shelved projects since the general plan for these is pretty much done.

We shall see.

It’ll be fun to meet the local WriMos. I made some awesome friends in the Quebec NaNo group, so going to write-ins here may be a good way to extend my social circle outside of work friends (not that these friends aren’t wonderful, but I have all my eggs in the same basket right now and that’s not the best.)

What about you guys? Anyone starting to think about NaNo?

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