Studio Session: “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making” by Chase Wilkinson

Continuing the Studio Session series in which I take the first paragraph of a piece of another’s writing and unpack it, this week’s contributor is a former classmate from SCAD who graduated in 2014. Thank you very much for volunteering. We salute you, sir!

The Writer: Chase Wilkinson (Facebook and website)

The Piece: “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making,” a novel adaptation of a play the writer wrote in his freshman year of college.

The George Wilbur Bridge wasn’t anything special as far as bridges go, Kimberly thought. It didn’t offer any spectacular views of the city. It held no sentimental value for her. She rarely even crossed it, except for the occasionally guilty McDonalds run. The only reason Kimberly was here on a bleak Tuesday morning was because she thought it would take them the longest to find her body here.

We start off with a location — one we can easily imagine because there’s nothing special about this bridge — and a character. We’re getting a blunt, matter-of-fact approach to this world that continues into the next few lines. Our location is a bit more defined as being close to a city, though we don’t know which. It hardly matters, though, since our character seems to have a near apathetic tolerance for wherever she is.

It’s too early to tell if Kimberly’s attitude will change over the course of the story, but we can expect her bleak outlook to continue (if she lives past this first scene, that is) at least through the beginning. It’s too early to tell if she dies here, changes her mind, gets caught up in an unexpected situation, or even gets talked out of it.

But the uncertainty of whether or not she’ll die on this page or the next is a great source of tension to keep us moving forward. And that’s not all; the fact that Kimberly wants it to take a while before the unnamed “them” find her corpse adds another layer of tension. Is this so there’s absolutely zero chance of anyone saving her if she doesn’t die upon impact? Or perhaps the timing of her death is important. It could just be she wants to spare friends/family/loved ones from the news of her death for as long as possible once she’s gone.

Add in the day of the week we now have and it seems like the timing of Kimberly’s suicide is going to be pretty important. There’s not enough here for me to tell what the main conflict is or how her suicidal thoughts/potential actions affect it, but it’s reasonable to think this situation is either one of the direct or indirect causes of the main conflict, or it’s a direct or indirect result. Without that information here, though, it’s too early to say. But hey, that’s why we read on, right?

It’s off to a good start — if I was browsing a bookstore and picked this up on a whim and started reading, I’d keep going. The mention of McDonald’s is just a hint of levity that we need within that first paragraph, and it almost feels like we need another one soon after the end of this paragraph. We could keep going into the dark and dramatic, but another touch of something light — even if it’s halfway between serious and humorous — would give me something to hold on to so I don’t think I’m going to be depressed before I can start to care about the characters.

Good luck to you, Chase! I hope all the next paragraphs are like this one.

If you’d like to volunteer a piece of writing for a Studio Session, head to my contact page. I’ll go sentence by sentence, commenting on the writer’s voice, authority, intention, the expectations they create, and the level of intrigue. Any and all types and genres are accepted. I will happily give my two cents on the opening to your novel, short story, memoir, cover letter, artist statement, author bio, potentially rude email to professors or coworkers, ode to tater tots, and whatever else you creative geniuses come up with.

Please include your name and the URL to your website (optional), the title of your piece, a brief description, your first paragraph only, and any specific concerns you’d like me to address if you have them.

Reader-response time on The Thieves of Traska excerpt!

As I mentioned earlier this week, I wrote a brief scene in The Thieves of Traska that has me conflicted. While writing it, I didn’t go into too much detail because the action and violence wasn’t the focus. But that little editor voice we all have in our heads won’t let me proceed until I figure out whether it reads like it should, or like the writer downed too much coffee too late in the day and just blazed through before bed. And it also shouldn’t read like I’m putting Claire through the wringer just to win some sympathy points.

That’s where you all come in! Please read through the scene and leave a comment!


A shadow moved through the light seeping through the cracks around the door, and before Claire could reach for it, the door swung open. With his arms crossed, the muscles built by years of hard labor bulging ominously, Reed filled the doorway. His lips were pressed together in a thin line, his face almost as red as his hair.

A lump formed in her throat. Had she really hoped he wouldn’t already know what she’d done? Stupid. Reed always knew what she was up to.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Cold fear trickled down her spine. She almost wished she was back in the windowless cell. “I came home.” She winced inwardly; she sounded weak even in her own ears.

“You think I’d let a lying thief sleep under my roof?” He crossed the distance between them in three strides and took her by the shoulders, shaking her. “Do you?” She shook her head mutely. She knew where she’d be sleeping tonight. “Filth like you belongs in a gutter.”

She closed her eyes when he drew his hand back. She felt each stinging blow, felt the blood on her face, and eventually the cold ground under her cheek. One eye cracked open, searching for Reed’s blurred outline in the darkness. He was there, one hand around her ankle as he dragged her to a nearby tree. Without a word, he propped her up against it and tied her hands on the other side of the trunk. It was always the same whenever he caught her stealing; he’d make her return whatever it was, then she spent the night tied to this tree. In the morning, she’d go back to work in the fields.

She rested her head against the tree, clarity slowly returning. “Reed,” she croaked. “What happened with Garrison?” Silence stretched on so long, she thought he’d already gone inside. Then she heard his voice right in her ear.

“I told you he was arrested.” He paused. “Did you see him while you were in jail?” She nodded weakly, wincing at the bark grating her face. “I would have thought they’d hanged him already.”

“Tomorrow,” she said. “The jailor said he’d hang tomorrow morning.”

“Good. There’s a rope for every mangy thief in the world. I’m glad he’s found his. And if you ever try stealing anything ever again, I’ll put the rope around your neck myself.”

She heard quiet footsteps and sighed in relief that he was leaving. Darkness was starting to drag her under, and she welcomed it. Rest called to her, and not even the pained cries and sounds of fighting nearby would keep her from it.


Writing Process Blog Tour

Dave Higgins invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour (and, incidentally, wrote the best bio paragraph of me I’ve ever read). I greatly enjoy Dave’s writing and his input, and I’m glad he’s given me this opportunity to ramble on about my writing process.

What am I working on?

The main focus of my efforts is The Thieves of Traska. I finished the first run-through two months ago and am currently filling in gaps and fixing plot holes.

Last week, I started a side project called Asra the Shade. It centers on one of the side characters in The Thieves of Traska, and was originally going to be a webcomic to help promote the full novel. However, since the all the sequential artists I’ve contacted have fallen through, I decided to turn the story into a novella.

My self-imposed deadline for The Thieves of Traska is fall 2015, but I fully expect to have Asra the Shade done first.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I tend not to peg a genre first. Sometimes it’s obvious (Alien invasion? Smells like science fiction!), but other times I just work with the idea and figure out the genre later. With The Thieves of Traska, I wasn’t clear on what genre it fell into at first. It’s certainly an adventure and it has action, but the locations are all made up. It’s currently resting in fantasy, but I’m a bit hesitant to call it that.

Our protagonist is, as the title implies, a thief. Her successes are all based on breaking laws and doing bad things. Even so, she has a strong moral compass. She still steals things and gets into fights—and doesn’t feel guilty about any of it—but she’s dedicated to doing the right thing for the other thieves, even if they’ll resent her for it.

Why do I write what I do?

I like the antiheroes—the people who do bad things for a (relatively) good reason, but also have something to gain. It creates tension between selfishness and selflessness that’s fun to play with.

With The Thieves of Traska, I really wanted to write about a thief. Instead of having her realize the error of her ways, give up thieving and do something for the greater good of humanity, I wanted her actions to be for the greater good of bad without being “evil.” I spend a lot of time thinking about morality and where the line is in various situations. It’s something I like to put my characters through and see what compromises they make.

How does my writing process work?

Each project begins with some random little inspirational nugget (if you’ve ever had a bug fly into your eye, it feels pretty much like that). After a couple hours, I usually have a name for the main character or some basic idea of who they are and what the main conflict of the story is. Hopefully I have a title, but I’m seldom that lucky.

For The Thieves of Traska, the first half of that inspirational nugget was the name Mackinley. I had a roommate last year with that name, and I really wanted to name a character after her. The second half came when I was walking home from my fiction writing class. I’d been plotting a short story about a thief for my next assignment when it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried writing a full-length novel about a thief. It was kind of mind blowing since I love thief characters.

There’s a lot of writing in my notebook after that. I get a basic outline of the beginning, an idea of where it might end, and I’ve probably changed the main character’s name a few times. (Fun fact: Claire’s name used to be Adelaide. It changed after I read the first chapter aloud and discovered how much I hate saying “Adelaide” repeatedly.)

From there, I just write the scenes in order. I tend to skip over a lot of setting description and the “breather” scenes between plot points. Once I get to the penultimate chapter, I stop writing. I let it sit for a couple weeks, then start revising.

This is when I fix the plot holes, add in descriptions, set up the mood of scenes, add filler bits, etc. Once I’ve gotten through that, I can write the ending.

Hopefully this insight has got you curious and not sent you running for the hills. Time to hand it over to some other writers:

 Jordanna East – Journey of Jordanna East

Jordanna East is a wonderful person and author of the infuriatingly delicious thriller books Blood in the Past and Blood in the Paint. She’s something of a role model for me, and I sincerely hope you’ll mosey on over to her blog and check out the latest with her.

Cassidy Frazee – Wide Awake But Dreaming

Ms. Frazee identifies herself as a Roleplaying God and a bit of a nut, but what writer isn’t? She has delightful posts on her blog, and she can also be found frequently posting in the NaNoWriMo Facebook group. I’m looking forward to seeing what great things she brings us.

Tristan Lueck – The Aberration

old-manTristan is a fellow SCAD student from the writing department, as well as my future roommate in the fall. She’s sent me a bit of her novel-in-progress and I can say I like where it’s going (but I won’t spoil any of it for you!). Blogging is a new practice for her and she’s still getting into the hang of it, but her posts are well worth the wait.

The Thieves of Traska Giveaway Winners!

The giveaway has ended, and I’m happy to announce that Hannah Jones is the winner of the prize package! And since the giveaway only got 89 entries, that means there is a second-place winner. That is Meagan Corrado! She is going to get three customized Molskine journals, featuring some of the characters from The Thieves of Traska.

Thank you to everyone who entered! For those of you who didn’t win, don’t worry. I’m already planning the next giveaway and assembling the prizes.

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone who participated and to all my readers!

Another Thieves of Traska Excerpt (and a giveaway update!)

Have you entered my giveaway yet? If not, don’t panic! There’s still plenty of time. For those of you who have entered, I have two things to say to you. 1) I’m blown away by the amount of entries already. Truth be told, I expected maybe 25 total by the deadline, but it’s more than double that. Thank you so much! 2) Please don’t be a party pooper and click that you commented on the giveaway post when you really didn’t. I and the rest of the world can see who actually commented and whose pants are on fire.

On to the excerpt! Some of you had a chance to read the previous excerpt long before I posted it, so here’s something new to the second draft!


Claire chewed her lip. She was in enough trouble as it was; did she really want to dig herself a deeper hole by breaking out of jail? When Garrison started coughing again, she revised her question: Did she want to let him die even if Reed wasn’t responsible?

“What do I need to do?”

In hushed tones, he instructed her to pull two thin strips of wood from the walls and break them into short, sturdy lengths. Her hands shook the entire time. She slid her hands back through the bars and inserted her makeshift picks into the lock on the other side. Garrison kept quiet while she worked, allowing her to focus.

She held her breath, making slight adjustments with every sound at her fingertips. Her arms ached as she worked, growing heavier as the candle burned lower and lower. Sweat gathered at her scalp. She pressed her face against the bars, thankful for the cool metal. The refreshing chill it sent down her spine crept into her fingers, revitalizing their deftness.

A satisfying click and the lock gave.

“Sounds like a job well done,” Garrison said cheerfully.

“Not quite,” she whispered back. She withdrew the picks and pushed on the door gently, a thrill of excitement going through her as it opened. Pulling it shut again, she put as much misery in her voice as she could muster and called out to the guards. “Do you have any more water in there?”

Some grumbling came from the next room before the door swung open again. It remained open, as it had before, the sudden light painful to her eyes. When the familiar outline appeared in the doorway, she looked past it to the other guard. At least there were only two.


The Thieves of Traska Giveaway!

Alright folks, the time has come to enter my first ever giveaway! What’s the occasion, you ask? Well, The Thieves of Traska has left the initial drafting phase and is now being edited/rewritten into a second draft. I started writing it seven months ago, making this the fastest first draft I’ve ever turned out.

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway, so click the link to enter!

Need a refresher on the fabulous prizes one lucky person is going to win? You’ll get five one of a kind hand-painted bookmarks, a leather-bound notebook, one brass wax seal, one stick of sealing wax, and one canvas tote bag!

The entry period starts today and ends on April 19. I will announce the winner the following Monday! Once a winner has been selected, I will need a valid shipping address. Not a U.S. resident? Not a problem! Wherever you are in the world, I will ship it.

Good luck everyone! And remember, there are two entry options you can complete once each day the giveaway is live. I look forward to seeing who the winner is!

The Thieves of Traska Giveaway Prizes!

As I promised last week, I’m ready to unveil the prizes for my first ever giveaway!

giveaway prizes1The full list of prizes includes a few things not shown above:

  • Five handmade bookmarks (with surprise illustrations on the opposite sides!)
  • One leather-bound notebook with unlined parchment paper pages
  • One brass wax seal (with letter of the winner’s choice)
  • One stick of sealing wax (color is winner’s choice)
  • One Thieves of Traska canvas tote bag

Pretty snazzy, right? The wax sticks and the seals shown are my own, simply there for illustrative purposes. Once I have a winner, I will email the person to get their choice of wax color and letter seal.

As for the surprise parts of this, I couldn’t resist. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve already seen the fronts of those bookmarks. But what’s on the backs? And what does the bag look like? My dear reader, you will just have to wait for a winner.

I tried to come up with somewhat practical prizes (things that can be used over a period of time, not just occupy space and look pretty). The giveaway itself will go live two weeks from today. Stay tuned!