INKling Wall of Fame: R. Jean Bell

INKling Wall of Fame

Several members of our INKubator family are achieving success with their writing goals.

In this series, we want to let them share what they’ve achieved and how they feel about it. Of course, for us it’s an extra chance to show these INKlings how proud we are of them.

Introduction

What is there to say about R. Jean Bell (@bex-dk on Twitter and Discord) that our members don’t already know? She works tirelessly for our writing group, she’s one of the best editors any of us has ever had the fortune to meet, and she reads like Lucky Luke shoots: faster than her shadow.

But you know that. If you’ve been around our writing server you must have been hiding under a rock not to have seen Bex in action. So here are a few words from someone who has had less time to know our Bex, but who clearly appreciates her as much as we do:

I haven’t known Bex very long, but I have had the pleasure of having numerous conversations with her. I’ve also had the good fortune to read some of her works, and let me tell you, she’s got some wonderful prose and poetry. Always classy, delighted to help other authors, and a great friend, Bex has quickly earned herself respect with me, with our company, and with pretty much anyone she comes in contact with. Bill Otto, Creative Editor, Alban Lake Publishing

If those accolades are not enough to set the stage, you should know that Bex is the subject of numerous poems, by our very own Damian Jay Clay, among others. Here’s one he wrote (in ten seconds after waking up from a long curry-induced hibernation, especially for this introduction):

There once was a writer called Bex
who didn’t like verse about sex.
She really was on it
at every lewd sonnet
and all dirty haikus that vex.

To give you an idea how highly we regard her, here’s an “anonymous” account of how one of our Inklings first met Bex:

I first met Bex when we were part of the same insurgent group in southern Spain. Things were very different back then, and she sidled into the mess wearing a string of shrunken fascist heads around her neck. I was struck at first by the amount of blood on her uniform and the way she put back a plate of bacon and eggs while still carrying her FN FAL at the ready. Since then, she’s swapped the Nazi heads for those of bad self-published writers.

Now she dedicates her time to writing, helping other writers develop their craft, and editing like a demon in various writing circles. She has done the majority of the work in setting up the INKubator writing community and really, we just love her to pieces.  (Bex, 100 points if you can guess who this is.)

All jokes aside, Bex is a warm, supportive and loving person with a gift for immersive prose and poetry, taking her readers on adventures they’d never get to experience on their own. She is self-deprecating, and usually reluctant to accept any praise, so we can imagine how embarrassed reading this will make her. But we’re writing it anyway.

INKling Wall of Fame: R. Jean Bell

bex reflected behind spider web

R. Jean Bell has been devouring any available reading material since age three, often averaging a book a day. This love of reading brought her to writing both fiction and poetry. Although she grew up playing in the creeks of Pennsylvania, she’s spent the last twenty years enjoying the beaches of Denmark. She still believes shoes are torture devices, so she trained her border collie to help remove them.

You can see more about R. Jean Bell and get to know her at:

Website: www.rjeanbell.com
Twitter: @bexDK

R. Jean Bell’s flash fiction story “The Mud Princess” appeared in Cast of Wonders in April. She was one of the winners of their 500 word flash fiction contest last fall. The story appears both in text and in the audio narration. Her story is narrated by Marguerite Kenner.

Her short story “Whale Song” is forthcoming soon from FrostFire Worlds in May. Her poem “In the Shadows” is forthcoming from ParABnormal Magazine in June. Both FrostFire Worlds and ParABnormal Magazine are published by Alban Lake. She’s very excited that both these works will be sharing pages with her fellow INKling Admins: Jasmine Arch and Damian Jay Clay in ParABnormal and Andrew J. Savage in FrostFire Worlds. You can read a previous interview with Jasmine here and one will be forthcoming from Andrew.

How do you feel your membership at INKubator contributed to your success?

To be completely honest, I feel like I owe a huge chunk of it to my family at INK. My mother passed away in April last year and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster for me since then. Adding that to my usual chronic health issues really made writing a challenge. I probably would have given up more than once if not for the support of everyone on the server, who have helped me keep going and encouraged me when the words wouldn’t come.

“The Mud Princess” ended up being written and edited on a pretty tight deadline and a few of our members stepped up to help me polish it despite the urgent timeline. I’ve never seen anything like the quality and energy of the peer review group we have. As much as you support me, you tell me when my writing just isn’t up to snuff and help bring out my best.

What inspired you to write this story/poem/article?

“The Mud Princess” was written specifically for the flash fiction contest at Cast of Wonders, although I almost chickened out of submitting it because I worried it was aimed at too young an audience. Once again, my fellow INKlings told me to go for it anyway and not self-reject.

The tricky thing with something this short is to make it feel like a complete story and have a character arc. I knew I wanted a female MC and I wanted someone smart and not your typical girl. I grew up that way myself and I know how hard it can be with the pressures from society to be what they consider “girly.” I wanted a role model for those who don’t conform.

But I was stuck. How was I going to mix that with the “sense of wonder” that’s so essential to everything Cast of Wonders publishes? I went to bed contemplating the idea and trying to think about positive experiences from my childhood.

I am not sure if I fully fell asleep or just was most of the way there, but suddenly there she was, my Mud Princess, and I ended up sitting up in bed to draft it on my tablet. The first draft was the easy part though, and it went way over length of course. The hard part was tightening and tightening and rewriting that to make it work.

At one point I thought it was ready to go, when one of my fellow INKlings read it to his son, Liam. The boy walked away bored with the opener, so we went back to work redoing it until it got his approval–and I snuck in some thanks by naming the brother after the kid who fixed my opener. But all the work paid off in the end. I doubt my earlier “ready to go piece” would have survived the trials on the Escape Artist forum.

Anyway, I’d like to think my mother would have loved “The Mud Princess,” although she wasn’t a fan of fantasy, because she’s the one who encouraged our hunting for critters in the creek out back where I grew up. And I made sure the rock got put back in place like she always taught us. You wouldn’t like it if someone pulled the roof off your house and didn’t put it back, would you?

I don’t want to tell you much about “In the Shadows” and “Whale Song,” since you won’t have seen them yet. But “In the Shadows” was from digging into childhood fears in poetic form. “Whale Song” was drafted a while ago, inspired by an amazing image from my fellow INKling, Anike Kirsten, but I’ve revised it a few more times with help from my team to make it shine properly. It amazes me how much we’ve all grown since we started INKubator.

Do you have any advice based on your experience so far for other writers still struggling for acceptance?

Edit, edit, put it away a while, then edit some more. And find yourself a tribe–writers who will understand the agony of rejection, the frustration the days the words won’t come, and the joys of feeling like a piece might almost not suck.

You need a tribe that will bring out the best in you and help make your work the best it can be. I have been told many times that I’m a pretty decent editor. But the thing is that even the best editors are blind when it comes to their own work.

Tell us a little about one of your current WIPs

This is actual a little difficult because I have so many of them. Since my mother died, I have been struggling even more than usual with finishing things. She actually died during CampNaNo last year and I was working on a novel then that I can’t even think about without crying. I managed to mix all my feelings about her death into how I feel about that book and I’ve had to shelf it. But the issue seems to be far more than just one book. I happily start things–some shorter pieces are even completely drafted–but whenever I try to fully finish something I freeze up. Even just getting something to that stage often requires a lot of handholding from my INK family. So I have all these pieces that started somewhere and are now languishing on my Google drive awaiting more love.

So I could tell you about Scrounge, the vulture in a YA novel I’ve barely started, or about Brand and Spark, the kid firefighters from my YA dystopian idea, or about Roza and Meinrad from a more humorous piece I want to finish. But none of those are anywhere near doing anything about. Instead I will tell you a little about Philippa. She’s from a piece I thought I finished in January but now need to see if I can do a little more with. I’ve gotten two nice personal rejections on it, the last from CC Finlay at Fantasy & Science Fiction (yes, it sounds weird, but I am immensely proud of these personal rejections–the latter is a true high point, especially since it is the first time I’ve subbed to him). Finlay felt like the middle dragged a bit and since he gave me such specific feedback, it will be worth going back over the story before I send it out anywhere else.

Philippa’s story ended up something I’m emotional about. I mention my health problems other places in this interview. Philippa shares a lot of them, although in slightly different ways. But her world has some unique magic and her illness actually makes her very powerful with it. Only a lot of people see her as a weakling and think she is crazy, since her health issues are invisible, and she has to fight hard to get any respect for what she can do. So her story ends up covering a lot of things that are struggles for me with my own health. I hope that after more editing I will find her a special home in a good publication so you’ll get to read it.

What’s the most difficult part of your writing process?

Getting the words out. I’ve been an editor too much in my life and I’m a perfectionist. So I often have trouble writing anything and finishing things because that voice in my head keeps saying they’re not good enough.

Using our sprint bot has helped me a lot. When I use it, I can set a time based on how much I think I can focus and enter my current word count. Then it pings me when time is up and I enter the new word count. Lots of encouragement to just write and keep a nice pace. I often do shorter sprints but will run them one after another if it’s going well.

Sprinting makes me focus on writing and supports me in telling my internal editor that now is not the time to tinker and we’ll fix it later. I also post excerpts a lot because the encouragement that other people see potential in there helps me find the courage to keep going.

My brain is finally starting to accept that sometimes I might not suck. Occasionally it even lets me feel proud of my writing. And I have a top-notch team who will be brutally honest with me about what works and doesn’t work. So I’m getting better at letting go and trusting my INK family to help me bring the best out of it through revision. But they can’t fix words that aren’t there. So I just have to let go and write them, even when I know they suck.

What’s your day job and how do you balance it with writing and reading time?

I guess some people would say I’ve got it made, since I don’t have a day job. The truth is I’ve been on disability for more than ten years. Trust me, I’d far rather have a day job.

Reading has been my escape for as long as I can remember. And longer really. My mother said I taught myself to read when I was three. She thought at first that I was just remembering words that had been read to me, but then she handed me something I’d never seen before and I read that too. So unlike most people, I don’t remember learning to read and all those early schooling years were dreadfully boring.

But back to my day job. Instead of work to fight with, I have a constant battle with my health. I have some chronic pain conditions and get a lot of muscle and joint issues. I finally found a position where I mostly do okay working on the laptop, but if I type too much, I aggravate an old injury in my wrist and hurt for weeks. Voice software just won’t work for me because of the speed I talk and write and because of my perfectionist tendencies.

Reading time is easier. I read on my tablet–it’s my most effective pain killer, so I often average a book a day. With a good screen dimmer and a green background, I do okay even reading in the dark at night. The app I use lets me adjust my font size, so I can make it larger when I have migraines.

However, since most of my reading time is on my tablet, and it’s slow with online stuff, I don’t read much of the online lit journals and stuff that I’d like to because of needing to be online and because I can’t adjust the background color and font size to work for my head and low light.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?

Oooh. This is a fun one. By whatever works at the moment. I probably do most by intuition. I’ve told people more than once that I think my editing skill is some kind of savant-like ability that came out of nowhere. They insist it’s more likely because I’ve internalized so much of what does and doesn’t work because of the sheer volume I read. But when I write, it’s a little different.

I’m a pantser (even if I’m not always wearing pants and often end up writing on my tablet in bed at weird hours). This means I don’t plan a whole lot, but let my characters loose when I draft and see what happens. But whenever I get stuck, I bring the logic in. One of my favorite tools is to look at the character arc. How is this character going to change or grow in the course of the story and what needs to happen to trigger that change? I even have written a couple articles for fellow writers about this.

So while I often just go by what feels right at first, I might have an idea in the back of my head of where my character is going and who he or she (and I may do a they story one of these days) is going to become.

And while we’re at it–I edit mostly by intuition also. When something feels off I then use logic and craft to figure out what is wrong and how it can be improved. I did make a developmental edit checklist once, but I always forget to use it.

What is the most surprising/interesting thing you discovered while writing?

Well, I was recently researching historical ways of handling menstruation because I was thinking of tying a character’s magic to the onset of puberty. I wanted to think about ways she might deal with her first period when away from home on a mission. I grossed out poor Jasmine Arch and myself with the discovery that it seems to have been common for women to just bleed into their clothes. Worse–since they didn’t change as often, they might be wearing that bloody petticoat through their entire period. Uhm, yeah, I’m  so glad for modern methods of dealing with flow–and getting to change underwear daily.

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