Finding awesomeness at Laurentian University

It was a brave new world and I had a newfound dedication to my studies.

Phil didn’t turn out to be a distraction at all, but facilitated my work with his support, and by providing me with a computer on which to write my many essays.  Soon I was spending a lot of time at his place, locked up in the basement with his 286.  I had a computer too, thanks to one of my correspondence courses, but it wasn’t even that powerful.  Seriously.  My mind boggles when I try to remember what life was like back then.

In any event, my renewed academic career was full of B’s, B+’s, A-‘s, and A’s.  I started entering writing contests … and won third place in one.  I wrote a column for Lambda, the Laurentian University Student Newspaper.  My essays began to be featured in the English Literature Society’s annual academic conference, and a couple were recognized by the English department as among the best of the year.  I entered the President’s Award Essay Writing Contest and received and honourable mention.  I also participated in a colloquium on the future of the university.

Enter great teacher of my life number three, Dr. Susan Dobra.  She was from California and ended up returning there after a few years.  While she was at LU, I considered her to be my most significant influence and one of the reasons why I excelled.

Unfortunately, my appreciation of her approached the stalker-ish.  I do hope she’ll forgive me 🙂

Another reason was Dr. Hoyt Greeson, with whom I studied Old English and Chaucer.  I and several of my fellow students joined him on a road trip to Kalamazoo, MI for an academic conference in medieval literature.  It was a great experience to be exposed to the theses and dissertations being written by some of the best and brightest in the field.

A third positive influence and support was Dr. Laurence Steven.  Through him, I entered a program whereby I became a writing assistant.  I essentially taught the composition portion of the first year English literature survey course for a couple of years.  Yes, as an undergrad.  I also tutored through the Writing Across the Curriculum Program.  Laurie was my advisor for my honours thesis project as well, which received the departmental award for best honours project that year.

Honestly, I can’t think of any professor I had at LU that wasn’t a great influence on me.  There was one I didn’t see eye to eye with, but I still benefitted from his class.

I also gained a couple of special friends on the way, Yana and Kim.  Yana was (and remains) a wunderkind.  Yana knew what she wanted from the first: to be a teacher.  Everything she did was focused on that goal and she was a brilliant student.  She also had an interest in writing science fiction.  She was president of the English Literature Society the year I joined.  Through Yana, I started working at the Huntington music library.  It was a student job that would see me through several years.

Kim is a poet and in many ways, a kindred spirit.  We were TA’s and tutors together.

All of us participated in several ELS events including a particularly memorable poetry sweatshop in competition with the professors.  Together we had some grand adventures, becoming groupies of Great Big Sea and following them around the province for a summer.

With Yana, I took karate lessons, and for myself, I joined the Bel Canto Chorus.  Creativity is fed in different ways.

Phil proposed, and we were married July 15, 1994.

Margaret, though she had moved to Port Elgin with her spouse, continued to keep in touch and keep tabs on my creative efforts.  She invited me down to Port Elgin for a workshop with Susanna Kearsley, author of the recently published Mariana and winner of the Catherine Cookson Award.

I took a creative writing course with Dr. John Riddell–Siobhan’s father; don’t you love synchronicity?–and had one of my stories published in an anthology as a result.  I started participating in writers’ groups and became ELS president in my last year of study.  I wrote a short article for Slin Roller magazine.  Thanks to my short story prize and publication, I was invited to write a science fiction story for the flagship issue of Parsec Magazine.  By the time I graduated cum laude in 1995, I was on my way.

Focus is a wonderful thing.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen in school, but at work, or at home.  When you have a particular goal in mind, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.  When and where did the pieces of your creative puzzle first come together in awesomeness?

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Character sketches part 1: Ferathainn Devlin

Warning: this is a long post!

Last time on Work in progress: I’d discussed the starting point for world-building.  For me, character leads to story, leads to world.

So for the next bit

I’m going to share some of my character sketches.  Most of this won’t appear in the novel per se.  It’s mostly back story, but you’ll see how the plots and sub-plots evolved from my characters.

The seed of Fer

When I started my hand-written draft all those years ago (egad), in that first spiral-bound notebook (which I still have, thank you very much), the character and novel were both called Rain.  I’ve mentioned a bit about this in my various draft discussions.

She was born in the rain on the eve of what I then called storm season.  Also, her key incident (see K.M. Weiland’s post regarding the difference between the inciting and key incidents here), the destruction of her village, death of her loved ones, and rape, all occur in the rain.  So it was a metaphor for her plot and transformation.

Initially, I had a lot more going on with her.  Her trauma also included being blinded by a random lightning strike, being impregnated, and subsequently aborting.  Looking over those early notes, I realized that it was a bit much.  I brought the amount of drama back to what was still a fairly loud roar, and moved forward with that.

In future reviews, I changed her name to Ryane, and then had her choose another name for herself after the devastation of her village by rearranging the letters: Rayne.  Though I thought it was clever at the time, and that name stayed with the character through a number of abortive attempts to work on the project, but it wasn’t until after I picked up the bits and pieces of what might become a manuscript that I started researching names and decided on Ferathainn, one of several Irish words for rain.  That’s when she really started to come together for me.

The sketch

Name: Ferathainn Devlin

Nickname: Fer

Birth Date/Place: Almost 16 years ago in Hartsgrove, freetown of Tellurin

Character Role: Protagonist

Age: 15

Race: Tellurin … actually half-eleph, but she looks Tellurin and has no idea she was fostered/adopted

Eye colour: Green

Hair colour/style: Long, wavy, red.  Often tied back/braided.  After she receives the broken spiral brand on her forehead, she cuts her hair so that she has a thick fringe of bang to hide it.

Build: Tall, slim, but toned.  5’ 10”, 140 lbs.

Skin tone: Pale with freckles that multiply in the sun.

Style of dress:  Simple dresses with shifts beneath, sometimes with hose to accommodate her training in the kishida with Oak.

Characteristics/mannerisms: Plays her fingers about her mouth in thought.  Feels her teeth through the skin.  Chews her lips.

Personality traits:  Single-minded, stubborn.  Loves to learn and find new experiences.  Enjoys the feeling of accomplishment, and the praise that accompanies it.  Physical, active, but backed by intelligence and long years of training in the Agrothe magick disciplines.  Restrained by that same training, naïve, unworldly. She is eager for initiation because she knows she is capable of more than what Master Aeldred lets her do.  Raised Faithful and obsessed by the state of her soul.  She takes liberties that she can justify, but feels terrible guilt afterward.  Otherwise plagued by same issues and insecurities as all young women: men/marriage/sex/children, wanting to find her own identity/way, break free of her training and conservative upbringing, defy destiny …

Background:  Raised by Devlin Singer (Brythoni), bard, who settled down when he met his beloved Selene (heritage unknown) who was in turn raised by the eleph of Hartsgrove when her family was killed by bandits, a seer.

Devlin is fair-skinned and brown-haired man of medium build and with dark blue eyes.  Selene has black hair and brown eyes.  She is petite and doll-like.  Fer bears little resemblance to either.

Ferathainn’s birth mother is actually Aline of Gryphonskeep (nee de Corvus).  She had an affair with Halthyon Morrhynd and fled her husband’s displeasure when he discovered she was pregnant.  She found her way to Hartsgrove about the time of Ferathainn’s birth but would not say anything of who she was or why she had come.  After Ferathainn was born, Aline ran away and returned to Gryphonskeep. She never spoke of the child’s fate.

Aline is Parimi and is the parent that Ferathainn received her colouring and appearance from.  She is a woman of commanding presence: the flaming red hair, the flashing green eyes.  She descends from the de Corvus line, from whom the first Kas’Hadden was chosen.  Talent for magick runs strong in her family.

Halthyon is eleph and aside from her talent, she has inherited nothing from him.  She looks almost entirely Tellurin.

At Ferathainn’s birth, the eleph could not see her destiny (Ritual of Shir’authe).  Leaf fell in love with Ferathainn at once, saw his astara (soul-lights) in her eyes.  This freaks Selene out.  Willow was disturbed by the infant’s undecipherable fate.  Aeldred was able to sense her potential and determined to watch her.

Early in her childhood (just over 3 yrs), Ferathainn was precocious in the extreme.  She spoke with the wind, animals, and plants.  It was apparent that this was not the imaginary play of other children but a genuine communion.  She seemed to understand things other children, even eleph children, could not grasp.  It was at this time that she was dedicated to Aeldred, an elderly Tellurin Agrothe mage.

Aeldred is Brythoni, but descended from the Saxon.  He is in his seventies but even he has forgotten exactly how old he is.  He is a little soft tending to the portly.  Wild white hair and beard that he rarely pays attention to.  He is unkempt in general in that endearing, bumbling professor kind of way.  He has dedicated his life to research.  He knows about the sourcerous past of the magi, but is reluctant to expose Ferathainn to the more radical teachings of the sourcerors.  As he trains her, he fears what she might be able to do, what she might become, and withholds this vital knowledge from her.  He does not tell her how extraordinary her talents are.

Later, (approx. 11 yrs) Ferathainn was betrothed to Leaf.  She comments on the ‘funny lights’ she sees in his eyes and he practically faints 🙂  Tellurin aren’t supposed to see the astara.

Her life is largely proscribed by her training until The Black King’s army devastates Hartsgrove.

She learned Devlin’s talent for music and loves to sing and dance.

One of her rebellions was to get Oak to teach her kishida.

Devlin dotes on her.

Selene is more of a friend/big sister than a mother.

Aeldred is more of a parent than either of them, and that’s saying something 🙂

Ferathainn has one younger half-sister, Aislinn, who is daughter of Devlin and Willow.  Devlin and Selene are still devoted to each other.  Selene had foreseen that Aislinn would be an important leader and bridge between Tellurin and Eleph communities and consented to the liaison. Also, Selene and Devlin were unable to have children of their own, which was why they were so happy when Fer was abandoned in Hartsgrove. Devlin still craved and child of his own blood.

Internal conflicts:  Fer’s need for revenge, fostered by Yllel, drives her to track down and confront Khaleal, who she sees as the author of her tragedy.  Her preoccupation with sin grows as the number and severity of her transgressions does.  Ferathainn has been protected and restricted by her training all her life.  She has to find her inner power and unlock her true abilities to defeat The Black King.

External conflicts:  The twisted god Yllel seeks to subvert Ferathainn to his cause, or failing that, to destroy her because he sees her as a powerful piece on his mother’s side of their cosmic game of strata (chess).

Khaleal, as soul-slave to Yllel must attempt to destroy Ferathainn even though he knows she is the key to freeing his people of Yllel’s tyranny.

Dairragh of Gryphonskeep hates Ferathainn because she is a mage.  As his world is shaken, that conflict transforms into what he thinks is love.  Then he learns that she is his half-sister and her father, his mortal enemy.

Eoghan falls in love with Ferathainn but serves Auraya, who proves to be a jealous mistress.

Halthyon seems to serve Yllel and The Black King, but wants to find the child he’s never known.  She is the only person he considers worthy to be at his side when he ascends to godhood.

Vedranya, the season of storms.

What I think Fer looks like

This is my first attempt at sketching her, and I’ll have to warn that it’s unfinished.  Hardly any shading or detail, no inking to define the lines, and no colour (I like Prismacolor pencils, and blending them with turpentine when I really go at it).  It’s a basic pencil sketch, so as I thought, it didn’t really come out in the scan very well, but you get the idea (and no, Margaret, those aren’t flaming turds in her hands – she’s levitating stones).

When I’d finished the drawing and had a look at it, I immediately thought of two actresses: Scarlet Johansen and Angelina Jolie.

Now I’m not saying that Fer has to look like this, only that this was the image that emerged when I tried to draw her.  And now you know why I didn’t pursue a career in art 😛

Some people might think this a strange way to start world-building, but my process (so far) starts with my characters.

Let me know what you think and if this is of any value to you.

Brian Henry, “Writing and Revising” Workshop

I first heard of Brian Henry a number of years ago.  I honestly can’t remember where, but I might have been the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.  At the time, I had to travel to North Bay to attend one of his workshops, and I attended two.

The first focused on the publishing industry, how it worked, from query, through slush pile, agents, Canadian vs. American pub houses, all the eventual way to publication.  There were a lot of eye-opening stats that day and it was my first introduction to the world of publishing.  At the time, I hadn’t even finished my first draft though, so I knew I wasn’t ready to start sending off letters yet.

The next workshop was on characterization.  Different topic, different insights.  That trip, I took my mom along for the ride.  She went shopping, and I went to the workshop.

Then finally, we got the Quick Brown Fox to come to Sudz 🙂

“Writing and Revising,” offered May 30, 2010 in Sudbury was the third Brian Henry workshop I attended.  It was very informative and well worth the nominal fee.

Brian talked about the difference between revision and editing, and the relative time and place for each given your writing process.  We shared our stories for a quick and dirty critique, and some of the participants were able to get one on one guidance after the workshop itself was formally over.

Brian has been a book editor, writer, and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and George Brown College. He also leads weekly creative writing courses in Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington and conducts weekend workshops throughout Ontario. He has helped many of his students become published. 

Check out his Blog: Quick Brown Fox, for more information on his workshops, contests, calls for submissions, student writing, publishing and agent news.  QBF is one of the most popular blogs for writers in Canada.

Have you participated in a Brian Henry workshop or writing course?  Or maybe you have someone like Brian in your area of the world?

Going “rogue”

Thanks to the colleague who helped me to introduce my idea, I started to attend free training and learning Webinars that were offered by various magazines and firms.  I was doing this at work.

Learning by Doing

Learning by Doing (Photo credit: BrianCSmith)

It was professional development, and I didn’t doubt, question, or waver a bit in my decision to take advantage of them.  Since March 2011, I have been attending, on average, about two of these Webinars a month, and they’ve been most instructive.  I’ll even chat about some of the things I’ve learned from them in this blog from time to time.

Then my manager got me signing up for some eNewletters, essentially subscription feeds from some very interesting blogs by learning and development professionals.  I’ve linked to some of my favourites under Learning Blogs 🙂

Some of the articles I receive are fascinating, and the links to other resources within them have often led me on a merry chase over the Interwebz, yielding even more resources, sites, and blogs of interest.

When I signed up to attend a course to become a certified trainer in my organization (I know, I’ve been training for three years, and now I’m getting certified …) I picked up a few more resources.  And so the catalogue grows.

I’ve become a social learner, a rogue learner, a mutant learner, and I’m in charge of my learning, by and large.  There are still formal courses to attend, and hoops to jump through, but I’m getting so much more from reading a handful of interesting articles regarding learning theory and design and attending the odd Webinar, than I ever did from institutionalized education …  Mind = Blown 😉

Not that I’m knocking formal education.  Entirely.  It’s gotten me where I am today, but social learning is going to take it from here.

“… second star on the right, and straight on ‘til morning.”  J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

So … what has the world of social media brought you?  Any surprises?

Hiatus

The last summer I went to the University of Guelph, I got a job videotaping horse shows: an opportunity that presented itself.  I traveled to Ottawa, Edmonton, and Southampton, New York.  In between trips, I edited the videos for sale.  I enjoyed the technical nature of the job.  It was something different from anything I’d done before.

While I was down in New York, my father became ill and went into the hospital.  My mom decided not to tell me until after I returned home.

After what seemed a great start at Guelph, I faltered.  My second serious relationship ended as a result of the third.  I know: it was evil, and I’m sorry for all the pain I caused everyone involved, but it just happened.  Lame excuse, but it’s true.

That was the kind of life I led, or followed, in those days.  I let things happen, or not.  There was no thought that I had a role to play in directing events, making choices.  Evil and pain were my legacy because I did nothing to stop them from happening.  If an opportunity presented itself, I would go with it.  I was a passive observer.  I lived like a victim.  I had to sort things out but I didn’t know where to start.

So I turned my attention back to my crisis-in-waiting.  What did I really want to do and could I afford it?  The specter of the starving artist loomed.  So I got a job at Coles, moved to Toronto, and started working through things.

After a few months, I quit Coles.  You’d have thought I’d really love it there.  I thought that too, but it wasn’t to be.  My parting with Coles resulted from irreconcilable differences bred of personality conflict and my own passivity. No surprise there.

A data-entry job at a food importing company was next and a move from Downsview to High Park.  Another few months went by and I moved to Mississauga.  I got a second, part time job at a veterinary clinic, ended up quitting the data entry job, and worked at the clinic full time.  When I was a kid, one of my aspirations was to be a veterinarian and I was sure that I would one day own a farm.  So the clinic seemed perfect.  It was.  I’ve honestly never felt happier working anywhere else.

I broke up with boyfriend number three, but couldn’t afford to move out.  It was awkward, but I worked evenings and he worked days.  We moved around each other, wounded and wounding.

To stay out of the house as much as I could, I started taking swimming lessons, eventually culminating in becoming a certified lifeguard.  I biked and walked everywhere.  In short, I lost a lot of weight.  I was never healthier.  I took a correspondence course in creative writing, tried to learn French, and signed up for high school science courses that I’d managed to skip at Lockerby.  I got my wisdom teeth removed.  Then I started looking at next steps.

I considered returning to Guelph, going to another university to finish my degree, or doing something completely different and becoming a tradesperson (there was a new incentive grant for women in the trades at the time).

I looked at becoming a veterinary technician (hence the high school science courses).  Ultimately though, I didn’t have the financial resources to stay in Mississauga (or anywhere else) on my own and so moved home to Sudbury and back in with my parents.  Laurentian it was.  English degree it was.  My plans were set by circumstances again, but this time, I had a goal: my intention was to complete my degree and to focus on becoming the best writer I could be.

Of course, as soon as I made that determination, I met the man that would become my husband.  So much for plans 🙂

Lost your way? Stanton Peak, Derbyshire

Lost your way? Stanton Peak, Derbyshire (Photo credit: Thomas Tolkien)

Everyone gets lost on the way.  It’s part of the process.

World-building: Where do you start?

This is a sample constructed-world as seen fro...

Confession time

I’m a pantser.  I write through first, and restructure later, but I do extensive mapping using my trusty bulletin board, and as I’m getting to know the inner workings of Microsoft Word better, I’m learning to use headings to organize my chapters and sections, making outline view a useful tool too.  I have Office 2007 right now, so that’s the best I can do.  When I have blocked some time to learn more about it, I intend to use a master document to further organize my novel.  I’ll probably start using OneNote to organize a lot of my research, world-building, character sketches, and other resources.  More on that in the future.

Process, process, process

Where to start, indeed?  Really, this all depends on how you write and what your process is.  If you’ve been reading Writerly Goodness, you know my process is organic and holistic.  Some writers might see that as a cop-out, an excuse for a sloppy and ill-defined (dare I say undisciplined?) process.  Really, it’s process as a way of life.

Life = process

That demands a lot of dedication, organization, awareness, and the ability to think, not only on your feet, but sitting, laying down, at work, watching TV, eating …  In short, it means thinking all the time.

Plot leads to setting

If you’re a plot-based writer, that is, if you start with the story, then that will be your jumping off point for your world-building.

Example:

Hard-boiled detective?  Then you’ll have to create that milieu, and that means research.  Add Hammett and Chandler to your reading list, watch the classics of the movie genre, and then once you’ve got the flavour, go for the meat.  What time will you set your story in?  Just because the genre evolved in the 1920’s and 30’s doesn’t mean you have to restrict yourself.  As long as you can evoke the feeling of the hard-boiled detective, you can play.  William Gibson plays elements of the hard-boiled into some of his science fiction.

Once you have your setting, then you have direction.  Research the heck out of it.  Dream about it.  Start mining your life.  Have you ever done or seen anything that is distinctively “hard-boiled”?  Chances are, if you’re attracted to the genre, there’s a reason.  Dig.  You can find it.

But that’s where you’d start, in the Writerly Goodness universe 🙂

Character leads to plot/setting/theme (sometimes simultaneously)

If you’re a character-based writer though, it’s a little tougher.  You write the character, or characters, first, and the story emerges from them.  Sometimes, you don’t even know where or when the story will be set when you start out.

That’s the way it is for me.

If the story is the plot-based writer’s place to start, then character is the character-based writer’s place to start.

Do character sketches, written ones, and maybe actual sketches, if you’re so talented.  If not, find pictures of actors that might fit the bill.  Have them fully developed as people: their back-stories, their personal quirks, their convictions and beliefs.  Invite your writers’ group, or just some writer friends over for coffee, and have them quiz you on your characters, quick-fire style (it’s in the post, about half-way through).  And, of course, keep writing in the meantime.  Only once your characters are real people to you will their stories start to emerge and direct your plot.  Only once you have a developed plot, will your setting and themes become apparent.  Only then will you be able to truly start developing your world.

You may have some ideas when you begin to write, and by all means, start your research as soon as possible.  If you’re going for a contemporary setting, or a historical one, immerse yourself in the time or place.  It might inform your writing as you go and help you develop your setting with crystalline clarity.  If you’re trying to create a truly original fantasy or science fiction milieu, however, those details might have to wait for you to discover them through writing.  The best you may be able to do at the outset is read in your chosen genre.  If nothing else, do that.

Other options

Ultimately, how you write will determine where and when you start to build your world.  Plot- and character-based writers aren’t the only kinds either.  They’re the only kinds I can provide any guidance for, however.  If you’re another kind of writer, then go with your strengths.  Does your theme emerge first?  Or maybe you can’t write in a world that you don’t know and start off with the world first.  It’s all good.  The point is that no matter what you write, you have to put your characters and their stories in a time and a place and you have to know that world as intimately as you know your characters and plot.  It’s the only way to roll 🙂

Coming up

In the next weeks, I propose to post some of my character sketches and the plot lines that developed from them, along with pictures (though I have started to draw some of them, I’m not finished and they wouldn’t come through in a scan well … also, they’re not very good).

In the future, I’ll move on to other aspects of world-building, including a number of print resources on the subject.

Are you a pantser, or a plotter?  Are you a plot-based, or a character-based writer?  Are you something else entirely?  Where do you start in your world building?  Please, comment, like, share!

A visit from Valerie Senyk

March 25, 2010.

Throughout the year, the Sudbury Writers’ Guild brings in guest speakers.  That year, there had been some interest from the membership in learning how to read one’s work more effectively.  One of our members, and past president, Janice Leuschen, had just started up her business and had delivered a session for the Guild already, but there were still rumblings and mumblings.

At the September meeting, where the year’s creative agenda was hashed out, I suggested Valerie Senyk as a possible speaker.  She is associate professor of theatre arts at the Georgian College University Partnership Centre as well as a poet, a playwright, a director, and a fantastic performer.

The members in attendance showed interest, so I got in touch with Valerie, who was also interested and coming to Sudbury to see her son in March.  We firmed things up and made the date.

I’d known Valerie since Spring Fever: the (W)rites of Spring in which our poetry was published.  Subsequent readings, events like the Northern Lights Festival Boreal, which featured not only our motley crew of spoken word performers, but her creative performance poetry collaborations LipSkinDance and Poemotion, and our association through Your Scrivener Press publisher Laurence Steven, often put us together.

At the time of our first association, Valerie was a professor in the Drama Department at Thornloe University, one of three federated universities within Laurentian University.  I’d seen her perform and attended several of her students’ productions at Thornloe.

Valerie did an evening workshop for the Guild and everyone in attendance read a work of short fiction or poetry and received excellent feedback and tips from Valerie.  Though I considered myself an experienced reader, she had some insightful advice for me as well.  It was a lovely evening, and it was great to see an old friend again.

It is always a pleasure to work with Valerie.

If you enjoyed this post, Like, Share, or Comment.  I invite you to subscribe, or easier still, add me to your Google Reader subscriptions.  Google Reader has saved my social networking sanity so I’m not shy about the plug 🙂

An idea that didn’t go anywhere …

"Here Lies a Good Idea. Don't Let Your Id...

“Here Lies a Good Idea. Don’t Let Your Idea Die. Put it in the Suggestion Box Today” – NARA – 514482 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So last year I had this idea for a way to evolve training for both our clients and our staff.

Essentially, the idea was to have online, self-study, or asynchronous, courses for our client groups, to teach them about our business, what we could do for them, and how to make the most of our service offerings.

A secondary tier, or phase, of the training would have introduced clients to the way we do our work, a kind of insider’s guide, which I termed a certification program.  Taking some of these more advanced courses could have been an asset for our hiring group, so that when jobs were posted, the links to these courses could be included, and completing them could give applicants an advantage, because they would have some knowledge of our business and the work that we do.

Internally, our training products could be converted to online, self-study materials as well, designed to harmonize with the public ones, and in conjunction with informal learning strategies like coaching and mentoring, replace the costly and time-consuming, in-class training we now provide.

I contacted a colleague to get her opinion, and she graciously offered to give me a venue to discuss the concept and get some feedback.  I had never written a proposal in our business before, nor did I know how to go about gaining approval for my idea.

While the session was great and I got some serious validation for the idea, I didn’t get much with respect to next steps.  There was a plan in the works for a kind of online suggestion box for employee ideas, but that wouldn’t be up and running until sometime in the next fiscal year.  Aside from that, I really didn’t have any kind of internal platform to promote the idea, gain support, and move forward with it.

I did follow up with some key management figures from other departments, and tried to escalate the idea through my own management team, but didn’t get much response with respect to who I could approach next, or support with respect to how I could present the idea.

I had to be set it aside for the time being.

Though the suggestion box was eventually launched in September of 2011, and I submitted my idea in early October, I haven’t heard anything since.

Maybe my employer isn’t ready to enact my idea yet.

Still, I think it was pretty good, and even if it doesn’t go anywhere, I consider it to be one of my accomplishments.

Have you had an idea that you weren’t sure how to promote or what to do with?  Who did you approach and where did it go from there?

Grades seven through twelve

Art became a kind of salvation for me.  I wasn’t the best, but I was good.  My art teacher said that I was a colourist, and I had no idea what she meant, but I was nonetheless flattered.  If I did know what a colourist was, I might have been even more flattered, because I still liked comic books and graphic novels.

I also started guitar lessons.  I was never quite comfortable with the instrument, but again, I was comfortably mediocre.

I kept on writing and entered a student poetry contest I didn’t place in.

My first attempt at public speaking was lost in a fit of giggles.  My speech was on winter camping, and the best way to keep warm while you slept was to sleep without clothes–oh my!  My classmates enjoyed the effort though, and graded me highly for the entertainment factor alone 🙂

A guest speaker came to my grade seven class.  Unfortunately I don’t remember who he was, though I believe he was a journalist.  I guess you could call it my first workshop.  I wrote a supernatural murder mystery in one sitting and read it out to the class.  I really got into it, dramatizing the voices and everything.  Though empowering, I felt a little like a freak.

Grade eight brought more luke-warm success with a few of my stories read out in class.  My teacher’s final report of the year called me apathetic, however, and I had to fight to get into the advanced level classes in high school, despite having the grades to be so placed.  Just because I’d rather be in a book than in class …

I was bored.  I’d do the work I was supposed to do in class, then pick up whatever book I was reading at the time.  My instructors would approach, I’d show them that I was done, they’d advise me to do my homework, so I’d do that, and pick up my book again.  Then, I’d be advised to work ahead.  I hated school then.  Extra study was the last thing I wanted to do.

None of my writing was ever given into the dubious custody of any of my classmates.  I was even cagey with Margaret and took every well-meant criticism to heart.

I can’t remember exactly when, but I caught the Dungeons & Dragons bug.  Margaret’s Dad got her the Player’s Handbook, and shortly thereafter, we picked up the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual.  We started to attend the weekend meetings of the Sudbury Gaming Club at Cambrian College, and eventually tried out other games.  I was a dedicated gamer well into my 20s.

Suddenly, I had another group of people I could consider friends!  And none of them knew me from school.  Bonus.  We went to concerts: Headpins and Helix, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister …  I was a burgeoning head banger in those days.

When high school hit, with my part time job, boyfriends, and everything else that came with it, my writing started to take a back seat.  I became interested in the visual arts again.  I still wasn’t the best, but I was better than some, and I did well enough.

I didn’t stop writing.  I kept on dreaming and I kept on writing down my dreams.  I have several ideas-in-waiting from those days.

Emotional drama, serious illness, and the death of my grandmother kept me unstable, and unable to see clearly enough to commit to what I loved.  Heck, I couldn’t even figure out what that was …

Also enter into my life great teacher number two, Ms. Chapman.  Her classes instilled in me a passion for literature that while slow to kindle, saw me through the rest of my academic career, such as it was.

Chronologically, what happened next was my first year of university.  You can get that bit of detail by reading How it all started in my Work in progress category.

I’ll pick up the tale again next week with Laurentian University.

High school did not constitute the best years of my life.  Really, I kind of hated it.  My saving grace was Margaret.  Despite all the relationship crap and growing apart that always happens in the fraught teenage years, Margaret remains one of my best friends.

How did your high school years affect your development as a creative person?

I failed the test

Back in December, Robert J. Sawyer shared this: http://www.rinkworks.com/fnovel/

Rinkworks warns the following:

Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too. The problem is that most of this “great, original fantasy” is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we’re sick of it, so we’ve compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering “yes” to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once.

The problem is … I answered yes more than once.

Specifically:

4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme bad guy?

Well, it’s about three young characters, two who “come of age” and one who just figures out what his damage is, spanks his inner moppet and gets on with it, all three of whom have roles to play in the defeat of the dark god Yllel, and his sourcerous servant Kane.

12. Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel?

Yes, Aeldred is dithering and occasionally confused, but he is the exception and considerably younger than most of the magickal movers and shakers in my novel.  Plus, he’s not even close to being a main character.

21. How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?

That would be Aislinn, actually and she’s not torn so much between the two peoples as derided and feared by both because she is the first child born of a Tellurin (my version of humans) and an eleph (my version of elves).  She’s actually going to be pivotal in uniting the two peoples.

39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?

Actually, all of the above.  I’ve changed the names slightly and given them different origins.  My orcs are called okante and are peaceful tribes-people who generally live in harmony with the Tellurin tribes of the north.  They’re only drawn in as villains because Yllel tricks them into soul-slavery.  My elves, as mentioned above, are called eleph and they come from a different world.  One of my gods tries to do something good, but ends up tearing a hole in the world and sucking half the population of Elphindar into Tellurin before the gap can be closed.  The eleph are not pleased.  Dwarves are called dwergen, and are the children of the elemental Gods of earth and fire.  Rather than halflings, I have gnomes I call dwergini and they are the children of earth and air.  Neither race is terribly differentiated from their fantastic forefathers, but they’re certainly not dour and I try not to make them overtly stereotypical.

Enough of the justification, but I can tell you that I was not a little disconcerted by saying yes even those four times.

Fantasy Forest

Fantasy Forest (Photo credit: ozjimbob)

Then, in January, Author Salon posted this for the benefit of the Fantasy and YA Fantasy peer groups, two of the more active in the AS fold: http://www.authorsalon.com/page/general/fantasytropes/

Again, I shook in my metaphorical boots because my story is fairly littered with orcs, trolls (which I call krean), ogres (the gunden), etc.  Will renaming be sufficient?  It’s not like any of them play a significant role, but they are there in their standard and stereotypical glory.

I started questioning the value of my novel in a serious and neurotic way.  Then I sat back and tried to put things into perspective.  My story is not “about” any of these tropes, save perhaps for my protagonists coming of age, finding power, and defeating the big bad.  Renaming will likely be sufficient in most cases.  I don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I almost failed another one

AS says it wants thick-skinned writers.  Though I do tend to take some criticism more to heart, or react poorly to some of their advice (largely because I think that it’s being posted because someone has looked at my work and though poorly of it, even though I “know” I’m not that important to anyone), I’m learning to understand being thick-skinned in the same way I understand being courageous.  Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid; being brave means that you act despite your fear and try not to let it limit you.  I’m taking the same, long view of being thick-skinned.  It doesn’t mean that my confidence isn’t shaken; it means that even when it is, I get my shit together and soldier on.

Then Rachelle Gardner posted this in March:

http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/03/do-you-have-a-thick-skin/

It’s good to know that agents feel the same way us writers do sometimes 🙂

Writing well is the best revenge 🙂

Then I came across a very helpful blog post:

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook?et_mid=538945&rid=3085641

I’ve always aspired to be transgressive; sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not so much.  I think ultimately, I have to focus on writing the best novel I can, so that when I do break the rules, I’ll be forgiven.  It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission, right?  It’s such a relief to know that I can write my way out of the corner I seem to be getting scrunched into.

Coming up on Writerly Goodness

In future posts, I want to get a bit into the background of the novel, stuff that won’t necessarily be in it, but all of the window dressing I developed so that my world would work fairly consistently.  Stuff like cosmology, the historical timeline leading up to the novel, religion, the way magic works, my various peoples and their origins (in more detail than above), naming conventions, and some of the unique things about Tellurin.  In other words, I’m going to write about world-building.  Have any interest in that?

What are your feelings about tropes and their use/overuse?  Would you fail Rinkworks’ test?  What about the Author Salon article?  Does it give you pause?

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Until next week!