Six questions with Brian Braden

Brian BradenBrian Braden is a retired military officer and has been a corporate executive, an intelligence officer, a combat helicopter pilot, and a freelance columnist. His articles have been featured in a variety of defense magazines and websites. He is also a founder, editor and writer for Underground Book Reviews. His debut novel, Black Sea Gods, is the first installment of an epic fantasy series.

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Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Brian!  I’m so happy to have you here to celebrate the launch your new book, Black Sea Gods: Chronicle of Fu Xi on February 18, 2013.

We first met on Author Salon just over a year ago, in the then-beginning Epic Fantasy group. Since then, your work has changed and grown, and I feel privileged to have been one of your beta-readers.

Congratulations on sharing BSG with the world 🙂

WG: How long have you been writing, Brian?  When did the bug first bite, and when did you know that writing was what you wanted to do?

BLB: First, thanks for inviting me to Writerly Goodness.  Back in 2008 I wrote a letter to a major US defense magazine on a military topic.  The editor actually called me and asked me to turn the letter into a column and he’d pay me. Paid for my opinion? I was in heaven. Then I did another column and then another. Well, one day editors changed and my columnist days were over. But I was fully bit by the writing bug by then. I wanted to write, so I switched to fiction.  I published a little novelette called Carson’s Love to test the self-publishing waters and never looked back

WG: I know you’ve written about this many times, but what was the idea that became BSG and where did it come from?

BLB: It came from several inspirations, but primarily from a photo of an ancient mummy dug-up in a faraway land. The man’s face was amazingly preserved, as was his clothing. I wanted to know more about this person, but archeologist knew very little about him. I imagined who he was and what his life was like. After a while I decided to write his story, but I needed a cultural mythology to build upon. That’s when I stumbled upon Dr. John Colarusso’s book Nart Sagas From the Caucasus, a compilation of myths almost lost to history. I put the myths to the man and combined it with some related Chinese mythology and BLACK SEA GODS was born.

WG: I love process!  Can you give my readers any insight into yours over the course of writing BSG?

BLB: The short answer: My core process is I start with a climax and a character and build the rest of the story around those two elements. My long answer: I started out on a website called Review Fuse, where other writers could read my chapters as I posted them. Not long after I started posting chapters I began collaborating with Amy Biddle, who was working on her first novel The Atheist Prayer (due out soon by Perfect Edge Books).  We joined forces and started critiquing each other’s books one chapter at a time. We soon expanded our circle to two other talented writers – Katie French (The Breeders) and Kimberly Shurshen (Itsy Bitsy Spider and Hush). Over a year, one chapter at a time, we dissected each other work until we had complete novels. I liked this approach because it made each chapter a tighter package. That was phase one. Then I spent another year or so with writers at Author Salon doing deep edits, mostly involving shortening the book and reworking it using a six-act/two goal writing template. Then I sent it to an editor, who was a tremendous help. Finally, I involved beta-readers, most of who came to me from fantasy author Michael Manning’s pool of devoted fans.  So, it was a four-stage process spanning almost  three years: one-at-a time chapter builds with  external critiques from trusted colleagues, deep “whole manuscript” edits from other writers, a professional editor, and finally, beta-readers.

WG: What have you learned from writing BSG, and how has it changed you as a writer?

BLB: It taught me I can write a novel. Hey, that’s something, right? It taught me to trust my gut and don’t let the idea of become a writer get in the way of being a writer. This past year taught me how to organize my manuscript and how to structure it.

WG: When you started writing BSG, you had your eyes on traditional publishing.  When did that change and why did you opt for Amazon?

BLB:  My decision didn’t come all at once, but was influenced by several factors. First, as a writer for Underground Book Reviews I’ve read amazing indie books and saw indie authors build huge readerships.  I kept seeing friends, talented authors, succeed in the wild west of indie publication.  If they can do it, I can do it.  Second, as I’ve learned more about the traditional publishing industry the more I realized how highly unlikely Black Sea Gods was going to be picked up. It’s too far out of what industry professionals are looking for, what they consider “hot,” or “marketable.” The feedback I received from several agents and publishers was they liked the story but didn’t know where BSG would fit in their line. My only real hope would be to warp the story into something more compatible with the current market, and therefore make it something unrecognizable. I wanted to tell the story my way. I’m comfortable with that.

I went with Amazon’s Kindle Direct exclusively for the first 90 days to initially keep things simple, take advantage of their marketing leverage, and incorporate a “rolling debut.”  In three months I’ll debut on Nook, and then Smashswords, etc. Each debut is a marketing opportunity, a chance to burst fresh on the scene and carry the accolades/reviews from the previous tier forward.

WG: I know you started your personal blog in the last year as well.  What has your experience in blogging been like and how do you think it will contribute to your success as an author?

BLB: Blogging … I haven’t cracked that nut yet. As it stands now, I have very little faith in my personal blog to sustain or launch my writing career. Blogs are jealous creatures, they demand gobs of time and attention in order to love you back just a little bit. I’m afraid I haven’t given my blog enough of that TLC;  however, I’ve developed a small, but loyal following and, over the next 90 days, I’ll be offering  free copies of BSG from time to timeBlack Sea Gods: Chronicle of  Fu Xi as part of my marketing campaign.  The first promotion started yesterday and ran for 24 hours.

If there has been one platform that has been good to me it’s Underground Book Reviews. The response to the indie book e-zine has been overwhelming. I would not have been as well positioned as I am now to launch an indie writing career without it.

Thanks for a great interview Brian!

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A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 2

Last week: An early encounter with death.

The year I had my tonsils out

Tonsillitis is hell.  The true infection, the one that leaves your four-year-old self screaming, the monster pain in your ears reaching back into your brain, your throat, latching on with needle-like claws, and shredding.

I remember that.

I remember trying to lie still on my side on the couch while Mom administered oil-based ear medication into my ears, one after the other.  This would hopefully happen before the screaming started, was intended to pre-empt it.   I’d squirm and whine while the medication slowly dripped into my ears, swallowed doses of liquid antibiotics and Tempra (a liquid painkiller for children).

I remember once heading out in the car with my parents and maternal grandparents.  I’m not sure whether it was just for a picnic, or if it was a day trip to a camp site, but it was a ways out of town.  Mom hadn’t thought to bring my medication and just to spite her, my tonsillitis decided to act up.  Big time.

Mom and Nanny (I had to have a different name for this other older lady who wasn’t the same as Grandma, my paternal grandmother) tried to calm me down in the back seat, but I was howling by the time we reached our destination and we couldn’t stay.  I had to be returned home and dosed.

It quickly became apparent that surgery was in order.  Though this was the time during which doctors tried not to perform tonsillectomies, my situation was serious enough that everyone felt there was no other choice.

I don’t remember anything about the surgery itself.  I believe it went off without a hitch.  After the operation, all seemed well, and I returned home enjoying ice cream, popsicles, and TLC.

In the middle of the night, I woke, coughing, had trouble breathing, the air moving in and out of me with a rattling slurp, the sound of milk bubbling through a straw.  The next cough shot a black spatter onto my pyjamas and sheets.  I couldn’t summon the breath to call for my mom right away, my first attempt emerged a thready burble.

Each stuttering breath and cough produced a little more noise, until I was shouting, “Mom!

The light switch flicked on, momentarily blinding me, but one look at the blood and I yelled again, despite the jagged burning in my throat, tried to crawl back from it, but it followed.  I was covered in blood.

My stitches had burst.

A frantic ride to the hospital and the doctor ordered me back into surgery and my parents were ordered out of the examination room, the male nurse assuring them that he could handle getting the intravenous inserted.

He sent Mom away.  It was abandonment, pure and simple.  A four-year old doesn’t distinguish between her parents leaving her and her parents being forced to leave her.

Worse, the nurse tried to stab me.  I showed him.

Mom and Dad were brought back in, allowed to hold my hand, held my legs down, while the newly bandaged nurse taped my arm to a block of wood and did his worst.  In the moment, I hated my parents for that, for letting the nurse hurt me.

I didn’t die, but I came close.

I don’t remember any of the iconic images typical of near-death experiences (NDEs).  No long tunnels.  No doorways of brilliant light.  No voices of lost loved ones calling to me.  No angels; no voice of God.

The road back from that second surgery was a long one.  I’d ingested so much blood, I became incontinent in the most embarrassing way, my family doctor plucked clots of blood out of my ears, and nothing, not even ice cream, tasted good for weeks.  More courses of liquid antibiotics followed, which stained my teeth indelibly and made me self-conscious for years.

I have a picture of myself right after the surgery, pale, skinny.  It was Christmas, but I couldn’t smile.

Mellie after the operation

Mellie after the operation

What’s stayed with me the most was the dream.

My first night home after the second surgery, I dreamed of my bed, empty.  The cheery yellow and white striped flannel sheets, the blue wool blanket turned down, the dark wood frame with the toy cupboard built in.  Just the bed in a kind of spot light, the rest of the room dark.  The image of the bed receded into the darkness and finally disappeared.

The feeling that I woke up with was that I had died, not that I really understood what that meant, but that I had ceased to exist and that the world I woke up in was a new one.  I had a new life, too.  A second chance.

Now, I’d say that I dreamed of one of those moments at which the infinite iterations of parallel universes converge.  I turned left.  The sensation was profound.

I started to have nightmares about falling, or being abandoned, that troubled me for years,

Deutsch: Engel holt die Seele eines Sterbenden

Deutsch: Engel holt die Seele eines Sterbenden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and am firmly convinced that I had spontaneous out-of-body experiences (OBEs) at night.  During the latter, I felt like a helium balloon in a wind storm, flung, sometimes painfully, to the furthest reaches of my tether but always yanked back.  The ‘string’ was attached to my navel.

Try an experiment for me.  Poke your finger into your belly-button.  Press in hard and wriggle it around.  That will give you some idea what having a string attached to it and being hauled around by it feels like.

I’ve heard that the navel is supposed to be an erogenous zone (thanks for that one, Dr. Oz).  Sadly, I’ve never found that to be true.  It’s always been a slightly disturbing feeling for me.  I figure that’s just me.  My wiring isn’t quite what other people might feel is normal.  I’m cool with that.

I’ve written a short story about this experience for my thesis called “Tonsillitis Blues.”  I’ve written short fiction and poetry about it.

This experience is still in me and claws its way out from time to time, like it has today.

Next week, I’ll be delving into the period of my life that I refer to as ‘friend wars.’  These were my first experiences of bullying.  I think I did pretty well, even though I had no idea what it was I was dealing with.  This was also the period when I developed my first defenses against bullying, several of which resulted in my further isolation, and one of which meant that I became a bully myself.

I see the ‘friend war’ years as the time when my predisposition to depression was first anchored in my psyche.  It destroyed my self-confidence.

Have any of you had a non-traditional near-death experience?  A youthful trauma that resulted in years of nightmares?  How about out-of-body experiences?  When were you able to understand what happened to you and how it affected you?  What creativity has emerged from these experiences?

I’ll be posting my interview with Brian Braden shortly.

Talk to you soon!

Writer-tech: Dropbox on Wordsmith Studio

Please go see my post on Wordsmith Studio: Writer-tech: Dropbox.

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Wordsmith Studio is a wonderful collective of writers that began through Robert Lee Brewer‘s April Platform Challenge last year.

Thanks to Lara Britt for inviting me into the designers group and encouraging my more active participation it the collective.

Hope you enjoy!

Writerly Goodness, signing off from Timmins, Ontario 🙂

The next chapter: update February 17, 2013

Just a brief catch-up here on what’s been happening.  Brief, because what’s been happening = not much 😛

This week, I put my second original short story of the year, “Beneath the Foundations” in the can and submitted to the Sword and Mythos anthology.  I’m not optimistic because the story that bubbled up was not along the lines that the editor said she was looking for.

The editor was looking for aboriginal (not just NA, but Australian, etc.) northern Africa, Arab, Indian, or Asian settings, female protagonists, and in general, a new spin on the old Cthulian genre.

BtF is medieval European, specifically England during the time that King Alfred was ousted

English: Statue of King Alfred in Wantage, England

English: Statue of King Alfred in Wantage, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by the Danes and was gathering his forces to retake Wessex and Mersea.  Adric, the protagonist, is male, though he is a little person, and by that I don’t mean that he was a pixie, but short of stature.

He’s bought by a Danish lord, Ofded, as a sapper along with several other boys from St. Jerome’s. Proper miners supervise the expendable boys in the endeavour.  Alfred’s supposedly harbouring in Castle Sark,  and Ofded wants to get the credit for his capture.

The story is about what Adric finds beneath the foundations and the horror that ensues.

So I’ll have to wait and see.  Typically, I don’t think much about my stories after I send them off.  I list them in my submissions table and mark off the result when it eventually comes in, or not, as the case may be.

Next up, I’ll be revising a couple of stories for submission to Tesseracts 17.  I haven’t quite decided which one I want to send in yet.  The deadline for that is February 28, for those of you who would like to submit.  Check out the guidelines.

I haven’t had a lot of time to work on Gerod and the Lions, and haven’t gotten back to Initiate of Stone yet.  I have a busy time coming up for the day job, and I have to pick and choose.

This week coming, I’m out of town for a training gig, and then again, after one week at home, I’ll be travelling again for more training delivery and my attempt at certification.  I don’t think it will be reasonable for me to return to IoS until after the next few weeks.

In March, when I dive back into my project, revising for beta-reader feedback (and yes, I will be asking a broad cross section of friends RL and online for their assistance) I will also be working on revising another, fairly long, short story for the next Writers of the Future (April 1) and a new short story (idea hasn’t cropped up yet) for In Places Between (April 4).

I’ve submitted to WotF before, and was pleased to receive an honourable mention certificate, but it’s hard to know how one would do in such a popular arena.  Again, I’ll encourage those of you who are working on your own stories to submit.

Also this week, I submitted some work to my critique group and am largely caught up.

Next weekend, when I return from training, I’m going to be attending a poetry workshop and I actually have some poetry to take with me.  My poet friend, Kim Fahner, graciously offered to have a look and I hope to have the few revisions she suggested ready.

I hope to submit some of my poetry to various journals, but I’m not so much into the poetry these days, so if anything this may be something that has to go by the wayside for now.  I definitely want to submit a poem to the League of Canadian Poets National Poetry Month Blog, and have a few options for online submissions that might suit.

Upcoming for the blog, I’m going to try my hand at submitting a post to Wordsmith Studio, another pupdate (Nu had her check up this past week, but I won’t have the time to commit it to the blog this weekend), I’m going to continue my new series, A life sentence, with mortal punctuation, I hope to have an interview with my friend, Brian Braden, about his new book, Black Sea Gods, and will likely blog about the training, the poetry workshop, and anything else my life offers up for sacrifice 🙂  Writerly Goodness

That’s it for now.

Good words at y’all!  Writerly Goodness, signing off.

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 1

First: A note about memory, frame, and fiction

I have my memories, but as I get older, I don’t know that the biological hard drive that is my brain hasn’t been corrupted, that the memories reflect the reality that was, or reality as I want it to be.

My memories have also been informed by family stories and sometimes the latter influence the former, so again, I can never be certain of their veracity.

Thinking about this, I remember the academic and theoretical concept of “frames” from my undergraduate studies, now also more than 20 years in my past.  Everyone has their own frame of reference, influenced by their experiences and education, family and individuated world view.

Even if one attempts to be completely truthful, one’s truth can run counter to reality.

The writer cannot express anything but through the filter of their frame.  In this sense, all written work, whether scientific, academic, journalistic, historical, or honestly fictive, has in it the element of fiction.  It cannot help but be influenced by the frame of the writer.

Mathematics may be the only purely objective writing, but even there, unknowns and chaos creep in and beg interpretation.

This is just my opinion, but I wanted to get it out there as a way of saying that even though I write from memory and experience, I am writing a story.  It is my story, but not having time travel at my disposal, I cannot say that this story, based on real life events, is any more “real” than a movie based on the true story of X.

How it all began (yes, I’m really going there)

So, it’s October, 1969, and my mother, nine months pregnant, walks to her regular doctor’s appointment.  Her doctor’s office was at the top of Regent Street hill, and for those of you who don’t live in Sudbury, that’s a really big hill, of San Fransiscan dimensions, even.

The doctor enters the exam room and says, “I didn’t expect to see you.  I thought you’d have your baby by now.”  My mom shrugs and says that everything’s going fine, “but,” she says, “I’ve been having these really strange cramps all day.”

After a brief assessment, the doctor tells her to call her husband and get over to the hospital post-hasty: “You’re in labour, woman!”

My mom’s never been the kind to thrust the agony of my birthing at me.  I don’t know how long she was in labour or how painful it was.  I just know that it was the first, and only, occasion when my maternal grandmother, sober her entire life with that notable exception, got stinking drunk 🙂

Early memories

The only things I remember from my infancy are images.  Moments.  The colourful, plastic Fischer-Price mobile that hung above my crib; a tin, battery-operated locomotive; and this memory, which became a poem:

infant crawls

mother says she was crawling by six months and walking
by eighteen. situate her chronologically as you wish
any month and day in 1970.
reaches linoleum and drags
legs forward.  pivots onto buttocks.
suddenly sees black shoes and white tights,
spill of turquoise dress over thighs.
a contemporary picture reveals the dress in question.
shirred bodice, empire waist, short sleeves poofed and gently
cinched around chubby arms.  her hair is short and blonde, lovingly
held in place by two plastic pink barrettes in the shape of bows.  her baby
teeth are coming in.
fridge holds her attention for a moment.  then something moves
—brown shoes—ma ma.
though she was beginning to speak, her words were
carefully articulated.  not mama, but ma ma; syllables
spat out, exhaled along with breath.
low like this, ma ma is brown shoes and white-pink
calves.  ma ma is also round-white-pink, brown curly, and
long-white-pink ticklers, but they are all ma ma.  they all smell
of comfort.
the brown shoes were around for years, with large, square,
brass-toned buckles.  nylon-sheathed legs above them truncated by
fall of blue dress: straight, simple, homemade, with short sleeves.
horn-rimmed glasses frame hazel eyes and permed, dyed hair.  mother’s
smile was shy and kind.
chubby arms lift hands to grasp.  frustratingly ma ma seems to be between
wriggling grabbers, but cannot be touched.  “ma,” she says, and “ma.”  two
world-shaking clomps later, the long-white-pink lifters bring her up to the
round-white-pink ma ma and pudgy fingers tangle in curly brown.
this is my memory.  i do not ask my mother if she
shares it.

©2012 Melanie Marttila

infant crawls era Mel

‘Dis be me 🙂

Something I don’t remember

My maternal grandmother had a massive heart attack that required a multiple by-pass (not sure how many, just that they had to take the vessels from her leg).  In the wake of the ordeal, she was in a kind of fugue state, conscious, but not talking, not interacting.

My mom was allowed to bring me in to the intensive care unit.  Normally, a baby wouldn’t be permitted, but it was thought that either it was time to say final goodbyes, or that I might somehow remind my grandmother that she had a reason to live.

Fortunately, the latter happened.  My name was the first word she uttered in days.  I have no idea how old I was when that happened.  It’s funny sometimes the affect we have on others, whether we know it or not.

My grandmother was given a dim prognosis: months perhaps.  She lived to see me graduate high school and did not pass away until I was in university.  More on that in a later post in this series.

Grandpa

My first encounter with the spectre of death was the passing of my paternal grandfather.  When I was three, my grandfather was up on his carport roof, shovelling snow, and had a massive heart attack.  I was carefully sheltered from the event.

That year, the local television station broadcast “The Santa Show” which read children’s letters to Santa on the air.  The big Christmas news Santa reported that year was that Rudolph was sick and might not make his annual flight.  In trying to explain the situation to me, Mom told me that Grandpa was in the hospital.

“With Rudolph?” I asked.  Yes, with Rudolph, she said.

Only days later (I think), I was set to play in the snow while my father climbed up to clear that same carport roof.  The job had to be completed.  As he descended, the ladder slipped on the ice, and he fell, calling to my toddler self for help.

Understandably, I thought Daddy was being silly.  Patiently, through his pain, he convinced me, who’d never gone anywhere alone in my brief life, to go to the next-door neighbour for help.  I was frightened out of my wee gourd and Dad had to keep encouraging me to keep going.

Neither of us knew, entangled in our own drama, that Grandpa had died.

I only know this because my mother told me: Grandpa was a man of few words.  He loved to garden, and grew straw flowers so he could engage in dried flower arranging in the winters.  When he watched me, he sat in his chair, often reading the paper, and let me play quietly with his Salada tea figurines.  I still have the wolf.  It sits on my bookshelf along with other memorabilia.

I hardly had the opportunity to get to know him and he was gone.  Dad ended up with a fractured pelvis and was in the hospital over the holidays.

Truthfully, neither event had much of an impact on me, though I always thought that I’d let Dad down when he fell, not that I could have done more than I did, being three and all.  I got used to not having Grandpa around, and life went on.

I think that when you’re very young, death can’t be understood.  It’s therefore far easier to accept.  Absence becomes the new normal.  There’s no introspection or grief, and the grief of others is equally beyond understanding.

Perhaps these early experiences do have a lasting effect.  Maybe the trauma lies dormant, only to surface at a later date and hijack our lives.  For all the time I’ve spent examining my life, I can’t say.  I don’t feel any connection between these early experiences and the person I became.

What about the stories of your lives?  Do you have a memory of a death from your early years?  How did you react, or not?  Can you connect the experience to some trait or tendency that you embody today?  Have any of your early memories inspired your creative work?

Next week:  My first near-death experience and what came of it.

Until then, writerly peeps.  In the meantime, mine your memories for creative gold 🙂

Six questions with Lara Schiffbauer

Lara SchiffbauerLara Schiffbauer is a writer, licensed clinical social worker, mother of two, wife of one, and a stubborn optimist. She loves Star Wars, Lego people, science, everyday magic, and to laugh.  You can connect with Lara through Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or on her website. Her debut novel, Finding Meara, will be available in March, 2013.

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Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Lara!  Thank you for taking the time to answer these few questions for my readers.  I have to say that since we met through Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Challenge last year that I’ve been following your progress with Finding Meara with rapt attention 🙂  As I approach the end of revisions on my own work in progress, the decisions you’ve made are informing my process and plans moving forward.

Without further ado:

WG: When did you begin to write and what was the moment you knew that writing was the path you wanted/needed to pursue?

LAS: I’d like to first say think you so much for having me over today! The Platform Challenge was a wonderful opportunity to get to meet so many lovely writer-types—like you! I’m honored you find my path to publication informative and inspiring!

I enjoyed writing my whole life, but I didn’t think about writing for other people’s enjoyment until five years ago. I hadn’t been creative in any way for about ten years, and wanted to regain the spark. My children were toddlers, and I work full-time, so a return to writing fit the best. Since I’m a goal-oriented kind of person, I decided to not just write, but write with the goal of getting it read by people other than my family.

WG: What was the idea that became Finding Meara and how long have you been working on the novel?

LAS: I’ve worked with children in a social worker/therapist role for over ten years. The seed for Finding Meara rose out of the need to have some justice for abused and mistreated children. The story evolved into an urban fantasy about a young woman who, in a case of mistaken identity, ends up in a magical world where she must rescue her newfound half-sister before their sadistic father can sacrifice either in his quest for immortality and unrestrained power. As her world is turned inside out, she is forced to put other’s needs before her own, and discovers herself in the process. I’ve been working on it for about two years.

WG: I’m a process geek and I love to hear about how other writers approach their craft.  Can you give us some insight in to how you do that thing you do 🙂 ?

LAS: Lots of trial and error! I have learned that if I want to write with any speed, I have to know where the characters are going. With Finding Meara, I’d plot out a few chapters at a time, which allowed flexibility as well. I started another book, Age of Stars, which I plotted out completely. By doing that, I realized that I didn’t like the story and will be re-plotting it, once I get the first draft of the next book in the Adven Realm adventures done.  So, no pantsing for me, but any hybrid of outlining seems to work all right.

WG: I remember that you tried the traditional publishing route. What was your experience with querying and why did you choose to self-publish?

LAS: It didn’t take me long to change my mind. I pitched Finding Meara to Lou Anders of Pyr Books at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference in April 2012 and sent out eight-ish query letters over the summer, before deciding (around August 2012) that Finding Meara is a unique enough animal that traditional publishing probably wouldn’t want it. I love the story and want other people to have access to it, in case they might love it too, and so decided to self-publish.

WG: What platform(s) did you choose and why?

LAS: Interesting question! My platforms fall into two categories: those I have had and used for a while and those I’ve created due to releasing Finding Meara.

I’ve been blogging for a little over two years, and use Facebook to connect to writer friends. I enjoy Pinterest personally, but do have some boards for the three books I’ve got going on it. I like Twitter, but lately I’m lucky to get on a couple of times a week.

In January I created a Facebook Author Page, a Goodreads Author Page and my website, which has links to all my social media spots. I just recently opened a Wattpad account because I am releasing two chapters of Finding Meara a week there until its release.

I’m not one of those people who have created a social media empire, with hundreds of followers on any given platform. I do sincerely appreciate every person who has ever decided to follow along with my journey, and have been absolutely blessed by getting to meet and become friends with some amazing, supportive people. I’ll take those types of relationships over numbers any day!

I chose to create a Facebook Author page because it provides an opportunity to interact with the international community. E-reader use in other countries is on the rise and I’m hoping through Facebook I’ll have a way to develop the writer/reader relationship. I opened a Goodreads page and a Wattpad page because they offer a way to interact with readers. So much social media seems to be directed toward other writers, and while writers read, there are tons of readers in the world who don’t go hang around the writer water-cooler.

WG: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with regard to Finding Meara?Finding Meara Cover

LAS: As I mentioned above, I have a Finding Meara Sneak Peek going on at Wattpad leading up to the release. I wish I could give a firm date of release, but I’m still tweaking for an exact date. It will be in March, though, and if anyone wants up to date information regarding the release, I would encourage them to follow me on Facebook or my blog, as I will post the date as soon as I know. On release weekend, Finding Meara will cost a full $0.00, so if you like the story on Wattpad you will be able to finish it for free. There will also be a giveaway on Goodreads post-release.

Thank you so much, Melanie, for offering me this opportunity to share my story!

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Lara, thank you for being so generous with your time and experience.

If you have any questions for Lara, please write them in the comments, and as always, I encourage you to like, share, comment, and follow (the blog equivalent of the writer’s think, do, create, be!).

Have a good one, my writerly peeps!  Until next time! *waves*

There’s something you should know about me

Photographic illustration of a near-death-expe...

Photographic illustration of a near-death-experience. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve almost died … twice

Both times, I was under the knife for what should have been straightforward surgical procedures: a tonsillectomy and an appendectomy.  Both experiences changed me profoundly.  How?  I’ll share that with you in future posts.

I’m reopening the confessional category of my site, My history as a so-called writer, with a series that might strike you as a little morbid.  It’s about death and how it’s shaped my life.  Originally, this was to be a two-part guest post on Monique Liddle’s Bends in the Road, but since them it’s metamorphosed into something a little bigger, and I hope, better.

Yes, I’ve had a couple of near-death experiences, and my father and grandparents have all passed, leaving their marks on my heart and soul, but I’m not just talking about actual death here.  Mental illness and addiction, which I think of as two kinds of personality assassination, have also had their affects on me and my family.

If the ‘you-who-wants-to-live-in-this-world’ dies, even metaphorically, how can that be any better than actually dying?  It’s a question, I believe, that leads many to the depths of depression and suicide, which may seem like the logical conclusion of such ruminations.

I’m starting this series with Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative in mind as well as my impending bell-talkpersonal season of sorrow: my father’s birthday, the anniversary of his admission into the hospital for what proved to be his ultimate decline, the anniversary of his death and funeral, followed by Father’s Day.

I also thought this was a timely topic after listening to Michael Enright’s interview with Bob Ramsay last Sunday on CBC’s The Sunday Edition.  Bob died on the operating table, but didn’t have the typical near-death experience that most people report.  In fact he didn’t remember much of anything at all.  You can visit the link above, see some listener response, and listen to the podcast yourself.

Finally, I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  I picked it up on the recommendation of a friend and have been reading through it.  It’s a little slow going for me, since I’ve gone through some of what she writes about in my own way previously, and because I just can’t relate to some of the other experiences that she writes about.  I hope to share some of my  insights on happiness throughout this series as well.

On that note, this past week, I read Justine Musk’s blog post on the pursuit of happiness.  I think she has some valid points.

My encounters with death (physical and spiritual) have informed my development as a creative person and shaped the way that I respond to various negative events in my life.

What I’m hoping to accomplish

This isn’t supposed to be purely confessional or self-serving in any way.  I am a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) kind of gal, but to be honest, I expose myself as a means of defence.  If I share too much information (TMI), people tend to react in one of two ways:

  1. They never ask me a personal question again and generally leave me alone, or
  2. They understand I choose to share the deeply personal or embarrassing details of my life in an attempt to deepen my connection with the people who are important to me.

It’s a way of knowing who your friends are and of deepening your relationships with the people who mean most to you.

Doing this on my blog has been a bit of a mixed blessing.  I blogged most of my embarrassing, personal stuff early on in Writerly Goodness’s existence, thus ensuring that few people would actually look at it.  I wasn’t really risking much, but I also had no idea if this was the kind of subject material that would resonate with my readership.

I’ve mentioned a few times in various posts about how shy I am.  It would be very difficult for me to speak about these issues in a face-to-face kind of way without getting freaky and spastic.  This has happened, though.  It wasn’t pretty.

So now I’m pulling out the big guns again in an attempt to connect more with my friends on the interwebz and in the hope of sharing something of the themes and interests that inform my writing.  I’d like to start a conversation about these issues without getting self-indulgent because I think they are important to many creative people out there.

It’s an experiment of sorts and I’d love to hear from you.  What do you think about it?  Would it be of value to you?  Would you be willing to put yourself out there, along with me, on this crazy journey?

Let me know.  Please keep in mind that I moderate all comments and I have the dreaded day job.  If your comment doesn’t show up right away, it’s because I haven’t had a chance to review and respond yet.  Rest assured, I make every attempt to respond in a timely manner.  Your comments are important to me 🙂

Writerly Goodness, signing off.

The next chapter: the value of a good editor

Wherein Mel writes not only of her first experience with a professional editor, but also updates on her other writerly endeavours.

I posted last month that I had finally bitten the bullet and sent Initiate of Stone off for a content edit.  Well, the result is in!  I’ll tell you more about that experience in a moment.  First, however, I’d like to spend a few words on:

The value of a good editor

A lot of other writing blogs cover this.  Off the top of my head, I can think of posts by Kristine Katherine Rusch, Joanna Penn, and K.M. Weiland that have all dealt with this topic with much more aplomb and professionalism than I.

As ever, I write from my experience.  I only hope that my experience speaks to you, and that it might save you any errors I might make.

My history with editors has not been wonderful.  Early experiences taught me that teachers rewrite your work without permission; that apparent friends will destroy your work out of spite; that lazy editors will use technology as an excuse to publish your story with errors that didn’t exist in the clean copy you provided them; and that advisors who don’t relate to your creative choices will tear you down rather than admit they can’t help you and refer you to someone who can.

All of these lessons have made me afraid to show my work to anyone because they have informed my inner editor, that psychological construct that internalizes any negative experience and tricks you into believing the worst about yourself and your work.

I’ve worked long and hard to overcome my internal editor, but exposing my writing to the eyes of others still turns like a knife in my gut.  My first, instinctual reaction is to take every criticism to heart and therefore reject it out of hand as a result.

There comes a time in every creative project, though, where you cannot achieve the

Edit Ruthlessly

Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

critical distance from your work that you need to self-edit effectively.  When you’ve gone as far as you can on your own, it’s time for a professional.

Yes, a professional, one who offers her or his services for a fee, can be expensive, but this is an investment in your work.  If you are willing to invest in writing conferences; if you are willing to invest in writing courses and workshops; if you are a member of more than one professional writers association; or if you are willing to invest in self-publication, then you should be willing to lay out some cash to make sure your work in progress is the absolute best product it can be.

Some would argue that beta-readers can be an effective replacement for the professional editor.  That depends on whether your betas have the skill and acumen to offer you a professional-level critique.

A note on beta-readers: For those of you who don’t know what a beta-reader is, the term derives from the online gaming and programming world.  As a computer game is preparing for release, the developers (analogous to writers) release the game to a restricted group of game testers.  Essentially, these are people from their target audience and they share with this select group the full game-play experience in order to obtain information on remaining system bugs and other issues that will affect the experience of the general gaming public after release.

In this sense, a beta-reader should be someone who enjoys the kind of novel that you write.  She or he should be a part of your target audience and while the primary goal is to point out flaws that may detract from the experience of your general reader public, their feedback may stop there.  I would argue that it should.

Once again, more astute minds than mine have addressed the topic on their blogs.  Just Google beta-reader and you’ll no doubt get a plethora of results and perspectives on the topic.  Some will advise you to use your fellow writers as beta-readers.  Others will tell you to restrict to well-read friends.

Here’s what I know: A critique group is a very different beast to a beta-reading group.  A critique group is more along the lines of fellow writers who will get into the nitty-gritty of your text, point out grammar and spelling errors, as well as plot and structure issues.  A critique group will also be diverse and the critiques you receive will often differ, if not contradict each other outright.

The thing you have to watch with a critique group is that they are your peers and often at the same or similar points in their careers to yourself.  You want that critique, and trust me, you need it, but a critique group is not a substitute for a professional editor.  My advice is to work with a critique group earlier on in your process, after your first of second draft but before you seek the help of a professional editor.

Beta-readers, on the other hand, serve their best purpose after the professional edit, as you’re putting your final polish on your product for publication.  They’re a test audience, a focus group, if you will.

Reworking, rewriting, removing

Reworking, rewriting, removing (Photo credit: mpclemens)

What I would recommend: Write, revise at least once on your own, work with a critique group and revise at least once more based on their feedback, seek professional feedback, revise based on that, then finally send your manuscript out to beta-readers, and put the final polish on your work prior to seeking representation, publication, or self-publishing.

If you go the traditional route, this may not be the end of your editing and revision.  Get used to receiving, assessing, and incorporating critique now so that you can respond professionally later.

What I learned from my experience with a professional editor

After choosing my editor, I reviewed her web page and followed her directions for contact.  I enquired if she had the time in her schedule in January 2013.  When she replied that she did, I asked further detail.  In what format did she want the manuscript (ms), and in what file format (.doc, .rtf, .pdf).  I also asked how long it might be until I heard from her, because I didn’t want to be waiting anxiously, or bothering her needlessly.

All that established, when the time came, I sent her a preparatory email (are we still good to go?) and then the ms.  While I waited for her response, I took on some other projects.

My editor was as good as her word and contacted me promptly when she said she would.  My first thrill was this bit from her email: “I have to say I’ve been enjoying the story so much that on the first read-through I actually forgot to do editing at times.”

Despite the nay-saying of my inner editor, I was doing the happy dance 🙂  We scheduled our conference call for Saturday (yesterday) and I was sent the reviewed document along with a couple of other documents outlining more general concerns on Friday.  I read the documents through quickly, because I wanted to be well-versed in the content of the edit while at the same time staving off that crazy instinct of mine to take everything to heart and get defensive.

Then I set everything aside until our scheduled conference.

I have to confess that I wasn’t entirely successful in remaining receptive throughout the call, but my editor made it easier for me by being kind and encouraging.  This is not to say that she blew smoke up my skirt 🙂  Far from it.  I have more work ahead of me, but in being honest about the relative value of my work and encouraging me to stay the course, my editor gave me the opportunity to set some of my defensiveness aside and ask some serious questions about where I needed to focus my efforts.

A lot of ink spilled

A lot of ink spilled (Photo credit: mpclemens)

It was a good experience and well worth the fee.

That said, I’m going to let the project incubate for a while again.  I now know where I need to go with it, and I have some ideas about how to get there.  I’m having more ideas all the time 🙂  I do feel the urgency to return to Initiate of Stone, and that, more than anything else, tells me that I will return to it with passion when the time comes.

In the meantime

I participated in Khara House’s “I ❤ my blog” challenge in January.  It was a nice, thoughtful way of starting out the New Year, and it confirmed for me many of the things that I am doing well with Writerly Goodness.  There are some things that may still change, but this blog, like everything else in my life, is an organic thing. Can’t be rushing it now 😉

I also put my name in to participate in Kasie Whitner’s “Just Write: 2013 Short Story Challenge.”  The goal here is to write one new short story per month.  As I hope to do that anyway, I think I can manage it.  My January story was flash fiction created for one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges.  February’s is well underway (8 pp/2500 words so far).

Also in January, I revised and submitted a short story to On Spec.

As planned, I have returned to work with my online critique group.

I’ve also started working on a new novel.  Gerod and the Lions is about a young boy who sets out to save his little sister Annabelle from the child merchants after his pa sells her to feed their poor family.  This will be a middle grade (MG) fantasy and so the finished work should be about 40,000 words.  I have my outline and two chapters written (10 pp/3000 words).

As you can tell by my relative output, I’m a slow writer.  It comes from working a day job, I think 😀  Writing in the evenings and on weekends puts a limit on what I can do in any given week.  Plus, I write for Writerly Goodness and journal.

I’m going to finish my February short story and continue working on Gerod for a while.  I also want to submit another short story to Tesseracts 17.  I’ll likely get back to IoS before the end of February, but I want to make sure I have enough of Gerod done to feel that I can return to the project without having to start from scratch again.

Coming soon

In the next week or two, I will have a lovely interview with Lara Schiffbauer regarding her upcoming novel, Finding Meara.  I’m also going to be taking a bit of a morbid turn with a short series in death and how it’s shaped my life.  There will be another Pupdate when Nuala has her next check up, and a report on how my next training gig (and journey toward certification) goes.

As ever, it’s a mixed bag at Writerly Goodness.

Have a good week y’all!

Meanwhile, back at the day job

What my position/title says I do

I am the acting regional training coordinator for my business line.

The two main duties I perform in the course of my job are to maintain the training plan, and manage the training budget.  These two aspects of my job have been occupying me for most of the past two months.

Challenges:

  • The current year’s training plan has been constantly changing, mostly due to the ongoing business transformation process.  This is the busiest year the training team has ever seen, and the team is losing members. While these losses are due to promotions, deployments, or acting assignments (and are therefore good things to have happened), it still means doing more with fewer resources.
  • We have five functional trainers.  That means we don’t have enough trainers to facilitate the training we are already committed to deliver.
  • Since our plan is based on the fiscal year, which runs April to March, we’re in the home stretch, and I sincerely hope that no further changes come to light.  Then again …
  • Planning next year’s training schedule is already underway. Since this is my first time going through the process, I’m understandably nervous.
  • Our business line is over budget, once more due to the non-negotiable and afore-mentioned business transformation.  I’ve been assured that we’ll be okay, but like the planning, I’m in new territory with budget management.  Further, my position is an acting one and failure could cost me.  Once again, I’ve been reassured, but one thing the last year has taught me is that no one is safe.

In addition to my two main challenges, my job also entails soliciting nominations for training, establishing participant lists, inputting those lists into the learning management system, and a slew of weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports, some of which I’m still not certain about (there’s one quarterly report in particular for which I don’t have access to the information I’m asked to report on = boggle).

Because of my proficiency with SharePoint, the setting up of training rooms has become

The SharePoint wheel

The SharePoint wheel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

one of my duties as well.  Though it doesn’t take massive amounts of time, it’s nonetheless time that I could be devoting to other tasks.  Should I be fortunate enough to become indeterminate as training coordinator, this will have to change.  For now, if I don’t do it, it won’t get done.

The training team would like me to send out the invitations to training too.  This is another task that is not difficult, but it can be time consuming.  Thus, I am extremely grateful to the team for taking on this responsibility for me.

Big shout out to my lovely ladies!  The training team rocks/is fabulous/is awesome-sauce!

What I’ve chosen to take on

I want to become a certified trainer.  So I have been delivering training, meeting with my mentor, and the lead of the certification program.  I also meet with my co-facilitators to plan our delivery, prepare for each training, and complete many of the coordination duties that I assume for other training in the business line.

Though it’s only taken one short paragraph to cover this self-imposed responsibility, it currently eats up more of my work-week than my main duties do.

I’m not complaining (since this is something I’ve elected to do, I really can’t), merely stating a fact.  You already know from my past posts how much I love training, so this isn’t a burden.  It is additional work, though.

Other stuff

These are the things that I do for professional development, sitting on working groups and the like.

My manager is very concerned with the career mobility of his staff, and I am grateful for the attention he pays to this aspect of his duties, but sometimes, I think it’s a bit much.

I have no interest in climbing the career ladder further.  Doing so would mean, in most cases, moving, which I’m not interested in, or becoming functionally bilingual, which I don’t think I’m capable of at this point in my life.

I’ve never had the least interest in managing others, even though my current position means I work closely with managers and some of my duties require what I’ll call para-managerial skills.

So I sit in on conference calls on projects that I have little or no influence over and little subject matter expertise to share.  When I do come across a topic on which I have a strong opinion, I do opine, but often it’s not something that’s acted upon.

Ultimately, many of these working groups result in further training for staff, which strains an already overburdened training team and an already overtaxed budget.

I might figure out how to get blood from a stone (without smacking someone in the head), but short of a miracle, I’m not sure how to do this.

I began the year with the mantra, “I am a leaf in the wind.”  It’s a two-fold touchstone.  First, it’s all about going with the flow, and letting go.  In Managing Transitions, I learned that you have to focus on the things that you have control over and the actions you can take in that context to improve your situation.  For those things over which you do not have control, you have to let go, stop fighting the losing battle.  This is what I’ve strived to do.

The second meaning, for you Whedonesque geeks out there, is that this is a line from the film Serenity.  Hobediah Washburn (Wash) is piloting the titular Firefly class spaceship through a raging battle zone.  He’s dodging the Alliance and the Reavers at once, and it looks like he’s just about to make it through the collisions, explosions, and hurtling debris.  In a zen moment, he says, “I am a leaf in the wind: watch me—” and then he’s impaled by a rather narsty-looking piece of debris.

This might give you some insight into my character, but when I thought of adopting that mantra, I couldn’t stop laughing.  I simply find it hilarious, and I’m striving to pilot my version of Serenity through its battle zone, all the while watching for that deadly metal spar.

Complicating factors

What, you say, there’s more?

Why yes.  There’s always more 🙂

The device pictured is a 128MiB PNY Attaché US...

The device pictured is a 128MiB PNY Attaché USB flash drive. Like many such drives, this model features a removable cap (which protects the type-a male USB connector) and a hole or loop through which a string or wire loop can be attached (barely visible in this photo, on the flash drive’s lower right corner). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of recent security breaches have eliminated the use of USB storage devices throughout the organization, as well as external hard drives, and even CDs and DVDs created to back up important information.

This has the potential to affect the use of lap tops (VPN), faxing, and even scanning.  This last is particularly concerning as my employer has established a centralized imaging program in an effort to reduce hard-copy storage and maintain a green workplace.

I had to return three USB devices even though the information contained on them could never have compromised the security or privacy of anyone.  I have a lap top and a VPN account, though I’ve only ever used it on site, with a network cable, within our secured network.  I don’t even know if I remember my VPN login (!) because I’ve never had need to use it.

I have had need to transport my laptop to a training location, however, and while I make every effort to ensure that the lap top is never out of my sight unless locked up or away, I could be heading for some serious curtailing of my privileges.

My team also recently reviewed our employer’s code of conduct, values, and ethics.  As a result, I had to submit a conflict of interest declaration because my writing is considered self-employment.  As part of that submission, my manager gets to, and in fact must, review my blog.

I’ve read our employer’s policy, and so far as I know, I’m adhering to it.  I’m sure I’ll hear about it, otherwise.

So that, in a nutshell, is my life at work these days.  It’s complicated and I strive for complexity in the midst of the chaos, but there are so many things beyond my control.  I do what I can.  It’s all any of us can do.

_________________________________________________________________________

How is your work world shaping up in the New Year?  Is the pace of change complicating Writerly Goodnessmatters? How is your workplace dealing with the growing spectre of security breaches?  Have you chosen to do something beyond your job description?  Anyone undergoing a business transformation process?  What do you do to stay positive?

The learning mutt is circling three times before curling up to nap.