Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 1-7, 2019

Aaaaand … I’m back with some lovely informal writerly learnings for you 😉

Jael McHenry: writing, verbs, and time. Ray Rhamey extols the fun of pantsing. Donald Maass: un-con redux—operation phoenix. Susan Spann cries, curses—foiled again! Cathy Yardley wants you to play to win. Writer Unboxed

Jenna Moreci digs deep to list her top ten dystopian tropes.

Robert Lee Brewer clears up the confusion around lose, loose, and loosen. Writer’s Digest

Emily Wenstrom offers five tips to set (and keep) an author platforming resolution. And here’s my latest Speculations: five awesome ways NASA’s all-woman spacewalk inspires us. DIY MFA

James Scott Bell answers the question, is it necessary to write EVERY day? Then, Angela Ackerman is mastering show, don’t tell. Writers Helping Writers

Writing anti-heroes with Reedsy.

Spencer Ellsworth says, outlines are for revision (say what?)—a different approach for your process. Fiction University

Ellen Brock shares a simple strategy for novel editing.

Chris Winkle shares lessons from the disingenuous writing of Maximum Ride. Then, Oren Ashkenazi considers what makes an antagonistic group problematic. Mythcreants

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you found something you need to fuel your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well, my friends.

It’s good to be back.

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Join me over at DIY MFA for my latest Speculations

This time around we’re drawing inspiration from the real history of women in space.

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While you’re there, check out the site, the other columnists, and all of Gabriela’s great resources!

Until next time, be well!

The next chapter: October and November 2019 mega update

It’s been a while. Two months, to be precise. Let’s just get right to it 🙂

October in writing

Once more, I was busy with non-productive writing-related tasks. I was prepping for NaNoWriMo and my rewrite of Reality Bomb. Though I think I worked through most of the problematic bits of the story and had a good idea of the reworked outline, with plot points, etc., the writing took me in slightly different directions, as it does. More on that, below.

I continued my reread of Ascension and got half-way through Playing with Fire, book four of the series.

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Writing-wise, I blogged 4,529 words of my 4,500-word goal, or 101%.

I also wrote 496 words of short fiction of my 2,000-word goal, or 25%.

And that was it for October.

November in writing

I won’t belabor things too much. If you’ve been watching my NaNo updates, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I landed. I wrote 30,502 words of the revised RB, or 61% of my goal. At this rate, it will likely be the end of January before I’m finished with the rewrite.

The last week of November, during which I was training at work, was appropriately fatiguing, but I cracked 30k, which was a realistic goal I was happy to achieve.

I also wrote my latest Speculations column for DIY MFA. It should be coming out Tuesday. That came in at 1052 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 105%.

I had expected my weekly NaNo updates to be brief and predicted about 250 words each, or 1,000 words overall. I blogged 1,293 words, or 129% of goal.

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Filling the well

In October, I went to Can-Con in Ottawa, which I first attended three years ago. This year’s attraction was that the Aurora Awards (the Canadian Hugos) were presented there. Well, they were off-site at Christchurch Cathedral, which was a lovely venue. I met up with a few friends from professional organizations and had a genuinely lovely time.

In November, Sudbury’s own Wordstock Literary festival took place and I attended what sessions I could given that I was also beginning NaNoWriMo and my 50th birthday party (!) took place that weekend. Still, I connected with writer friends and bought books (when do I not?).

What I’m watching and reading

On the viewing front, Phil and I finished watching the final season of Preacher. It was mostly satisfying. I read the graphic novels so long ago that I wasn’t able to remember well enough to know if the series was a faithful-ish adaptation. I have the feeling that it wasn’t. There were some significant logic issues that can probably be attributed to the graphic (like how they got the car overseas). Handwavium aside, it was enjoyable.

I finished watching the final season of The Santa Clarita Diet. Meh. I liked the characters and the actors, but the story was lacking.

Phil and I started watching the (third?) season of Ash vs. the Evil Dead and haven’t finished it. As with other shows of its ilk, it was playing the same tropes over and over.

Instead, we took in a delightful animated kids’ show, Three Below, which was created by Guillermo del Toro. We enjoyed the tale of a family of aliens stranded on Earth. There were tie-ins to The Troll Hunters.

We also watched the first season of Happy! It was all kinds of twisted and we just enjoyed the scenery-chewing antics of the cast 🙂

I finished off the last season of The Mortal Instruments. It was okay. I was mostly seeing it through for the sake of completeness.

Finally, Phil and I watched Raising Dion. We enjoyed it, and burned through it, more or less, but there were some problematic storytelling issues we took exception to. The first was that, in an attempt at attaining some realism, the writers gave time to the characters’ daily lives and struggles, even though they had little to nothing to do with the main plot.

**WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.**

Yes, Nicole deserves a life and interests of her own, but did it need so much screen time? Nicole gave up her dancing career when she was pregnant with Dion. Pertinent, but it’s a fact that can be stated and we can move on with the story. That she gets a job at the same dance theatre is good (‘cause she needs a job to support Dion) but then the job becomes the source of meaningless conflict, in which the owner continually makes Nicole choose between her job and her son’s wellbeing to the point of unreasonableness. And then there’s the potential relationship with hot dancer guy when it’s made abundantly clear that Nicole isn’t over her husband’s death yet. I was waiting for this whole subplot to tie in somehow, but I was disappointed.

Nicole’s sister is a no-nonsense doctor and seems only to be present to remind Nicole of what a failure she is, how delusional she is, and what a poor mother she is. Later in the series, when Nicole’s sister has to take Dion to the hospital because he’s spiking a fever and Nicole’s boss won’t let her leave work, Nicole is finally able to prove to her sister that she’s not crazy and Dion does have powers. But then the sister has to risk her career and medical licence to erase all evidence of Dion from the hospital’s systems. She does help Nicole get Dion away from Pat (see below) but then she drops out of the plot, her usefulness exhausted.

Even Dion’s friends and the bullying he experiences as the new kid in school are, at best, peripherally tied to the plot. But peripheral is better than pointless.

**HERE IT IS. THE BIG SPOILER. READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.**

And then, there’s Pat. Oh, Pat. I love Jason Ritter as an actor, but damn did the writers give him some shit to portray.

The series begins with Pat being the friend and coworker of Nicole’s dead husband, Mark, and godfather to Dion. They play games together, Dion tells Pat things he can’t tell his mom, and Pat is helpful, though it’s clear he’s crushing on Nicole.

Dion begins to exhibit powers and then he and Nicole witness strange ghosts that appear in a sudden storm, one of them, Dion’s dad. Then a man made of lightning, whom Dion names the crooked man, shows up and sucks all the ghosts back to him before disappearing.

Pat begins to help Nicole and Dion, being Dion’s “superhero mentor” and helping them to investigate Biona, where Pat still works, when Nicole discovers that Mark didn’t trust his employer.

During Dion’s health crisis, Pat even points out the way to save Dion, having learned what Mark discovered about his own changed physiology in the wake of the meteor shower that resulted in his developing powers.

Then, in a reveal so clumsy they had to include a retcon flashback, Pat goes from awkward family friend and geeky investigator to full-on incel and … the crooked man. There was so much WTF, I didn’t know what to do with it.

In the end, Pat/the crooked man is defeated by Nicole and Dion in a tag team effort, and there is a touching, if temporary family reunion, but the crooked man escapes and inhabits another young boy with powers much like Dion. This makes no sense as the crooked man “consumes” those with powers and Pat wanted Dion to heal him (of the crooked man, I assume), which would have killed Dion. There’s no precedent for this outcome in the series. Also, it presents the recurrent villain trope, in which Dion will again have to face the crooked man at the end of next season. Not promising.

I read a lot of books in the last couple of months. I’ll touch on them briefly, here.

I decided to check out Zen and the Art of Writing because it had long been on my TBR list and someone in my critique group mentioned that it was her go-to, feel-good, writing craft book. I liked it and Bradbury’s approach to writing but didn’t feel like I could adopt much of it for my own process.

Having just finished The Handmaid’s Tale in the wake of the series’ third season, I nabbed The Testaments. Atwood made a wise decision in placing the events of The Testaments fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, giving the series room to breathe and become its own thing in between. The narration alternates between Aunt Lydia, at the end of a storied career, Agnes, June’s oldest daughter, raised in Gilead by a Commander and his wife, and Daisy, raised in Toronto, who eventually learns that she is “Baby Nicole,” June’s younger daughter. I won’t give anything away, but I liked The Testaments better than The Handmaid’s Tale. The three narrators, though still unreliable in their own ways, are not as unreliable as Offred/June was in the first book. Their stories, though still traumatic, are revealing in ways that June’s could not be.

Then, I read one of my favourite books of the last two months, Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. It’s admittedly weird, as only a space opera set in a system with nine planets (ahem), each controlled by a necromantic house in service to the Emperor God necromancer can be. It’s a little off-putting that the main action is basically sword and sorcery—I found myself asking, why set this in space at all?—I’m sure there will be a payoff in the upcoming sequel Harrow the Ninth. It’s a wicked and charming character study, exposed through mystery and puzzle-solving, and the writing is just—forgive me—to die for.

Next, I turned to Cassandra Khaw’s novella, Hammers on Bone, which puts a Cthulian twist on the hard-boiled detective narrative. Interesting and brutal and satisfying.

Eden Robinson’s follow up to Son of a Trickster, Trickster Drift, continues Jared’s story. He travels to Vancouver to attend college, away from his mother’s protection, moves in with his mother’s estranged sister and her haunted apartment, is stalked by his mother’s vicious ex, David, who abused Jared when he was a child, and stalwartly attempts to have a normal life. Things, of course, do not go as planned.

A Brightness Long Ago is Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest alt-historical fantasy and like all his work, is lyrical and touching and nuanced. This is one novel I want you all to read for yourselves, so I’ll just say that I loved it.

The City in the Middle of the Night is Charlie Jane Anders’ second novel. For the most part, I loved it as much as All the Birds in the Sky, but the ending seemed rushed and the novel was ultimately unsatisfying for that reason. On a tidally locked planet, where humans can only survive in the thin band of twilight between the inferno of the light side and the frozen tomb of the dark, the reader follows Sophie, kind, gentle, naïve Sophie, as she learns that no matter where we go or what we do, humans are the absolute worst. At every turn they fail her and each other. It’s no wonder she turns toward the native species of the planet toward the end of the novel.

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. Like Anders’ novel, Bolander’s novella shows us how humans are doomed to make all the wrong choices. Elephants and women are the victims in this case. Why is it that we need a holocaust, or a nuclear bomb to remind us that “never again” is more than just words?

Finally got around to reading Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. While I enjoyed the book, I found, as others have, that Alina, the protagonist, doesn’t have a lot of agency in the novel. From the moment she evidences her grisha powers, Alina is taken, trained, manipulated, enslaved, and though she ultimately manages to win her freedom and the day, it felt that luck had as much a hand in it as Alina.

Next was P Djélì Clark’s Black God’s Drums. This novella is set in an alternate history in which both steam punk elements and African culture. It was entertaining and I loved the protagonist 🙂

Then, I read the third novel in A.M. Dellamonica’s Hidden Sea Tales, The Nature of a Pirate. These novels are basically police procedurals in a post-post-post-apocalyptic future. Sophie Hansa is transported into a world which is more ocean than land. Aside from living on islands, there is an armada/floating nation of ships. There is magic, but it works largely by inscription, which needs specific and often rare materials, and must be worked on a person, whose full name is required for the spell. One person can only be inscribed so much before they reach their individual capacity and then they start to suffer and may even die horribly. The world building is impeccable, the characters are endearing, and the mysteries are engaging.

My other non-fiction read of the month was Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s the tale of an indigenous woman finding her way back to her culture. It’s a beautiful, lyrical book, and because Kimmerer is a botanist, she weaves science in with her teachings. It’s an ecological tour de force.

I read Alyssa Wong’s short story, “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers.” Two sisters destroy the world again and again in an attempt to save one another.

I burned through Maggie Stiefvater’s Call Down the Hawk. I read several awesome books in the last couple of months (Muir’s, Kay’s, Kimmerer’s), but this has to be my absolute favourite. It delves into the lives of the Lynch brothers in the wake of The Raven Cycle. There are other dreamers in the world, and they’re being systematically hunted and killed by an organization that believes one of them will destroy the world. They’re closing in on Ronan, Declan is dating the living dream of another, and Matthew has just realized that he’s just like his mother, Aurora Lynch, and that his existence depends on Ronan. It’s twisted and juicy and everything I wanted. The ending was a little precipitous, but I know this is the beginning of a trilogy, so I’m willing to forgive Stiefvater for that. The cliffhanger, though—!

Finally, I read Chuck Wendig’s short story collection, Irregular Creatures. Some of the stories were endearing. Some of them were downright disturbing. A lot of douchecannoes got what they deserved.

And—whew!—that was the last two months in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The Next Chapter

NaNoWriMo 2019 update 4

Rough week, being back to work and all.

I had a couple days where I wrote less than 500 words and have slowly increased from there to the point where I wrote 2085 again today and even have time to get this post written and out before I’m to bed at a reasonable-ish time. I need to get to work a little earlier than usual for the training I mentioned.

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I’m up at 27,339 words, so my prediction of between 30 and 40k seems reasonable.

I’ll likely fall behind again during the week. Training kicks my butt, energy-wise, and though I’ve technically recovered from the cold, I’m still clearly out the gunk. Blech.

This will be my last NaNo update for this year. Next weekend marks the end of November and the beginning of December, so I’ll be composing a slightly epic monthly update for October and November combined on Sunday.

It’ll be another week after that before curation resumes, but you should see the first post-NaNo tipsday on the tenth.

That’s it for now.

Until next weekend, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

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NaNoWriMo 2019 update 3

In week three, I rallied. A bit. I used four days of vacation and turned a long weekend into a full week off. But, because I’d procrastinated about my DIY MFA column, I had that to do. And my week 2 update, which I put out on Monday.

So, it took me a few days to get into high(er) gear.

I can’t write as much as I used to. Two thousand-ish words seems to be my limit, even on a day when I technically don’t have anything else to do. Except I do have other stuff to do. We all do. It’s not an excuse. Just a fact.

The family health situation I mentioned last week was resolved. The additional tests came back negative. Oddly, being a puddle of relief can be just as distracting as being worried about a loved one. Go figure.

I also got sick. Well, Phil got sick first and, generous man that he is … But I was well enough to go back to work yesterday.

Unfortunately, the cold kind of kicked my butt. I wrote for as long as I could and had nothing left for my update. It was supposed to be posted on Sunday.

The last two days back at work have been crazy. I managed a thousand words yesterday, but tonight, I’m feeling all kinds of busted. So, I’m writing this post and I’ll write what words I can (I’m not giving up, but I need a break). I’ll get back on the horse, so to speak, to the degree that I can for the rest of the week, but one of the crazy things that happening right now is prep for a training course I have to deliver next week.

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As of yesterday, the 18th, I had 21,325 words written. That just under seven thousand words behind. I can’t produce the same volume of words while I’m working that I can when I’m off.

I anticipate that I’ll rack up somewhere between 30 and 40k words by the end of November.

We’ll see if I surprise myself.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

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NaNoWriMo 2019 update 2

Week two was a rough one. I struggled, while working, to ramp up my production, but a couple of things happened that pushed me off-course.

The first was that a family member had an operation and is waiting for further test results. We’re all trying not to worry until there’s something to worry about but waiting is the worst. It affected me more than I thought it would.

The second was that former employees and authors of ChiZine Publications spoke out about systemic financial, professional, and personal harassment and abuse. The stories that continue to emerge on social media are horrific and have made it as far as File 770, Publishers Weekly, and the SFWA’s Writer Beware. Though the publisher and managing editor have stepped down, they still own the company. While a statement was released, and a new publisher has taken charge, promising all accounts will be settled by the end of 2019, no apology was made nor was any acknowledgement of the harm done or of trying to make amends other than contractual.

Though I am still trying to process this, I will state categorically that I believe all the testimonies I’ve read. I believe all the victims who have come forward and all the victims who have chosen not to. I know many of them from the SFF community, and I support them unequivocally. I thank those who have come forward for their bravery and hope that justice will ultimately be served for all concerned.

It’s still an unfolding tragedy that is having ripples throughout the Canadian SFF community.

In the midst of this, I was also struggling with story logic issues. I had to work through events in a way that would read well and make sense. That slowed my pace considerably.

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As a result, only yesterday did I approach the daily writing goal for NaNoWriMo, and I’m pleased that I was able to accomplish that. Unfortunately, I will write short for the next couple of days because I have to finish my next DIY MFA column.

I am behind by a considerable margin. I’m not going to stop trying, though.

All this unrest is also why I’m posting this update a day late.

It’s the writer’s life.

Until next week, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

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NaNoWriMo 2019 update

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For the month of November, curation stops (sorry, not sorry). The October next chapter update won’t come out until the first weekend in December. In the meantime, I’ll be writing these wee weekly updates. You won’t see much of me on Twitter. I stop looking at Pinterest or YouTube. I devote as much time as I can to the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Still, the first weekend of November is always tough. Wordstock Sudbury, our local literary festival, takes place this weekend and has for the past several years. I want to participate, support the local arts community, see writerly friends, and fill the well a bit. So, I do.

This year, it was also my 50th birthday, and the party was last night.

Accordingly, I didn’t get much done this weekend. It is what it is. I’ll catch up, or I won’t. Regardless, I’m still giving it my all. Within reason. I’ve often reached the first of December with barely a brain cell to spare. I’d rather not exhaust myself like that if I can help it.

Also, I’ll be working for most of the month and possibly training for the last week of it (and the first week of December). It’s going to be a rough go.

This year, for the first time, I’ll be participating in NaNo as a rebel, rewriting a prior NaNo project, Reality Bomb. I received some difficult-to-hear, but on-point critique of the draft I presented to my online critique group. I’ve spent the last two months reconceiving of the novel in anticipation of rewriting it. I’ve learned enough about my proclivities to know that if I work with the existing text, that I’m hella reluctant to change things significantly. And I have a lot of things to change about this novel.

So, to the word count report:

November 1 – 702 words

November 2 – 295 words

November 3 – 967 words

Total – 1964 words

I hope to make more headway this week.

I’ll check in next Sunday.

Until then, be well, be kind, and stay strong (whether you’re tackling NaNoWriMo or not). The world needs your stories!

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Oct 20-26, 2019

Happy Hallowe’en! It’s all treats and no tricks here—time to get your mental corn popping.

Gideon Lichfield: has Google achieved quantum supremacy? MIT Technology Review

Sarah Todd extols the metaphorical power of NASA’s all-woman space walk. Quartz

Fiona Macdonald: for the first time, scientists have observed a giant magnetic bridge between galaxies. Science Alert

It’s okay to be smart considers what plants might look like on other planets.

Neurologist Caroline Shannon Karasik shares the five things she does to keep her brain healthy. Well and Good

Claire Bugos explains what millions of books have taught us about 200 years of happiness. The Smithsonian Magazine

Hari Sreenivasan: how Sesame Street is still supporting families, 50 years after its debut. PBS

Waylon Lewis: Fuck minimalism. Fuck modernism. Give me joyously cluttered, antique, upcycled, and repurposed. The Elephant Journal

The remnants of Queen Elizabeth I’s sole surviving dress found in rural church. CBC’s “As it Happens.”

Geology In looks at fulgurites: when lightning strikes sand, magic happens. Actually science. Science happens 🙂

Justine Hunter reports: BC introduces legislation to align its laws and policies with the UN Indigenous rights declaration. The Globe and Mail

Kyle Chayka says Iceland’s tourism boom isn’t a boon. Vox

Stephen J. Bronner reports that lab-grown meat can not only fight climate change, but it can also offer other benefits. Inverse

Chelsea Papineau: two white “spirit moose” seen at the side of northern Ontario highway. CTV

Dina Templeton-Raston says that elephants under attack have a new ally in AI. NPR

Tioga takes us inside the mind of a very good boy. Outside Online

Related: Ze Frank offers insight into dogs in therapy.

Thanks for the visit. Hope you found what you need to make your next creative project scary-good!

Until next tipsday, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Oct 20-26, 2019

Counting down to Hallowe’en, NaNoWriMo, and Wordstock Sudbury! Be prepared with this excellent selection of informal writerly learnings 🙂

Jan O’Hara helps you avoid a writing cat-astrophe. Sarah McCoy: confession of a lapsed reader. Heather Webb is writing boldly, without fear. Writer Unboxed

Meg LaTorre catalogues filter words you should remove from your manuscript. iWriterly

Becca Puglisi shows you how to use secondary characters to sway the reader. Eldred Bird explains how to create a multi-use logline. Then, Margie Lawson shows you how to make hugs carry power. Writers in the Storm

K.M. Weiland offers a writer’s guide to understanding people. Helping Writers Become Authors

Bonnie Randall: scaredy-pants! Four breeches—er, breaches—that elicit fear in your characters. Then, Janice Hardy shares two tips that make plotting your novel way easier. Fiction University

Jeanette the Writer shares six things editors want writers to know. Gabriela Pereira interviews Nicole Valentine about pacing, world building, and time travel. Savannah Cordova shares five tips for writing nail-biting suspense. Then, Rayne Lacko offers five ways to write what you want to understand. DIY MFA

Chuck Wendig wants you to find the balance of self-care and tough love. Terribleminds

Chris Winkle: Carnival Row shows us the damage a reveal can do. Then, Oren Ashkenazi analyzes five slow story openings and explains how to avoid them. Mythcreants

Jenna Moreci shares ten tips for creating magic systems.

Christina Bacchilega: how mermaid stories illustrate complex truths about being human. Literary Hub

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something useful for the busy writing months ahead.

Until next time, be well!

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Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Oct 13-19, 2019

And now, a small but intriguing set of links to get your mental corn popping.

Brown dwarfs are space’s strangely important oddballs. SciShow Space

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir in all-woman spacewalk. BBC

Eve Conant shows us the best and worst countries to be a woman. National Geographic

The discovery of homo naledi changes the human story. It’s okay to be smart

Diana Beresford-Kroeger says trees hold the answers to many of life’s problems. The Globe and Mail

Jessica Stewart: the largest eagles in the world have talons bigger than bear claws. My Modern Met

Cecelia Rodriguez shares 20 outstanding wildlife photographer of the year 2019 images. Forbes

True Facts about the sand bubbler crab. Ze Frank

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you found something entertaining or interesting to fuel your next creative project.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

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