Book review: K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs

What Amazon says:

Have you written a story with an exciting concept and interesting characters—but it justcreatingcharacterarcs isn’t grabbing the attention of readers or agents? It’s time to look deeper into the story beats that create realistic and compelling character arcs. Internationally published, award-winning novelist K.M. Weiland shares her acclaimed method for achieving memorable and moving character arcs in every book you write.

By applying the foundation of the Three-Act Story Structure and then delving even deeper into the psychology of realistic and dynamic human change, Weiland offers a beat-by-beat checklist of character arc guidelines that flexes to fit any type of story.

This comprehensive book will teach you:

  • How to determine which arc—positive, negative, or flat—is right for your character.
  • Why you should NEVER pit plot against character. Instead, learn how to blend story structure and character development.
  • How to recognize and avoid the worst pitfalls of writing novels without character arcs.
  • How to hack the secret to using overarching character arcs to create amazing trilogies and series.
  • And much more!

Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

My thoughts:

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development is a fabulous writing craft book.

K.M. Weiland digs deep into the three types of character arcs and how they work with and influence story structure.

Then, she offers a few ideas on how to use character arcs in your main and supporting characters (and whether it’s worth making the assay with the latter instance), layering character arcs, how to use character arcs over series, and whether or not it’s possible to write a story without a character arc (*spoiler alert,* it is, but there are specific considerations the writer must address).

At the end of each chapter, Kate has a slew of helpful questions that will focus your new understanding of character arc and apply it to your current work in progress. As she has with Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Creating Character Arcs Workbook is in development🙂

As with Kate’s other writing craft books, Creating Character Arcs emerged from a blog series on the same topic. Even if you’ve read/listened to the entire series, there’s something about having the reference at your fingertips.

This book works well in conjunction with the other Helping Writers Become Authors books and each builds on the others to form a rich body of writing craft knowledge.

For me, every story begins with the characters and they inform everything else. Creating Character Arcs will help you to connect the dots between your characters, their arcs, and your plot. Using Kate’s method, you can craft a tight, compelling story that works on multiple levels.

Every writer should own a copy.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

About the author:

kmweilandK.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

Book review: K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel

So I lied. Again.

I thought I was going to proceed with my WorldCon reportage, but I realized I have a book review due (not this one, it’s yet to come). So I’ve decided to write two book reviews today, both for K.M. Weiland books🙂

The reason for this is that I read Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs together. I would recommend the practice to anyone, because character arcs and story structure work with each other to deepen the writer’s understanding of story overall.

First up: Structuring your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story

What Amazon says:

structuringyournovel

Is Structure the Hidden Foundation of All Successful Stories?

Why do some stories work and others don’t? The answer is structure. In this IPPY and NIEA Award-winning guide from the author of the bestselling Outlining Your Novel, you will learn the universal underpinnings that guarantee powerful plot and character arcs. An understanding of proper story and scene structure will show you how to perfectly time your story’s major events and will provide you with an unerring standard against which to evaluate your novel’s pacing and progression.

Structuring Your Novel will show you:

  • How to determine the best techniques for empowering your unique and personal vision for your story.
  • How to identify common structural weaknesses and flip them around into stunning strengths.
  • How to eliminate saggy middles by discovering your “centerpiece.”
  • Why you should NEVER include conflict in every scene.
  • How to discover the questions you don’t want readers asking about your plot—and then how to get them to ask the right questions.

My thoughts:

I’ve been following K.M. Weiland’s blog and podcast for a number of years, since, in fact, she started her series on story structure.

Yes. Everything you will read in this book was originally on Kate’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, and you can easily access the whole series (because she’s so organized and so focused on her audience), but it’s so much more convenient to have a condensed, edited, and physical copy of the book, accessible to you at any time, so you can refer to it as you work on your story.

Kate has cracked the code of story structure for me. I’ve read a lot (a freaking lot) of writing craft books and methodologies and Kate’s is the only one that has enabled me to get inside my stories, even those that are already written.

Using Kate’s method, I can dissect my novel structurally and reassemble it in a better, more compelling form. I also use it when preparing for my annual #NaNoWriMo challenge, and when I think about outlining a new work in progress.

I’ve also read a number of her other books, both fiction and writing craft. Each work builds on the others and, because they’re all written in the same voice (excepting the fiction), it helps to form a cohesive body of knowledge that can be accessed and utilized as you need.

With respect to her fiction, you can see that she practices what she preaches. Kate doesn’t instruct from a “do as I say, not as I do” position. She’s field tested everything she presents. You can trust her. I do. Implicitly.

Kate is very much a writerly friend and mentor and this comes across in her authorial voice. She’s all about building writers up, not tearing them down.

Suffice it to say, I loved Structuring Your Novel, and I would recommend it to any writer at any stage of development.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

About the author:

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary frienkmweilandds, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

 

WorldCon 2016: Science fiction as epic

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Frederick Turner, Walter Jon Williams, Cynthia Ward, John Kessel (moderator), Elizabeth Moon

kcpubliclibrary

The Kansas City Public Library

Quick note: What’s with the non-panel pictures? In the first day, I wasn’t sure if it would be acceptable to take pictures without first asking permission. So I’m sharing pictures from Kansas City, which hosted WorldCon this year, because I took walking tours of the city Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings. Panel pictures will arrive with the Friday sessions.

Joined in progress.

FT: The classic epics were the science fiction of the past. They shared common themes and fundamental elements. They were from the oral tradition (storyteller). They featured a creation myth (cosmology), a hero, a quest, kinship and kinship troubles, the interplay of nature, culture, and the supernatural, descent into and emergence from the underworld, and/or the founding of a city.

EM: The SF epic can be set in a different world. One of the features in that case would be the technological difference between our world and the other one.

JK: Does scope equal epic? Northrop Frye espoused the high mimetic (imitative) as central to the epic form. Is there no everyman in the epic?

EM: The genius has epic intellect. The protagonist must be exceptional in some way.

CW: Walter Mitty is not epic.

FT: Many heroes start out as foundlings or shepherds.

WJW: Dune is a science fiction epic. Zelazny’s Lord of Light is an SF epic.

JK: Star Wars is an SF epic, a space opera. Edith Hamilton and Joseph Campbell have both analyzed it in their work.

CW: Foundation is an epic.

FT: Epic goes to the edge of the world, or humanity, or the universe. The world has to change as a result of the story.

WJW: So Epic science fiction is about man’s place in the universe.

FT: There’s an emotional, almost musical resonance.

EM: Modern readers need humour. That’s the secret spice in the stew.

JK: Economics doesn’t seem to be a factor.

CW: Not everyone appreciates an empire. Post-colonial narratives.

FT: Mad Max is dystopian and epic.

Aud: Wilson Tucker coined the term space opera in the early 40’s. It was meant to connote second rate science fiction that focused on adventure. It’s from horse opera, which was a pejorative term for a western.

Other epics were proposed by the panel and the audience: C.J. Cherryh, Leviathan Wakes, Hyperion, Babylon 5, Sagan, Clarke, David Brin, Gene Wolf. The theme of faith and religious belief was also proposed as another feature of the epic.

And that was time.

Next week: Mythology as the basis of science fiction.

Be well until then🙂

WorldCon 2016: Is cyberpunk still a thing?

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Cory Doctorow (moderator), Matt Jacobson, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, James Patrick Kelly, Pat Cadigan

thecoolestparkinggarageevar

Joined in progress . . .

PNH: Cyberpunk is a course correction.

MJ: I think of cyberpunk in terms of the Max Headroom tagline: fifteen minutes into the future.

CD: The first generation/layer was written by people who were not computer professionals. The second focused on current technology and near future extrapolation. The third layer is an aesthetic.

PC: The first generation of cyberpunk writers was the first to grow up with mass media (television, radio, etc.). The Vietnam War was the first to be televised. They wrote about the influence of media and extrapolated what the influence of mass media might be in the future.

CD: In the 1980’s, money had a huge influence on the political process.

PNH: An aesthetic is a number of people who have similar intuitions about the world. It’s deliberately referencial.

JPK: Bruce Stirling tried to “end” cyberpunk, but the readers weren’t listening.

MJ: A thing would be whatever catches people’s attention.

PC: Cordwainer Smith and Alfred Bester were influences on cyberpunk.

PNH: Science fiction is one big conversation.

MJ: Cyberpunk has been taken over by tech noir. Shows like Mr. Robot and Person of Interest.

JPK: Cyberpunk emerged pre-Apple. For most users, a computer is indistinguishable from magic.

CD: The whole point of Mr. Robot is to strongly distinguish technology from magic.

MJ: Pokemon Go demonstrates just how easy it is to know where anyone is, anywhere in the world.

CD: Actually, your device uses the statistics from the game to triangulate your location and reports the information to Nintendo. That’s a lot more scary.

PC: In the early days of the internet, there were the BBS’s, the bulletin board services. Genie—the conversation never ends. Now mass media is to ambient, we’ve stopped seeing it. Information (and misinformation) is ubiquitous.

PNH: Science fiction has been doing the virtual presence thing since 1929 with the fanzines.

MJ: Cyberpunk intersects with maker culture. High tech is repurposed.

CD: The liminal moment was a queer programmer, Jennings. Cyberpunk concerns itself with the frontier of self and interrelatedness.

And that was time.

Next week: science fiction as epic.

And, of course, in the meantime, I’ll be curating Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday for you.

Be well. Stay safe. Love unconditionally.

That is all.

WorldCon 2016: What’s new in medicine

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Dr. Brad Aiken, H.G. Stratmann, John Strickland Jr. (moderator), Dr. David Kushner

Research into slowing down the aging process:

  • Telomeres – the caps on the end of a chromosome that include instructions for replication
  • Mitochondria – have a role in regulating the aging process

There are currently 19 different areas of research. Some focus on the mechanism and some focus on the effects and process of aging.

Metformin is a drug used to treat type II diabetes. Some studies have shown that type II diabetics live longer.

Medicine in general is helping people live longer. The oldest documented human lived to be 122 years old.

We’re thinking in terms of health span versus life span. Quality of life is more important than simply living longer.

Aging is a complex process. We don’t fully understand it yet.

NASA has contributed data from their astronauts. The relief of gravity accelerates some aspects of aging.

Space medicine focuses on a small number of subjects, astronauts. Many of the changes that result from space travel reverse once the astronaut is exposed to gravity again.

There have been changes in the eyes. Vision can be negatively affected.

Artificial organs can be printed using 3D printers/matrix machines. An artificial heart has been created this way.

In neurosurgery, they’ve 3D printed skull fragments and in ortho, they’ve printed knee replacements.

In cancer research, they’re customizing treatments and addressing immunodeficiencies by individual genetic profiles.

Genetic medicine means there is no single treatment for a disease. Each treatment is customized to each patient.

In cardiology, they’re making stents that are absorbed into the body. Xenotransplantation, transplanting a pig’s heart into a human body, continues to be pursued.

Crisper is being used to edit genes.

Defibrillators and pace makers represent mechanical human enhancement.

In cases of patients who’ve suffered strokes or brain injury, doctors and researchers are using direct electrical stimulation and fMRI to prompt the brain to “rewire” itself.

Using a combination of a robotic exoskeleton and a brain/computer interface, like the Oculus Rift, paraplegic patients have regained some muscle control. They can’t walk, but they have a much higher quality of life because they’ve been able to overcome incontinence. And they have hope because they can move their limbs, even if it’s only a little bit. [Mel’s note: I actually shared an article on this a few weeks ago on Thoughty Thursday🙂 ]

In both cases the brain is bypassing the area of damage.

Sensory loss attributable to peripheral nerve issues is still difficult to treat.

Artificial limbs and prosthetics are continuing to improve. Many now use neural interfaces to allow the brain to control the limb.

Spinal cord repair with respect to vertebrae (3D printing again) and discs is also making progress.

viewfrommyhotel

The view from my hotel room.

And that was time.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t close enough to see who was speaking at any given time, so I haven’t identified who was saying what.

Next week: Is cyberpunk still a thing?

And, of course, Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will be making their regularly scheduled appearances.

See you on the interwebz!

CWS 2016: Grants for writers

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you see anything that needs correction or clarification, please email melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll fix it post-hasty.

jackillingworth

Presenter: Jack Illingworth, Literature Officer, Ontario Arts Council (OAC)

The majority of funding dollars go to written works. The budget is approximately four million and that hasn’t changed significantly since the nineties. Programs are fiercely competitive. In general, 11% of applicants receive funding.

Apply often and apply widely.

There are three streams of funding for literary creation.

The Canada Council of the Arts is moving to a non-disciplinary model in 2017.

Don’t put yourself in a box.

The writers’ works in progress grant offers up to $12,000 to work on a specific project.

For poetry, we want to see 15 pages of your work. For prose works, we want to see approximately 40 pages.

Juries assess the applications on relative artistic merit.

October 18 is the next deadline. There is also funding set aside specifically for northern writers and for comic arts (graphic novels). These have separate deadlines. You can’t apply to more than one type of works in progress grant, though.

Prose and poetry juries are separate. I try to have a “wild card” juror on each. For fiction, it’s a jury of four and for poetry, it’s a group of three.

The program could change in 2017.

We may add funding for an additional specialized genre.

Our current anonymous assessment model could go for the sake of equity and diversity. How can we ensure equity and diversity without knowing the identities of the applicants?

For the work in progress grant, there is an emerging writer category. We ask for one published work (novel or collection) or three publications of short fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

We may be adding self-published works to the eligibility requirements.

There is also the writers’ reserve. This is not assessed by a jury, but by the participating publishers. It runs from September 1 to January 31 of the next year. Please see the OAC website for our list of participating publishers. It’s wide open genre-wise.

Approximately 10% of applicants receive funding. The available funding is divided among the publishers.

We hope to have an online application coming soon, but technological change is slow to come.

Juries for the WIP grants are selected after the applications are received to avoid conflict of interest. There are six considerations for equity: persons of colour, indigenous writers, disabled writers, francophone writers, and regional writers (in the case of the northern WIP grant).

Keep your application professional in tone. Don’t be pretentious. The synopsis is optional.

Also keep your eye out for the Chalmers Art Fellowships. They’re offered one time a year (currently TBA) and are interdisciplinary grants intended for research and development. For artists with up to 10 years of practice, the funding amount is between $10,000 and $25,000. For artists with over 10 years of practice, the funding range is between $10,000 and $50,000.

And that was the last session I’ll be reporting on from the Canadian Writers’ Summit. The rest of the presentations I attended didn’t lend themselves to reportage and the rest of the events were key note speeches or awards ceremonies.

As I implied last week, I’m going to take some time to vary my programming before I dive into WorldCon sessions. Next week, I’ll get into the current reno Phil has undertaken and something else of a more personal nature. The following week, I’ll probably finish my review of mid-season TV and offer my thoughts on a few more movies I’ve seen in the past year or so.

And then it’s time for another next chapter update. Gosh, time really does fly, doesn’t it?

Be well!

CWS 2016: Diversify your writing income

And . . . I’m back from WorldCon and my blogging vacay🙂

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you see anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll fix it, post hasty.

Presenter: Robert J. Sawyer

RJS1

One of the easiest ways to diversify is to use your expertise and become a public speaker. If your expertise is in writing, you could receive a nominal fee, funded by a professional writing organization or granting agency.

A science fiction writer, however, can use their scientific research as the basis to become a futurist. A futurist demands a more substantial fee, potentially between five and ten thousand dollars. The more established the writer is as an expert, the higher the fee offered for their presentation.

Public speaking ability, is, of course, a benefit. Join your local Toastmasters to develop that. Sign up for an improvisation class.

Short fiction can earn a small amount, but even small amounts can add up over time and the publication credit becomes part of your platform. Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Hugo award is named, founded Amazing Stories and paid .06 cents a word. It’s still a payment standard used today.

A more lucrative form of writing is screenwriting. The Screenwriters Guild has standardized rates of pay for screenwriters. A one hour script for a television series, such as ABC’s Flashforward, based on my novel of the same name, earns the writer about $3600. That’s approximately 6000 words. Compare that to a short story of 6000 words paid at .06 cents a word.

If you do get a novel published, pursue film and screen rights. It doesn’t happen without effort, though.

I’ll never win a Giller Award, but I earn the equivalent of that prize amount every year.

Whatever you write, become an expert in that subject.

Authority comes from the same etymological root as author. Market your authority.

Record your presentations. A video is a great promotional tool. It will convince people to hire you. Embed it on your web site.

Too often, the author is the only person not being paid.

If you present in schools, don’t be shy about asking for a fee. The only classes I don’t charge are the ones studying my book. If they’ve bought a class set of my book, it’s not fair to charge further, in my opinion. Some professional writing organisations will provide you with a reading fee. Some will cover travel or accommodation expenses as well.

In general, non-fiction sells better and pays better that fiction. I might avoid book reviews, though. The Globe and Mail will pay $175 for book reviews, but you have to either be prepared to hold your punches, or have someone want to punch you. You can’t like everything you’re given to read.

Write what you want to find out about. Maureen Jennings writes the Murdoch Mysteries. She also writes articles on historical Toronto.

Q: What are the tax implications?

I happen to be a dual citizen so that makes some of it easier. The IRS is assiduous about getting its money, but you can work around it to some extent. I live and do most of my work in Canada. It makes a difference. For a presentation I gave in the US, I wrote it in Canada. If the work is completed in Canada, the income is declared in Canada.

For publishing income in the US, you need to have a ITIN or EIN.

Q: Do you enjoy public speaking?

Yes, I do. The more speaking engagements you get, the more comfortable you get on the stage.

Q: How did you get started?

Back in 2000, I was invited to speak at an AI conference based on my research from a recent novel. Previous to that, I was making $250 per speaking engagement as a science fiction author. I asked for $2500 and the organizers said yes. I could have asked for more.

I used to be on panels with Jay Ingram and Bob McDonald, but now I can earn more than they do for a speaking engagement.

Q: How does the unpublished or minimally published author make a living?

The number one thing is to get on television or radio as soon as you can. An agent or publicist can be helpful with this.

I used to teach for Ryerson, but it was actually the least lucrative channel of income I had when you factor in the hours spent on prep and marking.

Q: Do you have to seek out engagements?

Initially, yes. Not so much anymore. Once you’re an established expert, people will come to you.

If you have an author newsletter, let your readers know that you’re available for talks. Fans will convince their businesses to hire you just so they can meet you.

Q: Can diversification compromise your author identity?

It can.

There are some writers who end up making more public appearances and presentations than writing novels.

In 1988, I was 28. I wanted to be a novelist, but I was writing financial columns. That was how I paid the bills. I decided to start turning down these opportunities to make more time for writing novels. I was terrified. In 1996, eight years later, I won the Nebula award. It took that long to make the transition.

And that was time.


You’ll be happy to know I’m returning to Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday curations starting this week.

Next week: I’ll be offering up my next chapter update for August and then I’ll have only one more session from the Canadian Writers’ Summit to share before I move on to WorldCon panel notes🙂 I have enough of those to keep the weekend blogging going into 2017 (considering the time I’ll be taking off for NaNoWriMo).

Be well until next week, writerly peoples🙂

Canadian Writers’ Summit 2016: Writing hard truths

Disclaimer: I’m not perfect, and neither are my notes. If you see anything that needs correction or clarification, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will action it post hasty.

HardTruths

Panellists: Lorri Neilsen Glenn (moderator), Kim Pittaway, Clem Martini

LNG: So many people are struggling with how to approach difficult topics and hard truths in their writing. Each presenter will have the opportunity to frame their work, each will give a reading, and then we’ll open the floor to Q&A.

CM: In 2010, I wrote Bitter Medicine, which is about my family’s struggle with mental illness. It ends on a positive note, but the story itself is difficult in that it documents our journey with my brother’s schizophrenia and my mother’s developing dementia. When I recognized the first signs of my mother’s dementia, the support structure we’d had in place for my brother collapsed. They were living together, and had been able to take care of each other, with my support, until then. I’m now working on the continuing story, the working title of which is The Book of Lies. Caregiving is a verb. Ideally, it’s perfect, like a spider web, a delicate network of mutual and community support. In reality, it’s more like a spider web that’s been woven by a spider on LSD. It’s full of flaws. My problem now, because I’m writing our story as I’m living it, is to decide what’s safe to write about. What do I include? How far do I go? Those are cogent questions for all writers facing true stories with demanding subject matter.

KP: My current manuscript is about families and unforgiveness. The concept of difficult knowledge versus lovely knowledge is used in curation. Deborah Britzman defines lovely knowledge as easily assimilatable. It confirms what we know, or think we know, about the world. Difficult knowledge does not confirm, or conform with, our reality. How do we curate suffering? Are we showing it?  Are we turning suffering into something productive? How is truth-telling gratuitous? How is it harmful? This is intriguing to me as a writer because most memoirs are full of lovely knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with sweetness and nostalgia, but we have to be aware that everything contains within it, its opposite. Do you face it head on, or obliquely? We have to question our tools, our strategies, and our craft.

LNG: I was reading Martha Nussbaum. She states that the heart cannot change without story. I found myself thinking about readers and readers’ responses. My students ask me why I don’t have any happy stories or poems. It’s a valid question, but it made me think. Writing hard truths forces us to confront our shadow selves as writers and as readers. Despite what you think you’re writing about, the tough stuff is already there. Do we really need those details, though? There is a hunger for stories that get close to the bone. Take a look at the stories that have come out as a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for residential school survivors. Those are terrible stories, but they’re also healing stories. Stories about difficult truths invite us to remove our masks. They can be, and often are, gendered.

Readings ensued, with the attendant and courteous trigger warnings, followed by Q&A.

Remember: I’ll be on blog-vacation, so there won’t be a post next weekend, though this week’s curation posts will be scheduled and should be posted on their regular days. No curation on the 23rd and 25th, though. I’ll be back on August 27th with my notes from Robert Sawyer’s presentation on diversifying your income and regularly scheduled blogging will proceed from there until November.

Review of D.G. Valdron’s The Mermaid’s Tale

About the book:

themermaidstaleIn a city of majesty and brutality, of warring races and fragile alliances, a sacred mermaid has been brutally murdered. An abomination, a soulless Arukh is summoned to hunt the killer. As the world around the Arukh drifts into war and madness, her search for justice leads her on a journey to discover redemption and even beauty in the midst of chaos.

Published by Five Rivers Publishing.

My thoughts:

The Mermaid’s Tale is a fable of personhood wrapped in a murder mystery framed by a fantasy setting, peopled by familiar races that are presented in subtly original ways.

Valdron’s protagonist has no name. Most Arukh (orcs) don’t. The few that have been so graced have earned their names by distinguishing themselves from their mad and murderous brethren. Each race has its own name for the Arukh, but all of them translate to either abomination, or abortion.

The Arukh are the sterile offspring of vampires and goblins and considered to be soulless. They are housed in lodges and governed by trolls, dwarves, or vampires and are largely used as expendable troops in warfare, which the various races engage in frequently with one another.

Something horrible has happened, though. A mermaid, one of a race considered sacred, has been brutally murdered. The selk call upon the Arukh to investigate and find the killer. It is implied that this particular Arukh is known for her skill in this area, but not why.

As she investigates, the trail of the killer leads the Arukh to each of the races in turn and the world is eventually fleshed out very cleverly in the form of told tales and legends. The mystery is what first draws readers in, but the world and its stories are what compel readers to continue turning pages.

Valdron’s world is a young one of unmitigated violence and the Arukh’s life is one of degradation. She fails repeatedly in her quest and makes many wrong assumptions, but for all that, the story itself is one of hope and redemption and the climax and denouement are both satisfying and bittersweet.

Readers will be left wanting more (moar!) of Valdron’s world and more of his surprisingly complex protagonist.

I lurved The Mermaid’s Tale.

My rating:

Five out of five stars. I did say lurve, didn’t I?

About the author:DGValdron

Den Valdron, is a reclusive writer, originally from New Brunswick, currently living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Over the years, he has published in print and online a variety of short stories of speculative fiction, and articles on obscure pop culture topics.

Like many writers, his previous occupations have included mechanic, carpenter, schoolteacher, journalist and ditch-digger. He is currently an aboriginal rights lawyer.

He loves B-movies and tries to be nice to people. The Mermaid’s Tale is his first published novel.

You can connect with Den on Facebook.

The Canadian Writers’ Summit 2016: Achieving your dream: the shadow side

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that needs correction or clarification, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com

Panellists: Suzanne Alyssa Andrew, Carrie Snyder, Maria Meindl, Heidi Reimer, Sarah Henstra (Moderator)

theshadowside

SH: Everyone talks about the struggle that precedes publication, but what about what happens afterward?

[Panellists introduced.]

What’s been your experience with the shadow side?

HR: I’ve been thinking about this because I achieved my creative goals and felt things nobody I knew had ever mentioned. I finished my novel and I felt depressed rather than elated. My spouse is an actor and he’s experienced in the art of letting go. In his world, it’s a recognized thing that all actors experience. It’s not in mine. When I won the Chatelaine contest, I was elated, and then terrified. I looked up their distribution and readership on line. That amount of exposure made me feel vulnerable. I physically recoiled. Something intensely private was about to become public. I talked to friends about my distress.

MM: I feel like I’ve confronted the connection between success and darkness in my life. My grandmother was Mona Gould. By the time I was a child in the 60’s, her poem, “This was My Brother at Dieppe” was everywhere. When her success faded, she turned to alcohol and became bitter. What I learned from that experience is that success is harmful. It can destroy you. When she died, I received boxes of her materials. It took me five years to sort through it. She started promoting her work at the age of eleven. Her poem was sponsored by an arms manufacturer, but she was a pacifist. She didn’t feel she could object. Now I understand that it’s not success that’s destructive, but the lack of a forum and the means to use it.

CS: I always wanted to be a writer. As I was driving in from Waterloo, I tried to figure out what that seven-year-old girl’s impulse was. I focused everything on becoming an author. I published by first book at the age of twenty-nine. It was written when I was twenty-six. It was another eight years before I published my second novel. In 2012, The Juliet Stories came out and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. It was a huge moment for me. I embraced the high and I rode it. I wasn’t prepared for not winning, though. I mean, I knew I wasn’t going to but knowing it and experiencing it are two different things. They informed us ahead of the public announcement and I sat with the secret for a week. I felt ashamed. I was afraid of disappointing my kids and everyone else who’d been so supportive of me and my book. I didn’t know how to cope with it. I am so grateful for my blog because I was able to get my experience out there. I almost changed careers. I had my acceptance to McMaster’s midwifery program in one hand and the offer for The Girl Runner in the other. I thought I’d made a mistake in pursuing my dream. Now I’m making a living as a writer. It’s wonderful and it’s amazingly difficult at the same time. It’s hard to be here and to be vulnerable in front of you.

SAA: Everything you’ve all said resonates. I’ve just published my first novel and I, too, have always wanted to be a writer. I went on a book tour and it was the first time my family had heard me read my work. I play bass in a band. It’s a group, a community. We share. In literary circles, I find there’s a lack of transparency, especially about publishing in Canada. I think the reality’s worse than any of us realize. There’s a lot of pressure to market your own book. I invested in promotion. I’m a freelance writer. I don’t regret making that investment. At the time I figured, I’ll worry about it later. Well, it’s later and I’m feeling the financial impact. I have second book paralysis, knowing how hard it was promoting my first. Musicians are open and honest about the challenges. They offer each other advice and strategies. Authors in Canada don’t talk about these issues. We’re worried about seeming ungrateful. It’s very isolating. We need to be more vocal as a community.

SH: Can any of you comment further on shame and vulnerability?

CS: You’re novel is something you’ve worked on for years. It will be judged. There will be reviews. I’m a private person. I work through things in writing. It doesn’t feel right to be so exposed. To create anything of value, you have to go there, though. I was terrified of being changed by success. I can deal with rejection, but I have no experience in dealing with success.

SAA: It’s about being a creative person in the public sphere. You can get so involved in the persona you adopt for the media that you can start to feel schizophrenic. We don’t express our real feelings on social media. Everyone else seems more successful, happier. You compare yourself to others and find yourself wanting. There’s another reality to the one presented on Facebook.

HR: When I was published for the first time (I wrote an essay about the experience) I suffered anxiety and panic attacks. If it’s not discussed openely, everyone thinks it’s only them. I have a novel on submission. I received a rejection and felt relief. I know what to do with rejection. A ‘yes’ involves a whole other world. I was happy to stay in my identity as a rejected writer. You have to redefine yourself in light of success.

SH: Is this a question of gender? We’re all women on this panel.

MM: There’s a line between the inner and outer worlds of the author. There’s a free-floating shame still attached to being a woman and a woman writer in particular. Hélène Cixous once asked, “write? With what right?” We’ve internalized this social message. It’s about taking charge of the narrative. Take hold of the narrative. Be heard. It’s a gendered issue.

CS: Are there any men authors in the audience?

Aud: Yes. When the questions was asked, all the women were nodding and the men were shaking their heads. We don’t talk about the shadow side.

MM: The word authorship, etymologically, it means leadership, mastery. As a woman, I didn’t feel welcomed into that world.

SH: Many authors speak of their novels as their ‘book babies.’ There’s a stigma to post-partum depression. You’re not allowed to feel down after having a human baby. Have you found anything that helps?

SAA: Being someone who had this dream, I had high expectations. Being in a band dialled those expectations back. Check your expectations. Talk about it with other authors. What does success mean to you?

CS: Create a safe, private space in which to create. Don’t get down on yourself if you can’t create while you’re doing publicity. It’s not what I thought the job was. I have to remember why I write. I have to turn off all of my expectations. I’m still a writer, even if I never get published again. I wanted to make a living as a writer. I have. But there are worse things than not making a living as a writer.

HR: I did a releasing ritual. I needed to get all of that stuff out. Society says you should be happy. I felt loss. I had to write it out. I had to acknowledge the feelings and affirm what I wanted.

SH: How do you not miss the moment because you’re rushing on to the next fifty things you have to do? You have to celebrate your successes. Ania Szado says you also have to honour your losses.

MM: When my book came out, my Rabbi did a blessing over the book. It was a wonderful thing, on the Sabbath, so, no selling, no pressure. We were just honouring a life event.

SH: Do you want to say something about your definition of success?

MM: The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much others define success for us. We also internalize those definitions and move the bar.

CS: My ‘word of the year’ was success. It terrified me. To everyone else, it looks like success. To me, it doesn’t feel like success. It has a lot to do with what we expect.

SAA: Amy Winehouse’s definition of success was to sing. That’s it. When she got big, she imploded.

Q: What issues turn you on to writing?

CS: I write because I have something to say. Later, the issues grow out of what I’ve written.

SAA: Despite all the challenges of writing, we all have something to say. The joy of writing is in expressing something, of speaking to your readers.

Q: How do you relate to your readers and how is that relationship affected by the shadow side?

MM: I used to be more involved in small press publication. A man bought my book for a dollar and then returned later to tell me that he was moved. It was a wonderful feeling.

SAA: I started out on fire about online marketing. Eventually, I felt like I was speaking into the void. It wasn’t until I went on tour that I felt it was real. I could talk to people. Writers are rarefied outside Toronto.

CS: I was at a writers’ festival in BC and a woman gave me an envelope. In her letter she asked me how I had known her so intimately? She felt like I had written for her, to her. It was humbling.

SH: When I launched Mad Miss Mimic last year, a girl bought the book, sat down, and didn’t stop reading all night. My favourite thing is when parents send me pictures of their kids reading the books. It’s old school. One reader can change your world.

Q: What kind of support do you look for?

SAA: I get the best support from other writers. I have a wonderful agent, Samantha Haywood, and she held my hand through the process.

Q: What strategy do you use to deal with criticism?

CS: I bounce back really quickly now. I’m as polite as possible in person. Privately, I allow myself 24 hours of bleakness, and then I get over it.

SAA: A lot of critique says more about the critic than the writer.

Q: Do you get requests for information from aspiring writers?

CS: Yes. I have advice on my blog. I’ll respond to individual requests for advice from friends.

HR: Take me out for lunch and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.

Q: How do you deal with family stuff?

HR: I write what I write and when it goes out into the world, I panic. The Chatelaine article reveals some personal information about my relationship with my dad. I had to tell him when I heard that it would be published. I was worried, but it was good. It’s best to deal with it directly.

And that was time.

Next week, I’m going to post another book review.  It’s a five-star so you can look forward to that🙂

Be well until next I post, my friends.