The next chapter: March 2015 update

Last month, I wrote about how I was reprioritizing my life because I’d made the realization that pouring all my creative energy into the day-job was not making me happy. It wasn’t getting me any closer to my goals as a writer, either.

I started March out, work-wise, by applying for my self-funded leave and putting in my vacation requests for the first two quarters of the 2015-16 fiscal (to the end of September). I started expressing my opinion (which, of course, did me no favours, professionally) and reframing my experience with the perspective my wee revelation had provided me.

A series of serendipitous learning opportunities came my way, many of them concerned with following one’s dreams, or finding one’s calling. Funny how these things happen when we really need them to.

As I write this post, I’m listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast on the Disciplined Pursuit of Less. This month’s newsletter from Katie Weiland included a piece on her “spring cleaning” of her subscriptions and social media. She was doing this to reclaim writing time from potentially wasteful or distracting electronic practices.

Having said all that, I was burned out by the time March rolled around. Last fall, when I had originally intended to take my self-funded leave but decided to defer it, I said that I was a little toasty around the edges, but that I’d probably be able to hold out until the spring.

That was before this acting consultancy.

Truthfully, I was burnt before the end of January. Part-way through February, I stopped revising Initiate of Stone and then I stopped drafting Marushka.

With IoS, I had to shift back into drafting mode to rewrite a chapter that was completely altered by my decision to remove a character from the novel. I was blocked, essentially, as I tried to write around the hole I’d decided to make in my plot. I didn’t stop writing per se, but I was having trouble finding my way out of the maze.

I made several abortive attempts to redraft the chapter in Word (which I didn’t count), but ultimately found that drafting by hand (which I also do not count) was much more effective. Once I had the chapter mapped and pieces of it written out, I was able to regain my momentum and complete the new chapter in Word.

Shifting gears with IoS meant that I didn’t have the drafting mojo going for Marushka. By looking at my spreadsheets, I can see clearly that when I stopped revising IoS, about a week later, I stopped drafting Marushka. Once I got back on track with IoS (the word counts recorded in red), again, about a week later, I was able to pick up with the drafting of Marushka again.

So, clearly, while it is possible for me to work on multiple projects at once, I definitely have to be working on them in different phases (drafting vs. revising). I’ve also realized that with the exception of the blog and some short stories, that the limit of my focus with regard to multiple novel-length projects is two.

Interestingly enough, I’m getting close to the end of drafting Marushka. I’ll be short of my 75k goal for the draft, but I’m okay with that. So far what seems to be my evolving pattern is to draft short, rewrite long, and revise/edit to goal length. Will let you know if this new piece of my process puzzle proves to be effective in the long run.

After my staggered, two-week disruptions in IoS and Marushka respectively, I got back on track for the rest of the month.

Judging for the Friends of the Merril contest continues. Originally, when I was notified that my story made the long-list, I was also advised that judging would be complete by March 31st. On March 31st, a post was released on the site indicating that deliberations continued.

I have a 25% chance of placing. The delay is a little nerve-wracking, but I’m trying to remain positive. It means I have some tough competition, but that we’re all in the same quality boat.

I also spiffed up three short stories, including the one I submitted to the FotM contest, and sent them off for consideration in the Sudbury Writers’ Guild anthology.

I’d wanted to revise my longer short story for submission to a magazine, but didn’t have the energy or focus to spare.

I did, however, submit my short story “The Broken Places,” which was published in Bastion last year, for consideration in the Imaginarium anthology. It’s a year’s best anthology put out by ChiZine Publications. It’s a long shot, but I can’t win if I don’t play 😉 So sayeth the lottery gods.

Now, at the beginning of April, and with a long weekend to enjoy, I’ve decided that I’m taking a breather. I’m still burnt, and trying to work all day and then come home and write all night is making things worse.

I have a writing sample to prepare for my workshop with Julie Czerneda and Ad Astra next weekend. So . . . I’m being evil and burning through Avatar on Netflix 🙂

This past week, I walked home from work. Once. I’m still sore. Mellie is out of shape. So I’m going to get back on track with regard to that. My goal is to walk home from work three evenings a week. It’s about five kilometres and takes about an hour. I have a number of books on Audible ready for the purpose.

There are a couple of anthologies that I’d like to write stories for in April, but I’m not sure if I’m going to manage them. My main goal is to complete this round of revision on IoS and my draft of Marushka. Anything else is gravy. Not saying that I’m purposefully disregarding these anthologies; I like gravy, but I’m also aware of my limitations, now more than ever.

Once that’s done, I’m going to shift gears again with IoS and get into query mode and I’ll then be completing my draft of Gerod and the Lions.

Those are my goals for the intermediate future.

Now to take a look at my progress for the month:

March Writing Progress

IoS Revisions (remember these are half counts, except for the new chapter in red, which were all new words): 11,901 words. Compare this with 11,851 in February, and 7,789 in January. I’m at the 50% mark of the novel.

Bloggage: 7,200 words. This has held more or less steady with 6,676 words in February and 8,432 words in January. I’m at 23% of my annual goal, which is more or less where I expected to be for March (one quarter through the year).

Drafting Marushka: 4,520 words in March; 3,859 in February; and my blow-me-away 9,462 in January. I’m at 44% of my drafting goal. I might make 60% by the time the story is finished.

Short stories: 90 words in March; 1,206 in February; and 34 in January. I’m at 27% of my goal for the year which is good.

Totals: 23,711 for March; 23,592 for February; 25,717 for January.

March Summary

So there we are.

Progress is, as ever, being made.

Now, season 3 of Avatar is calling, and Bitten this evening.

Have a lovely Easter, everyone.

See you on Tipdsay!

The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter: February 2015 update

As you may have been able to surmise from recent weekend posts, February was a rough month for me. March is gearing up to be another such, but, the good news? Apparently, work misery doesn’t affect my creative life 😉

February 2015 Progress

Revisions of Initiate of Stone overtook drafting of Marushka, quantity wise. Blogging dropped a bit, and short fiction increased as I got back on that horse after my rejections in January.

I submitted a fantasy piece to the Friends of the Merril contest and I’m pleased to announce that I made the long list. I can’t disclose the name of the piece at this time because the judging is blind and I don’t want to prejudice the judges one way or the other. For those of you who may be in on the secret, please don’t let the cat out of the bag for the same reasons, please and thank you. Judging should be complete by the end of March. I hope to have more good news to share.

January was my best-ever month, productivity-wise, at 25,717 words, but, amazingly, February wasn’t far behind with 23,592 words between all active projects.

Revisions of IoS clocked in at 11,851 words (and remember revised totals are halved), Marushka at 3,859 words (this was the speed at which I expected the drafting to go—last month was a surprise), and short stories at 1,206 words. The blog’s share of the total word count was 6,676.

Year to Date Summary

As you can see by the summary tab, I’m 33% toward my goal of revising IoS, 31% toward my drafting goal for Marushka, 25% of my goal for short stories, and 16% of the way to my annual blog word count goal. It’s nice to see those bar graphs growing as I progress.

What’s up for March?

I’ll be submitting three stories to the Sudbury Writers’ Guild anthology, and revising another piece of short fiction for another market.

There are a couple of anthologies I’d like to submit to in April, and so I’m going to start drafting those. Both anthologies are themed, and I don’t have anything suitable in my current oeuvre.

I’m going to continue revising IoS. So far, I’m quite pleased with my progress. I’ve hit a point, though, where I have to start rewriting chunks of the novel because I’m writing out one of the characters. It’s a little more challenging than I expected, switching into drafting mode in the middle of revisions. In fact, it’s kind of stumped me this first week of March. I had to resort to writing by hand to get back into the groove.

I’m going to continue drafting Marushka. Though my goal is for a 75k draft, I’m thinking that I’ll land somewhere between 50 and 60k. There’s a lot of fleshing out that has to happen. I may overshoot my 75k goal when I do flesh things out, and then I’ll have to edit back down. This seems to be the way things go for me (so far).

Blogging will be blogging and I don’t anticipate a huge change in that department at this time.

I have registered for Ad Astra (April 10-12) and a Master Class with Julie Czerneda, booked my hotel, and put in for my leave from work around the weekend. This is a goody-goody-gumdrops event for me and I’ll be doing the reportage thing again 🙂 It’s only a month away! Eeeee!

That’s it on writerly progress until next month.

Next up, I’m going to be posting about anime and manga, and a writer friend has inspired me to write a post on my literary mothers. Should prove to be interesting. I hope you’ll all think so 😀

The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter: December 2014 update and a year in the writerly life

Janus has two heads so he can look back and ahead. Plus, you really can’t make meaningful progress unless you take some time to reflect on your accomplishments and understand where your journey has brought you to this point.

Let’s start with December, shall we?

In the wake of NaNoWriMo, I needed a wee respite from the purely creative writing. I kept up with my regular blog posts and caught up on a few things that happened in November that I had set aside posting about because of the aforementioned NaNo.

I returned to Marushka after a few days, though, because the force is strong in this one 😉 Also, I have to finish my shit (Wendigism).

Toward the end of the month, though, I wanted to get another short fiction submission revised and sent.

December 2014 writing progress

So at the end of the month, I’d written a total of 15,167 words, 8,812 of them on the blog, 6,234 on Marushka, and 121 on the short story.

What about 2014?

It was a good year, I think.

Since it was the first year I tracked my writerly output, I really have nothing to compare it to, but I know I’ve written more words in this year than I did in 2013 or any year before that.

The highlights:

“The Broken Places” was published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine in its June issue.

“On the Ferry” won second place in the In Places Between contest.

“Downtime” will be in the fall 2014 issue of On Spec Magazine. The issue hasn’t come out yet (long story short—please subscribe or support them on their Patreon page), but I’m still pleased as punch.

I have writerly income to report on my tax return for the second year in a row!

I’ve put “The Broken Places” and “Downtime” in the short story category in the Auroras. It’s my first year doing this kind of thing, so we’ll see how it goes.

Overall, I submitted six short stories for publication. This is fewer than in past years, but given my greater focus on my larger projects, I’m happy with this.

I attended Ad Astra, CanWrite!, and When Words Collide conferences, and workshops by Brian Henry and The Humber School for Writers.

In 2014, I have written:

  • 110,361 words on this blog
  • 34,589 words on Marushka
  • 21,464 words on Gerod and the Lions
  • 3,521 words of short fiction
  • 3,161 words on Apprentice of Wind
  • 2,384 words on Figments
  • Total: 175,480

2014 Summary

That’s a fuckload of words. Sorry. I felt the profanity appropriate.

Plus, I mapped out and reverse engineered both IoS and Figments, and revised some of IoS.

I am still eternally grateful to Jamie Raintree for her wonderful Excel spreadsheet. This year’s has enough project slots that I don’t have to modify it 🙂 Also, it appears to have a way to track drafting and revisions. I’m excited to see how it works out.

For the second year in a row, the most popular posts on my blog have been those I wrote back in 2012. Dress for Success has been consistently popular. I didn’t think a post about writing in my pyjamas would have been so compelling. Go figure.

Eight Metaphors for Persistence . . . is also a heavily viewed post. I appreciate that a bit more because it was the first post on this iteration of the blog and spoke to how I picked up the pieces after being hacked.

Still, I would like to see some of my book reviews, or conference reportage posts, rank higher.

My overall views on the blog went down from last year. In 2013 I filled the Sydney Opera House five times. In 2014 I only filled it four times.

I take all this with a grain of salt, however, as the number of my followers through WordPress has only grown and at 373, I’m closing in on 400 followers. That’s not bad for three years of blogging when I don’t have a book to sell.

Those who receive my posts via email, or who can read them through WordPress may not be counted because they haven’t actually visited the site.

Personally, as long as you’re enjoying what you read, I’m good. I’m a fan of the slow build.

What’s ahead for 2015?

I’ve you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll know I don’t go in for resolutions. I set goals and manage my projects on an ongoing basis, sometimes re-evaluating and adjusting my goals to account for the dreaded scope creep 🙂

That’s all stuff I learned from the project management I have to do for work. It’s also similar to the dreaded underwear creep (damnit, not another wedgie).

In all seriousness, I intend to revise and submit several more short stories throughout the year. I also intend to write a few new ones.

I intend to finish my first drafts of Marushka (goal length approximately 76,000 words) and GatL (goal length approximately 50,000 words). I can manage this at a pace of about 5,000 words a month. I’ll finish Marushka first, because it’s where my head is at the moment, and then return to work on GatL afterward.

I will revise IoS and finally (FINALLY) start querying. This is so long overdue, I can’t even. Can’t. Even.

I will move onto revisions of Figments once I start querying IoS.

I will map and reverse engineer AoW and probably Marushka.

I don’t think I’ll be able to manage much more than that for the bulk of the year.

I will again engage in the NaNoWriMo Challenge, even though I will be working through the month of November. I was very pleased with the 2014 results, even though it wasn’t a “win,” per se.

For financial reasons, I’m going to stay close to home this year with conferences and conventions. Most likely Ad Astra and Can-Con.

My big expense, professional development-wise, will be a writing retreat in the summer (if I can swing the leave from work—summer’s a peak time and it’s always a big deal), also local.

I’m facilitating my first writing workshop in years in February. You know I’ll be blogging that one 🙂

And the rest will be based on opportunities as they come my way.

I like preparing my Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday curation posts on the weekend for easier distribution (and more writing time) through the week.

Aside from that, the bloggage will come out of my writerly life, as it usually does.

I have one more post to go before the night is over.

See you shortly 🙂

The Next Chapter

Ad Astra 2014: It’s a wrap!

Doctor Who Welcomes You

The TARDIS and a Dalek formed the welcoming committee

I’ve been blogging this puppy for a month and a half now (!)

There was so much more to Ad Astra than the awesome sessions, though. There was so much that I couldn’t take part in.

I mentioned waaaaay back in my first post that there was Klingon Karaoke (not karaoke in Klingon, though that might be cool …). There was an anime lounge with various series and movies running all three days of the convention, an art room, a Lego room, the book store, author readings, and signings.

Also, for every session I attended, there were, like six others. There was astronomy in the parking lot at night, the masquerade, gaming sessions, Consuite events, and book launches by various SF/F publishers.

And there was the Guest of Honour brunch, which I foolishly chose not to purchase a ticket for (hey, it was my first time, I didn’t know it would be so awesome).

If I thought it was possible, I could have stayed up for the entire three days and done something different every hour.

What I did do (aside from the sessions)

I attended readings by Patricia Briggs, Julie Czerneda, Marie Bilodeau, Matt Moore, and Dennis Lee.

Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs

Julie Czerneda

Julie Czerneda

I bought (way too many) books and got some of them signed by the authors.

I bought a couple pieces of jewellery and a t-shirt.

Had a tonne of fun.

Not bad.

Think I’m going back next year 🙂

The book haul

The book haul

What about you? Have you attended any conventions or conferences recently?

Ad Astra 2014 day 3: Biotech, identity, and personal freedom

Panellists: Alison Sinclair; Shirley Meier

SM: Everyone is terrified of the loss of control. We use plague zombies to explain our fear. Dracula was about the fear of women’s power and blood magic. One of our biggest fears in biotechnology. There are a couple of good TED talks on the subject (Mel’s note: I found this one and this other one). Chemotherapy can be delivered directly to the tumour.

AS: Spider Robinson wrote about electrodes implanted in the pleasure centre of the brain. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Crossroads,” the Federation becomes a dystopia. The Borg are biological machines. In Star Trek: Voyager, 7 of 9 and Hugh explore these ideas.

SM: The essential questions are: Who am I? Who owns my thoughts?

Q: In Brave New World, what was horrifying then is common place now. People fear science. What’s the positive side of biotechnology?

SM: In my books, MOM (the medical override module) is corrupted. Technology is what saves people, frees them from the villain, Prime. Pets are modified into true companions. Of course, then you have the issue of old age, disease, and how you can justify putting the dog down. They rejuvenate animals, mammals specifically.

Q: What about clones? Currently they age rapidly to the age of the animal they were cloned from.

AS: Medical technology is always advancing. Right now, they’re working on cloning the heart. The brain is still too much of a mystery. Is it ethical to “treat” mental illness? How does the process impinge on personal freedom?

SM: Heart surgeons have noticed personality changes after bypass surgery. There is a distinctive decrease in, or complete loss of, empathy.

Q: Who should be afraid of biotechnology? Who will suffer?

SM: We add to our knowledge; we don’t replace it. The old doesn’t disappear. Norms shift.

Q: Do you have statistics regarding the percentage of personality change in heart transplant patients?

SM: It was in a Smithsonian Magazine article. The percentage isn’t certain. They’re not even sure why it happens. It might be a drug interaction.

Q: If we look at biotechnology rationally, our fear is relatively low. Irrational fear is automatically high, however. People forget our own criminal predisposition.

SM: Look at the military. They have drills for the nuclear fighter jets frequently. They have to make sure that all is in readiness in case the worst happens. They don’t run in these drills. They walk slowly. If the jets take off, the world will probably end. The ground crew is assessed. If they don’t react appropriately, they will be removed. When we write SF, we are troubleshooting. What if? Utopias are boring. Consider the controversy over stem cells.

AS: But what about the cost? We need to invest in quality control. In our society, who can afford it? In Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, the main character is autistic and offered a cure. Who chooses?

Q: What do you consider “you”?

AS: My mother has Alzheimer’s. Her personality hasn’t changed yet, but layers of memory get stripped off.

SM: Treatment is not the same as a cure. It makes illness tolerable. There’s a loss of dignity in Alzheimer’s that’s difficult to deal with. In the early stages, patients can be mistakenly addressed as if they are in the advanced stages. They don’t need that.

Q: There’s a tension between internal and external identity. Who we are vs. who others think we are. Is it the same person? I’m thinking of Heinlein’s Puppet Masters.

AS: Do we have a problem with free will?

SM: Yes. Our monsters steal our free will. Truth, justice, and the American way vs. the New World Order.

Q: What about mind control?

SM: Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent is a fascinating look at mind control and possession in our society.

AS: There’s also a struggle between personal and medical personhood.

SM: Why do things not work? We’re essentially monkeys. Would you give a monkey “the button”?

AS: Technology both reinforces and subverts existing power structures.

And that is the last session I attended at Ad Astra this year.

I’ll save the wrap post for next weekend.

In the meantime, have a fabulous weekend, my writerly peeps. I’ll be back on Tuesday with my regular Tipsday curation.

The next chapter: April 2014 update

The Next ChapterIf March was a little weird, April was a whole lot weird.

Lemme ‘splain.

I abandoned the thought of keeping to any kind of “schedule” with regard to my writing. At the end of last month, I had drafts for Apprentice of Wind and Figments completed, or so I thought.

So you’ll understand my surprise when I went to print off Figments, that I hadn’t, in fact, finished it. A few hundred words fixed that up, but boy was I embarrassed.

Then, once I had AoW and Figments printed, I heard Initiate of Stone calling my name. Even though I haven’t heard back from all my betas yet, I needed to do a little work on IoS.

I just finished reading Roz Morris’s first Nail Your Novel, and before that, I read Victoria Mixon’s Art and Craft of Story. I wanted to do a combination approach with each draft, using Roz’s form of beat sheet and Victoria’s holographic structure.

With IoS, I had previously eliminated a POV character. Now I’ve decided to remove her entirely and give the specifics of her plotline to other POV characters. It was something others had recommended and I resisted. I guess I just needed time and space away from the ms to realize the truth.

And it wasn’t half so difficult (read fraught) as I thought it would be.

So I knew that I would not be doing a lot with regard to “new words” in April because I’d mostly be focusing on working with my printed drafts and most of the new work would be on my blog.

Then I edited a couple of stories for submission, but the net new words for that was just over three hundred.

Once again, I find myself surprised.

April's word count

I am still eternally grateful to Jamie Raintree for this fabulous tool

Total word count for the month: 11, 612 (!), 10,930 of that from blogging alone.

Amaze-face.

Mind you, I have been blogging all those juicy sessions from Ad Astra. It’s transcription, but it counts.

Here’s the round up for the year so far:

Month Total Blog Initiate of Stone Apprentice of Wind Figments Gerod and the Lions Short Stories
January 11,532 7,114 0 2,781 207 821 609
February 9,789 6,303 0 47 308 1,296 1,835
March 10,781 8,193 0 333 1,488 312 455
April 11,612 10,930 0 0 381 0 301

So this has been an interesting month, and the next few promise to be as well.

I won’t be actively querying until I have revisions done on IoS, so that’s on hold, again, too.

I did receive my contributors’ copy of Sulphur IV, the literary journal of Laurentian University. I have three poems in there. The CV has been updated.

The Sudbury Writers’ Guild, with its slick new web site, is moving forward with its anthology, so I’ve set aside some work for that.

I made a decision at the end of March. I’d been an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets since 1999, but I’d never gone to its annual conference or AGM. So I decided this year not to renew my membership and instead invest in SF Canada and the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (home of the Auroras).

It’s been interesting so far.

As far as what’s coming up, Baen Books has a short fiction contest, and I’ve just become aware that Lightspeed has an open reading period for Women Destroy Fantasy.

So there you are.

Progress continues to be made.

How is your writing life going?

Ad Astra, day 3 (finally): Science in Urban Fantasy

Panellists: Shirley Meier; Alyx (A.M.) Dellamonica; James Alan Gardner; Dennis Lee

SM: I write fantasy and science fiction.

AD: Science fiction with an ecoscience bent.

DL: I recently coauthored a science fiction book with Mercedes Lackey.

Q: How do you reconcile fantasy with real world science?

SM: In Dead Girl Walking, zombies are a part of the world. My protagonist wants to be an astronaut. How do you hide your essential nature (rigorous medical testing). Does she have the “rot” stuff?

JAG: Urban fantasy is contemporary-ish. Can, or should, magic be explained? Charles de Lint doesn’t explain his magic, it’s wondrous. What is the attitude toward magic in your novels? Is it threatening, or saving?

DL: Magic is an underlying, mysterious thing for me, but it follows the rules of science, the laws of thermodynamics. My mage does magic by completing complex equations in her head.

SM: Most people accept our technology as magical. Flick a switch and you have light. Push a button and you can communicate with people all over the world.

JAG: Magic and technology are not indistinguishable. In urban fantasy and superhero subgenres, 1% have “bought” immortality. The blue collar class has lucked into it somehow. It’s wish fulfillment. Neil de Grasse Tyson says that you don’t have to “believe” in science. It works for everybody. In fantasy, you often have to be “the right” person. The one. Anyone can learn science.

AD: Access to science is privileged too, though.

SM: Barbara Hambly’s editor wouldn’t buy one of her books because it was written in terms of fantasy. The science wasn’t explained.

AD: What about Thor? Marvel’s tried to explain that all of Asgardian magic is, in fact science, but it’s not explained either. What about Pern? Lord Valentine’s Castle?

SM: Dracula was born out of the fear of women’s power of creation and “blood magic.” People are as afraid of science or nature as they are of the supernatural.

JAG: They are placed side-by-side, too. The virus zombie vs. the raised, Vodoun zombie. There’s a story from the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the writer’s would put in a placeholder: Jeordy – tech. This would be the cue for the researcher to come up with some kind of plausible explanation for what science had apparently just made happen.

SM: With NCIS, it’s the same thing. Their placeholder is: Abby – technobabble.

DL: The project I’ve been working on has been a Google Docs collaboration. Each author has a specialization and lends their expertise to the project. Pharmacology, molecular biology, etc.

JAG: Peter Watt asked the question, “At what point is your bafflegab authentic enough?”

DL: It has to be grounded in something real.

JAG: Orson Scott Card says that there are three questions the reader shouldn’t ask: Huh? So what? and Who cares?

SM: When did we stop trusting “once upon a time”?

AD: Are there better branches of science that fit better with fantasy?

SM: The so-called “soft” sciences: sociology, anthropology, political science.

JAG: In my latest novel, I have four young protagonists, a physicist, a chemist, a biologist, and a geologist. All of them are “supers.”

SM: Is the increasing prevalence of autism evolutionary? It’s one of the questions that intrigues me. I inherited the history library of a professor friend of mine. It’s an excellent resource for steampunk. The science in steampunk needs to be shown, not explained.

DL: One of my characters is a geomancer, so she has to have math and physics.

SM: Look at Dresden. Magic is the realm of the guy in the basement with a hockey stick wand. Magic has a cost. Science does not.

DL: Science has to have a cost.

AD: Why? I want to write magic that works and has no cost.

SM: Then we have the problem of Superman.

Q: Does is come down to the transfer of energy? The way I see it, once that’s broken, so is the science.

JAG: Iron Man breaks science all the time.

Q: Do you explain it?

SM: You have to sell it, make it believable.

DL: Serve the story.

JAG: Like the faster than light in Star Wars; you either buy it, or you don’t. You can’t keep technology a secret.

Q: What about explaining the force in terms of “midichlorians”?

JAG: Midichlorians doesn’t really explain anything.

SM: Is A Wrinkle in Time science fiction, or fantasy?

Q: Or the technomages from Babylon 5?

SM: And we’re back to the Superman problem. Read A Canticle for Leibowitz. There is science beside the new church and its radiation saints.

JAG: Ultimately, you have to serve your story the best way you can.

Ad Astra, day 2 (yes, still): What makes a great villain?

Panel: Ada Hoffmann, Matt Moore, Rob St. Martin, Thomas Gofton

AH: I write short stories and other things.

MM: Science fiction and horror writer.

RSM: Author of three horror, three urban fantasy, and five steampunk novels.

TG: Film producer, actor, and editor. Heroes are no fun to play.

RSM: Do villains drive the plot? What makes a great villain?

AH: The villain opposes the hero, but in some way, is secretly like the hero.

MM: A good villain is someone readers want to know more about.

RSM: The villain is the active force in the novel. The hero is reactive. Nobody thinks they are a villain. Villains are the heroes of their stories.

MM: Villains can be forces of nature, like Jaws or the T-Rex in Jurasic Park.

TG: It’s great when heroes have to dip into their inner darkness to defeat the villain. A great villain inspires fear. Mordred, for example.

RSM: The villain should instil fear in the reader. What will happen if the villain wins?

TG: Sometimes a villain never gets comeuppance. There was one character in The Messenger who was an absolute prick, but he gets off Scott-free.

MM: Think of great villains, like Hannibal Lector, or the Joker. They are completely foreign to the audience, fascinating. The universe is not necessarily just. It has no morality. It’s realistic.

TG: In terms of comics, the DC villains are cool while the heroes suck. In Marvel comics, it’s less black and white. Xerxes from 300 is a great villain, too.

Q: What traits do you choose?

MM: Look at some of your favourite villains, Beloque from Indiana Jones, or Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Pair your hero and villain, give them opposing character arcs. Everybody wants something. If the hero and villain want the same thing, but for different reasons, it gets interesting. Villains should be larger than life.

RSM: Hannibal is a monster, but he’s so charming. His relationship with Starling is what draws us in. Lestat was originally a villain, but he became the hero in later Anne Rice novels.

Q: What are your thoughts on moral greyness? For example, the monster as hero, the human as villain?

RSM: Look at King Kong, or Godzilla.

MM: After 9/11, everything became grey. Can the villain rehabilitate? Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons is a great example and a redemption story.

AH: Work out your novel’s morality.

MM: Alfred Bester from Babylon 5 was a fascinating character study. I’d like to point out that every human villain we’ve discussed so far has been a man. What about women villains?

A brief discussion ensued about the stereotypes of women villains, Disney’s wicked stepmothers and witches, which led into a discussion of some truly awesome women villains, but I must confess I became so engrossed by the discussion, I forgot to take notes (!) Now, a month later, I can’t remember what was said 😦

Mea culpa. I have c.r.a.f.t. disease: can’t remember an f-ing thing 😉 I’m too young for this shit.

If any of the panellists care to weigh in, please comment and fill in the gaps.

Other than that, if you, my dear readers, have some examples of absolutely fabulous, or terrifying, women villains, please share.

Ad Astra Day 2: When an editor is not an editor

Panel: Anne Groell; Max Turner; Michael Matheson; Karen Dales

AG: I’m executive editor at Penguin Random House (A.K.A. Random Penguin) working with high profile clients such as George R.R. Martin and Connie Willis.

MT: Author and freelance editor.

MM: I’m editor for ChiZine’s book imprint and I do some freelance work on the side.

KD: I’m an author, creative writing teacher, and more recently, a freelance editor. What’s the biggest misconception writers have about editors?

AG: People don’t think editors edit anymore. I have to love a book if I take it on. I may read it as many as fifteen times in the editing process. I really have to love it.

MT: Stephen King says in his On Writing that he edits once, and the book is ready. This is not what usually happens for most writers. When I submitted my manuscript, I assumed it would come back heavily marked up with specific direction. This did not happen either. I had submitted a 160k word draft and was told there was an 80k word story hidden in it. I was asked to cut 60k words. The book is the intellectual property of the author. Editors won’t muck around in it. Their aim is to help the author turn the novel into the best book it can be. It’s a very hands off process.

MM: Good editing is completely invisible. There are different types of editing: the substantive, which is global and concerned with structural issues. Does the book work? Then, there’s line editing. This is a closer look at consistencies and story logic. Finally, there is copyediting. At this stage, when large chunks of the text will not be disappearing, errors are covered, line by line.

KD: You have to be careful with self-publishing. With ebooks, unqualified editors make for a poor product. A good freelance editor will ask for a sample of your writing first. They have to like it. You have to be able to trust them with your work.

AG: I’ve sent out 20-35 page editing letters in the past. That’s love.

MT: Are established authors edited as thoroughly as newer authors?

AG: They are if their editor is good.

KD: I know of a New York Times Best Selling Author who’s next book in a series was not picked up by the publisher. She decided to self-publish and did not opt for a qualified editor. The book she self-published was not comparable to the others in the series. (Mel’s note: I think the word actually used was crap.)

AG: If you’re my client, you may not like my solutions, but you have to concede that this particular aspect of your novel isn’t working. We can talk about other solutions, but what isn’t working has to change. Bottom line.

KD: Fact-checking is critical. I edited a SF time-travel novel set in renaissance London. One of the main settings used was the Tower of London. Not all of the building existed at the time. I asked the author to do more thorough research. Then the manuscript was submitted indicating that there were balconies on the White Tower. This was again, not the case. I sent it back a second time. This may be an extreme example, but even he improved and now he’s one of my favourite people to work with.

MM: Do not depend on Wikipedia for your research.

MT: You have to be willing to do as much work on the research as you are willing to work on revisions and rewrites.

MM: Editors are not inviolable. Stick to the heart of your story. Defend it if you need to.

KD: With another book I was working on, the author wanted to send the manuscript to her uncle, who turned out to be Jack Whyte. Jack edited extensively, but he edited to the way he wrote. He threatened the author’s voice. I had to step in and defend her work.

AG: We are champions for our authors.

Q: What is the value of beta readers?

AG: It can be helpful. You have to trust them, though. They have to be objective and they should have some expertise in what you’re writing.

KD: “I like that” is not constructive. The best beta readers are not going to be your family or friends.

MT: Asking your friend to beta-read for you isn’t fair. They feel obliged to like your work.

(Mel’s note: Margaret and Kim, sorry if you feel this way. I do not expect you to feed my vanity. I do trust you and will take direction.)

MM: If you hire an independent editor, never ask them to edit multiple versions of you manuscript. You’ll never earn back what you pay them.

Q: What should an author look for when hiring and independent editor and how much should you expect to pay?

KD: Look for education, a degree in a related field, experience, and ask for references. Most editors will ask for $1.50 to $2 per word or a maximum number of pages.

MM: Some also charge a flat rate.

MT: Get the recommendation of a writer you trust. Every writer has a shelf of “learning novels.” If you read early Bradbury, you can see the difference between that work and his more mature novels.

KD: Trunk novels can be rewritten, though.

Q: As an editor, how do you improve?

AG: Learn to cut. The two Connie Willis novels Black Out and All Clear originally came to my desk as a 300k word draft.

MM: Work as a slush reader or apprentice at a publisher.

KD: Work as an assistant editor.

MM: You learn to establish a collaborative relationship with your authors.

MT: What happens when you establish that relationship and they then hand in crap?

AG: It’s horrible.

And that’s it for the session.

There are only three more sessions for me to transcribe and then I’ll write a wee wrap up piece.

Overall, Ad Astra was well worth the trip. It will probably be one of my staple conventions from here on out.

Ad Astra day 2: Unleashing your creativity

Panel: Karina Sumner-Smith; Alyx Harvey; Judith Hayman; Leslie Hudson; Sally Headford

SH: If you walk into a grade one class and ask, “who can sing?” everybody raises their hands. Ask, “who can dance?” and the same thing happens. By the time they get to grade six, children have learned the standards and expectations. Only a few of them raise their hands then.

JH: Take risks. Make mistakes. No one will know the difference.

SH: How do the writers on the panel deal with those standards and expectations?

KSS: I have groups of people who read my work at various stages. There are readers for the roughdrafts, then later, beta readers. You have to have a terrifying level of trust in your readers. Seek out your “perfect” reader.

LH: If someone says, “you suck,” it can shut you down. How do you deal with that?

KSS: Chocolate and wine.

LH: We are our own worst critics. The worst are the notes I leave for myself.

Q: As a visual artist, I have to be able to evaluate a piece on its own terms. I benefit most from honest, constructive, criticism. What do you prefer?

KSS: Sometimes I need people to be honest. When I’m feeling vulnerable, I need comfort and tea.

SH: When you get to a low point, what do you do?

LH: Walk the dogs.

KSS: Five-minute dance party.

SH: I need oxygen.

JH: I need repetitive tasks. I’m on the autistic spectrum.

LH: Napping is awesome. You fall asleep and an idea comes to you in your dreams.

KSS: I find creativity breeds creativity.

LH: I’ve gotten into mandalas in a big way. I like needlepoint. Or reasearch.

JH: We’re all a little bit insane. When we enter flow, it’s a sacred space.

SH: I think of it as an alternate reality where creativity exists.

JH: I enter into my creative space with visualization.

LH: You have to protect your creative time.

JH: My day job is easier. It’s structured. At home, it’s different, more challenging.

AH: A day job takes a big chunk out of your day.

Q: Do any of you find you have to make yourself create?

LH: Absolutely. Sometimes you have to tell yourself to sit down and write, honey.

AH: Yes. Do the work.

LH: Sometimes pressure is good. Deadlines motivate.

Q: Do you find having a creative community or space helps?

JH: February Album Writing Month. FAWM. I participate every year.

KSS: NaNoWriMo.

Q: When do you sleep?

SH: It’s incredibly important.

KSS: In your day job, deadlines dictate what you do. I’ve read a health study in which people who get one hour less sleep per night over a seven day period were found to perform worse than people who were drunk. Health studies are fun.

SH: The current work environment is terrible. Multitasking is a myth.

KSS: One in one hundred people can actually multitask. Odd are, it’s not you.

AH: Where do you get your inspiration from?

JH: Everywhere.

KSS: Compost. One day my blender broke and I thought, what if society was built around items that worked on magic instead of electricity, and they all started breaking?

AH: I love my I-pad. If I see something, I snap it.

SH: Too many things can get in the way. If you don’t have a way to capture your ideas, you’ll lose them.

KSS: You can use prompts, or themes.

LH: You train yourself to notice things.

JH: Folklore is the basis for my current song-a-week project.

Q: Is creativity about finding ways to work around our disabilities?

SH: Creativity is part of human culture. It’s part of our history.

JH: Creativity is a process, not a product.

AH: Enjoy the process!

LH: People think that if you’re an artist you have to be miserable. Or that there’s a link between creativity and mental illness. Schizophrenia. Bi-polar.

JH: When I’m feeling manic, creativity is a saving grace.

Q: How do you deal with falling short of your vision?

AH: Let it come out the way it wants. If you force it, your won’t be a s successful.

KSS: If you don’t like it, you can always do it over. Accept it if it’s part of your process.

And that was it.

I have to note, in case you find some of these sessions ending abruptly, that many of them ran to the last second and only broke up when the next group entered the room. Thank you’s and closing remarks were often lost in the shuffle.

More coming tomorrow.

Off to watch Orphan Black now. Clone club!