The next chapter: June 2014 update

Hey all!

I must say that June was a blockbuster month for me.

It started with the publication of my science fiction short story “The Broken Places” being published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. Still so excited about that.

I attended June’s @M2the5th Twitter chat with Roz Morris, focusing on her Nail Your Novel series. I’m learning quite a bit from these, and though we cancelled July’s because, Independence Day, we’ll be getting back to our monthly schedule in August.

A comment on last month’s update had me a little concerned about what my readers might be taking away from these posts. It seems May’s update was taken as a warning about social media. If the warning was timely and helpful, great, but it’s not the message I hoped to convey.

I have now finished reading my ARC of K.M. Weiland’s forthcoming Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics. I’ll be posting a review later in the month, so stay tuned for that.

The adjustable desk is working out very well, and I’m now standing for longer between rests. At work, I read a post from a learning and development blogger in which he discussed his experience with his standing desk, which he described as continual fidgeting.

He uses a kitchen stool to take a periodic break from standing and has discovered that he can’t write while standing (!) Thankfully, that hasn’t been my experience.

CanWrite! 2014 was a great time, as usual. I’ve been blogging the panels, sessions, and workshops I’ve attended on a weekly basis.

Another piece of exciting writerly news arrived when I returned home from the conference: another speculative short story, “On the Ferry,” made it into the top ten in the When Words Collide writing contest.

This means I’ll appear in their chapbook anthology, In Places Between, though I’ll have to wait until the conference to find out if I’ve placed. Still. Squee-worthy.

Last month, I had a blogging disruption around the arrival of my desk and spent most of my non-blogging writing time working through Initiate of Stone, all of that work in long hand. Though I completed a lot of work on IoS, I wasn’t able to capture a word count from it.

In last month’s update, I mentioned I would be getting back to countable writing.

June's writing progress

June’s total word count: 18,471!!!!!

13,425 of those words were on my blog, but 5,046 were written in Gerod and the Lions. I set myself a goal of 5k for the month on that project, and I made it. The draft is now just over 10k words and I’ll have a workable draft by the end of the year 😀

I only just started working on Figments (my NaNo project from last year) as I had worked on IoS last month. In all fairness, I have a little more to do with Figments than I had to do on IoS.

First, I’m mapping it. This is something I picked up from reading Donald Maass’s The Breakout Novelist. For each chapter, I list the title, page count, word count, the first and last lines (both hooks, one to draw the reader into the chapter and the other to propel the reader onward), the purpose of the chapter, in story terms, the internal and external conflicts, and finally, what changes for the story, and for the POV character as a result of the chapter.

These are actually from several separate exercises in Maass’s workbook, but I’ve cobbled them together to create my map. These are like index cards and I can rearrange them as needed when I work on the structure of the story. I can see where I might have to divide longer chapters, and fairly easily pick out plot points, pinch points, reversals, etc.

Once I get the mapping done, I’ll fiddle with Figments’s structure and tighten things up, work through a beat sheet ala Roz Morris, and finally reverse engineer the plot with Victoria Mixon’s holographic structure.

June has taught me that I can’t draft one project and then work by hand on another project simultaneously. I’m going to try alternating and see how that goes.

And that is all the Writerly Goodness I have for you tonight.

How are your works-in-progress coming, my friends?

Coming up this month: An interview with author and editor Mat Del Papa on his new anthology Creepy Capreol, I take another shot at the writing process blog hop, the review of Katie’s book, more CanWrite! reportage, and a couple of poems with creation stories.

The Next Chapter

Advertisements

Caturday Quickies: John R. Cameron book signing at the Fromagerie Elgin Jan 13, 2014

I posted my wee interview with John back in November.

He’s kept in touch with me through Facebook and let me know when his signings were. Though I had to miss his Coles appearance, I wanted to get out a meet John face-to-face at some point.

Last Monday was my day.

John at the Fromagerie

John at the Fromagerie

John set up in the Fromagerie Elgin from 5:30 to 7 pm to sell and sign copies of The Second Lives of Honest Men.

We chatted for a bit about social media and self-publishing.

Six questions with J.R. Cameron

John Cameron

John Cameron

I’ve never understood why it’s become common practice to write the author bio in the 3rd person. John R. Cameron lives in Sudbury, Ontario. If you’re taking the time to read my bio, isn’t it because you’re essentially interviewing me for a chance to be a part of your life for a short while?

Hi. I’m John.

I have a wife and a kid. They often drive me to the brink of madness; not a difficult thing to do, considering how close to the edge I already am. My daughter is a hellion. At the age of six, she’s both bright and bold, obstinate, and pushes every button I have. My wife blames my genetics: “I was never like that,” she claims. I deny it, despite knowing that I was also an uncontrollable child.

I’m thirty, and a teacher. I’m very worried about the current state of education. I’m concerned about the future, in general. I don’t think we all necessarily need to be alarmists, though I do believe that if you look at the world around you and aren’t a little worried, you and I probably aren’t going to agree on much. (Don’t worry, I’ll pretend not to look while you navigate elsewhere. There’s plenty of other entertainment online. Crushing Candy, and so forth…)

_______________________________________________________________________

WG: When did writing first come into your life (or vice versa)?  Give us the origin story of John Cameron, Superhero Writer.

JRC:        I’ve been an avid reader my entire life. I was one of those people who sat around saying, “I’m going to write a book one day,” but just never got around to it. I can’t claim that I couldn’t have found the time. I’d be lying if I did. I’ve pissed away a solid three decades of my life. Over the past few years, it’s like the thoughts running through my mind have turned into a constant third person narrative. We’ll call it the ‘itch’, I suppose. I realized the day was coming when I’d open a Word file, and start typing. I just didn’t know when that day would come, or what I’d be writing about. Until this past winter, I’d never made any attempt at a serious literary endeavour.

WG: What was the idea that became The Second Lives of Honest Men and how did it occur to you?

JRC:        In December of 2011, I walked away from a terrible car crash. This was only because of blind luck, or fate, or whatever you’d like to call it. I slammed into a guard rail doing 100 kilometres an hour, backwards. I was pushing it – trying to get home on the first snowy day of winter, before the roads got worse. I rounded a bend, and low and behold, that stretch of road was worse. I fishtailed back and forth over the slush, trying to correct my course. It was a hopeless effort, and I quickly lost control. I clutched the steering wheel and braced myself against the seat, preparing for the inevitable. I blew out seven posts of the short, twenty post rail, coming to a dead stop in the middle of the highway. It was the only guard rail on that side of the kilometre long stretch.

I could have hit one of the many rock cuts, or been flung into the deep, stony valley between the East and Westbound lanes. Instead, I momentarily laughed off my good fortune while I waited for a tow truck. I even went bowling that night. When you walk away from an accident like that, the implications of ‘what if?’ begin encroaching on your soul. The harder you try not to think about it, the more the darkness grips you. I eventually came to terms with what mortality really is, and what it really means. I spent the better part of 2012 in a deep apathy, as I began seeing a lot of things in an entirely new light. I questioned how I’d been interpreting the world around me, and what my role was in it. In October of 2012, I was watching television with a good friend while we discussed the problems of society; how the moral compass seemed to be broken. An advertisement for Spielberg’s Lincoln came on during a commercial break. I made an off-hand remark, something to the effect of, “Maybe that’s what we need – Honest Abe to travel through time, and come fix things.” The idea was one I simply couldn’t shake. A premise, characters, and a rough plot formed in my head over the next few weeks. When I had enough pieces of the puzzle, I opened up the Word file and set to work.

WG: How long has it taken to take The Second Lives of Honest Men from idea to finished manuscript?  Can you give us some idea of your drafting or revision process in your response?

JRC:        My first draft took me seven weeks, working on it 8-10 hours a day, often more. I think the word is ‘obsessed.’ Once I felt that it was reasonably polished, I printed ten copies, and brought it to my first group of beta-readers. A month later, I met with each of the readers, gathering honest, critical feedback. After this process, I had a pretty good feel for what the book was lacking, and had some ideas how to improve it. I made several major changes to a couple of characters, altered some aspects of the plot, and narrative… It was a fairly extensive edit, that added about 6,000 words to the manuscript. I brought the second draft to a Philosophy professor and a History professor, both of whom were very encouraging, and willing to offer more great feedback. The third draft was a less exhausting revision than my second one was, and it saw its way to several more professors (three English professors and another History professor), and to many other people in my life. Again, all the feedback was extremely positive, and the additional advice was also great. One of the English professors convinced me to do two things: Write a fourth draft to fix a few lingering problems, and hire a professional editor. I’d hoped to avoid the latter. He made the case that no matter how good the book was, ‘Even Stephen King has an editor.’ That’s a rather humbling statement if ever there was one. So, I wrote the fourth draft, and had it professionally edited.

WG: When you mentioned your genre to me, you admitted that it sounded convoluted.

Writerly Goodness challenge time!

Imagine I am a high-powered literary agent, like Kristin Nelson, Janet Reid, or Donald Maass.  If I told you I could negotiate you a six-figure advance if you could nail down your genre, what would you say?

JRC: I always try to explain it like this: If you asked George Orwell what genre 1984 fell into, I seriously doubt the answer he would have given is “Science Fiction.” (Or, like me, he simply cringed whenever he was asked the question.) That’s the genre we typically associate with his novel, however; that is, the genre that our culture has branded it with through the passing of time. My book (should anyone ever care enough to define it) will undoubtedly be classified as science fiction. Like 1984, it’s set in an urban dystopia. I tried to use only as much science fiction as necessary to carry the plot, and have been relentless in making that aspect of the book accessible to readers of all genres. Personally? I think of The Second Lives of Honest Men as a character driven, philosophical odyssey that touches on technology, truth, freedom, hope, and redemption.

*Sigh.* I’m not getting that advance, am I?

WG: All kidding aside, you’ve opted for self-publishing over a traditional publishing deal.  Why have you chosen that route?

JRC:        Several reasons. I feel that my book is very relevant to today’s world, and the problems which we’re facing as a society. I’ve seen so many authors who try to go the traditional route, and they often end up disappointed, jaded with the system, and their hard work sits on a shelf (or in a file) for years. Eventually, they simply give up on it, the moment of ‘now’ having passed them by. I can only imagine how many great books have been written by authors who never saw their work get published. I don’t want to be one of them.

Over the past five years, the traditional publishing model has been flipped upside down. E-book sales represent about 30% of the market, a number that’s sure to climb as people continue to shun paper, using digital formats instead. The big traditional publishers won’t look at newcomers, and the small ones often don’t have the push to establish a new author. Big or small, traditional publishers expect authors to do most of their own promoting, then thank you for your hard work by taking the lion’s share of the profit. I don’t blame them for the business model: Most books don’t do well, and they ride out the losers by standing on the backs of their best authors. By self publishing a well crafted e-book at a modest price on all the major e-sellers, and having Print on Demand paperbacks available through Amazon, I can access a world-wide market. There are many successful authors using this business platform, bypassing traditional publishing routes to put food on their tables. Being able to take care of my family while I do what I love – I think that’s the dream of every author, no?

WG: What’s next for you and The Second Lives of Honest Men?

JRC:        I’ve heard people say something to the effect of, “Writing the book is easy. The hard part comes after.” Let me tell you something: Writing the book wasn’t easy. My first draft may have only taken two months to complete, but they were also two of the most emotionally draining months I’ve ever been through. Still, the parable isn’t wrong in the sense that the harder part does come after. The editing process required a vast amount of work. The biggest obstacle was learning to put my faith in other people’s opinions. I only gave the book to people that I trusted to tell me the things I didn’t want to hear. And they did. It was always painful, as I listened to their advice over a hot drink (or a cold beer.) I’d scowl, counter-argue, and on some points I’d simply hold my tongue. After a number of days, (or weeks), a smattering of what they’d said would start sinking in. I’d be haunted by their voices as I tried, in vain, to sleep. I worked hard on the manuscript, mollifying the voices one by one, and repeating this process through each new draft (and each new round of well meant criticism), until I could finally rest. I passed the manuscript off to my editor the next day, and sent her a cheque. I struggled with the decision of what to write in the memo field. I finally settled on, ‘In Editor We Trust.’

Navigating the world of self-publishing has been an ordeal of its own. The Internet brings you a lot of information, but almost all of it conflicts. I made mistakes along the way – none fatal, but some costly. The good thing is that while I was waiting for my different rounds of beta readers to give me feedback, it left me plenty of time to prepare the other aspects of the book that a publisher normally takes care of: conceptualizing the cover, finding an artist, an editor, the best places to list the e-book, to promote the e-book, hiring (and working with) a website designer, finding a company to convert the book into slick, multi device / multi client formatted .epub, .mobi , and Print on Demand files…

Anyway, long story short… It’s finally all come together. The book is now for sale on all major e-sellers, and available in paperback through Amazon.

The Second Lives of Honest Men - cover

The Second Lives of Honest Men – cover

The website is up, and I’ll be using it as a platform to coordinate my Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter accounts. You can visit at www.johnrcameron.com , www.thesecondlivesofhonestmen.com , or www.embracetheirony.com. (All three domains lead to the same website.)  I have a well crafted, fun short story that I’ve made available on the website for free: Moonshine Perfume. I’ll also be writing short essays (I think they call them blogs, now) to accompany any more short stories that I find the time to write.

I’ll have a table at the Paranormal Show in Sudbury, Ontario, on November 30th, where I’ll be premiering the book and signing copies. The Paranormal Show itself is “a spectacular assortment of Supernatural feats that will make you question everything you thought you understood about REALITY.” – For more info, check out the Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/590105517693380/

Come for the stage show, stay to check out the great work of local artists and authors.

I’ll be having signings at some of the more traditional outlets early in the new year: dates to be announced.

You can also find me on Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/664867.John_R_Cameron , on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/embracetheirony , and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/EmbraceTheIrony .

Thanks for a great interview, John, and all the best with your future authorial adventures!

The leave begins

I’m going to be a bit scarce, or scarcer that I have been recently.

I have my time off and I’m going to use it to catch up on a few projects/straighten out my head.

What’s up:

It’s taken much longer than I intended, but I am coming down to the final, final, FINAL revision of Initiate of Stone before I send her off to the editor who expressed interest last year and to a few select beta readers.  I’m going to be revising my pitch/query and start targeting Agents and small publishers.

I’ll be attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference from October 25-7, and I have a pitch session booked with the wonderful Kristin Nelson (squee!)  I’m very excited, but after putting IoS to bed (for now) I will likely spend the next week prepping for SiWC.  I’m going to be reviewing my idea files for what I want to work on next.

While I wait to hear back from editors/agents/publishers about IoS, I’m going to be starting on/returning to other novel-length projects like Gerod and the Lions.

Come November, though, I’m going to be tackling another project for NaNoWriMo (!)  I only have until the 19th off, but I’m thinking it’s time to get something else up and out there.  This may be the idea file project I choose to prep for SiWC.

So that’s pretty much my writing ambitions.

I have said that I would participate in Khara House’s October Submit-o-Rama, and even participated in Kasie Whitener’s Just Write 2013 challenge for the purpose, but I’m not going to go out of my way to get a pile of short stories submitted.

If it happens, it happens.  I have some markets targeted, but I want to focus on my novels.  That’s where I need to be.

On a more personal note, I’m going to be trying to work in a little more physical activity.  I’ve gained weight just in the six weeks since I quit smoking.  It’s not good.  The clothes are tight.  And I haven’t been as faithful with implementing new habits as I was with changing the old.  I need something that will work with my life when I go back to the day-job.  This bears some thought.

I have no doubt that when I do go back, things will be as hectic as ever, so the new fitness routine has to be something that will let me get the sleep I need, get all the housework and daily chores done, and still accommodate work and writing.  And then there’s all that TV I like to watch 😛

I need to finish off my household clean-up (which stalled in September) and try to get the gardens into some kind of order before the snow falls.  I have a few projects I’d like to get to as well: 2 ceiling fans to install, my office door to strip and refinish, and one of our external doors to repaint.  I’m also looking at some storage fixes, cabinets for the bedroom and bathroom, and a new bookshelf for my office.

These last I’m not going to rush, since I think I’ll have enough with my trip to Surrey, another shortish trip to visit a friend in southern Ontario, and all the writing I want to do.

And then there’s Writerly Goodness.  I’m thinking it’s time for a face-lift, and maybe a new

English: Epic Win title card.

English: Epic Win title card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

name.  My domain will remain the same, but I’m thinking that a more appropriate name might be Totally Epic, or Epic Win (for my interest in epic fantasy).

I could go with something more general because I’m not just about the epic fantasy, I have urban fantasy, YA and MG, science fiction, and even some cross-over type novels in my idea file.  Plus I still write poetry and short stories, some of which are not speculative at all.

How about Improbable Possibilities (one definition of SF), or Speculations on Fiction?  There are some old suggestions: Phigment’s (Phigment is an imaginary dragon—the site would belong to her), or MelanieM/Millennium.  This last was from a friend who realized saying MelanieM sounds an awful lot like millennium.  Does something else present itself to you as clever?  I think I might just put a poll in my post this week 😉

A number of recent writer interviews have been delayed, perhaps indefinitely, so I probably won’t be posting much more than once a week (outside of SiWC, which I hope to blog and maybe even Twitter).  If I have nothing to offer by way of updates, I may not post at all in any given week.

Just to let you know.  I’m still here, but I’m going to be trying to shift my focus away from the interwebz for a bit and get back to the reason I started this whole platform-building gig in the first place—my writing.

I’ve been seeking balance for some time.  Maybe I’ll find it in the next five weeks?  Who knows?

Thanks for your patronage, and for your patience.

Review of Scott Overton’s Dead Air

This review is considerably overdue.  My apologies, Scott.

The Amazon blurb:

dead airWhen radio morning host Lee Garrett finds a death threat on his control console, he shrugs it off as a prank—until a series of minor harassments turns into a set of undeniable attempts on his life. The suspects are many—he’s made enemies—and the police are strangely uncooperative. The radio career he loved has turned sour, leaving behind a dwindling audience and the wreckage of his marriage. Then the friendship of a newly blind boy and the boy’s attentive (and attractive) teacher offer unexpected hope. Maybe he can make a fresh start. Maybe he can admit that he’s the source of a lot of his own problems. But when the deadliest assault yet claims an innocent victim, Garrett knows he has no choice—he has to find his persecutors and force a confrontation. The extraordinary outcome will test the limits of an ordinary man. In Dead Air career broadcaster Scott Overton creates the disturbing scenario of an ordinary man whose life is threatened by an unknown enemy.

My thoughts:

I wasn’t in love with the character of Lee Garrett. In fact, I didn’t like him much at all, but that’s exactly the way it had to be for Dead Air to be a successful thriller.

Lee Garrett has made enemies over the years, enough to fill a room with the usual suspects, and his wife left him, taking their two children.  She’s making a new life for herself while Garrett’s disillusioned and jaded and not a bit depressed.  He’s a bit of a schmuck, steeped in a good dose of self-sorrow.  Not an attractive package.

Garrett has his redeeming qualities, though.  The reasons he’s made all those enemies is because he generally tried to do the right thing and exposed their varied douchebaggery in the process.  He’s still in love with his wife, and the friends he has are the dependable kind that come through when the going gets tough.

Then he makes friends with Paul, a boy who recently lost his sight, and Candace, his CNIB counsellor.  As the relationship develops, Garrett learns a lot about himself, and how he is the author of his own misery.

He also makes a staunch ally by virtue of an act of kindness.  He even wins over the detective assigned to his case despite having been black-listed for ruining another officer’s career.

By the time Garrett exposes that act that haunts his life and underpins many of his poor decisions, I realized I liked Garrett, despite his not inconsiderable flaws.  I could even think of him as Lee 🙂

Dead Air is a novel about hard-won redemption and a fascinating character study as well as being a thriller with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the end.

My rating:

4.5 stars out of 5

About the Author:Scott Overton colour high res

Scott Overton hosts a radio morning show on Rewind 103.9 in Sudbury, Ontario. As a broadcaster for more than thirty years (twenty-four of them as a morning man), he knows the world he writes about in Dead Air.

To most readers, morning radio is as much a part of their breakfast routine as a hot cup of coffee. On the air, Scott has become a friend to thousands as he entertains and informs. He brings those same instincts to his writing, with clear prose and honest feelings.

His short fiction has been published in On Spec, Neo-opsis, and anthologies such as Tesseracts Sixteen, Canadian Tales of the Fantastic, and In Poe’s Shadow. He’s also a regular contributor of theatre reviews for a local newspaper.

His other passions include scuba diving and a couple of classic cars.

May submit-o-rama was a bust :(

I got side-tracked, in a marvellous way, but still side-tracked, by courses.

May Submit-o-rama ChoiceI know myself and my limits.  Further, I’m focusing on fiction at this time versus verse, so I opted for the Choose your own Challenge category, and set my goal, as I had back in October, at one submission per week.

At the time, I was working on two short stories for submission May 31, 2013, and so I thought maybe a couple of flash fiction pieces, or something equally non-angst-inducing and I’d be able to make it.  If necessary, I could polish up some of my older, unpublished poems and see what I could do, but then the learning opportunities came knocking, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to do more than the two stories.

Last week, the deadline on one of the submissions I had planned was extended, and frankly, I was glad. Being out of town for training derailed my writing plans.  So in the end, I submitted one short story in the entire month of May.

It was an original, though, so at least it counted toward Kasie Whitener’s Just Write short story challenge (13 original stories in 2013).  Unfortunately, it was April’s original 😛

I participated, but I don’t think that it could be considered a success.

I’m remarkably okay with that though.  I’ve got my fingers into so much right now, that something had to give.

Other perceived failures

I’d submitted a guest post that was to have gone live sometime in April but my colleague’s even more hectic schedule intervened.  There was some hope that the post might have been rescheduled in May, but the month has passed and it looks like it won’t see the light of day any time soon.  It’s only the second guest post I’ve submitted.  It’s also the second that didn’t pan out.

An interview that I arranged recently also seems to have fallen through.

Why it’s all good

There’s a saying that if you aren’t failing, that you aren’t doing enough to stretch yourself.

I agree with that, so long as the individual who perceives their actions as failure can put the attempt in a positive frame.  Otherwise, it can weigh on the soul.

My perspective: so long as you’ve tried your level best, you’ve upheld your part of the bargain.

I put my best effort into everything that I do, or try.  I can feel satisfied with that and I learn something important every time.  At the end of the day, it is enough.  I am enough.

Are you failing upward?  Have you had some perceived failures recently that have left you questioning yourself?  How have you overcome the negative and turned it into a positive?

Do share.  I’d love to hear what y’all have been up to 🙂

The next chapter: update February 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

English: Statue of King Alfred in Wantage, England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it for now.

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

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 1

First: A note about memory, frame, and fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early memories

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

infant crawls

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

©2012 Melanie Marttila

infant crawls era Mel

‘Dis be me 🙂

Something I don’t remember

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

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

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

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

Grandpa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next chapter

Have desk, will write

Have desk, will write (Photo credit: Bright Meadow)

Today, I’m going to share some of what’s happening next with my work in progress (WIP).

Early in the life of Writerly Goodness, I blogged regularly about my WIP, from its origins, through various drafts, to the lessons the whole process taught me.  I also blogged my character sketches and world-building fairly extensively.  I’ve been a little quiet on the subject in recent months however.

The reason for this is that I have been focusing on the revision of my latest draft, and in keeping with my reasonable and malleable goals for the new year, I have now finished that work (to the degree I am currently able) and have sent my manuscript for a content edit.

This is scary.

Why?  Because it means that I’m taking this whole process seriously.  I’m getting closer to perfecting Initiate of Stone for submission and/or publication.

Given the responses I’ve gotten from various writerly authority figures in my early life, my internal editor is very well-versed in the whole “what the hell do you think you’re doing/you can’t write/your ideas are crap/your writing is puerile/you’ll never make it” brand of advice.  I’ve had to tame that beast and try to get over it.

But … there’s still this voice in my head that says: “but what if this investment (the content edit) backfires?”  What if the result is the confirmation of all my worst fears and neuroses?

I can’t think about that.  So, while I wait to hear back from the editor, I’m moving on.

What’s up, buttercup?

First, I’m going to make a few submissions of short stories.

I’m revising one for submission to an SF magazine, which I will have to do this weekend.

I’m going to participate in a few flash fiction challenges.

I’m also going to aim for a couple of anthology submissions:

  • Sword and Mythos – January 15-February 15, 2013
  • Tesseracts 17 – February 28, 2013
  • Plus, I’m going to keep my eye out for the open reading period for Fearful Symmetries.  I don’t know if I’ll have anything appropriate for the publication, but I’ll certainly give it a try.

Second, I’m going to move on to a new novel.  As of my last writing on the subject, I hadn’t decided what.  The logical next step would be the second novel in the Ascension series, Apprentice of Wind.  I’m thinking that something completely different might be in order though.

So just to give me a complete break from Ferathainn for a while, I’m going to tackle Gerod and the Lions.  I’m just going to leave you with the title for now and I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

Finally, I’m getting back to work on my critiquing.  I’ve been inactive on this front for a while, again because I’ve been focusing on my novel, but I’m waaaaaay overdue in this department and I have to get back into it.

This will have to wait one more week, in the event, because I’m traveling for the day-job again.  My apologies to my peers.  Zombie Mel will return from the land of the critiquing dead, just not quite yet.

Set yourself up for success

The deal here is that if you are progressing on one project, but not actively working on it,

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writing: Sandro Botticelli’s St. Augustine in His Cell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

you may need to pick something else up.  Take on a new challenge.  Keep honing your craft.  Get over your bad self.

Now this is not something you might just choose to do while waiting to hear back from your beta-readers or an editor.  You could be querying, or trying to get your self-publishing ducks in a row.  Keep in touch with your creativity.  A writer writes above all else.

Some people may think that juggling projects is a bad idea.  They want to see one project through from beginning to end and believe that they can’t divide their attention with another novel.

There are going to be those fallow times though, and I’m not just talking about those times when you have to “get distance” from your novel between drafts, when you might want to do something non-writing related (I’ve done home reno projects, or some other form of artistic expression for this, drawing, pottery, or taking part in a play).

I’m not talking about keeping your creative reserves replenished with reading and movies and creative dates either.

I’m talking about those times when you’re waiting.  Fill up those fallow times with new creative projects so you don’t stall out entirely.  Don’t let your muse get lazy.  Keep him, her, or it, active and healthy.

This is just my opinion.  In no way am I suggesting that this approach is the only one.  It’s just the strategy that I’m using, and that I’ve seen other successful authors use.

How do you fill up your fallow times?  How do you manage your writing projects?  Do you work multiple ones at the same time, or focus on a single project until it’s completed?  Do share 🙂

The Next Big Thing – Initiate of Stone

My friend, Kim Fahner tagged me in this project in which the writer answers questions about their work and then tags other authors to blog their “next big thing” in turn.

So I’m going to victimize tag Scott Overton, who though he’s just published Dead Air, I know has more irons in the fire, Brian Braden, who has a fabulous WIP to share, Tim Reynolds, who’s always working on something fabulous, and Sandra Stewart, who likewise keeps her irons hot (in more ways than one!) 🙂

Onto the Questions:

  • What is the working title of your book?

Initiate of Stone  Bonus: Series title:Ascension, book 1

  • Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is one of the few ideas I’ve had that did not come from a dream.  I just started with an idea of a young woman, forged by elemental forces, who survives war to become the hero the world needs. Everything grew out of that seed of a character and story.

  • What genre does your book fall under?

Epic fantasy.

  • Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Actually, I’ve blogged this before, so I’ll take the lazy-a$$ route and simply link the previous character sketches, all of which include my casting suggestions:

Ferathainn

Eoghan

Dairragh

Supporting characters

Villains (muwahahahahaha)

  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An uninitiated mage must uncover the secrets her family have kept from her in order to defeat the man who ripped her family, her hope for initiation, and her innocence from her.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year, writing in the evenings and weekends, working full time in the day.

  • Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always wanted to write novels.  I have lots of ideas.  This just happens to be the first one I chose to work on.

  • What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

IoS features a strong female character that doesn’t necessarily find fulfilment with a guy.  There are romantic elements, but Fer’s issues can’t be resolved in the course of this novel.  Thematically, I address the painful legacy of secrets, even those kept in care or kindness; the sometimes twisted relationship between parents and children; the difference between institutionalized religion and spiritual practice (how the one can damage and the other promise healing); and the struggle to realize one’s true potential, whatever it is.

So I hope your interest has been piqued 🙂

Thanks for the opportunity Kim, and if anyone is interested, I’ve blogged about my WIP Writerly Goodnesspretty extensively.  If you’d like, just pick my “Work in progress” category and read away.  I haven’t blogged the novel itself, just the character sketches and world-building behind it.

It’s back to the day job for me tomorrow, so I probably won’t post again until the weekend.  Have a good end-of-the week all!

Writerly Goodness, signing off.