Review of The Sorrow Stone by J.A. McLachlan

I’ve been a fan of Jane Ann’s for some time and when I saw that she was launching her latest historical fiction novel at 2018’s Ad Astra, I had to pick up a copy. Jane Ann is an excellent storyteller and The Sorrow Stone did not disappoint. I have been lax in my commitment to write reviews for my author friends. I read The Sorrow Stone some time ago and I’m only now rectifying my tardiness in writing my review.

TheSorrowStone

What Amazon says:

Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for Historical Fiction.

What if you could pay someone to take away your sorrow?
In the middle ages people believed a mother mourning her child could “sell her sorrow” by selling a nail from her child’s coffin to a traveling peddler.

Lady Celeste is overwhelmed with grief when her son dies. Desperate for relief, she begs a passing peddler to buy her sorrow. Jean, the cynical peddler she meets, is nobody’s fool; he insists she include her ruby ring along with the nail in return for his coin.

A strange but welcome forgetfulness comes over Celeste when the transaction is completed – until she learns that without her wedding ring her husband may set her aside, leaving her ruined. She embarks on an urgent journey to retrieve it. But how will she find the peddler and convince him to give up the precious ruby ring?

Pretending to be on pilgrimage, Lady Celeste secretly hunts for the peddler. In dreams and brief flashes her memory begins to return, slowly revealing a dangerous secret buried in her past. Will she learn what she needs to know in time to save herself, or will the knowledge destroy her?

If you like realistic, well-researched historical fiction with evocative prose, complex characters and a unique story, you’ll love The Sorrow Stone. Travel to 12th Century France with this compelling story based on an actual medieval superstition.

“J. A. McLachlan is a terrific writer — wry and witty, with a keen eye for detail.”
~ Hugo award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer
“Strong, character-driven fiction — McLachlan makes you both care and think. You can’t ask for more.”
~ Aurora award-winning author Tanya Huff

My thoughts:

While this novel is somewhat of a departure from her adult and young adult science fiction publications, the inspiration for the story is a superstition and fantastic elements infuse the novel.

In the wake of the transaction that forms the inciting incident, Celeste is not only forgetful, but she’s also lost her capacity to feel compassion in any form, making her alien to her lady’s maid, the nuns of the convent she’s been sent to for her recovery, and the clergy and pilgrims she meets on her journey.

The only thing she’s certain of, at first, is that something terrible happened that sent her to the convent and, because she can no longer feel the love she once did for her dead child or her husband, while she knows the something terrible involves her infant’s death, she can only assume that her life had been one of cruelty and pain to have resulted in her current state of health. Celeste uses her mind and sense of logic, skewed because of her lack of feeling, to try to unravel the mystery.

She’s afraid of revealing her compromised state to anyone and engages is some radical behaviour to achieve this end. She travels with only her maid as a companion, she seeks the means to become independent, and she tries to track down the merchant to whom she traded her sorrow and her wedding ring with the intent of reclaiming only the ring and not her emotion, now viewing it as a weakness. Her actions in pursuit of these goals verge on cruel.

For his part, the pragmatic merchant Jean finds his life plagued by unwanted compassion. He wants to rid himself of Celeste’s ring and the sorrow attached to it, but his every attempt to do so ends in failure or worse. After he recovers from a robbery and assault that nearly results in his death, Jean returns home to find his bad luck extends to his family. His daughter is seriously ill and may die if he doesn’t find the means to set things right.

The outcome of these intertwined journeys involves a mystery, betrayal, and greed on multiple levels. As Celeste’s husband pursues her, thriller elements come into play. Can Celeste reclaim her ring before her husband catches up to her and finds out what she’s done?

The Sorrow Stone is a complex story about how important it is to achieve a balance between logic and emotion, the destruction that greed engenders, and the revelatory and healing powers of love.

My rating:

Four out of five stars.

I really liked it 🙂

I’m going to try to catch up on my review obligations over the next weeks, so you can look forward to more reviews on writerly goodness.

 

The next chapter: July 2018 update

Greetings, all you writerly people!

I think I’ve said this nearly every month this year but, once again, July was weird. This whole year has been weird.

I have to concede the effects that not only Phil’s health issues last year, but also the issues he’s been experiencing with his employer—not to mention the increasing stress of my day job—continue to have on me. I think these have been some of the chief contributing factors to my protracted burnout. When you have shit going on in other aspects of your life, it inevitably affects your creativity.

And while Phil’s health issues have been addressed and he continues, according to all recent test results, to be healthy, the work-related stresses are not at an end. I find myself struggling. Doubting. Resisting. Self-sabotaging.

As I mentioned previously, Phil’s work issues should be resolved by the end of the year. Unfortunately, my work stresses are just ramping up again. It’s usually the way things happen. One of us is in an upswing while the other is spiralling downward. I’m hoping that the fact that we’ve both been on the downward trend for the last while means that relief is in my future as well.

Once again, July has been hit and miss, but more hit than miss 😉 In other words, I wrote more days than I didn’t. Still, even adjusting my writing goal down for Playing with Fire, I was just shy of it, writing 4,858 words of my 5,000-word goal. That’s 97%.

As I like to say, every word’s a victory.

I wrote 3,454 words on this blog, or 123% of my 2,800-words goal. I had no other writing-related goals in July.

JulyProgress

I attended Ad Astra on July 14th and 15th, though. Because I’d spent so much on my grand adventure last year, I didn’t attend Ad Astra, even though Brandon Sanderson was one of the guests of honour. Normally, Ad Astra is in May. This year, they moved it into July and I think it was a good move.

It felt a bit more understated than in past years, and I decided that, this time, I was going to focus a bit more on networking and chatting up my fellow writers and less on rushing from panel to panel, making all the notes I could.

Last year, at WorldCon, I made the decision not to post my panel notes, but I still made notes, and I still rushed from panel to panel in a vain attempt to cram all the things into my wee skull. This year, I attended panels out of interest and enjoyed them. I didn’t take scads of notes, and I took the time to be social.

I introduced myself to J.M. Landels, one of the people behind Pulp Literature Magazine and Press, which I have been supporting through Kickstarter and other means since its inception. I met up with fellow SFCanada members Joe Mahoney and Douglas Smith. I enjoyed the company of fellow CAA members, Matt Bin and Ness Ricci-Thode, who introduced me to a number of her writing friends from the K-W area, several of whom were also CAA members. And I attended Jane Ann McLachlan’s book launch for The Sorrow Stone, her historical fiction release. There, I won a door prize of some lovely red wine, which has already been consumed 🙂

I also reconnected with Beverly Bambury, publicist to the stars. She actually remembered me before I had a chance to say, “hi.” I also saw a lot more people in passing that I’ve met in the past, like Robert Sawyer.

I started out by attending J.M. Landels’ reading from her novel Allaigna’s Song: Overture. Then, I headed to The Timey-Wimey Stuff with Jen Frankel, James Bambury, Cameron S. Currie, Cathy Hird, Kari Maaren, and Douglas Smith. It was interesting to hear how other authors used time travel in their fiction and how.

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I followed that up with The Business of Writing, with Jen Frankel, Beverly Bambury, Larry Hancock, Matthew Bin, and Jane Ann McLachlan. There was a lot of interesting information in this panel.

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After that, I broke for dinner, where I met up with Matt, Ness, and their friends, and then headed to what was the best panel of this year’s Ad Astra, Writing a Series.

Jen Frankel, Sarah WaterRaven, Justus R. Stone, Thomas Gofton, Kit Daven, and Lesley Livingston kept the room, which was packed to capacity, in stitches the whole time. Their chief collective advice: don’t do it. Apparently, when you get contracted to write a series, publishers generally set very steep deadlines. They don’t want readers to forget about novel one by the time the second is released.

After that was Writing Through Darkness, with Erik Buchanan, Adam Shaftoe-Durrant, and Cameron S. Currie, which was a very helpful panel on writing with mental illness. The panellists shared their strategies for improved mental health.

Then, I capped off the day with Jane Ann’s book launch.

On Sunday, I hung out at the dealer’s room and got myself this tasty pile of books.

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At the end of the month, Gail Anderson-Dargatz delivered a workshop on Writing Through Fear for members (and guests) of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild. We discussed the personality traits (read neuroses) and fears that most writers share, how these reveal themselves through the creative work, and how to address any problems that may arise because of them.

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It was, overall, a great month, despite my ongoing difficulties.

Torvi graduated from intermediate obedience, and is getting closer, all the time, to being a good dog.

What’s ahead for me?

I’m now (finally) within striking distance of the end of PwF (yay!). Once I finish with that draft, I’m going to organize my now-considerable notes (think series bible) before I begin another revision of Initiate of Stone and then I’ll be deep in outlining mode for the fifth and final book in the series, Tamisashki, for this year’s NaNoWriMo. I’d hoped to be able to get through revisions on the whole series, but that’s not going to happen. Next year. After I finish up with Tamisashki.

The exciting news I have for you this month is that I’ve found another critique group. It’s early days yet, and I have to spend some time getting my submission together, posting up my information on the various forums, and diving into another member’s posted draft. But I have a good feeling about this one. I think it’s going to help me break through some of my resistance and get back on track.

There was an admission process. These authors take their work seriously. Other than that, I’m not going to say much about it.

That’s all the writerly news I have to share with you this month.

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

The Next Chapter

WorldCon 75 summary post

It seems we’ve exchanged hurricanes and mass shootings for wildfires and floods. Wherever you are, whatever has come your way, please find safety.


Welcome back to the ongoing tale of my European adventure 🙂

This instalment will be the penultimate one. Next week, I’ll cover my takeaways from the trip.

Since I’d made the decision earlier in the year to stop blogging my session notes … I didn’t take any during the whole of WorldCon (!) It was very freeing. I relaxed and enjoyed.

Something I forgot to mention in my last post is that I also enjoyed the hotel’s Sauna on Tuesday night. I had a nice, naked conversation with some Finnish ladies who were curious about all the Americans in town … but it was helpful for the cruise crud.

Wednesday, August 9, was the first day of WorldCon, and at breakfast that morning, I met up again with the Tracy’s, Heather and Bill, and their mom, Becky, who’d been my roommate on the WXR cruise. Bill was also attending WorldCon, while Heather and Becky did the tourist thing in Helsinki.

After breakfast, I strolled down the pedestrian underpass to the train station, bought my ticket at the kiosk, and caught the train to Pasila.

I want to take a moment here to express just how fabulous the Helsinki trains were. Clean, spacious, and efficient. My registration for the con included a train pass for the week, because they knew most of us would be staying in the downtown area. There are a couple of hotels in Pasila, but they were booked quickly, and blocks of rooms were reserved for those who needed accommodation (or so I understand).

The only other city train I’ve been on that comes close is Vancouver’s, but at the time I travelled on it, the number of passengers made the journey (with luggage) uncomfortable. In Helsinki, there were two main lines, the K and the I (though there were more) that ran north and between the two, one left every ten minutes.

The first day of WorldCon was a bit disappointing, to be honest, because I think the organizers underestimated the interest of casual attendance (day passes). Except for the academic stream session I attended, nearly every room was full and they were very strict about the numbers because fire regulations. I don’t blame the organizers, but it was a frustrating first day.

The convention centre did have a great food court, however, and I ended up meeting a couple of friends of fellow Sudbury Writers’ Guild member Andy Taylor at the cafe. Tim Boerger and Nina Niskanen had both attended Viable Paradise with Andy and he wanted me to connect with them. I’d actually seen Nina at WorldCon last year, but I didn’t know who she was until after her steampunk panel was over 😦

While there, I also met Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough 🙂

I also saw a number of WXR cruise mates, and fellow member of SF Canada, Su Sokol.

That evening, I met up with a group of Canadian SF fans and writers, including Su, Eric Choi, and Jane Ann McLachlan, to have dinner at Zetor.

Thursday was a more productive day. I attended sessions on the Kalevala (which I was geeky enough to be reading at the time), Nalo Hopkinson’s Guest of Honour interview (I kind of stalked her sessions throughout—I’m a fan), a presentation on the sauna, the live taping of the Coode Street podcast with Kelly Robson and Walter Jon Williams, a panel on secrets in SF that Jane Ann McLachlan was on, how to start a podcast with Howard Tayler, and the live Ditch Diggers taping.

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That night was a meet up with Writing the Other alumni and K. Tempest Bradford. We went to a Nepalese buffet that was only a block or so from the convention centre called Mero-Himal. A number of alumni had also been on the cruise, and so it was a very enjoyable evening.

Friday’s WorldCon line up included a panel on artificial intelligence, one called Building Resistance, on which where Nina Niskanen and Kameron Hurley, one on female friendship in fiction with Navah Wolfe and Amal El-Motar, another Nalo Hopkinson GoH presentation, a panel on Austalian fantasy with Juliet Marillier, more Nalo Hopkinson (I said I was stalking her), a panel on how science really happens with Eric Choi, one on weird fiction with Helen Marshal, and one on alien language in SF with David J. Peterson, creator of the languages for the Game of Thrones series.

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Friday night was the night of the Hugo Awards Ceremonies and, still suffering from cruise crud (it didn’t completely clear until I was back home), I thought I’d catch the ceremonies on YouTube from the comfort of my hotel room. They were supposed to be webcast.

As I headed out on the train, the skies grew ominously dark and by the time the train arrived back in Helsinki, it was a full-on torrential downpour. The forecast had said that the weather would hold until evening … and so I’d left my umbrella in my hotel room.

While I waited some time at the station for the rain to stop, I eventually had to make it back to the hotel and got completely soaked. I got in and changed clothes, waited until the weather cleared a bit, and then strolled around the block—with my umbrella—to a little sushi restaurant for supper.

When it was time for the Hugos webcast … I was unable to connect. When I hopped on social media to see what I could find out, it turned out that there were technical difficulties and the webcast was a no go. I watched the Twitter feed for a while and ended up calling it an early night.

Saturday began with a science panel on planets beyond the Goldilocks zone, a panel on worldbuilding without ableism with Fran Wilde and Nalo Hopkinson (yes, I know), one on maintaining your scientist character’s credibility with Karen Lord, a panel on Octavia Butler (with you-know-who), I checked out the author signings where Mary Robinette Kowal and Margaret Dunlap were at side-by-side tables, a panel on fairy tale retellings with Navah Wolfe and Karen Lord, one on bad-ass female leads in young adult, and one on crafting a fantasy tale from mythology with Juliet Marillier.

I decided to call it an early night because I’d be heading for the airport in the morning for my flight home. I had supper at a sports bar, packed, and got a good night’s sleep.

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My flight left just after 8 am. I watched the sun rise on the train (at—bleargh—5:30 am) and, after a three hour flight to Iceland, watched the sun rise again 😉 Because I was travelling back through time zones, another five and a half hour fight brought me to Toronto before noon (!)

I hung out in Toronto for five more hours as my flight home was delayed, but I was home in time to watch that night’s Game of Thrones episode and then crawl into my own lovely bed.

I spent the next day resting and catching up on the television I’d missed during the trip. I could have used the rest of the week off to resent my internal clock and fully recover from the cruise crud, but it was back to the grind on Tuesday.

And that was how my European adventure ended.

Thanks for hanging with me on this journey!

As I mentioned off the top, next week will be my lessons learned/takeaway post but, because next Saturday is the launch of Kim Fahner’s latest poetry collection, Some Other Sky, I may not get the post up until Sunday. The next week, I’ll probably dedicate some time to writerly events (including the launch) and other happenings in this writer’s life, and then I’ll be on my annual blogging hiatus for NaNoWriMo!

Holy cow! This year is disappearing!

In the meantime, dear friends, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Review of Jane Ann McLachlan’s The Salarian Desert Game

SalarianDesertGame

What Amazon says:

What if someone you love gambled on her life?

Games are serious business on Salaria, and the stakes are high. When Kia’s older sister, in a desperate bid to erase their family debt, loses the game and forfeits her freedom, Kia is determined to rescue her.

Disguised as a Salarian, Kia becomes Idaro in order to move freely in this dangerous new culture. When she arrives on Salaria, she learns it’s a world where a few key players control the board, and the pawns are ready to revolt. Kia joins the conflict, risking everything to save her sister. As if she doesn’t already have enough to handle, Agatha, the maddeningly calm and unpredictable Select who lives life both by-the-book and off-the-cuff shows up to help, along with handsome Norio, a strong-willed desert girl with her own agenda, and a group of Salarian teens earning their rite of passage in the treacherous desert game.

What can an interpreter and former thief possibly do in the midst of all this to keep the people she loves alive?

Edge’s video intro, by Jane Ann McLachlan:

 

 

 

My thoughts:

In my review of Jane Ann’s first Kia and Agatha novel, The Occasional Diamond Thief, I said that Kia learns the truth about herself by learning the truth about others.

This trend continues in The Salarian Desert Game.

Kia, not long returned from her adventures on Malem, is translating at The Salarian Night Games, a form of high stakes gambling, in which losers agree to indentured servitude in the Salarian crystal mines until their debt is paid.

Her sister plays, and loses, and Kia, though prevented by doing anything in the moment but protesting because of her role as translator, determines to travel to Salaria and free her sister.

As she is preparing to depart, she is summoned by the OUB, the interplanetary religious authority. Yes, she must go to Salaria, but as translator for the Select Agatha, and she is forbidden from attempting to save her sister. The mission is all. It was foreseen in a vision and cannot be denied or abandoned.

Worse, Kia will not only have to travel in disguise, but the OUB asks her to surgically erase her identity and assume that of Idaro, a half-Salarian girl who died years earlier.

When Agatha and Kia, sorry Idaro, arrive on Salaria, they are separated and everything falls apart. Alone, Idaro visits her estranged grandmother, Matriarch Ryo, and tries to figure out what she can do to find and help Agatha and get back on her mission to save her sister.

To maintain her cover, though, Idaro must join the Salarian Desert Games, a coming of age ceremony which pits fifteen year old girls against the desert of Salaria and its poisonous denizens. It’s survival of the fittest, and Idaro must survive more than the desert’s snakes and scorpions and the distrust and schemes of her fellow candidates.

The scope of this novel is on a grand societal scale, addressing racism, slavery, misandrogy (Salaria is a Matriarchy), terrorism, and the other consequences these institutionalized practices.

In discovering this alien world, Kia, and the reader, must reflect on the evils of our societies, reflected in the mirror of the novel.

When she first emerges from the surgery that will change her into Idaro, Kia hardly recognizes herself. By the end of the novel, she’s not only learned who Idaro is, but who Kia is, and how far she’s willing to go to save those she loves.

Once again, Jane Ann has written an amazing novel.

My highest recommendation.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

About the Author:Jane Ann McLachlan

J.A. McLachlan was born in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of a short story collection, CONNECTIONS, published by Pandora Press and two College textbooks on Professional Ethics, published by Pearson-Prentice Hall. But science fiction is her first love, a genre she has been reading all her life, and Walls of Wind is her first published Science Fiction novel. Her new science fiction novel is The Occasional Diamond Thief. She is represented by Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency.

Robert J. Sawyer reviewed The Walls of Wind and had this to say:
“Look out, C. J. Cherryh! Step aside, Hal Clement! There’s a new master of truly alien SF, and her name is J. A. McLachlan. THE WALLS OF WIND is doubtless THE debut novel of the year.”
— Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning science fiction author

You can learn more about J. A. McLachlan and her books on her website at: http://www.janeannmclachlan.com

Connect with Jane Ann on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janeann.mclachlan

What others are saying about her:

“In ways SF readers can favorably compare with icons of the genre, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr. and Robert J. Sawyer, WALLS OF WIND boldly weaves anthropology, psychology, drama, future history, even meteorology, into a tapestry of viewpoints and epiphanies that propel McLachlan’s characters toward a necessary and illuminating change in their collective relationship. … If you read no other “alien” authors this year, don’t miss WALLS OF WIND.”
– Bookreporter

Read the full review:
http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/walls-of-wind-a-science-fiction-novel

“I loved it from the first page and couldn’t put it down!!”
Domenico Maniscalco

“The writing is excellent and never gets in the way of the story (which is very important to me); The characters are well drawn and believable.”
Peter Barron

“I loved the writing style of the author; her characters are diverse and very real.” Steve

Muse-Inks: Do you need an MA/MFA?

(And a couple series discoveries)

Yeah, so I kind of fibbed again on Thursday because I wasn’t aware of some of my deadlines and involvements.

Today, I’m going to be doing double duty. I’m posting my first DIYMFA launch team post and covering the two series that hadn’t debuted/returned before I went to CanCon last October and then plunged into the lost month that is NaNoWriMo (binge writing).

I’m also reading the ARC of Jane Ann McLachlan’s new YA SF, The Salarian Desert Game, as part of her launch team. That review is due up on the interwebz on Monday, and it will be, but I’ll be holding off on putting it up on my blog until next Saturday.

So. Let’s get to it, shall we?

I’ve written about my MA experience as part of the My history as a so-called writer category, which has been a bit of a confessional/lessons-learned-from-the-writing-life kind of thing.

 The story of my MA

I was in my last year of my BA in English, Rhetoric emphasis, and I was rocking it. I’d gone into university this time (I’d started, dithered, and left to learn some life lessons) with the focused intention of becoming a better writer. I’d been writing for years, since I was in grade three, but had only recently come up with my first idea for an epic fantasy novel.

That intention had provided me with the fuel to really begin my writing life in a more serious way. I’d placed in a local writing contest with a science fiction short story, excelled in my academic writing, and been asked to write an editorial piece for one local magazine and a science fiction short story for the debut issue of another.

Through the creative writing course I’d taken, I would have another fantasy story published in an anthology. I’d written poetry and read my work at various open mic nights and reading series.

In retrospect, I should simply have continued to write. I was developing a kind of momentum that further schooling would only disrupt, but I had no idea about that then.

My friends had all departed for further schooling, teachers’ college and literature MAs, and I was still at that tender stage in the process where I had no confidence in myself. I thought I needed further validation. I thought that attaining my MA would make me a more attractive property.

I was wrong.

In Canada, at the time, there were only four universities offering MFAs: the University of New Brunswick, Concordia University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria. Two others, Windsor and Saskatchewan, offered the option of doing a creative thesis along with your degree in English literature.

Initially, I just thought I’d apply, see if anyone would accept me, and then make my decision whether to go or not. I’d just gotten married the year before and my husband wasn’t finished his undergraduate degree yet. I wasn’t so keen on being separated from him for so long.

All the MFA programs rejected me out of hand (I should have seen that as a sign). Only one of them, UNB, threw me a bone: we’ll take you in the English Literature program, but not creative writing. Windsor was the only university that accepted me. It was the closest, too, though it was still a nine hour drive away.

I thought at the time that it was doable. I’d be back for breaks and summers. Phil was supportive. We could do this, if it was what I really wanted.

I went for it without giving serious consideration to my chosen genre. I write science fiction and fantasy. Even my more literary efforts contain the element of the otherworldly, ghosts, dreams, visions. I thought that, just like my BA, my MA would yield to my passion and desire.

Then, I attended my first critiquing class. My fellow hopefuls were all of a more mainstream, if not literary, mind. One eventually defended her thesis which was a collection of poetry, all sonnets. I never learned what the other students had chosen to work on.

No one was particularly keen on what I wrote. Well, there was this one guy, but he wrote genre as well. I got stubborn and dug in. My advisor looked at my submitted stories in dismay. What is this? What is real about this story? We weren’t on the same page. We couldn’t relate to each other. He couldn’t help me become a better writer. He just wanted me to be a different kind of writer.

I did my graduate assistantship, which was essentially teaching the first year composition course (without supervision), took my classes in methodology, pedagogy, and English literature of various eras, and tried to write.

I didn’t get a lot of fiction written in those years. I basically revised already existing material and scribbled poetry, the only form of writing I could manage in the time I had between other obligations.

I eventually had a blow out with my advisor, who told me to stop wasting his time (and mine). I withdrew from the program, worked contract jobs, and collected employment insurance in between.

A year later, one of my former students emailed me, telling me that my advisor was going on sabbatical. A Canadian poet, a woman, would be taking his place. I reenrolled, and, over the next year, emailing, and flying down at intervals to meet in person, I wrote my creative thesis, defended it, and fulfilled my final requirement to achieve my MA in English Literature and Creative Writing.

Even so, I’d compromised. I chose the more literary of my stories and, framing the collection in the context of shamanism and shamanic awakening (anthropology and religious studies), I cast an academic light on my fantastic tales.

In the wake of that experience, though, I went into creative withdrawal. I’d internalized the criticisms of my first advisor and was, essentially, blocked.

Throughout the years of my MA and afterward, I continued to win writing contests, in both fiction and poetry, and continued to get published. I tried my hand at publishing a poetry journal with another writer friend of mine, but, after a couple of years, the effort folded.

I continued to work contract jobs until I was invited to apply for my current job by my sister-in-law. Once I worked full time, the writing went underground altogether.

It took me six years and a bout of depression to begin to come back to writing as something I loved, something I needed in my life, rather than an unrealistic dream. I began with a few workshops, and graduated to conferences and conventions. I took online courses. I started to build my platform (such as it is). I tried online critiquing. I tried beta readers. I tried freelance editors.

I pretty much try anything that I think might help me improve.

I’m a writing craft book junkie and I’ve learned over the years that my process is my own. I never take anything at face value. Like a writerly scientist, I experiment. I try a new technique and see if it has value for me. If it does, I incorporate it into my process. If it’s only partly useful, I’ll adapt those pieces to my process (note, my process does not change to accommodate a particular technique, the technique is adapted to fit my process). If it doesn’t work at all, I discard the technique and chalk up the time and effort to a learning experience. We have to fail—many times—before we succeed.

Two of my science fiction short stories were published in paying markets in 2014. I’ve participated three times in NaNoWriMo, “winning” twice. I now have six novels drafted, one of which I’m actively querying. The rest are in revision.

The bottom line is that writing is a way of life for me. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. It’s not my grab for fame and fortune. I’m going to do this for the rest of my life regardless of whether I get the publishing deal I want or not. I’m doing the work and spending the time to make it happen, though. The two short stories weren’t a fluke.

I’ve been published quite a lot over the years. It’s just that most of those were not paying markets. I just haven’t connect with the agent or publisher who thinks my novel is the bee’s knees yet. Yet. It will happen. And if it doesn’t happen with the novel I’m querying now, it will happen with one of the others.

I persist in hope and continue to revise.

And, I continue to learn. I’m a bit of a learning mutt that way 😉

Muse-inks

Bonus content: Series discoveries Fall 2015 con’t

There were only two series that I didn’t get around to reviewing before CanCon and NaNoWriMo monopolized my time in the fall. I’ll try not to be spoilery.

Supergirl

This is another entry in the DC Comics universe, or should I say universes.

Supergirl started out sunny and entered some darker territory toward the end of the season. On the spectrum, it’s between The Flash and Arrow, but, as The Flash has also started treading dark waters, I guess Kara Danvers is closer to Barry Allan than Oliver Queen.

There’s an almost cloying sense of hope in the series, though, that keeps it from being compelling for me. If I miss an episode, I’m not distressed.

I like the character of Cat Grant, who can be surprisingly inspirational. I also appreciate Kara’s adoptive sister, Alex (so nice to see Lexie Grey back on screen), who works for the DEO, a government agency dedicated to defending earth from alien threats. Kick ass, but real, women characters are something I like in a show.

Bringing Dean Cain (the Superman of Lois & Clark) in as Alex’s father was a fun and smart bit of homage.

Sadly, some of the other elements of the show are lacking. The love triangle (no, quadrangle, no, sorry quintangle) is a bit trite and while I believe Kara’s crush on James Olsen, I never quite bought into James and Lucy Lane, Winn and either Kara or Siobhan. Oh, and I forgot the brief flirtation between Kara and Cat Grant’s son, Adam. Man, it’s a soap opera (!)

Hank Henshaw/J’onn J’onzz is underwhelming. My Martian Manhunter is so much more awesome.

Astra/Non have been weak sauce as Kara’s enemies. Maxwell is a bit better, but still one dimensional.

So it’s a solid meh. My apologies.

Grimm

Things took a left turn last season. Sure, Nick and Juliette’s relationship wasn’t going anywhere, so they had to do something. Her transformation into a Hexenbeist was actually a good thing.

Until it wasn’t.

Juliette’s abrupt departure from sanity and eventual (and apparent) death at the hands of Trubel (the other Grimm) felt more of a convenience than true plot development.

The big question for Nick last season was how he, a Grimm sworn to protect humanity from the evil wessen that roam the world, could live with and love a Hexenbeist, the wessen that is the basis of all wicked witches, ever.

So what do they do this season? They pair Nick with Adalind Schade, a Hexenbeist whose wessen aspect has been temporarily suppressed by Rosalee’s folk cure (herb craft).

Yes, Adalind is the mother of Nick’s child (conceived in a convoluted magical plot that resulted in Juliette’s transformation into a Hexenbeist in the first place), but things progressed quickly from “I have to protect my child and therefore the woman who gave birth to him,” to “I’m having sex with the mother of my child while he cries in the other room.”

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Worse, Juliette returns, somehow deprogrammed, as Eve, who is more Terminator than either human or Hexenbeist.

While the Black Claw plot line holds promise, things aren’t happening fast enough as the writers insist on offering a monster of the week for Nick and his fellow detective, Hank, to fight. Even a trip to the Black Forest and the recovery of an ancient Grimm artefact haven’t saved the show for me.

There are too many moving parts, too many players, to discern the true core story arc.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Grimm doesn’t return next year.

So that’s what I thought of the final two shows I chose to watch in the fall 2015 television season.

The next chapter: March 2016 update

In my 2015 year-end update, I said that 2016 would be the year of revision. To this point, I’d only ever revised the one novel, Initiate of Stone. I revised IoS eight times and I recently got a few ideas on how to improve it further as a result of my first run through of Apprentice of Wind.

In the first few days of March, I finished that first review of AoW. I’m going to return to it again, but this time, as I mentioned last month, I’m going to apply what I hope to be improvements to IoS and then move on to AoW.

My idea is to reinforce my voice over the two novels, which is quite different to the other novels I’ve drafted so far. Most of those are in a modern setting. Urban fantasy of various stripes. Though I’ve worked with IoS for so long, when it came to reviewing AoW, because I’d drafted the five other novels in between, I found I’d lost touch with the voice of the series and its characters.

We’ll see how that turns out, later in the year (I hope).

YTDProgress

Year Goals and Totals page

The current draft of AoW stands at 119,590 words. So 120K, which is reasonable for an epic fantasy.

I then moved onto Figments, my YA urban fantasy. It’s considerably shorter, nineteen chapters, and 53,536 words. I know I’ll have to punch that up a bit, but I have a number of ideas to make that happen.

Both of these novels were drafted, let to sit, printed out, read through, mapped, let to sit again, read through again, and then reviewed. I just changed some of the major things, POV, character deletion, consistency over the novels (in the case of AoW), and notes for future revision.

I don’t think I’ll need as many drafts of either AoW or Figments as I needed with IoS to finish them to my satisfaction.

I’m trying something different with Marushka, which I moved on to in the last few days of March.

My revision plan so far has been to review a chapter a day, which was challenging for AoW and Figments, because a number of the chapters of both were several thousand words long. I often found myself up until midnight on a weekday trying to get my work finished before I went to bed.

Marushka was the first novel I drafted using Scrivener and it really changed the way I drafted. The chapters are comparatively tiny (1000 to 1500 words so far) but there are a lot more of them (54).

I didn’t print Marushka out. I didn’t read it through or map it. As I review each chapter, I’m reading it through for the first time and mapping it as I go.

We’ll see if this is more or less productive than printing the draft out, and reading and mapping it out prior to my first run through.

I’m approaching this year of revision as an opportunity to experiment. My process is in continual evolution and, as I learn, from both success and failure, I’m seeing improvement in my process and in my writing overall.

I’m not looking for short cuts as much as efficiencies. I’m not doing any less work, I’m just doing it differently.

Again, we’ll see how it goes.

So here’s how the month breaks down.

MarchProgress

MarchProgress1

Want your own Writing and Revision Tracker? Visit http://jamieraintree.com/writing-revision-tracker

  • AoW – 7,334 words revised
  • Figments – 53,536 words revised
  • Marushka – 4,737 words revised
  • Blog – 8,436 words written.

I achieved 141% of my writing goal and 177% of my revision goal.

At this rate, I’ll finish the first run through on Marushka part way through May and move onto Reality Bomb and finally, Gerod and the Lions. Once I’ve got everything reviewed once, I’m going to take a break (which I tend to need in the summer months) and work on my outline for Mistress of Waves, the third book in my Ascension series and NaNo 2016 project 🙂

Then I’ll get back to deeper revisions until November arrives. I may not be able to conquer more than IoS/AoW. Maybe I make it as far as Figments.

Querying continues. I’ve not devoted much time to short fiction recently, though.

As far as conferences and conventions, I’m hitting Ad Astra (April 29-May 1), The Canadian Writers’ Summit (June 15-19, though I’ll only be attending June 17-19), and WorldCon, AKA MidAmericon II (August 17-21). I have paid my fees and reserved accommodation, but it’s all pending leave approval.

I’m holding my breath until I know it’s approved. Once it is, I’ll be able to book my flight to Kansas City.

My employer asks us to apply for leave every six months. We apply in March for the first half of the fiscal year, April to September, and in September for October through March. Approval is subject to seniority and operational demands (peak seasons).

I should know whether this first round of leave requests has been approved by the end of April.

My plans for fall and winter will have to wait on the approval of the second round of leave in October.

I’ll save those potential plans for a later update.

For the remainder of this month, I’ll be offering some Series discoveries posts (fall season, part two, mid-season follies, and anime) and at least one book review (Jane Ann McLachlan’s second Kia novel, The Salarian Desert Game).

As of Ad Astra, the convention reportage will resume.

So there’s lots of Writerly Goodness to look forward to, and of course, Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday curations will continue through the week.

In the meantime, break a bunch of pencils, you wonderful, creative people.

The Next Chapter

Ad Astra 2015 day 3: Making a living isn’t just for the cream of the crop anymore

Here we are, finally, on day 3!

Saturday evening, I attended the Edge book launch event for Jane Ann McLachlan and Aviva Bel’Harold and then on Sunday morning, I got to sit between Charles de Lint (eeeee!) and then president of SF Canada, Peter Halasz at the Guest of Honour Brunch.

EDGE Launch

Jane Ann McLachlan and Aviva Bel’Howard at the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy launch event

All that to say that there are only three sessions left to report on (including today’s). So we are almost at the end of Ad Astra 2015.

Also, as we’ve hit a new day, I thought it might be handy to reiterate my disclaimer:

These posts are composed of my notes. Often, because of the scheduling, I enter sessions after they’re already in progress. I write by hand, so as I’m writing what I believe to be a salient point, I may miss the next one. I do my best to catch as much as I can, but things will be missed. Also, if, in my haste I recorded something incorrectly, please don’t be shy about coming forward and letting me know. I will correct all errors post-hasty once informed of them.

Panellists: Gail Z. Martin and Mary MacVoy

GZM: Publishers pay twice per year. You have no idea what your royalties might be. When sales trickle off, multiple streams of income is a wise approach.

MM: Multiple streams on income could include traditional publishing, epublishing or self-publishing, Wattpad, crowd funding, Patreon, etc. You have to educate yourself on how each potential stream works.

GZM: Athena’s Daughters was the most successful literary Kickstarter at the time. Be aware, though, that 75% of all literary Kickstarters fail.

Q: How do you grow your following?

GZM: Your current discoverability/sales for your current work will be based on how successful your last novel was. Crowd funding is a way to identify your audience/readers before you have a project out. Kickstarter will not allow charities anymore. Indie-gogo will, however. Go fund me and Patreon might be options, too.

MM: Crowd funding is just one element of building your audience.

GZM: Do you have a newsletter? Do you have YouTube videos? Do you podcast? Can you teach a class? Building an audience is largely about what you can offer.

Q: What advice do you have about working with small or indie publishers?

MM: It’s an option to explore. Some small publishers have excellent marketing and PR packages. Confidence is key when approaching a small publisher.

GZM: Different streams will compensate for each other.

MM: People are looking for an experience. Make sure your audience leaves with a piece of you. Check out the rules of your various social media periodically. They change and you don’t want to run afoul.

GZM: Facebook and Twitter are essentials. Talk about what you’re doing. Build relationships. Don’t spam.

And we got the nod that it was time to clear out for the next panel.

Next week: Fairy tales!

Have an awesome weekend and we’ll catch up with you on Tipsday.

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, July 5-11, 2015

Okay. Several instances of trolling and cyberbullying against writers have come to the fore in recent weeks. Here are a few posts that seek to address the issue.

Anne R. Allen outlines the issues and offers some strategies you can use to avoid or address them without becoming a target.

Chuck Wendig posted Online is IRL (in response to the #AskELJames fiasco), and then, after a narsty Twitter attack, posted In which I learn to talk less and listen more.

This made Porter Anderson’s radar and he posted this analysis of the fallout.

In other, related news, there were discussions across Facebook and Google+ regarding the above (Delilah S. Dawson was caught in the fracas), and about a libellous review posted for Roz Morris. If it had merely been a poor review, meh. This review, however, accused Roz of plagiarism. How do you respond to these kinds of accusations without chumming the waters? We really have to learn to be kinder to one another online.

Agent Sarah Negovetich offered these thoughts on safely navigating social media.


Unit sales (of print books) inched up in the first half of 2015. Publishers Weekly.

Elending won’t put a big dent in books sales. The Guardian.

Court denies class action in Author Solutions case. Publishers Weekly.

Jane Friedman explains the profit and loss statement and how publishers use it to make purchasing decisions.


What happens if your story stakes aren’t high enough? K.M. Weiland answers in part 42 of her Most Common Writing Mistakes series.

Katie looked at Jurassic Park as an example of how to compound your conflict in your story. Think perfect storm 🙂

E.C. Ambrose offered these nine ways to use point of view to strengthen your characters. Helping Writers Become Authors.

Chris Winkle writes another great post for Mythcreants: Why social justice is intrinsic to storytelling.

Roz Morris writes about the importance of names. I love names, too.

Agent Carly Watters lists seven things that writers should stop wasting their time on.

Sarah Callender explores the practice of success for Writer Unboxed.

Anna Lovind writes about finding true support on your writing journey. Scoutiegirl.

Are we pandering to, or presuming, short attention spans? Publishers Weekly.

Grammarly presents eleven untranslatable words from other cultures and eleven words for the self-proclaimed smarty-pants.

Jane Ann McLachlan wrote this article on ethics and science fiction for SF Signal.

You should know about the Fermi Paradox before you read The Dark Forest. Chris Lough for Tor.com.

Ten things you may not know about Pride and Prejudice. Mental Floss.

BuzzFeed lists 35 Canadian bookstores you need to visit.

Check out the Con Man trailer. Entertainment Weekly.

A first look at the new MTV series, The Shannara Chronicles:

Here’s some news from the Doctor Who panel at Comic Con. i09.

Also at Comic Con, Joss Whedon expounds on the meaning of life and more. i09.

True Detective teaches how NOT to write dialogue. Electric Lit.

Y’all come back on Thoughty Thursday, now, ya hear?

Tipsday

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Canadian young adult literature

Panellists: Amanda Sun, E.K. Johnston, Monica Pacheco, Jane Ann McLachlan

Canadian YA panel

MP: What makes a YA novel Canadian?

JAM: Weather. We have a unique obsession with seasons, weather, and winter.

MP: Setting. American cities are the default for most YA authors.

EKJ: The Story of Owen is set in my home town. When I go to read at local schools, the kids are always excited: “Hey! That’s my street!”

MP: There’s a trend for setting becoming a character in its own right.

AS: Can lit is starting to embrace the speculative.

EKJ: We have horror to thank for that.

MP: For me, it always comes down to the writing and the voice.

JAM: There’s a difference in dystopian, too. Americans don’t trust their government as much as we do. It’s a central theme. Canadians are different. Our dystopias are often ecological disasters.

EKJ: One review of The Story of Owen said, “This is a poorly written dystopia.” It’s not a dystopia!

JAM: Even people on the right are left-leaning in Canada. How do we sell to American readers?

EKJ: I actively don’t care. Readers are looking for interesting and different books.

AS: My editor is American. He’s the gatekeeper. What’s March Break? What’s icing sugar (it’s powdered sugar in the States)? You wrote “in hospital.” Did you mean in THE hospital? Are you done work, or done working?

EKJ: I reclaimed Canadian spelling in subsequent printings of my book. It was a victory.

AS: I write in Canadian English.

JAM: I edit to American spelling but I’m afraid we’re going to lose Canadian spelling if all our young people are reading American English. I feel like I’m contributing to the delinquency of our youth.

Q: What’s your opinion of the renaming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone in the States?

[There was a brief discussion of how Scholastic made the decision to rename the book in America and how this translated into the movies. Was it a “dumbing down”? No, just a matter of wording, like icing sugar vs. powdered sugar.]

MP: Both authors and editors expect advocacy. There’s more acceptance of diversity now.

EKJ: Maureen Johnston is an American author, but she wrote an amazing book that is British in every way: setting, weather, politics, and language.

JAM: That’s another thing that distinguishes Canadian YA: our sense of humour and multiculturalism. Canada is a mosaic and America is a melting pot.

EKJ: I have friends in the leadership of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It’s a slow burn.

AS: We don’t understand how divisive race is in America (or other countries).

Q: What about the “white washing” of diverse characters (the character is one of colour, but the cover image shows a white character)?

EKJ: It happened to Beth Revis. In Across the Universe, the male love interest is black. The actor in the movie is white.

AS: I wanted my novel’s Asian love interest on the cover and was nervous, but the publisher agreed. Julie Kagawa’s Clockwork Prince features an Asian on the cover. The cover for Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is culturally appropriate.

EKJ: YS Lee’s Agency series is another example.

MP: I have noticed some of this, but I’ve seen more graphic covers that don’t feature a person at all. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, though.

JAM: What about the humour aspect? Canadian humour is self-deprecating.

And that was time.

Next week: We’ll be cutting contracts 🙂

On deck (today): The next chapter June update and a Caturday quickie pupdate.

Crafting the contemporary genre novel with Jane Ann McLachlan

It’s been a busy weekend for Jane Ann.

After a reading and book signing in southern Ontario Friday night, Jane Ann drove up to Sudbury for a book signing at Chapters.

I went out to visit her, say hi, and meet her daughter, Amanda.

Attracting a new reader

Of course, I have to buy some books as well <chagrin face>.

Jane Ann did well signing and selling 11 copies of The Occasional Diamond Thief, and practicing her schmooze 🙂

Today, she delivered a workshop on crafting the contemporary genre novel.

She started off with some resources.

Her top five blogs for writers:

Her top five writing craft books:

Her top five pieces of advice for beginning writers:

  1. Try writing poetry as well as prose,
  2. Read across genres and analyse what you read (the same goes for movies),
  3. Learn grammar and spelling; these are the tools of your trade,
  4. Join a critique group, and
  5. Think beyond the cliché.

Then, she asked us to provide the top five elements of a good story:

  • Conflict
  • Character
  • Goals
  • Stakes
  • Difficult obstacles

Then, Jane Ann discussed the story idea, which must contain,

  1. a universal theme
  2. an inherent conflict
  3. a perennial premise, which you have twisted to make it unique to your story
  4. gut-level emotional appeal

It should be stated in the following form: What if (protagonist) in (setting/situation) had (problem)?

The discussion progressed to world building and the inevitable research that must take place to make the story world believable, even if the setting is contemporary.

The caveat is that, having done all this research, the writer must then resist the temptation to display all this knowledge in the text of the novel. It’s called info-dumping.

Every story has to have compelling characters who have strong, clear wants and desires. We did another writing exercise, in which we defined our protagonists. Jane Ann advised that this process should be repeated with each of the main characters in the novel, including the antagonist.

We then looked at point of view (POV) and tense, and the considerations writers need to take into account when deciding whether their stories should be told in first person, present tense, as many young adult novels are written, or in deep third person, past, as many adult novels are written.

There was another exercise in identifying lapses in POV that was quite interesting.

Finally, Jane Ann shared with us her outline for novel writing, as well as a couple of other templates that could be used. She confessed to being on the pantsing side of writing, but that she’s never started writing a novel unless she had a clear idea of what the main plot points were.

At the workshop

Then, there was a drawing for two bottles of The Occasional Diamond Thief wine, books were bought, and a brief Q&A ensued where other issues were discussed as time allowed.

Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in the activities and making notes . . . I forgot to take more pictures 😦

Overall, it was a great afternoon, but I think Jane Ann will be happy to get home and put her feet up 🙂 She’s one busy writer, promoting the heck out of her novel.