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

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Ad Astra 2016, day 2: How to get an agent

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

Panellists: Amanda Sun, Mary Fan, Gerald Brandt, Matt Bin

HowToGetAnAgentPanel

AS: Online resources that can help you get an agent: #MSWL, Miss Snark, Query Shark, Guide to Literary Agents blog.

MB: #MSWL is critical these days.

GB: You have to do the research.

MF: There are writers who get an agent and their first novel fails to sell, their second novel fails to sell, but then their third sells big.

MB: The agent has to love your book.

GB: If your query doesn’t match their submission guidelines, it will be rejected.

AS: I used to be an acquiring editor for Room. If a submission didn’t meet the submission requirements, I’d never see it. It would go straight to the spam folder.

Q: How formal does your query have to be? I write YA.

GB: You have to be professional up front. Your second paragraph, where you’re pitching the novel has to have the flavour of your book, but it’s a sales pitch.

MB: The agent wants to understand how your book works and why it will appeal to readers.

MF: 250 words is a good goal length for your query.

Q: At what point do you look for an agent?

GB: As soon as you have a book that’s finished and ready to go out into the world.

MB: Query agents first. If you submit to publishers, agents will have their sales channels limited. Remember, it’s your agent’s job to sell your book to publishers.

GB: Take advantage of pitch sessions at conferences and conventions.

AS: And work on your next book.

GB: The agent is in it with you for the life of your career.

Q: So querying an agent first is better? Is that because editor A might love you book and editor B might hate it?

GB: At Penguin Random House, if one editor rejects the book, all of them do.

MF: That can happen at agencies, too. Agents can move around, too.

Q: What happens when your agent leaves the agency?

GB: In my experience, I was given the option to follow the agent or stay with the agency.

MB: When agents send your novel to publishers, they do so with a different perspective.

MF: I know a writer whose agent is all business. Some agents will want to help edit or develop the work prior to submission to publishers.

MB: Look at the agent’s reputation before you sign with them. You have to be able to work with them.

GB: When an agent is interested in your work, the tables turn.

MF: When you get an offer, don’t be afraid to ask for references.

AS: Don’t be too eager. You don’t have to back down 100% of the time. It’s a partnership.

MF: There are some Schmagents who aren’t legitimate. There should be no reading fee.

GB: The money should flow to the author. Check out Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors.

MB: Querying is the traditional road. Networking at conferences and conventions can help.

GB: But don’t be stalkery. Have your elevator pitch ready, just in case.

AS: Don’t burn your bridges. Publishing is a surprisingly small world.

MF: Maybe we should talk about the structure of a query? It’s three paragraphs. Introduce yourself and your book. The second paragraph is your pitch. Then the third paragraph is about you and your qualifications.

GB: List publication credits if you have any, memberships in any writing organizations. Make sure you look serious.

AS: Your introductory paragraph should focus on the reasons you’re querying this particular agent. Have you met at a con? Do you write books in the same genre as other authors they represent?

Q: Do you use Canadian, or US spelling?

GB: Everything should be in US spelling.

MF: Your comps (comparative novels) should be published in the last three years.

AS: X meets Y is a popular formula to use. Agents can use it to pitch to publishers.

MB: We should also mention online pitch contests like #PitMad. Look them up. Most of them are on Twitter and you have a limited time to pitch directly to agents. Use the hashtag. If an agent likes your 140 character pitch, they’ll respond to you. The rules are all online.

Q: How long should my book be?

MF: It really depends on your genre and category. There are a lot of resources for this online.

Q: Should you query to an agent if you mostly write short fiction?

AS: You can do that without an agent and, in fact, most agents won’t represent short fiction, even for authors they represent for novels.

GB: Collections of short stories are a hard sell.

And that was time.

Next weekend, it will once more be time for a next chapter update (already?).

Be good and write well!

Ad Astra 2016, day 1: Do’s and don’ts of writing erotica

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

Panellists: Sèphera Girón, J.M. Frey, Matt Bin

JMF: How did you get into writing erotica?

MB: I just wanted to try it out because a friend said that I could make some money writing erotica while I got my other work into shape. I posted short stories on Amazon. I didn’t do any promotion, but I got some sales.

SG: I wanted to send a story to Penthouse letters about giving my boyfriend a blow job, but I didn’t go through with it at my boyfriend’s insistence. Laurie Perkins, an agent and publisher, was asked to bid on a Kama Sutra project. I did not get the contract for that. They wanted to make it into Kama Sutra flash cards, though. I was brought in to help pose the models because the publisher wouldn’t. They were afraid to make a mistake/be accused of harassment. I got a flat rate for that even though the book has been printed in two editions and the cards sell consistently.

JMF: I entered into erotica through fan fiction (1991-1995). I was always interested in the sexuality of characters. I was called by the editor of an anthology—we don’t have enough good porn. My story ended up headlining the anthology. I got another call—I have this gap in my anthology. I don’t have any  . . . alien porn. So I write the story to fill the gap. J.M. Frey can’t be writing erotica, though. I have a YA steam punk novel coming out. So I write erotica under Peggy Barnet. Now the rights for most of those stories have returned to me and I’m putting together an anthology. I’ve also written an erotica novel. Kindle is the place to sell erotica. Exclusive (through KDP Select) makes sense for erotica.

Q: How much should you reveal? How explicit should you get?

JMF: It depends on the character and the story. My alien erotica isn’t explicit. I have a medieval fantasy erotica and the euphemisms are appropriate to the genre. Even in erotica, you have to think about why you’re writing the scene. Are you furthering the plot or revealing character?

SG: I have an astrology-based series. Readers complain that there’s too little sex, and other readers complain that there’s too much. You can’t please everybody.

MB: I’m working in a different arena. I short pieces, two thirds of the story is set up and one third is hard core sex. Do you use penis/vagina or purple helmet/blooming flower? There are only so many ways you can refer to genitalia. Approach the sex from a sensual or emotional perspective. Get into the sensations. How are the characters feeling?

JMF: That’s how you write good erotica. You engage the reader. In The Order of the Phoenix, who didn’t weep when Sirius Black died?

Q: What’s selling the best?

SG: I’ll answer the question I thought you were asking. Before ebooks, it used to be really hard to be an erotica writer in Canada.

JMF: Harlequin has gay and lesbian lines. Fanfic feeds into erotica. People write to fill a void. I’m not interested in writing vanilla boning.

MB: It tends to be the edge fetishes that sell the best. Vampires used to be big. Then, using the word Billionaire in the title was big. Every once in a while Amazon wipes out what it thinks is too taboo.

JMF: It’s hard to make a kink that’s not yours attractive to the reader, though.

MB: Military-based homosexual erotica (army, navy, etc.) and sports homosexual erotica are really hot now.

JMF: If a reader is into something, they’ll buy all of it. You have to remember this with your marketing. My tagline for Peggy Barnet is: tickles your nethers without leaving your brain behind. I write think pieces that are smexy.

MB: Reader in the genre. See what’s out there.

JMF: Ask yourself why you want to write in the genre?

Q: What’s the limit for sex in non-erotica?

JMF: It’s whatever your publisher will tolerate.

SG: I got a Vivid Video contract. I was told to write anything I wanted. I wrote erotic horror. I asked the president of Vivid if anything was off the table and she said, anything but black guys. Savannah doesn’t touch black guys. I was like, there are rules?

JMF: With respect to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I loved the first three novels. Now, the sex feels self-indulgent. Yes, everybody loves Jamie. Go as far as you want to. If you’re comfortable with your drunk uncle reading it to your grandmother at a family gathering, go for it. My parents have a brag shelf and all my erotica is on it.

Q: Do you get sex writer’s block?

SG: Yes. Sometimes it gets boring.

JMF: I go to the deepest, darkest parts of the internet.

MB: Burnout is a real thing. The motivation of the character is what engages the reader. The trouble is forcing it.

And that was time.

Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend.

See you Tipsday!

CanWrite! 2013: Gala and wrap post

Before I begin, I’ll apologize for the apparently drunken photo-taking.  I’m still getting used to the camera in my Galaxy Note II 😛

On Saturday evening (June 15), conference attendees were shuttled out to the Best Western conference centre for out Gala event and announcing of the winners of the CAA literary awards.

Gathering for the Gala

Gathering for the Gala

Our master of ceremonies for the evening was Bruce Pirrie, Second City alumnus and writer for the Red Green Show.

The evening’s events picked up after dinner with an introductory monologue from Bruce about the dubious joys of being a comedy writer.

Then Charles Foran took the podium with an impassioned plea from PEN Canada.  While the organization is best known for its work overseas on behalf of writers and free speech (a current campaign focuses on the events in Turkey), PEN Canada has noticed a disturbing trend here in Canada with the censorship of Canadian scientists and the digital freedom controversy.

Charles Foran

Charles Foran

PEN needs writers everywhere to stand up for the right to free speech and fight the oppression of censorship.  To this end, they are conducting a membership drive until the end of June.  Please consider joining this worthy organization.

Andrew Westoll

Andrew Westoll

Matt Bin

Matt Bin

Next was Andrew Westoll, Author of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary.  Andrew presented the stories of three of the Fauna chimps, their individual struggles, and the rewards their caregivers reap.  It was an amazingly touching presentation.

Then, President Matthew Bin introduced the CAA literary awards.  Originally started in 1937, the awards were the “for authors, by authors” recognition of excellence in Canadian literature.  They became the Governor General’s Awards and administration of them assumed by the Canada Council for the Arts.  More recently, in 1975, the Canadian Authors Association has once again started their awards program.

Here is the list of the winners.

It was a fabulous evening and I was inspired by having been a part of it.

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The rest of the story

I have been a professional member of the CAA since I joined a few years ago.  As such, I have voting privileges at the annual general meeting.  Two years ago, I expressed interest in taking part in the program committee.

This year, I was invited to join it.

The program committee has a fairly sweeping mandate, including the CAA literary awards and the annual conference.  Also on the list of responsibilities are professional development programs (where my greatest interest is), the roving writers program, editor-in-residence program, members’ book catalogue, and contests.  I’m a little daunted but I have great fellow committee members and a great chair to work with.  Our role is primarily to set policy and make key decisions.  We won’t be doing the leg work, but I can see some of that happening.

There are exciting times ahead for the CAA as it also embarks of a “twig” program and membership drive.

The web site is also undergoing a long-overdue revamp and should be far more oriented to service to the CAA’s membership.

I’ve made some writerly connections: Sharif Khan, author of The Psychology of the Hero Soul, John McDonell, and Vikki Vansickle.  I reconnected with some old friends too: Sandra Stewart attended for the weekend only, as did Betty Guenette, another member of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.  I reconnected with Sue Reynolds and James Dewar (one of my fellow program committee members), who I’d last seen at the Algonkian conference in the fall.  I met a lot of authors, and bought a lot of books (!)

It was a wonderful experience.  I just wish items like Hermione Granger’s Time Turner actually existed, so I could see and experience everything 😉

Coming up: I’ll be returning to my weekends-only schedule, starting with some long-overdue book reviews.

CanWrite! 2013: The arrival

Though events and sessions weren’t scheduled to get under way until June 13, strictly speaking, I’m pretty keen to show up and get ready.  I need a little time to rev up and get in the social way of things.  Any conference is pretty much a social marathon for however many days it lasts.  I have to work up to it.

My home for the week

My home for the week

Orillia is a little over three hours away from Sudbury.  I took the full day off on the 12th and relaxed for the morning, picked up my rental car, packed, and got underway just shy of 2 pm.

CanWrite! was hosted this year, as last, by the Orillia campus of Lakehead University.  It is a small campus, but it is a fairly recent construction.  I checked in, unpacked, and collapsed for a few minutes before heading out to my fend-for-yourself supper, returning in time to attend the welcome reception.

At the reception, I reconnected with some old acquaintances and made some new ones.  Among the old were Jake Hogeterp, who heads the virtual branch, Matt Bin, the prez, poet-on-demand, Jean Kay, Lamont Mackay of The Cooking Ladies, and Anita Purcell, our tireless Jacqueline-of-all-trades.  Among the new, Jennie Chabon and Kathleen Schmitt from BC and John McDonell from Nova Scotia.

Though I thought I was heading back to my room early, it was after ten by the time I made it up, and nearly midnight by the time I’d checked my precious social media (SoMe) and powered down for the evening.

The creative writing circles

Each morning of the first three days started off after breakfast with writing circles.  Either poetry or creative writing could be chosen.  Of course, I went for the creative writing.

The first morning, Ruth Walker led the session.  The second and third days were led by Sue Reynolds.

I’m not going to go into detail about these sessions, as the writing done is always intensely personal, but great material was produced all three days by all the participants.

I got some work done on some missing pieces of Initiate of Stone while I was there and that, along with some bits that might produce good stories, made the circles worthwhile for me.

Ruth was new to me, but I’d met Sue before.  I went to the University of Guelph with her sister, Sandy, and then I met her and her partner James last year at the Algonkian conference.

Other bits and pieces

Initially, I was a little concerned.  I could find no information on the Lakehead U site that would tell me what kind of internet would be available.  I’d hoped to try Tweeting some of the sessions.

When I checked in, I was advised that wifi was limited to the common areas of the residence building and required a password, but that I would be able to “plug in” up in my room.

In my room, I looked for a network cable, but couldn’t find one.  It took the kindness of Jean Kay to reveal the secret: the cable was coiled up and tucked into the base of the telephone.

So one problem solved, but the next day, when I attended the first panel discussion, I discovered that there was no signal in the academic building at all.  Bummer.

The food proved very good and was one of the consistent positives of the conference.

The rooms were nice, but the beds were a little harder than was comfortable.  Such is residence life.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin to document the panels and sessions for you.

Until then *waves*