Join me at DIY MFA for my latest Speculations

This time, on Speculations, I’m sharing five of my favourite Indigenous SFF authors.

It’s time to decolonize your reading, y’all!

While you’re there, check out some of the great resources Gabriela has, the other awesome columnists, and the Writer Igniter SFF Summit–it’s free!

Until next time, bl and stay safe, my writerly friends!

NaNoWriMo 2020, week 3 update

Just a quick update this week, though it has been a momentous week.

Mom was released Monday evening. Though we were a bit surprised, we figured the hospital didn’t want her staying longer than necessary, because covid. Phil and I have been taking care of her (mostly Phil as I’m still working during the week) and Mom has graduated to soft foods. All is going well.

As of November 20th, right on schedule (according to the NaNo site), I “won” NaNoWriMo. That is, I edited just over 50k words. I’ve now cut 12,627 words from the draft. I have eight chapters left and don’t think I’ll meet the goal of cutting 30k this time around. Maybe I’ll make 20k, but not 30k.

I’ve revised 58,244 words in November. I had revised 24,714 words at the end of October. I’ll keep going until I’m finished with the draft.

Fortunately, I have until Dec 25 (yeah, yeah—I’ll be giving my critique group a Christmas gift) to give the draft another sweep and cut those extra words. I think I’ve got the story structure in good shape, though. I’ll have to parse the draft at the end of the month to say for sure (are the plot points coming at the right percentages of the draft?).

So that’s my progress this week.

Until next week, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

NaNoWriMo 2020, week 2 update

I’m late with this update (duh). For reasons.

Last Monday afternoon, my mom got sick. On Wednesday, she asked Phil to take her into emergency. Neither of us could accompany her because covid. That evening, we finally heard from the hospital. Mom was in recovery. Unfortunately, she wasn’t settled in a room until after visiting hours were over.

I didn’t find out the details about her surgery until the following day when I was screened in as her “health partner” or designated caregiver. Thank goodness my employer offers family-related leave.

Mom was discharged yesterday evening. It felt like it was a little early, but they didn’t want to keep her longer than necessary, again, because covid. Phil went to pick her up and we got her home and settled, changed her bed and got her into it, and then Phil ran around to get her prescriptions filled and the clear fluids she’ll be on for the next week or so.

Understandably, I didn’t have time to put this update together until today.

I continued to edit Reality Bomb though there were a couple low-count days (right around when Mom was admitted to the hospital, wouldn’t you know), but I kept at it, as was able.

As of yesterday, I have revised 36,746 words and I’ve taken the original draft of 120,071 words down to 110,753. So far, I’ve cut 9,318 words off the draft. NaNoWriMo predicts that I will reach my goal of 50,000 words edited by November 22. I’m at chapter 24 of 38.

I’m thinking that I might manage another four or five thousand words cut by the time I reach the last chapter. I’ll take another run at it in the time I have remaining in the month and see what additional damage I can do.

And that was my eventful week!

Until next week, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

NaNoWriMo 2020, week 1 update

Here we are, my writerly friends. It’s November 8th, week one of NaNoWriMo is over, and Joe Biden is the president-elect. Kamala Harris is the first woman of colour to be elected vice president. The world breathes a sigh of relief … and then one of exasperation as the big, orange baby continues to insist that he “won by a lot.” In the words of the late, great Stan Lee, ‘nuff said.

Week one was a good one for me. I’ve cut almost 4,000 words off my draft, rewritten significant portions of text, but it still feels like I’m cheating when I put the word count of the chapter I’ve just revised into my spreadsheet and into the NaNo site.

I’ve declared myself a rebel. I’m not drafting this year. I’m editing. The point is to get some work done. And work is getting done. I’ve edited 19, 851 words this week. By NaNo stats reckoning, I’ll be done by November 20th. I’ll probably loop around again, though, just to make sure I’ve got the draft as “right” as I can make it at this point.

And then it’s off to the critique group for review and I move on to another project. 2020 has been so messed up, I’m not sure what that will be at this point. I had wanted to go back and rewrite/revise Marushka this year, but the Ascension series is always sitting at the back of my mind. And MageBlood. And Gerod and the Lions. And the half a dozen other ideas that have sprouted up over the years. Projects aren’t the problem. It’s the choosing that’s hard.

I just have to figure out where my energy is best used and go there.

I hope you’re all experiencing success, however you’ve chosen to define it. Every word’s a victory.

Until next week, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The next chapter: October 2020 update

October has ended. NaNoWriMo has begun. This year has been temporally bizarre. Covid time moves both slower and faster than normal time. Months have passed at a snail’s pace, and then I blink and the next month is gone.

Black and Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous lives matter. Marcellis Stinnette and Jonathan Price were killed by police in October. The RCMP has refused to protect Mi’kmaw fishers and their rights.

I’m so afraid for what will happen, not just in the US, but also to countries and economies all over the world if Trump gets in for a second term. Not a little of my anxiety these days is due to this election.

Pandemic Life

Worldwide, we’re in the second wave. Numbers of infections are exceeding those seen in the spring in many countries are increasing restrictions. While I understand that people are tired, if we don’t recommit to reasonable restrictions like wearing masks in public, maintaining physical distance, washing your hands, and getting your flu shot, governments will have no choice but to implement lockdowns again.

It’s not about inconveniencing you. It’s not about violating your civil liberties. It’s about protecting other people. It’s about preventing the spread of disease.

Do your part.

The month in writing

Having finally finished my rewrite of Reality Bomb in September, I’d hoped to map things out and revise by the end of October. Once again, my ambitions exceeded my capabilities.

I didn’t finish mapping the story until October 20th. When I got to work on revisions, it wasn’t too bad. With eleven days left on the month, I set the goal of revising 30,000 words. I managed 24,714 words, or 82%. I’ve not just been cutting words, I’ve been rewriting whole sections again, so this is not bad. This is also the first month I’ve posted substantial revision numbers all year.

For NaNoWriMo this year, I’m doing the rebel thing again and I’m hoping to revise the remaining 60,000 (and a bit) words. I’ve already cut over 2,000 words from the over 120,000-word draft. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to tighten everything up and end up with a 90,000-word story that I can present to my critique group. I’m sure there will be further revisions, but this is my short-term goal.

Thanks in part to these long monthly updates, I once again outstripped my blogging goal by 174%. I wrote 6,532 words of my 3,750-word goal.

I also drafted most of my next Speculation column for DIY MFA. I managed to write 840 word of my 1,000-word goal, or 84%.

Overall, I wrote 155% of my writing goal of 4,750 words.

Also, my poem “Visiting Endymion” was published in Polar Borealis 16.

Filling the well

My family did get together for a low-key Thanksgiving at my Mom’s. Even though there were just five of us, we had more than enough food to send everyone home with leftovers.

For my birthday, Phil ordered sushi, I had wine, and we watched a seasonally appropriate movie (more on that, below). I’m a level 51 human now. I still behave like I’m a kid 😛

Virtual event-wise, I started the month with the launch of Ariel Gordon’s Tree Talk on the 1st. On the second, I attended a Carl Brandon Society lecture by Desi authors called Our Literary Mothers.

On the 6th, I attended a talk with Waubgeshig Rice and Eden Robinson in anticipation of the CBC series Trickster, based on Robinson’s books. It’s awesome. You need to watch it. CBC Gem.

I signed up for a series of webinars from Free Expressions. So far, I’ve attended a couple of Donald Maass lectures/workshops, and a Lisa Cron presentation on story and the brain.

I also registered for Surry International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) online, which combined their usual weekend offering with the Writing Excuses virtual retreat. I have to admit that I hit peak zoom saturation on Saturday night, but the recorded sessions will be available for a month for registered attendees. I’ll catch up.

Almost full/blue/hunter’s moon

What I’ve been watching and reading

In the viewing category, the month started off on a lowish note.

We finished Wizards: Tales of Arcadia. It wasn’t as good as Three Below, but it was okay and a better interpretation of Arthurian legend than Cursed.

Season two of The New Legends of Monkey was fun, but dumb. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

We watched The Boys, season two, and it was awesome and bloody and surprising, but Lucy traumatized me.

Lovecraft Country blew my freaking mind. I’ve seen some less than stellar reviews, but Phil and I loved it.

Utopia was good as well. I enjoyed it more than Phil, but I think what got him was the lack of resolution. Every plot line ended on a cliffhanger. I’m more comfortable with this than Phil is.

We also watched two movies. The Old Guard was good, but fairly standard and somewhat predictable. Zombieland Double Tap was as delightful a romp as the first one.

Reading-wise, I finished Jade City by Fonda Lee. I’ve been diversifying my reading and quite enjoyed the Asian-based fantasy world. The characters were fabulous.

Then, I backfilled a gap with Sabriel by Garth Nix. I quite liked the world of the Abhorsen.

I consumed Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir’s follow up to Gideon the Ninth. I went in prepared for the second person narrative, the apparent retconning of many of the events of the first book, and the lack of Gideon’s exquisitely kiss-my-ass voice. There is a point to it. Trust me. The second novel is as much a mystery as the first and part of the delight is trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The pay off is worth it, though the ending still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Loved.

I also read K.M. Weiland’s Writing Your Story’s Theme. You may have noticed my book review 🙂 Yes, I’m A K.M. fangirl, but her analysis is on the mark and she has a way of making theme accessible to the reader without too much brain twisting.

I finished off the month with Alice Munro’s Runaway. There are only two standalone stories in this collection and the rest are linked in two groups. The title tale is chilling.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Just a reminder, I won’t be doing curation for most of the month of November. There is just one each of tipsday and thoughty Thursday, and then I’ll be devoting most of my time to RB revisions/NaNo. Of course, I hope to provide you with a weekly update on my revision progress.

Until tipsday, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The next chapter: September 2020 update

I blink, and it’s October.

Black and Indigenous lives matter

The good fight goes on despite losses. There was no justice for Breonna Taylor. Joyce Echaquan died after enduring racist abuse from the people who were supposed to be helping her. Two of the staff were fired, but it looks like there won’t be justice for Joyce Echaquan either.

On the positive side, Annamie Paul is the first Black leader of a Canadian political party. I’m watching with interest.

We have to keep educating ourselves (those of us who benefit from white privilege), listening, reading, promoting Black and Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs, and bringing issues affecting Black and Indigenous people to the fore. We need to do better.

Pandemic life

Ten months into this hellacious year and seven months into the pandemic. We’re firmly into the second wave in many areas of the province and country. Pre-reopening restrictions have been institutes again. We all have to do our part to protect each other.

Wear your masks, maintain physical distance, wash your hands, don’t go out unless you need to, and get your flu shots as soon as they’re available.

I’m just boggled that Trump decided to break quarantine to give his supporters a “gift.” What gift is that? The rona? I shake my head and wait to see what happens next.

Work wise, while front line workers have returned to the office (with appropriate protections), the rest of us are teleworking for the foreseeable. So, nothing new there. I’ve adapted to my new work laptop and the shelf Phil made for me to elevate my monitors over my laptop also provides additional storage space.

With respect to the assessment process I was involved in for the new job at work … the manager wanted to proceed with next steps in the informal process. If I was interested. To which I responded with a resounding “YES!” The potential start date has been pushed to November to accommodate any approvals that might need to be obtained. And then I was called for the interview in the formal process. Still nervous about it, but they did proceed to contact my references from there.

And now … we wait. Again. Did I mention these things tend to take a fair amount of time?

The month in writing

Please excuse the block caps, but I think some shouting is in order. THE NEVERENDING DRAFT FINALLY ENDED! Yes, I finished this iteration of Reality Bomb. It was basically 120k and I have to cut around 30k, but I’m optimistic. I’m currently mapping in anticipation of revising later this month.

So, 5,234 words, or 105% of my 5k-word goal.

I finished the short story I started last month and promptly submitted it. It was rejected and so will be added to my pile of revise and resubmit stories, but I feel that it was an accomplishment, nonetheless. Then, I started on another story, not expecting to finish it, let alone submit it, but I did both! I probably won’t hear from that submission process for a while yet. I’m just happy to have done it.

I also submitted a previously published story for consideration in a Canadian reprint special issue of a popular SFF magazine. I’ll definitely let you know if anything comes of that 🙂

2,489 word of short fiction in the month, or 124% of my 2k-word goal.

I blogged 6,815 words of my 3,750-word goal, or a whopping 182%. Whop.

Overall, I wrote 14,538 words. I’d aimed for 10,750 and surpassed my goals on all counts. 135% of my monthly writing goal ain’t bad.

In the poetry arena, “Fire and Ice,” one of the five poems accepted for publication in Polar Borealis was also selected for Stellar Evolutions, an anthology featuring the best of the first 15 issues of PB. The pieces for the anthology were selected by Rhea E. Rose of RainWood Press. Pre-orders start October 15th, and the anthology is officially out on October 31st—my birthday!

Isn’t the cover beautiful?

It’s nice to get some external validation again.

Filling the well

Over Labour Day long weekend, our small family gathered at my sister-in-law’s for what’s probably our last outdoor family gathering of the year (it’s too cold for the moms, now). Chicken wings on the barbeque and fresh-cut fries. The sandhill cranes (AKA dinos) were EVERYWHERE.

Later in the month, I went out with Torvi a couple of times for walks in the fields.

In September, I attended Jane Friedman’s workshop on Researching Agents and Publishers like a Pro, a Word on the Street event with Michael Christie (Greenwood), Kerri Sakamoto (Floating City), and Doreen Vanderstoop (Watershed), the Writing Excuses Retreat fall reunion, How to Astronaut with Mary Robinette Kowal and Terry Virts, a NaNoWriMo session on How to Unlock the Key to Your Novel (adaptation to screen) with Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), Nancy Springer (Enola Holmes), and Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah), a world building tutorial with Mary Robinette Kowal, and a presentation on The Inner Workings of Spacesuit Design with Adam Savage, Cady Coleman, and (again) Mary Robinette Kowal.

Whew! That was a lot of virtual events.

I also attended several meetings for the Canadian Authors Association and the AGM for CIRA as well as several learning events at work (virtual facilitation, Orange Shirt Day, anti-racism, and mental health). What can I say? I’m a learning mutt.

What I’m watching and reading

Because many series stopped filming and/or production because of covid-19, there hasn’t been a lot on cable these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m kind of grateful. I get more writing done of an evening if I don’t have regular series to watch. I’m actually catching up on my streaming viewing, but I haven’t finished any more series/seasons that way, either.

I watched the first six episodes of Wynona Earp. It’s the usual wacky shenanigans, but we didn’t get much of anywhere before covid intervened. Apparently, the rest of the season should start coming out in January. I’ll reserve full judgement until then.

Phil and I endured Cursed. It’s okay to envision a new interpretation of traditional myths and legends, but you have to have some kind of cohesive story going in. This was just stuff happening, just to have stuff happen. Pirates and Vikings and fairies, oh my? In what timescape do these all coexist with Arthurian legend (the fairies, okay, but the rest)? It’s fiction. I get it. But it all felt contrived, like, oh yeah, now we have the Inquisition (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition)!

By all means, let Nimue be the one true queen, but she should act like one (some of the time, please?). She can have (indeed should have) conflicting goals and desires, but she’s running away with Arthur one minute and then making deals with Uther to save her people the next? Everyone was changing allegiances, left, right, and centre, again, apparently for no reason.

In short, nothing came together for us. We’ve watched and enjoyed shows that have done truly bizarre things with Arthurian legend, but they worked because there was a cohesive story to wrap all the crazy in. Someone let their idea monkey out of its cage and the poor dear just started flinging poop everywhere.

The rest of my viewing was long form, that is movies.

I watched Birds of Prey (and the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn) and it was fabulous. I think it’s the best DCEU film I’ve seen yet. It was all style and fun and it had a legit story. Margot Robbie was *chef’s kiss.* Nice to see strong women coming together to kick some ass and save each other.

Then, I saw Knives Out. Hilarious and clever, though I did wonder how Benoit Blanc, master detective, missed the distinct scent of vomit when he got into the car. You know the scene I’m talking about. This movie isn’t a whodunnit, but a who-woulda-dunnit-if-the-intended-victim-hadn’t-dunnit-first … and committed murder, extortion, and arson to cover their tracks. It’s about true friendship and kindness and a suspect who vomits every time she lies. A feelgood movie. Yeah, that’s what I’m going with.

Finally, Phil and I watched Enola Holmes. Another feelgood movie. It’s a plot wrapped in a mystery. Millie Bobbie Brown was perfect and got to use her own accent (sort of). Henry Cavill and Helena Bonham Carter were lovely. There were a few key differences from the book as I understand it, but I think I’m going to pick it up. I’ve always enjoyed Nancy Springer’s novels 🙂

In terms of reading, I have four offerings, two short story collections and two novels.

The first collection was Lynn Coady’s Hell Going. This collection won the Giller in 2013. I enjoyed the stories, but they all seemed to revolve around absences, and how people only end up hurting themselves by not communicating.

Daniel José Older’s Salsa Nocturna is a collection of stories featuring the characters from the first two novels in his Bone Street Rumba series. Humans who can see the dead, half-dead ghost hunters, witches who trap the souls of their victims in dolls, mammoth ghosts (not big ghosts, but the ghosts of woolly mammoths), and regular folks who get caught up in the world of the NY Council of the Dead.

Then, I read Justina Ireland’s Deathless Divide, the sequel to Dread Nation. As dark as the first novel was, DD is darker. You have to read them both to get the full effect, and I’m not going to spoil it.  The metaphoric nature of the story is killer (pun intended).

Finally, I read Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler. Well, I listened to it. Audible offered Giller prize winning novels for free back in the spring and I got a bunch. I didn’t expect to like this novel, but I did. The twist in the final pages is perfect. The narrator … I’m not as impressed with. He persisted in pronouncing yarmulke (yah-muhl-kah) as yarmuckel—that’s not even how it’s written—gah! I would think a professional voice actor would care enough to look up these things before he began narration … but I’ll leave it there.

Barney is the ultimate unreliable narrator. He’s starting to forget things and eventually dies from complications related to Alzheimer’s. So, basically, the reader can’t trust a word he’s written. He’s writing his memoir, such as it is, in response to former friend turned rival, Terry MacIvor’s fictional expose.

The problem is that Barney readily admits his faults and he does terrible things, but he’s adamant on one point: he did not kill his best friend as everyone thinks he did.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 13-19, 2020

It’s another tipsday, your opportunity to catch up on some informal writerly goodness.

Black and Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous lives matter.

And in the midst of the pandemic and ongoing demonstration, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg dies. Such a blow for equality and justice. I hope her last wish can be honoured and her absence on SCOTUS won’t be filled until after the US election.

We’re seeing a bump in infection rates and we’re being told to brace for a second wave. This was something epidemiologists predicted could happen, way back in March. People tend to forget this. Despite what a certain president says, we will not have a vaccine that’s widely available before next year.

Wear your masks. Maintain physical distance when possible. Get your flu shots when they become available. Take care and stay safe.

Onto the curation:

K.M. Weiland: the crucial link between your story’s inciting incident and its climactic moment. Helping Writers Become Authors

C.S. Lakin explains how your premise determines your characters. Live, Write, Thrive

Shaelin has a chat about writing selfishly. Shaelin Writes

Eldred Bird says that a great story is like music to the eyes. Then, Barbara Linn Probst explains why your book matters. Later in the week, Jenny Hansen explains why storytellers are the most powerful people in the world. Writers in the Storm

Lucia Tang promotes the art of the constructive critique. Elizabeth Spann Craig

Meg LaTorre lists 17 things she hates to see in romance. iWriterly

Dave King helps you manage your cast. Then, Barbara Linn Probst shares road, neighbourhood, sky: a three-layer approach to writing a novel. Writer Unboxed

Lucy V. Hay shares awesome writing tips from six famous writers. Writers Helping Writers

Jenna Moreci shares her top ten tips for writing fight scenes.

Lauren J. Sharkey talks dollars and sense. And, my latest Speculations: how the NASA-SpaceX collaboration can inspire your writing. Sara Farmer interviews Adam Smyer. Later in the week, Lynne Golodner shares five tips for narrowing your focus. DIY MFA

Susan DeFreitas shares three common issues with early drafts. Jane Friedman

Chris Winkle lists seven ways jokes can sabotage your story. Then, Oren Ashkenazi sheds light on how Le Guin laid a shaky foundation for Earthsea. Mythcreants

Waubgeshig Rice launches his new column at Open Book: stories of the North.

Thanks for the visit. I hope you found something that will support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe, my writerly friends.

The next chapter: August 2020 update

Another month has passed. I am experiencing covid time. Sometimes, it feels like March was only yesterday. At others, the second drag on. Though I’ve made my monthly goals more manageable, and revised my yearly goals every month, I’ve gotten more done than I thought I would.

Before we get to the month in writing, we have to make a brief stop in covid-ville.

Pandemic life

Black and Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous (and indeed, all marginalized or racialized people’s) lives matter. White privilege and white supremacy are real. We must interrogate our biases, listen, learn, and do better.

Tomorrow marks the return to school for students in Ontario. I’m not optimistic, and I can only wait to see how things turn out.

Working from home continues. I finally, after nearly six months, received my work laptop. The process was poorly organized and involved calls to the service desk. My system was still not working properly at the end of Friday and I ended up returning to the virtual desktop so I could get some work done.

I hope that all of my programs will have been downloaded by tomorrow morning and I can finish reconfiguring the laptop the way I want. Because I only have the one desk and no room to set up a second in my office, Phil will be making me a unit to raise my monitors above the level of the laptop, which has to remain on, open, and connected to our network so that updates can be pushed after working hours.

I have one of my monitors set up so that I can switch inputs between the laptop and my computer. It’s funny. When we were told we were going to be getting dual monitors at work, I and most of my colleagues questioned the necessity. Now, it’s difficult to conceive of working without them. We have so many programs, it really is easier to have them spread out over a larger visual area.

These are all first world problems of privilege. I just have to put on my big girl panties and git ‘er done. It’s interesting how little is takes to throw me off in these covid times. I can’t imagine how teachers are dealing with the possibility of turning on a dime and converting their lessons for online delivery in the event of an outbreak, which we’ve been told to expect.

The exciting events of July have not resulted in any news. That’s to be expected. Sometimes these assessment processes take months to sort through, and I believe the unit has been since slammed with other priorities.

Work itself is still frustrating and fraught. ‘Nuff said about that.

The month in writing

The never-ending novel is never-ending. I’m now over 116k words and not yet finished with the story. It’s going to be a hell of an edit. I did achieve 153% of my writing goal on Reality Bomb, however, writing 7,662 words of my 5k-word goal.

I wrote 173% of my 3,500-word blogging goal, writing 6,040 words in August.

I wrote 905 words for my latest Speculations column, which, though only 91% of my 1k-word goal, I count as a win, because I’m forever going over my 1k-word limit 🙂

Finally, I drafted 611 word on a new short story. I had wanted to write 1k words, but I ran out of spoons, or maybe hands, by the end of the month.

Overall, I wrote 15,218 words, or 145% of my 10,500-work goal.

Filling the well

There were just a few virtual events in August.

The first was When Words Collide, from the 14th to the 16th. They opted to provide the entire weekend of programming free this year because they had to cancel the in-person event. I only attended one session live, with Swati Chavda, on burnout. Unfortunately, the unsecured Zoom account WWC borrowed from the Alberta Romance Writers Association meant the intrusion of a Zoom bomber, which was not fun even though the session was great.

Phil and I were invited out to his sister’s backyard paradise for a bubbled day of social fun on the Saturday, so I wasn’t able to take in any further live sessions. I’m waiting for them to be edited and posted to WWC’s YouTube channel. The Aurora Awards were presented on Saturday evening. That’s the only session that’s been posted so far.

On the 16th, I watched Lavie Tidhar and Silvia Moreno-Garcia in conversation.

On the 18th, I started a free online course on short fiction from Steven L. Sears offered in conjunction with the Roswell Awards. This was the impetus for the new short story I started working on. The last of the classes is tomorrow.

On the 19th, I enjoyed Melissa Yuan-Innes’s workshop on How to Build Worlds without Boring your Readers to Death.

Finally, on the 24th, I attended a Penguin Random House Star Talk with Saleema Nawaz about her book Songs for the End of the World, which is now out.

I’m doing a lot more of these virtual events, I find. I’m enjoying them and they’re doing the job of inspiring me to keep on with the keeping on.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched the second season of Doom Patrol. It seemed to be one of the shows that was interrupted by covid. It ended at episode 9, and in a bit of an odd way. Sure enough, I found confirmation online that they were in the middle of filming episode 9 when production shut down. The cliff-hanger at the end of season one was apparently intentional. The cliff-hanger at the end of season two was not.

It was okay. We like most of the characters, though we both agree that Cliff is useless. The disappointment was that after the whole of season one was spend delving into the personal traumas of the various heroes and the big reveal that the Chief actually caused all of their “accidents” in one way or the other, or took advantage of their circumstances in a kind of hero syndrome on steroids, the whole of season two was more of the same. The heroes made progress, but several of them were still stuck in the mire of their various issues.

We’re hoping for actual progress in season three … please?

The Umbrella Academy season two was admittedly better than season one, but it, too, suffered from many of the same problems. Again, all the heroes struggle with trauma associated with their upbringing by Hargreaves—who is revealed to be an alien in this season—and most of them end up exactly where they started.

At the end of season one, the rest of the team take down Vanya, but fail to stop her from ending the world. Five’s solution is to take them back in time, but his time travel abilities malfunction conveniently, scattering the UA members over several years in the early 60’s. While they do eventually get together again, because, of course, there’s another apocalypse, they’re all as deeply messed up as they ever were.

They deal with Vanya’s overpowered and ill-defined abilities by giving her amnesia, but she’s still nearly the cause of the apocalypse—again. Five’s powers continue to malfunction, until they don’t. And even though he’s trapped in the body of his pre-teen self, he’s actually in his 50s and should know better, especially when the Handler screws him over—again. Allison feels so much guilt over abusing her abilities to manipulate her daughter in the future that she proudly refuses to use her powers. Until she doesn’t and goes on a power trip that includes a “shopping spree” and getting a racist diner owner to scald himself. Luther uses his super strength to win fixed fights for Jack Ruby. Diego is so obsessed with saving the soon-to-be-assassinated Kennedy that he winds up in an asylum. Klaus starts a cult with dead Ben’s help and tries to prevent the man he fell in love with during the Vietnam War from enlisting.

And that’s not mentioning the Swedish assassins, the Handler’s daughter, or Harlan, whom Vanya inadvertently endows with her powers.

At the end, apocalypses apparently dealt with, Five manages to get them back to 2019, except Hargreaves, having met his failed experiments in the 60s, decides to go with a whole different set of enhanced babies (except for Ben), who are now The Sparrow Academy.

I watched the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and enjoyed it, though I felt that they had lost their way as far back as the Inhumans storyline … which they resurrected in this final season. In fact, it’s like they picked bits and pieces from all of the previous seasons and brought them together, intending to tie everything up with a nice bow, only to fumble the bow like a three-year-old. No, honey, the rabbit goes into its hole. The show ended in a similar way to iZombie, with the team having a virtual reunion. It was satisfying and there are intimations that there might be some kind of tie in to the MCU/Disney+ (which has thus far ignored everything the networks or Netfix has put out), but we’ll have to wait and see.

Lost in Space wasn’t bad. I was left thinking that the Robot is kind of like the TARDIS, taking the Robinsons where they need to go, despite where they might tell him to go.

Finally, I watched the limited series Unorthodox. It was an interesting window into orthodox Hasidic culture, but it’s nothing like the true story it’s based upon. The writers were not unsympathetic to Esty’s husband, but they didn’t offer any resolution with regard to her aspirations in the music program she’d auditioned for. It was good, and I was riveted, but I was left wanting more.

In the reading department, I read seven books in August.

First, I finished Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. It was good and definitely an epic fantasy, but something didn’t sit well with me for most of the book. I think it’s that there were only two women characters of note, one with a history of abuse who resorts to alcohol for self-medication and the other a feral warrior who was enslaved and abused in the past.

Ardee West seems to serve no purpose but to provide motivation to the male characters of the novel. To her brother Collem West, she is burden and a source of guilt. To Jezal, she is a potential love interest and borderline obsession. To Sand, she is a bittersweet reminder of what might have been.

Ferro Maljinn is a powerful woman, but she is the ultimate wild card, hating everyone without cause or reason, and bent on her personal quest for revenge even though she understands the bigger issues at stake.

Also, the book was very much the first act of the larger story that is the trilogy. It could never have stood on its own. I was, accordingly, ambivalent.

I read Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey. Though it is the second in series, it was a complete story on its own. At first, I thought that it was an alternate world historical fantasy, but part-way through, there was math and advanced science. So, science fantasy, then? I liked it, regardless, and the first novella is on my TBR list.

Then, I read Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water. I loved it. Though it was YA, it didn’t suffer from the agonized romantic subplot that most YA novels feature. Instead, it focused on the emotional journeys of its two young Black protagonists. Tavia is a siren living in hiding. Sirens are the most feared of the supernatural peoples because of their ability to rob their victims of their free will. Effie, who’s lived with Tavia’s family since her mother’s death, swims like she was born to the element and plays a mermaid at the annual Renaissance Fair.

Set in Portland, the story explores both girls’ trauma, not only as Black women in a mostly white city, but also as women who must unravel secrets—which their families actively keep from them—in order to become the people they were meant to be. Ultimately, it’s the girls’ friendship that gives them the strength to succeed. Morrow doesn’t shy away from the complexities of racism and intersectionality in various contexts.

Then, I read two Lawrence Hill books. The Illegal tells the story of a runner, Keita Ali, from the fictional country of Zantoroland, where dissidents are held for ransom, tortured, and killed by their corrupt government. Keita escapes to another fictional country, Freedom State, where he attempts to achieve his goal to become a competitive marathoner, when he discovers that his sister has been kidnapped and is being held in Zantoroland. If Keita can’t come up with the ransom, she’ll be killed, and so he runs, not just for his own life, but for that of his sister.

Based on a true story, The Book of Negroes is about Aminata Diallo, stolen from her home in Bayo (in Mali) by other Africans, and sold into the slave trade. She is bought by a cruel indigo plantation owner in South Carolina, her first child is taken from her, and she is subsequently sold to a Jewish man who, though he ensures she has work worthy of her skills and education, nonetheless abuses her after his own fashion. When Aminata discovers that he was responsible for selling her child, Aminata escapes while they’re in New York as the America Revolution begins.

Aminata works for the British during the war and once hostilities cease, becomes scribe, noting the names of the slaves freed through service to the British in the titular book. Pregnant with her second child, she is prevented from joining her husband on their way to Nova Scotia when her previous owners make claim upon her. Though eventually emancipated in truth, by the time Aminata makes it to Nova Scotia, she cannot find her husband and learns that circumstances in Canada are little better than they were in America.

Her second child is abducted during the chaos of a white attack on the Black settlement, and Aminata is once again on her own. Abolitionists come and recruit Nova Scotian Blacks, none of whom have been given the land promised them by the British, to create a free Black settlement in Sierra Leone. Aminata signs up because it has been her dream to return to Africa since she was first stolen from her home.

Again, the repatriated settlers of Sierra Leone are denied land and must endure the continuing slave trade that goes on around them. Aminata travels inland with guides and though she fails to find Bayo, she does find an African village where she stays for a while before eventually returning to Sierra Leone and accepting an offer to travel to England and help the abolitionists end the slave trade.

In a beautiful ending, Aminata is reunited with her daughter May, writes her story for the abolitionists, and helps to end the slave trade, though not slavery itself. This is a novel that everyone should read. Full stop.

Then, I read Danielle Jensen’s The Stolen Songbird. Cécile is kidnapped and magically bonded to the troll prince in the hope of ending a curse that a human witch places on the trolls centuries ago. The bonding does not break the curse and Cécile must navigate troll politics and a rebellion in the attempt to win her freedom. But, of course, she falls in love with the troll prince.

Finally, I marked as read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon. I didn’t actually read it this month, but I was involved in the beta read last year and was invited to the live streaming of Mary Robinette’s recording of the audiobook this summer.

This is the third in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series and focuses on Nicole Wargin during Alma York’s journey to Mars (in The Fated Sky). Earth first is sabotaging Artemis Base and Wargin must uncover the plot while dealing with the effects of the sabotage, personal injury, and threats to her husband, the governor of Kansas, on Earth. It was gut-wrenching and wonderful. I won’t say anything more about it. Read.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The next chapter: July 2020 update

Another month has passed. July was eventful and not in the all the ways I expected.

And yes, this post is late. A week and a day late. You’ll understand.

Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until all Black and Indigenous lives matter. This is a fundamental truth.

The lives of all BIPOC, LGBTQ2A+, disabled, neuro-atypical, and all other racialized or marginalized people matter. We all need to listen, learn, and do better.

That is all.

Pandemic life

So. 24 new confirmed cases of covid-19 have occurred in Sudbury over the last couple of weeks, most of them in people under 30. While there hasn’t been any confirmed written report on the topic, the rumours are that a group of young people went down to a huge party in southern Ontario and brought the virus back with them. Police have also reported breaking up a couple of large parties within the city.

Some people are blaming covid exhaustion. Indeed, it’s taxing for people who haven’t been able to engage in any of their pre-covid social activities, but going from isolation to parties that exceed the safe gathering limits? Travelling to do so? Not smart.

The worrisome part of it all is that we now have community spread in our area and health officials haven’t been able to determine where some of the newly infected might have been exposed.

It’s a drop in the bucket with respect to covid cases nationwide, and we’re faring so much better than other areas of the country. Overall, Canada is doing better than some countries and worse than others. Considering that we had, in total, 68 cases and 2 deaths up until this new rash of infections, though, I think that we may be heading for a second wave. Those 24 new cases represent a 35% bump for our relatively small city. It’s not necessarily going to happen the same way everywhere, but even extrapolating a 15% increase elsewhere means a lot of new infections.

I’m still worried about what’s going to happen when kids return to school. The “plan” we have in Ontario is missing a lot of key details. I think now is not the time to experiment. “Let’s wait and see” is not an acceptable strategy.

Wear your masks, people. Stay safe. Keep your distance when you can. Gather in safe numbers and watch out for your friends and family.

My situation remains status quo with the one key excitement of being invited to write an exam for an internal position I applied for pre-covid. As the position is one that I am very interested in (in many ways, it’s my dream job), I confirmed my participation and awaited next steps.

It turned out the exam was to be written over the course of a week, well, six and a half days, most of which would be while I was working my substantive job. So, evenings and on the weekend, which in this case was the Civic Holiday long weekend.

Then, due to a technical issue, the exam materials, which I was to have received Monday morning, were not issued until that night, but they were sent to my work email (which, admittedly, I had requested because of the technical issue). This means I didn’t even see the email until the next morning when I logged in to my remote desktop. The due date was extended, but only considering the time of issue, not when I would have, in fact, received it. So, I lost any time I could have devoted to the exam on Monday and the due date was now the morning of the Civic Holiday.

It was a lot of work. By Friday, I’d only managed to devote about three or four hours a day to the exam. I determined that I would submit the exam on Sunday night, rather than work through the night to submit the exam in the morning. I know my limits. Going without sleep is not something I can do without consequence. I planned accordingly. I devoted eight hours to the exam on Saturday and 12 on Sunday and I still didn’t have the time to do all I’d wanted to do.

For better or worse, I submitted the exam at 11:57 pm on Sunday.

Because I was catching up on all the work I hadn’t done during the exam week, I didn’t get around to writing this update until today.

The month in writing

Once again, I failed to finish my rewrite of Reality Bomb. I’m closer, but I’m not done yet and the draft is over 108k words. Once I do bring the story to a conclusion, more or less, I’m going to be going over it again and cutting like mad. I have to tighten it up and make sure that the overall story has continuity. I want to reduce the draft to 90k if I can. I’ll settle for 100k, but I want a trim beast to present to my critique group.

I also critiqued a draft for one of my group members.

JulyProgress

I set another modest goal of 5,000 words and wrote 6,628 words, or 133% of my goal.

I blogged 5,448 words of my 3,750-word goal, or 145%.

I planned to write 8,750 words and actually wrote 12,076 words. That’s 138% of my goal.

Filling the well

On July 1st, I attended an online workshop with Roz Morris on backstory, offered through Jane Friedman. Love Roz 🙂

On the 11th, I attended the WXR virtual reunion and the taping of their annual “cruise” portions of the Writing Excuses podcast. The cruise is cancelled this year, and this was a great compensatory virtual get-together.

I also attended the virtual launch of Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon on July 14th. It was fun. The Lady Astronauts Club showed up in period-appropriate/IAC costume, MRK was dressed as her protagonist, Nicole Wargin, and they framed the experience as an orientation session for new lunar colonists at the IAC. There was a lecture on orbital mechanics, a lander simulation (which I managed on the fourth try), and several other entertaining activities. I’ve since received my copy of the novel and an IAC Artemis Base badge.

On July 20th, I attended a virtual lecture by Ibram X. Kendi on how to be an anti-racist broadcast by Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

Finally, on July 24th, I attended a session on Mythology and Speculative Literature that was sponsored by The Carl Brandon Society. Vida Cruz, Piper J. Drake, Kate Elliot, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Shveta Thakrar discussed the mythological inspiration for their work, problematic or clichéd uses of myth, and other mythic goodness.

A couple of friends from out of town were visiting family and came over for an evening, which we spent on the backyard patio, appropriately distanced. These visits are always too short.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched all of Penny Dreadful. Though we enjoyed the first two seasons, the third left us scratching our heads. Ethan was taken back to America and Sir Malcolm, recruited by Kaetenay, travelled from Africa to rescue him. Ethan temporarily goes dark side before the resolution to his troubles brings him abruptly back to the light. Then, Kaetenay has a vision that sends them back to London to help Vanessa …

… who has been languishing, abandoned by all her supposed friends and family. At Dr. Lyle’s suggestion, she enters into therapy with Dr. Seward, who looks identical to her witch mentor from the previous season’s flashbacks. She makes progress through hypnosis and ventures out into the world again with Dr. Sweet, who is, in fact, Dracula (dun, dun, dun!).

Frankenstein teams up with an old colleague, Dr. Jeckyll in a subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere.

The creature reunites with his family, only to discover that his wife wants him to take their dying son to Frankenstein for resurrection.

Brona recruits the fallen women of the city and trains them to become her army with Dorian’s help. Her goal: to liberate women everywhere from the power and cruelty of men. Sadly, Dorian bores of the game and delivers Brona into Frankenstein’s hands, where both creator and creation have inexplicable changes of heart. He refuses to use the serum he and Jeckyll developed to tame Brona, and Brona, once freed, knowing that Dorian delivered her into Frankenstein’s captivity, decides not to take her revenge on either of them. She returns to Dorian’s manor and, seeing her disciple dead on the floor at Dorian’s hands, simply leaves. Brona delivers an empowering speech that’s supposed to leave Dorian devastated, but it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, a new friend enters Vanessa’s life, Catriona Hartdegen. Cat knows a lot about vampires and Dracula in particular and together, they figure out that Dr. Sweet is Dracula. Vanessa goes to confront him, intending to defeat him, but—again, inexplicably—decides instead to surrender to him. Darkness and chaos descend upon London.

Ethan, Sir Malcolm, and Kaetenay, newly arrived, team up with Dr. Seward and Cat to save Vanessa. Dracula tells Vanessa that her former friends are coming, and she intimates that she will welcome the opportunity to slay them all. When the battle is joined, however, Vanessa is no where to be seen. Everyone fights valiantly, but it looks like the tide is turning in Dracula’s favour. Ethan breaks away and finds Vanessa isolated in a room where she merely begs him to kill her, which, after some weeping and moaning, he does.

And that was it. I know the series was cancelled while they were in the middle of filming this last season, but in an attempt to compress the story, the writers were unable to set up the appropriate character development that would make the last few episodes feel earned (where have we seen that before, eh, GoT?). Instead, we have uncharacteristic actions/decisions by nearly every character, lose ends, and a lot of lost opportunities. It would have been better if they had changed course and written and ending that made sense, even if it wasn’t the ending they had been writing toward for the whole series.

On TV, I watched the most recent season of The Good Witch. It’s candy and fluff, but sometimes you need a little candy and fluff.

I finally finished Orange is the New Black. They had to do some fancy tap dancing to get everything rolled up and they did leave some loose ends. I’m glad Piper decided to stick with Alex, but I think I would have been just as happy if she’d gone on to have her own life. It was the other stories, Taystee’s, Original Cindy’s, and Gloria’s stories in particular, that grabbed me. Blanca got a happy ending. Pennsatucky’s end was tragic. Maritza and Shani’s deportations were senseless. Aleida and Daya just continued the cycle of violence. Suzanne was left hanging, much as Red and Lorna were. I know it was supposed to be a commentary on the incarceration system, but aside from being largely depressing, I was left with a solid meh.

I watched The Crown’s latest season and it was interesting, but it wasn’t edge-of-your-seat viewing.

13 Reasons, season 3 definitely had me on the edge of my seat, but I kept asking myself why. Why even write a second season? The first season covered Asher’s book and did so well. They just delve deeper and deeper into trauma and its aftereffects to the point that in season four, it’s just painful to watch. That may have more to do with my trauma than anything else, but there you are.

I finished the 2018-19 season of Riverdale, which was already out there (juvenile prison fight rings, a criminal empire based on a D&D analogue, and an organ-harvesting cult) and am trying to catch up on the 2019-20 season.

And I finally finished the 2018-19 season of The Flash. Solid meh. But proceeding with the 2019-20 season, anyway.

Reading-wise, I only have four offerings.

I finished Jenn Lyons’ The Ruin of Kings. I liked it. I wish I could rate a book three and a half stars, but I gave it four. Lyons did play with structure in an admirable way. The book overall is presented as a report to the current empress (a very long report, might I say) and the annotations that appear throughout are not distracting, as you might think, and they do add to the content of the story. Once I learned who the empress was, I had trouble understanding how most of the annotations were necessary and that returned them to the category of authorial intrusion, however.

The first part of the book is told by two narrators, prisoner and jailer (kind of like Black Panther, Red Wolf) but the jailer is a shape-shifter named Talon who has the ability to absorb the memories of the people they imitate. Or come into contact with? Or consume? Really, the process isn’t well-explained. Talon and Khirin (the prisoner/protagonist) use a stone, handed back and forth. It’s a clever conceit that allows Lyons to present other POVs than Talon’s and Khirin’s, by virtue of Talon’s abilities.

Not only that, but Khirin starts telling his story from the point of his enslavement. Talon complains and goes back further, to the point they believe in the true beginning of the story. So, we have a narrative frame within a narrative frame and dual timelines that intersect and the end of part one. That’s another structural oddity. Part two is maybe a fifth of the book.

There was nothing wrong with the story itself and the structural gymnastics were definitely novel, but it made me wonder if Lyons had presented the story chronologically, without the frames and the annotations, if I would have thought differently about the book.

Then, I read The Queen of Katwe. I was hesitant, because the author is a white man (Tim Crothers), but it’s a non-fiction book using a lot of interviews and correspondence and thus presents the book in the words of the people involved. The book was, by turns, depressing and uplifting, but there was no real resolution. It’s an incomplete biography that leaves the reader wondering if Phiona ever achieved her dream of becoming a grandmaster. Wikipedia indicates she holds the title of candidate women’s master, but that’s as far as she got.

Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe was interesting. Rather than starting in this world and entering one of dream, Johnson flips the concept. Vellitt has always lived in the dream world and must travel into our world to recover the favourite granddaughter of one of the gods, who, if he wakes to find his favourite missing, will destroy half the dreamlands. The one thing I wasn’t comfortable with was that the real-world dreamers who travel to the dream world are always men, powerful and ageless. When Vellitt finally reaches our world, she is instantly transformed, has an identity and all the knowledge she might ever need or have gained from living a life in this world, though. Maybe Johnson’s statement is more subtle. Maybe women are the only true dreamers, living lives simultaneously in the dream world and in this? It’s thought-provoking, to be sure.

Finally, I read Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. What kind of country would America have been if the civil war was interrupted by a plague of zombies? Ireland calls them shamblers and, in her novel they basically make time stand still. In some respects. The protagonist, Jane is biracial, though her skin is not light. She’s at a school for “attendants,” Black girls who are trained to fight shamblers and protect wealthy white women. It’s the best she can hope for in a world in which slavery and indenture still exist and people of colour (Black and American Indian) are seen as biologically inferior. Ireland examines the racism of the world she’s created through the lens of her “finishing school,” the viral shamblers (one plotline involves the development of a vaccine), and the white supremacists who attempt to create their own isolated empire in the midst of the chaos.

Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a letter that Jane has written to her mother and later, after she learns that her correspondence has been intercepted and she comes into possession of them, her mother’s letters to Jane. It’s a good book, but I kept wanting a little more and there were some events that seemed to resolve in the favour of plot convenience rather than where they seemed to be heading. I’ve already nabbed the next in the series, though.

And that was a month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter