Story Masters: May 11-14, 2017

This lovely workshop came to my attention last year through Jenny Madore, a writer friend. It was put together by Lorin Oberweger and Free Expressions. Jenny sent me a notice last spring, yes, that was waaaay back in March of 2016, with the notification and a special early-bird discount.

The notification? Christopher Vogler, James Scott Bell, and Donald Maass would be coming to Toronto to present their Story Masters workshop. Needless to say, I registered on the spot.

Fast forward to May 10, 2017, and I was on my way to the Crowne Plaza Airport and excited to learn from these three masters of story.

Day one: Christopher Vogler

ChristopherVoglerI’ve read The Writer’s Journey (and Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey and The Hero’s Daughter, as well as watching Campbell’s series with Bill Moyer, The Power of Myth), and I was looking forward to meeting Christopher Vogler in person.

One thing I’d forgotten, having read his book years ago, was that Vogler is a screenwriter. He’s been working with the hero’s journey for forty years, since his film school days.

Highlights of the presentation:

  • A knowledge of structure will help you see the bones of a story.
  • The map is not the journey.
  • Get all five senses on the page – Ray Bradbury.
  • They won’t remember your words but they’ll remember how you made them feel – Maya Angelou.
  • Economy of language.
  • Make invisible things visible.
  • Use dissonance.
  • Theme – boil it down to one word.
  • The chakra system can be used to orient where your story comes from. There’s a parallel between the chakras and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
  • Vogler’s rule – the story’s good if two or more organs are leaking fluids. Visceral, but accurate (blood, sweat, tears, vomit, pee—from fear or laughter, and, erm, sexual fluids—it’s true; a well-written sex scene gets the juices flowing, doesn’t it?).
  • A story should be focused, “in alignment with the grid,” a term from dance.
  • How your protagonist/main character enters the story is critical. Classically, protagonist means the first person to struggle. Now, that’s your hero or main character.
  • A story should evoke catharsis. The classical definition of catharsis was vomiting. Now it’s an emotional cleansing.
  • How stories work: want vs. need. Want is generally external or physical. Need is internal or emotional. There are two story questions, one inner and one outer. It creates suspense. There’s always a price.
  • Every world/milieu is polarized. The hero brings synthesis.

Vogler also showed us a number of movie clips to illustrate the 12 stages of the hero’s journey, discussed the two founders of screenwriting, Aristotle and Syd Field, three-act structure and how the hero’s journey works with it, storytelling aesthetics, and his own meeting with Campbell.

Day two: James Scott Bell

I’ve read some of Bell’s writing craft books and followed his collective/blog – Kill Zone. Again, I was looking forward to meeting JamesScottBellsomeone I’d only ever known as a virtual presence.

  • A writer needs to have an edge. What is it? Unforgettable writing. Seductive believability.
  • Write from the middle. The mirror moment. What’s happening to the character at that moment is what the story’s about.
  • The mirror moment can focus on one of two things: 1) Who am I? What have I become? What will I become? [emotional/spiritual struggle] Or, 2) I’m going to die. [Physical] The death can be metaphorical. Both result in the transformation of your character.
  • Once you know what your story’s about, you have your focus, your theme.
  • Pre-story psychology. Does your character have a moral flaw to overcome? Do they change or get their comeuppance? Is your character ordinary? What circumstances force the character to change?
  • Short fiction is about a shattering moment rather than a mirror moment.
  • Bell’s golden triangle: pre-story psychology leads to the mirror moment, which leads to the transformation. It can be applied in an individual novel, or over the course of the series, or both.
  • The shadow story – what’s happening elsewhere?
  • Keep a story journal to keep track.
  • Great characters jump off the page. They’re unpredictable, burning, wounded, complex, resourceful, courageous, noble.
  • Bell’s corollary to Vogler’s rule: you must have a fluid fight inside your character.
  • Ways to develop character: 1) The closet search – what’s the skeleton? 2) Throwing the chair (out the window) – why do they do it? 3) Best day/worst day. 4) What tattoo do they have, where, and why? Or, why would they never get a tattoo? 5) what would they do or think about in jail?
  • Opposition character: you must know what they yearn for, why they deserve it, and then make your closing argument (convince the reader).
  • Cut the boring parts, or, make them interesting.
  • Fear is a continuum. It raises the stakes. Fear of the known. Fear of the unknown.
  • Scene structure: every scene must have an objective, obstacles, and an outcome [yes, but/no, and].
  • SUES = something unexpected in every scene.
  • Every scene has a reaction: time for thought, perception, emotion, backflash (short remembrance), or flashback (full scene – use sparingly).
  • Dialogue: every character has an agenda. If those agendas are conflicting, even better. Dialogue creates conflict/tension, subtext, sets the tone for the scene, and sets the tone for the characters. Specific concerns: vocabulary, expressions, syntax. They should vary between characters. Dialogue should be unpredictable and compressed. Dialogue should reveal character webs, backstory, and theme.
  • Tools: Orchestration, transactional analysis (Google it), curve the language.

Bell, also from a screenwriting background, showed us clips from Casablanca and Now, Voyager and cited a number of novels (ranging from Gone with the Wind to The Hunger Games) to illustrate his points, linked to Vogler’s hero’s journey, and set us up for Donald Maass’s presentation on the next day.

Day three: Donald Maass

DonaldMaassI think Donald Maass was the story master I was most excited to meet. I’ve bought and read all of his books (except The Emotional Craft of Fiction, which I bought at the event), and I’ve read and shared all of his Writer Unboxed contributions.

I’m such a fan that when I met him in the elevator, I blurted out, “I’m here to see you!” like a total fangirl.

He paused. “Do I know you? You look familiar …”

“We’ve never met in person, but you may have seen me online—the white hair’s distinctive. I share all of your posts. I’m a big fan.” And then, mercifully, we reached the lobby and debarked. I was completely mortified, certain Maass thought I was a stalker.

It reminded me of a recent post by my friend, Kim, who said she becomes so distracted in the presence of a writer that she says the most inappropriate things. Happens to me all the time.

For those of you who haven’t been to a Donald Maass presentation, it’s a bit different from what you might expect. He presents a topic, speaks briefly, and then, he begins to ask questions. The questions are intended to guide you into the heart of your characters, your scenes, your story.

It’s very meditative, very zen. And totally effective.

Unfortunately, after a few hours, the brain stops working and you just write down the questions for future review and examination. At least, that’s what happened to my brain.

I just wanted to give you a flavour of Maass’s style.

Openings

  • Too many novel openings are written objectively despite the prevalence of first and close third person narration.
  • Where does the story truly begin?
  • Story does not equal plot.
  • What’s different and how does your protagonist know things will never be the same? What symbolizes this? What do they do differently? What needs to be explained? What expertise does your protagonist have? What do they know that the reader needs to know? How does the trouble come? Why?

Voice

  • Writers adopt a voice that suits the genre, but not the story.
  • What happens? What’s unique to the setting? What anchors you? What wakes you up to your reality? What’s unique to the character? Name, role/occupation, what task/goal/purpose do they think they have? What’s on the “to do” list of your character?
  • [We then did an exercise in which we rewrote the beginning of our works in progress with three different voices: ironic, academic, and spiritual.]
  • The inner life of the character is the true story.
  • Plot does not equal story.

Emotion

  • You have to write with emotion about emotion in a way that deeply engages readers.
  • What makes you angry?
  • Your protagonist feels a new emotion. Pause. Slow things down. Go deeper. How does that change your protagonist? What will they never do again? What will they never feel again? What will they never feel the same way about again?
  • How do you create the sense of an evolving human being rather than someone to whom stuff happens?
  • Does your character have flaws?
  • My Writer Unboxed colleague Lisa Cron wrote a book called Story Genius that I highly recommend. She states every character has a misbelief that shapes their story. What is your character’s misbelief? Who will be hurt because of their misbelief? What does the character get wrong? What do they believe that will cost them dearly? Who will walk away from them because of the misbelief? What will they lose? What can they do that shows they’ve changed? Is it big? Symbolic? What’s the secret they’ve never told anyone? Is your protagonist concealing something from someone else?
  • What’s the character’s origin story?

Other facets of novel construction

  • Summary. Lorin Oberweger posted on Writer Unboxed about this. When should you use it?
  • Scene structure. Things have changed by the end of the scene. Subvert expectations. Show the inner shift in the novel. Scenes must change either the plot or the character.
  • Enhancing the story world. What’s the environment? What does your protagonist see that no one else sees? What does your antagonist see? Is there a class structure? How does that play out with your characters? What historical events have shaped the world? What are the political structures? What is just not done? Is there a code of honour? How do you make a deal? How do you pay respect?
  • Telling and showing. Both have value.

What do readers want?

  • They want an emotional experience. They want to engage with your protagonist. They want a satisfying payoff. They want aesthetic value. They want a challenge. They want to figure it out. They want a feeling of success.
  • Readers have their own journey.

Third level emotion

  • Pick a pivotal scene in your novel. What is the character feeling? What else are they feeling (cancel out any similar emotions)? And again, what else (that is like neither of the first two)?
  • Use the third emotion you identify to frame the character in the scene. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s very effective. Readers use cognitive evaluation.

Mythic roles (archetypes)

  • What fairy tale character is your protagonist most like? Shakespearean? Biblical? Greek or Roman mythos? Indigenous or other cultural figure? Urban legend?
  • What symbology have you built around your character?

The four things your story must do

  • The macro level: structure/plot/character arc.
  • Scene level: structure and goals.
  • Microtension: every page, every line. Court cognitive dissonance.
  • Subvert reader expectations.

The big event

  • Think of the event that changes everything for your protagonist and the story world. What causes people to think it’s never going to happen? Think of three reasons why. How do we know it will happen? Think of three reasons.
  • Take out foreshadowing. Include misdirection. Manipulate expectations.
  • Choose a secondary character who is good. Invent a way to create doubt. Cast suspicion.
  • Make the reader wait for the payoff. What are three reasons it might be the wrong thing for your protagonist to do? Build a case for doing something different.
  • Every story has a moral map. Point the reader down the path. What makes a reader care even when nothing is happening? Hope. What is good? What can be saved?

StoryMasters

Day four was an analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird in which all three story masters brought their individual strengths to bear.

My brain was mush by the end, but I brought a lot of awesome back with me and twice as many pages of notes as what I’ve shared with you here.

RobertJSawyerOther writerly goodness: I met Jenny Madore in person, saw writer friends Jeanette Winsor and Sue Reynolds, and hung out with Robert J. Sawyer for a bit. It was comforting to know that someone I consider a story master in his own right is still learning 🙂

I had a fabulous time and suggest you check out the Free Expressions web site if you’re interested in attending one of their workshops.

As always, my friends, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Muse-inks

How to dream your way to a great story at DIY MFA

There’s this thing I do over at DIY MFA. It’s a semi-regular column called Speculations all about fantasy and science fiction.

dreams

 

This is my third column, on sleep and dreaming. Come on over and visit. There are a lot of great columnists on lots of different genres and topics. Plus, Gabriela has a tonne of great resources, a podcast, courses, and other tasty writerly goodness for you to check out.

I have a little anecdote to share with respect to dreams and writing.

It has to do with this little tip:

  • Sleep on a creative problem. Similarly, if you’re stuck on a scene or a plot point, ruminate calmly on it before you sleep. Even if you don’t dream up a solution, your mind will be working on the problem and when you head back to the page, the answer might just appear. Like magic.

So it happened, just the other night.

I’d just finished writing and posting my Next chapter update and went to bed thinking about the short story I’m hoping to write this month. I had an idea that’s been simmering since January.

That night I had a dream that, taken at face value, had nothing to do with my story idea. Except that it did in that weird way dreams have. And now I have three quarters of the story sketched out in my moleskine. I just have to figure out an ending that will work.

It makes me furiously happy when my dreams cooperate with the muse. Or maybe they’re scheming. Whatever they’re doing, it works. Like magic.

 

The next chapter: April 2017 update

Greetings, writerly friends 🙂

Yes, it’s that time of the month again—no, not that time—it’s time for my next chapter update. Yay (flailing Kermit arms)!

Ok, maybe that’s a little too enthusiastic.

That’s what spring does to me, though.

Even though we haven’t had a particularly warm spring up here, the fact that there are more hours of sunlight each day really helps me find my energy.

And what do I do with that energy? I overcommit. That’s what I do.

What does that look like in 2017? Let’s see …

  • work full time;
  • write as much as I can, evenings and weekends;
  • produce the monthly Sudbury Writers’ Guild newsletter;
  • serve on the Canadian Authors Association Program Committee (and various sub-committees); and
  • sign up for Writing the Other with Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford (yay—it’s awesome, but I can’t keep up with the assignments and so feel crap about it).

Truly, though Writing the Other is one of the bit of writerly awesome to happen this past month. It continues through to the middle of May, so I’ll save the deets for a future weekend wrap-up post. Suffice it to say for now, though, that I would recommend the course to anyone.

A second is my continued semi-regular SF&F column with DIY MFA, Speculations. As I mentioned last week, I’ll be posting to share those columns on the blog. The next one should be coming up Tuesday, and it’s a dreamy one, so stay tuned 🙂

A third bit of awesome was that I participated in was the Sudbury Poetry Project. April was National Poetry Month, after all. When Kim Fahner, Sudbury’s Poet Laureate put out the call, I wrote a new poem and submitted it.

thiswintersky

“this winter sky” was inspired by what has been a particularly gloomy winter here in Northern Ontario. I believe that almost everyone who lives in the northern hemisphere experiences some degree of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and those of us predisposed to depression tend to feel the effects of SAD more than others.

More than, that, though, the poem is about the hope that blossoms when one recovers, or learns to live with, mental illness. This is why I was honoured to have the poem posted outside the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) which is a safe place where survivors of mental illness and consumers of mental health services can gather, learn, and heal.

And now, onto the writing progress report 🙂

April was a decent month. I finished my latest revision of Initiate of Stone. Unfortunately, it only reduced the overall word count of the novel by a few thousand words 😦 I was, however, after a short respite, move on to Apprentice of Wind.

I also revised two short stories for submission to a contest and an open anthology call. We’ll let you know how that goes in the future.

All the new writing in April was once again on this blog.

AprilProgress

Here’s how the numbers break down:

  • 79,078 words revised on the Ascension series, or 113% of my 70k goal.
  • 4,105 words of short fiction revised, or 164% of my 2,500 goal (makes up for not revising any short fiction in the last two months).
  • 6,098 words written on the blog, or 92% of my 6,600 goal.

That’s a total of 83,183 words revised and 6,098 words written. That’s not counting my column for DIY MFA, which I really don’t have a place for on the tracking sheet.

What’s up next: I’m going to continue work on revising AoW, which I don’t anticipate will be finished until next month. Revision will yield (I hope) to writing with respect to short fiction. We’ll see how everyone likes the new plan for the blog.

Next week, I’m heading down to Story Masters in Toronto, with Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, and Christopher Vogler, but that, of course, means that there will be no post next weekend. I’ll have another wrap-up post to share on this lovely event later in the month.

And then we’ll see. This writer’s life is never boring, that’s for sure.

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay stong, because this winter sky will always yield to the light.

The Next Chapter

Changing things up and the reasons why

A few years ago, I decided to change things on the blog. I started curating Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday, and then, on weekends, I mostly blogged my session notes from various conferences and conventions I’d attended.

It was easy for me, with respect to generating content, and I sincerely thought I was offering something of value to my readers. My WordPress stats do not bare this out, however. Round about 2014 (when I started the curation and session notes), my views drop and are consistently below a thousand per month.

views

Views dropped again after Nuala died in 2015. My pupdates were clearly some of my more popular posts, as well.

Even looking at it by day, I only seem to have a peak in views (40+/day, which I know is nothing when it comes down to it) about once a month. When those peaks occur varies. It could be after a Tipsday post (most often), or a Thoughty Thursday post. Sometimes, it’s on a weekend, but it could be session notes, or a monthly update. There’s really no pattern that I can pull out.

But clearly, this means I’m not doing my job.

I have therefore decided that it’s time to shake things up again. Not too much. ‘Cause I’m cautious that way.

I’ve had the most views, likes, and comments on my curation posts, so I’m going to keep blogging those. I’ve created better graphics for them (thank you, Canva) and I still believe they have value.

It’s the weekends I’m going to rethink.

I’m also going to continue my monthly updates. I like sharing my progress on various projects and it keeps me accountable.

I’m no longer going to blog session notes, though. Instead, I’ll do a summary/highlights post of any writerly events I attend. There are enough of those that it will keep me producing quality content. In the past couple of years, I’ve actually glossed over some of these events, or only given them a passing mention in my monthly updates, because I really haven’t had the time to write a post devoted to every event I attended.

I’m going to revisit some of the topics from the blog posts that, even five years on, continue to receive the most traffic.

I’m also going to post a referral to my DIY MFA columns when they come out.

Finally, I’ll fill in the gaps with Movie Madness, Series Discoveries, and the odd book review. There may also be the occasional Muse Inks post on this writer’s life, which won’t focus on the writing, but the other stuff that fills up my life around writing.

When Phil and I get our next fur baby (this fall is the new goal … we hope) Sundog posts may even return 🙂

Because writerly goodness is a solo effort, though, I’m still going to have to take the occasional blogging vacay for some of the bigger events I attend. It’s the way things have to go while I’m still working a day job.

If I want to set the time aside to write and to attend my various writerly professional development opportunities, I really don’t have the time to generate a lot of content to pre-schedule and fill in the gaps. I find myself at the limit as it is, but that may be because of the various commitments I’ve made to some of the professional writing organizations of which I’m a member.

I’m considering a re-envisioning of those commitments, too. There’s only so much of me to go around. Do I want to be writing, or do I want to be contributing to the success of writing organizations? It’s going to be a tough decision, ‘cause I’m like Eek! the cat. I always think it never hurts to help. Until it does.

The next few weeks in writerly goodness:

Next weekend, it will be my monthly Next Chapter update. The weekend following, I’ll be away at Story Masters and won’t be posting, but I’ll tell you all about it the weekend after. I’ll have a few more events to discuss in upcoming weeks, but I’ll get into that in my Next Chapter post.

So stay tuned as I work my way through this transition.

And let me know what you think, please. Will this shift be a pleasing one for you? Perhaps only time (and stats) will tell, but if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them. And if you have requests to make, I’m all (virtual) ears. I know I can’t please everyone, but I’m willing to incorporate some of your suggestions into my ongoing plan.

Thanks for your time and attention.

You’re the bestest!

Muse-inks

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, April 2-8, 2017

There’s so much writerly goodness out there, I wish I had more time to devote to curating these informal writerly learnings for you.

Aliette de Bodard guest posts on Terribleminds: in defense of uncanny punctuation. I love semicolons, too!

K.M. Weiland adds number 58 to her most common writing mistakes series: too much description. Helping Writers Become Authors

Later in the week, Kate shows you how to write stories your readers will remember.

Then, Kate pops over to Jerry Jenkins’ blog: two ways to find out if a scene deserves a place in your story.

Kathleen Jones guest posts on Jane Friedman’s blog: six ways to prepare for writing as a second career.

Angela Ackerman shows you how to use timelines to organize story details. Writers Helping Writers

Lisa Preston offers seven strategies for revising your novel. Writer’s Digest

Penny Sansevieri helps us decode Amazon keywords. Writers in the Storm

Fae Rowan shares five tips to get your characters—and you—through adversity. Writers in the Storm

Janice Hardy introduces us to a fun way to learn story structure. Writers in the Storm

Chris Winkle shares five signs your story is ableist. Mythcreants

Oren Ashkenazi looks at six objectively good stories and finds ways to make them better. Fabulous analysis. Mythcreants

Laurel K. Denton guest posts on Writer Unboxed: changing horses mid-stream (or how not to panic over a mid-book structure revision).

James Scott Bell asks, is your fiction big enough? Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass wants you to captivate readers with your opening lines: casting the spell. Writer Unboxed

Bryn Greenwood: write a book, save the world. Writer Unboxed

Kathryn Magendie explores this writing life. Writer Unboxed

Emily Wenstrom helps you grow your online platform in real life. DIY MFA

Shameless self-promotion time again: it’s me! Defining speculative fiction. DIY MFA

Gabriela Pereira interviews Susan Perabo for DIY MFA radio.

Bess Cozby offers five tips for revising your trunk novel. DIY MFA

Kristen Lamb: the single best way to become a mega-author. Later in the week, she follows up with how you can make all ads, marketing, and newsletters work better.

Jeff Lyons visits Jami Gold’s blog again: creating a strong moral premise for our story.

Michael Everest responds to a provocative post and explains the difference between giving up and giving in. Fantasy Faction

David Barnett responds to the same “failed novelist” post. The Guardian

Alex Brown unpacks Marvel’s “diversity doesn’t sell” argument and explains what diversity really means. Tor.com

The Hugo and Campbell awards finalists announced! Locus

This grammar vigilante stalks the Bristol night putting apostrophes in their right places. Ladies and gentlemen, the BBC gives you, the Apostrophiser!

I hope you learned something tasty 🙂

Be well until Thursday when you can come back for some thoughty inspiration!

tipsday2016

The next chapter: March 2017 update

It’s April already.

Though I’m grateful for spring and the returning light, there still seems to be too much to do and too little time to do it in.

Still, things are progressing.

It took me a while after finishing Wavedancer to get my head around returning to Initiate of Stone. As you can see from the screenshot, the first eleven days of March were spent working through my opening chapter, long hand. I tried a few things and finally settled on one of them.

MarchProgress

Is it any better? I think so, but I’m hardly objective. Unfortunately, it’s added four pages to the ms. I’ve been trying to cut back in other areas but, so far, I haven’t been able to shrink the overall word count. There’s still work to be done.

You will also see that I only made 74% of my revision goal for the month. This is what happens.

I nearly met my writing goal for the blog at 97%.

But I didn’t revise any of my short fiction. Again. My head’s just not there. I know I should forge ahead, regardless.

To be specific:

51,552 words revised of 70,000 on IoS

5,648 words of 5,800 written on this blog

One distraction has been getting my travel arrangements made for the Writing Excuses Cruise. Most of them are in place. There are just three days between the cruise and WorldCon that I have to settle. I’m going to spend them in Finland. My hotel is booked.

A friend has lent me her Lonely Planet guide to Scandinavia. I’ve decided I’m going to spend one day visiting Marttila. Yes. There’s a city in Finland that’s shares my last name. That’s why I want to go.

I’m also trying to assemble my taxes (which melts my brain).

I continue to assemble the monthly newsletter for the Sudbury Writers’ Guild and I’m now on a couple of sub-committees for the Canadian Authors Association.

I like to keep myself busy?

Health-wise, I’ve had my first appointment with a specialist who will be able to help me, but I may have to wait for up to a year for the procedure to be performed. The hospital has cut operating time (grrr).

I’m walking more, despite a stubborn case of plantar fasciitis. I have new orthotics, but my feet are slow to adjust. I’m back to doing yoga in the mornings. I’m no longer on the iron supplement. For now. It doesn’t seem to have made a difference to my energy levels, one way or the other. Will keep y’all informed as to how things are going.

Work is chaotic. There was a site refit and so lots of disruption over the last month or so. Repeated packing and unpacking for painters, the installation of new workstations, and, finally, moving to a new workstation on another floor of the building. Everything should be in reasonable shape come Monday.

We voted on our latest contract offer, but we won’t know the results of all the votes until April 15th or so. I’m hopeful, but even if we ratify, it probably won’t be until September that we see anything in terms of our retroactive wage increases.

My back pay for my last acting position hasn’t been resolved yet, either. They say maybe June? They’ve missed every deadline so far, so I’m thinking August.

And people wonder why I’m not such an enthusiastic worker these days. Seriously?

The snow is melting, though, and we’re experiencing more days above zero (Celsius). The sun is out more. It’s brighter. I feel myself emerging from hibernation.

I’ll have another column out for DIY MFA next week, and a couple of lovely things to tell you about in next month’s update.

That’s it for me for now.

Until next I blog, be kind, be well, and stay strong. Remember: love is the greatest of magics.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: September 2016 update

Another month has passed and I don’t know where it went. Yes, September was a short month, but I spent most of it focusing on Initiate of Stone and Apprentice of Wind, working long hand, in my journal and on scrap paper, so none of it was spreadsheet-worthy.

So all I have to show for it is my month of blogging, 9,151 words, 158% of my goal.

septemberprogress

Surprisingly, even with two months of no revision, I’m still at 96% of my revision goal for the year. Yeah, I was kind of a beast January through July 🙂

This is to say that I’m making great progress, fine tuning my epic fantasy series. This month, if I finish a second round of revisions on AoW (which means I will be able to show some actual revision progress on my Writing and Revision Tracker*), I have some solid planning in place for the third novel in the series, which has a new working title—Wavedancer.

I should be well-placed to rock NaNoWriMo 2016. I must temper expectations by letting you know that I’ll once more be out of town, training, for the first few days of November (1st through 4th), and, I’ll be participating in Wordstock Sudbury 2016 ** the weekend following, November 5th.

I can’t guarantee a “win” this year, but, as I’ve said in the past, any words I write in the month of November are words that didn’t exist before. It’ll be a win, for me, regardless. I already expected to be drafting into December, in any case, because, epic 🙂

Querying has been temporarily suspended while I rework the first chapter, query letter, and synopsis for IoS.

Something that’s been very helpful is K.M. Weiland’s Character Arcs Course on the Digital Freedom Academy. I’m working through at my own pace. LURVE!

I’m also reading Kate’s Structuring Your Novel, and an ARC of her forthcoming Structuring Your Character Arcs. All of it is serving to, with my memories of the original blog/vlog/pocast posts that became the basis of these books and her course, ingrain Kate’s techniques in my long-term memory.

So helpful.

I can’t even.

Finally, I’m trying to find an editor/mentor with whom I can work, long-term, to develop my drafts into finished products. I will, of course, let you know how that goes.

kimnorthbay

In September, I also attended a couple of writerly events. The first was 100,000 Poets for Change in North Bay, Sept 22. I went on a poetic road trip with my friend and Sudbury Poet Laureate, Kim Fahner 🙂

Then, last night, I took a friend to the launch of Danielle Daniel’s memoir, The Dependent. Latitude 46, the publisher, put on a lovely event in the catering space at Verdiccio’s. There was music, food, and a reading by Danielle. And, of course, I bought her book 🙂thedependentlaunch2

It’s so nice to be able to support local arts and artists.

Today, despite it being Culture Days weekend here in Sudbury, and chock full of events, I had to retreat.

September also marked the first meeting of the 2016-17 Sudbury Writers’ Guild season, and it was anthology-palooza. We’re hoping to have Sudbury Ink, which features two of my speculative stories, printed in time for Wordstock.

The anthology is a promotional tool for the Guild and just shows the variety of the talent within the SWG. Having said that, it does have an ISBN and will be a formal, self-published, writing credit.

We hope to have a launch event, aside from Wordstock, later in the year. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

Although I attempted to gather my C.V. together for a Canada Council Works in Progress Grant, I realized the significant gaps in it. I haven’t kept track of the workshops I’ve attended, organized, or delivered. I haven’t kept track of the readings I’ve done. I have some forensic investigation of my writerly exploits to complete before December, when the Ontario Arts Council Northern Writers grant application is due.

I just couldn’t get my shit together for the CC app. It’s due today. Next year, the CC will be moving to a new funding model, so I might have a better chance then, in any case.

I’m also looking forward to how my writing life will take shape in coming years.

In past years, I was focused on writing in preference to everything else. I have six novels to show for it, but only one was even close to complete. This year, I focused on revision, but was only able to do a basic run-through of each novel, get the lay of the land, so to speak, and make notes for more in-depth revisions in the future.

I want to plan out a reasonable pattern which will balance writing and revising and hopefully allow me to get something to market.

The basic idea, for now, is to focus on in-depth revision on one project from January through to March, draft a new novel, April and May, revise another novel June through August, focus on NaNo prep and other projects (short fiction?) in September and October, participate in NaNo in November, and finally finish whatever might be outstanding from the NaNo project in December and prep for my next in-depth revision.

It may be ambitious, but my plans are always subject to change, given life 😉

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

Next week, I’ll get on with session reportage from WorldCon.

*Jamie Raintree, the creator of the Writing and Revision Tracker I use (and have used for years), is busy preparing the 2017 version. Watch this space for news on when the 2017 tracker is ready for order! Seriously, it’s worth it.

**Wordstock Sudbury 2016 will take place from November 3-5, 2017. Though I’ll be out of town training for the Thursday and Friday events, I will be manning the Indie Bookstore for a while on Saturday, and then participating in the commercial genre fiction panel in the afternoon! There will also be an opportunity to read at the open mic Saturday night. I’ll let you know more as the schedule is firmed up.

The Next Chapter

Something apropos of nothing

I’ve gotten back into pendants lately.

I used to wear necklaces a lot . . . aeons ago, but found them inconvenient in more recent years.

When I started swimming regularly, it was a pain to have to remove them (and often forget them). When I got into yoga, it was a similar issue, with pendants/charms slapping into my face in various poses.

In the last couple of years, though, I’ve grown fond again. I don’t have the time to swim, and no longer have a membership at the Y to facilitate it. I do some simple yoga in the mornings, on my own, and I don’t have to worry about leaving my necklaces anywhere that might result in my losing them.

So here’s the new line up.

pendants

It started with the lovely knotwork angel my friend, Margaret, picked up for me in Wales (far left). This was followed by the raven (October’s charm in one Celtic system), the Brigit’s cross, and the green man.

Last Christmas, my sister-in-law, Stephanie, gave me the Origami Owl pendant. At the time, it included a typewriter, a birthstone (my dad’s), my initial, and the purple dangle. I added a paw, for Nuala, Zoe, Thufir, and Tripod, a dragonfly (transformation), a bee (I’m a business expertise advisor, or BEA, at work), and the infinity and tree of life dangles. It’s a little cluttered, but that’s me 🙂

In August, my mom-in-law brought me back the sea glass pendant from an artisan in PEI, when she and Stephanie vacationed on the east coast. I love sea glass and it turns out to be very symbolic of my writerly life.

I have others. A set of earnings and necklace that are dolphins curled around fluorite balls, a pegasus with a quartz crystal dangling from it, a meditating goddess, a dragonfly, a unicorn, and some much older, gold jewellery that I keep for sentimental reasons. I might pull these out and share at some point, but for now, I’m too lazy to do it 😛

This is all just to say that I like necklaces again.

Something truly apropos of nothing 😉

Next weekend, I hope to do another double post on Saturday, finishing off the midseason follies and reviewing a few of the more interesting movies I watched in the last year. Then it will be time for my next chapter update the weekend after that, and I’ll finally move on to some of the interesting panels and presentations I attended at WorldCon.

Be prepared for another weekend blogging hiatus in November, for NaNoWriMo. I’m just putting this out here now, because I won’t be on leave, as I’d hoped.

Be well until next I blog 😀

Renovation MADNESS

Before I dive in, I have to let you know that Phil has been very good about not involving me in the actual destruction, or the reconstruction. I know nothing of ‘lectrics (as Phil calls them). I’ve just tried to keep the house clean and keep up with the weekly business of laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, and that kind of thing.

Because of Phil’s various health issues, this is going to be a slow reno. We’re going at Phil’s pace, which is largely on the weekends. But . . . because he’s been feeling so good lately, as a result of the medications he’s on and the changes we’ve made in diet/lifestyle, he felt good enough to tackle the project in the first place.

He chose the living room/dining room area of our small house because it would be a relatively easy reno. Strip it all down, clean up the ‘lectrics, insulate, vapour barrier, drywall, mudding and sanding, floor sanding and refinishing, and painting/finishing details.

The bedroom took about two weeks of solid work, and he had the closet to deal with.

He expected to be done before the end of October, thus making my leave with income averaging and a new puppy a possibility.

But things never go as planned, especially with a house as old as ours.

In a way, it’s good that the pay issues at work caused me to reconsider my leave. It may work out better, even though I was really looking forward to a new little squirmer. It will be that much sweeter when we can.

The ‘lectrics turned into a massive undertaking. When we had previously tackled my office and the bedroom, the ‘lectrics were fairly simple. Phil just removed all the old stuff and ran new wiring.

The living room . . . not so simple.

livingroomrenobegins

It begins.

The room is directly above the panel, and Phil saw right away that he couldn’t leave things the way they were.

There were hidden junction boxes, as many as five wires snaking through a single hole, and three generations of wiring dating back to the original build sometime in the 1940’s. All of this is not up to current building code.

So, Phil patiently turned off the power, traced the wiring through the ceiling, basement, and sometimes the walls, removed the old crap, and replaced/rerouted the wiring efficiently and cleanly. Not all of it, though. There were several places where it looks like additions to the house were built over/around the existing wiring. Phil would not have been able to get at it without removing the siding and original wood from the outside of the house.

He wasn’t about to do that.

As it was, he had to cut holes in the kitchen and side entry to track down and replace some of the old wiring. These will be patched up temporarily pending renovation of those areas.

The pictures:

demofinishedish5

Demo done (kind of).

sept17-1

View from the kitchen (today).

sept17-2

A fresh start.

I’m not going to show you the devastation in the other areas of the house, the problematic wiring, or the piles of old wiring (currently waiting at the end of the driveway for the second delivery of a bin and removal).

Things should be more straightforward from here on out.

I’ll offer further updates later in the year.

Have another short post coming up. Stay tuned.

The next chapter: August 2016 update

Let me tell you a story 🙂

Dark season

Over the last couple of years, August has been a bad month for me, emotionally speaking.

I’ve been down. Living with depression, if you do it consciously, means that you can see the signs and take action, or not, whatever is most appropriate for your mental health at the time. Trying to barge through rarely works. For me, anyway.

Last year, I was away from home, delivering training, for two and a half weeks in August. I thought London was a lovely city, and I did enjoy myself to the extent I could—I even went shopping (!) and if you know me, you know I hate shopping of any kind with a passion—but it was too far away for me to go home on the weekends, and I had discovered earlier in the year how much more difficult it was for me to write or blog while travelling. So except for curation, I gave over.

Writing on the road isn’t undoable, and I have put on my big girl panties and done it since (I started NaNoWriMo while travelling last year), but, at the time, I was at a low ebb, and sometimes you have to be kind to yourself.

This year, I went to Kansas City for WorldCon and stayed an extra day or so to visit with a friend who’d moved down there several years ago. More on WorldCon in a bit. The bottom line is that health issues and my introvert nature (exacerbated by my emotional low) conspired to rob the trip of some of its joy.

Remembering what had happened last year, I had even planned for the dog-day doldrums. I figured I’d have the first run-through of all my drafted novels done by August (and I did) and that I would need a little break (and I did).

My plan to turn to other projects, though, didn’t work out as well as I’d thought. I worked on some short fiction, made a few submissions (a rejection from one of which was returned within a week), but I never touched the poetry collection or the non-speculative short fiction collection. I just didn’t have the heart.

I journalled, trying to work out what my plan for the rest of the year would look like and trying to find my way back to what is, for me, normal. I also participated in a Nelson Literary Agency workshop on first pages with Angie Hodapp.

Though the initial review of my first five pages wasn’t horrible, I wanted to try something completely different for the revision, see if the advice of the readers would work. It was a spectacular failure, but I learned a lot from the experience.

You really do have to fail to learn, even if it’s painful 🙂

I’m now delving back into Initiate of Stone, working long hand in a notebook. Sometimes you just have to write it out. I find that writing long hand helps give me the time to examine the words and sentences, and get a fresh perspective.

I can now also disclose that I did not succeed with my application to #PitchWars. Reality Bomb was the project I chose for that experience. I didn’t expect to get in this first year of applying, but one pair of mentors, Michael Mammay and Dan Koboldt, was very supportive. They asked for additional materials, a synopsis and first 50 pages.

Our email exchanges in that first week or so were productive and illuminating for me. I now have some great ideas to return to that manuscript with. So, ultimately, #PitchWars was a win.

This brings me to another realization of why this year has been a difficult one for me.

Last year was the year of almost. I got on several long and short lists in contests, had my work set aside for second readings for anthologies, and while it didn’t result in any publications, the nature of the responses was reassuring. I also had a couple of stories accepted into the Sudbury Writers’ Guild anthology, which should be coming out this fall.

This year, with the exception of #PitchWars, has been the year of no. Form rejections all around, whether from querying or from short fiction submissions. Though I have, to some extent, found a way to turn rejection into a positive, when so many pile up, it becomes disheartening.

You begin to question your worth and skill as a writer, to doubt the kind things that have been said about your work (because there are so few of them, relatively speaking, that they must be the flukes, you reason). You begin to look for those opportunities to confirm your negative bias, blow small faux pas into huge incidents. Reasonable lapses in communication become the occasion for self-blame and recrimination.

Fortunately, since my return from Kansas City, I’ve been coming across the most wonderful articles and posts that have given me the encouragement I’ve needed, some of which you’ll see in this week’s curation. Between that, and the long hand work I’ve been doing on IoS, I’m making my way back to the page.

WorldCon

I’d left with the best of intentions and wanted to practice Gabriela Pereira’s method of networking with a number of authors I’d only ever seen online. In the moment, though, I was so nervous, I basically blathered.

I did get to meet and have a couple of nice, brief chats with Mary Robinette Kowal, met Cat Cambo and Foz Meadows at their Literary Beer sessions (informal chats), but otherwise, I just did my usual and took notes in panel discussions.

I was within three feet of George R.R. Martin, but as he was just coming out of the second of two autographing sessions in which fans lined up for the better part of an hour to see him, I just couldn’t bring myself to be that fan. Instead, I smiled, nodded, and moved on without harassing the poor man.

I had gone to the Tor Party with the intention of meeting John Scalzi, but several people seemed to be running interference and by the time I was able to politely make my excuses, Mr. Scalzi was monopolized by other Tor authors and friends. After that, he turned his attention to his beautiful wife and, again, I could not bring myself to interrupt just to say “hi, and thank you for writing wonderful books.”

Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, or an introvert, or both, but I just couldn’t.

I’m also a total newb and have no clue with regard to what’s appropriate and what’s not in which context.

The Hugo Awards Ceremonies were wonderful, though, and the sad puppies were soundly trounced.

N.K. Jemesin won best novel for The Fifth Season, Nnedi Okorafor won best novella for Binti, Hao Jingfang and Ken Liu (translator) won best novelette for Folding Beijing, and Neil Gaiman (who wasn’t there in person) had a special message for the sad puppies when he won best graphic story for The Sandman: Overture.

Really, you can just go to the Hugo Awards site and check out all the winners. Diversity was the word of the evening.

It was a great event, but at the end, I felt like I needed a vacation to get over my vacation 🙂

I returned home with a whopping case of imposter’s syndrome, though. I’d met and seen and learned from all of these authors, many of whom I read and respect. Who am I, with my two publications in what the Science Fiction Writers Association (SFWA) considers “token” markets, to think that I can get a traditional deal in a market that’s more competitive than ever?

When I confided my doubts to Phil, his response was that print publishing was on its way to extinction and why would I want that, anyway? So not what I needed to hear, but I forgave him instantly. Though he is very supportive of me and my creative calling, he, like most non-writers, will never understand what it’s like to be in my neurotic wee skull.

But, as I said, I’m surfacing now. I have no further conventions I’ve committed to (having used up my budget for such things) and the only challenge I’ve set for myself is to get through another revision of IoS and Apprentice of Wind before I tackle the third novel in the series for NaNoWriMo.

I still want to get back to the poetry collection and the non-speculative short fiction collection, but neither is a big priority for me at the moment.

I’m taking my time with the short fiction. Some of my stories are actually the seeds of novels. I have to set those aside in their own project folders for the future, and then get on with revising and submitting what I have. Who knows? I may even surprise myself and write some more new stories. It has been known to happen.

In the meantime, I’ve applied for my winter leave at work and am crossing my fingers.

Persistent payroll issues may affect my application for another leave with income averaging. Until things are sorted out, the powers that be may recommend against such special considerations. I may have to defer again until next year.

It won’t be the worst thing that’s ever happened, but Phil and I are ready to look for another furry dependent. I need the five weeks for acclimatization and training. We’d rather it be sooner than later, but we’ll be patient if we must.

Having a new puppy in the spring would probably be more convenient (she says, mentally willing leave approval).

And then there are the renovations to consider, but that’s another post. Probably several 😉

The month in writing

August was sparse as far as writing goes. Aside from the blog, from which I took a vacation for WorldCon, the only writing I did was to finish off the one short story I was working on.

AugustProgress

6,451 words on the blog and 901 words on the short story. 7,362 altogether. That’s literally all she wrote.

I didn’t revise a thing. Fortunately, because I met or exceeded my revision goals in every other month so far this year, I’m not that far behind.

I didn’t count the minor revisions I did to the stories I submitted, or any of the journalling or long hand writing I did.

Besides, I wasn’t anticipating (until part way through the year) that I’d return to IoS, so I don’t have a column for that on my spreadsheet. I could make one. I have the skill, but I don’t want to take the time to do it now. Yes. I know. Lazy Mellie.

I’m getting my mojo back. The writing’s the thing.

Science fiction is the literature of ideas. It is the great “what if?” that leads us into the future. Fantasy is the literature of (im)possibility. It longingly wonders “If only . . .” and whispers in our dreams. I write both and I think I’m pretty damned lucky.

And that’s it until next month.

I hope you’re all experiencing great creative breakthroughs and are satisfied with what you’ve done. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Be well!

The Next Chapter