Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, May 17-23, 2020

Another week of #pandemiclife, another batch of informal writerly learnings.

Before we get to those, though, here is my weekly update:

Though Ontario’s efforts at “reopening” have been cautious, numbers of confirmed cases have increased. Some of this is to be expected, but testing has not kept up. The federal government is trying to get the tech companies on board to have 1 tracing app across platforms (Android and Apple). While Phil and I did take my mom and Torvi out for an afternoon of physically distanced fun at his sister’s (she’s worked hard on her back yard this year, increasing the size of her patio to accommodate a gazebo, making a proper fire pit, and various planter boxes) we were careful to stay two metres apart.

Phil made a couple of yard games, a set of lawn dice for outdoor Yahtzee and a Finnish game called mölkky. I’ll let you look the latter up on the interwebz 🙂 We played a couple games and had an enjoyable afternoon.

Onto the curation!

K.M. Weiland strikes a balance between creativity and distraction: 13 tips for writers in the age of the internet. Helping Writers Become Authors

Janice Hardy is clarifying ambiguous pronouns. Then, Orly Konig wants you to organize the chaos using these five revision tips for pantsers. Fiction University

Gabe lists the four questions every pitch must answer. Bookish Pixie

Marjorie Simmins offers an excerpt of her Q&A with Lawrence Hill: memoir beyond the self. Then, Susan DeFreitas returns with part seven of her developing a writing practice series: engrained. Jane Friedman

Shaelin finishes her series on developing a novel: creating a writing plan. Reedsy

E.J. Wenstrom lists ten ways to connect with readers while physically distancing. And here’s my latest column: mythic storytelling with the tarot, part three. In which I create an outline for a fantasy story using the tarot. Jason Jones shares five tips to get your book on local media. DIY MFA

Dave King goes into the woods. Barbara Linn Probst is learning from Pinoccio how to create a character who’s fully alive. Writer Unboxed

Christina Delay thinks you might as well jump—into the third act. Writers Helping Writers

Ellen Buikema takes a look at body language in writing. Writers in the Storm

The Take looks at the girl next door.

Jami Gold explores the spectrum of third person point of view. Then, she helps you develop a powerful point of view.

Chris Winkle explains how to plot a series. Then, Oren Ashkenazi considers the world building of The Expanse. Mythcreants

Kelly Grovier: the women who created a new language. BBC

Deborah Dundas: Amazon hurt them. The lockdown hurt them. Now there’s a painful loss in court. Canada’s book biz — authors, publishers, retailers — is hunting for a new business model. The Toronto Star

Thank you for visiting. I hope you’ve found something to support you with your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe!

Tipsday2019

The next chapter: March 2020 update

And here we are with my first monthly writing update since covid-19 was declared a pandemic. What a difference a month makes.

A month of uncertainty and change

March came in like a lamb. It would leave that way, too, as if it knew that other events would play the lion. The first reports of a novel coronavirus had come out in November (hence the 19 in the virus name) from Wuhan and the first confirmed case in Canada was on January 15. We had no idea what was coming. At worst, I thought we’d be facing another SARS and Canada had weathered that. I’d worked through similar crises before. Or so I thought.

Then, on March 10, the first case was confirmed in Sudbury and a few days later, a second. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared covid-19 a pandemic. On March 12, the school boards declared that all schools would shut down for two weeks following March break to enforce quarantine on travellers returning after March break. Our university and colleges closed, as well.

The next week was March break and the first of my coworkers went home on special leave because she had school-aged children. More followed. I had scheduled leave the Thursday and Friday of that week. That weekend, Phil and I made the decision to stop visiting my mom, stop having her pet sit Torvi while Phil was out and about. While there have been no documented cases of covid-19 in pets, if Phil or I are asymptomatic carriers, we could transfer the virus on her fur and as Phil continues to venture out for necessaries, the potential danger is continual. The weekend and the decision were fraught with anxiety and disappointment. When I returned to work on Monday (March 23), half of the office had been sent home to telework. On Tuesday, the rest of us were told to go home. I came in on Wednesday to finish up a few things and collect my plants.

I’ve been working from home since March 26.

2020-03-27 18.01.12

States of emergency were declared at the national and provincial levels. Schools were closed indefinitely, and plans made to teach students virtually. Social distancing was renamed physical distancing. I don’t go out except to walk Torvi and when I do, I’m sure to stay at least two metres away from other pedestrians. Phil is our designated shopping and fetching guy, which works because he’s otherwise unemployed. He’s also performing this service for our moms.

Things haven’t changed much for me. I’m still working (a blessing) but am doing so from home. I don’t have any more time than I normally do, and so I’m not engaging in binge-watching, catching up on learning activities, or seeking distraction. I’m distracted enough by the surreality of the situation.

This is the new normal. And yet changes continue to be announced every day. The chaos has me in a state on continual, low-grade anxiety.

The month in writing

I’d planned to take weekends off and intended to compensate with extra words during the week. This went swimmingly for the first few weeks until covid-19 started to make its presence felt. Then, all bets were off.

When I came home from the office with the mandate to work from home on March 24, Phil ordered me a second monitor. My workstation at the office has two monitors and we have enough applications open that it really does make things easier. The second monitor arrived on Friday and we set it up after I finished work for the day. After that, I was toast, but I’d planned not to write Friday through Sunday every week in March, anyway, so I didn’t think I would fall too far behind. But I’d already missed Wednesday. The workday was chaotic and the more I tried to finish up and pack up and move home, the more stuff happened that prevented me from doing so.

So, I didn’t write Friday or Saturday and when I got back to it on Monday, my progress was not what I’d hoped.

MarchProgress

All this to say that I fell short on my drafting goals for the month again. Of my 13,702-word goal, I wrote 11,689 words, or 85%.

I blew my blogging goal away with my massive review of the split worlds series last month and wrote 5,396 words, or 144% of my 3,750-word goal.

I wrote my latest Speculations column in 1,285 words, or 129% of my 1,000-word goal. It should be coming out this week, so you can look forward to that.

I also revised a short story. There wasn’t as much revision as I’d thought. There was a lot more cutting than writing. I ended up writing 240 new words and cutting close to a thousand. I set myself a 250-word goal for the revision and accomplished 96% of it. I don’t count words cut.

I submitted the revised story to an SF magazine for their open reading period. Wish my words luck.

I received some awesome news that five of my speculative poems have been accepted for publication. I’ll be able to tell you more about that when they’re actually coming out. Stay tuned.

I also finished a critique for one of my partners in the online group and found the time to wrangle all the information I needed to submit our taxes. Yay me 🙂

Interestingly, at 18,370 of my total writing goal of 18,452 words, I came in at 99%. Between writing and revision, I accomplished 98% of my goals. I’ll take it.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I was able to accomplish this month, all things considered.

Filling the well

You wouldn’t think that I’d have anything to report here. You’d be wrong 😉

I’ve recently joined a Facebook group run by Lauren Carter and she organized an online reading through Zoom. I got to read poetry along with other poets, memoirists, non-fiction writers, and other novelists from all over North America. It was lovely and supporting and just the thing I needed.

What I’ve been watching and reading

March’s viewing included Locke & Key. Phil and I enjoyed it and are glad that the series in being renewed. We classified it as horror lite because of the juvenile protagonists. Although there was a truly horrific backstory that cropped up again in later episodes, it wasn’t overwhelming. The twist wasn’t terribly twisty, though. We had it figured out before the reveal. We liked the effects of the various keys and are looking forward to what the show has in store for next season.

We also burned through Altered Carbon. Season two takes place several centuries after the first. Takeshi Kovacs and Poe have travelled all over the known universe in search of Quellchrist Falconer and Tak has worn many different sleeves. The show opens on a scene in a lounge and the singer is Tak’s latest sleeve. She’s killed and Tak’s stack is taken. A virtual meeting with his new “employer” sees Tak lured into a protection detail in return for information on Quell. The bad news? Tak is back on Harlan’s World, the hellhole he and Poe escaped at the end of season one.

When he’s resleeved in Anthony Mackie’s buff body, Tak wakes to the chaos of his new employer’s assassination, which he is promptly framed for. Poe has meanwhile degraded because he refuses to relinquish his “memories” of Lizzie from season one. He glitches dangerously and seems to have an AI version of Alzheimer’s, often forgetting what he was saying, what he was doing, and where he is. The only “cure” is to reboot, resetting him to his factory state. Poe, of course, resists this because he would not only forget Lizzie, but Tak and all the adventures they’ve shared.

I highly recommend this one.

We also watched Aquaman (finally). Eye-candy aside, it was okay. Pretty standard DCEU fare.

This month’s reading started off with Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God. This was an older novel, published in 2000, and centers on an alien who comes to Earth, and specifically to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in search of a paleontologist because God seems to be engineering the apocalypse. Sawyer plays with the idea that civilizations only evolve to the point where they either begin to colonize other planets, or they destroy themselves. Add to this the controversial idea of intelligent design. The aliens believe in God and that everything in the universe had been planned and balanced in such a way as to to create life in multiple forms and to direct its evolution.

Two alien species have joined forces to investigate the apparent destruction or disappearance of several other civilizations. Some have, in fact, destroyed themselves. Some have taken refuge in virtual existence to avoid destroying themselves. And one travels to a remote sector of the galaxy for mysterious reasons. An impending supernova (of Betelgeuse, no less) threatens Earth and the other two alien species and the aliens want to join forces with humans to solve the mystery. Thomas Jericho struggles with the aliens’ belief in God because he has lung cancer that’s going to kill him.

A secondary plot devised by two fundamentalist Christians who want to show us Godless Canadians how wrong we are complicates matters. The bombing of a nearby abortion clinic is only a prelude to their main attraction: destroying the ROM’s collection of Precambrian fossils. The ticking clock is threefold. Will the terrorists destroy the fossils, and everyone in the vicinity; will the cancer kill Jericho and doom the interstellar mission to potential failure; or will the supernova make it all pointless?

Sawyer has often said that his stories are, at heart, about optimism. Calculating God is no exception.

Next, I read Ed Willett’s Spirit Singer. The titular character, Amarynth, begins the novel as apprentice to her grandfather. A spirit singer’s job is to sing the souls of the dead into the afterlife, but there’s something wrong. A malevolent presence haunts the between world. It stalks and kills her grandfather, stranding the souls of the people of their village, and Amarynth doesn’t yet know enough to assume his duties. She must find help.

It was a decent YA fantasy, but nothing surprising.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi was another story. A heist plot set in 19th Century Paris in an alternate world in which Babel Fragments endow people with magic. There’s political intrigue and manipulation and a cast of characters that I loved. Not going to say much more because y’all should read this one for yourselves.

Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective is not what you might expect from the title. The tea master is a disenfranchised ship mind who’s lost her crew and is trying to make ends meet by brewing “teas,” which seem to be neurochemical enhancers. The detective is one of ship mind’s clients who solves mysteries for fun. The mystery she draws the ship mind into? That of a young woman who seems to have voluntarily exposed herself to the deep spaces.

My classical selection of the month was Moby Dick. This was basically Melville’s love letter to the American whaling industry. The story itself could have been told in a small fraction of the words, but the novel is also a palimpsest. Every event becomes a story within the story. And then there’s the chapters on the categorization of whales, the difference between whale oil and spermaceti. I didn’t hate the book, but it was entirely too long.

Finally, I read Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. I remember when it was being released that someone said it would be the next Game of Thrones. Not quite, but it was an enjoyable read. The characters were engaging, but I did get a little irritated by the duelling love triangles. The world building was excellent, and I have moved on to reading the second in the series.

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

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Feb 2-8, 2020

You’ve survived Monday! Reward yourself with some informal writerly learnings.

Janice Hardy says, author, we have a problem: four plotting tips. Later in the week, Janice is poking dead scenes with a stick. Fiction University

K.M. Weiland shares six steps to create realistic and powerful scene dilemmas. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jami Gold uses an, ahem, moving metaphor to discover what matters in our stories. Then, she wonders, where do you want your story (or career) to go?

Jenna Moreci explains how to tell if you should write a series (and when you shouldn’t).

Abigail K. Perry covers James Scott Bell’s final signpost scene: transformation. As one series ends, another begins. The first of my three-part series on the tarot as a tool for mythic storytelling: an introduction to the tarot. DIY MFA

Donald Maass revisits the uncon again: world building for non-SFF writers. Cathy Yardley: your subconscious speaks a different language. ‘Cause tarot (see above)! Writer Unboxed

Meg LaTorre explains how to find critique partners and beta readers. Writers Helping Writers

Kris Spisak advises you to look at these four problem areas when revising. Jane Friedman

Joanna Penn interviews Jennie Nash: would you make a good book coach? The Creative Penn

Chris Winkle explains how storytellers use reactivity and proactivity for effect. Then, Oren Ashkenazi shares seven tricks to improve your minions. Mythcreants

Etuaptmumk: two-eyed seeing. Rebecca Thomas TEDxNSCCWaterfront

Brit Marling: I don’t want to be the strong female lead. The New York Times

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’re taking away something to help with your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well, my writerly friends 🙂

Tipsday2019

The next chapter: January 2020 update

January saw this writer still in hibernation mode.

The month in writing

Work continues on the rewrite of Reality Bomb. I changed my ambitious plan from last year, extending the remaining work through to the end of April. This meant a daily goal of 392 words. This was reasonable and very doable … until I came across a snag at the midpoint.

While the story is still science fiction, I’d classify it as soft SF because the character arc focuses on my protagonist coming to terms with her past trauma and forgiving herself for the harm she’s caused others as a result. Once the inciting event occurs, my protagonist is disembodied, which causes its own difficulties (agency), but at the midpoint, she’s in a fairly literal mirror moment as she and her alternate self—two very different personalities trapped in the same body—reach an understanding.

I stopped drafting for a few days, did some brainstorming, and moved on, but I’m still not happy with what’s on the page. I’m going to go back to my revised outline, which I’ve diverged from, as usual, do some more brainstorming, and see if I can’t wrangle the scene back into shape.

Januaryprogress

So, of my 12,152-word goal, I wrote 10,023 words, or 82%. And I’ve had to calculate a new daily writing goal, 420 words per day, to account for the shortfall.

My next Speculations column was due, and I submitted on time with a 1,275-word article, achieving 128% of my 1,000-word goal.

I also exceeded my blogging goal of 3,750 words, writing 3,940 words, or 105% of my goal.

Overall, I wrote 16,902 words of my 15,238-word goal, or 111%. Not bad.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I leapt into the latest season of The Expanse. We burned through it and really enjoyed it. All the characters (Bobby! Amos!) got great defining moments. The bill came due for Avansarala, Ashford broke my heart, and we have some great mysteries to solve for the next season.

Without getting spoilery, I’ll say this: The Expanse has now replaced Babylon 5 as Phil’s favourite SF of all time 🙂

Everything else is in progress.

Before I get to my reading in January, I’ve decided that I’m not going to review a book unless I can give it four or five stars. My last review last year was one I owed to the author, but … it was three stars. I liked it. But it was a first novel and while the story was good, there were other problems that made three stars the appropriate rating.

I won’t be dishonest or give a book a great rating just because I know the author. Just know that, moving forward, I’m only going to review books I genuinely love.

In non-fiction, I read three tarot-related books: Mapping the Hero’s Journey with Tarot, by Arwen Lynch, Tarot for Fiction Writers, by Haley Dzuk, and Tarot for the Fiction Writer, by Paula Chaffee Scardamalia. They were all good, but the last was, in my opinion, the best. I’m reading these for my next Speculations column, in which I will be reviewing five tarot for writers books and outlining the value for writers in each. I’ll save my opinions for the column 🙂

I finished Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series, reading Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. The series works as a series, but I don’t know that the books work as standalones.

I mentioned when I read Shadow and Bone, that I found the protagonist a bit passive, that is lacking in agency. This issue is solved in the second book, though there are several levels of conspiracy at play, all of which successfully manipulate Alina to the point where the only action she can take in the climax is to use her connection with the Darkling in a strange murder-suicide attempt, which accomplishes neither end and merely defers a final confrontation.

In book three, the best of the series, Alina actively pursues her goals. She leads her ragged band of survivors and friends on a quest to find the third amplifier, which they think is the fire bird. It’s not, and the tragic choice that faces Alina when she learns who the third amplifier is, results in a risky gambit that ultimately fails.

Then, rather than self-sacrifice, the trope both previous books ended with, Alina unwittingly pulls a Buffy (season seven). Buffy acted armed with knowledge and a viable plan to share her power with every potential slayer in the world. Alina reluctantly kills the third amplifier and is stunned when she feels emptied of power rather than filled with it, and then watches as a number of commoners turn into sun-summoners. While she manages to kill the Darkling when he’s distracted, it’s those new sun-summoners who destroy the fold and the volcra.

Alina and Mal do get their happily ever after, reopening the orphanage where they grew up, but to do this, Alina has to relinquish her power and the hope of ever being grisha again. I’m not so sure I’m happy with that ending, even if we’re told Alina and Mal are.

I also read books three and four of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series All is Fair and A Little Knowledge. Because I’m reading book five now, I’ll save my series review for next month.

Finally, I read the first book in a YA fantasy series that Caroline Sciriha, an author from my critique group published with Castrum Press. Dawn of Purple and Gray is about Shael, who has been raised by a family of potters and has been taught to hide the white hair that would mark her as a Hyllethan. She’s told it was a gift from her mother’s mistress, a Hyllethan princess, but Shael’s family are Inlanders. After a war and political coup, the Hyllethans are their enemies.

When she comes across a wounded messenger who tells her to take his package to the queen and then dies, Shael is drawn into adventure and learns a truth she never suspected.

The story is good. The writing is good. Caroline even created a board game that plays a role in the plot on multiple levels. I found Shael skewed young, even for a YA book, however. It was an enjoyable book and I’ll read the next in series when it comes out, but it didn’t hook me like other books have. Other readers have rated the book more highly than I have, so my opinion is not in the majority.

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

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

The Next Chapter

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Jan 5-11, 2020

It’s a lovely, sunny Sunday after 20 cm of snow. Please enjoy these informal writerly learnings!

Janice Hardy shares three things to remember when revising from a critique. Later in the week, Janice help you craft hook lines that draw readers in. Fiction University

Christopher Hoffmann: what your dialogue tags say about you. Then, Sangeeta Mehta interviews Jim McCarthy and Paula Munier about what it means to be a full-time author. Finally, Jane herself lists five common story openings you want to avoid—if you can help it. Jane Friedman

Tamar Sloan offers a writer’s roadmap to capturing an unhappy relationship. Writers Helping Writers

Jenna Moreci lists her favourite family tropes.

Nancy Johnson finds a new year brings fresh author envy. “But anticipatory angst is real, if a bit irrational, and I sometimes envy authors who make lists I’m not even eligible for, wondering if my own trajectory will be on par with theirs.” Juliet Marillier wants to be a light in the darkness. What will you use your writerly superpowers for this year? Kathryn Craft is bridging temporal story gaps. David Corbett: wherein we resume our discussion of evil. Writer Unboxed

Jenn Walton hopes you’ll use personality tests to enhance character development. Heather Viera shares five tips for creating a relaxing workspace. DIY MFA

Julie Glover: will your character fight, flee, or freeze? Writers in the Storm

Chris Winkle lists five masquerade explanations and why they’re bad. Then, Oren Ashkenazi points out six military blunders in speculative fiction. Mythcreants

Chuck Wendig blogs at clouds (to make a point about blogging). Terribleminds

Robert Lee Brewer distinguishes between heroes and heros. Writer’s Digest

Hélène Schumacher: is this the most powerful word in the English language? BBC

Georgie Hoole introduces us to Cecil Court: the secret alley full of curious old bookshops. Secret London

Thanks for your time and attention. I hope you came away with something you need for your current work in progress.

Until next time, be well, my writerly friends 🙂

Tipsday2019

The next chapter: December 2019 update and year-end wrap-up

Here we are at the beginning of a new year and a new decade. The possibilities seem endless. I hope you’ve all set reasonable goals and are diving into your work with passion and compassion.

The month in writing

Dec2019Progress

In December, my focus was on continuing to rewrite Reality Bomb. I set my goal at 500 words per day or 15,500 words for the month. I wrote 12,131 words, or 78% of my goal.

The only other thing on my writing plate was this blog. I wrote 4,789 words of my 4,250-word goal, or 113%.

And that’s it.

2019 in review

I started off the year ambitiously, as I always do (more on that in a bit). In addition to finishing drafting book five of my epic fantasy series, Tamisashki, roughly revising RB for presentation to my critique group, blogging, and my bi-monthly Speculations column for DIY MFA, I’d decided to write, revise, and submit one short story per month, revise a poetry collection and two collections of my previously published short fiction.

Add to that my involvement in the critique group, which meant—surprise—critiquing some of my partners’ work, attending Ad Astra, Can-Con, and Wordstock Sudbury, and I had a fuller-than-usual plate. Yes, I was finally over my burnout, but I suspected, even as I set these ambitious goals, that I wasn’t up to accomplishing all of them.

Yeah. While I did revise my poetry collection (and wrote a new poem—yay, me), I only managed to write and revise one short story and start on one more before I realized that the one-story-per-month goal was untenable. I never got to either of the short story collections aside from putting them on my 2019 Writing and Revision Tracker.

I did write one side project, a guest post about writers’ grief for WarpWorld, but that was the only unplanned writing I did.

So, I adjusted my goals. Several times. But what I have on this summary page is what I ended up with.

2019Progress

On the writing side of things, I did rather well. Of my collective 114,150-word goal, I wrote 138,875 words, or 122%.

I revised (or rewrote) 123, 155 words of my 157,110-word goal, or only 78%.

Interestingly, the average of my writing and revision percentages is 100%.

Still, between writing and revising, I produced 262,030 words in 2019. That’s over a quarter of a million words. I’m damned pleased with that.

Filling the well

I relaxed in December. I’m fairly certain that I, like many people in northern Ontario, suffer from some degree of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Self-care is important for me at this time of year. Accordingly, I spent a quiet holiday with family.

Consider me a bear. Winter is my time to hibernate 🙂

What I’m watching and reading

With regard to series, Phil and I watched the new Watchmen series and His Dark Materials in December.

We liked Watchmen because it was consistent with the feeling of the graphic novels and, to some extent, the movie. It was a slow burn to start with, which we don’t mind, particularly in this case, as everything came together in a truly surprising twist. The denouement was satisfying, and the cliffhanger was something that, while I’d be happy to see what happens next, if a second season isn’t in the cards, I would be satisfied with the possibilities it presents without needing a definitive answer.

His Dark Materials was well done, better than the movie, in any case. As in many adaptations, changes were made that would better serve the medium, and I appreciated many of the decisions made for this iteration of Phil Pullman’s novels. I liked the actors and the incorporation of Will’s plotline into this season. A solid season and I hope BBC’s collaboration with HBO will continue.

We started watching Witcher, but it was more of a gap-filler and Phil gave up after the third episode. We didn’t even get through the first episode of the second season of Lost in Space before Phil walked away. I’ll probably pick up both when I’ve made some room on my personal Netflix viewing.

Reading-wise, I grabbed Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea right after Call Down the Hawk. I enjoyed it right up to the ending, which was confusing and unsatisfying for that reason.

Then, I picked up Diana Gabaldon’s collection of novellas, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall. It was a bit of a cheat because I’d read all but two in their individual novella forms. I’m a big Gabaldon fan, though, and I like the way she writes into the gaps in her larger series of books.

Next, I read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance. It was okay but suffered from many of the same problems as the first book in the series. The characters are all moving between love and hate for themselves and one another so quickly that I got whiplash. I understand that this is YA and the characters are all teenagers, but there were several points at which I felt that the drama was just too much.

Six of Crows was much stronger than Shadow and Bone. Maybe Leigh Bardugo is better at ensemble casts, or heist plots? The characters were stronger and had more agency. They felt more grounded and complex. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed it.

To finish off the year, I returned to a couple of classics. Charles Dickens’ The Chimes, and A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Dickens has a fondness for ghosts and time travel lessons. Winnie was just charming.

I’d set myself a reading goal for the year of 50 books and ended up reading 71 (!) or 142% of my goal.

What’s up in 2020

I think I’ve finally learned my lesson, writing-wise. I’ve focused in on what I need to do and let my ambitions amuse themselves.

Given my reduced—but still good—production, I’m giving myself until the end of April to finish the rewrite of RB. The core story remains the same, but the content is different enough that it is like writing a new novel. Accordingly, while I counted the work I did in November and December as revision, I’m counting everything in 2020 as writing.

Then, I’m going to begin work on revision/rewriting Marushka. I’d put it up for critique in early 2019 but didn’t feel as strongly about getting back to it as I did about RB. I have to make some decisions about this novel which could entail a significant rewrite … or not. I’ll make those decisions when I review the novel and the critique feedback.

Throughout the year, I’m going to be steadily working on the Ascension series. I should finish my initial reread by the end of January. Then, I’m going to work on the series bible and revision notes on all five novels. By November, I should be ready to tackle revision/rewrites on book one.

I’ll blog, as usual and keep up with my Speculations column. If I can fit it in, I’ll work on some short fiction. I haven’t made any hard and fast goals with respect to the short fiction, though. If it has to go by the wayside, so be it.

The one last thing I’m going to do is shop the poetry collection around, as well as some of my unpublished poems, to see if I can’t do something with them.

2020Goals

I’ll likely attend Ad Astra, Can-Con, and Wordstock again.

So, my plans are much more modest this year. I’m hoping I won’t have to sacrifice much more than the short fiction.

I’ve set my reading goal for 60 books this year, but I’m not sure I’ll achieve it. I put off reading several monster books that I’ll probably tackle in 2020.

By the way, if you like the Writing and Revision Tracker in the screen shots, Jamie Raintree created it. Please do yourself a favour and visit her website to find out more.

That’s it for this update. I generally do them on the first weekend of every month.

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

The Next Chapter

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 8-14, 2019

Here are some informal writerly learnings to peruse while you’re preparing for, or celebrating, the holidays.

Lori Freeland says that show, don’t tell, are the three most misunderstood words in a writer’s vocabulary. Then, Colleen M. Story shared seven ways writers can overcome holiday anxiety. Julie Glover is saying no to get to a more important yes. Writers in the Storm

Shaelin shares five of her favourite tropes. Reedsy

Rheea Mukherjee makes notes on writer dreams, gratitude, and the anxiety of authenticity. Jim Dempsey wants you to manipulate your reader’s point of view. Sarah Callender asks, is imitating the greats helpful or harmful? Kathryn Craft is manipulating story time for maximum effect. David Corbett shares a lesson in forgiveness from The Crown. Writer Unboxed

K.M. Weiland critiques: ten ways to write a better first chapter using specific word choices. Helping Writers Become Authors

Roz Morris shares five post-NaNoWriMo ways to use the holidays to keep your new writing habits … without revising too early. Nail Your Novel

Abigail K. Perry digs into James Scott Bell’s signpost scene 13: the final battle. Brenda Joyce Patterson takes a deep dive into the essay. Then, Constance Emmett shares five tips for post-publication survival and success. DIY MFA

Robert Lee Brewer points out the difference between lets and let’s. Writer’s Digest

Nathan Bransford offer the eight essential elements of a story.

Chris Winkle shares five ways to make multiple points of view more engaging. Then, Oren Ashkenazi explains why some dark topics are more sensitive than others. Mythcreants

Tim makes some excellent points about writing power escalation. Hello, Future Me

Heidi Fiedler stops by The Creative Penn: five ways to quiet your inner editor.

Jami Gold asks, what’s your core story?

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you’re leaving with some great resources for your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well!

Tipsday2019

The next chapter: October and November 2019 mega update

It’s been a while. Two months, to be precise. Let’s just get right to it 🙂

October in writing

Once more, I was busy with non-productive writing-related tasks. I was prepping for NaNoWriMo and my rewrite of Reality Bomb. Though I think I worked through most of the problematic bits of the story and had a good idea of the reworked outline, with plot points, etc., the writing took me in slightly different directions, as it does. More on that, below.

I continued my reread of Ascension and got half-way through Playing with Fire, book four of the series.

OctoberProgress

Writing-wise, I blogged 4,529 words of my 4,500-word goal, or 101%.

I also wrote 496 words of short fiction of my 2,000-word goal, or 25%.

And that was it for October.

November in writing

I won’t belabor things too much. If you’ve been watching my NaNo updates, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I landed. I wrote 30,502 words of the revised RB, or 61% of my goal. At this rate, it will likely be the end of January before I’m finished with the rewrite.

The last week of November, during which I was training at work, was appropriately fatiguing, but I cracked 30k, which was a realistic goal I was happy to achieve.

I also wrote my latest Speculations column for DIY MFA. It should be coming out Tuesday. That came in at 1052 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 105%.

I had expected my weekly NaNo updates to be brief and predicted about 250 words each, or 1,000 words overall. I blogged 1,293 words, or 129% of goal.

NovemberProgress

Filling the well

In October, I went to Can-Con in Ottawa, which I first attended three years ago. This year’s attraction was that the Aurora Awards (the Canadian Hugos) were presented there. Well, they were off-site at Christchurch Cathedral, which was a lovely venue. I met up with a few friends from professional organizations and had a genuinely lovely time.

In November, Sudbury’s own Wordstock Literary festival took place and I attended what sessions I could given that I was also beginning NaNoWriMo and my 50th birthday party (!) took place that weekend. Still, I connected with writer friends and bought books (when do I not?).

What I’m watching and reading

On the viewing front, Phil and I finished watching the final season of Preacher. It was mostly satisfying. I read the graphic novels so long ago that I wasn’t able to remember well enough to know if the series was a faithful-ish adaptation. I have the feeling that it wasn’t. There were some significant logic issues that can probably be attributed to the graphic (like how they got the car overseas). Handwavium aside, it was enjoyable.

I finished watching the final season of The Santa Clarita Diet. Meh. I liked the characters and the actors, but the story was lacking.

Phil and I started watching the (third?) season of Ash vs. the Evil Dead and haven’t finished it. As with other shows of its ilk, it was playing the same tropes over and over.

Instead, we took in a delightful animated kids’ show, Three Below, which was created by Guillermo del Toro. We enjoyed the tale of a family of aliens stranded on Earth. There were tie-ins to The Troll Hunters.

We also watched the first season of Happy! It was all kinds of twisted and we just enjoyed the scenery-chewing antics of the cast 🙂

I finished off the last season of The Mortal Instruments. It was okay. I was mostly seeing it through for the sake of completeness.

Finally, Phil and I watched Raising Dion. We enjoyed it, and burned through it, more or less, but there were some problematic storytelling issues we took exception to. The first was that, in an attempt at attaining some realism, the writers gave time to the characters’ daily lives and struggles, even though they had little to nothing to do with the main plot.

**WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.**

Yes, Nicole deserves a life and interests of her own, but did it need so much screen time? Nicole gave up her dancing career when she was pregnant with Dion. Pertinent, but it’s a fact that can be stated and we can move on with the story. That she gets a job at the same dance theatre is good (‘cause she needs a job to support Dion) but then the job becomes the source of meaningless conflict, in which the owner continually makes Nicole choose between her job and her son’s wellbeing to the point of unreasonableness. And then there’s the potential relationship with hot dancer guy when it’s made abundantly clear that Nicole isn’t over her husband’s death yet. I was waiting for this whole subplot to tie in somehow, but I was disappointed.

Nicole’s sister is a no-nonsense doctor and seems only to be present to remind Nicole of what a failure she is, how delusional she is, and what a poor mother she is. Later in the series, when Nicole’s sister has to take Dion to the hospital because he’s spiking a fever and Nicole’s boss won’t let her leave work, Nicole is finally able to prove to her sister that she’s not crazy and Dion does have powers. But then the sister has to risk her career and medical licence to erase all evidence of Dion from the hospital’s systems. She does help Nicole get Dion away from Pat (see below) but then she drops out of the plot, her usefulness exhausted.

Even Dion’s friends and the bullying he experiences as the new kid in school are, at best, peripherally tied to the plot. But peripheral is better than pointless.

**HERE IT IS. THE BIG SPOILER. READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.**

And then, there’s Pat. Oh, Pat. I love Jason Ritter as an actor, but damn did the writers give him some shit to portray.

The series begins with Pat being the friend and coworker of Nicole’s dead husband, Mark, and godfather to Dion. They play games together, Dion tells Pat things he can’t tell his mom, and Pat is helpful, though it’s clear he’s crushing on Nicole.

Dion begins to exhibit powers and then he and Nicole witness strange ghosts that appear in a sudden storm, one of them, Dion’s dad. Then a man made of lightning, whom Dion names the crooked man, shows up and sucks all the ghosts back to him before disappearing.

Pat begins to help Nicole and Dion, being Dion’s “superhero mentor” and helping them to investigate Biona, where Pat still works, when Nicole discovers that Mark didn’t trust his employer.

During Dion’s health crisis, Pat even points out the way to save Dion, having learned what Mark discovered about his own changed physiology in the wake of the meteor shower that resulted in his developing powers.

Then, in a reveal so clumsy they had to include a retcon flashback, Pat goes from awkward family friend and geeky investigator to full-on incel and … the crooked man. There was so much WTF, I didn’t know what to do with it.

In the end, Pat/the crooked man is defeated by Nicole and Dion in a tag team effort, and there is a touching, if temporary family reunion, but the crooked man escapes and inhabits another young boy with powers much like Dion. This makes no sense as the crooked man “consumes” those with powers and Pat wanted Dion to heal him (of the crooked man, I assume), which would have killed Dion. There’s no precedent for this outcome in the series. Also, it presents the recurrent villain trope, in which Dion will again have to face the crooked man at the end of next season. Not promising.

I read a lot of books in the last couple of months. I’ll touch on them briefly, here.

I decided to check out Zen and the Art of Writing because it had long been on my TBR list and someone in my critique group mentioned that it was her go-to, feel-good, writing craft book. I liked it and Bradbury’s approach to writing but didn’t feel like I could adopt much of it for my own process.

Having just finished The Handmaid’s Tale in the wake of the series’ third season, I nabbed The Testaments. Atwood made a wise decision in placing the events of The Testaments fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, giving the series room to breathe and become its own thing in between. The narration alternates between Aunt Lydia, at the end of a storied career, Agnes, June’s oldest daughter, raised in Gilead by a Commander and his wife, and Daisy, raised in Toronto, who eventually learns that she is “Baby Nicole,” June’s younger daughter. I won’t give anything away, but I liked The Testaments better than The Handmaid’s Tale. The three narrators, though still unreliable in their own ways, are not as unreliable as Offred/June was in the first book. Their stories, though still traumatic, are revealing in ways that June’s could not be.

Then, I read one of my favourite books of the last two months, Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. It’s admittedly weird, as only a space opera set in a system with nine planets (ahem), each controlled by a necromantic house in service to the Emperor God necromancer can be. It’s a little off-putting that the main action is basically sword and sorcery—I found myself asking, why set this in space at all?—I’m sure there will be a payoff in the upcoming sequel Harrow the Ninth. It’s a wicked and charming character study, exposed through mystery and puzzle-solving, and the writing is just—forgive me—to die for.

Next, I turned to Cassandra Khaw’s novella, Hammers on Bone, which puts a Cthulian twist on the hard-boiled detective narrative. Interesting and brutal and satisfying.

Eden Robinson’s follow up to Son of a Trickster, Trickster Drift, continues Jared’s story. He travels to Vancouver to attend college, away from his mother’s protection, moves in with his mother’s estranged sister and her haunted apartment, is stalked by his mother’s vicious ex, David, who abused Jared when he was a child, and stalwartly attempts to have a normal life. Things, of course, do not go as planned.

A Brightness Long Ago is Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest alt-historical fantasy and like all his work, is lyrical and touching and nuanced. This is one novel I want you all to read for yourselves, so I’ll just say that I loved it.

The City in the Middle of the Night is Charlie Jane Anders’ second novel. For the most part, I loved it as much as All the Birds in the Sky, but the ending seemed rushed and the novel was ultimately unsatisfying for that reason. On a tidally locked planet, where humans can only survive in the thin band of twilight between the inferno of the light side and the frozen tomb of the dark, the reader follows Sophie, kind, gentle, naïve Sophie, as she learns that no matter where we go or what we do, humans are the absolute worst. At every turn they fail her and each other. It’s no wonder she turns toward the native species of the planet toward the end of the novel.

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. Like Anders’ novel, Bolander’s novella shows us how humans are doomed to make all the wrong choices. Elephants and women are the victims in this case. Why is it that we need a holocaust, or a nuclear bomb to remind us that “never again” is more than just words?

Finally got around to reading Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. While I enjoyed the book, I found, as others have, that Alina, the protagonist, doesn’t have a lot of agency in the novel. From the moment she evidences her grisha powers, Alina is taken, trained, manipulated, enslaved, and though she ultimately manages to win her freedom and the day, it felt that luck had as much a hand in it as Alina.

Next was P Djélì Clark’s Black God’s Drums. This novella is set in an alternate history in which both steam punk elements and African culture. It was entertaining and I loved the protagonist 🙂

Then, I read the third novel in A.M. Dellamonica’s Hidden Sea Tales, The Nature of a Pirate. These novels are basically police procedurals in a post-post-post-apocalyptic future. Sophie Hansa is transported into a world which is more ocean than land. Aside from living on islands, there is an armada/floating nation of ships. There is magic, but it works largely by inscription, which needs specific and often rare materials, and must be worked on a person, whose full name is required for the spell. One person can only be inscribed so much before they reach their individual capacity and then they start to suffer and may even die horribly. The world building is impeccable, the characters are endearing, and the mysteries are engaging.

My other non-fiction read of the month was Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s the tale of an indigenous woman finding her way back to her culture. It’s a beautiful, lyrical book, and because Kimmerer is a botanist, she weaves science in with her teachings. It’s an ecological tour de force.

I read Alyssa Wong’s short story, “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers.” Two sisters destroy the world again and again in an attempt to save one another.

I burned through Maggie Stiefvater’s Call Down the Hawk. I read several awesome books in the last couple of months (Muir’s, Kay’s, Kimmerer’s), but this has to be my absolute favourite. It delves into the lives of the Lynch brothers in the wake of The Raven Cycle. There are other dreamers in the world, and they’re being systematically hunted and killed by an organization that believes one of them will destroy the world. They’re closing in on Ronan, Declan is dating the living dream of another, and Matthew has just realized that he’s just like his mother, Aurora Lynch, and that his existence depends on Ronan. It’s twisted and juicy and everything I wanted. The ending was a little precipitous, but I know this is the beginning of a trilogy, so I’m willing to forgive Stiefvater for that. The cliffhanger, though—!

Finally, I read Chuck Wendig’s short story collection, Irregular Creatures. Some of the stories were endearing. Some of them were downright disturbing. A lot of douchecannoes got what they deserved.

And—whew!—that was the last two months in this writer’s life.

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

The Next Chapter

NaNoWriMo 2019 update 4

Rough week, being back to work and all.

I had a couple days where I wrote less than 500 words and have slowly increased from there to the point where I wrote 2085 again today and even have time to get this post written and out before I’m to bed at a reasonable-ish time. I need to get to work a little earlier than usual for the training I mentioned.

NaNoupdate4

I’m up at 27,339 words, so my prediction of between 30 and 40k seems reasonable.

I’ll likely fall behind again during the week. Training kicks my butt, energy-wise, and though I’ve technically recovered from the cold, I’m still clearly out the gunk. Blech.

This will be my last NaNo update for this year. Next weekend marks the end of November and the beginning of December, so I’ll be composing a slightly epic monthly update for October and November combined on Sunday.

It’ll be another week after that before curation resumes, but you should see the first post-NaNo tipsday on the tenth.

That’s it for now.

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

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NaNoWriMo 2019 update 3

In week three, I rallied. A bit. I used four days of vacation and turned a long weekend into a full week off. But, because I’d procrastinated about my DIY MFA column, I had that to do. And my week 2 update, which I put out on Monday.

So, it took me a few days to get into high(er) gear.

I can’t write as much as I used to. Two thousand-ish words seems to be my limit, even on a day when I technically don’t have anything else to do. Except I do have other stuff to do. We all do. It’s not an excuse. Just a fact.

The family health situation I mentioned last week was resolved. The additional tests came back negative. Oddly, being a puddle of relief can be just as distracting as being worried about a loved one. Go figure.

I also got sick. Well, Phil got sick first and, generous man that he is … But I was well enough to go back to work yesterday.

Unfortunately, the cold kind of kicked my butt. I wrote for as long as I could and had nothing left for my update. It was supposed to be posted on Sunday.

The last two days back at work have been crazy. I managed a thousand words yesterday, but tonight, I’m feeling all kinds of busted. So, I’m writing this post and I’ll write what words I can (I’m not giving up, but I need a break). I’ll get back on the horse, so to speak, to the degree that I can for the rest of the week, but one of the crazy things that happening right now is prep for a training course I have to deliver next week.

NaNoupdate3

As of yesterday, the 18th, I had 21,325 words written. That just under seven thousand words behind. I can’t produce the same volume of words while I’m working that I can when I’m off.

I anticipate that I’ll rack up somewhere between 30 and 40k words by the end of November.

We’ll see if I surprise myself.

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

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