The next chapter: September 2020 update

I blink, and it’s October.

Black and Indigenous lives matter

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

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

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

Pandemic life

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

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

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

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

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

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

The month in writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t the cover beautiful?

It’s nice to get some external validation again.

Filling the well

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

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

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

Whew! That was a lot of virtual events.

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

What I’m watching and reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next chapter: August 2020 update

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

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

Pandemic life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The month in writing

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

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

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

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

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

Filling the well

There were just a few virtual events in August.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m watching and reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We may be reopening, but for the love of all that’s holy, please wear a mask when you go out in public/to a business/outside your social bubble. Maintain social distancing, even if you think it’s stupid/ridiculous. Parents, pester your schoolboards, provincial, and federal politicians for a proper plan for the return to school. All we need is to have a class, or—heaven forefend—an entire school, of children and their teachers infected with covid-19.

We still don’t know the long-term effects of this damn virus, though serious neurological and cardio-pulmonary involvements have already been seen, even in asymptomatic patients. People who have had covid once, have been infected again, months later, and a few have even been symptomatic for months.

Despite the need to recover economically, we need to protect our communities while doing so. It’s a tricky balance to strike and we have to do this right.

On that cheery thought, please enjoy these informal writerly learnings 😀

Concepción de León, Alexandra Alter, Elizabeth A. Harris and Joumana Khatib interview Black publishing professionals: a conflicted cultural force. The New York Times

Tiffany Yates Martin explains how to weave in backstory without stalling your story. Then Nancy Johnson interviews Laura Rossi about publishing in a pandemic from a book publicist’s perspective. Melanie Conklin wonders, what about book two? Kathryn Craft is helping you identify and craft your inciting incident. Finally, David Corbett gets into more of his covid dreams and the lessons he’s learning from them: a visitor and a sin. Writer Unboxed

12 tips for new short story writers. Shaelin Writes

K.M. Weiland: how to get things done as a writer, or how this INTJ leverages her te. Helping Writers Become Authors

Orly Konig lists three reasons you should quit writing. Fiction University

Nathan Bransford says, even minor characters have needs and desires.

Sara Letourneau explains how to create discussion questions using your book’s themes. DIY MFA

The Take considers the controversial history of the hero cop trope.

John Peragine touts the importance of the triple edit. Writers in the Storm

Jami Gold suggests you get organized, for the sake of your creativity and your career.

Shonna Slayton recommends you improve your fiction by studying the Brothers Grimm. Writers Helping Writers

Nam Kiwanuka interviews Amanda Leduc about ableism and disability in fairy tales. TVO

Chris Winkle lists seven common reasons protagonists are unlikable. Then, Oren Ashkenazi explains how Frank Herbert sabotaged his own ideas. Mythcreants

Jen Sookfong Lee: what Anne of Green Gables taught me about grief. The Walrus

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you’ve taken away something to support your current work in progress.

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

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 9-15, 2020

It’s that time of the week again, time for informal writerly learnings!

Melinda VanLone offers a quick guide to image copyright issues. On Valentine’s Day, Julie Glover helps you love your writer self. Writers in the Storm

Rheea Mukherjee is writing in a time of global trauma. Jim Dempsey wants to help you create conflict in your characters. Kathryn Craft lists seven ways to overcome story implausibility. David Corbett: if not love … Writer Unboxed

Something just for fun 🙂 Shaelin shares five false writer stereotypes. Reedsy

And then, she shares five true writer stereotypes. Reedsy

Christina Kaye guest posts on Helping Writers Become Authors: four research tips for writing legal fiction.

Laurence MacMaughton offers three rules for raising story stakes. Fiction University

September C. Fawkes explains how premise plays into theme. Brandon Cornett helps you figure out when situational writing works better than plotting. Writers Helping Writers

Jeanette the Writer answers this knotty question: will an editor steal my ideas? Bess McAllister explains how to make your own writer luck. Then, Gabriela Pereira interviews K.S. Villoso about world building in epic fantasy. Anna Thu Nguyenova shares five tips for writing great short stories. DIY MFA

How to write heartbreak. Jenna Moreci

Nathan Bransford suggests you start with the problems before leaping to the solutions in editing.

Chris Winkle shares lessons from the purple prose of The Witcher. Mythcreants

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you’re taking away something that will help you progress in your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well!

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

The next chapter: September 2019 update

Ah, October. My favourite month, mostly ‘cause my birthday 🙂 Yes. I’m a child.

The month in writing

We’re just going to get right to it.

SeptProgress

I made the decision to post only two book reviews this month (though one was of two novellas), and so I was a bit short of my blogging goal. 5,071 words of my 5,600-word goal, or 91%.

I got my latest Speculations written and submitted early because I headed down to Toronto for a day-job learning event. I wrote 1,327 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 133%.

I wrote all of 50 new words on short story number two and revised 41 words on short story number one. Even with a meagre 500-word goal for each, that was 10% and 8% respectively.

I went through the poetry collection again. This one, I decided to track by the number of poems revised. 51 of 51, or 100%. I have one more pass to make before the collection is ready for submission. I hope to get that done this month.

I got my second rejection on my poetry. Will send out more submissions.

In non-tracking projects, the read-through of Ascension continues. I’m almost finished with book three and will move onto book for this month.

I’m also 31 handwritten pages into revision notes for the SF novel that didn’t know what it was. It’s shaping up and I should be ready for my stint as a NaNo rebel next month.

I’ve also critiqued another project for my online critique group and have moved on to another.

One thing I’ve learned in the past few months is that you can still be a working writer, even if you’re not producing a lot of words. Not all writing is writing. Sometimes it’s reading, critiquing, planning, and thinking. You have to make space for all of it.

Filling the well

No writerly events in September, but I did get together with a couple of writer friends for and evening of Thai food and chat. It was just what I needed to refresh and refocus.

No pictures. Sorry.

Here are a few of my random photos from the last month instead 🙂

What I’m watching and reading

This month, Phil and I watched Carnival Row. We enjoyed the gritty, alternate world, the murder mystery wrapped up in a tragic origin story, and cheesy prophecy trope. It was nice how most of the story elements were connected to the main plot and so, as events unfolded, the characters developed and changed accordingly.

The final season of Killjoys came to an end in September as well. I didn’t appreciate all the creative choices that were made in this final season. Several of them felt forced, or worse, contrived. The series has always been more fun than philosophical, though, and things ended well.

I finished watching the first season of The Order. It really didn’t know what it wanted to be. Magical university? Werewolf story? Magical revenge tale? Things were tied together loosely, and the ending was disappointing. The titular order erases the memories of the werewolves and steals all their artefacts and research library. Really, I was left wondering why I should care.

Finally, The OA. The first season kind of ruined me with the second to last episode. When the box of incriminating books was found and everyone basically abandoned Prairie, deciding that she must be crazy/delusional, it completely undermined everything that happened in the final episode. Having broken my credibility, the series could not restore it. I basically went through the motions to finish watching, because I prefer to have a complete picture.

I wasn’t going to watch the second season, but I wanted to see how they could possibly move forward. And, honestly, it wasn’t horrible. The second season suffered from some of the same issues as the first, however. I watched it with a sceptic’s eye, distrusting everything the creators asked me to take on faith. Again, things were building to a climax and then, Pairie/Nina and Hap end up jumping to a universe in which they are Brit Marling and Jason Isaacs on a movie set. Oh, yeah. Though Michelle’s soul was retrieved by detective Karim, there was no real resolution for those left behind in the first universe, or for Homer, who finally remembered who he was but was trapped in the second.

I’m glad there won’t be a season three. At least, that’s the word on the interwebz at the moment.

Reading wise, I finished Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers, in which a corps of mediums help the allies in an alternate WWII. Loved. Kowal has indicated that she would like to revisit the world, but her Lady Astronaut books are demanding her time and creative energy at the moment.

I also finished Matthew Hughes’ What the Wind Brings, which he unabashedly calls his magnum opus. This was historical fiction, and I reviewed it last month.

Sarah Gailey’s A Taste of Marrow was next, and I enjoyed this second novella in her alternate America inspired by a strange-but-true plan to import hippos. This was my second posted book review last month and I looked at both novellas, which have been combined in one volume as American Hippo.

After I finished watching the last season of The Handmaid’s Tale, I finally read the book that inspired the series. I enjoyed the book more than some of Atwood’s others, I have to say, though it does share some of the aspects that I found problematic. June is another unreliable narrator, but why wouldn’t she be? The June of the book is never dependably identified by that name, though there is some speculation in the symposium appended to the end of the novel. She lives in fear, far more fear than Elizabeth Moss portrays in the series. She’s far less empowered. June is, essentially, a slave. It makes for an oddly distanced read.

Finally, I read Sean Carroll’s Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, which I enjoyed though much of the content was over my head. Frankly, it blew my mind a bit. I read this one for research. It ties into the SF novel I want to revise.

Again, selected reviews will be forthcoming.

And that was September in this writer’s life.

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

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: August 2019 update

September. The end of summer; the resumption of everything else. Fall is a favourite season of mine. Cooler days, brilliant colours, and the bittersweet retreat of the light. Fall is a season of gathering, mustering, of rededicating oneself to one’s priorities.

To that end, I’ve taken this long weekend and, with the exception of this blog post, I’m not writing anything, nor am I critiquing anything. I’m just taking some time for myself and to think about the rest of the year in terms of what I want to accomplish.

The goals I set at the start of the year have mostly been laid aside. Now I’m laying aside a few more and narrowing my focus yet again.

Taking stock

While I did finish drafting the final novel in my epic fantasy series around the time that I’d hoped to, my subsequent review of the series has been agonizingly slow. I haven’t yet finished reading through book two and making my notes. I’d hoped to have read through the whole and started on the next round of revisions. I see that it’s going to take significantly more time than I had allotted. At this rate, I’ll be reading through the end of the year, at least, and not getting to revisions until some time next year.

This is okay. I have more learning and more improving to do before I can do justice to the series.

I’d also set the rather lofty goal of trying to write one short story per month. I have one finished and I’m trying to revise that into shape so I can start submitting it. I’ve remembered that I suck at short. Half the stories I come up with are actually novel length, or at least novella length. Still, I’m going to keep working at the one I’ve written and working on the second story idea I came up with. I hope to have two decent stories moving into next year.

I decided to leave off revising my short stories into collections for self-publication. They’ll still be there. I can return to the projects (one genre and one non-genre collection) in the future.

I did assemble my poetry into a collection and I’ve now received some excellent revision notes. I’ll look at preparing that for submission in September. I’ve also written a few new poems and hope to get those published somewhere in the nearish future. I already sent one submission, in fact, and got a rejection the next day. I hope that doesn’t reflect the overall success of this venture. It’s been a few years since I’ve written much poetry and I’m out of touch with the market.

I’ve received some insightful, but difficult-to-hear, critique on the SF novel I put up for my critique group. I’ve decided that I’m going to work on restructuring and revising that novel for the remainder of the year. This includes November.

Yes, for the first year since I’ve participated, I’m going to be a NaNoWriMo rebel and work on revision instead of a new work. I had thought I was going to proceed to one of the other novel series, but I realize that I can’t keep producing new material without dedicating focused time to revising my existing novels.

Something else I must confess: I have yet to figure out revision in a practical way that works for me. The closest I’ve come to true revision is the work I’ve done on the first book of my epic fantasy series. I’ve changed PoV, removed PoV characters, and removed characters entirely. I’ve rewritten chapters, put chapters on index cards, pinned them to my cork board, and reorganized them for more structural integrity. Still, after all that work, the core story has stayed the same.

In subsequent novels, I’ve only reviewed the work, maybe added a few elements, and mapped the structure as it exists without changing it substantially. I’ve grown fearful of revision. I think I just have to put on my mature writer trousers and do the work. Revision is where all my resistance lives these days.

So, I’m going to go back to basics. I’m going to read through the critiques again and let everything settle. I’ve already started to make some notes and I’m thinking about the story all the time. I’m going to take a page from Victoria Mixon’s book and “reverse engineer” the story, work on the character arcs and story structure, and then I’m going to rewrite the story.

I want to focus on this novel because it’s my only standalone right now. I think it will be my best chance at getting representation.

Wish me luck many broken pencils.

The month in writing

This month was a quiet one. My sense of things is that the sea change happening now has been in the works for a long time. It’s probably been trying to make itself heard since my epic burnout, if I’m being honest. I have to find a better way of taking my work from crappy draft to publishable work.

Accordingly, the bulk of my writing this past month has been on this blog. I increased my blogging goal because of the addition of book reviews, which I’m still trying to catch up on. I’m only going back to the books I read this year, otherwise I’d never catch up (!) still, there are a lot of books to catch up on. Still even with the increased goal of 4,800 words, I blogged 5,097 words, or 106%.

I finished the second version of my January short story. It’s now 6,222 words and will likely have to be cut, but I only wrote 602 “new” words on the story in August. After that, it was all cutting and editing, so there wasn’t anything to report, because how do you record a negative word count? Well, I could put a minus sign beside it, but it becomes even more of a challenge when the word count goes up and down several times in a single writing session. Although I probably did write at least 2,000 words on the story, I can only count the 602, which is 24% of my 2,500-word goal for short fiction in the month.

AugustProgress

The third thing I did was continue my review of the Ascension series. As I mentioned, I’m still on book two.

‘Nuff said there.

Filling the well

The two things I have to report here were not events, per se, and there are no pictures or other artefacts to share with you.

The first thing was my meeting with my poet friend to go over my manuscript. That few hours going over what I needed to fix or change and her encouragement to write some new material was refreshing and I came away from the meeting feeling lighter. It helps that she’s one of my best friends and has always liked my poetry. I’ve already written one new poem which has passed muster 😉

The other was a brief note from one of my critique group encouraging me to take stock and not give up on the SF novel. Another said she enjoyed the novel despite its deficiencies. It’s something to move forward with.

Hope is always a good thing.

What I’m watching and reading

August saw the end of a few mid-season shows.

The latest season of The Handmaid’s Tale came to its close with more harrowing trials for poor June. She’s thoroughly mad now and determined to stay in Gilead until her daughter is free. She’s killed one of the commanders, the Commander, in fact, and Gilead is reeling. The Waterfords have basically screwed each other over and are both in American custody. June’s also been shot helping more than fifty children, with their handmaidens and marthas, to escape. She’s managed to stay clear of retribution, so far, but I don’t think that situation can pertain without seriously straining credibility. That June has remained largely unscathed has already strained my credibility to breaking.

But, of course, I’ll be watching the next season to see what happens. I’ll probably pick up The Testaments when it’s released later this month.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD also finished its, what, sixth season? They continued with the fall out from the time travel shenanigans of last season, searching for and finding Fitz, getting embroiled in Chronicom politics, and a strange plague of beasties that destroys worlds. That plague and its mistress, Izel, are being hunted by a man called Sarge who looks exactly like Coulson and, in fact, turns out to be what’s left of him in some inexplicable (literally, they never do manage to explain it to my satisfaction) cosmic switcheroo. Izel is heading for Earth.

She gets possession of the monoliths, which were apparently hers all along, and Coulson let the alien personality within him, Izel’s partner, take over. Though the team manages to defeat the otherworldly pair and close the portal they opened to their realm, May is dying. Fitz and Simmons, aided by a deus ex machina Enoch, come to the rescue. May is put in stasis and they travel back in time to New York to foil the plans of the other Chronicoms who want to make Earth their new home world and have gone back in time to set in motion the events that will destroy the human race and make the world ready for their occupancy when the time comes.

The next season is supposed to be their last and I’m kind of looking forward to it (the end, that is).

I also watch the latest season of The Good Witch. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine.

Finally, Phil and I watch the first season of The Boys. It was dark and bloody and thoroughly enjoyable.

Reading-wise, I tackled Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Fated Sky, the sequel to The Calculating Stars. Loved.

Then, I read Richard Wagamese’s unfinished last novel, Starlight. It was lovely and touching and I wish he had been able to finish it.

Next, I dove into Emma Newman’s Planetfall series, reading Planetfall, After Atlas, and Before Mars. I enjoyed all three, the third the most, but, as in her Split Worlds series, Newman is drawn to writing isolated and somewhat powerless characters. It’s sometimes difficult to read, but ultimately satisfying.

Finally, I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Words are My Matter, a collection of some of her speeches, critical introductions, and reviews. Loved.

Again, I’ll be reviewing several of these in coming months.

And that was a month in this writer’s life. Thanks for coming by.

Until tomorrow, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories 🙂

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: July 2019 update

So … here we are in the dog days of August. The spring may have been a late one but, as it did last year, the temperature rose quickly. We had to use out portable air conditioner a couple of nights in June and a couple more in July. I find myself wondering if the weather will continue hot. It’s interesting (to me) to observe the effects of climate change locally.

The month in writing

July was a quiet month. I continue my review of the Ascension series at a snail’s pace. I’m only up to reviewing the first part of book two at the moment. I blame work, but really, I think I just need a break. I’ve just had five days off and I haven’t looked at it … I may try to turn that around.

JulyProgress

I continue to revise January’s short story. It’s closer, but not quite “there” yet. There’s more work to be done. February’s story waits in the wings. I set myself the goal of writing 2,500 words of short fiction in July and wrote 2,599 words or 104% of my goal.

I blogged 4,695 words of my 2,800-word goal, or 169%. This was largely because I finally got around to writing a book review. I have a backlog of them pending so expect more in the coming weeks. I may have to reconsider my blogging goals accordingly.

Finally, I wrote my latest Speculations column in 1,283 words, or 128% of my 1,000-word goal.

It was a decent month, writing wise, but quiet, as I said.

Filling the well

July 15th marked my 25th wedding anniversary with Phil. I mentioned on social media that it doesn’t seem like that much time has passed and yet I find it difficult to remember life without Phil. That’s not true, I have a lot of pre-Phil memories, but they’ve taken on a surreal quality, like they’re artefacts from someone else’s life.

On the 6th, my sister-in-law threw us a nice, quiet party. Just the Moms and some family friends. It was a lovely day.

The other writerly event I attended was Ad Astra, which was from July 12-14. I went down July 13 and came back July 14, so it was a bit of a whirlwind, but I still attended some great panels and met up with some writerly friends.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched the last season of Jessica Jones. It was disappointing, but I think that came of trying to turn a non-powered person, Sallinger, into an effective villain who managed to stymie the police, Jessica, Trish, Malcolm and J’s new boyfriend, AKA, headache boy 🙂 Jeri’s sub-plot was all over the place which, in turn, messed up Malcolm’s. Jessica’s reconciliation with Trish was never genuine and it was unsurprising when—SPOILERS!—the newly-minted Hellcat was arrested.

At the end, Jessica’s about to leave New York, dispirited by Trish’s downfall, her adopted mother’s death (following on the heels of her birth mother’s death at Trish’s hands), and her failure to bring Sallinger to justice. She’s broken up with her boyfriend, referred him to Costa as a CI, and handed the key to Alias Investigations to Malcolm.

As she’s purchasing her train ticket to a randomly chosen destination, Killian’s voice tells her how right she is to give up. Jessica’s surrounded by the violet light that is her first nemesis’s signature and she turns away from the ticket counter, smiling, while the camera pans wide and fades to black. Odd choice for a series ending.

We also watched the final season of i, Zombie, which was more satisfying, but a little contrived. I thought that—AGAIN SPOILERS!—Liv and Major’s decision to remain zombie, raising their zombie family and providing a home for all the zombies who couldn’t, or didn’t want to, be cured … odd. Not because they wouldn’t have done it. They would so have sacrificed their human lives to help others, but the reasons for their choosing this life arise so late in the game that it belies their previous and oft-expressed desires to the contrary.

No movies this month.

Reading-wise, I loved Lauren B. Davis’s The Grimoire of Kensington Market. It was a retelling of The Snow Queen but had a feminist flavour and living/mystical stores, which is a trope I’m fond of. I won’t say much more because this is another novel you should really pick up for yourself.

I also read Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster and, again, loved it. I find I’m really enjoying indigenous stories these days. I recommend it highly.

I read La Brigantessa, written by writerly friend Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli. This novel was historical fiction set in post-Unification Italy. It focuses on the journey of Gabriella and the event that force her to flee her village to eventually seek sanctuary with the brigands of the Aspromonte mountains.

Then, I read Jim Butchers The Aeronaut’s Windlass, which I enjoyed. I’m looking forward to the next instalment of the Cinder Spires series. While I loved Rowl, I thought it strange that he was the powerful figure in the cat world. Like the great cats, feral populations are generally matriarchies.

I liked the ensemble cast with their unique characteristics and abilities. Bridget’s ability to talk to cats, Benedict’s warrior-born, feline qualities, and the Etherealists’ insanity. This last was fascinating. Every Etherealist is twisted by the etheric forces they work with, but each, in order to control their madness, channels it into one aspect or obsession. Master Ferus needs collections of very specific things, his apprentice Folly can’t speak directly to anyone but her etheric crystals, and Sycorax is obsessed with etiquette and politeness. I’m curious to see more.

Next, I dove into Emma Newman’s Any Other Name, the second in her Split Worlds Series. The first novel left off on an uncomfortable note, with Cathy in an arranged, and forced, marriage. Her mother actually drugs her into acquiescence. The theme continues with Cathy’s new husband alternately trying to convince her to “make a go” of it, and using charms to coerce her into bed so they can a) consummate their marriage before either of their fae lords takes exception and b) conceive the child that is Cathy’s primary obligation in the arrangement.

The fae lords are manipulative in their own ways as are the family patroons. Charmed rings that enforce fidelity, charms that guarantee a boy at conception, and demands that Cathy become duchess of London and to keep up the appearances due her new station.

Meanwhile, Max continues to look into the mystery of the bath chapter’s destruction and Sam grows increasingly concerned about his wife’s promotion and new flat.

I read Story Arcana, by Caroline Donahue, ostensibly about using the major arcana of the tarot as a structure guide for both the novel and the writer’s life. I became aware of Donahue and her book through an interview with Joanna Penn on the Creative Penn podcast. While I found the book useful, it was poorly edited and largely a promotional tool for Donahue’s online course of the same name, site, and podcast. The podcast looks good and I’ll probably tune in. I was just a little disappointed in the presentation.

Finally, I read Joe Mahoney’s A Time and a Place. I enjoyed the story, loved the T’Klee, the novel’s cat-like aliens, and appreciated the parallels to T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. The execution wasn’t quite up to the premise, though.

Look forward to reviews of most of these books over the coming months.

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

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

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: June 2019 update

Happy July, everyone! The summer weather has finally arrived in my area of the world. I hope you’re enjoying the season, whatever it is where you live.

And now, it’s time for my next chapter update for June 2019.

The month in writing

My “big” project continues to be my reread, restructuring, and preparation for revision of my Ascension series. As with many of my plans or goals, what I hoped to accomplish at the beginning of the year is changing.

To be specific, I had hoped that by the end of June, I’d have read through all five novels and be ready to start revising book one. Here, in July, I’m still reading through book one … As a result, I’ve decided that I’m just going to focus on laying the groundwork for future revisions. I’m going to continue reading through the series through to the end of September. For now.

While I’ve reviewed the various documents that will make up my series bible, I haven’t yet done the work of pulling everything together. This is part of the work I have to do to get ready for revising. I’m not sure if I’ll have this done before I have to shift gears into NaNo prep.

One of the challenges that I’ve been facing is that, since April, as I’ve noted in past updates, the day job has kicked into high gear. I finish most days exhausted and unable to nab even a little time during breaks of lunch to devote to my WIP. In the early months of this year, there was some downtime that I was able to capitalize on.

Also, I’ve been critiquing, which takes up time in the evening that I might otherwise use to work on my series. Accordingly, I’ve adjusted my goal, but what I’ll accomplish by the end of September is a bit up in the air. Sometimes we have to do what we can and live within the uncertainty.

Still it’s important work and I’m doing it, regardless of the pace 🙂

I blogged 4,073 words of my 2,600-word goal, or 157%.

Toward the end of the month, I got back to my short fiction. While I didn’t reach my 1,000-word goal, I wrote 693 words, or 69%. While this is, strictly speaking, revision of my January short story, most or the work is new. I’ve added scenes and switched things up. In the end, I think the story will be closer to 5,000 words than the 2,500 I’d planned on. It’ll be a better story, but I have a feeling that this draft won’t be the end of my work on the piece.

Revision-wise, I got Reality Bomb ready for critique and it is now posted. I had hoped to get the draft up to 80,000 words, but I’m still 1,175 words short of that. Still, 99% is good. It’s not a huge gap and it gives me room to work with. I’m nervous because there’s a lot of material in the novel that I’m not sure works. We’ll see what my critique group thinks.

JuneProgress

And that’s all the writing and revision I accomplished this past month.

Filling the well

On June 20th, A couple of poet friends, Kim Fahner and Tom Leduc, held a reading at One Sky they called On the Cusp of the Solstice. After their sets, the evening became an open mic and we got to hear five other local poets share their work. It was a great evening and a lovely, artistic venue.

What I’m watching and reading

I watched the final season of A series of Unfortunate Events. It was okay. I know it adhered fairly closely to the books (which I haven’t read) and I understand the choice not to give the Beaudelaires a happy ending, but it felt unsatisfactory because most of that denouement happened off-screen and the story was given to Lemony and Beatrice the second. In a way, the story was always Lemony’s, but he never did anything to propel the narrative, so it felt like a cheat.

I also finished the most recent season of Homeland released to Netflix. I think they’re a season behind what’s on the network, but I prefer to watch some shows when I want to rather than when the network wants me to. It was dark, as every season of Homeland has been to date. The twist at the end was interesting and promises a climactic next season. We’ll see.

I finally reached the end of season one of Man in the High Castle. I know I’m behind in this one, but I watch multiple series at the same time on both Netflix and Amazon Prime (like, between six and ten at any given time) and I only watch them on the weekends or days off and that means slow progress. I enjoy where the series is going and the characters. It’s interesting to see what they’re doing with another of Dick’s shorter works.

Phil and I devoured Good Omens. We loved it. I know a good deal has been made of focusing the story on Azirophale and Crowley because they are secondary characters. Like Lemony Snicket, above, they don’t really do anything to progress the plot or save the world. They just mess up and luck into every win. Still, I loved seeing David Tennant on screen again and Crowley’s friendship with Azirophale is a beautiful thing.

We also enjoyed Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. I LOLed quite a bit. The movie didn’t take itself seriously and mocked its own tropes. I see why a lot of people consider it one of the best Marvel property movies (even though it was a Sony movie), better even than Endgame. I think comparing the two isn’t something that can be done. They’re both their own beasts.

Valerian remains in limbo, and Phil and I, on the strength of our liking of the original, checked out Reboot: The Guardian Code. One episode and I was, no. So no.

Reading-wise, I finished American Gods, which I liked much more than the Amazon Prime series. Events and gods have been juggled in the series so much that it’s almost unrecognizable. I recommend the book, though I did enjoy the series on its own merits.

For my literary selection, I read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I know it was probably the author’s intention, but I was alternately depressed and enraged throughout the novel. I still have unsettled feelings about it, and I think it will take some time to come to an understanding.

I read Sarah Negovetich’s Rite of Rejection, her YA dystopian. The story has similarities to books like The Handmaid’s Tale, in that society has doubled down on traditional gender roles and anyone considered divergent is identified through their activities (arrested) or by “the machine” which identifies those with undesirable traits. In both cases, undesirables are sent to camps so that they will never be able to spread dissent or reproduce. It’s another stark book, but I’ll probably read the rest of the series.

Finally, I listened to both volumes of The Outlandish Companion on Audible. It was a great refresh of the series, the Lord John books, and the interstitial shorts along with a lot of fascinating insights into Gabaldon’s process, research, and tasty tidbits about the series. It was a nice palate cleanser 🙂

And that was this month in the writerly life.

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

The Next Chapter