My literary mothers and what they taught me

This post was inspired by a challenge that another friend participated in. That challenge was to write, in a short post, the influence of a single literary mother.

While I found the concept compelling, I also found it restrictive. I have many literary mothers. The gears have been working on this one for a few weeks now and this is the result.


Siobhhan Riddell

I was in grade three and I had just started to write. My first piece was a little essay about my new puppy.

Siobhan was in grade five. She was an artist and she illustrated a dragon slayer fairy tale.

The grade five class’s projects were presented to the grade three class. Siobhan’s drawings found their place in my imagination.Always Sail West

I submitted my first short story to CBC’s “Pencil Box” that year.

The next year, I wrote the Christmas play for my grade four class.

What was I reading at the time?

I was reading comics: Star Wars (for Princess Leia), Dazzler (Marvel), Huntress (DC). I was trying to find compelling female heroes. The writers and artists were men, however.

I also started reading C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and I, again, was seeking women authors with whose stories I could connect. I tried Zilpha Keatley Snyder (The Headless Cupid, The Witches of Worm), Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (The Witch Saga), Joan Lowry Nixon (The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore), and Lois Duncan (Summer of Fear, Stranger with My Face, and, of course, I Know What You Did Last Summer). While Naylor came close to becoming a literary mother, her work didn’t stay with me.

At the time, across the street from my house, were a convenience store (comics) and a branch of the public library. They were an almost daily stop in my routine.

Critical criteria of a literary mother: Her influence has to stay with me. I have to have continued to read or re-read her books, or remember the impact she had on my life in a concrete way.

Madeleine L’Engle and Susan Cooper

It was Madeleine L’Engle’s (then) Time Trilogy that I first connected with. Something inside me said, “This is what I want to write.” She’s technically science fantasy, but it was the first science anything that I’d read to that point.

Susan Cooper came into my life a little later, but again, through the public library. I read her The Dark is Rising series and loved her take on Arthurian legend. This spoke to the fantasy side of my writing persona.

I bought both series when I had enough money to do so. I still have both.

What else was I reading? Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini. A friend was, and still is, very much a fan. The same friend introduced me to Robin McKinley (The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword). Both of these were strong influences, though not quite in the literary matriarchy.

There were a lot of other novels I was reading, most thanks to the above-mentioned friend, whose dad had a fabulous classic SFF collection and often encouraged her to offer her patronage to The World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto when she visited him 😀

Her dad even set us up with our first D&D books, after which, we spent entirely too much money on the game, but spent years in geeky bliss roleplaying.

R.A. MacAvoy, Susanna Kearsley, Ursula K. Le Guin, and O.R. Melling

When I went to university (Guelph, the first time), I met, through my roommate, her sister, Sue Reynolds, who wrote Strandia. This book was influential on me because it was one of the first ones that didn’t involve a romance in the happily ever after of its protagonist. There were romantic aspects to the plot, but the protagonist chose wholeness for herself rather than her beloved’s proposal in the end.

Also through my roommate, I was introduced to Welwyn Wilton Katz. I read just about everything Katz wrote for a few years and she was well on the way to becoming a literary mother, but I didn’t stick with her, or rather, her books didn’t stick with me as much.

I was drafting the story that would evolve into Initiate of Stone during those years. I started keeping a journal, and aside from my course reading, I was heavily influenced by Guy Gavriel Kay. Mary Brown was also a discovery during this period. I loved her ugly duckling retellings.

I left Guelph after two unremarkable years and got a job at the Coles store in Yorkdale mall. Part of me was in heaven and buying up books like mad with my staff discount. The other part of me was unhappy because, in all other respects, the job was an epic fail on my part.

One of my discoveries during this time was R.A. MacAvoy. I started with her Damiano series, progressed with her Black Dragon series, and fell in love with her quirky Lens of the World series. I read several of her standalone novels as well. She was the first author who reflected my ancestry in her characters (Sara the Fenwoman), and the first who wasn’t afraid to introduce cultural diversity in her characters.

I keep going back to Lens of the World periodically, because that series was also written in first person, present, point of view (POV). It was a challenging POV to use, and it’s still a learning tool for me. I haven’t felt brave enough to tackle anything so ambitious myself.

I also discovered O.R. Melling about this time, but I’ll come back to her in a little bit.

After a couple of years of living in and around Toronto, two other potential careers, a couple of failed relationships, and the realization that I needed to finish my degree if I was going to be able to progress as a writer, I returned to Sudbury to finish my BA at Laurentian University.

Susanna KearsleyIt was during this time that my SFF/D&D buddy, after helping me to connect with Mr. Science and both of us marrying our partners, moved away with her husband. She emailed me and said that Susanna Kearsley, author of Marianna, and recent winner of the Catherine Cookson Award, was giving a workshop for the local writer’s group.

Of course, I hopped down for a visit with my friend and took in the workshop. I read Marianna, Splendour Falls, and The Shadowy Horses.

A couple of years ago, I reconnected with her at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC). Her influence on me has been to introduce me to a different genre. When I first met her, it was grouped under gothic, but Susanna’s stories are more paranormal in nature and while romance does feature, it’s not the main focus of her novels.

I took a creative writing course with Dr. John Riddell (Shiobhan’s father) and started to get my stories published.

I also took a course in science fiction and was introduced to Ursula K. Le Guin. The Dispossessed blew me away not only because it was SF written by a woman, but also because of its story structure. I’ve since read the Earthsea series, The Left Hand of Darkness, collections of her short fiction, other shorter novels (Rocannon’s World), some of her YA novels (The Beginning Place), and one of her books on writing craft (The Wave in the Mind).

I keep on picking up her work and reading it. The diversity of her work and the longevity of her career have been what inspire me most about Le Guin.

Finally, toward the end on my degree, I was working on my undergraduate thesis on the YA and MG novels of Welwyn Wilton Katz, Michael Bedard, and O.R. Melling.

I had discovered Melling when I was working at Coles, and kept picking up her books. Mostly, they dealt with magical time travel and Celtic legend. In the series that she had just started (at that time), Celtic legend blended with Native Canadian.

It was the first time I’d seen someone so effortlessly intertwining mythologies in this way. It made me think thoughts. It still does.

Sheri S. Tepper and Diana Gabaldon

I started reading Sheri S. Tepper during my Laurentian years as well. I now have most of her books, even some of the mysteries written under her pen names.

What fascinates me about Tepper’s work is the complexity of her plots and the strength of her protagonists. I never cease to be surprised or amazed at some point in her novels.

Her SF would be characterized as “soft” because of the sociological focus, but I still look to her body of work as an exemplar of what can be done within the genre.

She also writes from feminist and social justice perspectives. Tepper just rocks.Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon came a little later yet. I started reading her Outlander series after Voyager was published. I’m a little over the moon that her books have finally made it to the small screen.

I’ve now read all of her Outlander books and several of the off-series, but related, Lord John Grey books.

One thing I picked up from her was playing with POV. In a novel with several POV characters, I’ve used the same technique that she does, and I use first person, past, for my protagonist and close third person for everyone else.

It was Gabaldon’s genre mashing goodness that hooked me and the quality of her storytelling that has kept me. I was able to attend some of her sessions at SiWC and she is a lovely person as well as a great writer.


I’ve read and met many other women authors, several of them Canadian, and while I’ve enjoyed reading and learned from each of them, no one else has quite made it into the literary matriarchy yet.

I read a lot of male authors as well, but that’s not what I’m writing about here, now, is it 😉

The women I’ve listed in the section headings are the ones I consider to be my literary mothers. These are the women through whom I trace my development as a reader and as an author.

Who are your literary mothers?

Muse-inks

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WWC 2014, Day 1: Evening keynotes

Here we are at the end of day 1 (for me–I know others partied into the wee hours). At other conferences and conventions, guest of honour keynotes are generally spread throughout the event, often at or after a meal.

The When Words Collide organizers chose to do something different.

Prior to the literary festival, there were several master classes offered by the keynote speakers, and the night before, they all delivered their presentations at a branch of the public library.

Between the extra days of leave I would have had to sacrifice, the cost of the master classes, and the expense of a longer stay, I had to opt out of the pre-conference program.

On the first night (formally speaking) of WWC, then, all of the keynote speakers were well into conference mode and had an opportunity to work out the bugs.

The keynotes were presented as a panel, with all of the speakers up on the stage, seated at tables.

Randy McCharles offered a few opening words, and then introduced the first of the speakers.

  1. Jacqueline Guest, author of 18 published novels, spoke about her adventures as aJacqueline Guest touring author. She has been all over the world, in the arctic, and had some very interesting tales to share. The old advice to writers is to write what you know. Travelling and experiencing all the world has to offer is a valuable way of gathering experience that can translate into your writing.
  2. Mark Leslie, of Kobo Writing Life, chose the subject of the mark-lesliehistory of story. From our earliest gatherings to share news around a fire, through the oral traditions of Greece and Rome, the invention of the printing press, and the advent of the novel, to today’s proliferation of traditionally published and independently published novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies, and all other manner of written storytelling, Mark spoke eloquently of the purpose and value of story in our lives. He ended his keynote with this: when words collide, magic happens.
  3. Dorothy (DJ) MacIntosh, author of the (in progress) Mesopotamian trilogy, spoke
    DJ McIntosh

    photo by Robert Rafton

    about passion and how to keep that precious flame burning. She related the experiences, hers and those of other renowned authors, with rejection, and various reactions to rejection letters. How can we keep our passion alive amidst the darkness that can assail us?

  4. Brandon Sanderson, author of—oh, I’ll just say it—a shit load of bestselling fantasy novels including the
    Photo by Nazrilof

    Photo by Nazrilof

    posthumous conclusion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, addressed the problem of telling a compelling lie. He started with a grade school experience in which he realized that the story of Columbus and his discovery of the new world was all propaganda. In short, it was a lie, but it’s a lie that has been perpetuated over the years by quality storytelling. You could say that’s when the seed of his desire to become a professional liar was planted. He spoke of Sturgeon’s Law: that ninety percent of everything is crap. He wanted to test that hypothesis and started with Roger Ebert’s movie review site, which revealed between sixty and seventy percent good movies (two thumbs up). He then went to Rotten Tomatoes, a review site contributed to by the movie-going public. He found roughly the same results. There were exceptions, of course. He found one reviewer who didn’t like Return of the King, for example. Reviews are one of the most power tools in any author’s service. Word of mouth is what really translates into sales and a groundswell of support. The bad reviews can be damaging in all kinds of ways. We have to be able to distinguish between someone expressing a personal opinion, e.g. I didn’t like this book, and someone who’s going for the hurt, e.g. this is crap. They are two completely different judgements.

  5. Jack Whyte. I’d seen him last year at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference jack-whyteand knew the power of his presence, but, when Jack took the stage, I put my pen down and sat back. I knew I was about to be entertained. Jack basically extemporized (or, he made is sound like he was), drawing in elements of each of the previous speakers, adding colour with a touch of personal humour, and wrapping up the evening in style.

Next week: We enter day 2 with the Blending Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.

The Next Chapter: August 2014 update

This has been a weird month, writing-wise.

I started out well enough, continued working on Gerod and the Lions, and started revising one of my longer short stories for submission.

Then I went to When Worlds Collide.

It was a great conference, but the pace was killer. They really need to work in proper breaks for lunch and dinner. It’s bad enough that they have eight sessions running at all times, but if you want to eat, you have to grab and go.

Yes, Surrey had more concurrent sessions than WWC, but there were a number that I didn’t regret missing. They kind of organized sessions into streams so that sessions on similar topics wouldn’t conflict with each other.

Maybe it was that I was a little more eclectic in my choices of what to attend at WWC. Maybe it was the extra day where I hiked approximately twelve kilometres in the mountains and canyons of Alberta. Maybe it was the time change and the red-eye flight back to Ontario with only a day off to recover before I returned to work.

I don’t know. Whatever it was, I was exhausted upon my return.

I finished the work on my story and got it submitted. As I mentioned previously, it’s a longer short story, nearly 10,000 words and the magazine to which I’ve submitted it is one of the big markets. I still don’t want to talk about it too much right now because I could come off as cocky. I could just end up jinxing the whole business. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll let you know once it’s transpired.

I just couldn’t get back into GatL, though.

On Collapse

Then I received an email from SARK. She was giving a free conference call on the topic of creative collapse.

It was interesting.

One of her points is that all creative people collapse, whether they admit to it or not, and many of us will need to collapse every once in a while.

Now collapse isn’t a negative thing. It’s more of a phase where we’re not actively writing new words, but maybe working through ideas, researching, editing, and the like. So I’ve been in this place, off and on, for a while now. It’s part of a creative cycle and it seems to me, a natural part.

We have to recognize our need to collapse, give ourselves permission to do so, and remain creatively open throughout our collapse period so that we can return to our work renewed and ready to give ‘er 😀

So aside from blogging, I’ve given myself permission not to write. It’s felt strange. I still have that urge to write, that need, and if I can’t or don’t work on my fiction, I feel very odd. Outside my own skin. Alien.

But I think it’s been a good thing for me, what with everything that’s been going on in my life otherwise.

So tomorrow will be a planning day. I’m going to relax and think about my re-entry into daily writing practice. Perhaps I’ll sign up for a workshop or two that I want to attend in the fall, and think about whether I can tackle NaNoWriMo this year without having time off from work.

I’m going to figure out how I can fit back into my skin and reconcile the two sides of my life.

What I’ve been doing

I’ve been researching a new story idea. I had a dream back in the spring and it stuck around, started making a fuss, so I figured I should pay attention.

I’ve also been letting Katie Weiland’s Character Arcs posts help me sort out a few things that I want to do with Initiate of Stone and Apprentice of Wind.

And, with Phil, I’ve been working my way through Bleach. I’ll get around to talking more about that when I get to my Mel’s Movie Madness and Series Discoveries posts in September.

SFCanada

I can’t tell you how happy I am that I joined SF Canada in the spring. The discussions that happen on the listserv are awesome. The experiences shared are heartening. I’m learning so much just being attentive.

Recently the topic came up of making the leap to full-time writer, something that’s been on my mind a lot recently. Serendipity at work 😉

I’m going to preface this next bit by explaining to my followers in other parts of the world that being a full-time writer, and a full-time genre writer at that, in Canada, is tricky. Our market is a lot smaller (our population is a lot smaller), and even if we aim for an agent or publisher in the States, we throw our hats into the ring with millions of other writers who are vying for the same kind of success.

It can be daunting.

I know a number of authors who manage to make it work, but each path to independence and story is unique.

Some writers have made the leap after having had another career. Some have supportive spouses who have enabled them to devote time to their craft. Some have “taken turns” with their spouses, alternately supporting each other through career transitions. Some have damned the torpedoes and just gone for it. For this last group, the going hasn’t always been easy, but they’ve managed.

As you know, I’m not in a place where I can do that yet.

In conjunction with this discussion was another strand about paying your dues, fine-tuning your craft, your 10,000 hours or your million words, and about newer writers who feel that they can dispense with revision and editing, and that volume alone is the key to success. Quantity vs. quality was a theme that came up a lot.

So did the idea that just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

There was discussion about the dreaded “trunk” novel, the novel a writer uses to learn and practice on and speculation as to whether these novels should ever see the light of day.

The whole has been very informative, and, I must say, inspirational. It’s made me want to get back into my work and start mucking around in the words again.

We’ll see where all this takes me.

August's writing progress

The stats

My total output for the month has been 11,600 words.

A scant 57 words went into the short story, but were then more than edited out again.

1,113 went into GatL.

And, as ever, the bulk of my words went into this blog. 10,430 to be exact.

I’m still waiting for beta reports. I haven’t finished the mapping of Figments yet, let alone moved on to AoW. Despite the limited progress this month, I’m still on track to finish GatL by the end of the year. So everything is on the cusp of its next evolution. I’m full of optimism.

As I watch my writerly friends publish their second novels, I get a twinge of envy, but I’m trying to convert that into motivation, because, in the end, my writing career is up to me.

It’s time to get back to work.

Farewell until next month, my friends. Wonderful words to you all. Break a pencil*!

*I’ve mentioned in the past that this is the superstitious writer’s “good luck,” but more recently, I’ve realized it might be a, shall we say, Canadian, way of saying Chuck Wendig’s “Art harder, motherfucker!” Yup. Break those keyboards, make those pens bleed ink, crush those pencil leads. I want y’all to art that hard. If you will, I will, too. Deal? 🙂

The Next Chapter

Brian Henry workshop, Sudbury, March 22, 2014

Brian HenryThis afternoon, I attended my fifth Brian Henry workshop.

This one, the third held in Sudbury and hosted by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild, was on “How to make your stories dramatic.”

These workshops are Brian’s bread and butter, so without giving too much of the content away, here are my notes:

  • The scene is the basic building block of your story.
  • There are two kinds: the dialogue-based scene, and the action-based scene.
  • Every scene must have a plot-related point. It must answer the question, “so what?”
  • Push and pull. The push is the point of view (POV) character’s need. The pull is what the pursuit of the need leads to (promise, twist, decision, new threat, etc.).
  • Your characters must be interesting. They should be unique, have their own interests, passions, a quirk, backstory (dole it out gradually). If two characters are similar, shoot one.
  • Readers, sadly, do not remember names.
  • Your protagonist should be a good “tour guide.”
  • Every character has her or his own agenda (the scene’s push). It’s better if they are at odds with one another.
  • Pick your scenes carefully. Show the important stuff. Tell the rest.
  • Don’t get to the point too quickly.
  • Scene = hook, hook, and hook.
  • Ford Madox Ford, “No speech of a character should reply directly to another character.”
  • Dialogue shouldn’t be smooth.
  • An action scene consists of set up, action, and wind down.
  • Set up = setting, background, tone, suspense.
  • Action = plot, character, relationships.
  • Wind down = the result, new information, what is gained or lost.
  • Dialogue is important, even in action scenes.
  • Make sure it feels exotic (most people don’t spend a lot of time fighting, in chase scenes, etc.)
  • Use internal monologue to your scene’s best advantage. No long-winded explanations.
  • You need to have some kind of surprise.
  • Have more than one thing going on at any one time.

We went through a few examples of dramatic scenes, one from Lawrence Block, one from George R. R. Martin, and one from Bernard Cornwell to look at the variations and interplay of action and dialogue. We also completed a writing exercise, for which I chose a scene (to that point unwritten) from Gerod and the Lions.

Since I’m always trying to learn and improve upon my craft, the workshop brought up a number of bits and pieces that I’ve learned over the years.

Emily Dickenson wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”

Last fall at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I attended a Diana Gabaldon session where she shared her technique of driving a scene forward by raising questions in the reader, but delaying the answers for as long as possible.

I just finished reading Victoria A. Mixon’s The Art and Craft of Story, in which she describes “holographic structure.” This takes the basic three act structure of hook, development, and climax and breaks it down.

The hook consists of the hook and the first conflict, the development includes (at least) two more conflicts, and the climax consists of the faux resolution and climax.

In fact, breaking it down even further, each of these six elements contains its own six elements.

Thus, the hook part of the hook section contains its own hook, (at least) three conflicts, faux resolution, and climax, as does each of the remaining parts.

If this seems confusing, please read Victoria’s book. She explains it at much more length and much more clearly than I do.

Suffice it to say that the ultimate breakdown is at the scene level, and each scene, in keeping with its overall purpose within the story, has its own hook, three conflicts, faux resolution, and climax.

That’s all the insightful I have for you today, my writerly peeps.

Until next time.

The next chapter: February 2014 update

The Next ChapterGreetings writerly peeps!

As I mentioned yesterday, this winter has gotten me a bit down, and as a result I have not written as much as I would have liked to this month. There were some nights that I didn’t manage to write anything at all.

With the increasing light, however, I’ve started to feel better and I’ve gotten back on that horse.

So here’s what February looked like for me as a writer.

February 2014 tracking

As with last month, I continued working on a project each week, plus blogging on the weekends. I don’t think I’ve stayed with the strategy long enough for significant results, either negative or positive, yet, so I will stick with it for the foreseeable.

Once more, I wrote the most words for my blog, 6303 to be exact. I’m still good with this. Most of my projects are revision at the moment and new words are sometimes hard to come by, particularly when you end up cutting scads of words rather than writing more.

Also, I attended WANAcon last weekend and, as Kristen Lamb said in her Blogging for Writers session, blogging teaches you to ship. That means you learn to pump out quality material on a schedule. It teaches discipline. I’ll have a bit more on the blog later in this post.

The next highest total was for my short stories at 1835 words. I have finished working with On Spec editor Barb Galler-Smith of the final revisions for my story “Downtime” and they have been submitted to the magazine. At this stage, we’re looking at the fall 2014 issue, most likely, but I should be getting confirmation on that in the future.

I also finished revising another short story for submission to Bastion Magazine, which I sent off yesterday. There’s nothing that feels quite as good as that combination of finishing and submitting.

In other short story news, I was once again rejected by Writers of the Future. I’m still waiting on tenterhooks to hear about my submissions to Tesseracts 18. I’ve been trying to get into that anthology for years.

Next up is the Northwestern Ontario Writers’ Workshop contest in which I will be submitting another speculative fiction piece. The judge for the category is Robert J. Sawyer (!) I’m bloody excited about that one too.

After short stories was my MG fantasy, Gerod and the Lions, with 1296 words. Last month, I pushed past what I had previously written and it’s all new words from here on out. Though I have a rough outline, the writing is proving a little daunting at this stage.

I’m blaming it on my winter funk.

Figments, my YA urban, came in next at 308 words, and Apprentice of Wind rounded things out with a scant 47. Both of these projects are of the revision category and most of the work I’m doing on AoW is structural and cut-work. With Figments, I’m filling in some of the gaps.

My Figments week was the week I had missed the most evenings of writing (3). It was also the week I started writing a course for work and it took me a while to learn how to conserve some of my writerly energies for my personal creative endeavours.

My total word-count for the month was 7954. I’m still pleased with that, even though it’s a lower total than January’s. If all of this year’s writing was focused on a single project, I’d be a third of the way to a finished draft. I don’t think that’s too shabby for a writer with a day job.

I still haven’t heard back from all of my beta readers, so I haven’t dug into the next round of revisions on Initiate of Stone at this point.

In other writerly news, I’ve reserved my accommodations for all of the conferences I’m attending this year. I’ll wait a bit before booking my flight for When Words Collide in August. I’m still struggling to pay down my Visa from Surrey and this year’s conference registration fees.

I have done some research and have identified 50 agents that I can start querying. I’m also watching Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents site and Brian’s Henry’s Quick Brown Fox for agent news. I have a free year on Writer’s Market online to cash in and will also be using that tool to amend my list.

I’m going to wait until I get IoS revised one more time before I start into that process in earnest. By then, I should have a much more solid draft of AoW to work with, be mostly finished Figments, and well into GatL.

I have assessed my life and skill set and have decided to aim for a traditional deal first. If that does not materialize, I’m going to move on to self-publishing, but I will do so reluctantly. Perhaps if I wasn’t working full time it would be a better possibility, but right now I’m doing all I can just to write.

I have become involved in the M2the5th Google Plus community, however. I blogged about my first outing as Twitterview host last weekend. My next event will be with Roz Morris on Saturday March 29 at 2 pm EDST.

As a lead up to the Twitterview, March has been declared Roz Morris month on M2the5th. Please join us to read and share our thoughts on Roz’s blog, books, and general brilliance (more details available in the community).

As I mentioned in my post on the conference, WANAcon was great. It got me thinking in all kinds of ways. A lot of it centered on my web site/blog.

I’ve been thinking about a site revamp for more than a year now and I just can’t get around to taking action on it. I’ve been slowly reviewing my past blog posts, but because I’m on WordPress.com, I just can find a free template that’s any better than the one I have now.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to make the move to self-hosted WordPress until I have made more progress toward publication. Though I received my first comment on my CV this past week, and it was complimentary, I don’t think my accomplishments to date are sufficient to impress an agent or publisher in this day and state of the publishing industry.

When I do make the transition, however, I’m going to invest in a designer and an author-focused hosting service.

Finally, I’m considering expanding my blogging schedule again. I’m thinking of including a couple of curation posts. Tuesday Tipsday will focus on writer’s resources and blog posts that I’ve discovered through the week. Thoughty Thursday will feature articles that don’t directly relate to writing, but that might provide some interesting research or blog-fodder for others.

My thinking is that curation posts based on my activities elsewhere in social media will be fairly simple to pull together and may provide some added benefits for those of you who do not follow me elsewhere.

Please see the poll at the end of this post if you think these additional curation posts would be worthwhile for you.

Coming up on Writerly Goodness: I’m going to be piloting the course I wrote this coming week. You know I’ll be blogging that 🙂 March will also see Brian Henry return to Sudbury for another workshop. I always get something worthwhile out of Brian’s sessions.

The next chapter: 2013 in review

I think it’s important to recognize all the good things one accomplishes.  With regard to my writing, 2013 has been a banner year.  I haven’t seen its like in … well a very long time.

You may remember way back at the beginning of the year what I wrote about resolutions, how I’m not fond of them, and how I prefer to make reasonable goals so I can have a chance to reach them.

It worked a charm for me.

I wrote four (soon to be five) new short stories this year and revised six others for submission. This has resulted in three fiction publications (one paid), and another three poetry publications.

While the goal of Kasie Whitener’s Just Write Challenge was to write thirteen stories in 2013, I think that eleven was pretty darn good, considering the other things that I’ve accomplished.

I sent Initiate of Stone for a content edit in January and revised the whole thing twice. I’ve now sent the manuscript to select beta-readers and have sent it off to one agent and will ship it to one editor shortly.

In the mean time, I started on a middle grade fantasy, Gerod and the Lions, and drafted Figments, a YA fantasy, during NaNoWriMo.

Since the end of November, I’ve given myself a bit of a break. I’ve written a crap-load this year (because in addition to the 11 short stories, poetry, revisions, and the 50k+ draft, I’ve also tried to keep things rolling with my blog) and felt the distinct need for a rest before diving back into things in 2014.

Though I was not able to meet my goal of revising my blog (reader response seemed to indicate it wasn’t a priority) or moving to self-hosted WordPress, those goals remain on the list.  This time last year, I managed to accrue 100 followers on my blog. Now I’m over 222. While I’m still considering a newsletter, I continue to hold off. Until I have a novel out, I’m not certain a newsletter will have much value.

This year I also attended the Canadian Authors Association’s (CAA’s) CanWrite! Conference (June) and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (October). Both were amazing experiences, and I learned a huge amount from the sessions at both conferences.

Currently, though my services haven’t been much requested of recent months, I’m sitting on the CAA’s Program Committee, and so putting some of my efforts into not only the CanWrite! Conference, but also, the Literary Awards, the Roving Writers Program, and other events.

As a reward for all my hard work, I’m going to be investing in Scrivener, thanks to the NaNo

Scrivener (software)

Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reward discount, and purchasing the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents.

As far as what I’m aiming for in the New Year, stay tuned. I’ll have a post on more reasonable goals coming up next week.

books for sale!

books for sale! (Photo credit: bookgrl)

In the meantime, please share your accomplishments. It really helps to put them down in writing. I think when you see everything you’ve managed over the last year in print, you’ll be amazed. I was.

Then celebrate! You were fantastic! And you know what? So was I 😉

Sorry, couldn’t help the Doctor Who reference. Geek girls rule!

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection)

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection) (Photo credit: ChocolateFrogs)

It’s a wrap!

There is so much more to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) than I wrote about.

Yes, there were a tonne (that’s metric, eh?) of sessions that I couldn’t get to, everything from self-publishing, to social media and platform maintenance, from screenwriting to non-fiction sessions, and marketing sessions.

And yes, I may have mentioned things like the blue pencil and pitch sessions with the agents. Those keen on these could sign up for multiple sessions.

There was a professional photographer there to take head shots as well.

Where would I fit it all in?

But I didn’t mention the Master classes that preceded the conference. They required an extra fee, but I hear they were well worth it.

I didn’t mention Michael Slade’s Theatre of the Macabre, in which Anne Perry, Jack Whyte, Diana Gabaldon, and KC Dyer did a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart,” replete with music and sound effects.

I didn’t mention the book fair, author signing, or writing group get-together.

I didn’t mention the excellent food served at the lunches and dinners.

I didn’t mention the annual tradition of Jack Whyte singing the Hippopotamus Song.

Really, this is a conference you need to put on your writer’s bucket list.

We’re all time travellers

Since British Columbia is three hours behind the Eastern Time zone, I thought I would experience jet lag. I did, but not until I returned.

While I was in Surrey, I typically stayed up late to check on social media and do a bit of transcription of the notes I’d taken during the day. Although I stayed up until about 11 pm (2 am, my time) I woke up every morning around 5 am. Again, I used the time to prepare for the day and get in a little transcription.

When I flew back, I did so by the “red-eye” flight. It departed Vancouver at 10:30 pm. I tried to sleep on the way back, but I should have spent some money on one of those neck cushions. I woke up every hour or so and attempted to ease the pain in my neck and find a more comfortable position to sleep in.

When I finally got home, after an early morning layover in Toronto, the connector to Sudbury, and a hectic shuttle ride back to town, it was about 10:30 in the morning.

Needless to say, I spent a good portion of that day in bed 😉

I thought about time zones and jet lag again the following weekend when Daylight Saving Time ended. I’ve described the time change as self-imposed jet-lag, and I’ve never agreed with the continued practice. While it’s not so bad in the fall, it’s murder in the spring when we lose an hour again.

Really, though we can’t leap forward or back, we’re all time travellers. We all travel through time as we wake, work, eat, and sleep our way through life.

It was a philosophical moment 😛

Thanks for following my reportage of the conference, and I will be getting back to my regularly scheduled ramblings forthwith.

Bruce Hale’s keynote Oct 27, 2013

This is my last summary of the sessions and keynotes I attended at SiWC this year.  I’ll have one more post summing up odds and ends because there was so much going on … But that’s for next week.

Bruce Hale gave the final keynote of the conference.

Here are my notes on what he said:

Investment in ourselves is how we grow. It’s why we’re all here and I congratulate all of you on making that decision.

We can’t do everything ourselves, though. Team work makes the dream work.

Life has a habit of getting in the way.

Find an accountability buddy, right now, I’ll wait.  Establish goals together and your accountability buddy will hold you to them. (Mellie’s note: I did do this, but I have to apologize to Zoe for not following through yet. My first goal, post SiWC, was to participate in NaNoWriMo, and I have done that, but I’ve been so focused, I haven’t had much time to spare for anything else!)

I have a dog, Riley. Half Labrador Retriever, and half pit bull. She’ll tear your arm off and play fetch with it 😉

As a writer, you have to face the Iron Tiger. That’s resistance.  Face resistance with persistence.

It’s how you deal with rejections.  There are several levels of rejections:

  • Untouched by human hands – the automated form rejection.
  • Barely touched by human hands – they refer to the work.
  • A hand written note at the bottom of a barely touched by human hands rejection.
  • The personalized rejection – Dear Mr. Hale.
  • The open door invitation – Dear Bruce, we’re not interested in this one, but could you send something else?

Bruce ended his keynote with the following quote from Marianne Williamson:

Finally, he played Des’ree’s “You gotta be” and encouraged us all to sing along.  It was a great feel-good ending to the conference.

Bits and pieces: Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte

The thing about conferences like SiWC is that you always have a lot of choice. I’ve been blogging the sessions I attended, but at every time slot on every day, there were about ten different sessions I could have gone to. I had to be selective.

Not only that, but everything else you decide to do, such as blue pencil sessions, pitch sessions, or photo sessions, cuts into the time that you could be soaking in the wisdom of authors, agents, and editors.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, I had my blue pencil and pitch sessions back to back in the morning, which meant that I’d have to miss most of Diana Gabaldon’s session on keeping the reader turning pages. After that, I did book a photo shoot with the photographer, which meant that I’d be late for Jack Whyte’s session of rejuvenating your writing.

So what follows is incomplete and necessarily short, but there are still a few great pieces of information to pass along.

Diana Gabaldon: How to make them turn the page

Picture of the author Diana Gabaldon during a ...

Picture of the author Diana Gabaldon during a book signing held in Fergus, Ontario (during the Scottish Festival) on August 11, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I arrived, Diana was discussing the technique of establishing a series of questions on the page. This was a technique that Diana says she noticed only in retrospect.

The idea is to ask a question at the beginning of a scene, and then build tension through delayed gratification by revealing information in bits and pieces.

She demonstrated by reading a passage from her next book in the Outlander series, In My Own Heart’s Blood. Lord John Grey confesses to Jamie that he’s slept with his wife. The rest of the scene, revealed primarily through action and dialogue answers the big question: will Jamie kill John? by first subverting expectations (Jamie reacts very calmly) and then plays on dramatic irony. When the revelation does arrive for Jamie, he does react as the reader, and John, expect him to, but then the scene ends. We have to read on to find out if John will survive the conversation.

With regard to backstory, Diana says dole it out sparingly. Tell the reader exactly what they need to know, when they need to know it.

It’s a matter of pacing, which is something every writer learns over time.

She was asked if she outlines, and Diana said she never has.

Finally, build on details to reveal character and plot. Use three senses to engage the reader.

Jack Whyte: Rejuvenate your fiction

When I entered, Jack was talking about the goblin.

The goblin is this little voice inside that says, “this isn’t right,” or “your could write this better.” Listen to the goblin.  He’s almost always right.

The search for the right word can drive you mad.

There’s an exercise in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to rewrite the following quote from Thomas Paine: These are the times that try men’s souls.  Regardless what you do, it’s never the same, nor will it have the same impact.

Comprise means embrace. Nothing can be comprised of.  It’s one of the most misused words in the English language.

Rejuvenating your writing means rejuvenating yourself.

Prune adjectives, adverbs, and tic phrases, not blindly, but selectively.  Ask yourself if it improves your sentence. If yes, keep it, if no, get rid of it.

Communication is the goal of every writer.

When you write dialogue, if you do it well, you shouldn’t need tags. The reader should know who’s speaking and be able to keep track.

Don’t write accents. Use a word or expression, explain it once. That will be enough.

Recommended books: The Art of Fiction – John Gardner; On Writer’s Block – Victoria Nelson

Every writer should read them.

The subconscious mind is an excellent BS detector. Your mind is trying to tell you you’re on the wrong track. That’s the goblin.

Also, because you’ll be spending the better part of your life in it, get a good chair. Get a damn good chair.

Blue pencil and pitch

After breakfast and the keynote on Sunday morning, I had signed up for a blue pencil session with Jim C. Hines and a pitch session with Nephele Tempest, back to back. Needless to say, I was a bundle of nerves.

How the blue pencil went

After Jim’s wonderful keynote the evening before, I was a bit worried at the thought of sitting down with him. Not that I thought that he would tell me my writing sucked, but I worried he might be too gentle with me.

I needed help.

After the reception my first page received at SiWC idol, I really wanted to fix my opening.

So I explained my concerns and Jim got right to business. He had a few excellent suggestions, some of which I’d already suspected, and set me on the path of a few more effective ways to get my character across. He asked a few insightful questions, and over all I thought he did a lovely job.

Afterward, he asked me if he’d been of any help to me.

What a sweetie.

I was so pleased to have met him, even under such time constraints.

How the pitch went

I’d pitched Initiate of Stone last year at the Algonkian Conference I attended. Though I received the interest of an editor from Penguin, I had to delay submitting anything to him because I had some work to finish. Though he agreed that he’d rather see a novel made its best through editing and revision, I believe I took too long.

When I had signed up for Surrey, I was able to book one blue pencil and one pitch session.  The blue pencil was with Jim C. Hines. The pitch was with Kristin Nelson. If time allowed, I would be able to book additional appointments on site.

I had researched the agents in attendance and decided that I would make every attempt to see Nephele Tempest, Pam Hylckama Vlieg, and Rachel Coyne, if time allowed. They all handled fantasy, which is what I was there to give them.

As I mentioned in a past post, Kristin Nelson had to cancel when her flight from Colorado was cancelled due to weather. Pam Hylckama Vlieg was ill and unable to make it.

I was fortunate enough to meet Rachel Coyne on the first day. She was friendly and kind, and encouraged me to book an appointment. When it came time for me to do so, however, Rachel was booked solid and the only time I could book with Nephele Tempest was Sunday morning, back to back with my blue pencil session.

Since last year, I’d taken a course with Marcy Kennedy on loglines, taglines, and pitches. I’d also done some research on the internet and learned a few things from Adrienne Kerr’s query session.  My pitch was a work in progress, and though I’d brought my computer to work on it, I wasn’t able to print my documents. I wasn’t about to lug my lap top around so I could read from it, either.

Outside my room, I didn’t have consistent wi-fi, and so I couldn’t even copy the file into Dropbox and open it on my phone.

So I’d spent my breakfast recreating my pitch from memory.

Things went well, and Nephele asked to see my first three chapters.

They’re with her now. We’ll see how things go.

All I can say is eeeeeeeeeee!

More tomorrow, folks. Goodnight for now. The eighth Doctor calls 😉