Welcome to tipsday, your opportunity to fill up on informal writerly learnings for the week!
Also, I’m super excited for the launch of Pirating Pups at When Words Collide this coming Friday, August 12, at 3 pm MT, 5 pm EDT. WWC is virtual again this year and registration is FREE. Find out more on their website.
Welcome to my next chapter update for February 2022! In this post, I talk about my month in writing, what I’ve accomplished and what I haven’t; what I’ve done to maintain my physical, mental, spiritual, and creative health; and what I’ve been watching and reading.
February was a good month, I think, but before we get to the progress part of the update, my monthly PSAs:
All lives cannot matter until BIPOC lives matter.
Even though restrictions are being eased in many areas, covid is now endemic. You may get it, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated, and chances are that you will. But if you are fully vaccinated and boosted, you’re more like to have a mild case. I’d still recommend washing your hands more frequently, maintaining physical distance where possible, and masking when it’s not.
On the news yesterday, I saw that there are still anti-masking/anti-vaccine mandate protests going on. Check yourselves people. There are more important things going on in the world, like the Russian invasion of the Ukraine (and now, apparently, Russian troops are amassing in other places, too). Get your heads out of your asses.
That is all.
The month in writing
February is the shortest month of the year and I set my revision goal accordingly. Given that I’d barely managed to revise 5,000 words in January, I thought I’d aim for 15,000. I’d reduce to 10,000 if I have to. BUT I didn’t have to!
I revised 15,822 words of Reality Bomb, or 105% of my goal. Yay!
I blogged 4,842 words, or 97% of my 5,000-word goal.
I even wrote and revised a story (!), which I didn’t anticipate. More on that in filling the well. I made room for a 2,500-word piece of short fiction, but the story only ended up being 1,748 words in the first draft. 70% of my goal is great for a story I didn’t intend to write 🙂 I made room for 250 words of revision, but only revised 148 words, or 58%.
In terms of projects I’m not tracking wordcount for, I worked on my Ascension Masterdoc for the first time in months. I was just settling the last dates into my timeline for book one and am now starting work on book two. At this stage, it’s just structural. Adding or deleting or moving chapters around (in my map).
I received an email regarding edits for the short story that was accepted in January, and—there were none (!) That’s the first time that’s happened. Ever. I’ve now also signed the contract and reviewed the page proofs. Look forward to the cover reveal in coming months.
Filling the well
In terms of writerly events, I signed up for Daisuke Shen’s Speculative Fiction Workshop, run through Authors Publish. The course officially ran January 31st to February 25th, but I’m still working through the last couple of weeks, ‘cause work. It was in this course that I received the prompt that inspired my new story. While there are comments and corrections to make, Daisuke was, overall, very supportive of the story and I hope to receive some suggestions about where to submit it when I send my revised story for her review.
I signed up for a couple of free webinars through WordPress.com. They were informative.
My duty to accommodate (DTA) progresses. My doctor filled out the functional abilities form, and I submitted it to my manager. I have an official, but temporary, DTA agreement in place, subject to review in three months (from the date I initiated the process on January 25th).
I am concerned because I’ve been told that once the agreement is made permanent, I will no longer be able to use my sick leave to support my days off. I’ll be officially cut to part time hours. Although the reduction in income is not significant, I am sole support for my household, and even a small reduction in my income may cause hardship. That’s an additional stress I don’t need.
We’ll see what happens in April.
I met with my therapist and support group the day before I met with my manager to discuss my DTA. In both sessions, I’d praised my employer for being so supportive.
Something I didn’t mention last month is that I’m engaged in an assessment process for my position. I’m hoping that qualifying on another pool will help keep me in the position on a permanent basis. Currently, I’m acting (until November 30, 2022). At any time, I could return to my previous position. It’s not the worst thing that could happen, but I worked hard to get this position and I want to keep it for the remainder of my career.
I had my first round of testing mid-February. Will let you know how it all goes in future updates.
What I’m watching and reading
In February, I finished watching Homeland. This series has always been a little depressing because of Carrie’s ongoing struggles with bipolar disorder and the dire nature of the international crises she faces each season. This eighth and final (so far) season is no exception.
Carrie is still recovering from her months-long detention in Russia during which she was deprived of her medication. She has no idea whether she may have disclosed secret information during this time and neither are her superiors, who continue to interrogate her about her incarceration. Saul, however, needs her in the field, and pulls strings to get her there.
The season’s arc is tragic. Carrie must betray Saul to prevent a war, but she redeems herself in the denouement in a way that offers hope.
Phil and I watched the first season of The Legend of Vox Machina. Helmed by the creators of Critical Role, TLoVM will be a balm to any old school role-players out there. In the opening minute, every high-level group of adventurers is killed by an unseen foe. The kingdom is so desperate, they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, which is where they find and recruit Vox Machina. I won’t say anything more about the series. You’ll know by the above if you’re TLoVM’s target audience.
So. Much. FUN!!
We also watched the first season of Foundation. I loved it. The general atmosphere and effects were >chef’s kiss.< Neither of us have read the book, though, so I can’t tell you how it stacks up. Shuffling Asimov up in the TBR pile.
To keep things symmetrical, I finished reading three books in February.
The first was Brandon Sanderson’s Cytonic, book three in the Skyward Flight series. At the end of book two, Spensa fled into the Nowhere with M-Bot’s AI (in a cleaning drone) and her pet tanix, Doomslug. The Superiority is in negotiations with the Delvers to have the latter destroy all cytonics and the societies that produce them. Spensa has to find a way to stop that from happening by walking a cryptic path through the floating islands of the Nowhere to find the truth of the Delvers and her own nature.
The first problem she’s presented with is that few people ever leave the Nowhere. She soon discovers the reason: the longer a sentient being stays in the Nowhere, the more they forget of their life in the galaxy outside. The only way to hold onto memories is with something called an icon, which Spensa mysteriously has. When she loses the icon, though, it’s a race against time—and memory—to solve the mystery of the Delvers and save the galaxy.
Then, I finished Apocalypse Nyx a collection of short stories by Kameron Hurley. The stories centre on Nyx, the protagonist of Hurley’s God’s War series. They fill in some of the backstory of the characters in Nyx’s crew and share some of their misadventures.
Finally, I finished Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury. It’s a futuristic science fantasy that involves genetics and witches in a not-too-distant Toronto. Sambury is a Trinidadian-Canadian author (who I think is currently living in northern Ontario?) and I’m following her career with interest.
Voya Thomas comes of age, and in a witch family, that means passing her Calling, a task given by the ancestors. Voya’s task is to destroy her first love, or risk losing her family’s magic forever.
Aaaaaand … that was the month in this writer’s life.
Until tipsday, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!
May was an eventful month in this writer’s life (!) I’ll apologize in advance if this post is loooong.
Before I dive into the month in writing, here are your monthly PSAs:
All lives cannot matter until BIPOC lives matter.
Even though vaccination is happening, and countries are slowly reopening, there are still “hot spots” and new variants to contend with. Covid 19 isn’t over yet. Please continue to maintain physical distance, mask where required, get both your vaccines (if two are required), and keep washing your hands. These measures will protect you from more than covid. Stay safe, people!
The month in writing
It wasn’t a bad month in the writing and revising department. Despite the fact that my day job has been demanding in the last couple of months, I’m managing to carve out time to do creative work. It’s less than I’d like and less than I used to be able to do, but words are being written (or revised).
I was still stuck on revisions for Reality Bomb. I ended up completely rewriting the first chapter and writing two more. Now I’m into a larger section where the revisions aren’t as significant. Even though I’d hoped to ramp up sooner, before the first week was over, I reduced my revision goal to 5,000 words. Of that, I revised 4,890 words, or 98%.
I finished revising the story I started reworking last month and started revising another … but I didn’t finish it. So, of the 2,500-word revision goal I set for that, I ended up revising 1,930, or 77%.
I blogged 4,111 words of my 3,500-word goal, or 117%.
Of the projects that aren’t on the tracker, I didn’t do any work on the Ascension master document, but I did write some revision notes for one short story and brainstorming notes on another. I’m not fond of the idea of outlining short stories. Even when I outline my novels, the story always finds its own way in the drafting.
The cover reveal and table of contents announcement went out this week for Home for the Howlidays, the anthology including one of my stories. Tyche Books is the publisher and Margaret (M.L.D.) Curelas is the editor. It will be published closer to the holiday season, but promo starts now 🙂
Work also begins. I should be hearing this month about required edits.
Filling the well
In May, I participated in two longer events. The first was the Festival of Literary Diversity, or FOLD, from May 1st to 15th. I couldn’t attend all the sessions, because work, but the organizers, Jael Richardson and Amanda Leduc, recorded all the sessions and made them available until May 31st. The second was an online course by Laurie Schnebly Campbell (with whom you might be familiar from my tipsday curation posts) on Showing Emotion from May 10th to the 21st.
I also watched the replay of Rewriting Tomorrow (more on why in a bit), a Carl Brandon Society Virtual Panel with Tobias Buckell, S.B. Divya, Malka Older, and Tochi Onyebuchi. That was on the 15th, and I watched it later the same day.
Susan Forest offered a great webinar on Backstory Secrets for the Canadian Authors Association on the 19th, and I signed up for a Pro-Writing Aid presentation on 5 principles of a thorough self-editing process on the 20th. So, it was a pretty full month for writing-related events.
In other self-care news, I received my final report for my assessment on the 10th and … I am on the spectrum (!) If the diagnosis was still distinct, I would have Asperger’s. As of the DSM 5, however, I am considered to be on the autism spectrum. High functioning, mild symptoms.
I must say the diagnosis was a relief. I was tempted to run around shouting I AM NEURODIVERGENT at the top of my lungs. It explained a lot of things, among them, why I’m always exhausted. I’d thought at one time that it was due to an iron deficiency (I was anemic for a few years), but it’s really the persistent stress of having to function in a neurotypical world.
I also had my last EAP appointment because, after debriefing my diagnosis, there wasn’t much more my counsellor could do for me. She’s technically keeping my file open in case I need some reinforcement, and I can always begin a new “bank” of EAP appointments if a new issue crops up, but I think I’m in a good place at the moment.
And … I got my first covid vaccination (Pfizer) on the 15th! My second appointment is already scheduled for September 4th, but now that the Ontario government is trying to expedite second doses, I might be fully vaccinated sooner. Here’s crossing fingers.
Weight-wise, I seem to be settling in at 160 lbs. I’ve been wavering between 159 and 161 for most of the last month. I haven’t been this slim in … I can’t remember, honestly. I feel better in my body. I can put socks on without my belly getting in the way.
An issue that I haven’t mentioned in months (maybe years?) was also resolved in May. Back in 2017, when we brought Torvi home, I took a leave with income averaging. The deductions were never made from my pay (I was Phoenixed) and I ended up with a sizable debt to my employer. When it came due, I immediately called the pay centre, told them that I was sole support for my household, and asked if they could place a hold on the debt until I was in a position to pay.
Last fall, our new contract was negotiated, and the retro pay, Phoenix damages monies, and signing bonus subsequently paid were enough to cover the debt with a little left over. Reader, I paid it off. Huge relief for our finances, moving forward.
It was an awesome month for my mental and physical health.
What I’m watching and reading
It was a big month in the viewing department. I finished watching five seasons, finished two with Phil, and watched two movies.
In my personal watching, I finished what appears to be the final season of Black Lightning. There wasn’t as much drama as in past seasons, and a number of plotlines were wrapped up nicely.
I finished Snowpiercer season 2, and I enjoyed it despite its darkness. The conflict with Wilfred was more dynamic and Melanie’s quest to confirm that the eternal winter was beginning to break was tragic, yet hopeful.
I also watched the adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. Loved! The actors were fabulous, and the story was fantastic. Astral twins. Lovely concept, just a step up from soul mates. Watch it, if you have the chance.
Next, I saw The Nevers. I enjoyed everything up to the last episode. I didn’t mind that the story began in the future (yes, weirdness, but also—Claudia Black!). I didn’t even mind that Amalia True wasn’t Amalia True. What didn’t sit well was that True reaches the Galanthi, and … nothing happens. She’s basically told to forget about it, and she goes home. It was a betrayal.
The last series I watched was The Rookie. It was an interesting season, dealing with institutionalized racism and other serious topics. Nolan’s ambitions were scuttled by the fallout from last season’s cliffhanger. Chen gets to go on her first undercover assignment. It was an enjoyable watch. And Nolan wasn’t the focus of the cliffhanger this time 🙂
Phil and I watched Shadow and Bone. I liked how they combined the titular novel with Six of Crows. Kaz and his crew were still the more compelling characters. Alina still lacked agency, but I liked how they tried to up her game. We both enjoyed it.
Then, we watched Jupiter’s Legacy. Phil was watching just to see how the original supers got their powers, and I think that was intentional. I don’t think what was supposed to be the main plotline would have held our attention without that past timeline mystery.
The two movies I watched were both DCEU offerings.
First, I watched the Snyder cut of Justice League. I had to watch it in four parts … ‘cause long, but I appreciated the storytelling that went into it in comparison to the original. I think DC realized that fans weren’t happy with the movie as it was released.
Then, I watched Man of Steel. Meh. Like Cavill and all, but I’ve seen Superman’s origin story so many times it was hard to be invested.
I read four books in May.
The first was A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown. It was dark and angsty. Malik’s hatred/love/hatred for Karina felt a little contrived, but I liked it despite that.
Next, I read Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. The premise was interesting, but I didn’t buy the worldbuilding. Why would Martian civilization revert to a Roman governance model based on colours and metals (red, black, silver, brass, gold, etc.)? It was okay.
I read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, my literary pick of the month. It was an examination of race and “passing.” The story begins with twins, Desirée and Stella. After their father is murdered in front of them, Desirée wants nothing more than to run away. She’s tired of their small-minded town that values light-coloured skin above all else.
But it’s Stella who truly runs away, passing as white, marrying a white man, and effectively disappearing from her family’s lives. Desirée marries a dark-skinned man who abuses her. She runs back home to hide and falls in love with man her husband sends to find her.
A generation later, Desirée’s daughter Jade, an aspiring doctor in love with a transgender man, meets Stella’s daughter Kennedy, a struggling actress. He two become “frenemies” until Jade sees Stella at a party and realizes that Kennedy is her cousin.
I really liked it.
Finally, I read Mister Impossible, the second book in the Dreamer trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater. It came out on the 18th and I nabbed it right away. The book continues the story of the Lynch brothers, Declan, Ronan, and Matthew. At the end of the last book, Ronan and Hennessey had finally found Bride, only to be surrounded by the Moderators, whose job it is to kill dreamers.
They escape off-screen (which I wasn’t all that pleased about) and begin Bride’s “great work” of restoring the ley lines. Declan and Jordan, Hennessy’s last remaining dreamt twin, discover something called a “sweet metal,” an object, most often a painting, that can keep dreamed people awake without their dreamers.
Meanwhile, Carmen, one of the Moderators, and her visionary Lilianna, go rogue and try to save the world in their own way. There are some great twists at the end. Loved.
And that was a month in this writer’s life.
Until Tipsday, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.
Randy McCharles is active in Calgary, Alberta’s writing community with a focus on speculative fiction, usually of the wickedly humorous variety, with short stories and novellas available from Edge SF&F Publishing, House of Anansi, and Reality Skimming Press. He is the recipient of several Aurora Awards (Canada’s most prestigious award for speculative fiction) and is short-listed in three categories for the upcoming 2014 Awards. In 2013, his short story Ghost-B-Gone Incorporated won the House of Anansi 7-day Ghost Story Contest. Randy’s first Tyche Books publication, Much Ado About Macbeth, will be available in August 2015.
As writers, we love our literary children. We are also our own worst critics. We need to find a middle ground, an objective perspective. A peer review or critique groups can be of great value in this respect.
When we write, we see the story in our heads so clearly we may forget to put it all down on paper. We need to learn how to doctor our work.
Self-publishing is another reason. Learning to edit your work can help save costs.
The less work an editor has to do, the better. Also, cheaper. (Mel’s note: even if you think that your work is well-edited, a professional editor will always be able to identify further corrections, whether substantive, copy, or line editing. Also, many freelance editors charge by page or words, so you won’t necessarily save any money if you have 75k well-edited words, or 75k poorly edited ones. With an editor who charges by hour, you might do better.)
Theme will help you keep on track.
Then ensued much discussion regarding the relative merits of David Brin’s The Postman and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, both books and movies.
Many inexperienced writers choose the wrong place to start the story. Too soon and unimportant events won’t capture your reader’s attention. Too late and the reader won’t be engaged by your character, or you’ll find yourself explaining—telling—events that have just happened. That’s a tell-tale sign you’ve started too late.
Aim for in media res, but don’t misunderstand the technique. Too much action can confuse the reader. Give the reader a reason to care.
Try not to be “married to the line,” that is, if you think you have to start in a particular place because you’ve come up with the “perfect” line, that line may be one of the darlings you have to kill. You have to be willing to set it aside to find the true beginning of your novel.
Other issues are genre-specific. In fantasy or science fiction, you may spend too much time on worldbuilding or on backstory. Sometimes chapter one is just a distraction and your real story starts in chapter two or even three.
Some opening scenes are missing the hook, that story question that will propel the reader through the novel. New York Times Bestselling Authors (NYTBSAs) can get away with this, but not the first time author.
You may also be missing scenes. This comes from writing “in your head” too much.
Unnecessary scenes may be a sign of too much thinking on the page, on the other hand.
We talk about wearing your writer’s hat and your editor’s hat, but what’s missing from the equation is the reader’s hat.