The next chapter: June 2020 update

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. Wear your masks. Abide by your local health authority’s guidelines for physical distancing and safe reopening. If you don’t take action to protect others, particularly the most vulnerable members of your community, how can you expect anyone else to take action to protect you?

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

Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Trans non-binary folk are non-binary folk.

We have a real opportunity here to rebuild a better world, post-covid. I’m worried that we won’t take advantage of that opportunity. I live in hope that we do.

Pandemic life

Not much has changed except that I seem to be rallying/getting used to the new normal. I’m still working from home. Phil’s still doing the running around. We both wear masks when we go out.

With the reopening, my registered massage therapist as resumed taking clients. She pre-screens. Twice. I wear a mask. She completely cleans and sterilizes her workspace between clients. I’m so happy her business has survived. So many small businesses and independent workers have closed because of covid-19.

In terms of my creative life, I have continued to be productive, but I have not been as productive as in past years. I’m being kind to myself. I’m still making headway and I’m recognizing my accomplishments. More on this in the next section.

I made it through my back-to-back virtual training deliveries and am back to my usual duties at work. It’s still surreal, but I’m adapting. Slowly.

I’m actually grateful that most of the series I watch on television are over for the year. I can focus on catching up on my streaming watching 🙂 My reading has slowed a bit.

Phil continues to devote his free time to woodworking.

2020-06-06 18.04.47

The dog gate I mentioned last month.

2020-07-04 11.38.12

And … Phil’s trying his hand at making a cabinet.

It’s been very hot up here in northeastern Ontario. It’s been hovering around 30 degrees Celsius with the humidity driving the temperature up as high as 41. For those of you who only relate to Fahrenheit, that’s between 90 and 105 degrees. Every day. For two weeks. We don’t have central AC, but we do have a portable unit we use in the bedroom so that we can sleep at night. We’ve been feeding Torvi ice cubes and we bought her another kiddie pool—which she has not chewed! She just steps in to wet her feet, but we’re good with that. Dogs cool through their panting and their paws.

The month in writing

I exceeded my modest goals again this month, but I STILL haven’t finished my rewrite of Reality Bomb (!) I’m over 100k on the draft, now. This will mean some MASSIVE cuts. I’ve been making notes, though, and I have a good idea of where I’ll be going, but I HAVE TO FINISH THE GODDAMNED THING FIRST!

I set my goal at 6,969 words and wrote 7,595, or 109% of my goal.

My blogging goal was 3,750 words and I wrote 5,529, or 147%.

Finally, I wrote my latest Speculations column. It came in at 1,012 words, or 101% of my 1,000-word goal.

Overall, my goal was to write 11,719 words on the three projects, and I wrote 14,136 words. That’s 121% of my goal. Not as fabulous as the 161% I achieved last month, but, interestingly, more words written. Go figure.

JuneProgress

Initially, I was intending to have finished with RB back in March and handed it off to my critique group so I could move on to working on revisions of Marushka. Marushka will be another rewrite and so I’m thinking that I’m going to have to set aside my plans to get back to the revisions on my epic fantasy series and focus on Marushka for the remainder of the year.

Though I was working on the series bible and revision notes for Ascension, that work screeched to a halt when covid-19 hit.

So, I just took a few minutes to revisit my goals and figure I’ll continue working on RB through the end of August and then focus on Marushka for the remainder of the year. I’ll pick up work on Ascension in 2021.

So there, ambitious goal-setting brain. So there.

Filling the Well

Lots to report here this month 🙂

First, I attended the Renaissance Press Virtual Con over the weekend of June 5 – 7. It was all on Zoom and all Canadian. I attended sessions on tropes, eco-fiction, bad writing advice, mystery, characterization, and podcasting.

The following weekend, June 11 – 14, I attended TorCon, and took in sessions with Christopher Paolini and Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, worldbuilding with a group of awesome authors of colour (Tochi Onyebuchi, Bethany C. Morrow, P. Djèli Clark, and Charlotte Nicole Davis), another Panel with Kate Elliot, Andrea Hairston, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Ryan van Loan, and another fabulous conversation between Cory Doctorow and Nnedi Okorafor. *chef kiss*

I also watched Mary Robinette Kowal record the audiobook for The Relentless Moon. I’m a member of her newsletter community and jumped at the chance to take part, even though I had to view the videos after the fact (‘cause work). From June 16 – 26, I viewed between two and six hours of awesome footage a day, often catching up on the weekends. It was fascinating to watch the process and the bloopers were hilarious.

Finally, on June 20, my lovely sister-in-law invited us out for another family get together in her lovely yard. We’re now allowed to gather in groups of 10 or less and we’ve formed a “bubble group” of six (me and Phil, sis and spouse, and the moms). We played kubb, another yard game that Phil made, and ate burgers and fresh-cut fries.

 

What I’m watching and reading

After last month’s epic end-of-season bonanza, I have amazingly few shows to report on.

Phil and I watched through to the end of Supernatural, season 14. We dreaded the introduction of Jack, the Nephilim, because we knew the destructive potential of an overpowered character. So, of course, Jack loses his powers when Lucifer steals his grace, forcing Dean to let Michael possess him and kill Lucifer. And then, because Jack’s a Nephilim, his grace doesn’t regenerate like any other angel’s would. Then, because he drags down the story without purpose grace, he contracts angelic tuberculosis and dies. And, of course, soft-hearted Sam can let him die and resurrects him with magic that links his soul to his use of power. So, he can’t use his powers without burning up his soul. So … of course, Michael possesses (repossesses?) Dean and then Rowena, killing the team of Apocalypse World hunters, and Jack has to burn off what remains of his soul to kill Michael. At that point, we could see that Jack would be the big bad of the season (we were mostly right and not happy about it). Jack burns Nick alive in front of Mary when Nick tries to use Jack’s blood to resurrect Lucifer, and when Mary tries to tell him what he’s done is wrong, Jack kills her. Through another series of shenanigans, Jack goes rogue and finally, God/Chuck shows up, revealing to Sam and Dean that, after all this time, in all the universes he’s created, Sam and Dean are his favourite “show.” He just loves to watch the drama. Instead of resolving the situation himself by restoring Jack’s soul (Chuck says he can’t) Chuck gives Sam and Dean a Nephilim-killing gun and tells them to kill Jack. Jack is ultimately remorseful and kneels passively, waiting for Dean to kill him. Sam tries to intervene and Chuck eggs Dean on. At the last moment, Dean turns the gun on Chuck and shoots him, so Chuck smites Jack and apparently sets off the final apocalypse.

We were disappointed.

I finished watching The Witcher. Not horrible, but not great. I did not appreciate all the unmarked time travel of the first episodes.

I finished last year’s season of Anne with an E in time for this year’s episodes to cue up. I like the additions they’ve made to the story (Black, LGBTQ+, and Indigenous storylines). I think the creators had to add these elements in order to make the series unlike any other iteration of Anne of Green Gables.

I also finished last year’s run of Homeland. It’s getting a little long in the tooth for me, but I am curious to find out what happens to Carrie now that she’s been incarcerated in Russia for months without proper medication.

I only read three books this month.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was an interesting mystery along the lines of Russian Doll or Groundhog Day. The concept is too intricate to explain briefly, but it reads well, and the tension is high throughout. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Then, I read Robin LaFever’s Grave Mercy about a sect of assassin nuns in medieval Brittany.

Finally, I read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. It’s a sweeping epic set over several tumultuous decades in India’s history. I enjoyed it, but it broke my heart because everyone suffered, no one was happy in the end, and the climactic suicide was senseless. It’s stayed on my mind because I keep trying to make sense of it. I think that may have been the point.

And that brings me to the end of 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

The next chapter: May 2020 update

Yes. This post is late. I just couldn’t finish it last night.

Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous lives matter. I think I’m going to be repeating this for a while, if for no other reason than to remind myself that I have work to do.

I’ve been reading Black and Indigenous authors for a few years (N.K. Jemisin, Marlon James, Ralph Ellison, Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Lawrence Hill, Waubgeshig Rice, Eden Robinson, Richard Wagamese, Robin Wall Kimmerer). I’ve taken a few Writing the Other courses. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I’m just saying that I’ve already been making an effort to educate myself.

The last weeks have made it clear that I haven’t interrogated my white privilege nearly hard enough.

I have consumed more media created by Black people in the last couple of weeks than I have in the last couple of years.

I’ve been heartened that charges have been laid against the four police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd and by the ongoing protests all over the world. The call to defund police makes so much sense, I hope the will if found to make this work. I have hope that change is coming, but I also know that we can’t stop working toward a better future until our politicians are moved to act or are removed from office for failing to do so.

Pandemic life

Meanwhile, I’m still working from home, and am about to commence the last of four consecutive weeks of virtual training. Training exhausts me at the best of times, but now, I barely have the spoons left to do more than take a nap in the evenings. We’re not using Zoom, but the sap is the same.

While I’ve been working, Phil’s been woodworking. He made his mom a potato bin, he’s made stools and a bench (the bench was actually stolen and busted up, but I found the wreckage and Phil has now rebuilt it), he made his sister a beautiful table for her patio, a couple of lawn games, another board game (Ur) and a more permanent gate for our door. All of it from old pallet wood.

About that last, there is no door to the stairs for our basement and the basement is not a place we want Torvi to be. There’s too much for her to get into, too much for her to consume that she shouldn’t. Until we get motivated to clean up the basement, the gate will have to do.

While some services have opened up again, it has been a cautious process. As it should continue to be. Even though we haven’t had a new case identified in Sudbury in a few weeks now, the more people move around, the more likely it is that people will get infected and we’ll have another outbreak.

The earliest we could get Torvi in for a groom is July 27th. I’ll be able to visit my massage therapist again at the end of June. As of the end of this week, in Ontario but outside of Toronto and Hamilton, hair salons will soon be able to reopen (Mom will be happy—her hair is driving her CRAZY) and restaurants with outdoor patios.

From what I understand, I’ll be working from home until there is a vaccine, and possibly even after that. I don’t mind working from home except for the continuing time warp effect. When I’m not training and my time isn’t as rigidly scheduled, I often forget to take my breaks or lunch until my gut reminds me that I haven’t eaten anything in a number of hours.

For now, my employer is keeping 90% of their workforce working from home. Our IT department is still distributing laptops and VPN accounts. They haven’t quite supplied half our workforce yet. I’m not looking forward, honestly. I have a nice set up with my desktop and I will not be happy to lose it.

The month in writing

I had only two writing tasks on my plate this month: trying to finish the rewrite of Reality Bomb and blogging.

I blew both goals away, but … the story of RB is still not finished. I’m continuing to work on it, as I can, and I’ll have to adjust my writing goals for the remainder of the year accordingly. My goal for May was to get to 90k and that meant 4,057 words. I wrote 7,181 words, or 177%, and now, a week into June, I’ve broken 95k. There will be some serious cutting involved in getting this one ready for my critique group. At this rate, I expect it to go over 100k. By how much? Who knows?

I aimed for 3,500 words and due to longer tipsday curations including a brief covid-19 update, and now Black lives matter, I wrote 4,989 words, or 143% of my goal.

MayProgress

Overall, my writing goal was 7,557 words and I wrote 12,170 words, or 161%.

Not too damn shabby 🙂

Filling the well

I attended another webinar with Jane Friedman on conquering the dreaded synopsis. I like Jane’s webinars, and whether she’s presenting or hosting the presenter, the content is always very good.

Phil and I also went out to his sister’s for a physically distanced afternoon of testing out his mölkky game and just hanging out.

And, of course, I took lots of lovely pictures on my twice-daily walks with Torvi.

What I’m watching and reading

Because if the time of year, a shit-ton of shows had their season finales. To keep this post from getting huge-mongous, I’m going to offer a short summary for each. I know covid-19 had an effect on a number of productions, but I’m not sure which ones.

Grey’s Anatomy—I’m glad Richard’s in recovery, but Meredith’s being pulled into Deluca’s black hole again, and while Link and Amelia seem to be okay, Owen and Teddy are definitely not. Did not like how they got rid of Karev. Bwa-wa.

Nancy Drew (actually ended in April, but I forgot)—I enjoyed this first season, but it just kind of ended/not ended?

Outlander—another great season, though there were definite divergences from the novels (beyond what would be strictly necessary for the change in medium). Glad they ended Bonnet’s subplot early, and sweet, merciful Mary did the final episode put Claire through the wringer.

The Rookie—love Nathan Fillion as I do, and as much as I enjoyed the season overall, the cliff hanger pissed me off. They’ve done this before and have had to dial back in the first episodes of the second season. Nolan is the protagonist, after all. Are they really going to put him in jail? Will tune in but withholding judgement until I see how they resolve this one.

How to Get Away with Murder—the wrap up was precipitous. They basically killed off or ostracized anyone whose story was too inconvenient to resolve within the final episode (Bonnie, Frank, the governor, Michaela).

Bat Woman—I know Alice’s murder of Mouse was supposed to be a touching moment, but it just confirmed for me what a psychopath Alice is … and what a dead-end character Mouse was (I mean, seriously, why?). And the fact that I’m not talking about Kate’s arc should speak volumes on its own.

Supergirl—Brainy’s sacrifice rang hollow. Though I know it was supposed to be this big, angsty moment, it came off meh. And all so that Lex could have his mommy issues.

Charmed—I found the ending puzzling. They seemed to be building up to this big confrontation with Julian, but it never happened?

Westworld—I thought this season was the best yet, though I seem to be in the minority. *shrugs* I love what I love.

Dark Crystal—while I loved it, I think it was my nostalgic memories of the movie that influenced me more than anything else. The series was not without its problems and they all came down to the limits of puppetry in telling what was, ultimately, a battle-heavy story 😦

Killing Eve—mwah! Both Eve and Villanelle are evolving. And that last scene of them facing each other on the bridge? Love.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow—I was kind of pleased when Sarah became Oracle, but then they undid everything? The resolution was a cheat.

Finally, Phil and I watched the latest season of The Last Kingdom. We abandoned Vikings in favour of this more historically accurate (hey—I said more) series. Uhtred, of course, is completely fictional. The poor guy can’t win for losing, though. He’s lost Aethelflaed to honour and duty as she becomes queen of Mercia, his kids are scattered to the winds, and now, Bebbanburg is further out of his reach than ever. And now he’s charged with the protection of Aethelstan, who will be the first true king of a united England.

Turning to the month in reading, I started off with N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became. It starts with the novella that was The City Born Great and the diverges into a series of stories about the avatars of all the boroughs. They come together in a fabulous found family, each of them with their own skills and abilities, fighting a Cthulian invader. Some readers found the coming together part a little too slow, but, considering the avatar of each borough is literally bound to their borough, I think it took a realistic amount of time. Loved, but the ending, though it’s what the story demanded, caught me off guard.

Then, I read Starsight, the second novel in Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward series. This novel was very different than Skyward and sends Spensa off on an undercover mission. With the exception of M-Bot and Doomslug, she’s on her own. While the reader gets a little in the way of “meanwhile, back at the ranch” interludes, the characters readers bonded with in the first novel are largely absent. Spensa makes new friends and has new adventures, but even as all her hard work seems to come to naught, Spensa jumps into even more danger.

Next, I read Madeline Miller’s Circe. A lovely reinterpretation of the myth. I really enjoyed it.

I also read Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller-winning novel The Sentimentalists. Actually, I listened to it on Audible and I think the narrator had something to do with my enjoyment, or lack thereof, of the novel. Skibsrud writes in complex sentences with a lot of phrases and parenthetical statements. The narrator paused for every comma appropriately, but it came off sounding very disjointed. The story was good (it won a Giller) but it was difficult to get inside it as an audiobook. It might have been better if I’d read the physical book.

Finally, I read Kate Heartfield’s novella Alice Payne Arrives. Loved. It was nominated for an Aurora Award last year 🙂

And that, at long last, was the month in this writer’s life.

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

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: April 2020 update

Here we are in the first week of May. It was an interesting and surprising month.

Pandemic life

In Canada, and Ontario, specifically, there are indications that the numbers of new cases and deaths are no longer increasing exponentially, but they are still increasing. This is likely due to the number of international travellers over March Break and returning Snow Birds as well as various waves of repatriation.

These returning travellers were all back in March, yes, but I think that because most of those travellers were not equipped to quarantine for two weeks, there was likely some scrambling to shop for supplies before self-isolating, and that unintentional transmission occurred. I’m not pointing fingers. None of us had any idea things would get so bad so quickly. People can contract covid-19 and not be symptomatic. There are reports of people in Italy and Spain being diagnosed almost a month after self-isolating. We live and we learn and we try to do better.

Because they’ve had to, the federal and provincial governments have made public their “plans” for reopening. I have to emphasize that these are plans, and plans that are dependent on widespread testing and infection tracing. Several plans do not contain hard milestones because they can’t. It’s a matter of waiting until the curve is truly planked—and confirmed—and then implementing a cautious reopening of some services and businesses and waiting to see how that affects the rates of infection and death before proceeding.

It’s true that some provinces haven’t been as affected as others and thus may be tempted to rush the reopening process, but the federal government’s message remains, “stay the course.”

And so, we are.

The month in writing

AprilProgress

I had adjusted my writing goals for Reality Bomb once again because I had almost reached my writing goals but ultimately fallen short of them in the past two months. I had lowered my overall goal to 85k words and am pleased to say that I’ve exceeded that goal this month.

Specifically, I wrote 11,378 words of my 10,264-word goal, or 111%. This put me over the 85k mark.

But … the story’s not finished yet. So, I’ve extended the project into May. Technically, I only have 4,057 words left to reach 90k, which was my original goal, but I suspect I’m going to have to overshoot that, possibly by quite a bit, to finish the story properly. Then I’m going to return to the middle section to see what needs to be cut (it is a bit of a sprawl) to bring the overall word count back down to 90k.

I once again blew away my blogging goal. I wrote 5,283 words. My goal was 3,750 words and that meant I achieved 141% of my blogging goal.

I also wrote my next Speculations column and, because it was the creation of an outline using tarot cards, it was another of my huge posts. I wrote 2,112 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 211%.

Overall, I aimed to write 15,014 words and ended up writing 18,773. That’s 125% of my goal and makes up for prior months’ shortfalls. Actually, with respect to writing goals, I achieved 111% in January, 91% in February, 99% in March, and 125% in April, for an average total of 107%. The only month I worked on revision, I achieved 96% of my goal, so that means between writing and revision, I’m running an average of 101% of my goals. I’m good with that 🙂

In addition to my writing, I finally got my poetry collection organized and submitted it to a press. We’ll see where that goes. I also entered several of my poems into a contest. The results should be out May 15, 2020. I’ll let you know if I get good news or bad news.

I heard back from the short story submission. It was rejected, but with a couple of comments. The mystery was solved too easily, which I accept and can work on. The other comment was something I’ve seen many times before, and that was that the story felt more like the basis of a longer work. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever effectively conquer short 🙂

I’ll definitely keep trying. In the meantime, my backlog of novel ideas continues to grow.

In non-writing-related happenings, my right eyelid became inflamed. It’s called blepharitis and was probably due to a blocked gland in the eyelid. I had the same thing two years ago. Same treatment. Warm compresses twice a day and antibiotic drops (as a preventative) every four hours for five to seven days.

And then, it appeared that my iPod classic (the kind they don’t make anymore) finally kicked the bucket. I’ve had it for a loooong time and thought that it was due. Basically, it froze (wouldn’t sync with iTunes, change menus, reset to factory settings, or anything) and none of the troubleshooting tips appeared to work. Phil and I were considering buying a new Touch, but lo and behold, I looked over at the shelf where I put the poor, gorked (or so I thought) thing, and it had miraculously reset.

I am now happily listening to my musics again 🙂

Filling the well

In April, I attended a Webinar through the Canadian Authors Association on the publishing process following the completion of a book (fiction or non-fiction). It was called, “The End” is just the beginning.

I also participated in a stress test of Zoom breakout rooms in anticipation of its use for a virtual conference. It was pretty cool. I was shunted in to two or three separate breakout rooms, hung out for a while and chatted, and then the experiment was over. We didn’t break Zoom, as far as I understood, but I think it was a valid trial of the system for the intended purpose.

This weekend (May 1-3) was to have been the Ad Astra convention, but it was, of course, cancelled.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched I Am Not Okay with This. The series was short and so were the episodes. One of the people involved in The End of the Fucking World was behind it and the series had the same aesthetic. It had a very retro vibe (the soundtrack dates it in the 80s) but the story felt contemporary.

Syd discovers she has telekinetic abilities even as she discovers her sexual identity. It’s a kind of supernatural weaponizing of a coming out story, kind of like how Ginger Snaps supernaturally weaponized female sexual maturity. The fact that Syd feels she needs to hide who she is and what she can do makes her doubly monstrous. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but continually ends up doing the worst possible thing in the moment. It was good, quirky, and horrific in a metaphorical and (fictionally) literal way.

There wasn’t anything new that we were interested in on the immediate horizon, so we turned to catching up on Supernatural. We’d watch up to the end of season 12 on Netflix and then they dropped the series. It moved to Amazon Prime, but we didn’t have the gap to indulge until recently. We watched season 13 and have started 14. I classify it as comfort watching. Supernatural doesn’t demand a lot of the viewer 🙂

We also watched Spiderman, Far from Home. Not as good as Into the Spiderverse, but we enjoyed it. Tom Holland is the best Spiderman yet.

In my personal viewing, I finished up the latest season of Frontier, Jason Momoa’s passion project about the genesis of the Northwest Company. They did some necessary hand waving at the travel times for story reasons (they couldn’t dedicate realistic screen time to the ocean journeys), but the story was interesting.

In terms of reading, I read the next two books in Sabaa Tahir’s series, A Torch in the Night and A Reaper at the Gates. The story is good. I liked how the three main characters each develop in their own ways. It’s the continuing relationship drama that frustrates me as a reader.

I also read Alex Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver. SPOILER WARNING I quite liked the displaced Tuatha de Danann, living in seclusion in America. Good plot, humorous secondary stories, and a damaged and compelling protagonist.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz was thought provoking. Newitz comes at the topic of slavery from multiple perspectives. The protagonist, Jack, is a slave to her past. Threezed, is a human slave. Paladin is a robot with a human (cadaver) brain that aids in facial recognition. Most bots are created indentured but can earn their autonomy through service. Med is a bot created free, educated, and with a stable career. Elias, the human antagonist and Paladin’s partner is a slave to his preconceived notions of free will, consent, and sexual identity.

Throw all of these characters into a mixing pot of big pharma, piracy, a drug that enslaves people by addicting them to their jobs, free labs that attempt to make life-saving pharmaceuticals available to everyone, and the security agency tasked to police it all and you have a SF thriller that never stops and never stops making you think.

Finally, Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward was surprising. I’ve read quite a few of Sanderson’s novels. I really liked the Mistborn series. I enjoyed the Legion novellas, Steelheart, and The Way of Kings. Warbreaker was good, too. But Skyward kept me reading in a way his other novels haven’t. I was really invested in Spensa’s journey. The theme was simple: what does it mean to be a coward or to be brave? Spensa’s father was a pilot—a great one—but in one of the greatest battles in her people’s history, he’s said to have run from the fight. Spensa grows up under the burden of that legacy, but still wishes to be a pilot despite it. Frustrated at almost every turn, Spensa has to come to terms with what her father did, her true legacy, and she has to decide who she really is.

It was fabulous.

And that was April in this writer’s life.

Until Tipsday, be well and keep safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world still needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

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

The next chapter: February 2020 update

March came in like a lamb. Still, I’m hoping for a mild month. There are always a couple of storms, but I have hope. Emerging from my cave.

The month in writing

February started off a little rough. As I mentioned last month, I was struggling with the midpoint of the novel I’m rewriting. Work didn’t resume until the ninth and, in a short month, that put me behind. Still, I managed to write 10,805 words if my 12, 180-word goal, or 89%. Accordingly, I’m rejigging my drafting goals again, but they’re still not unreasonable. I have to write 442 words per day through to the end of April to achieve my overall goal of 90k words on the draft.

The only other writing I did in the month was on this blog, and I managed 100% of my 3,500-word goal, writing 3,506 words 🙂

FebProgress

I also rallied myself to send out some poetry. I sent some speculative poetry to Polar Borealis, and some nature poetry to Canary. Will let you know how that goes. I had wanted to

Finally, I registered for Ad Astra, which has moved back to the beginning of May this year.

Filling the well

I didn’t go out anywhere, but I did take a couple of online courses through Jane Friedman and I took in another session on deep point of view from Lisa Hall-Wilson. I am a learning mutt, after all.

What I’m watching and reading

In the personal viewing department, I finished the most recent season of Dear White People. They delved into some serious topics, like the sexual assault of one of the secondary characters by one of the professors, sexual identity and exploration, the treatment of graduate students, and various characters struggled to express themselves through their various chosen media (film making, journalism). The season started out with the two characters apparently “selected” to enter into the secret society rejecting the dubious honour only to have it crop up again at the end of the season. This time Sam and Lionel are told to stay away from the secret society. It’s become corrupt.

Phil and I watched the next instalment, or part, of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in which the titular character takes the throne of hell. Meanwhile, a group of pagans led by Pan are planning to destroy all of humanity and return the world to a state of nature. There’s basically a war between the coven and the pagans, which I found to be a little contrived, but in the end, the Satanic coven rediscovers their true roots as wiccans, the pagans are driven away, and Faustus releases something that looks distinctly Cthulian. The timey-wimey shenanigans Sabrina perpetrates to accomplish this end are questionable and she essentially creates a classic paradox, meeting herself. Somehow, the two iterations of Sabrina survive, one choosing to reclaim hell and the other returning to Greendale to live her “normal” life with her friends and family.

Then, we watched the first season of the October Faction. It had a fairly derivative plot. Fred and Delores Allen are monster hunters in an organization called Presidio and have twin children from whom they hide their secret lives. When it turns out that the twins birth mother, a massively powerful sorceress, wants her children back, everything hits the fan. And of course, Presidio is revealed to have nefarious plans. I had a lot of questions. At one point, it’s revealed that Fred and D, as part of a Presidio task force headed by Fred’s father, basically murder nearly all of the sorcerers. Somehow, Alice, the twins’ mother, is not shot down, but ends up trapped at the bottom of a lake to be conveniently revived by her daughter. She reveals that after escaping the massacre, she trusted the wrong people and they betrayed her. Okay? Why not just kill her? Also, after killing everyone else, Fred and D decide to spare the twins and adopt them. Would Presidio (who gets all up in the business of all their operatives) not know this? It was okay.

Reading-wise, I rounded out my tarot reading with Corrine Kenner’s Tarot for Writers. Again, as I’m going to be writing about all of the tarot books in my next Speculations column for DIY MFA, I’m going to reserve commentary here.

I also read David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital (finally). I’m still aiming for traditional publication, but I’m passively learning about self-publishing in the event that doesn’t pan out. It was informative.

In fiction, I finished Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series by reading All Good Things. Last year, I overdid it by reading five of Newman’s novels in quick succession, the First of the Split Worlds series and all of her Plantefall series. I had to take a break because I lost my perspective. Newman’s novels are good, but they focus on deeply flawed and often powerless protagonists who struggle with various mental health issues. This can make them challenging reading.

**SPOILER WARNING** Skip to **END SPOILERS** if you haven’t read the books and don’t want to know. I don’t give away absolutely everything, but, well, you’ve been warned.

Split Worlds was a slow burn. Things definitely happen in the first two books, but they all happen to the protagonist rather than emerging from the protagonist’s decisions and actions. Cathy was born into a fae-touched family. The fae-touched live in the Nether, one of the split worlds, and are dependant upon the fae for longevity. The Nether is stuck in a pseudo-Victorian/Regency time period with its attendant misogyny. Cathy runs away to attend university in Mundanus (our world) but is recaptured and forced to accept an arranged marriage. She also suffers from social anxiety and is blessed/cursed with three wishes from Lord Poppy, the fae lord of her family.

The second main character, Sam, is a computer programmer suffering through a disintegrating marriage who stumbles into Exilium, the realm of the fae, and thus into the Nether, encountering both Cathy and Max. Between these two stories is a third, helmed by arbiter Max, who has had his soul dislocated so that he can more effectively police the fae and the fae-touched, in the service of the heptarchy of sorcerers. The Bath chapter, of which he was a part, has been obliterated and Max’s soul is somehow transferred into a stone gargoyle. Max can’t figure out why his sorcerer, Extrand isn’t interested in uncovering the perpetrators. The plot of the first book, Between Two Thorns, involves the rescue of Cathy’s uncle, in which both Sam and Max assist, who was kidnapped as a result of fae-touched intrigue.

In the second book, Any Other Name, Cathy is drugged by her own parents and married into a rival fae-touched family against her will. Then, because she’s a feminist and not at all interested in becoming a baby factory for her husband, he gives her a love potion so that they can, at least, consummate the marriage. Sam’s wife dies and he believes it’s murder. During his investigation, Lord Iron, a member of the elemental court (as opposed to the fae court) takes Sam under his wing. Max tries to solve the mystery of the Bath chapter despite the leaden feet of Extrand and ends up helping Cathy and/or Sam more than pursuing his own goal. We find out a lot about the workings of the Nether and Exilium in book two. It’s fabulous world building.

The plot of this book involves Cathy trying to track down there whereabouts of her old tutor, who taught her about feminist history and the world outside the Nether. This leads her to an organization called the Agency, who provides all staff for the fae-touched families and has a monopoly on all the household needs (interior decorating, primarily). Cathy also discovers her husband’s secret. He has a half-sister, born of his mother’s adulterous affair, that he must keep hidden. While Cathy’s meddling marks her for an assassination, from which Sam and his growing affinity with iron save her, society schemes set her husband William on course to unseat the current duke of Londinium by duel to the death.

The third book picks up the pace a bit. In All is Fair, Cathy, having recovered from the assassination attempt, is now duchess of Londinium and, believing that she may now have the power to change the Nether for the better, decides to stay and fight the good fight. In the previous two books, her personal goal was escape, but that proved impossible in her circumstances. Having bungled/wasted the first two of her wishes, Cathy aces the third, wishing that she attain her full potential without harming her family or the ones she loves. The first thing she aims to do is to take down the Agency.

Sam begins to train under Lord Iron by learning the craft of blacksmithing. As he does so, his affinity to iron develops and Lord Iron teaches him about the elemental court, who have forgotten their role in the split worlds, that of protecting humanity from the fae. Digging deeper, Sam discovers that his wife was working to take down the company she worked for because of its environmental abuses. At the end of the book, Lord Iron commits suicide in front of Sam. For Max’s story, his investigation finally seems to be getting some traction. Extrand calls for a moot, or meeting of the heptarchy, to decide what to do, moving forward. Max also discovers that the London/Londinium branch of the arbiters is corrupt. At the end of the book, Extrand, being his unstable self, declines to attend the moot he called and the five sorcerers who do attend end up getting killed.

The plot of book three is now firmly tied into the lives and goals of the main characters.

In book four, A Little Knowledge, Cathy, empowered by her success in taking down the Agency, attempts to influence the Londinium court into accepting that women are equal to men. This makes problems for William, who is now under orders from his family’s patron and fae lord to get his unruly wife under control and produce an heir. Cathy gathers allies, mostly women who have been charmed/cursed into subservience and she starts to undermine the patriarchy. Unfortunately, she’s still under the influence of the love potion William gave her and she inadvertently gives William everything he needs to impede her every step forward.

Sam is named as Lord Iron’s heir and takes his place in the elemental court, but they have no interest in halting their environmental devastation or in resuming their responsibility of protecting humans. While Sam radically changes all of his own businesses, he tries everything he can to get the elemental court to change. Then a strange woman seeks his help.

Extrand decides that the only other living sorcerer must be responsible for the deaths of the rest of the heptarchy and starts a sorcerous war against his rival. Meanwhile, Max works to uncover the true culprit, the only female sorcerer and sister to one of the murdered sorcerers. When she unleashes a curse that kills Extrand the other sorcerer, Rupert, manages to escape, and Max decides to work for him as the last sorcerer of Albion.

Finally, in book five, All Good Things, Cathy, having learned of William’s magical manipulation of her, leaves him, taking refuge with Sam. She meets the strange woman, Beatrice, who tells her that she is a sorcerer and that she has killed all the rest because it was the sorcerers who split the worlds in the first place. She has a plan to restore the worlds to what they once were, all one, with the fae and the elemental court to balance one another. Cathy is appalled. All the evil in her life has been caused by the fae. The fae cannot be released from Exilium. Beatrice offers to teach Cathy sorcery in return for her help. Reluctantly, Cathy agrees.

Sam, meanwhile, has not made any progress with the elemental court. They have resorted to sending assassins after him. Beatrice has also explained her plan to Sam, who has the same reservations as Cathy, but he can’t single-handedly change the elemental court. Perhaps her plan is the only one that will work. Max soon learns that Rupert is no better than Extrand. All the sorcerers are mad in their own ways. Rupert asks him to kill Beatrice using a curse that will also kill Max. Max tracks Beatrice to Sam’s and Cathy talks him down from carrying out his mission.

Meanwhile, in desperation to save his family, William goes to Exilium and makes a deal with the king of the fae to take his place. That’s when the fun begins.

**END SPOILERS**

The Split Worlds is definitely a series that has to be read in order and in its entirety to be appreciated. I enjoyed it and recommend it. Newman tells a great story. It just takes a little time for all the threads to seat fully into the warp and weft 🙂

Just going to hit my other reads briefly.

S.A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper was a great second in series, even if it kept Nahri and her afshin separated for most of the novel.

Loved N.K. Jemesin’s “The City Born Great.”

Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf was fabulous in one respect. He goes deep into Tracker’s POV and stays there. A master class in technique. The story was good, but the framing device didn’t work for me.

Finally, Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse was wonderful. Meaningful, poignant, and, well, just wonderful.

And that was a month 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: January 2020 update

January saw this writer still in hibernation mode.

The month in writing

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

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

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

Januaryprogress

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

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

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

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

What I’m watching and reading

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

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

Everything else is in progress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Chapter

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: October and November 2019 mega update

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

October in writing

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

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

OctoberProgress

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

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

And that was it for October.

November in writing

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

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

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

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

NovemberProgress

Filling the well

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

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

What I’m watching and reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Chapter

NaNoWriMo 2019 update 4

Rough week, being back to work and all.

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

NaNoupdate4

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

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

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

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

That’s it for now.

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

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NaNoWriMo 2019 update 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NaNoupdate3

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

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

We’ll see if I surprise myself.

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

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