WWR#1426 – Summertime is for…writing

Summertime 140627 My 2014 summer project is to finalize and submit as many stories as I can. (Not to be too obvious but it’s it much easier to get acceptances when stories are in an editor’s inbox rather than sitting on my desk.) I’m giving myself the week to complete my three active stories and to sift through my other short stories so I know exactly what I have to work with for the next few months.

Stories=actively working on three. 1) First things first, the priority for the next week is “All of a Heap” as I have the opportunity to tweak it before it goes to print; 2) the Wimbledon story is in its final revision stage; 3) I started a new short story about a man forced to step outside the home he’s barricaded himself into for the past eleven years (he’s a tad agoraphobic). I originally saw this one as a short flash piece but it would be a lot of fun to expand so we shall see what the first draft turns into.

Rejections=One. Walker Watcher is the story of a man stuck in an alternate Hell that includes constant walking and being submitted to watching his transgressions ad nauseam on an old tv box that accompanies him at every step, rabbit ears antenna and squeaky wheel included. This week I received a “great” personal rejection email for that story, however “great” a rejection can be. I submitted WW back in March for an anthology and had given up on it but it turns out the story made it far in the process, which is why they had not yet sent a rejection. I wasn’t sure how WW would be received because it is a bit of a gloomy odd one so the positive feedback means it will be part of the summer project so I can try to find it a home.

Critiques=One short story. I wasn’t planning on doing any crits this week but I guess it’s an itch I have to scratch. Let’s see if I can keep my resolution not to do any this coming week.

Writers’ events=Two: a short write-in session as well as a monthly social dinner with local writers. I must admit the current write-ins at the new location are a challenge for me. I work best in utter silence, with no radio or ambient noise (even the neighbouring dog’s barking really throws me off my game), so casual write-ins where there are lots of comings and goings aren’t working for me when I need to focus on reworking or developing my own stories. (Another factor is that rather than carry my 19-inch laptop to write-ins, I use a tablet, which really slows me down.) I’ve debated whether to simply abandon those write-ins but since I would probably just end up watching tv at home, I’ve accepted what they are and decided to make the best of them rather than become a recluse. I currently use that time to critique stories since I quickly recover from interruptions doing that kind of work. More importantly, I enjoy commenting editing utterly tearing apart critiquing stories, even (especially) when those stories are really bad.

Audiobook: Listening to Mirage by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul, and narrated by Scott Brick (who is awesome as always). The Oregon Files is by far my favourite of Cussler’s series. Though I’m getting better at writing descriptions, I always struggle with them in my stories. It’s not as easy as it seems to find the right balance between letting the reader create a mental picture on their own and writing descriptions that turn into tedious laundry lists. I find Cussler writes visual descriptions where I can easily picture everything and his analogies are vivid and relevant to the story. I’m soaking it all in while enjoying Juan Cabrillo’s latest adventure.

WWR#1425 – Of Raspberries and Ringwoodite

Image

Quite a few news stories caught my attention this week and I shared my favourites on Twitter (@JennerMichaud).

First off, scientists are apparently finding vast amounts of water all over the place, including deep under the Earth’s crust some 7,000 below our feet where a water reservoir containing three times the volume of the Earth’s oceans has been found. Confirmation of its existence comes from a sample of mineral ringwoodite, composed of 1.5 per cent water, found within a gem. (See clipping) A bit farther away, analysis of the cracks on Pluto’s giant moon could reveal it “had a subsurface ocean in its past, driven by high eccentricity” showing that underneath its icy exterior, there may have been a “warm, life-hosting interior”. (See more here)

It wouldn’t take much imagination for writers to take advantage of all those new possibly habitable locations and, with some creative variation or two, populate them with new settlements.

When you enjoy weaving horror stories, images like the one accompanying “Millions Of Spiders Fleeing Floods Embellish Land With Spectacular Webs” are hard to ignore. In the photo, a thick carpet of silk enrobes all vegetation surrounding a large body of water and thousands of black spots – spiders – dot the white veil. How can that not end up as a story setting some day?

Rather than focus only on sight and sound in my stories, I always try to remember to take advantage of all the senses to add texture so when I saw the following headline, I couldn’t help but investigate the opportunities: “The Center Of Our Galaxy Smells Like Raspberries And Tastes Like Rum”. And the Center of the Galaxy smell-o-scope study was only the beginning. Not to be outdone, Titan is positioning itself to win the evil-smelling prize as it was announced to emit odours in the realm of gasoline and farts. (One can’t help but wonder if it’s because it has more unusually Earth-like qualities than previously thought.)

All in all, plenty of stories made it to my story idea collection this week and will inspire my writing for years to come. The only disappointing part is that I will never be able to make use of them all.

Weekly Tally:

Stories: Posted Fossil Lake for critique online; reworking a sort of fan fiction/horror flash piece on the Wimbledon Championship circa 2047;

Critiques: Two short stories. Providing feedback online can be a somewhat impersonal process so I always appreciate getting responses to any critique I provide, which I did get this week in a very nice email from David Erickson who said “I really appreciate the depth of your comments. Like the detailing one would expect from a professional editor.” Not only is it quite flattering feedback but it’s always rewarding to know all the time spent on someone else’s work is appreciated and can be of use in the revision process.

Writer events: I attended a write-in session as well as a social mixer with a group of local writers. Many writer gatherings are designed around work, such as workshops, critique groups, write-ins, etc. so it’s nice to get out of my twisted head on occasion to meet other writers over a pint and chat about anything and everything, even if writing inevitably comes up at some point.

writersblock-706142The

Myth

of

Writer’s

Block

A definition of Writer’s Block: situation when writer cannot write: an inability on the part of a writer to start a new piece of writing or continue an existing one (source: Bing dictionary).

In my early days as a writer, the idea of writer’s block loomed over me like an unavoidable affliction. It just “was”, and it would be something I would suffer for the remainder of my writing days. There was no way around it: it would happen and it would be a horrible, terrifying experience. I would most likely survive it but I would never be the same.

The thought of writer’s block scared me so much that if I got stuck on a story for more than a few minutes, unable to type another word, I would move on to another. If I couldn’t get the next sentences to lead where I thought the story should go, I would move on to another story. When I reached a point where I deleted every word I added, you guessed it, I would move on to another story. Whenever I got stuck, I would move to another project just to keep writing.

In November 2012, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), an annual writing project that challenges writers to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. That averages to 1,667 words a day. To put it in perspective, when I’m not editing, I try to average somewhere between 300 to 500. Any way you slice it, it’s a lot of words and with NaNoWriMo, word count is king. You’d better tie your tuque on tightly because you’re in for a harrowing ride: NaNo is no time for writer’s block. Some participants modify the challenge, writing several short stories that total 50k words to meet the goal, but the pure way to do it is to write a novel. That means one story.

I had no choice: I had to keep at it since switching to another project would be cheating. And when I got stuck on day three, I did not allow myself to quit or cheat by jumping to another story. I also refused to walk away. But nothing came to mind and within minutes I was panicking, not wanting to break my streak of writer’s block avoidance.

It was then that another participant suggested that I type anything that came to mind rather than try to control the story. Stream of thought, background, write out a later scene, even if it felt wrong. I had no plan but I begrudgingly put fingers to keyboard, typed a few sentences, a stream of thought of what I imagined could happen next. I knew it would be embarrassing work that would be the first thing excised during the revision process but I typed what came to mind, however lame it was. Felix should probably try to get to his mother’s house at this point, check up on her since he probably is a good son and I guess would care about her enough to make sure she’s still alive…

After two paragraphs of equally inarticulate ramblings, something clicked. It’s as if my brain took over, directing my fingers without my having any control over my own mind and body. I read what appeared on the screen as a reader would read a new book after cracking the spine for the first time. There was action, suspense, even twists and turns I never saw coming. A new character was introduced and I clearly remember thinking “Who’s Claire?” when I read it on the screen. By the end of it, I had close to 5,000 words more and a clear path to what would come next.

In the end, I reached the 50k word goal with a few days to spare. I have not yet completed that novel but what came out during that dizzying episode is the best section of the manuscript to date. When I revisited the manuscript after NaNo was over, the sub-par paragraphs that led to it turned into a whole chapter. Those two paragraphs of ramblings also paved the way for the introduction of the key subplot.

So yes, I’ve been stuck plenty of times, but I’ve never met a writer’s block that caused me to walk away. To me, there are many ways to get around it so it only becomes writer’s block if you let it be. When I get stuck, I rarely switch stories now that NaNoWriMo has taught me not be so quick to tag out. I keep at it when progressing on a story seems most impossible, rambling on for a few paragraphs before everything comes in line again, like the train wheels are back on the rails and I will make it to the next station.

The best material comes when I least expect it, when I think there is nothing left to add and all the work on a story was for naught. The lesson is to keep writing even if it makes no sense at the time. It will all come together in the end.

Writing Week in Review (#1424)

June 13, 2014

-As per my post yesterday, All of a Heap will appear in Plague: Aftermath in September. The contract is signed and delivered, now I get to work on my author bio to accompany the story;

-Received a critique on Still Daughter from the Narwhals – it was generally received as an interesting concept, a different take on zombies even if that thought never crossed my mind until someone suggested it. This is a story I started two years ago but one that’s been quite a challenge to pull together as I can’t use the daughter/zombie as the viewpoint character. We had a good group discussion on possibilities and, as I don’t yet have a clear idea on how to thread it all together, I’m letting the idea seeds planted germinate for a bit to see which ones come out of the ground;

Fossil Lake is online for critique and I am sifting through the feedback that will continue to trickle in over the next week. I plan to quickly rework the story based on feedback from this new group to submit it to my regular online group for more substantial and specific feedback. Reviews from fresh readers can help pinpoint any final hiccup before final polishing and submission. I’m aiming high with this one and want to get it just right;

-As I enjoyed the first two chapters of a novel up for critique online, I took on reviewing the entire manuscript. It’s about 100 pages and classified as horror. I ended up spending most of my free time over the past week to draft the critique and have over 200 comments and notes, mainly about characterization and lack of tension. I’ve never taken on critiquing such a long manuscript before (never more than 10k) but I found the critiquing experience very similar to short stories, except of course for the length and that the same issues appeared over 100 pages instead of 10. It was an interesting experience and I learned more about writing in the process. I’m eager to shift my focus back to my own projects and hopefully be able to look at them in a more objective light to address any similar issues in my own work before I submit the stories elsewhere.

June 12, 2014

I’m thrilled to share the news that my short story All of a Heap will appear in the anthology Plague: Aftermath, slated for release on September 1, 2014.

I first heard of the anthology in the Fall of 2013. Four stories drafted with that anthology in mind all turned into other types of post-apocalyptic stories, making them all irrelevant to Plague: Aftermath. In the end, a mere four weeks elapsed between the moment I typed the first words of All of a Heap to the story’s acceptance. Write, rework, rewrite, edit, edit some more, submit, acceptance, yeah!

The entire “behind the scenes” process relating to this anthology has been a great experience. I never expected to be consulted (or have any input) on the selection of the cover artwork, release date, and whatever else comes next – I’m enjoying every minute of it!

Writing Week in Review (#1423)

June 6, 2014

The news of the week: one of my stories has been accepted for an anthology! More details as soon as I can share.

The week began with a write-in session I hosted at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library, the final session in a public series. Attendance grew over the six-month period and I think it was effective in getting new writers started on their projects, or at the very least get them to sit down in front of a blank page to try. It’s always interesting to see how varied the write-in newbies’ reactions are, from the frustration of those giving up after twenty minutes and walking out, to those so focused they’re oblivious to the lights off being turned off at closing time. Those are the writers I want to work next to.

Weekly Tally:

-Finished a full rewrite of Fossil Lake (now 8,500 words) and shared it for online critique;

-Expanded Still Daughter, doubling the word count to 2,000 and shared it with the local Narwhal critique group;

-Critiqued three short stories.

CAN-CON 2014

At Can-Con 2012, enjoying my participation on the Writing Groups panel. (Geoff Gander is on the left and Leslie Brown on the right).

At Can-Con 2012, enjoying my participation on the Writing Groups panel. (Geoff Gander is on the left and Leslie Brown on the right).

 

May 15, 2014

I’m now registered to attend the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature, scheduled in Ottawa from October 3-5, 2014 (can-con.org/2014/).

It was quite a nice surprise to see my photo on the site’s main page, showing me having a blast during my 2012 participation as a panelist on the subject of writing groups. (I was also a panelist on flash fiction that year).

Past CAN-CONs have always provided great inspiration for new stories, from the session “Going Viral: Infection and Disease in Speculative Fiction” to Science Guest of Honour Mark Robinson’s (aka Storm Hunter) talk about “atmospheres around solid bodies”. All the sessions I’ve attended are still fueling my stories today and will continue to do so for years to come as I still have heaps of notes to pull from.

I can’t wait to find out what topics and panels the organizers will pull together this year.