Women in Horror interview

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Charon Coin Press was kind enough to include me in their special feature celebrating Women in Horror Month. The full interview, including the revelation of my completely normal and rational fear of piranhas waiting under beds to chew my feet off, can be read here.

I’m thrilled that my story “Maze Walker” will appear in their upcoming anthology “Paying the Ferryman”, due out in April. A sneak peak of the cover can be found here.

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Women in Horror Month Feature: Jenner Michaud

Jenner Michaud ushers in our third day of celebrating Women in Horror Month. Michaud will be appearing in the upcoming release of Paying the Ferryman with her story, “Maze Walker”. We sit down with her today to discover more about the author behind the story.

Women in Horror Month feature Jenner MichaudCharon Coin Press: What drew you to the horror genre?
Jenner Michaud: It took me a long time to find my genre but horror definitely feels like home to me.  I’ve tried to write everything from comedy to rosy fairy tales but there is always an ominous cloud shadowing my work. Someone once told me “Your story is funny but I had goose bumps the whole time.”  Horror is not a conscious choice, it’s simply what comes out.

CCP: Do you have a favorite monster/horror character?
JM: I can identify with the regular Joes and Janes much better than with any monster. I like stories where ordinary people are thrown into extreme situations forcing them to act outside, way outside, of their usual comfort zone. I love Carol in The Walking Dead and how she has changed and embraced the apocalyptic world she is in – I hope I can be like her if zombies ever overtake the world (though I think I would have shot Lizzie much sooner).

CCP: Do you have any advice for other female writers who want to write horror?
JM: Write stories that are itching to come to life, let the characters and stories clawing to get out of you come out without trying to control it too much. To me, horror is a feeling more than anything else, that voice in the back of your head warning you something is off. The more one writes, the easier it becomes to find that feeling of unease where horror lies.

CCP: What do you look for in a good horror story?
JM: Originality. The unexpected. A new twist on an old idea. The speedy zombies in World War Z were terrifying to me because all zombies I had ever heard of had always been slow. That was the one consistent thing I knew about zombies: if you are clever enough, you can outrun them. This completely took me off guard in WWZ and effectively threw that old concept I had taken for granted right out of the window. I loved that.

CCP: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
JM: I’ve always wanted to write and I can’t remember a time when I had any other ambition. But it was a goal for a long time, more than anything concrete as I only started writing seriously a few years ago. When I am at a keyboard and a story is flowing out of me, there is no other feeling like it. My only regret is that I didn’t start writing seriously sooner.

CCP: Who is your favorite horror author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
JM: Stephen King is a lot of people’s favorite horror writer, and with good reason. I admire how he can stretch out moments for several pages. His style is so direct and immediate, it grabs you from the first sentence and doesn’t let go until the book is done. I am currently enjoying Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga’s The Walking Dead series. The Governor’s backstory is so layered and interesting it’s made me appreciate the TV character even more.

CCP: What are your favorite horror films? What book would you love to see on the big screen?
JM: I’m drawn to post-apocalyptic stories that have to do with plagues or viruses, such as movies like 28 days/weeks later. The Mist is a classic and I watch it every time it’s on tv. I love The Walking Dead. As for what horror book could be adapted, I would have said Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain but that came out as a tv series last year so my wish has already come true and I’m looking forward to Season 2.

CCP: What are three “Good to Know” facts about you?  Be creative.  Tell us about your first job, the inspiration for your writing, any fun details.
JM: Piranha is the first horror movie I ever saw and I still can’t let my naked feet hang off the bed for fear that they will be chewed off, like it happened to the guy who let his feet dangle in the water in the movie. My sister even gave me a stuffed piranha (hid it under my bed, actually), its jaws extended and razor-sharp teeth on full display. I know for a fact that my big toe fits perfectly between its jaws.

I have a vast number of notebooks with clippings and notes about story ideas, characters, dialogue, etc. I have new ideas every day so I never even have the need or time to dig back for inspiration. As a result, I’m not sure what will ever become of all the ideas in those boxes of materials, or if they would even make sense if I read them today.

I am a huge Metallica fan. I was the Canadian Editor of a fanzine for many years.

CCP: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
JM: I have an endless supply of story ideas but I will never have enough time to explore them all. I have to write the story that is clawing to get out at that time so perhaps that’s why I have difficulty writing on spec, or following specific prompts. I wish it weren’t so mentally restrictive for me but those tend to be the only times I suffer from writers’ block. If I don’t try to control my creative instincts too much, it is much easier, and a lot more fun.


Jenner Michaud’s Bio

Jenner Michaud is a speculative fiction writer with a leaning towards the dark recesses found at the edge of reality. She finds pleasure in weaving stories that push the boundaries of the possible, even if they go bump in the night and keep her up.

Jenner works in the field of innovation research and education, and spends most of her free time exploring innovation in the field of writing.

An all-around Canadian, Jenner was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, spent most of her childhood in Quebec, and currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario.

“All of a Heap” appears in Plague: Aftermath, now available on Amazon. “Maze Walker” will appear in Charon Coin Press’s Paying the Ferryman anthology, due out in Spring 2015.

Follow Jenner on Twitter (@JennerMichaud), learn more about her by visiting her blog (jennermichaud.wordpress.com), and check out her page on her writers’ group website, The Scrawling Narwhals (scrawlingnarwhals.weebly.com).

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Walking the Maze

thCA0O41S9Great news first: My short story “Maze Walker” will appear in an upcoming anthology, due out in March 2015. I have done two interviews in the past few weeks, one in anticipation of the anthology, and one in conjunction with February’s celebration of Women in Horror. I hope to be able to share more in the coming weeks.

Other than for the above, writing projects were paused last Fall when I began battling a nasty sinus bug but I am happy to report treatments have recently kicked in and I am feeling much better. In January, I had a Popeye-style burst of energy, leading me to write an entire short story from scratch in five hours, averaging a thousand words per hour (my usual speed when I’m in “the zone”).

The energy burst didn’t last, but after a few months of little scribbling, it felt good to finally write something that seems solid. I have since spent some time editing it and submitted it for critique to my local writing group, The Scrawling Narwhals. I’ve already made a few notes of what I think need to be addressed in the re-write but we shall see what the feedback is like next week on “Boomerang”. Maybe I just imagined the story being good, which wouldn’t be much of a surprise after the past few months of brain freeze.

One of my standing writing objectives is to make at least two submissions each month. Despite the bug, I still managed to do that up to the end of December but I haven’t yet submitted anything in 2015. I have just heard back about the lone outstanding sub (rejection) so I am making a push to be able to meet my two sub minimum this month, and hopefully at least one more to make up for the January zilch count.

First up is “Arctic Marauder” (formerly “Frozen in Time”), the story of an Arctic Expedition finding a lost WWII soldier who has survived alone some seventy years at the bottom of an icy crevasse. A hint: the plane’s mysterious cargo may have something to do with his survival. Next, I will work on “The Beaten Path” (Alien chiropractors, who knew?), and “Threader”, a complicated Earth where nothing happens by chance, where lives are controlled by a chosen few forced to live in the Earth’s mantle to hide the reality of how the world really works. Those are the three stories that have been occupying my mind in my recent delirium so I just had to move them up to the top of the pile. I have feedback on all three stories and it’s a matter of using what can help make them great ones. I hope that doesn’t sound easy because it’s not.

Lots of work ahead – happy writing!

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Critiques-Making sense of all the feedback

WWR1441-CritiquesThe first time I dared post a story online for critique, I received 38 responses. Since it was my first experience, I didn’t know if that level of response was average or not (turns out it’s not – a dozen is usually a lot). The sheer volume of comments and feedback was overwhelming, totaling more than 100 pages all together. I didn’t know what to do with all the feedback, how to process all the various comments, or even how to get started.

I’ve gone through the critiquing process many times since, and I have gotten much better at making sense of feedback and more importantly, using it to edit, revise, and ultimately, improve a story. Not all critiques are equal, and it’s important to keep in mind that all feedback needs to be considered before acting upon it simply because someone else suggested it.

What I have found to be key is to read the feedback repeatedly over several weeks. It begins as a jumble of thoughts but, with every reading, each comment and suggestion separates itself from the rest. What is unusable drops away and is forgotten, and what is left is what really matters, what can make a difference in your story and make it that much better.

Everyone has their own method for making sense of critiques, and the best one is whatever works for you. My process for dealing with online feedback is detailed below, please feel free to use any part of it that helps develop your own process. The time between each step varies for an unlimited number of reasons, depending on the number of critiques received, the length of the story, how bad the first draft is, etc. Because of a submission deadline, I have on occasion gone through all steps in one day but find that it is best to leave time (days, even weeks) between most of them as it helps absorb all of the feedback and make the most of it.

  1. Read critiques as they come in: Online critiques are usually submitted under a set period of time (one week, for example) so responses will come in over several days. Just read the feedback, take it all in, and let it cogitate until all the critiques for that project have been received. It’s also good form to send a thank you email to anyone who has taken the time to read your story and send feedback;
  2. Formatting: From my experience, all feedback is shaped by the critiquer. Everyone has their own style, and no two critiques look the same. Simple things like fonts give more importance to comments that may not be as spot on as the poorly scanned handwritten scrawls on another copy. To me, reformatting all the feedback into a single, uniform document creates a baseline where all of it can be studied without favouring one over another simply because it looks better. Reformatting also gives me the opportunity to read the feedback a second and third time, second when copy and pasting into a single document, third when sifting through it to ensure spacing and everything else is uniform. There are always one or two crits that cannot be reformatted (eg scanned copy of handwritten comments) but I don’t spend any more time than necessary on this step. It’s simply a means to an end. I reformat those that can be copied and pasted into a fresh document, and leave the others as is;
  3. Mark it up (feedback doc): This is where the real action begins. On a printed copy of the reformatted feedback, I mark the left margin (with a pen) with simple equation signs as I go through the feedback (4th read): specific sections in my story viewed as good (+) or bad (-). I cross off anything that I know for certain cannot be used, either because it isn’t relevant or is contradictory to what I’m trying to achieve. There are always some I don’t know what to make of so I leave those alone for now. On every following read through, I mark or cross off unaddressed comments as I make decisions on them;
  4. Edit-round one: blind mark-up of the master: I call it a blind edit because I don’t refer to any notes. I set the feedback document aside, and read through a printed clean copy of my story (“master”), noting from memory anything that jumps out in relation to the comments received. I have found that I can address or cover the majority of the feedback through this step. I don’t rewrite yet, I just note what needs to be changed and why (eg POV shift, unclear or repetitive section, contradictory, etc.);
  5. Edit-round two: all-in mark-up of the master: I retrieve the feedback doc and sift through all the critiques in turn, making anything I missed on the master copy of the story (reading #5) and refer to the original critiques when needed. By this step, many of the comments marked in Step 3 have already been integrated or crossed off. By now, I know where the story needs to go, and what I want it to be in the end. This step is about addressing what I missed during Step 4. For major issues (eg section needing to be entirely rewritten), I note it in the margin to address when I return to the electronic copy. The goal of this step is for all of the retained comments from the feedback doc to have been transferred to the master copy;
  6. Edit-round three: macro edit (electronic-blind): Back at the computer, I sift through the story again from the start, trying to refer to the marked master copy only when absolutely necessary, instead trying to edit by feel and memory. I know the feedback by now, and I have planned out fairly clearly what needs to be changed. Doing it blind makes it a more organic edit. Even though I call it a macro edit, this is the stage where the most significant rewriting of the story takes place;
  7. Edit-round four: micro edit (electronic-all in): I go through the story again from the start, still editing and rewriting but this time following along with the marked copy and comparing it to the sometimes vastly different latest draft, incorporating and making use of anything previously missed that is still relevant. Because the drafts of the story are by now so different, many of the comments are now irrelevant (eg structure of a sentence that no longer exists). There are always one or two details that have slipped by the previous step and this fine-tunes the document further;
  8. Re-read the feedback doc one final time: Set the latest draft aside and re-read the feedback doc. By the end of this final read, anything previously left unmarked should have been either used or discarded. Though it often happens that all has already been covered, it has happened on a few occasions that suggestions left unmarked (or even crossed off) made total sense at this stage. When that happens, I return to the latest draft and incorporate or make use of anything that will help fine-tune a story;
  9. Final revision: I always try to set aside a story for a few days before tackling the final revision. The feedback is still bouncing in my head and sometimes something I previously dismissed suddenly makes sense and needs to be incorporated even though I thought the story was done. By this stage, it’s unclear how many times exactly I have read the critiques as the feedback has been copied several times and integrated into the various versions. It’s all part of the project, and it’s not necessarily clear what was used exactly as comments from several people on the same issue blend together, and to make it my own I always try to add a twist to it when integrating it into the story. The point is, it’s been used to improve the story and hopefully make it the best version of itself it can be;
  10. Research markets & submit: What’s the point of doing all this if the story is not submitted? The right market is not always readily available but this Step is a vital part of the process. It’s also great fun to report back to the critiquers to let them know a story they provided feedback on has been published.

Based on genre, there are various online critiques sites available. I am a member of critters.org, which has a substantive forum for speculative fiction.

I look forward to getting your feedback on these steps and how they have helped you develop your own process for dealing with critiques received.

Happy writing.

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Nose to the Grindstone (writing WIPs, accomplishments & upcoming projects)

Nose to GrindstoneThe weather has been unreliable and temperamental, and it seems tree leaves have been drifting onto the city streets for weeks now. These past few weeks, I’ve also somehow missed any conversation, or even reference, to the official change in seasons and just realized that Summer is officially over.

I did not take any vacation, and the few days I took off work were dedicated writing days so I’m in shock at the realization that an entire season has come and gone when I had not realized it had even arrived. I guess I have to resign myself to looking forward to next summer as this one has zoomed by, and I’ve missed it by spending most of my time hovering over a keyboard.

September Review: As part of the Twitter Writing Challenge, I began a novel (“Maze”) on September 1. In a month, I wrote 12 scenes and logged in over 11,000 words, in addition to many hours of brainstorming that have filled a thick stack of pages in my Maze notebook. To help me track the many short scenes in this dark action-adventure-thriller, I’ve organized an index card system, which will also help me track scenes and balance the two points of view (hero and villain) I’ve settled on for this book. I also spent some time working on short stories (revisions, two submissions) and did some research on markets to help me determine which short stories I will finalize next. This was on top of writing 5 critiques (some 5,000 words) and receiving close to 30 critiques in response to a short story I offered for feedback (Ringleader).

October Plans: It looks even busier than September: keeping up progress and pace on Maze, and submit at least 2 short stories. I will be attending CAN-CON from October 3 to 5, and only have a few hours to figure out how to clone myself so I can attend all of the promising panels and workshops scheduled over the same blocks of time over three days (5 or 6 events are scheduled every hour). I am also considering organizing a prep meeting for NaNoWriMo for the Ottawa Writers’ Circle, a meeting which would have to happen in the next few weeks if there are enough takers.

Happy (continued) writing!

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Critiques – Are they worth it?

I love critiquesWhen I first submitted a story for online critiques, I had been part of a local critique group for about six months. Our local group, the Scrawling Narwhals, tends to operate as a roundtable. We take turns providing verbal feedback, and then hand the author our written critique, or what I call supporting materials for the verbal onslaught of comments, suggestions and ideas.

In person, I get the chance to process the feedback as it is told, get some explanation for it, and even discuss and brainstorm as a group about some of the ideas that come up. The discussions aren’t necessarily orderly, but it makes it all easier to process all the feedback received, to absorb and digest it all, if you will. It’s also great to be able to have other people’s immediate feedback on ideas stemming from their commentary, basically helping troubleshoot the kinks and rework the story before even leaving the meeting.

Over time, we’ve gotten to know each other’s strengths, and can even predict some of the comments, allowing me to address some of the issues before the story even goes out to them. In an ideal world, a story would be perfect before being read by anyone else. There would be no feedback, other than for kudos and slaps on the back for writing a perfect story. As this will never happen, the plan is to get a story as close to perfect as you can make it before sharing it for critique. The critiques exist to tell you what you missed so issues can be addressed before they are submitted to someone who will not give you a second read: an editor or publisher.

Online, you put up a story and get emails back in exchange. Myself, I send a “thank you” email back, and that’s usually the end of it. Though it does happen on occasion, follow-up exchanges rarely take place. I am left with a stack of comments from strangers, members of an online critiquing group, who could be anyone from an award-winning author, to a beginner who has yet to finish a story. Or they could not even be writers, just reviewers who enjoy reading stories and providing feedback. (It should be noted that good writers don’t necessarily make good critiquers. Critiquing is a skill that needs to be developed.)

Online critiques also provide the opportunity to get feedback from total strangers, objective beta readers who know nothing about you, and owe you nothing but their honest opinion.

A reviewer could happen to be a spelunker, who has chosen to comment on my spelunking story, and have the knowledge and experience to back up their feedback on technical aspects. The point is, I just don’t know unless they tell me their special expertise. If someone tells me I’ve got my facts wrong about something, I can’t just take their word for it. Online critiques allow my story to reach reviewers with a broad diversity in backgrounds, age, and nationality, and specific knowledge that I would never get from a local group.

Case in point: One reviewer, who sent me feedback on a story set in Japan after the Second World War, had a degree in Japanese culture, and lived in Japan for ten years. His email had been very critical of one of the elements in my story (the delivery of his feedback verged on a rant), and the overall tone of his comments had been especially brutal. I licked my wounds and replied to thank him for his feedback, admitted I had never been to Japan, and sent him the link to my source material for the specific reference that had got him so riled up. I hit sent and tried to forget about it, expecting my email would be automatically deleted.

To my great surprise, he replied a few days later, saying he had done some further research on the issue. He admitted he was wrong (!), and that my own source was right. He then proceeded to send me several emails over the following weeks, containing links and various source material, and details like the types of flowers blooming at that time of the year, to infuse the story with very Japanese details that had never even crossed my mind. Pretty insightful and useful feedback, wouldn’t you say?

Because of that, I value both in-person and online critiques because they bring complementary types of feedback that all help make my stories better than they would be without their input.

That’s why I take advantage of both opportunities. When deadlines allow, I try to run the same story through both groups. That way, I can make the manuscripts as good as they can be, before sending them out to an editor, ensuring problems that escaped my vigilance are corrected before going out.

Doing so lengthens the period of time it takes to get a story completed, but since I only get one shot to impress a specific editor with a story, I figure I might as well give them the best version of it that it can be.

That way, I’ve done as much as I can do. After that, it’s out of my hands.

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Next week: Critiques – Making sense of all the feedback

A character name study: Morrow

Morrow-family-crestI am currently listening to an audiobook where one of the characters is named Morrow. He is a secondary character so he is not in that many scenes, but is often referenced by other characters when he is not present.

The name itself sounds good on its own: it’s a reassuring, almost slow motion, purring name. Morrrrrow.

Its written form is a thing of beauty. It’s almost a mirror image of itself, anchored by a double R, padded with Os, and bookended with a flip of the M and W, which give it movement, and makes it look like it could spin like a windmill and fly off into an amber-colored sunset sky.

It’s certainly a romantic view of it, but one must admit its symmetry and movement make “Morrow” look great on the page.

The name comes up fairly often, and my most recent favorite is for the character Clay Morrow, from the tv series Sons of Anarchy.

In the story I am currently “audiobooking”, more often than not, the word preceding the name is “to” – as in “Make sure it gets to Morrow”, and the like.

To-Morrow. ToMorrow. Tomorrow. The sun’ll come out tomorrow / Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow / there’ll be sun… The Annie song is an earworm so distracting I am not even sure what the novel is about anymore.

It is therefore with great sadness that I crossed Morrow off my character names list notebook, banishing it to the depths of a black hole. I never be able to use it, just in case my work is ever is transformed into an audio format.

Writing Projects: words, words & more words

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Twitter #SeptWritingChallenge Update:

Overall, I am glad I signed up. If I hadn’t stepped up, the Maze idea would still be in a notebook as a future project among a pile of others. Now, it’s actually progressing, and pages are adding up, building into something concrete.

Since Maze is a dark action thriller, scenes are fairly short and action is helping move things along at a clipped pace. In the first few days of participation, I set the personal goal of writing one scene a day, regardless of whether I was spending time working on any other story as well. I’m averaging just below 500 words a day, but it doesn’t include the time I have spent brainstorming and outlining, so including everything I am meeting the challenge, and more.

If I can keep up this pace, a first draft of the novel should be completed in about six months. Only ten days in, it seems a rather big mountain to climb. But I think it’s something that can be done maintaining a slow and steady pace, rather than aiming to write 10,000 word-blocks in a weekend every now and then.

I report on this project daily on Twitter @JennerMichaud (and, interestingly, my number of Twitter followers has increased by a third since I began the challenge on September 1). If you want to join the challenge to meet your own writing goals, find out more at WritingChallenge.org.

Summer Project Update:

The end of September is coming up fast and I am nowhere near where I had hoped to be at this stage. The Twitter challenge has only eaten into my writing time this month but most of the 30+ short stories / works in progress were not even touched over the summer. I did however make a small dent in the pile as some short stories were completed submitted. I have received only one rejection to date, meaning a handful of stories remain under consideration so there is hope yet. The next anthology I have set my sights on (zombies!) has a September 27 deadline, so another short story will be completed and submitted very soon.

Working on WIPs sometimes feels like I am trying to reinvent the wheel by rewriting something I have read so many times. Starting a new project – the Maze novel – has helped get the creative juices flowing again by focusing on something new.

Happy writing.

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