24 October 2014

Helpful Advice if You Are Writing Fiction But You're a Fan of Film and Television

In terms of my story consumption, I'd say I'm about 50% reader and 50% watcher of television and movies. I don't even feel bad about that. I love reading but there is something very compelling about visual media, and it's a great way for me to consume narrative such that I can discuss it with my partner, who is not a great reader and who tends to gravitate toward nonfiction anyway.

The unfortunate thing about being a fiction writer who consumes a fair amount of scripted, enacted, carefully edited stuff is that there are some important differences between written story and televised / filmed story. It's too easy to absorb some film techniques and transfer them into your novels or short stories where they don't really make much sense.

Here's some advice on this problem from Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel, which could equally be called How to Make the Novel You're Trying to Write Way, Way More Interesting to Just About Everyone:
...many writers visualize their stories in the way that a film unspools on a screen. They write travel between scenes, establishing shots and incidental action (dropping ice cubes into a glass, flicking a lighter into flame) in order to "pace" their novels and make them feel more realistic.
That method is sometimes misguided. A novel is not a film. The compression inherent in film often demands its action be paced out; otherwise, the unrelenting tension of the film's back-to-back scenes would hammer the audience into insensibility. Novelists do not have that worry. A novel's pace is already slow. For novelists the challenge is just the opposite: to keep the tension level constantly high.
In other words, get to the good stuff right away and keep it coming. I don't know if bearing this advice in mind would help resolve all issues that arise from accidental copying of film / television techniques onto written fiction, but it might.
 

22 October 2014

Building a Novel Playlist

My NaNoWriMo prep is elaborate and ornate and all kinds of other things suggestive of ritual. I've been NaNo-ing out novels since 2008, the first year that I tried NaNo and won (not the first year I tried), but I've gotten better at plotting and researching and psyching myself up for it since then.

Today I've been working on my soundtrack. Soundtracking a novel is a way to use the poetry of others to serendipitously inspire your own plots.

The basic idea comes from the fine folks at Storywonk. The scariest and best part is that you're not allowed to use music that you already have an emotional relationship with or any emotional associations. You don't want to be trying to work on your novel and end up thinking about your best friend and that time you drove all night and sang a song at top volume. You want to focus on your novel. So while you build your soundtrack you're going to be getting to know some new music and new musicians.

For me, the Indie / Folk category on The Music Ninja usually resonates very well. I usually work my way through The Indie Dojo until I have 16-18 songs to pick from. If you're working on a budget, there are free downloads among the songs, and you can listen to the whole song via TMN while you're deciding if it will work for you and your soundtrack, so it's a good resource. There are others, but I'm a bit limited by not being in the US, and this is what works for me.

SO: you go through new-to-you music until you find a bunch of songs that you like and that you think fit with your project. This is an intuitive process, so you'll have to feel your own way through. Then you go through and assign a song to chunks of your novel. How you do this is up to you, but I basically find a song that represents each of my main characters including my antagonist(s), then I pick an "opening credit" song, a "closing credit" song, and a song for each of the major turning points of my plot. (Yeah, I'm a plotter not a pantser.) You can pick a song for your setting, a song for the tone of the book, a song for your theme(s), whatever works.

The fun part is that you can use the songs to help you build your plot. I haven't designed my major plot points yet but I've picked a bunch of songs. I expect that as I go through my song list and start arranging them, the plot will emerge.

Once you've got your songs picked out, you arrange them in an order that makes sense to you. Every time you work on your novel, whether you're plotting, brainstorming, doodling some notes on your main character, or actually starting the draft, you play your playlist. Once you've been doing that for a while and you've got an association between your novel and your playlist, take the playlist with you and play it whenever you can. It will help keep the fires of your novel burning, and will allow you to create associations and think about plot points so you arrive at the page each day on fire with ideas.

I've had amazing things happen with little snippets of song lyrics: sudden resonances, amazing coincidences, and bits of dialogue or even just character attitudes that have helped me deepen my work.

x-posted to my tumblr

07 September 2014

Fandom

I am still here and still writing and trying to sub more. It's been a busy summer for me. I've finally figured out a couple of ways to promote my other, non-writing business that are comfortable and don't feel like crazy self-sacrifice.

In the name of trying to get better at not burning myself out, I've been trying to make sure I rest. While in the past I've defined "rest" as "getting enough sleep," this summer has been a time when it's felt very necessary to take breaks and let myself bottom right out from time to time by not trying to do more / relaxing and just doing fun stuff. Especially that has meant letting myself just enjoy narrative and relish the crunchy goodness that other writers have to offer.

A couple-three weeks ago I followed a circuitous route (mostly via higherfunction's tumblr) into the fandom that follows / fics / combs through every detail of BBC's Sherlock series. It's an excellent show; if you haven't seen it, I recommend it highly. Combing through the fandom is amazing because there is so much division. Never have I seen people so divided on the ultimate meaning of a show or any piece of media. I don't think I could do a good job of summarizing the numerous splits and byways and diversities of opinion, much less the tons of reasons people seem to find the show so intriguing. I've been re-watching the series and having so many opinions about it myself. I fell so hard down this rabbit hole that I made a tumblr to get my thoughts on it out, if you're interested at all in any way it's here: http://elizabeth-twist.tumblr.com/

I'll probably blog other pop culture stuff over there.

Bottom line, I'm excited to be excited about something that someone else made? It makes me want to make more of my own stuff and get it out there. Writing is hard. It's all hard, but we love it, right?

06 August 2014

Literally Funny

Boop! New post.

I'm just getting over a bout of summer flu. Pro tip: if your boyfriend still has that hacking cough, DON'T let him borrow your toothbrush for an entire long weekend. Unfortunately my choices were limited, since we were in the middle of nowhere (exactly where we love to vacation) and he had forgotten to pack his. 'Spose he could have borrowed one of my Uncle's or whoever's toothbrush that was in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom in the cabin in the woods, but all in all letting him use mine seemed like the most humane option, and I figured what with the, uh, generous amount of contact we have on a constant basis, I would have already caught and fought that flu.

Wrong.

Something I noticed while massively feverish is that my ability to concentrate on one thing at a time was actually better than usual. I set myself up at my keyboard and got done a giant amount of work on second-drafting / transcribing a bunch of fiction, all while dripping sweat and hallucinating ponies.

(As you know if you've been paying attention, I first-draft with pen and paper. At some point those words need to make it into digital form, and that involves typing them out. This is also my biggest point of revision, since if there's anything global I want to change, I do it as I transcribe, and anything that doesn't work in first draft can fall by the wayside. This is one of my least favourite parts of my writing process.)

I'm wondering now if my occasional bout of distractionitis are related to having too much energy? I'm considering upping my exercise schedule to see what happens, once the last of the post-flu exhaustion has left me. Or maybe it's just the nature of what I was doing: second-drafting is more detail-oriented and less intense than first drafting, so it was just the ideal activity for the foggiest of days.

Anyhow, I hope you are all having a fabulous August so far.

Especially for you writer types and grammar nazis, a video catalogue of abuse of the word "literally" on Twitter.


20 July 2014

Blog Shy

Hello, friends. I am wondering why I've been so blog shy for the last year or so. I don't know?

Part of it has to do with spinning out into a bit of a depression last year. There is also the fact that I've been putting more effort into my other job / other projects, which require a lot of tending to and careful attention to get things up off the ground. I've been reading and looking into some marketing information, and I guess everything I'm reading seems to apply more to my small business than it does to writing. Why is writing so different from everything else? Blah. Blargh.

Updates and stuff:

I wrote the last page of my page-a-day project on July 1st. Actually it turned out to be more like my page every day and a half project, but it still was a great experience. I know now that I can write at a totally different pace than full-on crazy fast.

I'm formulating an elaborate theory about the pacing of a story vs. the speed at which you write it. I'm not sure in any way that this is accurate, and it's totally subjective which means it's either brilliant and insightful or wrong and not representative of reality at all, BUT! seems to me that the page a day allowed for a lot more introspection / internal focus on my main character. The conflict in that story depended on the conflict between the role the main character was supposed to play and who he really was inside, so without a thorough representation of the mc's internal landscape, it wouldn't work. Doing a page a day made me much more aware of the minutiae of the story, much of which was the character's thought process as he worked on keeping up his facade. What I'm trying to say is that the page a day writing process seemed particularly well-suited to this kind of storytelling, but I might be making that up.

Switching gears, I'm writing a bunch this month trying to speed through some raw word count to get my creative juices flowing on some other projects and draft some short fiction. Clearing out the idea backlog is always a good idea, I find, since it prevents locking on to a single project and becoming obsessed with making everything perfect, a constant problem and issue for me, especially when I spend the bulk of my time trying to edit and polish. Fresh raw word count is always a good solution, as is calling something finished and sending it out onto the market.

I've had the (Canadian) Netflix for a while now. There is some pretty good indie horror on there. Did you know? Dave and I loved The Shrine for its creepy, Grudge-style no-way-out plot, and its no-holds-barred climax. I struggle with story endings. The most common feedback I get on stories from editors is that the ends are not satisfying or complete-feeling. I could make a whole study of the way The Shrine builds to a very dynamic, physical, visceral ending and then lets it all spin out in a way that feels totally inevitable. Yeah yeah there are some flaws, but seriously. We nervously giggled through the grossness of the ending. 

Also, The Seasoning House. This hard to watch but super satisfying revenge film is really beautiful in its symmetry. I always love seeing Kevin Howarth play a villain, ever since I caught his better-than-Bale turn as a psychopath in The Last Horror Movie. I could watch Rosie Day crawl through filthy ducts and emote all day. Okay, just kidding, but hers is a jaw-dropping performance. 

A minor household disaster (i.e., breaking something that isn't mine and trying to find all the pieces for gluing back together) caused me to completely empty a small bookcase full of paperbacks this week. I haven't dusted these for a dog's age, so as I put the shelf back together I rearranged, sorted, tossed some (goodbye, Mill on the Floss! I hated you! And also, I don't need you, second copy of Crime and Punishment). I rediscovered my old copies of several books from the Abyss horror line, which I am still sad about because if all was just in the world it would still be going. If you're not familiar with this apex moment in the history of horror publishing, there's a good summary here at Too Much Horror Fiction. I'm looking forward to digging into some of the ones I remember loving and some I never got to in what remains of the summer.

That's me. You?


29 June 2014

A Page of My Handwriting

A certain bearded gentleman recently asked me how small my handwriting is. This is the easiest way to answer:

click image to embiggen

Common answers to FAQs: yes, I can read it. Some people find it easy to read; others don't. This is the third-last page of my current novella project, so if you don't want spoilers for something that'll probably see the light of day in the far future, then, uh, don't read it? Also it is overwritten. If I can't decide how I'd like to say something, my tendency is to write it two or even three different ways, separated by commas, and pick one when it comes time to transcribe or edit.

For the curious, the marks and numbers in red on / over the text were made when I counted the words (545 in all for this page). I count words for record-keeping purposes, to help me stay on track for my annual raw word count goal (250k this year) and also so I have a sense of how long the draft is. The numbers in the left column are tallying the total number of words I wrote on June 20th (545 on this project / 1168 on another project); the monthly total (11968), and then the total number of words for this project (545 + 52379 = 52984).

So to answer your question, Andrew: I don't know if I'd say my writing is microscopic. It's not the smallest I've seen, but I've found that the key to fitting lots of words on a page is horizontal density - squishing the words left / right rather than how tall they are. I guess they're pretty closely packed.

21 June 2014

Page a Day Novel Update: How to Break Your Muse (and Put Her Back Together Again)

I won't be lame and apologize for disappearing, but, uh, I'm still alive! In the last couple of months, my focus has been on doing more blogging for my small business and trying to keep things going with my non-blogging-writing goals (sort of going okay-ish?). Then there was a major family medical crisis (mostly resolved with some scary question marks still hanging there). Life: wow.

A while back I wrote about my page a day novel project, and then (while it was still going smoothly) I posted again to say that the page a day plan is a really easy, almost effortless way to produce a large volume of writing over a long-ish time span. Basically, I decided to try writing a short novel project at the pace of one page a day, starting in February. A page in this case is one of my handwritten pages, so on average about 550 words.

Well, somewhere around April I decided that I wanted to be done with that project. To my logical mind, a page a day was starting to feel a bit slow. I decided that I would double up on my pages every other day - one page, then two pages, one page, then two...and so on. That's a good compromise, right? Still much slower than my usual novel drafting pace. At my fastest, I've done 6-7k in one day. That's not a normal pace, but it was something I'd managed three or four days in a row when I was trying to get the thing done.

Have you spotted the flaw in that previous paragraph? Yes. My logical mind decided what to do, without consulting the intuitive writer that was happily ambling along at the very comfortable rate of one page per day, and even, on most days, happily going on to do other stuff after the page was done.

I should have paid more attention when, at the beginning of the month, I ended up continuing on with the page a day. On the days I'd planned to write two pages, I just didn't feel like it. Instead of asking myself what that meant, I pushed a little harder. I managed four pages on a couple of days: great progress. Sometimes it's good to push, yeah - like the man said, you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. THIS WAS NOT ONE OF THOSE TIMES. By the end of April, my muse was pissed, or my inner procrastinator had taken over, and I just wasn't getting that page a day done.

I've worked on a bunch of other stuff since then, but one of my major focuses has been trying to get back into the page a day habit. I am five pages away from the end of the page a day project as I write this, and rather than speed up, like I imagined I'd be doing, I've slowed down even more. The more that is happening in my story, the slower I want to take it. Or maybe this is just standard procrastination drag. Not sure? Seriously, none of this has ever happened to me before. It's like it's been opposite day...for the last three months.

My current theory is that my muse, my inner writer, my personal scrawler of first drafts, was pretty happy with the deal we struck at the beginning of this project, and, when challenged to go faster, simply broke down. I'm slowly massaging things back into shape, and already looking forward to bombing through 50k in July, but I guess I've discovered that it's important to hold to an intention I set at the beginning of a project. I said a page a day. Next time, I'll stick to a page a day. If I want to go faster, then I think I need to have that talk with my muse at the beginning of the project.

It's still the easiest novel-length project I've written. Next time, I'll know not to push things that shouldn't be pushed. 

11 April 2014

I'll Tell You What

So April has slapped me upside the face with a wet fish (metaphorically speaking), and I've gotta slow down a little. Everything is fine. Great, even. I'm so glad people are enjoying the elephant animations, and I have to say, I am having an absolute blast doing them. So much so, I want to ease back on the pace a little.

At the beginning of the month I decided to finish my page-a-day novel this month, which will mean that some days, it needs to be a two-page-a-day novel. I didn't count on how much I would enjoy doing the animations, although I did suspect that they would be somewhat time consuming (they are, although not as much as one would think). So in the name of sanity I'm going to ease up on the pace, but continue to release an animation once or twice a week, so I can finish the little elephant's story in style and still finish my novel by the end of the month. New characters (direct from some Renaissance manual on swimming - I kid you not) are coming up in the next animation.

If you're here via A to Z, I guess I'm sort of withdrawing, but I'll be popping by your places through the linky list throughout the rest of the month. I want to see what you've got. Hope you make a habit of stopping by here from time to time.


09 April 2014

Euphotic

Okay braniacs: your definition for the day. "Euphotic" is the name for the zone of the ocean (or a lake) exposed to enough sunlight for photosynthesis to occur. It is also the most beautiful word that is also an underwater term that I could use for today's animation.

In case you missed the previous installments:
Part One: Admit One
Part Two: Banished
Part Three: Coastal
Part Four: Deluge



08 April 2014

Deluge

Is anyone else late with their A to Z posts? I'm late, but here's the "d" entry. (Congrats if you've got a dirty enough mind to titter there. Me too.)

Things are not looking good for our little elephant today.

In case you missed the earlier entries, there is a story here, and it might help to start at the beginning, unless you just enjoy looking at altered vintage postcards.

Part One: Admit One
Part Two: Banished
Part Three: Coastal





















So I'm having fun playing with images. This is an ongoing story I'm just going to try to enjoy putting together. Sometimes I think we don't play enough, especially those of us who are semi-serious or super-serious about one art form or another. If you don't play, the writing gets stale, though. Right? Let us not become stale.

02 April 2014

Coastal

This is the story of an elephant, told entirely in pictures. Although he is the main character, he isn't always in the foreground.

Part One: Admit One
Part Two: Banished



Banished

This is the story of an elephant, told entirely in pictures. Though I've taken the images from various copyright-free sources, the animations are mine. I'm really curious to see what happens to this story throughout the rest of the month. I've planned tomorrow's part, and I've got a broad sketch outline of what I think will happen, but one never knows. Enjoy!

Part One: Admit One

Part Two: Banished:


01 April 2014

Admit One

This is the story of an elephant, told entirely in pictures. Though I've taken the images from various copyright-free, mostly vintage sources, the animations are mine. I'm really curious to see what happens to this story throughout the rest of the month. I've planned tomorrow's part, and I've got a broad sketch outline of what I think will happen, but one never knows. Enjoy!



Hello all, and welcome!

If you're new to this blog, greetings! I'm a writer of speculative fiction. This month I've decided to do something a bit outside of my comfort zone: telling a story through animated pictures. I hope you'll find this a welcome respite from all the gobs of text you'll be absorbing throughout A to Z.

31 March 2014

How to Terrify the Crap Out of Your Significant Other Through Selective Book Choices

I am currently undergoing a bit of a research kick into health and wellness. As the Farmers' Almanac predicted, it has been a rough winter in North America, and a few gross events in my personal life have led me to feel pretty much like twenty miles of bad road. Lately my old long term friend anxiety started knocking on my door. (We're not really friends. I hate that fucker.) (Addendum: since I wrote this paragraph a week ago, things have cleared considerably and I'm feeling much like my old self.)

Through serendipity I came across Dr. Carolyn Dean's work on magnesium and its significant role in 800 body processes, including adrenal health, mood, and generally being able to find your inner cool. I started taking magnesium and wow. Then I started using transdermal magnesium (you put it on your skin, it soaks in, and YOU SEE LEPRECHAUNS NO JOKE).

This is all great, and wonderful for me, but for the ever-patient Dave it has been yet another process of watching the kitchen and bathroom fill with strange elixirs and new potions. While he's not especially interested in any of this he's not opposed to it either. He just accepts that this is something I am doing.

In the name of fully researching what I'm doing I ordered a copy of Dr. Dean's The Magnesium Miracle (highly recommended) and have had it sitting on the dining room table and various surfaces for a few days now. I guess Dave has just gotten used to seeing this book and taking it for granted that most of my reading material is wellness oriented right now.



Magnesium Miracle shipped with the other item I ordered at the same time. (I was trying to make the Amazon free shipping threshold...not book greedy at all, no.) This is the back of that book (sorry for the crappy photo....I was trying to take pictures with a potato).




Looks like another, uh, health book, right?

Without giving any context at all, I started telling Dave about the ideas this book is based on. See, every once in a while, in my quest for interesting medical factoids, I come across an article on "helminth therapy," aka Helminth Induced Immune Modulation, aka deliberate infection of oneself with worms (pig whipworm is especially popular) in order to correct diseases. Yes, this is happening.

Besides being incredibly gross on its own, I've long thought helminth therapy would make an amazing foundation for a science fiction / horror story. I was explaining to Dave, quite happily, that I'd wanted to write about this, but awesome Mira Grant has already done it, and I was looking forward to reading her book.

When Dave is concerned about something he goes silent. A long pause followed. He stared at me.

"This isn't something you're going to try, is it?" He's patient enough that he didn't add "I don't think I can get behind that."

I guess I should have led with the fact that Parasite is a work of fiction.


24 February 2014

A to Z in Under Two Minutes

Are you doing A to Z this April? I think I am? I am. I didn't do it last year and I was sad about that. The signup list is already HUGE, so, you know, should be a great month.

20 February 2014

That Page / Day = Novel Thing: Update

Okay so earlier in the month I wrote about this thing I'm trying, this page a day writing experiment which should, if all goes well, result in a short novel draft by the end of April. The plan in case you are opposed to clicking that link and reading my previous post is to write a hundred pages in three months, one page per day with the occasional two-page day thrown into the mix (12 two-page days total, so I'll be done drafting before the beginning of May), which will give me a 50-60k manuscript.

Rule to keep it interesting: stop at the end of the page (or two pages on two-page days). Stop mid-paragraph. Stop mid-sentence if the sentence isn't over at the end of the page.

The idea is inspired by the Graham Greene Challenge and by the numerous cheery observations made in sundry books of writing advice that if you just write a page a day, by the end of a year you'll have a novel! Well I'm not looking to go all Stephen King with my length here, and one of my handwritten pages is quite a bit more substantial than the average typed page, so three months will do.

So, how is it going?

AMAZINGLY. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is AWESOME. Here are some reasons why:

It is so easy to write this way. I've written 20 pages, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11k words, so far. I'm twenty percent of the way through my story, and I am not worried about it. I'm not worried about what's going to happen next. I'm not worried about whether my stamina will crap out. I'm not even worried about getting my daily page done in between finishing this post and heading out for the evening to teach tai chi. I will have time, because it will only take me about twenty minutes to write that page, a bit more if I dawdle or pause to Google something. I'm especially excited about the next page because there's a big reveal coming that will be nice and juicy to write about and cause my main character plenty of distress.

I don't hate my story and I'm not doubting my story. This could be coincidence: sure, maybe this particular story is especially strong. I tend to think I still like and trust my story because I have plenty of time to think about the long game, the short game, what will happen in the current scene, what will happen by the end of the first act, what will happen in the rest of the sentence I left off writing yesterday. Vast oceans of time. Not-writing is as important as writing. Or something similarly Zen.

I have time and energy for other projects, even though I'm writing a novel! Right now I'm combing through my back catalogue of short stories, editing them to the best of my ability, and prepping them to send out. I'm talking about correcting some pretty serious story flaws in stories I wrote before I had a good handle on structure and craft. I'm slowly working my way through edits on a (deeply flawed) novel draft I wrote a few years ago. I've also spent time writing some flash pieces, prepping April A to Z, blogging, and working on my craft. And reading.

I want to work on other writing tasks. I'm excited about working on other writing tasks. Committing to that one page a day is just enough to dip my toes in the writing water. Some days, that's all I have time or energy for, but most days, it whets my appetite for those other projects.

I feel like I'm achieving a much better balance of raw word count and editing. I've long theorized that I need to do some raw first drafting on a regular basis to keep my attitude toward writing fresh. I find that if all I do is edit, I end up feeling a bit jaded. On the other hand, I also find that editing a story can take much longer than drafting. The page a day gives me something to work on that's fresh, while keeping me interested in editing and leaving time for editing.

A lot of people who I've told about the page a day project have had strong objections to it because of the challenge it poses to flow. The objection goes, that if you're about to have a brilliant moment, you simply CANNOT! DAHLING! STOP! (STAHP!)  What if you forget that EXACT RIGHT word between today's amazing writing sesh and tomorrow's?  What if you forget what you were going to say? What if? What if?

I am wondering at this point what it is about we writers and our precious precious words. What makes us mistrust our amazing minds and talents so much, that we can't imagine that we will know exactly the right way to finish that sentence tomorrow? Or at least a close enough way that we can fix in revision? At the beginning of this experiment, I did make some marginal notes about what I wanted to include in the next day's writing if it seemed important. I stopped doing that once I realized that my brain would happily squirt out some solution to what I had written the day before, whether I remembered exactly what I had intended to say or not. As my friend Chris put it when I was first talking about doing this experiment, "What if the word you come up with tomorrow is much better than the one you would have written today?"

I am learning to trust my mind to do the right thing, have the right word, know what to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. I don't know if that is making me a better writer, but so far it is making me a happier writer.

13 February 2014

Teddy Has An Operation

If you're a creative type, you should probably know about Ze Frank's An Invocation for Beginnings. (Seriously, go watch it now. Watch it every day before you start work if you need to.) He's done a lot of awesome stuff with his YouTube account, including the hilarious "True Facts" series. (True Facts about Morgan Freeman is one of my personal favourites.)

Lately I've been finding myself returning to watch Teddy Has An Operation. Basically, it's a tidy little horror short that mixes adorableness with grossness. Warning? There is gore. And candy. And plastic toys. And silly string. And gore.

08 February 2014

Women Destroy Science Fiction

No wait: they destroy all genres. Perhaps you've heard it before: women can't write insert spec fic genre of choice. We make it all unmanly like. Or something. I believe it is a minority of old guard weirdos and embittered geriatrics who still think this way, but the fact is that this attitude has had a lasting impact on science fiction, fantasy, horror, bizarro fiction, and other sundry spec fic genres. The fact that we are still having to talk about this at all is...well, it is what it is, and what are we going to do about it?

Here is something you can do.

Contribute to this fabulous Kickstarter campaign:


Donate $5 or more to get some goodies and help this along if you're so inclined, and help Lightspeed publish an all-woman-authored special issue chock full of science fiction. Now that the campaign has reached $28k, funding will also go toward the release of an all-woman-authored issue of Nightmare Magazine, Lightspeed's horrible sister (and my favourite). One more major stretch goal remains: if they reach $35k before the campaign closes on February 16, they'll release an all-fantasy issue. I would love to see that.

Read more about it in this essay by Christine Yant, guest editor of the Lightspeed special issue. If you can't donate, you can always signal boost. Bless your little heart if you do.

ETA February 13, 2014: The reason why this Kickstarter is so important might not be evident to some of you. In the comments I've pointed to some of the more recent events that might have inspired this campaign, but the best place to go to learn more is the Women Destroy Science Fiction update list, which contains many amazing essays by women about their experience writing and reading science fiction. (You don't have to contribute to the campaign to read the updates.) Like horror, science fiction is considered by many to be a man's domain. The attitudes of many who create, publish, and consume these genres is often hostile to women.

If you ain't got time for that, please just take a look at Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff's essay in which she discusses the reception of some of the fiction she published in Analog. Here's an especially salient bit if you don't want to click through:
ANALOG’s longtime editor, Stan Schmidt, has told me he’s lost subscriptions over my work. I knew this before I attended my first Worldcon in 1992 and was still gob-smacked when a couple of fellows cornered me at a party and explained, at length, why I had never written a word of real, hard science fiction in my life and, therefore, did not belong in the pages of ANALOG. This was after only half-a-dozen stories. I’m at two dozen and counting.
I don't want to be in the business of accumulating proof that this Kickstarter is a wonderful reaction to a sad, longstanding problem, but I get it if you've never encountered this issue and you don't know how to research it, I do want to help. As I writer, I'm all too familiar with how just the act of writing alone is hard enough, without worrying about how your stuff will be received or if it will be perceived as less valid because you fall into a certain category of personhood. As a reader, I am very invested in reading genre fiction that expresses a diversity of opinions. I already know what I think, and we all know what sort of story a male-dominated industry thinks is good (hello, Hollywood filmmakers). I want to know what you think. Yes, you. If your stuff is being blocked for being "too different," that's a tragedy as far as I'm concerned. I'd like to see that changed.

04 February 2014

One Page / Day = Novel

In the crazy history of crazy ideas about how to get your stuff done, this is not the craziest: writing your novel one page a day.

I have always been a NaNoWriMo style sprinter when it comes to first drafts: my style is to stock up on caffeine, plan to get much less sleep than usual, pick up my pen, shut my eyes, and run screaming down the paper track until it's done.

This has worked beautifully for me in terms of getting out a first draft. It has also left me wondering if there isn't some way to do a first draft that doesn't leave you physically devastated at the end. It has also made me wonder what happens if you write a first draft much, much more slowly, taking enforced pauses at various times.

Writing at breakneck speed is a great way to create a sort of frenzied intimacy with your plot. You can see the whole thing really well because you don't have very long to go until you hit the end. I typically have very intense dreams involving imagery, if not themes and characters and plot points from my novel. Again this is great but I wonder if there's a more subtle way for a book to be present in your mind.

(Sidebar for the woo woo crowd: Last July during Camp NaNoWriMo, this intensity was so powerful it transferred over to Dave: one morning on our regular commute he told me about this bizarre dream he'd had. It was the scene from my novel that I'd written the night before, while he was sleeping. I hadn't told him about the scene ahead of time.)

So I'm trying this other thing. Something similar to this. Here's the infographic version of that very important and swear-word filled piece of gloriousness, courtesy also of Chuck Wendig:



So I'm doing a modified version of this, although I love the plan, and it looks ideal for someone who is just having a really crappy time fitting any writing at all into a week. I'm writing a page a day: a nice, tidy unit of variable word count. I draft by hand, so this works for me. One of my hand-written pages is 500-600 words, most of the time.

I'm not giving myself weekends off. Saturday is my busiest workday in terms of my teaching, and almost always will be, so a weekend isn't a weekend in my week. I'm planning a shorter book - novella? novellette? No idea of the designation - 100 pages in first draft. I started writing February 2, and I'm planning to finish on the last day of April, so I'll be doubling up on pages twelve days between now and the end.

Here's the really experimental fun part: I plan to stop at the end of a page, regardless of whether I'm mid-scene, mid-paragraph, mid-sentence, mid-murder, mid-kiss, mid-shenanigans, or what.

What do I expect to get out of this? Darned if I know, but when Sarah Van Den Bosch did a similar challenge (precisely 500 words per day, or "The Graham Greene Challenge"), this is what she had to report:

Forcing yourself to stop before you feel you’re finished keeps you thinking about the story and when you’re thinking about your story, you can’t help but to keep pushing it forward even if it is only in your mind. Not only that, but I found myself scrutinizing more over word choice. What would be the best fit for that sentence? Is that really what I want to say?
So far (three days in), I'm finding the writing a wee bit hitchy. Putting in an artificial stop, especially at the beginning of a story when there's so much stuff to work in, feels a little like a lurch, a little harsh. During my non-writing 23 and a half hours a day, I do feel my story churning away in the background, a sort of low-key hum, even when I'm not actively thinking about it. I'm looking forward to having energy to keep working on other projects at the same time as the novel develops. I'm curious about how much brainspace the story will take up, and I'm wondering about the potentially magical full-sleep / novel-writing combo.

I'll let you know how it goes.

20 January 2014

A Different Kind of Research

The last part of 2013 was a whirlwind of writing goodness for me. After ten months' worth of false starts and personally upsetting events, I abandoned myself to the NaNoWriMo gods and rebooted my writing habits. Although I have and continue to put a lot of energy into short stories, I've been working for a while now on writing novels. I know a lot of you writers are working on longer pieces. All I can say is you have enormous volumes of respect from me. Novel drafts have always felt like an intimidating investment to me, especially given how much you can learn about different plots, character development, techniques, etc., etc., from short stories.

Nonetheless, it's good to be well-rounded. After multiple tries, I guess I feel as though writing a novel is becoming a lot easier, in the sense that I don't feel as inclined to race around, arms flailing, yelling "I don't know what I'm doing!" the entire time.

In preparation for November (and, as it turned out, most of December), I built an idea loosely based on this post on the Siberian Ice Maiden. I did a bunch of reading about Pazyryk art, I constructed a soundtrack, I brainstormed back story, and I mapped major plot points.

I also worked my way through Where the Spirits Ride the Wind, an amazing book by Felicitas Goodman. I stumbled across her work while I was researching the history of standing meditation postures (that's a thing). Goodman was an anthropologist who experimented with using ritual postures, found ubiquitously in ancient art, to induce trance states and allow the participant to experience trance journeys. This is done both with and without the use of drugs. Goodman's experiments proved that it was possible for people to feel and visualize altered states solely through the ritual posture and the use of rhythm instruments (drum, rattle) played at a certain interval. (In her book I think she suggests 200 beats per minute.)

Not content to merely speculate about the potential meanings of different postures, she decided that the thing to do was to try them and see what happened. She gathered volunteers (readily accessible - this was the '60s), took them through a simple breathing exercise to induce relaxation, had them assume whatever posture they were working with, and played a rattle at them for fifteen minutes.

The results were pretty remarkable: not only did people experience visions and feel that they were travelling outside of their bodies, but different postures created different experiences for the participants. Not that everyone saw the exact same thing, but there were trends among the imagery the participants experienced. Each posture, it seemed, attuned the person to a different mode of consciousness.

There is substantial debate in Goodman's field about the validity of this research, primarily because by necessity her work with postures and trance was performed outside of the context of the cultures that originally created the postures. (Some of the postures she worked with were originally part of cave art, so it wasn't her fault, really.) I can understand the problems any science has with incorporating subjective experience into its data set. Fortunately for me that has no bearing whatsoever, since I decided to use Goodman's results personally. It seemed to me that the ideal way to do research for a book with heavy Shamanistic themes was to do something Shamanistic.

Assuming the Bear Spirit posture might win you new and larger friends.
I've got about twenty years' meditation experience, enough to make me interested in just about any non-drug related way to blow my own mind. (Nothing against using drugs to achieve altered states...just I've found I personally don't need them.)

There's something a little bit...extra, I think, about writing and reading fictional narratives all the time that helps with things like guided visualization. When you're a writer, you're used to the images flowing non-stop into your mind. When you do a meditative exercise like a visualization, the process can be similar although the goal is different: rather than telling a story or reading someone else's story, you're opening yourself up to imagery for the purpose of understanding yourself better, receiving guidance, or even healing.

Partly through meditation, I've learned to no longer think of the images, plots and ideas that spring forth with writing as simply generated by my own psyche. I haven't read enough Jung to know if I understand the Collective Unconscious correctly, but I do believe that we float in this pool of ideas, any one of which can express through any one person at any given time. (I think there's more going on than a collective idea pool, but that's a post for another time.)

One way to look at the mind-body is as a receiver for signals from outside. In the ancient world, this was such common knowledge that it barely required mentioning. Psychologist and Princeton Professor Julian Jaynes famously wrote about this state in his The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, in which he pointed to abundant evidence that, up until about 1000 BC, all people experienced a constant influx of messages (orders, points of strategy, insights) from sources that they personified as the Gods. (Jaynes thought this was an inferior state of mind, and also a delusion. Everybody's entitled to an opinion, Julian.)

Many writers will tell you that they've experienced writing-as-trance. "I don't know where that came from" is a common experience following a particularly intense or focused writing session. (Or the related notion: "Where the hell did that come from?") So why not induce trance and see what comes up?

Because one of the aesthetics I'm working with in this book is Pazyryk culture, I went on a search for traditional music from this region. Through the Free Music Archive, I found Siberskya Vichora, a highly listenable group that researches, performs, records and preserves traditional Siberian music. A couple of their songs are on the soundtrack for my novel.

A little further poking revealed Russie Sibérie: Musique de la Toundra et de le Taiga. The first track on this record is a sixteen-minute jam by people playing the Khomus (more commonly known in the English-speaking world as the Jew's harp, mouth harp, etc.). If you haven't heard what it's possible to do with this incredible instrument, here you go (stick with it to 3:30, especially you like techno). The Wiki page notes that "since trances are facilitated by droning sounds, the Jew's harp has been associated with magic and has been a common instrument in shamanic rituals."



I decided to listen to Russie-Sibérie while sitting in bed and planning my novel. I wasn't planning to trance. In my mind, I thought I still had to find the right piece of music - preferably, a repetitive rattling or drumming piece - before I could try it.

A minute or two into the Khomus track, I felt my entire energy shift and knew I was going out. I stuck with the novel planning for a bit, making a few sparse notes on my main characters and thinking about what kind of future setting I wanted to create. By the time I was done with that, it was very clear to me that I was going. I wasn't sure where I was going, mind you, but I knew I was going. I didn't keep my mind on the music: I just let myself flow with it, and let the imagery that came to me present itself in whatever way it wanted to.

I don't remember moving into the landscape, but shortly I was in an area of flat grassland with a grey sky overhead. A small animal, walking on its hind legs, approached me. In my mind I was calling it a badger but I have no idea really. It handed me a small, glittery object. I held it for a moment and looked at it. It seemed to be a sort of prism in which lights shifted constantly. It shone with an interior light. I knew just what to do with it: I parted my rib cage and placed the object inside my torso. I had the sensation of the object unfolding, and a liquid warmth racing down my limbs. I saw streams of light running in tiny rivulets all throughout my body.

"That's your novel," the badger said. "It's in your nervous system now."

I felt it was time to go, so I climbed up through a hole in the sky. Just as I got back into my body, the music stopped.

Okay so that happened.

What also happened is that I had a really smooth writing experience. Opposed to my usual drop-down-dead effect at the end of November, I felt okay by the end of the first 30 days of writing. It was a lot of work. It's always a lot of work. It was emotional. It's always emotional. By November 30th, I was about 70k into the draft. I was tired but I had enough juice to keep going through most of December. I finished the draft 'round about December 20th, at about 108k. I won't say that anything especially magical happened while I was writing. It's always magical. I will say that I didn't worry as much as I usually do about how it's going. I trusted.

Badger power.

13 January 2014

Dark Corners by The Flight



Directed and animated by the fabulous Kevin Weir of Flux Machine.

08 January 2014

Sisyphean Triumph, Promethean Binding, Red Rubber Gloves, Zombies Vs. Vampires, and a Free Flash Fiction Course

Stuff!

Andrew Leon at Strong StrangePegs offers us a story of unusual feats of strength involving hills, boulder-sized trucks, and putting one foot in front of the other. Simultaneously, he inspires us to keep publishing, promoting, and generally getting our stuff out there.

Source

Over the holidays I re-read Prometheus Bound, the play by Aeschylus. (I read the Philip Vellacott translation, which is both elegant and modern, so I recommend it, but this one looks okay.) I mention it because hey, did you know that before Prometheus gave humanity fire and a little education, Zeus considered us to be an inferior blunder and was planning to wipe us all out and replace us with something better?


Source

I've been listening to the excellent Pseudopod for a while, and hands down my favourite story they released in 2013 was Christine Brooke-Rose's "Red Rubber Gloves," narrated by the incomparable Kim Lakin-Smith. (The previous sentence contains a lame joke if you've listened to the story. My apologies.) Along with its sister podcasts, Escape Pod and PodCastle, Pseudopod offers some of the finest encounters with short fiction you're likely to have. I've written about this before, but one of the best things about the Pods is the way they meticulously match reader and story. Lakin-Smith's precise and unrushed narration really allows this story's hypnotic and horrifying repetitive nature to shine through. Load "Red Rubber Gloves" onto your mp3 player or perch your laptop next to you and have a listen. Better yet, listen while you're doing dishes or chopping up some nice, red meat for dinner.


Source

Zombies vs. Vampires, right? If you are *ahem* of a certain vintage, you'll remember the explosion of blood-sucking deliciousness spawned by Anne Rice and others, the resurgence of interest in Bram Stoker's work back in the 1990s, and sundry other events that resulted in David Bowie starring in a vampire movie that never once used the word "vampire." In an excellent column for Nightmare Magazine, Nancy Kilpatrick considers some of the many factors that make zombies the more salient of the two monsters in this modern world of ours today ("And Then the Zombie Killed the Vampire").





In order to jump start my year, I'm working my way through Holly Lisle's free flash fiction course (aka "How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn't Suck"). Flash is great because you can practice building character, setting, situation, and all that without the investment of a longer story or (gasp!) a whole novel manuscript, and, thanks to our ever-decreasing attention spans, it's more salable than ever. The course includes three lessons in fill-out-these-forms format, and helps you draft five different stories simultaneously, so it's great if you don't feel like writing, and when you're all done, you'll have a lot to show for it. If you're skeptical, this review is worth reading even if all you get out of it is how to write curmudgeonly reviews.

06 January 2014

Long Time No See; Everything Old is New Again

So yeah. I changed back from Dynamic Views. As I was doing my end-of-year review, one of the things I wasn't as happy with as I could have been is the fact that I drifted away from this blog. Generally speaking I put myself out there much less this past year. I didn't submit very many stories, and I didn't revise and sub the several novel manuscripts I'd planned to at least dip into.

In terms of writing, it was a very introspective year. I took a course or two. I thought about what I do and how I do it. I wrote a quarter millions words, much of them taken up by two novel manuscripts. That went well: I think I finally started to get how to plot a long form work this year, without things going all crazy and somebody going on a weird killing spree or the whole thing ending up looking like one of those movies from the 1980s where the only way to resolve things was to enter some weird, abstract place of terror and delight because all your problems are ultimately in your mind. (See Drop Dead Fred for a prime example. Seriously, that template for resolving plots is completely lodged in my imagination.)

A lot of my energy went into teaching tai chi and qigong. I developed a couple of courses and ran more workshops and worked on making my classes even more awesome. I also focused a lot more on basic organization of our household, setting up some routines, and working on my basic writing habits - i.e., figuring out when are the best times to do writing, and how to find more time if I have to skip a day for other stuff. In other words, how does it all fit into my life?

One of the things I realized is that I come here, to the blog space, as much to connect with you guys as I do to post crap about me. I benefit quite a bit more from seeing what you're up to than I do from beaking off abut what I'm up to. Although I liked the way Dynamic Views looked, the interface was never as smooth as it should have been, and lacked the same gadgets that Blogger's simpler templates have: specifically, the blogroll widget. I know some people think they're messy, but I love the little reminders that tell me when you guys have posted recently. I know that Blogger does this on the back end too, but like to keep track of some of you on the front end.

The fact that that sounded dirty to me means this post is done. I won't promise to post more frequently. We all know how that goes! But now that I can see how you all are doing, I promise I'll drop by more often.

Happy 2014!

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