Magic of the Everyday, Writing

On Hitting the Mysterious, Mayhem-inducing “75% Done and It All Sucks” Spot

Yes, it’s true. I’m 75% done with this novel. (cue the cheering and confetti.) It’s been slower going of late due to many “real life issues,” but I’m chugging along just as fast as I can when I can, and I’m seeing great progress, which I love so much! It’s heartening to see the end approaching, and that encourages me to write more–a good positive feedback loop, for once!

Buuuuut … (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there), on the other hand, I’m at the 75% point. Which is the time when I start to feel omg this is all trash, I don’t even know what I’m doing, or why I thought I could ever write, and yes it all suuuuuucks! Yes, the self-doubt goes into overdrive, and my brain only thinks bad stuff and is sure that the entire novel is flawed beyond repair. And this happens even while a part of me realizes what’s going on and knows that it’s just part of the process (and not just for me, but for many, if not most, writers; I’ve read about so many others who struggle with this! So if it’s you, too–you’re not alone.).

I think I’ve mentioned that this is the most-planned novel I’ve ever written, and that is helping me immensely. When I sit down to write, I always know what I’m writing toward, and where it’s going from there, on both the internal and external arcs, so I can write faster than ever–YAY!

Yet even so, I’ve deviated a bit from that intensive planning here and there, when, as I go along, I realize that no, this character wouldn’t think that, or I discover a better emotional response to a development, or whatever. Is there’s still the thrill of discovery going on in each day’s writing, too. Without that, I’d get bored. And if I’m bored with writing something, you’re sure gonna be bored reading it!

Anyway, all this is to say, “YAY GO ME! Write write write!” And also to encourage you, if you’re writing or doing whatever creative thing you’re doing, and at some point all the energy and positives seem to leak away. Just keep on going, and finish your project. It’s not the project actually being bad. It’s just your brain being overwhelmed at this stage. If you push on, you’ll see your brain was lying to you (man, I wish my brain would stop lying to me. It does it too well!). And then, when you finish, I’ll be cheering and sending virtual confetti to you, too!

food, publication, Writing

Publication Day!

I have a new story available over at Nature: Futures today. Titled “Grace and Flavour, Under Pressure,” it’s about food and cooking, in spaaaaaaace! I hope you’ll click the link and head over to read it. While you’re there, you might peruse some of the other Futures stories, too–they’re quite good.

As “The Story Behind the Story” block indicates, this came about because of a misread prompt on a Codex contest, wherein my brain swapped “Seasoning” for “Season.” As an avid cook, I was happy with this. And yes, before you ask, I have made this recipe–although not with those types of apples, or heritage pork breeds, etc. It is delicate and delicious and delightful, and one of my favorite fall meals.

Ironically, the first time I ate this meal, it was at a French restaurant in Nürnberg, Germany: Prison St. Michel, on Irrerstraße. I’ll admit to being flummoxed at walking in and being greeted in French, not German (I mean, I should have expected it, but I was already living in one foreign-to-me language, and I was young), but the tiny restaurant was simply amazing. In a kitchen the size of my bathroom, they made delicious, freshly-made meals for the patrons of the narrow, two-story restaurant shoe-horned onto a non-touristy street. Ahhh, the smells wafting out from that place every time the door opened. I can still smell it!

What I guess I’m saying is that, although I’m no Daumont — I don’t have a grandmere but a grandma, and I’m far from the wealthiest person on earth — there is a part of me in his character. I’d definitely miss the flavors of earth, should I ever leave.

Right now, though, for some reason I’m feeling the need to go cook. Maybe a plum coffeecake…

Guest Post, Links, Taos Toolbox, Writing

New Release Radar: Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories

Shannon Rampe is joining us today to talk about his new story collection, Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories. Here’s the description of the book:

  • In Assistant to a Judge of Hell, San Guan finally has a crack at reincarnation after a thousand years as a bureaucrat in hell, but only if he can convince a slanderous, insubordinate, and recently-deceased Pan Xiaojian to take the job.
  • In BabiesBradley notices that his wife Anne is acting strangely after he finds a litter of babies in the street.
  • In WarniksNimit Okeke, the Speaker of the Solar System, is facing the worst crisis of his administration, and it isn’t the teddy bear-shaped aliens who just gravity-bombed Jupiter.
  • In Bad SoulJade Blossom laments how nothing ever changes, but when he enlists a crude and charismatic poet to push his radical ideas, he unwittingly unleashes a force of nature along with some questionable poetry!

These four stories from the warped brain of Shannon Rampe are darkly twisted, using unexpected violence, vicious snarkiness, and wanton chaos to wildly comedic effect. Terrible, nasty people get their comeuppance and good people—okay, slightly superficial and moderately selfish people—come out on top.

But what does Shannon love most about the book? Let’s find out:

This collection contains some of my favorite stories that I have written, and certainly the most fun. The jokes always crack me up. (I know, what’s worse than laughing at your own jokes? But these stories are populated with exactly the sort of people who laugh at their own jokes… and worse!)

Really, these stories are about bad people getting their just desserts and slightly less bad people putting those bad people in their place, and those are the most satisfying moments in the stories. But I really love the stories behind the stories.

For example, the title story was written while I was living in London, working 80+ hour weeks as a contractor for a global banking megacorp while my soul was slowly ground to dust. One day, I took an actual lunch break and walked to the British Museum, where I encountered a Ming Dynasty-era sculpture of a green-faced porcelain bureaucrat, the Assistant to the Judge of Hell, and this story sprang to life in my head. At the time, being trapped in the gears of a nightmarish bureaucracy that felt like it was stretching out before me for a thousand years gave me a very personal insight into the sense of desperate insanity in the story.

Babies was written at Viable Paradise in a single, frenzied five-hour rush. This story gets laughs and cringes in equal parts whenever people read it. I love the fact that everyone who reads this story has a strong reaction to it—usually laughter and disgust! I’ve written four full-length novels but this story remains one of the pieces of writing that I am most proud of because the imagery and descriptions are so shocking and visceral.

Finally, one of the things that happens when you put together a project like this are the happy accidents. You only discover them later when reading through the text. For example, in Warniks, Nimit Okeke accuses his political opponent of eating babies. In the next story, we encounter babies who eat people. 

I think anyone who has a twisted sense of humor will really enjoy these stories!

LINKS:

Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories on Amazon.com

Shannon’s Website

Shannon’s Twitter

BIO:

Shannon Rampe is a writer and project manager living in southern California. He has attended the Viable Paradise Writing Workshop, the Taos Toolbox Writing Workshop, and Paradise Lost, amongst other programs. 

His works have appeared in Speculative City, Abyss & Apex, and The Gallery of Curiosities podcast, amongst others. His first book, When Stars Move and Other Stories is also available on Amazon. His hobbies include yoga and craft cocktail-making, though not usually at the same time.

Shannon is represented by Susan Velazquez Colmant at JABberwocky Literary Agency.

Personal Life, Writing

Grouting Day: The Holiday You’ve Never Heard Of Before Now

Spousal Unit and I recently replaced our homes’ sad, unmatched, cracked, and crazy-looking patchwork of slippery tile and floating “wood” floor with a lovely, very “grabby” textured tile (rated for outdoor, around a pool use!!! hurray!). While the tear-out was happening, the poor dog went to the dogsitter (he adores being with them and their dog is one of his very good friends), and I got a week-long stay at a nearby AirBnB and wrote myself silly. (Okay, that’s a stretch. I’m already silly. I wrote myself sane(-r), perhaps, might be more the truth.)

Yes, a glorious week by myself, in a town I already knew, with most of a novel before me. At first, I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing much. I settled into what I know is a good rhythm for me, writing in 2-4 small sessions throughout the day, punctuated by other things: walking, sightseeing, shopping, cooking, etc. Each small session wasn’t massively productive, and I never bothered adding up any one day’s output, so by the end of my stay, I was feeling a bit down.

Then I checked my writing history for the week. (Scrivener, the program I use for writing, has this function, which I love so very much!) To my amazement, every day I’d written well over 1,000 words, and most days, over 2,000 words! I went from feeling like I’d “wasted” my precious writing retreat to exhilaration, then wondering how I could’ve been so wrong before!

But honestly, underestimating the amount of work I’ve accomplished is, unfortunately, something I do often. Too often. I’m…working on that.

In better news, this retreat pushed my new novel, tentatively titled “The Mastery Books,” to the one third mark! Hurray! I love the characters, the plot, the location–all of it–so very much, and am eager to continue.

However, when the dog and I returned home, the tile was laid, but not grouted. The next day, I donned working clothes, gloves, and knee pads, and began grouting tile, alongside Spousal Unit. I posted a picture of myself thus garbed, before I began, titled “Grouting Day” to one of my writing Slacks, and one person commented that it sounded like an obscure British holiday. Then the members had fun coming up with a whole new holiday, complete with its founding, history, and certain memorable moments in its long history. It was, honestly, a riot, and so much fun, especially after a day of hard work. [Much more fun than the actual grouting (which took more than one day), I can assure you. And so can my knees, and back!]

Now I gaze at the lovely new tile floors, admiring their clean lines, the way a single flooring material ties the home together instead of the disjointed feeling the previous floors gave it, and I smile (I also admire the work that went into grouting and sealing the grout, and hope I never have to do this work again) as I pass through to my office, sit at the computer, and once more sink into the novel.

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, the dog, Writing

How Many “Ends” Does a Candle Have?

“Burning the candle at both ends” is a phrase I’ve heard so often, but just now it seems unequal to my reality. I’m trying to query a novel and write another, to finish a home renovation that includes laying and grouting new tile floors while keeping up with the yard and the writing and the other chores, AND trying to take care of my health, AND my dog’s health, AND my spouse’s health…. How many candles does that mean I need to be burning?

So far, the new floors look amazing, by the way. I love Love LOVE them sooo much. But my knees didn’t really like grouting too much–the last time I grouted was 15 years ago! Time flies when you’re enjoying not grouting, I guess–and the poor dog simply did not understand why he was being kept out of ever-changing parts of the house for so long.

Now we’re on hold, waiting for the cabinet maker to nab a truck to send our finished kitchen cabinets to us before we rip out the old ones, tile the kitchen, and replace with NEW cabinets!!!! So shiny! So much work! And all on hold for some indefinite time. Check this space for updates!

Healthwise, a slew of doctor visits is culminating in some medication changes that will mean I’ll soon be feeling soooooo much better–and I already am, a little bit. Just knowing the change is coming makes a big difference. Hurray!

As for the new novel–I’m progressing nicely. At about 1/3 of the way through the first draft, and I’m really loving this book, and the alternating POVs. It’s the first time I’ve done this in forever, and I’m liking it. My two characters are so different, it’s easy to keep them separate in my mind. I love them both, but for different reasons, and can empathize with each of them in different ways. Now I’m just hoping that the renovation stuff doesn’t interfere with my novel’s forward progress any more, because I’m eager to rip deeper into this story!

But just now, the dog is tappy-toeing beside my desk, demanding dinner, and medications, and pool time–it’s swimming season, so good for his aching joints! And seeing him leap into the pool with such enthusiasm brings so much joy into me, too. Almost as much as when he finally wears out and lays down, and begins snoring beside me.

It’s a good life. I hope you’re enjoying yours.

Writing

The Next Thing

So, one novel is done. But the next novel has been a jewel in my mind, nipping at my attention–demanding my attention–more and more. And so, it has begun.

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

The new novel’s plot is mostly done, outlined and laid bare during one of my interludes between drafts of the previous novel. Now I’m re-familiarizing myself with these characters, this place, these scenes and the story they all tell–and I’m slipping under the spell. I want to write this, need to write this.

Still, I can’t simply ignore the previous novel. I’m still chipping away at a query letter that resonates, no–sings–with the story of the book. In under 500 words. And next week is ICFA, the first conference I’ll go to in person in 2.5 years! So I’ll need to have my elevator pitch ready for BOTH novels, just in case I see an agent or editor who asks (yes, the dream! and the terror of blowing it!).

Which means I’m stuck with this odd dissonance of trying to be in two places at once (the novels’ settings are entirely different). Of trying to split my attention between two books I love–one I’ve written, one begging to reach that same place. It’s like being the human with the lap that your two cats are battling to “own:” you love them both and are thrilled they both love you, even though you wish they’d just get along.

Honestly, I also realize it’s a good place to be in. One novel is done, another is beckoning me. My muse is feeding me well, enticing me ever forward, and I have the ability to follow, and write. What more can I ask? Nothing, really.

But I’ve got to go. The muse is calling, and my attention drifts ever back to writing…

Magic of the Everyday, orchids, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 2/9/22

Out the window: Sunshine and blue skies, with blissful cool temps of about 60° F. After our recent bout of below freezing nights, the garden plants are soaking up yesterday’s slow rain and today’s warm sunshine like the balms they are. Cardinals song punctuates the air, and the muted notes floating into my office are a soundtrack to spring burgeoning all around.

On the desktop: Right now, just water. But yesterday I brewed up a batch of chai base–the tea, honey, and spices without the milk–that I’ll mix with milk and either reheat or serve over ice later today, once I’ve accomplished some things. Small rewards really work for me.

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  I have discovered the misery of query letters.

I’ve been working on this for over a week, tweaking, twisting, ripping out and replacing wholesale, or carefully excising with a scalpel–so many variations! And I still don’t think it’s “there” yet.

Yesterday I spent hours over on the Query Shark archive, and today I’ve been scouring the new site. Seriously, if you’re prepping to query agents to represent you and your novel, check these out. The information is there, clearly showing what to do and how to do it–and how not to!

Querying is its own thing, a very unique skillset of writing. Just like writing a good short story doesn’t mean you can write a good novel (or vice versa), having written a good novel does not mean you can easily write a good query. But queries are essential to getting agent representation, so…it’s time to roll up my sleeves and learn this skill.

And Another Thing: I’ve been running my orchids in and out of the house as the temps dip below 50°F then turn sunny and humid again for a day. As I moved one outside today, I felt something jump onto my hand and cling–and found an anole had been hiding in the orchid pot for 1.5 days inside my house! Fortunately, I was able to convince the poor thing that the grapefruit tree was a better perch than my hand (eventually).

And One More Thing: We just had a visit by Flat Stanley! He is a character from a children’s book that many teachers seem to love (it’s our second visit by a Stanley), and escorting Stanley around is a fun way to connect with where you live, and others around you. I had Stanley in my purse, and when the grocery store cashier saw him, she demanded I get a photo of Stanley with her in the store! That was so great. Even funnier was the look the bagger gave us, because she had no clue what was going on. I’m sure after I left the cashier filled her in–see, even more connections being made.

Thanks, Flat Stanley.

publication, Reading, Writing

Publication Day

I’ve mentioned it over on Twitter, but it’s time for a bigger announcement. One of my favorite stories, “Never Underestimate a Good Defensive Spell, or Your Sister,” [and the second-longest titled story I’ve ever written (but the longest titled story is yet to be published)] is now available in Issue #6 of Speculative North!

And even better news for you readers: this weekend, the issue is FREE over on Amazon!

Four of the seven authors included are Canadian, which is the “North” in the title. I’ve read the issue and can say that all of the stories are really good. They contain interstellar shuttles; time paradoxes and kittens; love, loss & AI; screaming-good music; a story-telling singularity; and a couple amazing poems that I can’t summarize because: poetry, yannow? It’s already concise! So I encourage you to read, and if you can, leave a review over on Amazon, okay? It helps more than you know.

So, what’s the “more” about my story? Glad you asked 🙂

This started as a prompt from a contest over on Codex (yes, yes, so many of my published stories start that way, and with good reason. Those contests and their prompts are pure gold, I’m telling you!). I decided to write about unfriendly sisters, and then the Dragon Doo popped out of nowhere, and viola! My story was off and running!

Thematically, I like stories that show the moment when a person’s character is forged for the better, when they decide to stand up for what they know is right–even against family. But I also like it when that conflict isn’t about the physically biggest or strongest winning a fight, because brains count for far more than brawn.

I hope you enjoy my story, and all the others in this fine magazine. They were a pleasure to work with, even through the pandemic’s strangeness and the delayed everything in the world due to it. As always, if you enjoyed my story or others in Speculative North, tossing a coin or two toward the next issue’s fiction is a great idea. And thanks for reading.