This post is a collection of random bits, all containing links to other places–that’s the only common denominator, other than my interest in them. Let’s get on with it:
First off, Sarah Hans has a wonderful retrospective, complete with MORE LINKS, on the contributors to the Sidekicks! anthology. When I saw this, I was floored–a year’s gone by already? How!!?? But there you have it, time flies when you’re writing…
From one of my VP 17 cohort, Michael Johnston, comes this pep-talk about wading through post-workshop assimilation. In addition, it’s a great little plug for VP XVIII (and applications are now open. Hint, hint…perhaps you should apply?)
I’m having lots of fun over at Coursera, and thought I should plug them once more. Free, online courses covering a wide variety of topics. I’m taking “Imagining Other Earths,” am learning so much, and am just really enjoying it!
You just might have noticed a rather extended absence on my part from this blog. Once holiday travels finished and I returned home, all I wanted to do was hibernate. My car deciding that it was time to head into the repair shop for the new year was more reason to lay low, while the crowning touch was the Great Snowstorm that dumped somewhere between 6-8 inches of snow on the area (on the day I needed to drive the car to the shop, of course!). Sigh. Happy New Year, indeed.
But it is happy. Family and friends are doing well, and it was good to see and hear from so many of them. Our travels were safe, and they left me plenty of thinking time to plan goals for the new year, and to prepare for another year of writing, reading, editing, and submitting. All in all, I’m feeling pretty rejuvenated.
What are my goals, then?
Well, Write 1/Sub 1 did good things for me last year, so I’m keeping this activity for next year (and I wrote up my “logbook” for the year already, too!).
Also, thanks to graduating from Viable Paradise, I was able to join Codex, an online neo-pro writers forum. But the end of the year was so busy with travel, holidays, more travel, illness, etc., that I barely had time to participate. I mean to change that this year, and have taken steps towards that end by signing up for their Weekend Warrior Flash Fiction Challenge (which will help with my W1/S1 goals, as well…heehee!). I’m looking forward to the first writing prompts on January 10th.
I plan on attending World Fantasy Con in November. It’s only a short trip from here, and I’m looking forward to meeting many VPers there–both my 17 cohort and those from earlier years–as well as some other folks. Will you be there?
Start working on a plan and outline for “the next novel.” Really. By June, I’d like to have this outline well underway, if not completed. At least, that’s the plan.
Finding a new slush reading job is also on my list. I enjoyed reading over at Blue Shift, and again at UFO Publishing, and I’d like to sign on with a publication that I admire. Cross your fingers for me with this one….
And with that, the list is finished. Now, it’s almost time to head out to a friend’s house for the season premier of “Downton Abbey.” Joy!
So, what fascinating writerly stuff is going on today?
Out the window: The snow has just increased from a light snowfall into a determined army of tiny flakes invading from above. They’re falling faster, heavier, but are still small–usually a sign of lots more to come. Since I’m firmly homebound today, this is good by me. It’s really quite pretty. (Please note that this is early winter yet, so snow is still a novelty I’m happy seeing. Don’t expect the same reaction to snowfall in, say, February.)
On the desktop: Since the drafty apartment windows around me have been covered in plastic shrink wrap, the plant that formerly sat on the windowsill is now on my desk. Along with that, there’s a tiny USB Christmas tree that plugs into my computer and lights up. It’s the only holiday decor in the whole room. Other than these novelties, my notebook is open to the notes I’d taken for the story that I’m currently attempting to write.
Today’s Work-in-Progess: A short story in 4 parts. Back in July, I took part in Mary Robinette Kowal’s online short story intensive class (see the post here FMI). During the class, I came to realize that in the MICE Quotient game, I was sadly, horribly, excruciatingly, embarrassingly weak in the Idea category. So, my challenge to myself, post-class, was to improve my Idea comprehension. This story is an Idea story. It’s been hard going, getting that darn Idea. The first draft is nowhere near finished, so we’ll see how it goes, but right now, I’m feeling pretty psyched about it!
And Another Two Things: Ugh! The snowflakes just turned big and heavy. Now it’s really accumulating fast. And I finally realized that I hadn’t updated my Now Reading and Now Listening widgets to the side, so I did that today.
Now, I’m off to write while the snow piles up outside. 🙂
So, this whole post is to cross-link to something that I think is amazing! Here is Sherwood Smith’s writing blog, and an expansion on a talk she gave at VP in 2011, on Process Narration. It’s a useful post, as well, in showing how changing tense and POV can change the feel of the story. Really, just go read it. Let it sink in. Then, go write something amazing.
In my last post, I mentioned that I haven’t done any new slush reading this year, and that I kind of missed it. The head of Writers of the Weird put me in touch with someone needing a short-term slush reader for a themed anthology. Viola! I’m reading slush. (Thanks again, Phil!)
Sometimes, it really is who you know. And what you’re seeking, too.
It’s not raw slush, mind you, but items plucked out after an initial first read, so I’m being spared the terribly dreadful stuff. But it’s definitely insightful. Why did that story just not grab me? And why did that one appeal more over the other, especially since both have a similar theme-vein running through them? Was it a better hook at the opening, or a stronger resolution? Did one have a fuller character arc, or was one simply too predictable?
Predictability is a tough one. What one person thinks is shiny and new, another reader finds old and worn-out. Part of that is how far and widely they’ve read within a genre, of course. But other things come into play, as well. Age of the reader/writer, outside-the-genre reading, even exposure to other media forms–all can play a part in what we “expect” to happen.
I recently watched the movie “Freedom Writers.” In it, a high-school girl from a very rough neighborhood is given a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. She hasn’t read much of anything in her life. The girl, Eva, is furious at the end of the book, when it’s revealed that Anne Frank died. In her world, real people die, but in movie-land, the hero always lives–usually happily ever after. So much for those expectations. (The movie, an older one, is really spectacular, BTW. It shows the true power of the written word, and its lasting value. I recommend it!)
Still, you don’t want endings that just pop out of nowhere, either. It has to be foreshadowed somehow, so that in the end, the resolution of the problem seems logical, and probably like the only solution, too. Or at least the best solution.
And (for me), worst of all is the Deus ex Machina ending. In this one, someone jumps in and solves the problems for the players on stage, letting all be well in the world through no effort of the involved parties. Arrgh! These cheat our protagonists out of solving their own problems and out of the growth that comes from the pains of problem-solving.
All in all, endings are tough, and good endings are tougher still. Like now. This is a terrible ending for this post.
Um, yeah. I’ve been “not here” for quite awhile. Sorry about that. Various things in life (peaches, canning peaches, canning peach jam, gluten episodes, family stuff, reading) have gobbled up all my free time. The little time I had left I reserved for actually, you know, writing. If you’ve been looking for me over on the Online Writer’s Workshop, I apologize; I haven’t even been there! I hope to rectify that soon. Really.
And what has changed during this time, you ask? Unfortunately, not much. I’m still beating my head against a wall, trying to figure out how simply “telling a story” seemed so easy before, and now seems like a task of Herculean proportions. Everything I write seems so … ridiculous, so clumsy.
Still, I have two small successes to report in this regard. First and foremost is the very fact that, despite this, I am still writing. My head my be sore from the pounding (glad we don’t have interior brick walls here), but my fingers still find their way to the keyboard (or the pen and notebook on occasion). Second is a more sublime moment that needs a touch of backstory:
So, you see, I had this amazing idea for a story. It would be so awesome! It’s to be a story told in four alternating points of view about something that happened to a fifth, now missing, person. The final bit would fill in all the blanks and make everything crystal clear to the reader, who would have this “Ah-ha!” moment as the pieces came together. I had the characters, their ages, genders, favorite flavors of ice cream–you name it! I had the setting, including the tree that would fall over. I had what the characters witnessed happening, and when, and which of the characters saw what. All that was missing was the actual story. Why did this thing happen to this man? What was he attempting to accomplish, and why?
In the MRK class, we delved into the MICE Quotient, taking them apart to fully understand them (which, let me tell you, although I’d heard of MICE before, until this exercise, I didn’t fully “get” the concept). Afterward, we created our own short (3-5 sentence) story synopses, one for each Quotient plus one blend of any two. I got them all pretty well, except the Idea one. I’ve never been a great reader of mysteries, you see, and a mystery story is always the example used. So my “Idea” was really a “Character” story in (cheap) disguise. And this latest story? In the end, it’s an Idea story. My weak link. But an appropriate challenge for growth.
Still, two weeks went by as I groped for the Idea that would lift the story from “if only I had a story in there” to “hey, this could really work.” And then came the influx of the peaches. We picked them ourselves, so I have no one else to blame. But, come on, fresh peaches. Who can resist? So there I am, stirring peaches into jam. You have to keep the heat low and keep stirring and stirring until the jam reaches the setting point. It’s tedious, and hot, and potentially splattery. The end result is yummy jam, but this isn’t the fun part. (hmm, sounds a lot like writing, no?) So I’m stirring, thinking about nothing but the jam for long minutes. And then I mentally wandered over to the story-missing-a-story. And the story came. It needed a touch of refining, of rejecting the first, simple thoughts, but in the end, it’s there. I have a story for my story.
Now I only have to write it (queue hysterical laughter; see the second paragraph if this puzzles you).
There were 8 of us in the class, scattered over the US. One person had been in the Writing Excuses Retreat, for the rest of us, it was our first class with MRK. All of us came away very happy we’d taken the class, aware that we’d learned new things, that we’d progressed as writers.
The class, billed as “an intensive,” was intense. But the fast turnaround time on the homework assignments made us work fast, and helped shut down (for me, at least) that darned inner editor/critic, who makes you want to linger, to fuss and fidget. In this way, the final exercise of “write your story in 90 minutes” (and then post it for critique) was easier to do, since we’d all been pushing hard all weekend long. Yes, we were tired. No, none of us had slept too well the previous night, but the words flowed. 4 of us finished those stories, in first-draft form. The other four have great starts.
I don’t mean to say we didn’t have time to pee, or to breathe. We had mini-breaks, meal breaks, etc. But we were quick about them, and went back to our chairs again for more exercises, more writing, more learning.
The exercises eased us in to writing, and grew more complex as the class progressed. Because they were challenging, it was fun to see what my classmates came up with. During the crit times, I think most of us perused not just the stories we were assigned to crit, but all we could read of our classmates’ work. Yes, we were tired, but this was fun and invigorating! (One session, our class seemed preoccupied with vomit, of all things!)
The final bit of the class was motivational stuff to help us view the process of writing as that… an ongoing process. She reminded us that setbacks happen, that blocks sometimes mean a breakthrough is nigh, and to just keep writing through all that. An open Q & A finished up the sessions, and that was (sniff, sniff) the end.
My computer had “technical difficulties” maintaining the multiple Google+ windows (it’s a 5-year old dinosaur), and kept falling out of the Hangout, so let me warn you to make sure your computer is up to snuff before trying this. However, if you can manage that bit, take the class. I know it’s going to help me “level up” in my writing.
Hard numbers on what I got from the class:
new ways to evaluate my stories, both before I write them (to make sure they’ll work), and also after (to see why they’re NOT working)
new tools for writing POV, plot, and voice, etc
one finished first draft story
four other solid story ideas
seven new writing acquaintances
confirmation (again) that I’m not totally insane for wanting to do this “writing thing”
53 hours to go and there is only $63 left to raise in order for the “What Fates Impose” Kickstarterto be fully funded. The goals of 200 contributors has been met–woo-hoo!–and now it’s just a few more bucks to go. Interested in some really awesome reading by good writers, published by really good people? Check this out and donate today. (Yes, I’m pushing this because I really want to read it.) Oh, and if you’re interested in an publishing an ebook, check out that last contribution level. You’ll not only get a copy of this anthology, but you’ll get an awesome discount on ebook conversions from Alliteration Ink, the publisher of this anthology.
The storySouth Million Writers Award for 2013 is now accepting nominations, and donations for prizes. This award is open to any 1000+ word short story first published in 2012 in an online publication. Both editors and readers may nominate stories, so what are you waiting for? Head over to their website, read the official rules, and donate, then nominate. There are awesome things being published online, as you all are aware. So nominate your favorite today, and maybe that author will get a bonus cash prize!
COUNTDOWN THREE (’cause I’m really bad at math)
Only a few more hours until I start Mary Robinette Kowal’s Short Story Weekend Intensive class. However, she just posted another version of this class for later in the year. Check it out at her blog. Registration opens July 20, and spots tend to move fast. Be ready at the crack of noon Central Time, if you’re interested. Before then, I hope to have posted regarding the class I’m taking this weekend (starting tonight–gulp!), so I’ll get to tell you how many flavors of amazing it is. (My hint: if you don’t get a spot, sign up for the waiting list. You’ll get first crack at the next class she offers. Just don’t tell anyone I told you 😉 )