Entries in writing (85)

Tuesday
Apr162019

Novella!

So I haven't updated here in a while because I haven't finished reading anything in large part because I've been writing instead. It's Camp NaNoWriMo and I've been feverishly working on a new project.

I'm stoked to have finished the first draft of my first attempt at a novella. I'm happy with how it's turned out, even if it needs a proper title, some research and a lot more work before I'll start looking for beta readers. But it's sitting just under 30k words and it was a lot of fun to write.

I thought the process for writing a novella would be different from writing a full length novel, but it really wasn't. I studied the structure of All Systems Red as a starting point and built the plot of my novella from there. This novella differs from my novels in that it's got a simpler, straightforward plot, and no B-story or side quests. But unlike a short story, there's more room for the world-building, characters and setting to breathe.

As my reading time diminishes, I find myself opening up doorstoppers less and less and I've been reading novellas more. I might just do the same with my writing.

Anyway, some people have asked what the novella is about, so here's the rough draft of the query letter I've started for it:

What would you do to keep your children safe? Serri was a simple mage working as a government safety inspector until creeping fascism and an unhinged Empress brought war to her doorstep. Now she’s learning just how far she’ll go to prevent her powerful teen daughter S’ryja from being ground up by the war machine. Serri barely hesitates to seek the help of a rebel network, committing treason, and fleeing with her daughter.

But she must leave her wife and youngest child behind, and that soon becomes the least of her worries as the Empress’s forces close in on the rebels. With the royal guard on her heels and a hundred leagues of dangerous wilderness ahead of her, Serri must grapple with whether she’s made the right decision as she and her daughter run for their lives.

(Agents, call me)

Saturday
Dec292018

Hope at the End of the Longest Year

Like in 2017, this year was hard fought and draining. Trying to get things done amidst creeping fascism has been incredibly hard. And because having fascists loose everywhere else in the world wasn't bad enough, the greedy idiots here in Ontario had to go and elect Thug Fraud to premier. I truly, deeply hope that horrible man goes the way of his equally horrible brother VERY soon.

Anyway, when I'm not wishing death on The Worst people in power, I'm probably reading a book. Maybe writing one. I still hit a lot of my writing goals, though I've been lagging behind all of December because of severe depression.

Heh, you want your favourite creators to keep creating? STOP ELECTING FASCISTS

Anyway, here's the breakdown of how I did this year, despite all the bullshit.

Writing
I hit most of my writing goals this year, and the ones I didn't hit were because I swapped them for something else. I've done a lot of work on Blueshift 1, revised book 2 and rewrote book 3 for NaNoWriMo. Books 2 and 3 still need work, but I'll get to them later. I'm happy with the trilogy as it is right now and look forward to polishing the rest. I've been querying book 1 and getting some good feedback from agents, though no contracts yet.

I got Fireborn polished and out into the world and it's also had some positive feedback from agents. I will continue to query both books in the new year.

I wrote and submitted three short stories but, while one of my stories got shortlisted for an anthology, ultimately nothing has gone into print this year. It's a tough industry, but I'll keep working to improve my craft until I can wriggle my way in.

I've looked into novellas and have read plenty of what Tor puts out. I haven't attempted to write a novella yet, but I've started to outline one.

I didn't end up outlining the next two books in the Fireborn series for a few reasons. One is that I'm just not as interested in the series as I was, though I'm sure that will change once I deal with the fact that I'm not entirely sure where I want the next two books to go. And finally, there are a lot of compelling reasons not to work on the rest of a series until the first book is published. So instead of working on books I can't sell/publish right now, I plotted and started writing something different: The Spider's Eye, a stand-alone epic fantasy.

I'd wanted to get a good portion of Spider's Eye written by now, but I was sick for most of November so my NaNo goals fell short, and then I've been severely depressed all of December and didn't get anymore writing done. I've done some more research and some planning on Spider's Eye, but that's it.

And my shiny (not so new) idea is still percolating in the back of my mind. I'm still not entirely sure what I want to do with it, though I'm leaning toward the novella format. And then I've got to do an epic amount of research and... I just really hate research.

Anyway, I've learned now to keep my writing goals flexible because I'm inevitably going to be more interested in certain projects than I think I will be and less interested in others. And I've got enough ideas to work on that I don't have to force myself to finish one thing if I (temporarily) stop loving it. So I didn't necessarily hit the things on my list, but I still did about the same amount of work.

Reading
So I hit this one out of the park this year. I've read 66 books! If I finish the one I'm currently reading over the weekend, it'll be 67! About a third of that has been the children's books I've read to my daughter (chapter books only, not counting any picture books). I've read a lot of novellas this year too, including a double-read of the Murderbot diaries because I love them so much.

I've read loads of books from the library and the vast majority of the books I read this year were by white women. I'd like to keep reading more diversely and I'm still not reading as many books by people of colour as I could.

Family
I've gotten really bad at family stuff, and a lot of it is the stress of the current political climate. I just don't have a lot of energy for things. What energy I do have goes more toward time for my daughter than to my spouse and the extended family. So we still did plenty of family activities, but my spouse and I have spent another year not having many date nights. We're both just so tired. Not sure what to do about it other than just keep trying.

Health
Hey, this one was a smashing success! I did all the walking until the weather got cold. I did plenty of kickboxing. And I even lost weight! I lost and have kept off 10 lbs! Now that I've found something that works (I'm using the MyFitnessPal app), I'm hoping to keep up this trend until my knees stop hurting. We'll see how it goes.

Travel
So this year was all about the travelling. I suspect that travel is partially my midlife crisis? It's also my creeping-fascism coping mechanism. So I went to more than two new (to me) national parks in both Canada and the US, including Yoho NP in BC and Volcanoes NP in Hawaii. I went to a lot of new places this year, and it was magnificent. I went back to the national parks in Tobermory as well, and returned to Sequoia NP with my daughter for a week before we went to WorldCon76. I am now out of money, but it was well worth it!

2019 Goals

Writing
Submit 3 short stories
Write Blueshift short story "Making Waves"
Plot & write Mage War novella
Plot Mage War novel
Finish, revise, and polish Spider's Eye
Do NaNoWriMo
Look into writing a MG series
Keep querying Blueshift 1 and Fireborn
bonus/swap in:
Research and planning for shiny idea
Start writing shiny idea
Start querying Spider's Eye

Reading
Read 30 books
Read 15 books from my shelves
Read 15 books by POC

Family
One family event per month
One date night per month
Continue after school activities

Health
Regular kickboxing
Regular walks in warm months
Lose some weight (any amount will do)

Travel
One mother/daughter trip
One family vacation
Anniversary vacation

Anyway, 2018 has been the longest decade of my life. Congrats for surviving! We all deserve cookies just for that alone. If you managed to actually accomplish anything this hellscape of a year, bonus! Here's hoping we're all still here and kicking ass at the end of 2019.

Thursday
Dec202018

Depression, Life and Art

I have neglected this blog right along with almost everything else in my life for a couple of months now, in large part due to being utterly busy and also because of depression. I'm sure people who don't have to muddle through the dark cloud of depression would have been able to get through my days with more time for a blog (and a lot of other things). But this is my reality, and I have to cope with it in what ever way works.

I've learned over the years that when depression starts to weigh me down, I have to cut away obligations until I can get my head above the surface again. And this blog is definitely expendable.

It didn't help that I just didn't have anything to say. The books I've read the last little while have all been the children's books I read to my daughter, or an epic re-read of the Murderbot diaries, which helped me through last week's epic low point.

In the last two months, I've mostly just struggled to exist, to pass the time until the seasons warm up again and the days get longer and I know I'll feel better. I bought a SAD lamp, though so far it doesn't seem to be doing much. I'm going to therapy regularly. I'm trying to engage in only the things that bring me joy.

I did NaNoWriMo again, as an ML again, and it's one of the things that brings me joy, even if it was a little stressful this year trying to keep on top of all the events plus my writing when I was struggling through physical and mental illness. I had this low-grade but draining cold for most of a month. By the time I shook it, the SAD had settled in for the long haul.

It's still hard most days, even days like today where the sun is shining and it's a little warmer. I haven't done any writing since NaNoWriMo ended. I've been doing some research for my current project. I've done some revisions and sent more of my writing to publishers and agents. But no actual writing yet. I just don't have the spoons for it right now.

I've weathered this before. I just need to do my best to hibernate. To surround myself with the people and things that bring me joy and fulfillment. Sometimes that means writing difficult letters to politicians. Sometimes that means binge-reading my favourite series. Sometimes it means going back to bed.

I fight the good fight when I have the energy, and I do my best to recover when I don't. This is winter for me and I've learned to accept it.

One thing that absolutely does not bring me a single ounce of joy is my continued presence on Facebook. That website is evil. There is real and actual evidence to show the role it has played in the radicalization of good people and the degradation of democracy. I have never liked that website or how people tend to interact on it, and it's long past time for me to delete my account.

I have tried to curate a better experience on FB. I've blocked shitty people. I've used software extensions to block out shitty content. But none of it helps, and as the Cambridge Analytica investigation continues, it becomes clearer and clearer that I cannot, in good conscience, continue to use that site. So I'm working on an exit strategy.

Twitter is not much better, but I have at least been able to curate that experience more deeply. But as I (and many others) pull away from social media and the devastating effects it's had on society, I expect this blog to get more active again. I might even resurrect my newsletter.

So this blog will probably start seeing more activity again. It will also likely get more political. I got a lot of bad advice early in my writing/editing career that I should refrain from politics in regards to my business. But to be frank, I do not want to be associated with clients or bosses I find politically adverse. I'm not going to work for fascists. If you don't like my politics, I'm perfectly happy for you to take your business elsewhere.

Friday
Dec292017

Surviving and Thriving in 2018

So 2017, like 2016, was a year that was great for me personally and a fucking nightmare in general. I've stopped reading the news and muted everything that has anything to do with American politics. I still see my American friends losing their shit on a daily basis, which is hard, so my mental health has continued to suffer this year (which is basically par for the course for anyone who isn't a garbage person). But I did better than I expected, mostly due to ramping up the self-care. I also got WAY more politically active than I've ever been and donated way more money than I should have to causes fighting the nightmare.

Anyway, here's the recap of how I did hitting my goals this year:

Writing
Okay, so I smashed my writing goals. The only ones I didn't hit were outlines for Fireborn 3 & 4 and writing 6 new short stories to self-publish. I stuck with publishing a short story a month like I wanted, but that venture hasn't shown the ROI I was hoping for, so I'm setting it aside for now and concentrating on my novels again. Which I did awesome with.

Both Fireborn 1 & 2 have been revised/rewritten and sent to betas. FB 1 is getting trunked. I like it, but it's more a bridge for me between Dragon Whisperer and the Fireborn YA series that kicks off with FB 2. I've revised and polished and queried Blueshift 1 (which has led to more revisions that are almost complete so I can submit it to Angry Robot's open call this weekend). I restructured, re-outlined and rewrote Blueshift 2 for NaNoWriMo and I've started the outline for Blueshift 3. I'm really happy with how it's turning out and the first book has had decent reception from agents. Now it's just a matter of finding the right one.

And I even took a writing course! I managed to get into the course Kelley Armstrong teaches every summer at U of T. It was excellent.

Reading
So this year has been one requiring intense escapism. And in an attempt to cultivate better sleep hygiene, I also started reading at least 30 minutes before going to bed. This resulted in me exceeding my goal by 50%. Yes, I read 45 books this year! I don't think I read quite as many books from my shelves as I'd like, but roughly half the books I read were by women or POC. I expect to continue this trend indefinitely, because frankly it makes for better reading.

Health
I feel like things on the health front were an utter failure because I GAINED 15 lbs as opposed to losing anything at all. But I did keep up walks and kickboxing until November when a combination of illness and ill-timed meetings meant I haven't gotten any exercise in a couple of months. And I feel like garbage and can't wait for kickboxing classes to reopen next week! But overall my health wasn't terrible. I had a lot of stamina until recently and I plan on getting it back.

Finances
I could have done a little better with this. But I kept going only to the cons that were free to attend or I had a vendor's table/spot on panels. Most of what I bought for clothing was necessary stuff, though I did have two really awesome dresses custom made (with pockets!) One is a Nightmare Before Christmas design and the other is Star Wars. I spoiled my kid way less than normal. At any rate, I'm doing fine financially and finding it easier and easier to cut back on expenses when and if I need to.

Family
So we did more family activities this year than last year, but that somehow resulted in me and my husband going on less date nights. I still need to be more consistent with after school activities for my kiddo, but she and I have done a lot of trips together which has been really cool.

2018 Goals

Writing
Outline Fireborn 3 & 4
3 short stories (write and query)
Start preliminary research and planning for shiny new idea
Revise Blueshift 2
Finish detailed outline of Blueshift 3
Do NaNoWriMo
Write Fireborn 3
Rewrite Blueshift 3
Query Fireborn 2
bonus:
Start writing shiny new idea
Look into writing novellas and check out the sort tor.com publishes

Reading
Read at least 30 books
Read 15 books from my shelves
Read 15 books by women or POC
Read 3 books from library

Family
One family event per month
One date night per month
Resurrect after school activities w/kiddo
At least 4 mother-daughter trips

Health
Continue kickboxing 3 times a week
Walk at least 2 times a week in warm months
Lose weight, any at all

Travel
Visit 2 new (to me) national parks
Revisit 2 national parks
Attend WorldCon76

If you're reading this, congrats you survived 2017! Here's hoping we all make it through 2018. What are your goals? Find me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know!

Monday
May152017

Badass Ladies Make for Good Stories

Last week I took a mental health day and spent the entire day watching my favourite Badass Lady Action Movies. BLAM! In the past couple of years, Hollywood has given us some excellent action movies prominently featuring badass women. Lots of movies have some excellent female characters in them, but these four films I love centre the female characters.

The films in question are Mad Max Fury Road, Ghostbusters 2016, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One. If you still don't understand why this kind of representation is necessary, I can't help you. And that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what makes me love these movies, the common elements they all have.

These movies get women right. Their lady protagonists aren't just the archetypal Strong Female Character that once had its place but I kind of loathe now. The SFC archetype was always too one-dimensional for me. She was just a pretty face who would kick your ass as soon as look at you. The ladies in the aforementioned films WILL kick your ass if they need to. But there's so much more to them than that.

They're REAL. They're strong in more than the "will kick your ass" kind of way. And they're not always strong. Sometimes they're vulnerable. Sometimes they fuck things all the way up. Ya know, just like real people.

So, I have watched these four films multiple times, but this was the first time I binged them all in one day. And watching them all back to back like this, I really noticed some things about what these movies do successfully. These movies not only get ladies RIGHT, they tell good stories too. Here's why:

Diversity
I've spoken a lot here and especially in social media about how important representation is in art. I love these movies with their gender parity (or tipped toward my gender, for once). And one of my favourite things about the new Star Wars movies are their reach toward full diversity by including marginalized people in heroic roles. Prime example: Chirrut blindly kicking an impressive amount of ass in Rogue One. When you've got a big cast in an ensemble team, it's especially unforgivable not to include diverse actors in the roles.

Trust
The characters trust each other. In some cases, it's automatic (usually because of immediate "save the cat" moments), like Finn rescues Poe and they become instant buds. In other cases, the trust is hard earned, like between Jyn and Cassian or Max and Furiosa where they have to prove themselves to each other. While it's interesting (and probably necessary) that characters don't all trust each other, I think it's important that the main character have at least ONE other character that she does trust.

Loyalty
Not only do the characters (at least some of them) trust each other, but they're loyal to each other as well. Like the wives in Mad Max or the rag tag heroes in Rogue One. Even if they don't trust each other, they're still loyal to each other. Often, they're united under a common cause, like Jyn's team trying to steal the Death Star plans, or Furiosa's comrades trying to escape tyranny.

Respect
Even when there isn't trust and loyalty is tenuous, the characters at least respect each other, even when they don't like each other. They might argue, there might be some sniping banter, but no one's ideas are outright shot down, no one is talked over. Everyone's demonstrated intelligence is respected. No one questions Rey's ability to pilot the Millennium Falcon. She says she's a pilot and that's it, it's accepted.

No Romance
There is no funny business between main characters. Side characters might have some romance, it might all be off-screen and exist only in subtext (think Capable and Nux in Fury Road). But there's no romance for the main character. I'm not saying romance is a bad thing, but it's so refreshing to see lady characters not treated as sex objects or viewed as only having worth if they're romanceable.

Ghostbusters actually breaks this between the theatrical version and the extended DVD release. There's a romance that's been added in and honestly, it's awful. It's pointless and awkward and detracts from the story and let's just stick with Holtzmann's cute flirting, shall we?

Humour
Some movies, like Ghostbusters, use more humour than others. But all of them have some. Even darker stories like Rogue One have light moments. Fury Road, the grimmest of the bunch, has some dark humour. This is just good storytelling in general, not letting it be nonstop tension or action or bleakness. Readers and viewers need even a brief respite and humour is the way to do it. So it's not surprising these excellent films use it.

Sacrifice
Usually found toward the end of the movie, or in its climax, a major character makes a huge sacrifice, often sacrificing their very life, in order to save their friends or save the mission. Someone is a big damn hero at a key moment. And it's always going to hit viewers in the feels. Like Nux at the end of the chase, or basically everyone on Scarif in Rogue One. Like in Ghostbusters and TFA, a character doesn't have to die for the moment to be effective and powerful. Think of inexperienced Finn taking on a Sith lord to try to protect Rey, or Erin diving into the ghost portal to save Abby.

These interconnected elements shared by my favourite movies make their stories powerful and they translate easily into storytelling. Films are really just the visual equivalent of books. Many of the overall structures are used in film and novels. And the elements that make for a good film can easily make for a good book as well. Stories are stories.

I look forward to using these elements in my own writing going forward.