03 December 2009
02 December 2009
Here it is, in case anyone wants to know.
I’ve always wanted to write. My real passion for it began when I was in grade three and Mrs. Thompson gave me three gold stars for my story about a duck. She even let me write it out in huge letters! in magic marker! on a giant pad of paper! so everyone could read it. I guess that counts as my first publication.
I took a degree in English and Philosophy after high school. I finished my undergrad in 1993 and said goodbye to school. I jumped head first into a dysfunctional relationship that would last for most of the nineties. Despite my crazy love life, I wrote on and off during this time. I did manage a few publications, mostly in homemade magazines with bad artwork and utterly gross aesthetic sensibilities – right up my alley.
After a few years of freelance editing, I decided that the whole school thing wasn’t so bad after all. I went back for more. During my Master’s degree I flirted with minor intellectual stardom. I was a medium sized fish in a small pond. I liked it.
My dysfunctional relationship couldn’t share space with my burgeoning academic career, so I took the cat and moved into an apartment all my own. I took a PhD in English Literature, specializing in Renaissance Drama. I replaced my crazy ex with a crazy thesis supervisor.
All the while, I was studying tai chi and various other forms of energy work. These two different worlds – academia and the mystical – didn’t quite mesh, but I was okay with that.
Throughout my years of study, I always meant to do creative work, but there was just never time. Grad school really crushed the creative urge out of me: since you’re supposed to be publishing constantly, there’s little time for any writing beyond the academic. In my field, it’s article writing or nothing, so I wrote articles. I told myself that it was enough of an outlet. All the while, a protest was building in the hidden chambers of my soul. Because I was busy, intellectually and emotionally engaged in school, and under the special kind of pressure that grad school brings, it was easy to ignore.
Things began to turn around when I finished my degree and won a fellowship to do two years’ further research. Part of the deal was spending winters in Washington DC. Through a mixture of stubborness, determination not to be separated from my cat for three months at a time, sheer good luck, and kismet, I ended up renting a Victorian house on Capitol Hill for those winters.
There was something magical about my time in Washington. The cat and I had this huge, rambling place all to ourselves, I had all the free museum access I could handle, and there was enough cash to keep me going without having to worry – at least for a little while.
Most importantly, for the first time ever, no one was watching me. I was a little bit accountable to my new supervisor (who was lovely and not crazy in the least), to let him know what I was working on. I worked steadily, but slowly. I gave myself lots of space and time to fiddle around. If I didn’t show up at the research library, people did comment, but my funding was from an independent source, so it really didn’t matter. Most of my time was my own.
Sometime in these Washington winters, I started to play with creative work again. I meditated and I practised tai chi in the tiny garden at the back of the house. Slowly, I reacquainted myself with the magic of words on paper. Once I started, I didn’t want to stop.
A realization was beginning to simmer at the back of my brain: if I wanted to be a writer, I couldn’t be an academic too. I’m sure some people can. Some people are way more amazing and capable of multitasking than me.
But I have to say that I’ve also seen a lot of academics who are battered down, unhealthy, and drained dry by their careers. The average English department is chock full of frustrated creatives who just don’t have the time or energy to play with writing. Those people scared me. One of my mentors – one of those people who seemed to be balancing creative work with a professorship – ended up in the hospital with a serious illness. When I asked senior faculty members what their careers were like, they did nothing but complain. I saw a possible future me in those people.
At the same time, the academics of my generation who were getting tenure stream jobs were the ones most incredibly driven to succeed. They worked tirelessly at their research and nothing else.
The academic job market that was supposed to be wide open by the time I graduated was tighter than ever. I found myself competing for the few available jobs with people who had been at it for years. They wanted it more than I did, and I knew that. I’m sure the committees who interviewed me knew it too.
As someone who had outside interests, I was an exception. I knew sooner or later I would be forced to decide between my academic work and the rest of my life.
Slowly, I started to make a decision. This was in no way something I rationally thought through. It’s more like my heart broke open one day and all this stuff came flooding out. I couldn’t put it back in, not without causing myself some damage.
In September 2007, as the academic job market was gearing up, I went up north to our family cottage, sat by the lake, and cried my guts out.
When I was done, I walked back up to the cottage and told my partner that I wanted to quit academia.
He nodded. “I know, it’s making you miserable,” he said. “What else would you want to do?”
I think telling him that I wanted to be a writer took more courage than just about anything else I’ve done in my life. Admitting it to him meant admitting it to myself.
I’ve been working at it for two years now. Mostly it’s been a downhill ride in a shiny red wagon. I'm not where I need to be if I'm going to make writing a career. But I know what I want to do and I’m giving as much of my time as possible to doing it. I have rearranged my life around writing.
I won’t lie: this is a crazy tough road. I’m living with a ridiculous degree of instability. There is nothing right now on which to base the kind of future plans that most people make. I’m working very odd jobs. I would say “to make ends meet”, but at this point I’m really just hoping that ends agree to talk to each other sometime in the future before my line of credit runs out.
For the first time ever, I have peace. My insides feel right, and that is something you can’t buy.
I’m unsure that my creative career will ever go anywhere. But I do know that it wasn’t going anywhere before, and I do believe that if you put positive effort into something, it will grow.
Into what, that’s not for me to say. But I’m going to do my best to make it something awesome.
30 November 2009
29 November 2009
27 November 2009
Leaping grandpas: 1
What can I say? I'm writing my way through the end of the story - and I have no idea how all this is going to get resolved. I suspect several characters will die, undie, redie, and / or spontaneously combust. Three more days; 7838 words to go. Not a cake walk, but totally doable now that the weekend is here.
Lily livered heroes: 5
25 November 2009
24 November 2009
Okay, most of the bitch fighting has been going on in my head and / or with actual people. But there's been some pretty good face slapping going on in the novel, too!
Word Count: 38 047
Bitch fights: several
Seriously, yo, on Sunday I wrote a grand total of 21 words. Somehow there's something a little bit sad about those 21 words, as opposed to days where I just don't manage to crank out any. Well, it'll all be over in six more days - at least for this draft. I'm hovering below par by about 2k, things are getting a little intense with work-work, but I think it will all work out just fine.
22 November 2009
Strategic uses of the cat: 2
So I'm already worrying about what December is going to look like. I want to finish this baby! And although I've got lots of ideas rattling around right now about how to fill the very substantial holes in my story, I'm worried about running out of steam. Plus the holidays...they always throw a wrench into the works, don't they?
21 November 2009
20 November 2009
Vamp dinner parties: 1
19 November 2009
17 November 2009
Mentions of the Big Bad: 2
16 November 2009
14 November 2009
Tenuous teen romances: 1
13 November 2009
Betrayals and Revelations of Betrayals: 1 current, 1 impending
10 November 2009
Secret diaries: 1
Oh what bliss, setting up a character to make an unpleasant and life altering discovery later on down the line!
I never know when I'm writing a sex scene: is this hot, or is it totally ridiculous? I'm not getting into the throbbing gristle or anything, nothing too porno, but you know, because what I'm writing is more...sensation based, I'm not sure if my own proclivities and tastes are, to put it delicately, colouring the text too much. And you know, my proclivities and tastes might not be everyone's proclivities and tastes. In fact I'm sure they're not. Oh well: what can you do?
Bags of blood: 10
08 November 2009
Word Count: 14 283
Vampiric conversions: 1
Broken ankles: 1
Grossed out sidekicks: 3
Ah, the ups and downs of NaNoWriMo! Apparently what I needed was a solid day where I spent most of my time writing and a write-in to inspire me. I wrote 3662 words today, and am now officially above par.
My story, though, is not nearly as light as I'd thought it would be. As I said to fellow NaNo-er girlwithapearl today, it's turning out to be emotionally based. I realize that a lot of what I've been writing in the last little while has centred around conflict in action: will the good guys keep the bad guys away from the interdimensional fort? Will the ambiguously morally oriented creature decide to fight on behalf of humanity? Will the all-girl punk band kidnap the barely disguised Paris Hilton proxy and deliver her safely to the record executive on the other side of the paranormal wasteland? Yeah...you know. Regular plots like that.
The crux of the conflicts in this year's NaNo novel are emotional. The dilemmas are classic psychological double binds. I find myself caring about these characters because they represent shades of things I've felt. I'm digging a little deeper.
Gotta love vampires.
Disastrous attempts at apology: 1
07 November 2009
Semi-geriatric romances: 1
04 November 2009
Philosophical waxings on predator/prey relationships: 1
Erotic waxings: ha ha, none, exactly
Eroticism based on predator/prey relationships: yes.
I'm just above par if my goal is 50k, which is great, since Tuesday and Wednesdays were wipeouts for me this week. Wednesday will continue to be.
NaNoWriMo really does change your life, I must say. Due to sleep deprivation, my general tolerance levels are much lower than they usually are. Because of this I booted a knobbish student out of one of my tai chi classes. Should have done so long ago. I can't guarantee that my knob bootage wasn't also driven in part by writing a genuinely strong female character. I'm loving writing her.
02 November 2009
Escape Clause, which includes my short story "Five Dragons", is now officially available. This is a lovely volume and I'm honoured to be a part of it. Clélie Rich and Kit St. Germain have made an awesome contribution to speculative fiction with this book.
You can order a copy here:
01 November 2009
I guess I'm blogging this month, since this is a fun way to track progress.
First of all, people, I have to say, if you're NaNoWriMoing on your lonesome, don't. It's far easier to tap into the amazing collective consciousness that is NaNoWriMo if you're in touch with your local people.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here:
But hurry! National Novel Writing Month began about 25 hours ago!
Day One Stats:
Vampiric attempts to write personal ads: 1
Cheesy pickup lines: 2 or 3
Cheesed off vamp wannabes: 1
As you can see, there's a lot of cheese this year. Don't worry: the quality violence is on its way.
08 June 2009
In any case, as suggested by the first of the Summer of Fantasy challenges, I've been playing around this afternoon with mapmaking / animated gif construction. This is fun, people. I've found some potentially useful fun facts and a hole. First the hole:
01 June 2009
When you go into a sitting chi kung session, you often go very deep. Numerous fascinating things happen: you see colours throbbing and pulsing in front of you. Reality goes in and out of focus. Sometimes there are special guest stars: I recently watched as globs of light dripped down from the ceiling of my room, and two sets of luminous footprints laid themselves out in a counterclockwise circle around me.
When you come out again, you have to settle back down into yourself before you can stand up and walk around. You've been in touch with another, higher level of consciousness. Plus in my case, I've been sitting in half lotus, so things are...numb. I usually have to take a minute or two of just sitting with my legs stretched out before the feeling returns, my energy settles, and I can stand and head out into my day.
One of the things I have on hand for this time is Deng Ming-Dao's book 365 Tao: Daily Mediations. This is a cute little book that gives you a word, a Chinese character done in a gorgeous calligraphy, a snippet of verse, and a prose extension of the snippet of verse that tie in with the word for each day of the year. During my wind-down time after sitting, I'll read the entry for that day and think about it.
The word for June 1 is "Sleep". The poem I thought I'd share because it's uncharacteristically horroresque for a book of cute daily meditations:
Sleep is like a swift train
Plunging into long black tunnels,
Slicing day with red and black light,
No worry about the skeleton engineer.
Head to pillow is like head to track,
Listening to the rumble of destiny,
Knowing that the opening will come.
In sleep, as in the tunnels,
The sound seems ever closer.
28 May 2009
If you're looking for writers in your home area, National Novel Writing Month's regional forums are a great place to start. (And why aren't you NaNoWriMo-ing? It's fun, addictive, and often wildly productive.)
Our local region here in Hamilton is great. Throughout ScriptFrenzy, we had regular in-person meetings that were really helpful. One of my fellow screnziers and I are still soldiering on with weekly meetings, which is awesome.
Of course there's also the online writing community. Through one of the Hamilton region writers, I was introduced to Stringing Words, a writing forum that she and two other women founded. This is an awesome group. There's a huge range of experience and ages here. There's a core group of people who it seems have been around for a while, and let me tell you, these are nice people with great senses of humour and an impressive passion for writing. They are writing fiends.
So if you're looking to hop on a bandwagon, these people will let you call shotgun and tell you you're gonna fly that thing to the moon.
Right now, plans are cooking for something called "The Summer of Fantasy". It's looking like it will be a three-month extravaganza. June is dedicated to world-building exercises, and July and August are set aside for drafting a fantasy novel based on what you build in June. I'm ultra excited about it. Come join us! I dare ya!
Forums are mostly members-only, so you'll want to join to get a full browsing experience in.
22 May 2009
07 May 2009
The trees reach for the sky.
These are trout lily leaves, poking up out of the forest floor. Our friend Wendy showed us that these are edible. They taste a little like sweet peas (the bean, not the flower!). You can eat the roots, too. They're nice in a salad.
Here's a bunch of them, growing at the base of a tree.
They also flower (hence the name, I suppose!). Isn't it beautiful?
These tiny purple flowers started growing everywhere a week ago.
Some of the things that grow here are a little strange. This plant has rust-coloured flowers. I can only imagine the insects that are attracted to this!
Even the slightly nasty plants are growing like crazy.
27 April 2009
15 April 2009
I am (and shall remain, I boldly declare) a steadfast believer in pen and paper. I write first drafts by hand. As a lefty, I experience an intuitive connection with the page that is quite different from the balanced intellectualism of keyboard work. And I love the grace and ease of certain pens. I work with a Rotring fountain pen and Aurora or Noodler's ink, which is a much more economical option than some of the roller ball pens I worked with as an academic. At two and three dollars a pop, disposable pens end up costing a whole lot more over time. (To compare, a seven or eight dollar bottle of fountain pen ink lasts a year even with heavy daily use.)
But enough about my pen fetish...
The point is, when it comes to getting text off the handwritten page and into a word processor, I find I often get sidetracked (Videogum, I'm looking at you!). So the idea behind the AlphaSmart purchase was that I could separate my writing time from other, superfun, but perhaps less productive activities. I'm thinking a super lightweight portable keyboard is also a better option than my big old superheavy laptop for transcribing research in the library, for taking out to the coffee house, for dropping on the floor accidentally, and for traipsing about the wilds of Northern Ontario. (Our family cottage doesn't have regular hydro service. There's a generator, but we don't run it 24/7 and it's loud and unreliable.)
So the point of all this, is that I ordered an AlphaSmart from some dude on eBay for $9.95 US, and it came today. They tend to go for a little more than that, but not too much more. I purchased a simple cable that you need to upload files from the AlphaSmart to your computer, and I was ready to rock and roll.
The point to this story is that the AlphaSmart was previously loved by a school that used it to help kids work on their writing (or for all I know, their typing). As it turns out, files do not get deleted just because the device doesn't have batteries or a connection to power. When I turned it on, I found that two of the files had, uh, content in them. Reading these made me immediately want to go out and get some schoolage kids of my own.
The first item:
Dear Mrs. Losey
we would like your approval to have an’end of the year water party’the we would like to set up are water balloontoss,quismo,gallonfill,freetime if you let us do this we will be on are best behavor and we will clan it up.
I have no clue what half of this stuff is. Quismo? Sounds diabolical. But at least this child is promising to honour his Scottish roots. Or maybe his supremacist roots.
I also found this short story? essay? about a touching weekend camping trip:
When me and my uncle were at a forest I was throw rocks I hit something and that something was a Camodo Dragon.It chased us intill my uncle found a stick and hit him with it.Then he died,he picked him up and droped him on his head again an again to make sure he was dead.Then raped him up and was heading home.I sat in front cause I didn’t know if he was still alive.
I love that it becomes unclear whether the kamodo or the uncle dies and gets "raped up". Powerful use of ambiguity, that. Seriously, kid, if you're out there and this is your work, I hope you kept writing. I can only imagine what kind of sick stuff you'll cook up after you experience the horrors of dating and life after high school.
14 April 2009
That just makes me feel...about as awesome as watching dancing dogs!
27 February 2009
I've been making art to use as inspiration for the short stories I've been drafting. "Making" is sometimes only a rough approximation of what I've been doing. Sometimes I'm printing out old woodcut images and colouring them by hand (I'm into pencil crayons right now). Today I messed around endlessly in a photoshop knockoff. I ripped the various images of the fish with legs, cavorting fetus skeleton, and woodcut mushrooms from various online sources, and stamped and manipulated the heck out of the resulting collage.
Internet, your images are not safe with me!
09 February 2009
Now the six months is almost over, and I've got bills to pay. Although I was willing to play daredevil with my finances, it isn't fair to my partner to continue to draw on our mutual resources as heavily as I've been doing. And yeah, without him, I'd have had to place much stricter limits on the duration of this experiment.
Reality sux, my friends.
The nice thing, though, is that I now have some solid writing time under my belt. I feel much more legitimate in my claim on the name: I'm a writer. I have three short stories out on the market right now, and half a novel draft. And even though I'm looking at taking another teaching contract for the summer, I'm not giving up my dream for anything.
Now that I've fastened on it, I won't let go.
That's what five months of space and time have given me. Was it worth it? Hell yeah. Now I can move forward with some good, solid tools at my disposal. The ability to think more creatively about my life. The idea that there are options. A much better sense of how the craft of writing intersects with who I am right now, and my experience. And a solid plan for building a writing career: build portfolio, complete novel, find agent.
I couldn't have asked for more out of this time.
19 January 2009
Discipline is necessary, yes. But discipline and punishment are not the same things. I'm not talking about conflict and drama and hard times that you've been through that become your source material for art. (Although hopefully you're also sometimes thinking about the good times too while you write.) I guarantee you that you'll suffer enough just by living to make a million tons of great art. But you don't have to suffer more because you're making art.
I want to share something I've been working on. It's inspired by a book I read while writing my PhD thesis, called Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, by Joan Bolker (highly, highly recommended if you're in grad school and facing the task of writing your diss.).
On days that I've got a story to tell, which isn't every day, even if I don't feel like it, I write for twenty minutes.
Some days, I write for twenty minutes and I'm done for the day.
Other days, those twenty minutes get me into it enough that I want to keep going. So you know what I do?
I still get up from my desk at the end of the twenty minutes. I do something else for a little while. And then I go write for another twenty minutes.
Because you have to give space for inspiration to come through.
Because there's chili and cornbread to make.
Because the dog needs walking.
Because I still haven't folded my laundry.
Because most people can only concentrate for twenty minutes, max.
Because by giving space, there's room for the story to interpenetrate everything. So it will work through you while you do everything else, and improve itself.
Twenty minutes on, ten minutes off. This is how I do it.