30 May 2012

Here's to a Better Month This Month

May was a terrible month. Yeah. Wow. First the cat got sick. Then the fish died. Then the dog got sick. Then the cat's antibiotics had to be extended.  The new fish is acting weird. The dog is tentatively better, but there has been some back and forth and I am not convinced he's 100 percent yet. The cat seems better but it's a wait and see.

I am one of those people for whom pets are family, so the whole month was a giant roller coaster ride the theme of which was "What now?" The climax came this past weekend with a bout of the flu, human, in this case, that hit me and then Dave. Just wow, May. Way to overdo it.

(Aside for those of you who've visited and followed and commented in my absence this month: thank you. I will reply and visit and comment soon, promise promise promise.)

Times like these, when I am down, or so wiped out and feverish and sinus-explosive that I can't do anything else, I console myself by watching talent shows. I am not a huge reality TV fan, but I like it when people succeed at being amazing. It inspires me. In the name of doing relatively nothing but sit on the couch and weep, I've watched my way through The Voice UK. Thanks, YouTube Pirates!

(Aside for those of you who are watching The Voice UK: Can you believe that Ruth Brown is gone? I thought she was the obvious one to win. Yeah yeah, maybe her last performance wasn't as mind-blowing as her previous ones, but wow. I agree with Tom Jones that there is something otherworldly about her talent. And okay sure, there are people saying she's shouty and whatnot. I agree, maybe her voice isn't as disciplined as some others, but it's not so much about the training as it is about ripping your soul out every. single. time.) /TeamRuthRant

People who go on talent shows are people who are passionate about art, to the point where they've sacrificed great swaths of time to develop themselves. That is love, the weird kind of love, love of a higher purpose, an ideal, that happens when a person wants to express himself or herself, and will work damn hard for a long time to do it better and better.

I'm talking about the moment that you realize that "What I Did for Love" is not a breakup song. It is about not regretting every bone-shattering, hair-pulling, soul-rending moment you spent working on your craft, even if it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to.



I'm talking about the most insane dog dancing routine ever. What does dog dancing have to do with art? If you have to ask, well, you probably don't belong here. Move it along.

For those of you still with me, I'm talking about expressing your absolute love (in this case, for your dog) so profoundly that you become one insane whirling dervish crawling on a stage to the Flintstones theme song. I'm talking about being completely unafraid to proclaim that your dog dancing routine is Oscar-worthy. Because you know what? If all things were equal, it would be.



This may be the most sideways pep talk ever, and I might be delivering it pretty much exclusively to myself, but hey, I've had a crap month and I'm trying to get back on the writing horse here. Do not be afraid, my friends, to write your little hearts out in June. Go nuts. I wish each and every one of you the literary equivalent of insane dog dancing genius.

22 May 2012

The Gate-Keepers Are Leaving Their Gates

"The old rules are crumbling, and nobody knows what the new rules are, so make up your own rules." 

Neil Gaiman addresses the graduating class of 2012 at Philadelphia's The University of the Arts on being artists, enjoying the process, and the changing face of publishing and media. If you're a writer or an artist or a designer or a filmmaker or otherwise creative person who is trying to get yourself and your stuff out there, Neil is your commencement speaker. 

Happy graduation, everybody.

 

Horror Writers Against Happy Endings and Charter Shorts

Yo! Lots of great stuff going on out there in the e-world and the real-world right now. On a personal level I'm ecstatic to note that my cat finished the last of his antibiotics today, and Dave and I still have all of our fingers and toes.

I'm keeping my fingers-for-which-I'm-grateful crossed that he's really better and we don't have to do that again.

Story a Day in May is not going well, my friends, due to that whole we-thought-the-cat-might-die episode, which was followed by a the-cat-is-not-dead-yet-so-let's-celebrate-by-going-to-the-cottage episode. (He went with us. He likes the cottage. Seriously.) Life is returning to normal now. I'm thinking I'll work through the rest of my April Story prompts as a Camp NaNoWriMo Rebel. You? What are your writing plans for June?

While you're dreaming up an answer to that question, here are two things to consider:


Stant Litore, author of the Zombie Bible series of books, has written a gorgeous manifesto for horror writers.
After all the monsters chew their way out of Pandora's box (whether she opens it or not), only hope is left flickering faintly at the bottom, irremediably fragile and heart-stoppingly beautiful. I may let a little hope flicker like ailing Tinkerbell in a reader's cupped hands, and remind them life is to be lived frantically and passionately and love is to be acted on and expressed deeply while we're here, but I leave the happily ever afters to Disney.
Read more and collect your own badge at his post on Horror Writers Against Happy Endings.


Andrew Leon at StrangePegs reveals "The Top Secret Super Secret Project:" Charter Shorts, a collection of stories by students of the creative writing class he teaches at his son's middle school. It looks awesome. Proceeds go to fundraising for the school. Read more about it or buy a Kindle or dead tree version to support the project and keep the littlest writers writing.

17 May 2012

Goodnight, Darlings, Here's a Little Treat Featuring Sweet Chaos and Destruction



Via Colossal Art & Design, I give you Stupidity at 2500 Frames per second. If there is too much stupidity for you here, go to 2:48 for the stupendous Flour + Candle and forward to the end for the waterbed finale. So...much...fire.

16 May 2012

Rooop! That's the Sound of the Universe Ending Because I'm Actually Doing What I Should

Sorry about that.

Anyhoo, Amanda Heitler of Drama, Dice and Damsons gave me this thing, to which I say hurrah! And thanks!

In Soviet Russia, Blog Awards You

It comes with prizes! In the form of rules, questions and facts about me!

RULES

1. Thank and link back to the awarding blog
2. Answer the following seven questions. 
3. Provide ten random factoids about yourself. 
4. Last but not at all least, hand this on to seven deserving others. 

Amanda notes: "Just to mention in passing, I really want to change the questions and most of them are vague or slightly daft, but tradition is tradition I suppose."  Yeah. I guess they are supposed to be ice breakers or something? I will forge ahead and do my best but I am also providing alternatives that may be no less vague or daft for those to whom I pass on this award.

The questions:

1. What's your favorite song?
I don't know. But this is always fun:



ALTERNATIVE QUESTION: Name one song you listened to over and over as a teenager.

2. What's your favorite dessert?
I don't know, but I want to try making this chocolate cake with unusual icing.

ALTERNATIVE QUESTION: What are you having for lunch today?

3. What do you do when you're upset?
Either transition quickly into laughter / making fun of myself, or start talking and trying to explain myself and end up crying and sick of the sound of my own voice. It's a win / win, really.

ALTERNATIVE QUESTION: Describe the last time you were bored.
 
4. Which is your favorite pet?
Yikes. I have three pets right now, so I'll tell you which is my least favourite: the fish, partly because he's on his way out, and is taking his time. He might live, but he probably won't. I am not very attached to him, although he is pretty and I have enjoyed having him around. (I am doing everything I can for him and yeah it's not over until it's over but there is not too much to do, really.) He is also the most plant-like. Don't get me wrong: I like plants, just not as much as I love my dog and cat.

You've all seen Dizzy:


And this is Ben:



ALTERNATIVE QUESTION: Which is your least favourite pet? He or she doesn't have to belong to you.

5. Which do you prefer? Black or White
What?

ALTERNATIVE QUESTION: Which do you prefer? White or whole wheat?
 
6. What is your biggest fear? 
Doing something that seems reasonable at the time but turns out to have horrible consequences, like, for example, going away for the weekend after there's been a wee bit of a flood in the basement and coming home to a smell like the entire house is coated in cat pee but is in fact rancid with mildew. Oops! 

ALTERNATIVE QUESTION: Name one of your strong points or special skills.
 
7. What is your attitude mostly?
Good. Unless there is no coffee or someone is trying to take advantage. Then bad. Very bad. 

ALTERNATIVE QUESTION: Do you think it is better to help people or leave them alone?

TEN RANDOM FACTOIDS
Okay, I am borrowing / adapting Amanda's because she is cool and I spent too long on the questions. You can read her original factoids in their pristine state here:


  • Amanda: I regard garment shopping as a form of purgatory. ET: Yup, me too. 
  • Amanda: I love walking barefoot (this might have come up before - in which case, I do apologise, but I'm not really that interesting) ET: Yes.
  • Amanda: I am a balrog in the morning. ET: If you mean one of these guys, then yes me too.
  • Whistling People chewing ice freaks me out and makes my spine wobble.
  • I have a broken nose collar bone from a left-over riding  cycling accident.
  • Amanda: I have a horrible effect on technology. Batteries run down in days, computers act funny, stuff does not work as it should. Magnetic field misfire is my theory. ET: Yo, you're a SLIder! I occasionally mess with streetlights, but it sounds like you've got an extreme version of the syndrome.
  • I adore airports and deeply fear flying. In some ways I wish we still lived in the days of steamships. I would like to feel exactly how large the ocean is as I move across it.
  • Amanda: I get stagefright before every class I teach. ET: This totally used to happen to me. Since I started teaching tai chi and qigong exclusively and got away from the university, it doesn't.
  • Amanda: I fall asleep reading. Sitting up with a book in my hand. ET: If I am reading, I can't fall asleep. 
  • Amanda: I failed my first driving test in spectacular style by backing into a lamp post. ET: Awesome. It happens, right? I only passed my driving test on the first go because it was a couple of days before Christmas and the examiner was in a festive mood. True story!

SEVEN DESERVING BLOGGERS
Okay look, I know this kind of thing can be a pain in the arse. Just remember this means I think you are awesome:

Mark K! RPGer extraordinaire and all-round cool guy, Mark blogs at The DM's Screen. (I have not met Mark in person, but I suspect he is really, really nice. He and his wife raised a guide dog that they then had to pass off to the person who needed the dog. That is how nice he is.)

Bluestocking! She's been rocking the short story publications lately and I think we'll see much, much more from her soon (no pressure, Bluestocking). Follow her now at The Bluestocking Blog.

Madeline Mora-Summonte! She's one of several hosts of the year-long challenge Write 1, Sub 1, and a proud owner of tortoises. She blogs at The Shellshank Redemption.

Shannon Lawrence! She was an A-to-Z co-host and she's hard at work novelling. Cheer her on at The Warrior Muse.

Chris Kelworth! He's a local writing buddy and all round nice guy. He blogs about life stuff, writing, reading, expanding the capacities of your gadgetry through the superpowers of software programming, and whatnot at The Kelworth Files.

Jan Morrison! Jan writes mysteries and literary fiction and blogs about writing and life. She shares her wisdom at her eponymous blog.

Catherine Stine! I am in love with her blog header. And the best part is, the illustrations are from her book, FireSeed One. P.S. FireSeed One is on sale for 99 cents right now! Okay this is too much excitement. Go now to Catherine Stine's Idea City and be amazed. 

Feel free to add yourself to the list. You know I adore you and do not want you to feel left out.

11 May 2012

There's Twenty Dollars on the Kitchen Counter, Order Yourselves Some Pizza

...remember to collect the mail and water the fern. We'll be back on Tuesday night.

Did your parents leave notes like this for you when they were going away? Mine did.

This is all to say that I'll be doing like this this weekend, and will therefore be less than blogtastic. In the meantime, don't forget to drop by Fantasy Writer Guy's place. He's been posting about his adventures with the medical establishment. I think he's out of the hospital now, but I'm sure he'd love some sympathy and attention for his hilarious and harrowing stories starring himself, Dr. Kalvorkliancubansandwich, and Nurse Sinister-Impaler.

If you're in need of intellectual stimulation, join the apocalypse watch at Matt Cardin's Teeming Brain.

Weigh in on Kim Koning's thoughts on trusting your first instincts in your writing.

Be good, everybody. If you can't be good, be your usual brilliant selves.

06 May 2012

April is the Bloggiest Month

This is an A to Z Reflections post, but I'm going to say some screamingly obvious things that might help non-A-to-Zers, too.

April's come and gone, and I'm onto a whole other challenge. However, I wanted to take advantage of the reflection post to share some insights that I had from this year's A to Z, which are probably super obvious but maybe important for us to remember.

Blogging works better if you read what other people have written and leave a comment.

Yeah. Super obvious, right? I think I'm fairly safe in saying that most people who blog want to get some kind of interaction out of it. I assume that if you wanted your posts to get zero attention, you would write them in your private journal and keep them private.

Maybe less obvious is that we are doing a funny thing here, we bloggers: we're building a social network out of individual sites that are not necessarily interlinked. We're linking ourselves up by hand. This is, in part, why A to Z is so great: because it provides a list of random people who are looking to network and who share an interest in blogging and maybe little else but possibly a whole lot else and you'll figure that out as you go along. Yeah. That is a long sentence.

Blogging works better if you link to other blogs in some way, add them to your reader, subscribe via email, or find some other way to stay in touch.

When we're not presented with a list like the one A to Z offers, we can sometimes go a long while without meeting new bloggers. I'm as guilty as anyone of failing to follow back, or really liking someone's blog and then forgetting to track it. I will follow you if you follow me and I will also most likely stick you in my sidebar so that I don't lose you in the morass that is my RSS reader. Develop routines around making sure you'll come again if you like someone's blog. (If you followed me and I didn't follow back, it was accidental, or because you didn't leave me with a way to find you, but more about that in a second.)

Find a way to repeat visit other blogs, and do so from time to time. Check in on your new friends and make a point of seeing how they are doing on an ongoing basis.

Blogger has a widget called "Blogroll." You can use it to make a list of people you know you want to revisit, or that you want to encourage others to visit. People enjoy being part of your blogroll. I always love seeing my name on someone else's blog.

If it seems that it is hard for others to find you, maybe it is! Make it easier.

This is an important issue. Have you left a comment on another's site, or followed them, but never received a return visit? There may be a reason for that. This is especially tricky for we Blogger users. Some of you new followers who recently joined my lists do not have a link to your site under your Blogger profile. I can click on your follower icon, and see only a list of blogs you've followed. Likewise, you might leave a comment, but clicking on your name leads me to an empty Blogger profile. To check this, leave a comment at someone else's site, then click on your name and see what information comes up. If you don't have a link back to your blog, no one can find you.

Another way to make it easy for people to follow you back is to leave a link in your comments. (If you already know how to do this, obviously this is not for you. This is for people like me who had to figure it out.)

I do this most of the time now and you should too. Under whatever brilliant comment you have to share, paste in this code:


Put your actual URL and your actual blog title or name in the spaces where it says to do that. The code I leave looks like this:


After you hit Publish or Comment or Post or whatever, it will magically transform into this:

Elizabeth Twist: Writer, Plague Enthusiast

I type the code out in a word processor or notepad, and have it ready to cut and paste any time I leave a comment. It is also handy if you want to link to another site in your comments - just substitute the URL and the description for anything you want.


Bottom line: you get what you give.

I'm focusing on this issue because too often I see bloggers complaining that it is hard to build an audience. My question is, how many blogs have you followed? How many do you promote in your sidebar or via your blogroll? How many comments do you leave in a day or a week? Are you friendly? A to Z reminds us that all of these activities are crucial to building an audience. To build an audience, you have to be part of one.

03 May 2012

Permission to Fail: Some Further Thoughts on Story a Day

I met the gorgeous and fabulous Nicole Cushing of Laughing at the Abyss via her Twitter hashtag #storyeachnight. She reads a short story each day, and posts the title and mini review under that hashtag. Since one of my goals is to read a story a day in 2012, I jumped right in with my usual occasional-but-enthusiastic participation.

Nicole wrote a thoughtful blog post about the Story a Day in May writing challenge. She brings up some really good points about the potential mental scatter that could accompany putting together 31 different plots in such a short span of time. She writes,
If I participated in StoryADay, I’d end May with…well…thirty-one crappy flash fiction pieces. (Note: I’m not saying all flash fiction pieces are crappy, or that all StoryADay pieces are crappy. Just that if I participated in this event, my work — under those kind of constraints — would be crappy). It’d be crappy because my passion for writing would end up divided in thirty-one directions.
I wrote an excessively long comment to this post - so long I felt I had to apologize, and so long that I figured I might as well post it here. A shorter and more appropriate answer would be that yup, I did write a bunch of crappy stories last year, so I see where you're coming from, Nicole. Despite that, I'm doing the challenge again this year. Here's why.

I have recently started interval training. Normally, I'm a long distance meanderer / hiker, and I practice tai chi for hours on end. So the idea of doing short, super high intensity, repetitive bursts using all major muscle groups seems just a touch intimidating, if not downright cray-cray. I am used to having a certain precision control over how I move - that's what tai chi is all about - but in interval training, I'm spazzing all around my living room like someone who's been bitten by a hundred poisonous snakes. I am demonstrating to myself just how limited some of my physical capacities are as I fail to do certain kinds of push-ups (okay, any push-ups) and my legs feel like they're giving out.

However, I am getting strong. I feel freaking amazing (sore muscles notwithstanding) and I have all kinds of energy.

Analogically, last year I did Story a Day. I did not write 31 stories. I fell in love with some stories and lingered over them. Some ran to 7500 words and took two or three days to draft. Some stories didn't come out right the first day I tried to write them, so I gave myself permission to try writing them again the next day. I don't naturally write to flash lengths, so I had no expectations about doing that, but I gave myself permission to write super super fast and crank out a 2-4k story most days. I got one good story out of the month, and 18 monsters, so 19 stories in all. Besides that one good piece, the rest...well, I toy with one or two, but mostly they're trunked.

What did I get out of it? I got a month of practicing beginnings, middles, and ends. Personally - and this could just be me - I didn't feel scattered. I felt super focused on the mechanics of plot. No matter whether I was writing about rapacious monks or dark magic rituals or doppelgangers, I was thinking about how to make the leap from one plot point to the next without falling on my face.

I got strong. Super strong, at least, compared to where I was before the challenge. Creatively ripped. When the next NaNoWriMo came along, I had all this confidence about plotting, and I wrote 100k in November: a good, solid, workable first draft.

So...here's the thing. Yes, I found Story a Day to be singularly unproductive from the perspective of producing stuff that is good enough, or will be good enough, to polish and submit. However, I spend all the other months of the year trying to write stuff that is good enough to polish and submit. The problem is, how do you train to be a writer? The question is, is there value in giving yourself time to train without expectation of a certain outcome? When we set a goal of always writing good enough stories, do we miss out on valuable practice? To my way of thinking, Story a Day is about practicing writing. Runners do bajillions of sprints before they run a race. Short story writers are basicallly sprinters. Why should our training be any different?

Via

02 May 2012

Writing with Limits

I don't know about you, but my imagination factory loves limits, rules, boundaries, specificities. On any given week, if my core notion is "this week I want to write a story," I often falter, or the story can take forever to shape up.

Give me the weirdest, most specific call for stories, though, and my imagination jumps right on that. Appalacian pulp? Great. Steampunk Cthulhu? Fabulous. Fungi? Awesome. (Okay, I missed the deadline on the fungi anthology, but I'll bet there will be some super cool stories in there.)

Coral Fungi

Are you this kind of writer? You'll know you are if you have a hard time reading the "do not want" lists that some magazines create. I know where editors are coming from. They've seen too many stories about lusty pirates or rapist-murderer-cannibals. Yeah, incestuous princess molestation is probably unpleasant to read about. (I am a little bit surprised to see it come up on a list of "stories we see too often." People are sick.) I guess it's a bit of a cliché for a scientist to use himself as an experimental subject (although one based in a long, hallowed tradition straight from crazytown). 

Maybe it's the contrarian in me, but when I read lists like this, I WANT TO WRITE STORIES BASED ON THE DON'Ts. My mind immediately starts grinding on the question of how to turn those stories into something wonderful and original. Yeah? You think you've seen too many lusty pirates? I'm gonna pirate lust so much your head will spin! And you'll like it.

Anyhow.

This is the second year I've done Story a Day in May. I've been wondering why it is that at any other time of year, I can drag out a story-a-week writing challenge to two, three, and four weeks, but as I type this I'm poised to bang out my second story in two days. Why does my imagination factory work so well when pushed to an extreme?

My guess is that a short time frame is just another type of limit. I've spent some time getting ready for this, mind you. I've got my prompts lined up. At the end of each day, I say to myself, "okay, tomorrow you're going to write about that dream you had where you donated part of your spine to become merged with other people's body parts into a super being." (For real that is today's prompt.) As I'm drifting off to sleep the night before, I try to come up with some kind of a beginning, middle and end, and I reshape the specifics of the story to give it some edges and features. Then I tell myself I've got one day to write it.

There's something invigorating about knowing that whatever happens, it will be done and I'll be moving on by the end of the day. (I'm talking first draft. Polishing will come later - after May, probably.)

Do you use limits to your advantage?  

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