25 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Being Lame About Posting but Focused on Writing Update

From Wikimedia Commons
Weirdness has been afoot this month, which has been a capsulized, compressed version of the weirdness that has been going on all year. Personally speaking, 2012 has been a challenging year ("challenging"). Along with the year that I broke pretty much everything in my upper body and the year that I had to finish my half-not-done-yet PhD thesis in under two months, 2012 is a contender for hardest year of my adult life. It is up there. And probably it isn't in the number three slot. November saw fit to throw all the challenges of 2012 into the pot at once.

Yet I've kept writing. I've been feeling blue and strange and discombobulated, but somehow I've still found it in me to hit the last few days of this challenge with everything I've got. I won NaNoWriMo ("won") this past Tuesday. I've just about finished with the middle of my story and I'm into the gear up to the final conflict. There will be much to flesh out. I can see myself hitting 83614, my secret personal November goal, by the end of the day November 30. These numbers in no way are representative of the serious slogginess of writing this particular book. It's dark and nasty. I'm turning over a lot of rocks for this one, even as a lot of rocks are being hurled at me in regular reality. 

It's a rock thing. 

What's the single hardest writing challenge you've had to face? I want to hear your inspiring stories. Or some spam advertisements for shoes or survivalist websites. Either way. 

(61806 words)

16 November 2012

NaNoWriMo Up to Today

Okay somehow Blogger's spam filter is kaput. Great, just great. Don't take it personally if I invoke Captcha for a while, although I hope there's a workaround.

Ummm let's see. I've had a busy non-writing week, and an okay writing week too. I'm about to hit a couple of kaboom moments that I've been waiting to unleash for a while, so that's exciting. My main character isn't going to see what's coming. As it turns out he's a wee bit smug, so I think I'll enjoy smashing him in the face with the plot equivalent of a wet fish.

In the meantime, I've been reading super short novels and ultra short stories. If you haven't read them, I heartily recommend Daisuki by Hildred Billings and The New Death and Others by James Hutchings, for totally different reasons.

Hildred's book is naughty lesbian erotica (or maybe porny romance?). Hildred manages to deftly balance fun sex scenes with an exploration of what it's like to be a gay woman in Japan and a central romance in which, despite conflict, we aren't asked to choose sides but rather understand both characters' points of view. It's lovely.

James Hutchings's short story collection sits somewhere between a modern, snarky Aesop's Fables and a perverse version of the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales, with a smidge of Cthulhu thrown in just for fun. There's some shorter poetry in the mix, also, which is everything short poetry should be, which is to say clever. James, I trust you wouldn't mind my sharing a bit from the poem that convinced me I was going to have a great time reading the collection, "If My Life Was Filmed:"

If my life was filmed, it would
go straight to DVD
and someone who was famous once
would have the role of me
and if five stars meant 'excellent'
you'd give it two or three
and most of those who rented it
would watch ironically.

Seriously, The New Death and Others is worth your time if you like smart ideas played out in the time it would take to crack a whip. It's worth the investment to get to read the second half of "If My Life Was Filmed."

(37060 words)

11 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Lost Week (Days, uh, Five Through Ten?)

By Andreas Praefcke, via Wikimedia Commons

So, I've been writing. And there was that little blip in the middle of last week when I participated in Mina's Resurrection Blogfest, which was great. I am still making the rounds of people's entries, so if I haven't visited but you're on the linky list, I will see you sometime soon.

This year's NaNo isn't the frenzy that last year's was, but it is going well. Every time I write a novel length manuscript (and I've done five or six, I guess?) I feel like I'm getting closer to a real book. Last year's was an amazing bit of chaos, for which I still feel that I have to do some research to supplement what I wrote. (Seriously. I don't want to be irresponsible about stuff.) This year, my plan to go way more character-focused has paid off, not necessarily in terms of sky high word count, but most definitely in terms of feeling like I know what my next step will be, and writing with that in mind. 

I'm at the point now where my main character has to make the decision that will determine his fate for the rest of the story - or at least set the parameters for the rest of the story. Oh, and there's a nasty fellow whose eyes are sewn shut. Yup, we're still in the dark here. It's a good place to be.

Word Count: 25126

07 November 2012

Resurrrrection Blogfest: How Do You Free Yourself?

Woof! That first year of blogging, yikes. Like probably everybody, I have found the act of going back through my archive just a touch awkward. Don't get me wrong: there are triumphs in that first year. I still think my first attempt to blog NaNoWriMo is awesome - way more awesome than the resulting novel draft was. 

After reading my first year archive through my fingers, I chose something for the Resurrection Blogfest that I wrote during November 2008, less than a month after I started this blog. In my opinion, there are some cringe-worthy aspects to this post. I no longer like discussing writing and craft from a "let me tell you how it is" perspective. I know now that I'm not qualified to interrogate anybody else's creative activities, so I tend not to try, though I am still into exploring my own choices from time to time in this space. I picked this post because it offers a terrific snapshot into where I was when I first embraced the idea that I needed to make writing a major focus. I remember that confusion. I remember how terrifying it was to powersteer myself out of the life track I'd chosen and into a whole other place. I remember being scared that I couldn't do it. 

Four years later, I'm in a great place as far as writing goes. I've been able to make it a major focus. It doesn't feel risky any more. It feels like what I do. It is great, however, to revisit the process that brought me here. 

Without further ado, I give you November 10, 2008's post, entitled "How Do You Free Yourself?"

In many ways, this NaNoWriMo season is a culmination of a long and slow climb toward self-awareness and freedom (in the broadest sense of the term).

Once upon a time, I knew that I wanted to be a writer (since grade three, in fact, thanks very much, Mrs. Cooper, for liking my story about the duck).

And then I decided I had to have some way to make money, some kind of a title, some kind of a place in the world, a job. But the world of literature kept calling out to me, and I decided that a reasonable compromise would be academia. Ten years ago I went back to school for a Master's degree in English literature, and I really loved it. When you're doing degree studies, it's neat because you have more coaching on your writing than you ever will in any other circumstance. It seems like an ideal scenario, really, because you can read all the time and write about what you're reading. And there is an art to the academic essay, whatever people say about how incomprehensible academic writing can be (and oh, it can be ornery stuff).

I finished my PhD three years ago. As I began to go on interviews, though, I began to feel really sick in my heart. I'm sure it showed: the interviews were mostly terrible and even the ones I enjoyed, I ended up with a bad feeling about. I didn't get any job offers. It seemed I had stalled out. I decided not to continue.

That's the superficial level of what went on. But the real story isn't about how I failed at the job market (and oh, I did fail. Sarah Palin's interviews looked pretty good compared to some of the answers I gave). While I was doing all that flunking out career-wise, I was slowly building up my resources elsewhere.

While to the outside world I was working toward my PhD and earning fabulous scholarships and shaping up to be the next bright thing, I was also performing acts of creative espionage. I was having a little bit too much fun. I was spoiling myself for the austere life of a professor:

I read novels that weren't on my reading list. I attended a conference outside of my area of study, but on the topic of one of my favourite horror films, The Wicker Man (the original 1973 film starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee). I wrote a short story and sent it out to a good magazine. It didn't get published, but I got a nice note back from the editor about how it was an "almost". I enjoyed my area of study a little too much. Some of my research sent me into a giddy bouts of raucous creativity, as I imagined ways to spin what I was learning into a fabulous novel about plague and zombies and vampires and Shakespeare. (This is the novel I'm beginning with NaNoWriMo this year.)

Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole I went: I meditated a lot. I chanted. I did tai chi. I opened my mind way, waaay up. I listened to some pretty weird shit. I did Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way course - twice. I still faithfully write morning pages every day.

It wasn't all nice. I suffered through a mid-degree nervous breakdown. I had panic attacks that were pretty scary. I cried a lot of tears. I felt a lot of distress. I did a lot of therapy. I did a lot more tai chi. I meditated. I chanted. I went for long walks in the woods.

Finally, I recognized that the academic world didn't acknowledge or allow for most of the things that rocked my boat. I wished it did. I wished the job market had been better. I wished that being a professor didn't entail sacrificing everything else. And then I decided that the only thing to do was to face the truth. To acknowledge my truth.

So I quit. About a year ago, I had to decide whether to go on the market again or not. I decided not to. I still say the degree was worth it: I have mad research skills now, and I can read just about anything that's written in just about any sort of English. It took me a year to extract myself from the contract work I was doing. Thanks to my ridiculously supportive partner, I'm taking this time to build a fiction portfolio.

At thirty-seven, I decided to begin again. At thirty-eight, I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing. I'm doing it in relative poverty, mind you, and I'm doing it with a lot of consciousness that I will eventually need to find a way to bring some dollars in. I'm doing it with a healthy heap of guilt, reinforced by our culture at large, that I'm not being "productive". But I'm also doing it with the understanding that doing the PhD was a lot harder than what I'm proposing to do now.

Sell some stories? Way easier than selling out.

This is not to diss the academy altogether. There are a lot of people there, people I consider to be great friends, who are genuinely and deeply invested in expanding knowledge and educating students. But they're working under a sick administration, and the resources they need to do their jobs well are simply not there. The support for a true diversity of opinion is not there. And in English departments everywhere, there are a lot of people who would much rather be writers. Who ache to create, and who are instead looking longingly and lovingly at the work of others, and trying, sometimes even patiently, to explain to undergraduates why creative work is important. But it's a hard place to be. And I don't want to sacrifice myself any more.

My suggestion? If you're reading this, do something creative today. Pick up a paint brush, get your hands on some clay or some plasticene, or write a little poem, play a little music. It might feel silly. Do it anyway.

Chant "om". If that starts to feel good, go for "omanepadmeom". It will open your heart.

Find a good teacher who will show you how to meditate. Stretch a little. Go for a walk. Talk to an animal. Adopt an animal.

Anything to get a wedge into your routine, especially your routine channels of thought.

Open the floodgates, just a crack, so that a trickle of fresh, clear water can run into your life.

And don't forget to ask if you're doing what you really want to do. It's the most important question you can ask yourself. And you might want to ask it over and over again, until the answer is a resounding YES!

05 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: A Shocking Revelation (Days Three and Four)

You can kind of run out of gas on Day Three. It's okay. For me, Saturday is my most challenging day in terms of sticking to a writing schedule. I'm out of the house and teaching more on Friday and Saturday, but also Saturday is one of those days where I can let myself sleep in. Typically I get up late, drag myself around the house, stare at the television, and otherwise mellow and procrastinate. After I got back from class this past Saturday, I ended up in that weird zone where you are somehow mesmerized and feel like you have to watch the same audiovisual entertainment over and over again as if there's some secret message embedded in it just for you.

Saturday word count happened between 11pm and midnight, the last possible moment: 786.

Yesterday, there was a write-in. In the past I've never quite managed to get a lot done at write-ins, because there are all those lovely writers to talk to! (I might have told you this story before, blog, but when I was in Grade Three, my teacher wanted to put three sides of a cardboard box around my desk so I couldn't see the other kids sitting around me. Apparently I never got any work done when I was in class because I was too busy socializing. Yup. Things haven't changed. Thankfully, my Mom refused to allow me to be put in a box. I like to think she shouted, "Nobody puts Baby in a box!!" and then danced out of the room like Patrick Swayze, but that's probably not historically accurate.)

Anyhow, this year I've decided that I'm putting my head down and, you know, writing at write-ins. I had a good day yesterday: 5361 words, which is almost as many as I wrote in total my first three days. Woot!

Word Count Total: 11587.

And now enjoy a super freaky dance party brought to you by Die Antwoord (my latest internet musical obsession) and their absolute loathing of Lady Gaga:

02 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Adoption Society (Day Two)

This month I'm using a gorgeous NaNo-based wallpaper for my computer background by Kiriska. I've used her designs in the past. They are wonderful because she does deeply aesthetically pleasing calendars for any number of screen resolutions, and offers daily word counts for both the usual NaNoWriMo goal of 50k, and the doubly ambitious 100k.

The other great thing about Kiriska's stuff is that she includes little challenges and suggestions on each day of the calendar. Today's suggestion was "adopt a something from the adoption forum." So I did.

I didn't adopt Markus, but he is currently available at the Hamilton SPCA if you want him.
Look at that face!
The Adoption Society forum at the NaNo main site is a place where writers go to post their superfluous yet brilliant ideas for others to use. After combing through some of the threads (Adopt an Illness! Adopt an Insult! Adopt a Pet Name!), I chose to adopt an obstacle. I chose it from a list of simple yet devious problems that virtually any character might plausibly face in the course of a story. The one I chose is good and juicy: it will massively complicate the lives of two of my characters. It's going to be a while before I'll be writing the scene in which I'll use the obstacle, but I can't wait.

Even if you're not officially NaNo-ing, I highly recommend a browse through the forum to get you thinking about ways to make your current project that much more fun.

Word Count: 5440 

01 November 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: The Writening Day One

So tired. Thursdays and Sundays are my days off, so I was fortuitously able to spend much of today writing and plot figure-outing.

One thing I'm doing is trying to pre-think my characters a bit better, rather than have them be all haphazard (and therefore flat). I've got some scant plot points sketched out, but more importantly, I'm drawing some handy schematics for my characters that are helping me remember what their typical responses should be in a given situation.

So far, I've drawn up some dodgy looking notes on tiny slips of blue paper. This is the one I did for Walter Esterson, a secondary antagonist:

Yup, it's messy. Sorry about that: these are raw notes. In case you can't read my writing, these two triangles represent a summary of Walter's character. The top triangle maps his strengths (things he's good at), weaknesses (things he isn't good at), and vulnerabilities (what he cares about / what can hurt him). The lower triangle maps his goal, what motivates him to reach that goal, and who he conflicts with. Both of these schematics I've adopted thanks to listening to the Storywonk podcast. Alastair and Lani go into both of these ideas in detail over the course of numerous episodes, so if you find the schematic confusing or want to know more, that's where you should go.

I've been thinking about keeping my characters "cleaner" - i.e., doing more to get to know them and make them more self-consistent - ever since reading Game of Thrones earlier this summer. One of the many things that George R. R. Martin is amazing at is making a character's traits grow directly out of his or her place in society and other circumstances.

In making myself think through this simple schematic, I found that I had to push a minor character like Walter Esterson to a more nuanced place. I needed someone who could and would function like a bully. The world I'm writing allows for a particularly dark version of magic. Walter basically feeds on conflict: the more he can draw someone into a fight with him, the more power he has. Without conflict, though, his magic doesn't work. That idea gave me strengths and weaknesses for Walter, but I had to think a while to give him something that he really cared about. We can be hurt in those areas where we open ourselves up.

I decided to give Walter a love interest: Sparrow Lao, a member of his gang of ne'er-do-wells. The way I'd been picturing Walter, he was basically a flat villain type, eager to make mincemeat of my main character. Giving him something to really care about not only softens Walter a bit, it also changes his responses in the scenes where he and Sparrow are together. He's just as interested in offering Sparrow support as he is fighting. I'm really liking the way these schematics serve as a reference for me to review all of a character's concerns, before I insert him or her into a scene. It makes tracking them through an interaction much more fun. Because I'm working on a story where the conflicts are multi-directional, I'm hoping this will help me grow my plot fairly organically.

I plan to draw schematics like this one for each character I introduce, major and minor. It only takes a moment or two, but it forces me to answer questions I might not have thought through.

Day One Word Count: 3291

30 October 2012

Guest Post, Interview, and Two Halloween Vids

Just in case you have no interest in reading about my soundtrack building habits, look! I've got a NaNoWriMo spotlight interview up at The Kelworth Files, and look! A partially personally revealing article about a local haunted ruin over at World Weaver Press.

In case I'm too full of Halloween candy writerly prowess to post tomorrow, happy Halloween, everybody. This year's been a great one for Halloween videos. If you haven't seen it yet, Joss Whedon made this election-themed treat:

And my favourite: BenDeLeCreme and friends parody Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" while cramming more horror references into three minutes than I would have thought possible. (Uh. Don't click play unless you're prepared for sheer awesomeness and an extended human centipede reference? Also if you're a horror movie loathing homophobe you might have problems with this, but whatever.)


Discovery via Soundtrack

It's November, so yet another opportunity to take a crack at writing a long form manuscript while sharing that experience with others. I am an unabashed fan of NaNoWriMo. While I am aware of why writing a massive chunk of a book in a short time span might not work for some, it works well for me. Even when I'm not NaNo-ing I tend to write in intense bursts followed by a period of catatonia (and what better month to be in a coma than December, right?).

This year I've been spending a little more time than usual planning my November novel. In past years I've typically thought about planning, then ended up doing a last minute very sketchy and excitement-fueled outline of sorts. Recently, though, I've decided to start spending a bit more time on the front end of my long form projects. I don't want another experience like the time-travel-story-turned-future-utopia-which-is-really-an-extreme-dystopia manuscript that I finished this summer. (Basically, the time travel portion of the novel did not work and will be trashed, though the dystopian back half might be something I can use.)

In the name of figuring out the planning side of things a little bit better, I'm taking Lani Diane Rich's excellent NaNo Pre-Game Class, via Storywonk. (I asked for it for my birthday. Hoorah for clutter-free gifts!). (By the way, if you're a writer and you're not listening to Storywonk Sunday, you are missing out. It is a wonderful way to spend a bit of time every week thinking about narrative and getting stoked about being a writer. Looks like there will be a Storywonk NaNoWriMo daily podcast too, which should be loads of fun.)

Anyhoo, as part of the class, one of the things I've been working on is a soundtrack for my book. The idea here is that, in picking songs that match the tone or speak to the characters or evoke any aspect of what you want to do, you're exploring your project without necessarily committing anything to paper. At least, that's what I've gotten out of it. For me, putting a soundtrack together has been almost like going into worldbuilding via intuition instead of logic. Plus, it is just plain fun.

This book is going to be dark. One of the ideas I'm playing with is a world in which technological progress stopped sometime in the early twentieth century because people learned to harness magic as a power source. I wanted an early twentieth-century aesthetic with some elements of contemporary culture. The story is set in a school for magicians, but this is no Harry Potter world of wonder. My central idea is that the dominant form of magic is wholly evil, based on the idea of taking essential energies from others, especially those most vulnerable.

Because I can think of nothing more diabolical than taking from other people, my soundtrack includes a whole lot of classical music that's downright Halloweeny ("Night on Bald Mountain", anybody?). I'm most proud, though, of the blues and pop content, especially the way it opens, with Bessie Smith's "Devil's Gonna Get You."

I'm pretty happy with the way it ends, too, with Daniel Johnston's "Devil Town." I've got the recorded version of this song from Welcome to My World on my soundtrack, but I found this live version on YouTube. If you're not familiar with Daniel Johnston, some context might help. Or, if you like, just watch and enjoy:

21 October 2012

Pedophiles I Have Known, or, A Novel Inspiration

Years ago I had the good fortune to meet a lovely woman who was a Sinophile and middle school principle. She loved travel and mainland China so much, she had arranged an annual trip for grade school teachers to join. The general idea was that teachers went over together, split up into small groups and were sent to different locations throughout Jiangsu province to run programs for Chinese teachers of English. It was an opportunity to share pedagogy with those teachers, and also to give them the opportunity of working directly with native English speakers. While I didn't and don't have teacher training, I was about to start my Master's degree at that time. The group leader knew me personaly and was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to go along.

The trip was incredible. I got the chance to talk politics and literature and daily life and philosophy with a whole bunch of people I would never have otherwise met. The city I was in, Suzhou, was lovely, a silk and pearl centre with a network of canals running through it. I thought it was beautiful.

Via Wikipedia, from - China Travel Guide

We were a small group of four: the group leader, whom I'll call Diane; Mitchell, a young teacher; me; and then Doug, a guy who'd joined the group under somewhat weird circumstances. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent; I have no interest in protecting Doug.) Doug was a teacher with a background in teaching abroad. The connection between Doug and Diane was ephemeral: Doug's mother lived near Diane's school, and had persuaded Diane to take Doug with her.

From the word go, Doug struck me as off kilter. He had a certain combination of personality traits guaranteed to rub me the wrong way. He was deliberately messy in the way he put himself together, often wearing jeans and a jean shirt with a red necktie: hoser casual. He acted at times like a humble misfit, and at others with a grandiosity that shocked and dismayed the people he chose as his audience. The day he lectured to our whole class - something we each had a turn at - he behaved like a condescending assclown while schooling the group on Canadian history. I remember him saying, "I'm talking about Confederation. CONFEDERATION," as if it was the single most important word in the world.

There were other threads in his behaviour, too. He spoke of the women we taught with a touch of crassness. We spotted a western businessman out with a Chinese escort. Doug lingered on one detail of this clearly arranged date: "She's so small, so small." Even the fauna weren't immune to his sexual commentary. Upon finding an exhausted beetle on the sidewalk, he remarked, "It's probably been out having sex all night."

I didn't like Doug at all, but when there's only four of your in your little group, you tend to end up chatting often. We talked personal histories, experiences, things that led us to the world of education. I was the odd woman out, being the only person who hadn't had teacher training, but Doug distinguished himself by returning again and again to the same topic: the time he spent teaching at Upper Canada College, one of the creepiest and most revered private schools for boys in Canada, and his reasons for leaving that post. Many times over the course of the month I spent in his proximity, he brought up the ideological differences that he claimed were responsible for his resignation. It all came down to Louis Riel, he said. He wanted to teach the history of the 1885 North-West Rebellion in his own way, opposed to the views of his esteemed colleagues.

It sounded dramatic enough. He claimed he was working on a Riel book that was going to blow Canadian history wide open. He was the hero of his own piece, a pseudo Dead Poets Society style Robin Williams figure leading his young charges into the fray of independent thinking. He was, if you believed his version of things, positively quixotic.

The story stank.

The first thing that smelled fishy was Doug himself. He wasn't self-sacrificing and heroic. He was self-aggrandizing and annoying. He snuck off late at night from our hotel. He remarked on the prostitutes waiting for tourists on the street corner.

Then there was the way he kept circling back to his story of wrongful treatment. It didn't seem like the sort of thing you would need to tell a group of strangers over and over. Something in him was picking at that memory like a scab. I didn't need to know why in order to recognize the pattern.

To say I didn't get along with him would be an understatement. It was too easy to antagonize him by asking him polite questions about his cover story: "I don't understand. What was the nature of your differences?" "I don't understand. Why would they ask you to leave?" He would splutter and turn red and spout venom. It was ugly.

After the course was over, the larger group of teachers reconvened in Beijing for a week of touring. Doug was part of the tour group but he soon slinked away, and, from what I understand, secured another teaching job that would keep him in China for a number of months, imposing himself on unsuspecting people who needed the cheapest of his assets, his native tongue.

It wasn't until sometime later that the scandal hit the newspapers here in Canada: one by one, eighteen former UCC students came forward to accuse Doug Brown of sexual abuse. He was found guilty of nine charges of indecent assault in 2004.

The experience of being close to greasy evil caused me to think about the nature of institutions like UCC.  While such places are often singled out as massively influential through their ability to produce political and business leaders, they also have histories of harbouring predators and seem structured to inure their charges to the effects of abuse. I've been reading James FitzGerald's excellent book Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College, which collects the memories of former UCC students in interviews without external commentary from FitzGerald, to chilling effect.

I'm really interested in tracing the effects of power such as that exercised by schools like UCC. As I'm planning the next book, which I intend to write in November, I'm thinking through the connections between institutionalized vampirism and the people who run our government and financial organizations.

When I had that experience in China, I guess I wasn't really processing it. I felt that something was off with Doug, but I couldn't think it through. Since then, I've made a more systematic study of evil, particularly the human being as parasite and predator. I think I'm ready to translate this experience into fiction. Being as I am a speculative writer, I'm thinking something inspired by the Scholomance, evil schools for wizards, magic as necromancy, and a world that's only a shade off of ours.

Lest the title of this post be thought inaccurate, I have known more than one pedophile, though as far as I know they weren't as involved in systemic abuses. One was a distant relative; the other was my shrink. That, however, is a story for another time.

05 October 2012

Working for Vacation

So I've been away for a while. You might have noticed. I took a break from the city to go to my absolute favourite place in the entire world.

Yup, there is a wee cottage tucked in there. I've waxed poetic about this place before, but it is the best. There is no hydro. If you want electricity, you must use an elaborate system involving a gas generator and a car battery. There is little chance of ending up online for hours, much less on the phone or in any other remote interpersonal exchange. Heat is courtesy of a wood stove. Cooking and refrigeration run on propane. It's like living in a park.

Normally, I spend all of my time at the cottage outside. I sit by the lake and read, or I troop around in the woods, or I take off for hours to practice tai chi and qigong in the woods. This year, however, three factors combined to change my usual pattern:

It was darn cold.
It rained about as often as it did anything else.
When I arrived at the cottage, I was on the downhill slope of a novel I'd been working on since August.

I thought I was going to have to wrestle with myself to keep writing once we were up there and that "on vacation" feeling sunk in, but the weather really sealed the deal. It was just as easy to slip another log onto the fire and hunker down inside as it was to head out. The view from the kitchen table is gorgeous. Dave is a late sleeper when he's on vacation, so short of getting the dog and cat their breakfasts and setting a pot of coffee up to percolate, each morning, I had hours to myself to write.

I'm happy to say I wrote a little over 20k in 7 days, and completed the first draft. Yup, it's a mess, but those final 20k words are pretty solid. More importantly, it's done.

I've taken the last week or so to let my brain dribble out my ears. I'm setting October goals now and staring down the last quarter of 2012 to figure out what's left to do. There's NaNoWriMo's main event, of course, among other things, and that daily writing habit I'll be getting back to very shortly. I'm usually energized by the fall, so I am really anticipating good things in the next few months.

How is your fall shaping up, my friends? What plans and schemes are you hatching?

14 September 2012

How a Book Burning Party Saved a Library

So absolutely worth three minutes of your time.

02 September 2012

New Story Up at Allegory

Devil's Car by Ruslan via Wikimedia Commons

A brand spankin' new flash piece by yours truly, "The Mechanic's Darling," is up as part of the Fall 2012 issue of Allegory. It's free to read, and you can download a pdf of the stories if you'd rather stick them on your e-reader, so go nuts!

The inspiration for this story came originally from a prompt generated by Archetype Writing's Plot Scenario Generator. Click at your own risk: these are simple but grabby story ideas. I think they tend to work as prompts because they give you a way into the story. The one I used went something like this:

"The story starts when your protagonist moves to a new town. Another character is a mechanic with supernatural powers."

This was the first time I completed an idea from a plot generator, but I would do it again. It can be a fun way to introduce limitations into a plot. I don't know about your imagination, but mine thrives on limitations.

Once I sat with the idea of a mechanic with supernatural powers, my imagination factory kicked in and I started thinking about deals with the devil (one of my favourite themes), fairy kidnappings, and the inner workings of families. I hope you enjoy the story.

(p.s. consider supporting Allegory by purchasing an older issue from their archives for the extremely reasonable price of $2.)

27 August 2012

Cenobites Can't Work Doorknobs

I'm guesting at Emily L. Moir's place today with a piece about Pinhead and friends. Go read it! We'll tear this blog apart.

Source and Copyright Blather

20 August 2012

Let's Talk About The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

So, cats and dogs, ever since Ray Bradbury passed on in June, many of us in the genre reading and writing communities have been thinking about his incredible contributions. Personally, I rewatched the excellent Something Wicked This Way Comes and attempted, albeit a little lamely, to live up to Mr. Bradbury's call to arms for writers.

Over at Stringing Words, we've planned to make The Martian Chronicles our book for the month of August. Given the furious dedication of some of our core members, myself included, to attempting to write a novel this month, it's been rough going. (I also hampered my Martian Chronicles reading by starting Game of Thrones, an incredibly absorbing and lengthy work. It was excellent, by the way.)

So, I wanted to let all of you know that we're getting into discussion of The Martian Chronicles over at the forum shortly, should you wish to come over and join in the conversation. I plan to post about it as I read over there.

If forum joining isn't your thing, I'm planning a Twitter conversation about The Martian Chronicles for the second Sunday in September, that would be September 9th, let's say 3-4pm EST. Hashtag #martianchronicles. It's a short book, but well worth the read, as I recall. Let's honour Ray Bradbury's memory by reading him. I hope you join us and please spread the word!

14 August 2012

Love Isn't Enough, I Need a Routine Too

My friends, I have missed you terribly. At the same time, I have been a wee bit unplugged from the interwebs in order to get more shit done. I find an open web browser to be a terrible distraction. Also, I am kicking some arse in the productivity department.

Let me tell you how it's done. (You probably already know how it's done: this is a brand new discovery on my part though, so I've got a certain naive enthusiasm about it.)

I've been getting up early to write.

See, for a while now I've been carrying this around:

Write First! (Ask Questions Later.)

That is an official NaNoWriMo ceramic travel mug. Great mug from a functional standpoint. And the message is terrific too, if you're inclined to follow advice printed on the sides of mugs.

I have never been great with actually writing first. I am a night owl by nature, so my tendency has always been to leave writing until last. I love that feeling you get when everyone has gone to bed and the house is quiet, when nothing will tear you away from the page, when your body is settled from whatever exertions you've been up to that day, and you can just let everything else slide. What are you going to do, vacuum? You can't. Might as well write.

Lately though, I've become enamoured of late evening as a reading time. I blame you, Game of Thrones! And I've been wondering what would happen if I started my day writing. In my imagination, it would be like coming out of the corner of the boxing ring with both fists swinging furiously. I figured starting the day with writing would be it. I imagined myself walking the dog or going about my day already having engaged with my characters or finished a short story draft. How sweet.

The clincher came while I was listening to Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens talk about NaNoWriMo. (Do you know about the StoryWonk Sunday podcast? If you're a writer, or even if you just really like thinking about how stories work, go get some now.) They were talking about how they'd finally managed to get up early to write, and how Lani clocked 2500 words in a morning session.

So that was it: I decided to drag my sorry self out of bed and write first. Well, actually what I do is feed the dog and cat while brewing an insanely large and strong pot of coffee with which to fill that mug, but then I write.

Generally speaking I get an hour and a half to two hours of writing time most days. (Tuesdays are the exception, when I teach an early morning class.) My sacred vow to myself is that this time is for first draft, raw word count only. I consider raw word count to be the fun part of writing. Knowing that I get to play with raw story helps pull me out of bed. (Eventually I'll figure out how to make revision fun too, but for now it's in the semi-fun, mostly hard zone.)

This has been a good experiment. In the last week and a half of July, I drafted two short stories in these morning sessions. Right now, as I'm trying to complete a long-form first draft in August, writing raw word count first thing in the morning sets me up beautifully to have my plot in the back of my mind all day long, and takes care of 50 or 60 percent of my daily word count goal.

I wonder if this works in part because I'm not a morning person. It takes me some hours to come into full consciousness after I get up. When I hit my desk, I'm still in a very dreamy mindset, and sometimes all I have to do is pick up my pen and story starts flowing. I think my inner critic wakes up a little bit later than my physical body, so there's some freedom to early morning writing that I don't feel as powerfully in the afternoon or evening. (I think my inner critic also goes to bed early, which could explain some of the great late night writing sessions I've had.)

Yet again I'm reminded that the key to getting shit done is establishing a routine that becomes automatic. I've been doing this with grocery shopping for years. My ritual is to get it in on Tuesday mornings. On my way home from class, I stop at the store and pick up what I need. I don't think about it: I just go into robot mode and do it. I've been doing this for so long that it feels weird to me not to do it. Hopefully morning writing will take on that same weird-not-to-do-it quality.

What about you guys? Do you write first? How do you make sure the writing happens?

05 August 2012

"Voop" is Up at Z-Composition

A while back, I had a rousing debate with Dave about whether, and what, vampires poop. It is an age-old question that has troubled many a young Twilight fan. My contention was that, since vampires are metabolically enhanced to absorb blood as their perfect food, they don't need to defecate. Dave countered with the question of what would happen if a vampire needed to eat regular food in order to blend in with society.

"Voop" is my exploration of this theme in flash fiction form. It's up this month at Z-Composition.

Via Lolcats.

20 July 2012

Amazon Yesterday Shipping

Cute little animation with a time travel paradox theme. No doubt this service is right around the corner.

19 July 2012

Pre-Order Dark Faith 2 and Receive a Discount

Dark Faith 2, aka Dark Faith: Invocations, which includes my story "Kill the Buddha," is available for pre-order. The book is scheduled for release at the end of August.

Pre-order here. Use the code DFTwist to receive a 10% discount.

About Dark Faith: Invocations:

Religion, science, magic, love, family — everyone believes in something, and that faith pulls us through the darkness and the light.  The second coming of Dark Faith cries from the depths with 26 stories of sacrifice and redemption.

Sublet an apartment inside God’s head. Hunt giant Buddhas in a post-apocalyptic future. Visit a city where an artist’s fantastic creations alter reality. Discover the deep cosmic purpose behind your office vending machine. Wield godlike powers and suffer the most heartbreaking of human limitations.

Join Max Allan Collins, Mike Resnick, Jay Lake, Jennifer Pelland, Laird Barron, Tom Piccirilli, Nisi Shawl, and a host of genre’s best writers for an exploration into the things we hold dear and the truths that shatter us.

~via Apex Publications

13 July 2012

Interview at The Death Writer

My maternal grandmother.
With apologies for the late notice, I wanted to let you know that on Monday, an interview with me went up over at The Death Writer. For those of you not familiar with Pamela's excellent blog, she collects people's experiences of death and movies that include death as a theme. She interviews people who work with death as part of their professions, and writers who have written about death. She is creating quite the amazing archive on this topic. She examines it from a multitude of angles, and is always impartial but compassionate.

She interviewed me about the death of my maternal grandmother ten years ago. It was good to write about her, and great to receive some thoughtful and very kind comments about it. Check it out!

12 July 2012

By Far the Most Disturbing Thing the Grimm Brothers Ever Wrote

Okay so I'm reading the Lucy Crane translation of select tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. While this is the source of such eternal classics as "Little Red Riding Hood" ("Little Red-Cap"), "Cinderella" ("Aschenputtel"), and "Rapunzel" (same name), as well as lesser known but wonderful stories like "Mother Hulda" and "The Fisherman and His Wife" (what does the ending mean? Anyone know?), not all of the stories are gorgeous gems. Some are just...bizarre.

Today I read "The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage." This is a good example of a tale with a fairly straightforward message (everyone has a special skill and should stick with that lest disaster strike), but with content so weird and awful that the message does not matter because you'll forget all about it while trying to get the weirdness out of your mind. Follow that link to read it. It's short. I'll wait. In case you're busy here is a synopsis:

Mouse, Bird, and Sausage live together and each perform their own household tasks. It works pretty well: the sausage cooks dinner, the bird collects firewood, the mouse does pretty much everything else. Don't look too closely though at what you're eating, because the sausage dips himself into the broth and swirls himself around to make it taste better.

If your life looks like this, get out while you still can.
(That is all you need to know. Oh, and the bird screws it all up by deciding he would like to switch jobs. Sausages are not good at collecting firewood. 'Nuff said.)

The following is a transcript of Dave's comment on the story after I explained it to him this morning:

"So...after the sausage flavours the broth, does he eat it?"

I think the answer is yes. THE ANSWER IS YES.

It will take man's best friend to get us out of this hell.

09 July 2012

Guest Post at World Weaver Press, and a Fun Online Course for Us to Try

I've got a guest post on horror, "Should Horror Be Its Own Genre?" over at World Weaver Press today. In that post I wax philosophical about horror denial, why people think they don't like horror when in fact they probably do, and ways in which we can more accurately define and classify horror.

WWP, in case you don't know, is a small press specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and science-fictiony and fantastic horror. They have a particular interest in steampunk. They're looking for novels, novellas, and, for anthology projects, short stories and novelettes. Their submission window for novels and novellas is open now. Editor-in-Chief Eileen Wiedbrauk, also known as Speak Coffee to Me, has great taste in fiction and is an impeccable editor. I've had the pleasure of receiving critique from her; she is good at it, and she has the writer's best interest at heart. If you're looking for a press that will take care of your project and make it amazing, you should try submitting to them.

The other thing I wanted to tell you about is this online course I'm taking, via Coursera, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. Fun, right? It starts with Grimm's Fairy Tales and ends with Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. As far as I can tell, you do the readings, view a video lecture, write a bit about what you've read, read what others have written, and offer a bit of commentary on that. It's like power blogging! I'll be posting my writings about the readings here on my blog.

The course is free and most of the readings, with the exception of LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness and Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, are available free online in e-reader friendly formats. (My course texts are already loaded onto my Kindle.) You can find the links on this page, if you're looking for some good free editions of classic fantasy and sci fi stories. (The Grimm's and Alice in Wonderland have the gorgeous original illustrations embedded in the text, so bonus.) The course officially starts July 23rd, if you want to sign up.

06 July 2012

Funding Your Novel Launch With Kickstarter: An Interview with L. Blankenship

I met L. Blankenship through her excellent writing blog, Notes from the Jovian Frontier, during this year's A to Z challenge. I've enjoyed her posts on everything from how to decide where your story should begin to resuscitating comatose stories, especially because she uses examples from her own writing, and let me tell you, these little peeks at her story ideas are most intriguing.

When L. started writing about using Kickstarter to raise funds to help her launch her fantasy series, Disciple, I pricked up my ears. I'd read the opening excerpt and thought it looked great. I have much respect for L.'s plan to hire an editor and proofreader, as well as an artist to design the book cover. We all know how hard it is to do line edits and proofreading for our own projects.

Kickstarter is a great way to give a project an extra edge before releasing it into the wild. At the same time, relatively few writers use it. To get a better idea of what's involved, I interviewed L. about her writing, about Disciple, and about her Kickstarter campaign.

ET: What led you to writing fiction?

LB: I don't think I was ever led to it, actually. My life has been more about the things that led me away from writing fiction and how long it took me to get back. Like a lot of people, I started writing stories when I was quite young and it's always been that thing I've returned to when others failed.

ET: You're preparing to release the first book in your six-part fantasy series. What was it about this particular story that made you want to develop it?

LB: I had to think about this question a lot. DISCIPLE has had its claws in me for so long that I don't question it anymore. Deep down, it's a story about realizing what you are capable of -- which is something I think many people never do. Myself included, perhaps. And there's a dozen other things I love about the story: the action, the gritty details, the characters, the triumphs, the agonies, and yes, the romance. I couldn't not write this story, to be honest.

ET: For people who haven't heard of Kickstarter, can you give us a quick explanation of what it is and how it works? 

LB: is a fundraising platform for all sorts of creative projects. Artists post a profile of their project and offer rewards in exchange for pledged money. The pledges are not collected unless the artist's funding goal is reached within a set period of time. If the goal is reached, the artist receives the money, carries out the project and distributes the rewards promised. It's a fascinating site and easy to lose time in!

ET: What made you decide to post your project to Kickstarter?

LB: I've been hearing about Kickstarter for several years now, and they've hosted a lot of interesting projects and helped them raise money. It's been quite a boon to the role-playing-game industry to be able to fundraise by pre-selling their games. Every time I wander around Kickstarter, I'm stunned by the creativity and talent I see.

There are other fundraising sites, but Kickstarter has earned its reputation. It was really the only contender, for me.

ET: Artists, filmmakers, inventors, game designers, and creative types of all kinds post projects on Kickstarter. Are there any writer-specific advantages to posting your project on Kickstarter? 

LB: Kickstarter is a very even playing field, really. The advantage goes to those who can clearly explain their project in an interesting manner -- and that could be anybody. We writers learn how to do that in the process of querying agents and editors. A Kickstarter project page is really just a query letter to the whole world.

OK, I realize that's kinda terrifying but I didn't mean it to be. The same principles apply: be clear, be interesting, give people a taste of your work.

ET: Your project posting included making a book trailer, which I understand you created yourself. How difficult was it to put together? What tools did you use? 

LB: The trailer was a lot of work, but I would not say it was all that difficult. The difficult part is figuring out what you want to do, what you actually can do, and reconciling those two to each other. Everything else is putting it together -- which can be tedious, but it's just a matter of putting the work in. I took a multimedia arts class at a community college a few years ago, and I have a long-standing interest in amateur film-making (though I've never made anything) and those were both a big help when I was planning out what the trailer would be.

Don't let this intimidate you, but I used Adobe Photoshop, AfterEffects, and SoundBooth -- which I only have because I'm also a freelance graphic designer and I have the full Adobe Creative Suite. I've been using Photoshop for 15 years, but the video and sound editing programs are still very new to me. Making my book trailer barely scratched the surface of what they can do. Everything I used in the video was freely available on various stock photo and sound effect sites, with the exception of one photograph that I paid a flat fee for.

ET: You recently wrote a great blog post ("Did I promise you a rose garden?") about the promises a writer makes to her readers, and the importance of fulfilling those promises. I'm wondering if you'll be kind enough to give us a glimpse of the promises you're making with the first Disciple volume. 

LB: I know I've promised my readers action -- swords, magic, and monsters. I've promised them an entire war, in fact. I promise my readers a certain level of gritty realism, but I like to think it's optimistic. My main character, Kate, is a healer and she sees a lot of blood and suffering, but she's there to save lives. I've promised my readers romance, and because of that there are going to be tough choices, tears, and consequences. There's also going to be hope, though. How happy will the ending be…? :)

ET: Give us the official campaign blurb. 

LB: I'm running a Kickstarter project to fund the professional editing, proofreading, and cover artwork for my gritty fantasy romance, Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet. There will be six parts in total, published over the course of the next few years. I'm offering e-books, paperbacks, promotional bookmarks, and more at various pledge levels (ranging from $1 - $100). Check out the project page for my book trailer, budget, and production schedule.

27 June 2012

Reverse Zombification

I don't love commercials. As an art form, I think they're largely corrupt. But every once in a while one comes along that is positively entrancing. This one features Rick Genest, Canada's own Zombie Boy. Apparently Gaga used him in her "Born This Way" video? He's making quite a name for himself in the fashion industry too. Good show, Zombie Boy.


25 June 2012

Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Train and Squid-to-Mouth Insemination

So Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is looking good? Maybe? Anyway, I realized that the very existence of this much eye-rolled, possibly good film might make the content of this blog post irrelevant / eyeroll worthy, but whatever. If you don't know what I'm on about, here:

Now that you've seen that, check this out. Inspired by a Rue Morgue Magazine note on the topic, I've been researching Abe Lincoln's funeral train. Wow. Via Abraham Lincoln's Assassination:

Abraham Lincoln's funeral train left Washington on April 21, 1865.  It would essentially retrace the 1,654 mile route Mr. Lincoln had traveled as president-elect in 1861 (with the deletion of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and the addition of Chicago). An example of a published schedule is pictured to the right. The Lincoln Special, whose engine had Mr. Lincoln's photograph over the cowcatcher, carried approximately 300 mourners. Willie Lincoln's coffin was also on board. Willie, who had died in the White House in 1862 at age 11, had been disinterred and was to be buried with his father in Springfield. A Guard of Honor accompanied Mr. Lincoln’s remains on the Lincoln Special. Mr. Robert Lincoln rode on the train to Baltimore but then returned to Washington. The following information summarizes the martyred president's final journey home.

(Emphasis mine.) Good God. You have to love those nineteenth-century types with their lack of squeamishness / hands-on obsession with death.  This would make an incredible foundation for a ghost story, wouldn't it? If not about Lincoln specifically, a story that takes place on a mega-extended funeral train route would be interesting. Question: anyone know how good nineteenth-century embalming techniques were? Would the corpse last the journey?

On a totally other note, a Korean woman's mouth was inseminated by a parboiled squid that she was eating. After she reported into the emergency room with pain, doctors removed twelve "'small, white spindle-shaped, bug-like organisms stuck in the mucous membrane of the tongue, cheek, and gingiva'—the dead squid’s live spermatophores," according to Death and Taxes Magazine. A spermatophore, because I know you need to know, is basically a bunch of semen, aggregated together, with an "ejaculatory apparatus" and a "cement body for attachment." Precisely how it attaches itself to stuff (including the inside of your mouth) is, according to biologist Danna Staaf, a mystery.

All we need to invent absolutely disgusting alien species is a more thorough knowledge of what is here on this gross, diverse planet of ours.

17 June 2012

A Month in Reading: March 2012

I pledged to read a book a week and a short story a day in 2012. In March, I finished reading five books and I read thirty-one short stories. Here's a summary. 


In the woo woo category, I read Alchemy of Nine Dimensions by Barbara Hand Clow. In early 2011, I took a meditation class that used Clow's book as the course text. I'd been slowly reading my way through it since. The book is wonderful for the brief visualizations it includes at the beginning of each chapter. If you like the solid natural buzz that comes from really effective visualizations, I recommend it. Clow combines the woo with some quite rigorous research into different scientific fields, including geology, string theory, musicology, and quasi-scientific fields like sacred geometry.

A while back, I had a chance to view Battle Royale, the film version of the book by Koushun Takami. Yes, that Battle Royale, the book most commonly cited as being super close to The Hunger Games - so close that Suzanne Collins must have copied her idea from it. (Battle Royale was originally published in 1999.) I was super entranced by the ultraviolence of the film, which managed at the same time to connect with the pathos of a class of middle graders who must murder each other so that one of them may survive. I read the novel because I'd heard that it went into much more detail about the characters' backgrounds than the film could. It did.

(For the record, given Collins's background as a television writer and various other factors, I can see that it is possible and even likely that she cooked up The Hunger Games completely independently of Battle Royale, which is her claim.)

Battle Royale invites comparisons to The Hunger Games, of course. In a dystopian future Japan, the government takes a class of students to a remote location for a wargames exercise that only one of them can survive. There are no rules other than a few parameters that guarantee that the kill rates will be kept high.

That is where the similarities peter out, however. The students in Battle Royale know each other well: they've been part of the same class for years. They've already got longstanding loyalties, friendships, and animosities before the story begins. The question quickly becomes how well they can trust those loyalties, especially knowing that any trust can only go so far. They face a number of existential problems: do they play the game at all, or give up? In the context of the game, is it more appropriate to choose your own ending or try to fight the circumstances of the game?

Battle Royale also feels to me less like a YA book and more like a book aimed at a mature audience. It is violent and the emotional content and cultural critique seems to be pitched at a more sophisticated level. (Don't get me wrong - I love The Hunger Games, but if you wanted to ignore the bulk of the cultural commentary in that book and just read for Katniss's personal drama, you probably could.) I won't say "if you loved The Hunger Games, you'll love Battle Royale," because you really might not. But if you're into dystopian future lit you might do well to look at this significant contribution to the genre. It was absolutely massive in Japan and has been translated into a slew of other languages.

Continuing my journey into the pit of doom and on a totally level, I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which won the Pulitzer in 2007. McCarthy's prose is gorgeous and spare. The book is brief, thankfully, because from page one I felt like I was in a state of intense mourning that didn't ease until I finished. Wow. Just wow. This is post-apocalyptic fiction that pushes the question, "what if there was really almost nothing left?" about as far as it can go. The landscape the father and son move through is devastated, full of swirling ash and dead trees. Their food is whatever they can find in cans. Others have turned to cannibalism. They're trying to make it to the coast. As terrible as the situation is, the book is about the bond between father and son, about love that doesn't end, and about patience in the face of disaster.

I re-read The Hunger Games in anticipation of seeing the film. Great book. Not so sure about the film, though I do love Jennifer Lawrence and thought she was perfect as Katniss. I suspect it was a bit of a mess. My partner, who had not read the book but is very film-savvy, did not follow several of the primary emotional dynamics and came away with very different impressions of the characters, and no clue about what was happening in some key scenes.

Finally, I completed Neil Gaiman's collection Fragile Things. Highly recommended for "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch," in which an uncomfortable night out on the town goes horribly wrong or possibly horribly right; "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot," full of rich and brief vignettes; and "Feeders and Eaters," deliciously gross.

I read bits of Cemetery Dance, selected stories from Daily Science Fiction, issue 1.3 of Stupefying Stories, and I started in on the fabulous Fat Girl in a Strange Land antho.

Cemetery Dance 65 (December 2011) was their Graham Masterson special issue. Great interview there and two stories, "Anka" which was just awesome in a creepy fairy tale way, and "Saint Brónach's Shrift" about which I have a kind of amnesia. "Rainfall" by Maurice Broaddus was sad and lovely and evoked that feeling of trying to get things right when they just won't go. The issue is worth it for that story alone.

The standout Daily Science Fiction story for me this month was "A Different Rain" by Mari Ness. Short and cruel with an "oh" kind of ending.

I enjoyed several of the stories in Stupefying, and would keep an eye on it for future fun reading. Ron Lunde's "Highly Unlikely" forced me to stifle a laugh because it is hilarious and I was reading it at the garage while waiting for my car and did not want to appear insane.

Finally, a big hoorah for Fat Girl in a Strange Land. Crossed Genres did very well with this antho of science fiction and fantasy stories about fat women and girls. It was great to read so many stories with female protagonists, and equally wonderful to see how the writers incorporated (ha ha ha) issues of fatness, physical difference, prejudice and acceptance. So many great stories here. In March I read and loved "La Gorda and the City of Silver" by Sabrina Vourvoulias, "Cartography, and the Death of Shoes" by A.J. Fitzwater, and our very own Bluestocking's (aka Lauren C. Teffeau's) "The Tradeoff." (P.S. Vourvoulias has a book coming out that looks amazing. I plan to keep an eye on that one. You should too.)

13 June 2012

Did You Ever Grow Anything in the Garden of Your Mind?

This is going viral, which is awesome and has partially restored my faith in humanity. PBS it seems has undertaken to create remixes of iconic figures from its catalogue of shows, beginning with Mister Rogers. Symphony of Science / Remixes for the Soul's John D. Boswell, aka melodysheep, put together this absolutely wonderful piece.

If you grew up with Mister Rogers like I did, this will probably resonate strongly. For me, remembering Mister Rogers conjures up memories of my parents' basement rec room with its orange carpet and wood panelling, and the ancient television set with the rotor that you turned to align the antenna so it would pick up the station. Along with Sesame Street and the occasional viewing of The Friendly Giant, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a regular part of my formative years.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


A Note on Being Neglectful
So while I've been in blogger-limbo, a number of super awesome bloggers have nominated me for this award:

Apologies to those of you who've handed this to me without acknowledgement. I've buzzed by to let you know I still love you.

Go visit these people, will you?

Sherry Ellis, mommy blogger extraordinaire. Sherry writes short sharp hilarious pieces about family life. She should be more famous. I bet her books, The Baby Woke Me Up, AGAIN (for parents) and That Mama Is a Grouch (for kids) are full of her great humour.

Jim Wright lives in Amman, Jordan. I loved Jim's blog from the moment I set eyes on it because his exceptional life takes centre stage. Lately he's been posting parts of a story called The Wall Crack'd, which is super intriguing and makes me want to pick up his book, New Yesterdays.

I am always happy when I land at Catherine Stine's Idea City because of the gorgeous banner at the top of her page. Catherine's book Fireseed One is on my TBR list. It should be on yours, too.

I'm short on time today so I'm not gonna nominate anyone for this award, but if you want it, please grab it!

I am supposed to put seven random facts about myself here, but I would love it if you left a random fact about you in the comments. I'll claim it for my own, and thus appear much more interesting than I otherwise would.

02 June 2012

"Kill the Buddha" Accepted to Dark Faith 2

I've been sitting on this news for a couple of days now, and boy, am I ever happy that I can pass it on.

Dark Faith 2 is the follow-up volume to editors Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon's Dark Faith (Apex Publications 2010). I highly recommend the first anthology to anyone who is interested in questions of faith, belief, higher powers, credulity, and humanity's place in the great mystery of the universe. Horror and dark fantasy writers can explore this material like no one else can. We spend our time thinking about all the ways things can go horribly wrong, after all.

My story, "Kill the Buddha," was written at a time when I was having a crisis of faith myself. I am a practicing Taoist. I've studied tai chi, qigong, and Taoist ceremony since the mid-nineties. During fall and early winter 2011, there was a huge, some might say seismic, series of changes to that aspect of my world that I did not want and that were ugly in the way they went down.

I soothed myself by listening to Eckhart Tolle's two books on audio: The Power of Now and A New Earth. If you've never encountered Tolle, his essential message is the same as any of the great spiritual teachers: ego is a false construct that rides on, and is composed of, thought. The ego fights against enlightenment, or being in the now, because it perceives such a peaceful state of being as diminishing to itself. (It is.) At the time I started "Kill the Buddha," this conflict loomed large in my personal life, and seemed to me to be a perfect core conflict for a story about faith.

At the same time, I started to think about what might happen if mass numbers of people all began to achieve enlightenment at the same time. What if people simply started transcending? What would that look like? To those who were still stuck in regular, ego-based consciousness, it would seem to be an enormous threat, one that required study, strategy, and counter-attack.

"Kill the Buddha" features enormous Buddhas, a kickass heroine struggling with her own crisis of faith, and more action than one would probably expect in a story based on Buddhism. When Dark Faith 2 comes out, I hope you'll pick up a copy.

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.

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!


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

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?

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!

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.