Motivation, Check. Brain–uhoh

Some days, you’ve got the motivation, but not the brain power. Someone’s turned off a switch while you had your back turned, or something crawled into your skull and is preventing signals from ever leaving it.

This is where I’m at right now. Between work deadlines, a construction project at home, and a looming submission deadline, my brain is not wired for revising, but for survival. Seriously, my only two goals this month was a) meet the WotF deadline and b) not gain weight during the kitchen project. B is going especially well because of one support group, and A is iffy, but not impossible, due to the fantastic support of my writing friends.

I need to salvage A. The story needs finishing in a manner up to my standards. I don’t want to just shove a story out the door to meet a deadline. I want to win the damn contest.

I’d love to take an afternoon and immerse myself into my world at the library, but the time just isn’t there for that. (My children have their own issues with this project, and their needs have to come before my writing). My home office is in chaos. I went from having my own space to sharing it with my husband and the kids for computers as well as our mini-kitchen/food-storage area. I can barely walk around the room and I used to be able to practice my karate forms here.

The project has another one to two weeks. My deadlines hits in 5 days.  Chocolate and soda are no longer viable options. Maybe some new music to drown out the chaos I’m physically living in?

What do you do when you’re unfocused? How do you get back on track?

Clockwork Daggers and Cookies with Beth Cato

I’m stoked to introduce you to Beth Cato, a gal who loves two of my favorite things, baking and writing, I’ve worked with her on Waylines Magazine and have enjoyed many of her short stories. She’s got a novel coming out that I cannot wait to read.

Please read our mini Q&A below, and then check out a note from Beth about Clockwork Dagger.

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Dawn: Have you ever combined your passions, for example, writing about baking, or thrown your baking knowledge into one of your characters? (I suppose it would be rather difficult baking about writing…)

Beth: Yes! I had a story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies last year called “Stitched Wings,” where sugar-crusted little cakes play a pivotal role in the plot. Baking works its way into my books, too. I use different types of bread and ingredients to establish different cultures–I refer to things like Mendalian flatbread, or that the country to the north, Frengia, often uses maple in its baking. I even include my food blog’s name, Bready or Not, in a cameo in my sequel novel.

Dawn: (You had me at “sequel”.) Does baking ever help your writing process?

Beth: I get very restless if I’m at the computer for too long. Baking gives me something physical to do and some space to think as well. I’ve worked out a number of plot problems while scooping cookie dough or kneading bread! Plus, if I need a little break while I’m at the computer, there’s always Pinterest… though that can be a dangerous rabbit hole.

Dawn: Eating goes farther in my writing process than baking does. I may need to come visit the next time you’re baking through an issue. Should we expect any food scenes in Clockwork Dagger?

Beth: Oh yes. The food in the book isn’t extravagant; most of the action takes place in a country beset by fifty years of almost constant warfare. In a place that’s known shortages and starvation, my character know they can’t take things for granted. I work in a lot of period research from the American Civil War and World War I, too–things like camp beans, food poisoning, or the sad fact that after war, many work horses were re-purposed for food. That really happened after World War I. But there are positive elements to food as well. My heroine, Octavia, often professes her delight for chocolate. The little gremlin Leaf adores hard cheese–another great love of mine!

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Here’s a note from Beth:

My debut novel, THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, comes out September 16th from Harper Voyager. It’s a steampunk novel with airships, espionage, and a world tree that seriously plays favorites. Here’s the back cover summary:

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

 Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

 You can also read the full first chapter over at TOR.com.  It can be found at  Goodreads, and purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. or most any independent bookstore.

 Now, on to the cookies!

 I’m an author, but I’m also somewhat infamous for my baking. Every Wednesday over at www.bethcato.com, I post a new recipe in my Bready or Not series.

 This recipe makes chewy, spicy pillows. They are the perfect cookie for autumn leading right into Christmas. They smell divine, and the taste is just as amazing.

Chewy Cardamom Cookies

Cardamom Cookies4_sm

Modified from Better Homes and Gardens, December 2005.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup melted butter, unsalted

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom

1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup molasses [could try substituting honey]

1 egg, room temperature

2 1/4 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, blend the butter and shortening until creamy. Add in the brown sugar, baking soda, cardamom, and cinnamon.

2) Add the molasses and egg, and once that’s combined, slowly mix in the flour.

3) Using a teaspoon scoop or spoon, shape dough into small balls and roll in the cardamom and sugar.

4) Bake cookies for about 10 minutes or until edges are set and tops are slightly cracked. They will be pillowy–if too much so, flatten the next batch with a spatula or glass, if you wish.

Makes about 45 cookies, teaspoon-size.

OM NOM NOM.


Thanks for the recipe, Beth! Not sure where to go first, the bookstore or the grocery store…

FM Writers Merry Go Round Blog Tour: Publication Fears

FMWriters is traveling the web via the Merry Go Round Blog Tour. Site members have grouped together to write monthly on themed topics and turn the blog tour concept on its head: we’re not the ones touring: you are, as you read one writer’s perspective after another. This is my contribution to the Merry Go Round Tour. Enjoy your ride. ~ Dawn

 When it comes to writing, I perceive there to be two kinds of fears: the first being that voice in my head that throws the meanest what-if’s at me to keep me from getting stuff done. There’s also the stuff that truly is scary. It’s as real for writing as it is for publication.

Regarding ‘that voice’, the one that tries to sabotage me at ever step? It makes me think of, what if I hate it afterwards? What if the editors forgot to edit it, or fix my requested proof changes? What if everyone hates it?

 Then there’s the more realistic but still irrational, “What if no one likes it?” or worse, “What if everyone hates it?”

 Publication is about taste and opinions, first of the editor and the magazine they run, and second by the general public the editor has gauged should like your story. The honest truth is that not everyone will like my story. Not everyone will get it. Stories are built on a combination of my experience plus my imagination. If my writing can carry both over to you visually via the written word, I’m thrilled, and I really hope you love it. But if you don’t, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. I had faith in myself, and my editors have faith in my story, or they wouldn’t have bought it.

 How about the way I like to put little bits of my own experience into my stories? Cara’s Heartsong plays on my passions as a mother. How Cherry Coke Saved My Life carries my personal mantra of make the best of every situation. Time Monkeys and the Fullness of Glasses ties into my need for order and organization. Good thing I fade to black on adult scenes.

 When it comes down to it, in writing at least, there are two kinds of people: one that cowers from their fears, letting it sabotage their attempts at success, and one that that says “screw you–oh wait, I can use you in a story!”

 You know where I stand. If you’re part of the former group, I hope you can ease past your fears and give yourself a chance. I’ve never regretted any of my publications. If you’re in the latter, I look forward to reading your work.

 Dawn

 Today’s post was inspired by Forward Motion’s Merry-Go-Round topic, Publication Fears”. If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and read about their ideas, then check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour..

 

Cara’s Heartsong sold to Daily Science Fiction

Daily Science Fiction has accepted a second story for publication – Cara’s Heartsong.  I don’t have a publication date yet, but will let you know when it’s available, probably in the next month or two.

 

Published in Daily Science Fiction

My story Time Monkeys and the Fullness of Glasses is up. Daily Science Fiction is fantastic and free – I’m so  happy this story found a home there.

 

Improving the Craft

FMWriters is traveling the web via the Merry Go Round Blog Tour. Site members have grouped together to write monthly on themed topics and turn the blog tour concept on its head: we’re not the ones touring: you are, as you read one writer’s perspective after another. This is my contribution to the Merry Go Round Tour. Enjoy your ride. ~ Dawn

In my mind, there are three ways to improve one’s craft, and I actively participate in all three, sometimes over-indulging on one form over the others for a perspective change. There’s input, output, and one-step-removed analysis.

Input Phase: this is research and reading, but it’s also absorption of anything that can and may be used in writing. Vacationing can be input if you pay attention to details. My daughter and I went on vacation last summer and I set out with a goal of coming home with a story idea if not a story itself. So I kept my eyes and ears and all my other senses open while relaxing. And one evening it hit me. The balcony door was open, the breeze streaming in, and after a few too many kicks to the kidney from my sleeping seven year old, I stepped out onto the balcony. I was rewarded with a gorgeously dark view of the island that I couldn’t see during the day – and immediately I had a title. A story sprang forth from that. And this isn’t waiting for inspiration – I’d been feeding my brain all these details all week – and it seized upon what was different and unique.

Output Phase: Practicing my skill is necessary. Writing requires brain muscle to be exercised. I try to vary what I work on between genres, lengths, and characters. May is a short story output month. June through August is short story revision. November is for novellas. September through December is usually novel work. By focusing on one particular aspect of writing, those skills experience improvements. I don’t abandon other forms of writing during these times – they just aren’t my primary focus. In any given August, I may write a flash and a short story while revising two others.

One-Step-Removed Analysis Phase: Critiquing. Whether it’s a short story or a novel or something in between, critiquing activates the editor in my brain and looking at an unpublished piece of fiction gives me the distance to discern what isn’t working or weaknesses and strengths of the writing itself. It helps me understand what bumps there are, and like my annual glasses prescription change, reveals quirks I may be using in my own writing. Another benefit here is that when you end up trading stories, this person does the same for you and can point out what’s not working in your writing that you were unable to see yourself.

The bottom line is that if you want to improve (I do!), you have to use the skill. It doesn’t have to be the same skill every day. Variety is good – but use it. I’ve taken writing breaks twice in my life (new baby phase – it’s like going into survival mode) – and each time I felt rusty upon my return and had to work hard to get back to my pre-baby skill level. But I did and moved on past that. I’ve seen massive improvements in my writing over the years. I can tell because I have stories I’m now abandoning because there’s too much to fix without rewriting the entire piece. Instead, I have new stories, better stories to work on, all because I’m putting the time in.

Time is another consideration. It’s one of those “quality, not quantity” creatures. With my schedule (kids, work, karate), I get my lunch break at work and then about an hour each evening, sometimes two if I stay up too late. Every little bit goes a long way.

Is my approach working? One indicator is being published tomorrow in Daily Science Fiction. Work hard, play hard, and the rewards will come. I’m just starting to see them, I’m still working hard, and plan on doing so until I can’t anymore. :)

Dawn

Today’s post was inspired by Forward Motion’s Merry-Go-Round topic, Improving the Craft “. If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and read about their ideas, then check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour..

Writing Update

I’ve been quiet lately because I’ve pushed myself extra on the writing and started scaling back a little on the social media, but I need to keep up with you guys, so here’s the deal. May was awesome for short stories! Work and family needed me more involved, so I had to abandon Dawn World and return to real life a bit sooner than I preferred. But I wrote 13 stories in May – the most I’ve ever written for a SAD before. Most of them were around 1k words, but they’re complete stories! About 10 or 11 of these are salvageable. With a little more detail and some polish, I’ll be submitting them soon.

How about some annual stats?

  • Short Story Writing: 18
  • Short Story Edits: 15
  • Short Story Submissions: 56
  • New Submissions: 5
  • Crits: 4
  • Book Reading: 6
  • Rejections: 54
  • Acceptances: 1 (Daily Science Fiction)

Yes! My latest short story will be appearing in Daily Science Fiction on June 10th. Subscribe for emails (free!) at http://www.dailysciencefiction.com or watch their Facebook page for the link when it goes live. I’ll post here, too.

I love this story (a fun one!) and can’t wait to share it with you. It’s called “Time Monkeys and the Fullness of Glasses”.