Working From Home Diaries vs. The Prologue to the Zombie Apocalypse

Hello Everyone,

“May you live in interesting times,*” was today’s first thought of the day. Literally. Why can’t my life be boring? I can deal with hard. No one expects life to be easy, and I’m used to one challenge or another, or even three at once. Currently: I’m working my new paralegal job from home – I’m still in training mode, having work approved, etc; while my husband works his job which is a merry-go-round of conference calls; while guiding my fifth grader through e-learning because we don’t attend public school and he has about three hours of homework a day; while making sure my eight grader doesn’t spend all day on her phone because then she forgets to drink water and gets a headache. Did I mention my new co-workers of the feline variety? They’re cute until they start screaming about why your new desk (laptop & folding table) is in the middle of their play area.  Just this morning, feline co-worker number one stole my water. Just sticks her head in my glass and starts slurping.

As you can tell, I’m holding on to my sense of humor. But in all honesty, the hard part is I’m managing everyone’s mental and physical needs 24/7. Before, when they went to school, I got a break on that worry. I got to go somewhere else and focus on other things. Now, I’m working while answering questions about science homework.

If I were ever to write a zombie apocalypse story, this is how it starts. I did in fact start one a few months ago, but as stories came out of Wuhan, I dropped it. It was no longer fun and entertaining. It might be worth going back to as humor though? We’ll see. I might be better off shoving it in a drawer for five years. Or ten. No, fifteen.

In the meantime, the grownups have gone through all the salty snacks, the teenager has baked twice this week, and the tween has gotten far less exercise and occasionally, very literally, bounces off the walls.  It’s been 3 days. I haven’t written (fiction) or read at all until yesterday. I finally fit in reading time after dinner and I feel better balanced this morning.  It’s something I’m going to have to fit in to maintain my own center. I’m certain I’ll have some interesting stories for you in the coming weeks.

Please stay home if you can, stay away from people and things they’ve touched. Wipe your groceries down if you’re having them home delivered. We’re not paranoid. We’re just living in interesting times.

*Here’s an interesting take on the the “May you live in interesting times” curse: https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2012/07/interesting-times.html.

 

 

 

 

Changing Times

I’ve been quiet on the writing front while I focused on school. I just finished the Paralegal Studies Program at College of DuPage and have a lovely certificate to add to my resume. Not only that, but a successful internship turned into a job at a special little law firm. I’m exactly where I want to be with my day job. It’s time to turn my focus back onto my writing.

Looking forward to 2020, I anticipate drafting a new novella series, completing and revising the one I’m currently drafting, and diving back into the novel revision. I plan on releasing my science fiction series online chapter by chapter, so if you like mental powers and experienced female characters, this might be the story for you. More on that another time. I’m more curious at the moment, which platforms you prefer. I’m considering Curious Fictions, WattPad, and Patreon. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to release across all three or if I’m going to focus on one first.

For now, I will spoil my family a bit. They’ve been so supportive through all the night classes, homework, and time locked away in my office.  I’ve been slowly reading Wings of Fire with my son and occasionally playing World of Warcraft with my daughter. And the family board game nights have decreased. It’s going to be a fun few weeks while I boost all that up, among other things.

All my best to you this holiday season.

~ Dawn

Yes I’m Still Here!

Hey Friends, it’s time to get caught up. I may not have been present here, but there’s been lots happening.

Publications

Sarah’s Little Monster Hunter published in Factor Four Magazine, Issue No. 4, January, 2019. (Factor Four Magazine) | (Amazon)

Feeding Mr. Whiskers reprinted in Bards & Sages Quarterly, April 2019. (Bards & Sages Quarterly) | (Amazon)

Writing

I finished the first draft of Winter Warrior, the fantasy novel I started to gain admission into Viable Paradise. Revisions are under way and should keep me busy at least through the end of 2019.

I wrote a science fiction novella, the first of a series. I had been thinking about this one a long time and had a blast writing it. It needs a revision pass and then I have to plan the rest of the series.

I wrote a fantasy novella, also the first of a series. It was totally on impulse. I came up with an idea, one of those, “I’ve always wanted to write about….” So I did. And it was a blast. I’m looking forward to finishing up the series. I’m waiting on feedback from my writer’s group but after I get that, I’ll figure out where to go with this.

I did write a few short stories and a few flash. The short stories are coming slower now that I’m focused on the longer projects. My ideas and writing seem to naturally gravitate toward the longer lengths, so there may be fewer short stories while I work on these. At least three of the short stories I’ve written in the past two years are novellas if not novels waiting for their turn in the spotlight. It’ll be so much fun when I get there.

I’ve experienced a shift in my writing focus. It’s not just the longer stories. It’s the concept of writing new, and what to revise. If I were to try and revise every short story I’ve ever written, it would literally take me ten years. Maybe longer. Some of these aren’t great. They’ve taught me a lot about writing and were massive fun to write. Some stories weren’t meant to share with the world. Part of this realization came after I attended a local writing workshop and met with a writer/editor who gave me some good advice. At the time, I was overwhelmed by all the revisions and how to deal with them. She suggested I go through my list of stories (over a hundred, I kid you not) and label them “love” or “no love” and only work on the ones I love. This makes so much sense. Out of the hundred plus, I chose thirty to expand into something longer, and about fifteen short stories to revise. I’m looking forward to writing those out.

Life Outside of Writing

After my layoff in 2017, I focused on writing but floundered regarding career. I was so flexible, I had too many ideas. I finally decided to go back to college for a certificate in Paralegal Studies. I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and fifteen years of experience working in the law department of a corporation, so I decided legal work was my strongest and most interesting option. It’s been about a year, I’ve completed nine classes in the program with a perfect grade point average. I have three more classes including an internship in the fall, then I’ll be done with school and ready to reenter the workforce.

I have enjoyed the time with my children. One is now a teenager and the other a tween. I joke and tell everyone, “I blinked!” but in truth, I didn’t miss their growing up. I’ve been involved in their school and sports and social lives. That layoff came at a good time and our relationships are stronger for it. It’s making me more choosy about where I’d like to work. I want to stay in their lives instead of disappearing into a job/commute time thief.

The layoff helped me get my health back under control. I had some back issues that took a little while to resolve. I manage it with daily stretching and an awareness of how much time I spend sitting vs. moving. I’m running again and enjoying it. I’ve been casually weight lifting since last summer. I’m feeling stronger and healthier. It’s spring here, and my bike has made me so happy.

This is the last summer I’ll be unemployed, so I’m planning to do all the things with the kids. My daughter and I are learning to crochet. I’m learning basketball so I can play with my son. They’re going to be sick of me by August. I’m taking one summer college class. I’m working on the Winter Warrior revision, and drafting a novella series (yes, the whole thing this time!).

I hope life has been good to you, that you’ve had to some good stories to read or write, and that you’re on a path that promises an interesting journey.

Best,

Dawn

P.S. My next post will be about what I’ve been reading lately, and no, I won’t link you to my college textbooks. 🙂

 

 

Writing News

Finally, something worth writing about…

Fireside Fiction published the flash story I wrote in honor of Carrie Fisher. You can read “Feeding Mr. Whiskershere. Don’t forget your light saber.

My story “Seeding Tradition” did well in the Writers of the Future contest. I was a semi finalist for the third quarter of 2017.  The announcement is here. This one started with a writing prompt (thanks JPM) in the Codex Halloween contest many years ago. All it needs now is a home.

In the meantime, I’m still deep in the writing trenches working on my next Writers of the Future entry, two novelettes, brainstorming for the next Baen contest, and prep work to restart the novel as soon as those stories make it into submission. There’s always another story to write, always a story to improve. I hope I can share more with you soon.

Happy Reading, Happy Writing, and Be Well.

~ Dawn

It’s Been A Busy Year…

Writing hit the back burner in 2016 due to day job issues, but I still kept at it. I’ve got a few things to show for my efforts, and hope there will be more in the future.

I volunteered for SFWA as the Nebula Awards Commissioner and learned more about awards and the organization than I imagined. I also gained some insight into promoting work for awards. As the commissioner, my work isn’t eligible, but I quietly watched others promote their work, some of whom made the Nebula ballot. If you talk about your writing, if you tell people you’re eligible for awards, then you might just be bringing your work to the attention of the right people when it matters: during the reading period for nominations and votes. Bottom line is that rather than spamming your feeds with the same publication daily/weekly, you should be smart about the timing. Know when which awards have their reading periods. Find out who the nominating and voting parties are. Twitter and Facebook are my media tools of choice, and I saw plenty of award eligibility reminders from different people and never felt like I was being spammed. Believe in your work, people. If you don’t, then why should anyone else?

Two of my favorite stories (they’re like children, they’re all my favorite) which were both published in 2014, have recently been republished. “Time Monkeys and the Fullness of Glasses” reprinted in Bards & Sages Quarterly April 2017, and “Cara’s Heartsong“, reprinted in Luna Station Quarterly December 2016. (See “my writing” section for links).

A newly penned flash fiction has caught the eye of Fireside editors and will be published in their lovely zine sometime in the future. I’ll post a link when it’s out.

Finally, I’ve reworked my writing method this year and enjoying the results. I’ll be posting more frequently. I’ve been tempted to revive the “Read It and Write” short story reviews. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy Reading & Writing!

Dawn

Novelists of Viable Paradise ( VP16)

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Viable Paradise is an intense one week workshop run by the Martha’s Vineyard Science Fiction Association. While attending this workshop in 2012, otherwise known as VP16 (Viable Paradise 16), I met so many amazing people who loved writing as much as I did, and who possessed drive and determination in their left hand, creativity in their right. Soldiers of fiction, I like to think, who have been working hard in the three years since our island time together. Today, we get to talk to the novelists of that class, five women who have published a spectrum of fiction.

Allow me to introduce:

Debra Jess
Camille Griep
Lauren Roy
Alison McMahan
Tamara MacNeil

1. Ladies, let’s start off by discussing your current book publications. What’s it about, what inspired you to write this story.

Debra: Blood Surfer is a fast-paced action-adventure superhero story with a heavy dash of romance. My hero and heroine are on the run from the law in Star Haven, where people with superpowers (called alternative humans) are banned. They’re trying to get to Thunder City where “Alts” are welcomed. They quickly discover that getting out of Star Haven alive is only half the battle.

Alison: The Saffron Crocus is a historical mystery for young adults. Music, Murder & Mayhem in 17th Century Venice.

Camille: Letters to Zell is a satirical, epistolary fairy tale asking: what happens when happily ever after isn’t the happy you’re after? We join three Grimm princesses whose lives are thrown into chaos after a fourth sets off to chart her own destiny.

Lauren: The Fire Children is a young adult fantasy. When the solar eclipse comes to Kaladim, the people retreat to caverns below the city while the Fire Children explore their world. Despite the warnings, a young woman named Yulla ventures aboveground for a glimpse of the sun’s children, only to find that the Witch Women have kidnapped all but one.

It was supposed to be a short story, but my short stories have a terrible habit of demanding to be novels instead…

Tam: My next book is Salt and Iron, which is about the youngest kid in a family of famous monster hunters, James van Helsing. He figures if his family knew he had exactly the same sort of magic that the monsters have, they’d probably pierce him with iron and bury him in salt. He’s in love with his best friend, Gabe Marquez. He figures it can’t get worse, which is about the time that somebody starts manipulating him to use his magic, goes after the people James loves, and change Gabe into a monster.

2. Was this the book you workshopped at Viable Paradise? If so, what impact did the workshop have on its development?

Alison: No, this is not the book I workshopped. Actually I workshopped a short story.

Debra: Yes, this is the book I workshopped. I submitted my eight thousand words and prayed for the best. I rewrote the entire book based on the feedback I received from the VP faculty and fellow students. The essential story remained the same, but the details changed to make it a stronger, more relatable story.

Camille: I workshopped a different novel at VP, one I fondly refer to as my “space ponies” project. Though I trunked that particular novel, at least for awhile, the lessons I learned during my VP critiques were miles apart from what I’d learned in local writing groups. I started Zell a couple of months after VP when life demanded I pay attention to some different aspects of humanity.

Lauren: This isn’t the book I workshopped, but it’s the first post-VP thing I wrote. I had a whole new set of tools in my toolbox when I sat down to work on it, especially in regards to plotting and pacing.

Tam: No, but holy hell did Viable Paradise ever inform the construction of this book. Uncle Jim did this lecture about building a model house. He talked about furnishing all the rooms, even though nobody would see them, so the house would feel more real to the model-maker. That’s how I approached this book. I can give you the hierarchy of the sidhe, and tell you the minutiae of their wars. None of that is elaborated on in the book but it’s there. The goal is that readers will be able to feel the floorboards underfoot.

3. Let’s talk traditional publication versus self publishing. Which is your path and how did you find it?

Alison: This is my third book (first novel, though). I had published two non-fiction books traditionally so I stuck to that road. However Black Opal Books is a very small press so I have to do as much marketing as a self-pubbed and I also arranged for the cover art.

I sold this book the first time I pitched it. A tweet-length pitch in a Facebook group pitch session.

Debra: I chose the self-publishing path after a long, hard-fought battle trying to get traditionally published. I don’t like giving up battles and would have continued to fight for my place in the traditional world, but one day after I sent out a round of queries to literary agents, I received a phone call and learned a close family member was very ill. After that phone call I realized just how badly I wanted to put my book into his hands before he could no longer read it. I couldn’t wait for agents, editors, or New York to fall in love my writing, so I made a plan to self-publish. A year later, when the final agent (who had requested a partial, then a full) sent me her rejection, I had a plan in place to get my book out there. That family member now owns a copy of my book and he’s read it. My mission is complete, but the journey continues.

Camille: While workshopping Zell at local (Pacific Northwest) conference in the summer of 2013, I met my agent, Cameron McClure. She expressed interest in the finished manuscript and I took my sweet time getting things just right. She and I did a set of revisions, and I signed with the Donald Maass Literary Agency in April of the following year.

We began shopping the novel shortly after. At the London Book Fair, Cameron met a man who was very interested in the concept and who would eventually become my acquiring editor at 47North. I chose 47North not only because they gave me a competitive offer, but because with a book like Zell – which is hybrid fantasy, fairy tale, women’s fiction, satire, epistolary – selecting a traditional bookstore shelf on which to put it is no small task. With Amazon’s marketing algorithms, I am assured the book is reaching the people it should and not out confusing lovers of traditional fantasy or contemporary literature, rather finding the place where those Venn diagrams cross.

Lauren: The Fire Children and my Night Owls books are trade published. I’ve worked in the bookselling industry since high school (first at an independent bookstore, currently for one of the Big Five), so it’s always been a goal of mine. In addition to what I knew from wearing my day job hat, when it was time to query agents, I used a lot of what I’d learned from the wonderful, smart people on the Absolute Write forums, and from blogs like Janet Reid’s Queryshark.

Tam: Salt and Iron is coming out from Dreamspinner, which is a medium-sized press publishing out of the States.. They paid an advance and they pay royalties, as I guess they’re in the “traditional” category.

I haven’t self published anything, but if I can’t sell the book I’m currently shopping around, I’ll probably go that route with it. That will mean a very steep learning curve, and for the first time ever I’ll be the layout person and sales department (I’ll contract out the cover art and editing), which I will probably find quite uncomfortable. All I want to do is write stories, and my business genes seem to be set to minimum expression. Just thinking about all the work that goes into self publishing makes me go eeep.

4. Playing favorites. Our characters aren’t our children, but we have a special place in their existence. Who is your favorite, and do you feel that you created them, or found them?

Alison: The characters have taken over. The singer who is murdered in the opening insists on a prequel so her story is heard properly. The young lady who lost out on the hero’s attentions insists she get her day in the sun in a sequel. I will do what I can to make them happy.

Debra: I can’t choose a favorite because I created all of my characters. In the case of my heroine, I created her after I killed the hero. With superheroes dominating the movies these past few years, I needed to find a new, unique power for my heroine to use. Something no one has seen, at least not recently in the movies. So I put my hero in jeopardy in the opening scene and tried to figure out what would be a fun way to rescue him. Then my evil muse whispered in my ear – why rescue him? So I didn’t, and he lay there on screen next to my blinking cursor mostly dead. From there, I built Hannah, the Blood Surfer. She can heal you from the inside out by skimming through your arteries and veins. She’s quite talented and very valuable to those who want to possess her.

Camille: I have three POV characters in Zell – none of which are the title character – and my goal was to provide each of them with a distinct voice. The loudest of them, Bianca aka Snow White, is a present tense, foul-mouthed, straight-talker. I found it freeing to write a character unafraid to speak her mind. She loves as fiercely as she opines and her bravery is something I covet as a friend and as a woman, though that sort of love can burn too hot at times.

Lauren: That’s a tough one. I love Yulla and Ember both, and think they work together well as a team. I have a minor… character? entity? in the Desert Wind, who ended up playing a bigger part than I’d intended originally. She got a raw deal a long, long time before the story starts, and I hope I’ve made it up to her at least a little bit by the end.

Tam: Why would you ask such a question? *covers the ears of all other characters*

Okay, so, I haven’t even sold this book yet, but in How to Save the World, the death-gods-vs-mechs book I’m currently shopping around, there’s a character named Alex. I love that guy. In the course of the book he goes from doing what he’s told in the hopes that it will make life a little less painful, to choosing his own path. He spends some time unsure of his own humanity. He deals with PTSD. Man I make that poor kid suffer. And no matter what’s happening around him, he’s always trying to do the right thing for everyone else. Eventually, he starts to be able to look after himself the way he used to only look after others. That’s his arc; to learn to love himself, in spite of everything he’s done and everything that was done to him. I love that.

5. Does your story continue in future books? If so, any hints what we can expect?

Alison: A prequel, working title of Cantinlenae sine Textu (Song without Words). Set in Mantua and environs from 1625 to 1630. It tells Margharita’s story, when she was known as “Madama Europa.” Her real name was probably Europa Rossi, sister of the Jewish violinist and composer Salamone Rossi. She was probably the first professional female opera singer.

Madama Europa probably died with her brother when, following the Gonzaga’s defeat in 1630 by imperial troops of the Gonzagas and end of the Gonzaga court, imperial soldiers sacked the Jewish ghetto in Mantua. The novel focuses on Madame Europa’s fictional relationship with Ferdinand III, who later became Holy Roman Emperor, and posits that she escaped the razing of the ghetto and fled to Venice with her love child.

The sequel is as yet untitled, but the hero would be Domenico, the love Isabella rejects in The Saffron Crocus, and her friend Dina. Domenico is a pampered, wealthy Venetian merchant. Dina is Sephardic Jew from the Ghetto who wishes to go to Spain to rescue precious Jewish musical manuscripts before they are destroyed by the Inquisition. She enlists Domenico’s help. Adventures and forbidden love ensue.

Debra: The adventure does continue. I have two more books planned for Blood Surfer’s main protagonists, Hannah & Scott. I also have a series of short stories involving secondary characters in the series. Seeker’s story, Valley of the Blind is now available. Spritz’s story, Slow Burn, comes out in January, and a new character, Claire makes her debut in Still Life in March, 2016. Scott’s older brother, Nik has been pestering me too, so he’ll get his story told hopefully by the end of next year.

Camille: Zell is a standalone novel, though if I chose to go back to it, there are several avenues to take. I didn’t want the novel to be carefully wrapped up. Though it completes the episodes of the lives of three women, the possibility for happily ever after remains. I hope that is an honest reflection of how life often leaves us after big changes.

Lauren: The Fire Children is a standalone, though I’ve toyed with the idea of a prequel about Mother Sun and Sister Moon, or checking in to see what adventures Yulla and Ember might have next.

Tam: I always plan on writing a big ol’ trilogy of doorstoppers, and then I get so excited I cram the whole plot into about 90,000 words, so no sequels planned. Not yet. But maybe in the near future. I have this idea for a trilogy…

6. If your characters watched TV, what show would be their addiction? If TV isn’t their thing, what would they read?

Alison: My characters live in the 17th century. They LOVE to go to the opera, as well as chamber music performances in people’s homes. They will do almost anything to hear a good musical performance.

Debra: My characters are usually too busy running for their lives to stop and watch TV. The few times they do watch TV it’s usually the news. If they did have time to watch a scripted show, they’d probably watch sit-coms. Something that will make them laugh. Something that will help them forget their troubles.

Camille: In the novel, Bianca is obsessed with human pop culture. She already reads Cosmo and Entertainment Weekly news. As for Rory (Sleeping Beauty), she’d be ingesting mass quantities of Bronte and glued to the BBC. CeCi (Cinderella) would be trying out for her own Food Network show and devouring celebrity cookbooks.

Lauren: Yulla is a big fan of fairy tales and adventure stories. I like to think her library would be filled with a mix of doorstop epic fantasies and westerns. And because her favorite hero is a character called The Brigand Queen, she’d totally be watching Leverage and would consider herself a Browncoat.

Tam: Gabe and James in Salt and Iron grew up swapping comics in a blanket fort. James as an adult is much more the type to read gritty detective fiction (I imagine he has every single one of the Rebus books) and Gabe would still browse happily through the bookstore, picking up whatever looks interesting. Alex from How to Save the World is a serious reader, and a lover of fantasy. After the HTSTW ends and the world isn’t blowing apart at the seams, he’d get serious about amassing a collection that would totally include Tad Williams, Fred Saberhagen, Robin Hobb, all the great epic fantasy of the 80s and 90s and 00s. His counterpart Sean is only semi-literate. He definitely prefers Futurama reruns to books.

7. Finally, what advice would you offer writers who are writing novels and marketing them (either traditionally or indie?)

Alison: When you have an idea for a novel, pitch it to a handful of strangers. Modify your pitch according to whether their eyes glaze over or not. Then write a one page synopsis. Pitch that as an extended pitch to some trusted friends. Modify accordingly.

Write the entire novel. Do not show any of it to anyone until you’ve finished a draft.

Rewrite, again without showing it to anyone, until you can’t do anything AT ALL to make it better. Send it to a couple trusted beta readers, rewrite, repeat, then submit to some contests. If you place well in the contests, start pitching it and sending out cold queries.

Don’t get input until you have a full draft. That way madness lies. And never finishing.

Debra: Find a supportive group of writers and join that group. If, after time, you find they’re not the right group for you, find another group. Take advice, but not too much advice. Don’t lose YOUR sight of YOUR story even if everyone else is telling you it’s all wrong. They can criticize your grammar, your plot holes, your world-building, but not your story. Hold your story close to your heart and don’t let go.

Camille: We’re so lucky to live in an era where there is space for almost every voice. Though writing is art, selling books is a business and has to be treated as such no matter how unromantic. The advice I’d give to almost anyone entering into the business side of things is to be kind to yourself: there is no one, easy way to get where you’re going. It’s almost impossible to divorce your art from your emotions, so in order to endure the slings and arrows to come, focus on what you can control. Have a cry if needed, then pick yourself up. It’s okay to share your frustrations, but a constant stream of negativity on social media or even inside your own office does nothing but trap a writer inside a box of despair. Concentrate on how to get your book to the readers that want it, and then fight until you get it to them. Be proud of your best work and then find the path that belongs to your particular feet.

Lauren: Treat your writing time like a priority – if other people see you taking your work seriously, they’ll follow suit. Read widely, both within your genre and outside it. Find other writers who you can talk to and commiserate with, and cheer each other on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – your agent and your publisher are on your team. They want your book to succeed, too. It’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to be terrified. It’s okay to say no. Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, and it’s a big liar. It’s tempting to measure your success/productivity/skill against what’s happening with other writers. Try to resist doing so – every career is unique. Write what you love.

Tam: Hoooo. Well. I’m not at the point where I can make a living writing fiction, so I’m not sure I’m a good person to dish out advice about being successful. That said, Viable Paradise honestly changed my life. It was the first time I had any idea of where I was in terms of my skill level. It made me realize how little I actually knew about storycraft, and gave me a place to start learning. So, I guess I’d say give yourself permission to learn the job (from stroycraft to selling), as you would with any other job you undertook. Then spend a little time every year upgrading those skills.

8. Where can we find you online?

Alison: My webpage has all my social links on it http://www.AlisonMcMahan.com
The novel we’ve been discussing is at http://www.TheSaffronCrocus.com

Debra: You can read my blog and sign up for my newsletter at http://debrajess.com. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and LinkedIn as debrajess.

Camille: I can be found at http://www.camillegriep.com or on Twitter/Instagram @camillethegriep.

Lauren: Book stuff and bloggery can be found at http://www.laurenmroy.com. I’m on twitter (waaaay too much) as @falconesse.

Tam: Oh jeepers, I’m everywhere. I’m on tumblr ar http://tamthewriter.tumblr.com/, blogspot at http://tamthewriter.blogspot.ca/, twitter at https://twitter.com/TamMacNeil, and facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009440824771. I basically can’t keep my mouth shut.

Ladies, thank you for joining me today. Much luck and many sales in this 2016.

Folks, you’ve met some fine writers today. I’ve read most of the books mentioned here today, and I hope you get a chance to read them.

Writers, today is also the day Viable Paradise opens for applications for the 2017 class (VP20). If you’ve been thinking about applying, stop thinking and start writing. This workshop didn’t just change my life – you see what it’s done for Debra, Camille, Alison, Lauren, and Tam. Give yourself the journey you deserve.

 

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Happy Release Day: Debra Jess

Happy Release Day to Debra Jess, who has just published her superhero romance, Blood Surfer. Super powers plus romance, how is this not a good mix? Debra and I met several years ago at a writing workshop and I’ve asked her here to talk about this book and her writing experience.

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Dawn: Debra, thanks for joining us. You’ve already given us a lovely snippet on your web site (www.debrajess.com), so let’s dig into this. Who is your favorite superhero (or villain!) and how have they influenced your writing?

Debra: Ive always enjoyed superhero teams instead of individual superheroes. For me, a character like Batman isnt very interesting on his own, but when you mix him up with the Justice League, when you get to see him interact with his peers and have to deal with the group dynamic – thats when he becomes interesting. If Batmans not with the Justice League, then at least I want to read about him when hes with one (or more) of his sons. The family relationship sets up stressors that puts pressure on a hero to act in ways he normally wouldnt if he were operating solo. Thats when characters become unpredictable. I love it when characters act outside of their comfort zone.

 I think this was how I first realized the necessity of using tension to build a story. If you know the superhero will always defeat the villain, no matter how clever that villain may be, what do you have to do to keep the reader turning the page? Wheres the tension and how strong can you make the tension before your hero rises above the chaos to win the day?

Dawn: Speaking of Batman, let’s talk about introductions. Traditionally, super heroes and comic books have been marketed toward boys. When did your interest in superheroes begin and did this impact you in any way?

Debra: When I was little, I watched the Superfriends cartoon. Some friends of mine had comic books they would let me read on occasion, but there werent any stores nearby where I could get my own comics – at least not on a regular basis. Because of this, there were always gaps in the storylines. I had to use my imagination to fill in those gaps. I had to guess at the heros motivations and the villain’s previous dastardly deeds to figure out how they got from point A to point D, without knowing for sure what happened at points B and C.

I think this is why all of my characters, not just the ones in BLOOD SURFER, have such complicated histories. No one has a simple past. I cant help but let my imagination go crazy with building the worlds in which my heroes live.

Dawn: Blood Surfer is a science fiction romance, focusing heavily on romance rather than treating it as a mere subplot. First, why science fiction instead of fantasy? Have you felt a bigger pull toward one genre or the other? What inspired you to combine these elements?

Debra: One of the organizations Im a member of is the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. To figure out where on the spectrum of science fiction to fantasy my superheroes fell the Brigade asked me how do my superheroes generate their powers? Is it science based or magic based? All of the alternative humans in BLOOD SURFER have a biological basis for their superpowers. Take away the biological tie and they become normal humans. Biology is a science, so its science fiction by the Brigades definition. Im happy with the explanation.

Dawn: What about the romantic aspect of the story? What inspired to you to make this story a romance?

Debra: I always knew BLOOD SURFER would be a romance and would have a happily ever after. Im not a fan of pyrrhic or bittersweet victories which seemed to dominate the SFF genre when I first started reading it in the 70s. In a way, the endless string of depressing stories in SFF is what drove me to read romance novels in the first place. The happily ever afters of romance novels made me feel optimistic about relationships between people in a way SFF at the time couldnt. The world around me was depressing enough. I didnt want it in my fiction.

Dawn: If someone produced this into a movie, who would you envision playing Scott and Hannah?

Debra: Ive gone back and forth about whether or not to reveal my face actors for my characters. I use them all the time, especially when I have difficulty figuring out how to describe my character. On one hand, I want to shout, This is what Scott looks like. This is who Hannah resembles. On the other hand, I dont want to ruin anyone elses idea of what these characters look like. I want the readers to interpret the characters on their own.

 So how about a compromise: I wont tell you who the face actors are for Scott & Hannah, but I will tell you that Catherine Blackwood (Captain Spectacular) and Thomas Carraro (Hack-Man) were inspired by Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo from the 1999 remake of the Thomas Crown Affair – one of my favorite movies of all time. Fair enough?

Dawn: If Disney made a ride out of your story, what theme park elements would be included?

Debra: What a very cool question. Its ironic because Walt Disney World used to have a ride called Body Wars that took you on an adventure inside the human body, exactly as Hannah does in BLOOD SURFER (except Hannah doesnt use a ship).

 In EPCOT theres Sum of All Thrills which could be used to simulate flying with Rumble and Roar.

 EPCOT also has Soarin could simulate a ride on Highlights Light Slide.

 The Haunted Mansion could be renamed The Blackwood Estate and Ghost himself could scare you as you walk through.

 Spritz would have a field day at either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach.

 Im not sure Id want to put Donald Duck and Blockhead in the same room together. It could get messy.

 Oh, this is too much fun! Better stop now or Ill just go on and on.

Dawn: Are there any super heroes in your life?

Debra: My family are not just superheroes, they are cheerleaders and have supported me in a lot of ways while I chased my dream. Also, everyone who has helped me get this book ready for publication – editors, beta-readers, and others have have stood by my side – you all are heroes in my book (metaphorically speaking).

Dawn: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Debra: There are at least two more novels featuring Scott and Hannah in the works. This November, Seeker – who plays a small but critical role in BLOOD SURFER, will have his story told. Its a short story called VALLEY OF THE BLIND. Seeker became a hero long before he met Scott & Hannah. Then in January, Spritzs story, SLOW BURN will debut as another short story. Youll learn how Spritz and Blockhead became partners. I hope everyone will enjoy Seekers and Spritzs stories just as much as they will Scott & Hannahs.

 If you want to keep up to date with Thunder City superheroes, please sign up for my newsletter at debrajess.com. Or you can follow me at:

https://www.facebook.com/DebraJess

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https://www.pinterest.com/debrajess/

http://debrajess.tumblr.com

Thanks for joining us, Debra, and good luck with Blood Surfer. Links for purchase are below. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go read mine.

Amazon (print) | Kindle | iBooks | Kobo

Read It And Write # 1: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Welcome to Read It and Write, where yours truly reviews a short story and transforms it into a writing prompt, because good writing tends to inspire more.aarons july naturewalk (1)

Read It

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Kicking off this series is Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, winner of the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The version I enjoyed was republished by Escape Pod and performed by Dave Thompson. This story was recommended to me years ago and it’s been on my to-read list. I never got around to reading it until recently when Escape Pod podcast this story. Honestly, I waited too long.

Charlie, a simple-minded young man intent on learning as much as he can despite his troubles, attends night classes after working all day at a factory. His opportunity arrives when his teachers invite him to participate in an experiment to increase his intelligence. Charlie would be the first human for this experiment, and whose predecessor is a mouse named Algernon. Man and mouse develop a special relationship, as does Charlie with each of his doctors. As his intelligence increases, so does his understanding that these doctors don’t know everything. His friends at work are tested; most aren’t truly friends, and eventually he leaves the job. The real trouble is when the experiment fails Algernon, and Charlie understands what’s in store for him. We experience his fears and frustrations, his anger at what he’s finally achieved being taken from him. In the end, he rejects everything.

Dave Thompson’s narration of Daniel Keyes’ story is amazing. If you haven’t tried audio fiction, this would be a rewarding first try. The emotional pauses, the tension in Thompson’s voice, the pacing of his words all carry the intensity of what Charlie endured. This story moved me for so many reasons, but it also inspired me.

One of the inspiring elements was Charlie’s strength, after knowing his fate. Facing old tormentors knowing it’s going to happen again, and eventually having the dignity to say no despite his failing intelligence.

And Write

It’s time to turn this reading experience into a writing prompt. Keep in mind, the intent is to spin an element of this story into something completely new. Start by asking basic questions. Make a list or a bubble chart, whichever appeals to your writing process.

  • What moved you the most about the story arc?
  • What fascinated you?
  • What pulled at you, even if you can’t specify why?

Using your answers to these questions, consider angles for your story. Here’s an example list I brainstormed. (If something below appeals to you, go write it; I’m happy to share prompts.)

  • An intelligence experiment that worked; intelligence wasn’t enough – the subject wants more.
  • A relationship between a person and animal that foretold of the person’s fate.
  • A story of a simple-minded person who struggled to improve himself and succeeded.
  • Tell the story from the doctor or teacher’s viewpoint.
  • Write the fantasy version of this story: no science.
  • Write a story of someone marching toward death.
  • How would you turn this into a story prompt?

My experience with Flowers for Algernon as my story prompt was to write a fantasy version in which there is a happier ending. I found that it gave my character a stronger voice, and a challenge to make sure he sounded different enough from Charlie that no one would know where the inspiration came from until I revealed it myself.

I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did, and that if you’re writing from a prompt, that the words you seek are flowing. Please let me know if you’re trying this method and if it’s working for you. Or if you’ve written a story and want to share your challenges in writing.

Happy Writing!

Dawn

Daniel Keyes: http://www.danielkeyesauthor.com/dksbio.html

Escape Pod: http://escapepod.org/

Escape Pod 409 – Flowers for Algernon: http://escapepod.org/2015/04/20/ep490-flowers-for-algernon/

photo credit: Dawn Bonanno

Review: Superposition by David Walton

Have you ever regretted a decision you’ve made, or traced a string of unfortunate events back to one innocent choice? Superposition by David Walton is a science fiction mystery that hinges on exactly that.

Jacob Kelly is a family man, having given up the high tech world to teach science to college students. That all changes when he makes the singular decision to have pity on an old friend Brian Vanderhall, whom he invites into his home. This one moment begins a series of events that lands Jacob into a heart wrenching mystery of his murder trial while who knows what has happened to his family.

In a blend of science fiction and mystery, we follow Jacob on a wild ride of physics that has the potential to baffle the normal Joe but Walton builds his characters to present the science in a clear manner that doesn’t make the reader feel uneducated but rather take joy in learning something new, unlike Brian Vanderhall, who is agitated and nervous to the edge of panic when he begs Jacob for help. Brian is the mad scientist of the story, bringing disaster to his own life as well as Jacob’s.

Others are drawn into the chase and legal battle. Front line on Jacob’s team is Terry Sheppard, a defense attorney who wears leather boots in a Philadelphia courtroom. What’s not to like? He’s on Jacob’s side and keeps our hero cool when he gets fired up. Jacob’s brother-in-law, Marek Svoboda, accompanies Jacob on his adventures inside the New Jersey Super Collider where science turns nightmare. A former co-worker, Jean Massey, volunteers to be a subject matter expert despite the person effects on her marriage. Jacob’s daughter Alex shows us a side of our hero that the parented among us can sympathize with. Alex is smart, spunky, and endearing. She’s also coping with her own failings in this story.

Both Jacob and Alex have to deal with reality distorting effects of Brian’s work. They question their worth while worrying about the ends of their own existence, while trying to solve the mystery. Alex is the silent hero of the story for me, noticing the things she does, fighting for something bigger than herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book on so many levels. First, the combination of science fiction and mystery. This isn’t merely a mystery taking place in a science fiction book. It’s a mystery that builds on and is deepened by the science fiction. The book takes place in our near future, near enough that the transition is easy to believe, but that the story couldn’t exist without the new technology, or without the madness Brian wrought. I love that Jacob, who is as smart as Brian, is struggling with parenting issues alongside his own grief. He’s not perfect, but his heart is in the right place. It makes him real, and it makes me root for him despite wondering at times if he might be guilty after all. I love the ending, I loved that I had questions about a particular involved person, but didn’t quite put it together until just before the big reveal.

There are scenes I wanted to cite, exchanges between Jacob and Alex, but those would spoil far too much. One of the points I enjoyed, is that the children in the story weren’t perfect; Jacob’s son Sean had a physical disability (which wasn’t treated as a disability in their lives), and that Jean’s child was a special needs child. Details that come up and form the strength and resolve of these characters, parent and child alike, it opens windows into their existences.

I’ll be honest with you: when I get moving on a story, I give up sleep and stay up late to read. I was so riveted in this book, I sent the kids to play in their rooms. We had take-out for dinner. And who needs clean laundry on a Saturday?

Superposition was my first David Walton read. It won’t be the last. As far as this novel goes, if you like science fiction in our own world, if you like a good mystery, then I expect you’ll enjoy it. I do recommend you send the kids to play, and cancel your plans for a day or two. Once you start reading, this book is damned hard to put down.

A New Feature: “Read It & Write” Blog Series

How many times have you read a novel and been inspired to work on your own stories? If so, it could be you’re either a writer or someone who wants to write. (Stop wanting, and go write! But read this post first, you may find it helpful.)  J

Let’s talk about short stories. Reading them, writing them, they make me and a lot of other people happy. The best part is that one story can be started and finished in a sitting. Whether you’re tied up in your own projects or between books, a short story can fill a gap between these things like a palette cleanser, or create an experience that’s intense or vastly different from your novel interests. You can read it without investing too much of yourself but still fall under its spell.

My intention with this blog series is to share stories I’ve read, whether I love or hate them, we’ll deal with later. (Yes, I’ve found inspiration in stories I didn’t like.) You may find new authors you’d like to read from this. And, my favorite part, I can turn them into writing prompts.

In each post, I’m going to review the story, what worked or what didn’t, and what drew me in regardless of how I liked the story. I’m going to create a writing prompt from that story that I’ll share with you. Seriously, how many times have you read a story and been inspired to write one yourself on that topic, but you just need to spin it differently?

I’ve wanted to do this for a while and it’s time to dive in. You’ll see Read It & Write posts monthly for now.  Please let me know if you find either the review or prompt helpful, and if you’ve had any writing success with it.

Happy Reading & Writing,

Dawn

Adjusted Motivations for Healthy Eating and Weight Loss

Motivation Image for post

Once upon a time, a writer gave birth to one child, then another, and woe to the weight she had gained. Nine months later, the weight was gone, lost through lots of hard work but the details of which were lost to the new-baby-haze memory issues. That’s not entirely true. There is one strand of memory in which the young mother desperately wanted to be attractive to her husband again. Shopping ensued, and the horrors of a lingerie shop mirror send the mother – who was quite lovely and had nothing to hide – running. And the weight returned, unchecked.

Baring my soul here, there’s a reason for this. I had a revelation yesterday, on Facebook of all places. A woman posted about her own weight loss issues, and she learned what motivated her, and how once she lost the weight, she was lost on what to do. She’d always been trying to lose weight. She was there, as I was once. Both our motivations were wrong. She made me see this.

So I had to rework my process, figure out why I’m trying so hard. Sure, everyone wants to be attractive to their spouse, right? I need more than that. I want to be a role model for my children, to teach my son to respect women no matter what they looked like, to teach my daughter that strength not fear of obesity was important. I’m strong. I often tell my mother than when I’m helping her with stuff around the house or taking her arm as she steps down a steep curb. And I am. Karate taught me that. My strength is a good direction.

One of the areas I’m exceptional at is making goals for my writing and making ways to meet them. I measure my progress by what I’ve completed and each year I strive to improve those. I’m using that approach to improve my health and fitness life.

The weight on the scale is but one measurement which is often screwy. Very technical term here I know, but I’m dead serious. Changing my body from fat to muscle means creating a tighter more compact form that may actually be heavier than a non-muscular body of the same size. So I can’t go by the scale anymore. I need to measure what my body can do.

Since I love Excel, I drew up a bunch of spreadsheets tracking monthly:

  • body measurements (for evidence of fat loss) including BMI;
  • cardio distances covered in 30 minutes in various ways: cycling, walking, running, rowing;
  • plyometric:
    • pushups, sit-ups, burpees done in one minute;
    • chin-ups and pulls ups in one minute (none right now, but give me six months)
    • planks and length of time held.

Monthly measurements and comparisons will help me see first that I’m getting stronger, and second, when the scale doesn’t move, it’s going to remind me that I AM changing, I AM improving, and that scale can go to hell. It’s just one number.

The theory is that by working on my strength, I’m not focused on one end goal. I’m working on different goals that will always be there in one form or another. For example, I can currently do 8 pushups in one minute. My goal is to hit 25. I’m better with sit-ups. I can walk great distances at a decent pace but my running is severely lacking. My goal is to run a 5k eventually and get my time under 50 minutes. At the moment, my goal is to be able to run for 30 minutes without a significant break. Eventually no break. These are all measurable and the kinds of things that motivate me. Be a better me than I was yesterday or last week, or last month.

If you or someone you know is struggling with weight issues, I encourage a rethinking of philosophy and approach. My way may not be anyone else’s way, but don’t be afraid to turn things upside down. There should be something there to get anyone where they want to be.

I’m strong. I want to be stronger. I can do this. We can all do this. Or maybe you’ve got something else that’s working. Tell us about in comments. It’s not easy being healthy, and it can be a lonely road sometimes.

Live Strong,

Dawn

 

Photo Credit: Joshua Santino via https://unsplash.com/

Growth

Times of pain in writing are often followed by periods of growth. I’ve been experiencing writing pain in that I know something is wrong, but I don’t get what that is or how to fix it. Critiquing a lot can help, having my own stories critiqued as well, but that last is based on the attention of the person providing feedback.

I had the pleasure of participating in a special critique in which critiquers read about 20 thousand words of my writing across 9 stories: a spectrum from which to make observations about my writing.

Waiting for the feedback was terrifying. With that much ammunition, someone would surely cut me to pieces, except that I trust my writing group. No one would do that. It was more a question of was I ready to hear what they had to say? Hell yes.

I’m bursting with happiness that they provided me problems that were within my ability to learn to fix. My writing is flawed but not hopeless. (We all fear we’re hopeless, don’t we?) So deep was this feedback on so many levels, I’m rereading my previously written stories and cringing. Why? Not because I’ve sent these out to countless editors – it’s their job to read writer’s crap and send rejections, sometimes guiding us along the way – but it’s that I have so much work to do. I see what needs to be done and I don’t have enough time. How am I supposed to handle this? I’m going to have to prioritize.

I’m itching to work on longer pieces, a novella, maybe a novel, but I have so many short stories I want to share that need revising before I submit them. This is one of the hardest things: which project is next? I’ll work through this issue on my own, no worries. 😉 I’ll get to the short stories and the novella and the novel. It’ll just take a while.

In the meantime, what about you? Have you learned anything new about your work/hobby/passion? Did someone help you or did you push through to this new level on your own?

Pushing Through

The critiquing helped and the reading never happened, but two new flash fictions have been written,  and I’ve got a story in revision for the F&SF deadline next week (this week? geez!). I’m also working on the Writing Excuses prompts, one which really really wants to be a story RIGHT NOW.

Yep, things are looking up. Writing is one hell of a roller coaster sometimes.

Writing Excuses 2015

Hi there.  Have you heard of Writing Excuses? It’s a really neat writing podcast hosted by some fun writers (Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells) that always seem to know the right questions to answer, and when to prod me with another perspective on a writing technique.

They’ve got a new format for their weekly podcast: they’re presenting it like a writing class. Previously they always created a writing prompt at the end of the episode and it didn’t matter if you used ir or not, but now they’re giving homework that you need to do and take with you to the next podcast.

Here’s the link, take 15 minutes and go listen: http://www.writingexcuses.com.

Now that you’ve listened, what do you think? The first assignment is easy enough. (The hard part is actually waiting to go along with the assignment and NOT writing it RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT, because you know, I pounce on those short story ideas and bang ’em out fast.)

I’m always eager to try a new approach, to add new tools to my writer’s toolbox.  Kudos to the Writing Excuses crew for coming up with yet another fantastic idea.

That Voice. . . Again? Already? So SOON?

The voice is assaulting me today. You know the one. It tries to convince you that you aren’t good enough, that you’ll never write a story as good as the last one that published, that your endings suck and you’ll never figure out how to end a story properly except by accident or good critiquers offering suggestions. This is a nasty voice, and I’m usually pretty good at telling them to suck it and go back to the rock from which they.. you know. Except for the first time in a while, I really do feel stuck.

I’m dissatisfied with my short stories right now. I can’t seem to end any of them right. Most of them have a major issue I just haven’t been able to resolve. And I’ve got a critique deficit to fill, so I can’t just start posting my stories for feedback.

I do have a few things in the works that should help. I’ll get through this, I always find a way. But I wanted to share this with you so that if you’re struck by all the massive stats other writers have been posting, or intimidated by others’ grand plans for writing in 2015, you’ll know you’re not alone. Right now, I want to throw my 2015 plan away. I know, five days into the year, brilliant. But that is what the voice does. Right when you’re trying to get your feet under you, it’s wriggling in the mud and trying to tunnel through to trip you up.

I am going to revise my goals, but in a manner I think will help. I’m going to critique massively. One, it’ll take away that deficit and two, spending this energy on actual critiques is a good use of it. I don’t knock other people’s writing, I analyze it, so if the voice wants to tire itself out on what everyone is writing, it can and no one will know of it. Next, I’m going to read for fun. Remind myself why I’m writing, what I want to aspire to. And third, I signed up for an online workshop February/March which should help deal with some of those issues.

Looking back at other times that voice has reared its ugly head, I realize I had something to fight against. It’s an odd motivation, but it results in change.

So if that voice is harassing you? Use it.

P.S. Oddly enough the workshop I’ll be taking is about Character and… You got it: Voice.  I like weird connections like this. Onward and upward!

Out With The Old, In With The New (2014/2015)

This blog is about my writing journey. It’s for me as much as it’s for you. It keeps me honest, it keeps me accountable. If I say I’m going to do something, I try like hell to get it done. Writing isn’t my full time gig yet, so I’m not always in control of Life Issues and the affect they have on my writing. (And fortunately, life issues aren’t always bad. They just affect the writing time).

2014 was incredible in that I made 2 professional writing sales, both to Daily Science Fiction. Once upon a time, I could only write flash fiction by accident. I’ve been working on it, don’t you know, and at least two editors out there like my work. 🙂

I recorded my general stats, which I’ll add below. The big thing for me was that while I didn’t accomplish as many revisions (my to-revise pile is currently frighteningly high), the ones I did revise fared so much better. Am I spending more time revising? Am I revising better? I’m not sure yet. Maybe the first drafts were in better shape than others. I’m not spending too much time worrying about the how and why. I have newly written stories that need revising, and I’m going to work as hard as I can and make them the best I can. Hopefully, you’ll get to read them soon (preferably in a published zine or anthology).

2014 Results:

  • New Short Stories: 26
  • New Novellas: 1
  • Short Story Edits: 22
  • New Submissions: 6
  • Total Submissions: 87
  • Rejections: 87
  • Acceptances and Publications: 2
  • Critiques Given: 14 (including 2 novel and 4 novellas)
  • Books Read: 14

2015 Plans

I’m gearing up toward working on longer projects, my novella series for one, and completing a novel I started a few yerars ago but never finished. I’m sticking with the short stories, of course, they’re too much fun not to write. I’m trying to get into some online classes and workshops. There are areas in which I’d like to improve, but I need some help.

Best of luck to you in your goals and plans for 2015. May it be productive for all of us.

State of the Writing – November 2014

I’m in what I consider a healthy competition with myself to do better each year. As of this moment, I have written and submitted more in 2014 than I did in 2013. I’ve had 2 publications both years – but this year’s both are pro level publications. I revised less, but I think I revised better. I’m working more through my revisions, so rather than 4 or 5 drafts per story, I’m looking at 3 to 4 before I submit.  I’m still learning though, or more of my stories would have been accepted.

The big question is what am I working on for the rest of the year? I’m veering away from short stories for the next six weeks. I’m writing a novella, what I believe will be the first in a four or five novella series. I’m preparing to jump back into my fantasy novel. 40k words will need to be written and I’m aiming for New Year’s Eve as a finish date for that.

I love my short stories. I push a lot of words out every year and feel accomplished by getting them done. I also love my long projects which I’ve been neglecting. It’s difficult to do both together, so I need to binge on one form for a while then move on to another. Oddly, the break from the short stories is actually helping with them. While my focus is on the longer projects and the immense fun worldbuilding is, my short story characters pop into my brain unexpectedly with a “what if” question.

“What if” I reversed genders for the the main characters in that SF story. That would be amusing, actually. When it comes back from submission, I might just do that. It would mean SHE would save HIS rear. And when HE begs for the kiss, there are more than just sexual impulses that she uses to decide. Another story has been on the see-saw of ‘is this fantasy or science fiction’? Because it’s still at the point it can go either way. It has to be one of those, but the specific details will be changed to ground it in the right one. That I’ve been so unsure meant the story wasn’t ready to be done. Except now I’ve got a reason to make it fantasy.

The problem I’m having is that since my brain is immersed in the longer projects, I’m thinking about how my short stories can be combined (characters and worlds) to make novels or a novella series. Oh the trouble I’m in.

But these are good problems to have and I’m happy with my writing progress. I applied for a January online workshop. I’m thinking about using some time off from the day job to do some December writing. 🙂  So many stories to write, so little time to squeeze them out.

World Fantasy Convention 2014

WFC 2014 shall hence forward be known as novellacon for me. I love attending panels and filling my head with new knowledge and angles of thought until I can’t absorb another thought. I’m not so much a participant of Barcon though I made the rounds and caught up with most of the people I wanted, but one of my favorite parts, was processing on the last day. Processing in terms of taking the world building I’d been doing since Wednesday, the character building, the plot stacking, and churning that out at something I’m calling my Lobbycon Write-In.

There’s something about writing with the buzz of people surrounding me, especially when my brain is chock full of success stories for those who put their time in. It’s amazing what some of these writers do, and I’m in awe of the stories they’ve created. If I want to get there, I need to get my time in, do the hard work. Push through, get the words. It’s also immensely fun to write without concern for my normal responsibilities (kids, day job, managing the house). I can write to absolute brain-dead exhaustion without worrying that some crisis is going to come up and require me to take charge. The most I have to worry about is eating, sleeping, showering and charging my devices.

The panels at this con certainly impressed me. They were well organized to the point the panelists had either spoken by phone or emailed prior to the panel itself. The moderators performed their jobs amazingly well, keeping to the topic and asking through-provoking and entertaining questions.

I made it to one reading for a friend in my writer’s group and that was probably my best experience so far in attending a reading. (And while the fudge was delish, it simply added to a creatively planned reading).

I’ll probably have more to say as my brain digests the past few days, but for now, I just want to say that I’m really pleased the way this con went, from the organizing, to the old and new friends, to the team of Lobbycon Write-In computer watchers while I ran off the LR. 🙂

Later I’ll have to brag about the books – the free ones and the ones I bought. Peeps, it’s a year of reading. Seriously. Unless I give up writing for two months. Yeah, not going to happen.

Cara’s Heartsong – Published in Daily Science Fiction

My latest short story is up at Daily Science Fiction: Cara’s Heartsong.

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.

* * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * *

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”.

SAD Update 5/20/2014

I’m up to 12 stories for the month, several of which are screaming at me to revise and submit. Part of me wants to listen. The other part of me says keep writing. 🙂

Time for some Tug of War.

SAD Update 5/11/2014

It’s been another crazy week of writing and I’m loving it. I wrote a story every day except for Friday. I started a story on Friday, but it’s a format that doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’m trying to work through it. At the same time, my kids were majorly burnt out from the week and needed some Mommy Super Powers, so I put the writing aside for the day.

My count as of yesterday is nine. One more story and I’ll top my record for completed story output during any Story A Day May since I started this.

Thanks for keeping up!

SAD Update

Good Morning,

May Story A Day is going well. I’ve managed a story each day, the first two hitting 1k and the third one not quite, but should make an effective flash after revision and maybe another hundred words.

Last night’s story had me worried as it was my husband’s birthday and we were busy all day. I usually like to pull my prompts early in the day and mull them over to let them grow in my head before I hit the keyboard. Luckily, this was the weekend and I utilized Liberty Hall’s 90 minute deadline to write this story.

Variety is the key here and not just with story length. I’ve written urban fantasy, traditional fantasy, and science fiction. There have been Ninja Kitties, dragons, and aliens.

I hope your week has been as enjoyable for you. 🙂

May Story-A-Day

Psst, hey you, you like stories? Writing ’em?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know May is my favorite writing month of the year. I’ve been part of the FM Writers community for eleven years, which means I’ve been participating in this challenge for as long. The idea is to pull prompts to trigger a story. Ideally, one a day. Most of the people I write with don’t make 31, but some do, and I’m in awe of them. I usually manage 7 – 10 stories each May. I’ve always wanted to hit the full 31. A few things have changed this year, which makes me believe that I can.

I’ve been working on flash fiction. A lot of my flash drafts turn into longer stories – which is fine with me since they’re fun stories. But I’m tightening them up. I’ve also learned to write under the gun thanks to Liberty Hall challenges – a weekly challenge that gives participants a prompt to write a story from in 90 minutes.

I have a plan, and I hope it makes it to the battlefield. If it doesn’t, because we know some stories just plain don’t work, then I’m okay so long as I really gave it a shot. But that shiny number 31 is dancing in front of me right now. This might be the year. 🙂

If you’re interested in trying the challenge, check out http://www.fmwriters.com. There are other variations online which you’ll find by Googling Story A Day, but this one on FM is my favorite.

Happy Writing, Happy May, and crazy writing away!!