Monthly Archives: January 2013
Hello, all! I am back from my cross-border adventure. After writing my exam and sending off Strix, I hopped on a plane to the US, where I spent a lovely weekend with Tee Morris, Pip Ballantine, and Sonic Boom. Skating, LEGO, board games, and spy museums: pretty much the best weekend I’ve had for a while.
Oh, and we wrote, too.
Actually, I had a really cool moment as the three of us were working on various things. I realized: I’m done Strix for now. This has been one of the most frustrating things I’ve written. It’s been hanging over my head, in different guises, for nearly eighteen months. I have no idea what happens now—what kind of edits may occur, or even if DMP can fit it in.
But whatever happens, there is nothing more I can do right now at this moment.
I can write other things now.
There’s been a novel lurking in the background for a while. I believe I’ve described it as “sleek, dark, and vaguely Victorian.” Not quite steampunk, not quite dark fantasy, but it makes me very excited. Over the last few days, my notes have started to coalesce into an increasingly-coherent story. It’s not quite ready to put to page yet, but it’s getting there.
There’s a secret project that I’ll hopefully be allowed to talk about in a few weeks.
And there’s been a spate of short fiction. In seven years, I wrote maybe two short stories. Then, in the past few months, I’ve written several. It’s a form I still need to get comfortable with, but I’ve loved trying new things. Diversity and versatility, right?
My other really cool moment from this weekend (well, the whole weekend was one “really cool moment,” but I doubt I could compress all of it into a few hundred words) happened on Sunday morning, as I mused about how much has changed in the last year and a half. I’m very lucky. Yes, there are ongoing trials and tribulations on the home front, but I’m trying this really cool thing called “compartmentalization.”
So: I’m very lucky.
I’m very lucky to have the people in my life that I do, whether in Toronto, the rest of Canada, New Zealand, or scattered across the US. I’m very lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had. Yes, I work hard, but there’s been a degree of serendipity as well.
All of which means that this seems like an appropriate time to count my blessings, as it were. Life and writing are like Fortune’s Wheel—sometimes you’re doing pretty well, sometimes you’re squished underneath. Right now, I seem to be both.
At least I’m not bored.
Pausing from rewrites, and struck with a sudden thought, I asked a question on Twitter last night. More or less, it was: Do you ever find yourself acting things out as you write them? Possibly because I posted it in the wee hours of the morning (I was editing, after all), I got little response, and I suspect it’s now been swallowed in the morning rush of tweets.
That’ll teach me to be on Twitter past midnight.
But I thought I’d talk about it here, because it is something I’ve noticed in myself, and I’m curious to know if other writers do it too.
Of course, I’ve heard of writers getting on their feet to block out fight scenes, especially if they come from a combat background (hi, Erik!). I’ve done that. Sometimes it’s highly necessary simply because I don’t have a combat background. It’s a lot easier to imagine a response to someone throwing a punch when you’re standing with knees apart and slightly bent, rather than sitting at your chair. Ditto with action scenes.
There’s a wonderful story Timothy Findley told of learning to describe the world from the viewpoint of a blind, elderly cat. On an isolated stretch of beach, he crawled about on all fours, eyes squeezed shut, getting his face down into the sand, noticing the briny smells around him. Of course, the beach wasn’t as isolated as he thought, and a young couple found him and assumed he was on drugs. As soon as they left, he ran off. I like Timothy Findley. If he hadn’t passed away some years ago, he’d be top of my list of authors to sit down and chat with.
Then there was the time in Strix when I paused, fingers poised in mid-air. See, there’s a phoenix, and it curls up beside the main character, so I staring slightly to the right and into the distance, trying to envisage exactly how that would work. Finally I found a stuffed animal about the same size and lay down. It was a ferret, not a phoenix, but it got the job done in terms of feeling something soft against the crook of my arm.
But that’s all deliberate acting. I guess the other thing I’ve noticed are actions that are more subtle. Facial expressions mimicking those of your characters (not that this happens often, I swear—I’ve seen pictures taken while I was writing, and I mostly just look glassy-eyed). Touching your own face when someone touches your MC’s. Stuff like that. It doesn’t always feel as conscious, which is interesting. Super-empathy for the characters, unconsciously filling a certain need, or just a weird quirk?
No wonder there’s such a huge crossover between actors and writers!
My name is Errol and K.T. is graciously allowing me to blog on her website. I first met K.T. on the set for the musical I wrote: NaNoWriMo: The Musical. She’s a friend of Blythe Haynes, who played one of the main leads. If you wish, you can see K.T. in the first and last episode of the musical. She’s in the background dancing!
If you are not familiar with National Novel Writing Month, it’s one of those monthly challenges where you write a fifty thousand word novel in a month. Monthly challenges are getting more popular as of late – did you know there is one for every month of the year? You could keep yourself so busy your significant other will start inventing new ways to be upset with you!
If you feel that you wish to get in on a crazy, self-imposed deadline which has no reward other than satisfaction, there is one coming up in February related to writing music. It’s called February Album Writing Month (FAWM.org).
Thousands of musicians around the world congregate on this site and upload music they have written that month. And it’s totally awesome.
My bandmate told me about FAWM before we were bandmates. She tried to convince me it was fun. Up to that point my current record for song writing was about one every two months and a number of soundbites of me belching into the mic.
But I was game to try anything because I was impressionable. I made myself a goal: write two songs. If I could do that, then that was two more songs that I could inflict on my friends.
Once February started, I got involved with the community and fully immersed myself into being a newb fawmling.
I had a blast.
This was surprising to me because I’m a geek and I like talking and writing about geeky things. Musicians usually reflect on things like emotion, drama, and drinking.
The best thing for me was the collaborations! I could find others more talented than myself willing to write songs with me! Sometimes I would write the music. Other times I would write the lyrics. And other times we would collaborate on both.
It was amazing!
What else did it help with? It stretched me musically. One person asked me to write a jazz song. Did I know how to write a jazz song? Of course not. But I was going to try. I also wrote a polka, a tango, some country songs, and whole host of other styles I never would have attempted.
In the end, that year I wrote almost forty songs. Obviously most of them were collaborations and, because of me, quite amateurish, but it was much more than I had hoped for.
Finally, it’s a site of encouragement. People know you are writing fourteen songs in a month. No one is expecting Mozart. There are people like me that lower the bar! The forums and the comments are there to encourage you to keep going! There are online chats, streaming radio shows, challenges, a whole host of things to keep you occupied for the month.
The community aspect is great! You have at your disposal the expertise of thousands of musicians. They know what they’re talking about, they know what you’re doing, and they are just as excited about writing music as you are.
My bandmate was right, it was a lot of fun. I’m coming up to my sixth year now and I can’t wait to get started.
The only reason I can write music now is because of FAWM. The only reason I wrote that musical is because of FAWM. It helped me grow as a musician and introduced me to a number of talented folks.
And now… I’m in a band. That’s great for me. Maybe not so great for my bandmate. 😀
Currently, he has an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to put out a NaNoMusical CD.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably (hopefully) heard of the Acts of Whimsy campaign for Jay Lake. If you’ve not, here’s a brief rundown:
Jay Lake is an award winning science fiction author. He’s written ten novels and over three hundred short stories. He is American, and he has a daughter.
He also has cancer.
The Acts of Whimsy began as a way to raise funds to get Jay’s genome sequenced, in hope it can give his doctors something else to go on.
To date, $40,000 has been raised, which means that another level has been unlocked. While various authors and members of the spec fic community have done acts of whimsy in support of Jay, now “everyone can play.”
I jumped at the chance to join in. Although I’ve never met or corresponded with Jay directly, there is a certain connection between us. When Gabrielle Harbowy acquired my novel Hapax, Jay’s name was one of the first on her list of people I had to meet. “Read Mainspring,” she said. “You’ll love it, and it’s similar to yours.”
I read it. I loved it. It is similar.
Not in setting, not really in plot, except by the broadest strokes. But in heart. I closed that book thinking that although Jay and I took very different routes, we essentially reached the same conclusions.
And so, here is my Act of Whimsy. Contrary to popular belief, Hapax was not my first published book. In 1999, the Allenby Public School Press published “Prey Valley,” an epic story of wolves and adventure, which I’m releasing now in the form of a fully-produced podcast.
Please enjoy. And please, if you can, support Jay here. Every little bit helps.
It’s been a while since my last post, for which I apologize. There’s been a lot happening lately.
In this brave new world of mine, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe how people react to very difficult situations. Sometimes, life sucks. There really isn’t a blunter, or better, way to put it. S*** happens.
“Stuff” happens, but equally important are the choices we make in response to our circumstances. And that is my major realization of late.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to reconcile two different perspectives on choice. Think about illness. No one chooses to get sick, either mentally or physically. This is why saying, “Snap out of it” to someone with depression is just as effective as saying, “Unclog your arteries” to someone with arteriosclerosis. It just doesn’t work. You can’t simply choose to get better.
And yet, saying that never felt right to me. It smacks of defeatism, of surrendering all agency and accountability. No, you can’t always get better by yourself. But where does personal responsibility come in?
We can’t necessarily choose to get better. But we can choose to make the effort to get better.
Trust me, I’ve been there. There have been very dark times, when even with all the love and support I was getting, I couldn’t imagine seeing the light. It really wasn’t until I struck out anyway, and chose to turn away from the darkness even though I had no idea what else might be out there, that I started to “get better.” It’s an act of blind faith, really. Darkness, like anything else, becomes familiar. Letting go and taking a leap towards something else is terrifying, and sometimes, the light is too far away and you need help beyond the scope of this essay.
But you will never get better unless you make the effort to try.
It’s been almost a month since my dad’s passing. I still can’t imagine how this gaping wound will heal. I know it never will, entirely. But I can hope it will ease, somewhat. I obviously didn’t choose this. I am choosing how I respond.
As writers, we have to think about this. Characters reveal themselves through their choices. Reaction drives plot; plot drives reaction. How characters respond to events not only illuminates them as people, it shapes the next set of circumstances, the next thing they’ll respond to. Yes, there are Acts of God, earth-shattering events that are no one’s choice (ZOMG an asteroid is coming!!!), but even then, characters (and people) choose their response.
Do you hide under the bed, drowning in absolute despair? Do you build a laser to blast the asteroid to pieces? Do you make a final phone call to every member of your family? Do you make yourself one, last, perfect sandwich?
When we see our flaws reflected in other people, do we turn away and deny them? Or do we embrace it as a lesson, and work to change ourselves?
We’re all the protagonists of our own life stories. But we’re also the authors. Just as in writing…
Reaction drives plot; plot drives reaction.
S*** happens. We can’t change that. We don’t get to roll the dice of the universe.
But whether we flip the table over, or come up for another round…that’s on us.
Apparently, one of the characters in Strix had this figured out a while ago: “The gods’ games aren’t for us to understand…but that doesn’t mean we can’t play.”
You know, I think she’s right.
For a while, I thought about not doing a New Year’s post.
With my loss still so raw, and the grief only now really hitting, I have rarely been happier to see the tail end of a year. Except then, I got to thinking. Taking the entire year into account, 2012 was too big to be ignored. It was a year of immense growth and opportunity: from backpacking through the South Pacific, to meeting (and befriending!) some pretty incredible people, to strengthening friendships back home, to publishing and podcasting, to discovering where “home” really is for me.
Like I said, a big year.
It was a year of heights, of suddenly finding myself on mountaintops (literally and metaphorically) and wondering how on earth I’d gotten there. There was a LOT of good in 2012. It’s important to remember that: that oftentimes, I was stunned by how happy I was.
2012 started with a bang, but it definitely ends with a whimper. Some of my personal dreams came true this year, but so too did some of my nightmares. I had tears in my eyes as I stood atop Mt. Victoria and finally gazed across Wellington. I had tears in my eyes as I stood in the cemetery.
From one extreme to the other.
But it’s no longer 2012. My Twitter-pal (and one of the charming hosts of the Roundtable Podcast) Dave Robison recently said something about New Year’s being just another day, that we can make changes any day of the year.
It’s true, but I think the start of the year is a good time to take a breath, to mentally prepare for those changes and plans.
2012 was a great year, writing-wise. I’m optimistic 2013 will be even better. Frankly, I have a better idea of what I’m doing. Graduating means I’ll have more time (as was helpfully pointed out to me, my “day job” will really be just that—something on the side, a daytime diversion as I put my energy into writing). Oh man, when I think of all those hours spent reading articles, going to class, and writing essays…I’m so excited to put that time into fiction.
As I start putting the shambles of my life back in order, and figure out how to live around this huge, gaping hole, I’m more grateful than ever for what I have. I have some pretty awesome people in all parts of my life. Tired and sad as I am, I’m actually kind of cautiously hopeful for 2013. It feels like 2012 was a build-up, December was a breaking point, and 2013…
Well. I guess we’ll find out.