blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
For the third time in less than a year, I've seen someone who attended Viable Paradise mention feeling uncomfortable discussing self-publishing with most Viable Paradise folks.  One writer was hesitant to even mention the fact her work is up for an award because it's self-published. Another mentioned being careful not to discuss self-publishing plans at all at the workshop based on a couple of overheard comments.

My own VP experience came when self-publishing was still new enough that it wasn't much of a conversation topic. The comments directed toward self-publishing were fewer than a handful, and easily brushed off as an "early days" sort of thing. The landscape has changed much in the last three years.

So I'm curious about this. I'm not in need of campaign to make it different, but I certainly would want to add a disclaimer to my annual Viable Paradise posts if self-publishers would leave the workshop feeling like they couldn't be honest with their classmates and instructors.

If Viable Paradise wants to maintain a more exclusive focus on trade publishing, there is nothing wrong with that. I simply would want to make a note of it when recommending it to others so those choosing to solely self-publish don't end up having to choose between feeling awkward or keeping quiet.

Please understand I'm not looking for a list of VP folks who self-publish as "proof" of self-publishing support. I'm interested in what happens at, and is discussed at, the actual workshop. Honestly, I've read enough off-hand comments on various platforms to believe folks who self-publish would think twice before applying and attending. (And I'd guess those making the comments would wonder what all the fuss is about...)

If you don't feel comfortable answering here, feel free to send me a direct message.

Again, I'm not looking to start an argument. Just honest assessments so I can steer folks in the right direction.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Back at this post, we talked about throwing away the Wet Blanket—turning off the part of your prefrontal cortex that inhibits creativity—in order to use new writing skills and be creative at the same time.

It’s easy to say.  There are writers who have, it would seem, a natural ability to bypass the Wet Blanket or perhaps have no Wet Blanket at all.  Hearing their advice—”Just do it!”—can be so frustrating because the fact you can’t just do it makes you feel like a failure or an imposter.  It’s even worse when the advice is coupled with judgment about a writer’s worth that’s based on this single measure.

But know this, my darlings: Very few writers can “just do it,” and natural ability is no indication of future success.  The fact your creativity doesn’t perform on command is normal.  Tapping your creativity can be learned.  But it is also, unquestionably, difficult at times.  And the most difficult time is when you’re actively working to improve your skills.

Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania found free and creative thinking could be enhanced by inhibiting the left prefrontal cortex with a mild electrical current.  Shocking your brain sounds a tad extreme for home use—not the sort of DIY project I’d recommend—so let’s see what else we can do, hmm?

We writers love our accumulating wordcounts.  Numbers are a way to prove—to ourselves, if no one else—that we’re actually doing something, moving forward, making progress.

But we get so focused on forward progress that deleting words feels like failure, and words written for anything but a story we expect to edit and market feel like a waste of time.  We talk about it as spinning our wheels, being stuck in one place, or even (dun-dun-DUUUUN!) writer’s block.  Among writers who have seen a little success—moderate sales on the first self-published novel or a publishing contract for the first novel—the pressure to amass only words that can be strung into a story drives that counterproductive feeling.*

I invite you to see deletion of words and writing non-salable words instead as an investment because practicing the New Thing is the only way to transform it into a Known Thing, and the primary way for a writer to practice is to write.

As an actor, I usually spent more hours rehearsing than performing  Musicians, artists, athletes, crafters, chefs—all of them expect to invest time and effort, expect to do it wrong before doing it right, expect to spend time practicing even when the practice produces nothing useable or salable at the end.  They all know rehearsals are required, not wasted, time.

Gill McGrath mentioned this in comments at Blair MacGregor Books:  “When I get stuck I start writing in what I call list form, sort of whole thoughts in small readable segments (meaning I am not worried about structure or full stops or actually what I am writing about or if I will ever read it again).”

That’s excellent!  It’s a perfect way to lull the Wet Blanket into thinking it isn’t needed, opening the door to your deeper creativity.  In theater, my favorite director would have actors who seemed unable to truly engage in the scene stop saying their lines and improvise, driven by the scene’s emotion, instead.  I suspect that method hit the same cues Gill is speaking of, and I plan on trying Gill’s “list form” when the Wet Blanket strikes again.

Another method that works for me is often a combination of writing prompts and pressure, which happens to be a method used at many writing workshops.  At the end of the Writers of the Future week-long workshop, we writers were to take a single prop, a quickly-researched topic, and a person we met on the street in front of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater and craft them all into a complete short story in twenty-four hours.

I was terrified.  After all, my head was full of incredible new writing stuff taught by KD Wentworth and Tim Powers—all sorts of ideas and rules and advice and guidelines that left me feeling I hadn’t known a damned thing about storytelling before showing up.  And I didn’t at all consider myself a short story writer.  But the ticking clock (and likely the resulting exhaustion), combined with prompts I didn’t have to think up on my own, tossed the Wet Blanket aside.  With very little editing, that 24-hour story has become one of my most-read short pieces (and, for some reason, extremely popular at Barnes and Noble).

But what about things we write and throw out?  Well, I wrote four or five complete novels’ worth of practice words, as well as a dozen partial novels, before Sword and Chant.  While there are some ideas in that pile I intend to mine for other pieces, the actual storytelling is beyond saving.  And those were all words well spent.  Time well invested.

But there is another way to practice that doesn’t involve actual writing, one that was brought up by Green_Knight in comments over on LiveJournal.  “…the fallow period while my brain churns on New Thing is a necessary part of the learning process and the sooner I delve into it, the sooner I come out.”

That is indeed so important.  That “fallow period” is a type of rehearsal, indeed part of the learning process that pulls New Thing deeper into the mind to become part of creativity rather than a set of rules to follow.  It’s like the athlete who envisions the perfect throw, the speaker who envisions the audience and venue before stepping onto the stage, the architect who envisions the impact of different angles on the fall of light within a new building.  Imagining how to apply New Thing is practice time as valuable as attempting to apply New Thing.

And many might hear “fallow” and hear “unused.”  In truth, leaving a field fallow is the choice to cease wringing the last bit of productivity from the land and instead allow it to regain its natural fertility.  Fallow fields are not left bare.  They are instead covered with plants–either intentionally planted or naturally seeded–that enrich the soil for future crops.

So all those words you write and discard, all the stories you start and stop, all the writing rambles and morning pages and journaling and stream-of-consciousness words you get on the page, all the time spent seemingly doing nothing but thinking—all of them are ways of practicing.  All of them help get rid of the Wet Blanket.

Lastly, I want to mention the importance of retreats.  It can be a specific writer’s retreat, like Rainforest, or a workshop-driven retreat like Viable Paradise, or a lone excursion like my days camping beside a lake.  If you’re generally like me (a human with responsibilities) or perhaps specifically like me (the widowed parent of a teenager, self-employed, solely responsible for all finances, concerned for aging parents, working to complete numerous writing and teaching projects), the Wet Blanket of your prefrontal cortex will fight tooth and claw to maintain control because it might be needed at a heartbeat’s notice.

In those cases, retreating lets the Wet Blanket relax.  Sometimes the relaxation comes quickly.  A few minutes into my drive to the campground, my mind had already released the responsibilities of home and turned to solving the problems in my novel.  While camping, I let myself take my time, work or walk or sleep or eat or stare at the landscape when the fancy struck me.  Forty-eight hours of bliss.

Sometimes, though, it takes days.  When I attended Viable Paradise, I think it was Wednesday before I fully relaxed, and even that was with the help of gimlets and whiskey.  I’d been wound so tightly for the months leading up to that week, getting my Wet Blanket to go away was actually a painful process, but so worth it.

If you’re a writer without the options to get away, as I was for many years, the notion of a retreat sounds like a distant dream.  But this is when rituals come into play, truly.  Your time might be limited to an hour between the time the kids go to sleep and the moment you are too tired to continue, or a lunch hour hunched over a notebook in your cubicle at work, or twenty-minute sprints dependent on naptime.

If this is your situation, (been there, done that, got the stained and tattered t-shirt!) you can develop a ritual to set your Wet Blanket aside.  A cup of coffee or tea.  Re-typing the last paragraph from the day before, then writing more.  A quick note posted on Twitter that you are commencing your writing time.  Anything can become the cue your Wet Blanket can to be elsewhere for awhile because the world is, for a little space of time, a safe and predictable and uneventful place.

So.  Turning the Wet Blanket into a warm and cozy one requires practice—actual writing, and thinking about writing.  That practice can be helped along with acceptance of the process that produces words simply for the sake of writing them, and enjoyment of that process as one of discovery.  And if it is the stress of life rather than the writing rules that keep your Wet Blanket tucked over your creativity, finding a way to retreat—whether by physically leaving home, or creating a set of ritual cues—can do the trick.

It isn’t an easy process.  It isn’t comfortable.  And sometimes it feels… well, safer to stick with the rules we implement while editing than risk what Sherwood Smith calls the white fire.  But it is necessary if we want to reach that point of creativity when everything around us disappears, time becomes inconsequential, and we fall into our own story as if it has always been part of us.

And you know what?  That’s not a touchy-feely woo-woo notion, either.  It seems that when we hit that deep creative flow, another part of our brain—the parietal lobe—goes very quiet.  And when that happens, our sense of self as a distinct and separate being fades away.  It happens during prayer.  It happens during meditation.  And it happens when we sink into storytelling.

We truly do feel at one with our work.  Our brain can make it so.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
It happens to a bunch of writers—particularly those writers who are enthusiastic storytellers and seeking better ways to write those stories.  (Perhaps writers like those who have attended, and are currently attending Viable Paradise.  Just maybe.)

You spend years writing stories as quickly as your fingers can fly across the keyboard, thrilled with the ideas, the characters, the dialogue, the action, EVEYTHING.  Every stolen moment is spent adding to the word count, and those stolen moments are absolutely necessary because the story is always right there at the edge of your thoughts.  It’s ready.  You’re ready.  It’s all flow.  You are the ruler of all story!

Then you learn a New Thing—possibly the most wonderful and accurate and encouraging New Thing any writer could dream of—and yet your stories grind to a halt.  Words that once spilled effortlessly onto the page become painful little treasures to be counted one at a time as they are pushed through the keyboard.  Days that used to yield thousands of fantastic, reader-believed words might now give you a few hundred painfully-awkward words that’ll need much revising.  Stories that used to seem so natural and alive and perfect now sound stilted and dull and derivative.  Everything is wrong.

You wonder what sort of fever-dream led you to believe you could string words together at all.

Read more... )

Practice isn’t the only way to convince the Wet Towel to take a vacation.  Specific other means are likely to vary from person to person, but I’ve found a few that work for me and have seen other interventions work for others.  I’ll chit-chat about those later this week.  Feel free to share your own methods, too!

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm nearly finished with the rewrite of Sand of Bone. Hmm. Rewrite sounds to small. It's turned into more of a total remodeling--the kind that involves stripping off three layers of disgusting wallpaper so the walls can be patched, ripping up tattered carpet so the original wood floors can be restored, replacing the windows, putting on a new roof, and upgrading the plumbing and electrical. Then I'll set to revisions--new brass hardware, intricate moldings, so on and so forth. By the time it's done, about the only thing I won't have done is jack the novel from its foundations to put it in a new location. (Been there, done that, see Sword and Chant.)

That means I'm not really updating anything else online right now. Other than playing on Twitter--where I can drop in and out of chats when I have the time--I've gone a tad quiet.

What's quite wonderful is I have in hand a novel written by one of my Viable Paradise classmates. That means I have the perfect bridge between my own writing sprints!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
First: I am in love with this article by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown. As I mentioned in comments at [ profile] sartorias's LJ, a female character cannot be confident, competent, and likeable without being deemed a Mary Sue. (That doesn't even touch upon appearance, which is a whole 'nother target of spite and vitriol.) I remember a beta reader once telling me a character was a Mary Sue because of those three factors. It didn't matter that the character had been show to earn those traits; the three in combination simply Could Not Be Done is the character was to be "realistic."

Think about that for a moment. A character with competence, natural and practiced talents, who was liked because of the way she actually treated others was not realistic. She simply wasn't insecure enough, tormented enough, or outcast enough to be realistic.

That's a fucking sad commentary on what "real women" are supposed to be.

And I should note that the majority of folks I read throwing about the Mary Sue accusation to other writers are women. That's double-fucking sad, in my opinion.

(Yes, I know the original definition of Mary Sue. Alas, linguistic drift has bestowed a slightly different definition now, and that's the one we're stuck with, and I don't deem it interesting, necessary, or productive to insist everyone use the phrase in its "proper" fashion.)

Second: This post by John Wiswell--now a fellow graduate of Viable Paradise--made me cheer first (because hooray! more VP grads!). then made me grumble. I know there is a subset of self-publishers who cannot fathom the worth of critique prior to publication. My suspicion is it's the same subset who would have, in the pre- self-publishing days, written long diatribes to agents and editors in response to rejections.

Me, I see nothing incongruent between attending Viable Paradise and self-publishing. One is for craft and fellowship. One is a business decision. Anyone with shoulder-chips might indeed have good information about their side of the argument, but not the best judgment on which path is best for others.

Third: I have no link for it, but have been following various blog posts and Twitter comments from folks attending WFC in London Brighton. (Thanks for the correction, [ profile] green_knight !) From writers who have the "proper" credentials, who should without a doubt be treated to at least the crumbs of common courtesy. And they are not.

That sort of disregard of writers--at what is supposed to be a celebration of such creativity--is a pretty good indication of what value such folks place on the writers' creations. And don't sing the "But they're all volunteers!" song my direction. I've volunteered for numerous non-genre, professional conferences and conventions. I and other volunteers assumed courtesy and professionalism were standard expectations, not something guests received if they caught us a good time and were appropriately humble in their requests.

Fourth: Check out David Gaughran on the tightening of Traditional Publishing/Author Solutions ties. If you're planning to go the traditional publishing route, it's critical you read and understand it. If you're self-publishing, it's equally important. Alas, it's becoming more difficult for new writers to avoid being shuttled into dead-end and horribly expensive self-publishing "services" that are endorsed by the same traditional publishers who sneered at Author Solutions and their ilk just a couple years ago. "I know those other people say Author Solutions is a scam, and is being sued by their past customers," says the new writer in search of validation, "but Big Respected Publisher says they're awesome, so it must okay to give them thousands of dollars!"

And I was certain I had a fifth link, but it has vanished.

(Edited to correct location of WFC.)
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I've tried time and again to write about the week spent celebrating Patricia's life, and it all falls flat. Mark Booher, Artistic Director for PCPA, described the experience well when talking of how to explain the impact and reach of Patricia's presence: You had to be there.

One can't tell stories about Patricia without also telling one's own story, and I believe she did that on purpose. She lived life as an artistic collaboration. Everyone was her partner in creation. She saw the future potential in people, and lovingly demanded that potential be set free in the present. She believed in making art without hesitation because it was better to fail spectacularly than to try timidly. She taught her actors that perfection wasn't worth chasing because it was truth that mattered—and truth is a messy, painful, incredible imperfect thing.

These are the things she taught me. These are the things I want to pass on to others.

The experience of the celebration of her life was beautiful, fulfilling, and warming. Within half an hour of arriving, Dev and I found John—the man who I acted with for years, and who performed my wedding on the set of King Lear, the play Patricia was directing at the time. I had a few moments of private conversation with him that quieted some of my worst fears of Patricia's final days.

Just before the celebration in the outdoor theater began, I met up with three actors who'd been—along with me—in the first cast Patricia worked with in the area more than twenty years ago. Then one of them pointed out Dev was less than three years younger than I had been that year! And every one of them talked about how I'd huddle in some backstage corner between my scenes, frantically writing by the glow of stage lights that seeped around the sets. Even as an actor, I was a writer.

It was yesterday, home less than twenty-four hours, that I realized one of the greater gifts Patricia had given me: fertile artistic ground. I didn't seek out conferences and conventions in those years because I was already surrounded by creative people doing creative things. Creativity was the default, not the special exception. Creativity was the valued expectation, not the little thing on the side. Creativity was as breathing.

It was like living at Viable Paradise.

And I can hear her voice now: "If you want that back, love, decide now and make it happen. All that's stopping you is the silly notion that you can't do it, and notions don't get a vote in this."

For Dev, the trip gave him the chance to learn so much more about Patricia, and about the past of his parents. It'll be the time I'll look back on as the time when Dev began the shift to more adult than teenager.

I will always miss Patricia. I'll always want to share one more conversation, to see one more show, to hear one more laugh, to relax into one more embrace. But I'm no longer painfully grieving. She lived her life as she wished, and left a legacy of love, art, and passion.

May we all aspire so.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Amazing Stories columnist and fellow VPXV alum Chris Gerwel talks this week about The Care and Feeding of Chapter Breaks.

Chapter breaks are one of the tools writers use to form and direct the reader’s experience, and every break does, as Chris says, “bridge our emotional engagement with the chapter that follows.” That “bridge” is a role often overlooked, as the focus of chapter creation tends to be on its individual arc. But the ending of a chapter is the writer’s means of influencing how the reader feels beginning the next chapter. While chapter breaks in general are what controls a story’s flow, it is the chapter’s final paragraph, sentence, and word that control the story’s pull.

It’s easy to think of the chapter’s end as the conclusion of the action. Truly, that’s the sort of ending that should be used most sparingly. Instead, chapter endings should happen in the middle of movement, before the final actions, near the moment of revelation. Those can be expressed with a bang or a whisper, with speed or caution, but not a neat wrap-up of all that has gone before.

Before I thought to be a writer, I worked as an actor and educational outreach performer focused primarily on the works of Shakespeare. I spent five years performing, assisting, or directing Shakespeare–everything from a few scenes for prison outreach programs to full length productions with regional theater companies. Before that, I performed in community theater and semi-pro productions for ten years. What that gave me is a writerly mindset that wants to structure stories as scenes and acts.

I often advise beginning writers to read and watch plays as a means to studying story structure. Plays are structured in deliberate acts as well as scenes–giving the director/actor/reader concrete cues as to where emotional highs and lows are to be placed, even inserting an intermission when the audience is intended to consider and discuss how what has already happened will control what is yet to come. Internalizing the successful flow of one scene to the next, feeling the difference between scene and act, improves one’s ability to pull the reader along chapter to chapter.

Watching plays–particularly the same play performed by different companies–gives a range of ideas about transitions between scenes. Has the director chosen a full and silent blackout, as a writer might choose an abrupt ending for a chapter? Did another director choose the end the same scene with a slow fade, a lingering gaze between the actors, and few sad notes from a flute? How did you, the audience member, experience the next scene differently?

Watching movies… Okay. If you’d rather. But there are so many advantages to be gained from live theater, I wouldn’t call it an even trade-off. I’ll talk about what I see as those advantages in future posts. Am I biased? Probably. I’ll accept that.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Fellow Viable Paradise alum Stephanie Charette has posted her answers for the Next Big Thing: The Blood of Wolves

Her answer to the question of what would pique a reader's interest has certainly piqued mine.  I would very much like her to finish it by Spring. :)
blairmacg: (Chant)

This is fun: writers answer ten questions about a new or upcoming project, then tag other writers to do the same.    [ profile] sartorias was kind enough to tag me, and the writers I'm tagging will be listed at the bottom of the post.  I'll link to their answers next week.

Here we go:

What is the working title of your current book?

Sword and Chant

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Different parts came from different places.  The central characters and their relationships came from a horrid, derivative, pseudo-Celtic fantasy novel I'd written years and years and years ago.  It was my first attempt at a novel.  The characters and their relationships were interesting but everything else was...  Ugh. 

Worst of all, I actually sent it to a couple publishers.  Once I'd learned enough to know how terrible it was, I lived in fear I'd someday hear it read aloud at one of those "It Came From the Slush Pile" convention panels.

Many years later, while writing four other novels that shall one day be revised, I became interested in the social and political dynamics of the Kashmir region, Afghanistan in the 1990s and the events surrounding Six Day War.  Those ideas freed the characters of my first attempted novel from the prison of derivative plot, and I combined them with different elements of setting and culture.  Some beta readers have said the setting feels like Turkey, and some say it feels like northern Africa.

The primary antagonist—the Chant—evolved from musings about the nature of sacrifice: the cost to the one making the sacrifice, the one causing the sacrifice to be made, the one accepting the sacrifice, and the willingness of all parties to participate in the sacrifice. (Those ideas will get more stage time in the sequel.)

What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy, most certainly.  Epic fantasy, I suppose.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

First of all—movie!  Woohoo!  Unless, of course, it's one of those horrid adaptations.  Then it would be awful, and the actors actually playing the roles wouldn't want to admit their involvement.


In my mind, the characters look and sound like themselves, not actors, but I can come up with a couple ideas for the secondary characters.  I could age Grace Park many, many years so she could play Nikala, one of the warlord-chieftains.  Andre Braugher could to play Yasid Sword, and Joy Bryant could play his daughter.  But for the main characters...  I'm clueless. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Seriously, it took me months to write a blurb that was under 200 words, and even then someone else had to fix it.  One sentence?  Gah. 

It could be: Jaynes will do anything to avenge his father's murder, but his triumphs as a warlord didn't prepare him to face the threat of civil unrest, foreign invasion, and the seductive promises of the exiled god of sacrifice.

Or it could be: Shala Sword emerges from hiding to prevent the god of sacrifice from conquering the tribes, but finds the most brutal battles are against mortals intent on exacting revenge for sins committed a generation ago.

Or it could be...  Well, you get the idea.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I chose to self-publish, for reasons outlined here.  It's currently available as an ebook through online retailers and in multiple formats.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Once I decided what I wanted to do with the old manuscript, I futzed with the opening chapters for about three months.  Then 9/11 happened, and the last thing I wanted to do was write about asymmetrical warfare, insurgencies, and guerrilla tactics.  When I was finally ready to face it again, I tore into it with a fury.  It was the first novel I'd written from a detailed outline. I finished within three months, and came in at nearly 160K words.  I later cut out enough words to make another short novel, had those chopped words not been so worthy of chopping.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Yeesh, I hate doing that.  It's epic fantasy with a large cast of characters, gods who speak with mortals, battles and arguments, love and loyalty and loss, and a subtle form of earth magic.  It's like other books with those things in it.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My own internal debates.  What happens when lifelong enemies decide they're tired of fighting, or when the leaders want to end the fight but those they lead don't want to?  What are the personal costs of fighting a weaker opponent who refuses to give up?  What are the moral implications of fighting an enemy who is weaker but more ruthless than you are?  What are the moral implications of not fighting, if that choice enables the enemy to hurt someone else?  When is it ethical to sacrifice your life—whether through action or death—and when is it ethical to use the willing sacrifices others make?  When does the act of defending one's self cross the line to excessive aggression?  Why do people insist on saying, "It's really that simple" when it obviously isn't?

Odd as it sounds, I think about these things a great deal.  However, I very rarely discuss them because folks usually want to deal with real-world examples, and as soon as real-world examples are used, the discussion becomes one of politics.  And once politics enter the picture, Someone Must Be Right.

Sword and Chant lets me explore what happens to a culture, and to individuals, when they can't find solutions that are good and right, and find themselves instead trapped doing what is ugly and necessary.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

It's filled with women and men who have families and friends, who argue and fight, who fall in love and defend one another, who are sometimes proud and sometimes ashamed, who have to lead with confidence even when they know they haven't a clue what to do next.

And there is the Chant—god of sacrifice and patron of unfulfilled dreams.  He controls a skilled assassin who has an attitude, who'd be a pretty cool guy if he weren't a god-enthralled killer who's quite good at his job.

Who did you tag?
I tagged two of my VPXV classmates--LaShawn Wanak and Stephanie Charette--and my longest-running critique partner and VPXVI grad Sandy Skalski.  There are a couple others I'll be adding to the list, too.

blairmacg: (Default)

One of my fellow Viable Paradise graduates, L. Blankenship, is gearing up for the release of her first novel!

From the back cover:

The saints favor her, else-wise a peasant girl like Kate Carpenter would never be apprenticed to the kingdom’s master healer. But her patron saint also marks her ready for the duty of tending to a mission that must cross the ice-bound mountains. Their little kingdom faces invasion by a vast empire and desperately needs allies; across the snow-filled pass, through the deathly thin air, is a country that’s held off the empire and may be willing to lend an army.

Kate knows about frostbite and the everyday injuries of wilderness travel. She can heal those.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though.

And she isn’t ready for the monsters that harry them night and day, picking off their archers first, wearing the party to exhaustion, pushing Kate beyond the limits her healing abilities.

She must keep them alive, or her blood will be on the snow too.

And she's running a giveaway for an advance copy of the ebook! All you have to do is go here to enter. You'll also be able to scope out a sample of the novel and find out about the author. If you're looking for interesting chat about her writing process, check out Notes from the Jovian Frontier.


blairmacg: (Default)
It's an awesome morning--55 degrees, the sky striped with clouds, the crickets still chirping.  The dogs are overjoyed.  It's been a long time since running circles around the house was exhilarating rather than heat-exhausting.

The weather reminds me of mornings at Viable Paradise.  Truly, I think I've entered the season when everything will remind me of Viable Paradise.  Cool mornings?  VP.  Rain?  VP.  Documentary about Italian crime families?  VP.  Ukes, whiskey, and kale?  Yep, VP.  Not for the first time, I wish Martha's Vineyard was on the way to some feasible destination that permitted me to just drop in during that week October.

I'm not saying I want to go through the workshop experience again right now.  Much of what I learned is just now settling into place.  Workshopping again will just keep it all stirred up in my forethoughts.  It needs to become an intrinsic part of the process instead.  But I'd love to just hang out!

The pieces of Chant's sequel, Surrender Past, is coming together in bits and pieces.  Until Chant, I was solely a seat-of-my-pants writer.  Chant was the first novel I wrote from an extremely detailed outline.  Looks like I'll be writing Past the same way.  I wonder if that's a byproduct of the omni POV, needing to see the whole picture before setting out.

Now, as I shift over to the revisions for Sand and Bone, I'm looking forward to making progress.  I'd reached the point of revising in response to rejections so much, that I stripped out the sense of immediacy and and excitement.  I'm done with that.  No version of the novel got a better response than the first "final" version.  Trouble was, I didn't really know how to fix the problems, so ended up exacerbating the faults instead.  I forgot it's a story, not a collection of writing techniques.

blairmacg: (Default)
When I'm doing the final edits on a project, I cannot deal with interruptions.  These aren't content edits, but the nitpicky ones.  The moment something else snags my attention, it's all over.

My intended go-date for Sword and Chant is August 31, so I should probably lock myself in a closet about now.

In the meantime--

Here's the cover... )

The notion and potential of self-publishing is what rekindled my interest in writing.  Viable Paradise bolstered my confidence and clarified my goals.  Now, finally, I'm within days of putting those two pieces together.

blairmacg: (Default)

Years and years and years ago, I met another fantasy writer online.  We hit it off, enjoyed each other's stories, and exchanged many critiques and encouragements. I love the characters she has created, and the moral dilemmas she makes them face.  Then for some of those years, we lost touch, each of us taking care of Real Life.  Eventually we reconnected, caught up on all that we'd missed, and picked up the friendship right where we left off. 

That reconnection happened a mere couple days before I left for Viable Paradise last year.  And now I am incredibly happy for Sandy, because she will be at Viable Paradise this year!

Everything happens for a reason, yes?

I got a little silly with that idea in comments to this post by [ profile] jazzfish, but it did get me thinking...     What if, instead of everything happening for a reason, we choose to create a good reason for the past that has happened?  How many perfectly useable pistols do we have hanging on our walls, and must we wait for Act V before firing them?  And which pistols do we hope to AllGood will be deemed red herrings instead?

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You have four weeks to prepare and submit your submission for Viable Paradise

My primary post about Viable Paradise is here, and the post includes links to posts from some of my VPXV classmates, and their posts include links to more.

Still wondering if you're "good enough" to even bother applying?  I played that wondering game for many years.  But here's the truth: the piece of writing I submitted last year to VP was written many years ago.  My insecurities (and, frankly, the youthful belief there would always be "next year") rejected me, preventing VP from ever getting the chance.

Don't do what I did.  Don't press the hold button on your writing development because you feel more comfortable wondering than risking. 

Questions? Ask 'em here or email 'em my way.

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I had a story-dream last night--long and detailed, unfolding around me like a hologram movie I could stand within.  Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman played key roles.

Then I woke up in a dark movie theater, and it took me a moment to realize I'd fallen asleep during a movie I was seeing with the students and instructors of Viable Paradise.  [ profile] sartorias leaned over to tell me she'd poked me in the ribs because I'd been snoring.  Then, because I was so excited about the story-dream, I whispered the whole thing to [ profile] sartorias and [ profile] skzbrust while some other film played on the screen.

Just before I got to the climax scenes, I woke up to the sound of the dog barfing beside my bed.

After cleaning up that problem, I wrote down everything I could remember from the dream within a dream.  It's actually quite workable, though the part with the murderous sea lion is just plain silly.

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Via [ profile] sartorias, I see submissions are open for Viable Paradise.

This is a Viable Paradise entry for those folks who have gone searching for Viable Paradise information--hoping it will help them decide to apply--and somehow ended up at my little LJ.  I know I went looking, and read every little comment I could find.  (I did that for years before I actually sent my writing sample along.)  There are posts about my VP experience on the LJ, too.

Most folks want to know what the experience was like, if the workshop really made a difference in the writing, and if attending is "worth it."  Short answers are: life-changing, absolutely, and without a doubt.

Want to know more? )

I have yet to read a review of Viable Paradise that said, "Total waste of my time!  Didn't learn a thing!  Not a single valuable experience all week!"  So even if you're not certain the workshop is "right" for you, give it a shot.  You will not come home empty-handed or empty-headed.

Do you have questions?  I know I did.  If you think I can help, ask away.

ETA: Links to my fellow VPXV-ers (with more links to be added...)
[ profile] aanna_t, Fran Wilde, Kelly Lagor, [ profile] tbonejenkins, [ profile] jazzfish, [ profile] aamcnamara,

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This last year ended up being so very different from anything I could have predicted.  I learned so much about people, and about myself, but in ways I never would have sought.  Yet learn I did, those lessons of love and mortality and loss and parenting and doing what I never thought I'd have the strength to do.  I didn't know what raw emotion was until I held someone as he died.  I didn't understand grief before I lost someone I wish I'd had more time to love.  I didn't understand parenting until I realized I'd have to do it alone.

Then I learned lessons about reconnecting with lost friends and making new ones, rediscovering cool parts of myself I buried years ago, and reigniting my passion for creating and creative people.  I didn't realize how lonely I'd been until I not only opened my arms to people I hadn't spoken with for years, but to new people I hope to know better in the years ahead.  I didn't know how flat and closed I'd become until my old California friends reminded me of who I had once been.  And until Viable Paradise, I had forgotten how critical--how vital--it is to surround one's self, as often as possible, with people who thrive on the glory of creation and exploration.

Great big lessons, all of them.  I am grateful for all of you who helped me learn those lessons, and for those who will help me learn lessons in the year ahead.

If I made resolutions last year, I can't remember them.  I don't think I made a single one.  I felt depressingly out of control at the time anyway.  This year, I am committing to practice greater kindness, to ask more questions than I answer, to give more than I take, to let myself enjoy more than I fear.  I want to spend more time zip-lining--literally and figuratively--and less time fretting over the possibility of falling.  I will be a better parent, a better sister, and a better daughter.  I will strive to be the kind of person that the wonderful people in my life deserve.

I have but one writing commitment this year: I will publish in a pro market.  Short story, novella, novel, whatever.  That third sale will cross the SFWA-eligibility threshold.  To meet that commitment, I'll have to do all sorts of things like write new stuff, revise old stuff, get feedback, give feedback, and send stuff out.  But the actual commitment is the sale.  Nothing less.

That's it.  I'm going to make it happen.  Period.

Goin' West

Dec. 5th, 2011 10:44 am
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Dev was born in California.  The poor kid was less than three months old when we packed him off to Indiana, and he's never been back.  Heck, I've only been back three times, and one of those was merely an LAX-to-Long Beach Harbor hop.  Neither of the other trips took me to where I'd lived my last decade in California.

So Dev is going to get the old-stomping-grounds tour: where Mom went to high school, where Mom and Dad met and married, where we lived when he was born.  I will leave out the commentary of some places we'll visit (where Mom used to go 120 mph in her Mustang, forex).  On the other hand, I did rent us a Mustang convertible for the week.  Hee.

We're going to spend most of one day hiking in the mountains north of Santa Barbara, another day heading up the coast to Hearst Castle, and some time on a little beach cove I used to frequent when I was pregnant.  We will spend time with Dev's Godmom, the man who performed the marriage ceremony for Ron and I, and a couple other folk we can catch.

It'll be fun, I'm certain, but a little strange, too.  I left behind an entirely different way of life when I moved to Indiana.  Lots of theater, little poetry readings, late nights downtown, and more theater.  Don't get me wrong--I could have continued that life in Bloomington or Indianapolis.  (It may be flyover country, but it isn't empty.)  But none of those things matched up with the sort the stay-home mom I wanted to be.  And in all honesty, had I not become a stay-home mom, I might never have turned to writing as my creative outlet.

I've written here before of how VP--in addition to being an awesome writing week--helped me transition through grief.  It also re-introduced me to my old self, that young woman I left behind in California.  I suspect this trip will bring up similar feelings.

I'm anticipating a little teasing about how I talk now, too.  While watching Firefly, it struck me just how many people I know who talk in the same phrasings as Mal.  Then I realized I use the same phrases m'own self.

So the dogs are already at the kennel (I already miss them), and all that's left is the packing.  Then I'll try to go to bed early, which won't work because I'll be too afraid I'll miss the alarm, and be up by four in the morn to make an early flight.
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I came out of my individual meetings with instructors knowing I had a huge amount of work to do, but also knowing I didn’t suck.  One instructor even took me through her word-by-word edit of my first fifteen pages or so, explaining the reason for each little mark.  It was uplifting.  Exciting.  I could see the problems and the potential solutions.  That’s what I came to Viable Paradise to discover.

One evening, [ profile] matociquala mentioned the frustration of getting “close but not quite” rejections.  There’s nothing wrong with the story, but no one will buy it.  Bob knows, I’ve complained and whined about that!  Then she said it wasn’t enough for there to be nothing wrong.  It had to have more that was right.

Seems obvious, I know, but internalizing that shift of perspective is a tad more difficult.  “Something wrong” can be pointed at, explained, and changed by other readers because it deals with what already exists.  “Something right” does not yet exist.  It must be identified and created before it can even be determined as wrong or right.

On a similar note, I’m viewing my third chapter through the lens of TNH’s comment during critique: “Your reader can’t tell you what she doesn’t need to know.”

But the biggest job ahead of me is fixing the omniscient voice.  Painfully obvious, that.  Challenge the first, per [ profile] sartorias's advice, was determining the precise identity of the narrator.  Nothing was really working for me until, at three o’clock Wednesday morn, it burst into my head fully formed.  By the next day, I had all the reasons he would want to tell the story as well.  Now I need to let it simmer, let the story absorb the new flavor, before I begin editing the novel itself.

In that sense, it’s good this first week home is crazy-busy.  I have a major report to finish, a wellness project to revise, dojo promotion to perform, food drives to coordinate, and my son’s school work to check.  And laundry and dishes and yard work and teaching and clients.  I have begun a countdown to when certain responsibilities are fulfilled, and am determined not to fill those slots with more.

I have made two little tweaks to my VP short story and shall place it in the mail tomorrow.
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I attended Viable Paradise for writerly reasons, and received a monumental amount of guidance and information and advice and inspiration and and and...and you get the idea.

But here's what's true: By the end of the week, the most important gifts of the week were not about ink and paper, or the craft of putting the former on the latter in recognizable patterns, or what to do with the paper once it has been perfectly inked.  No, what I was given last week was time, space, tenderness, friendship, and joy.

Aside: If you came this way via, you already know the strain of the last few years.  If you don't know, just consider it backstory that will likely be revealed as time goes forward.  Suffice it to say I came to VP carrying an immense amount of emotional luggage because, as Pastor Bob says, people like me "don't do" process well or willingly.  (I once explained something to him by starting with, "As you know, Bob..."  But I digress.)

The VP workshop schedule isn't crammed and frantic.  It's lovely.  A good thing, that, because I needed the time.

I cried often during the week.  It had nothing to do with my writing.  (In fact, I have never felt more confident about the writing!)  There was so much going on that was positive, uplifting, encouraging, and personal...  It caught me unawares.  It pushed in before I realized what was happening.  And since I'd been so full of other emotions for so very long, something had to give.  The old emotions, dense and heavy, leaked out.  I did not find this depressing.  When I shared my teariness with a couple friends there, the response was "Good!"  I felt lighter and truer every day.

I discovered some people think I'm a likable person when they meet me, and a few still think that when they get to know me.  My world has been so small for so long--there haven't been many opportunities to meet people in recent years--I admit I was more nervous about the social side of VP than the writing one.  I shouldn't have been!  I made new friends, talked writing, talked life, talked love, talked fears, talked fun.  Talked about food and runaway kids, awesome dogs and religion, myths and sex and the importance of letting folks know you care. 

I ate remarkable food like ginger potatoes, black bean mango salad, cranberry chocolate chip cookies and white chocolate ginger lime fudge.  Took night walks by myself and with others.  Danced the can-can, the kick line, and the Safety Dance during a game of Thing.  Drank too much good whiskey with just the right amount of people.

I did not feel awkward.

And I'm terribly envious of the VP instructors and staff.  They get to do it all again next year!

Yes, yes, I know I should relate the writerly part.  I'm getting there, promise.


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