My First Workshop: Crafting Cross-Genre Fiction

I ran my first workshop last weekend at Imaginarium 2019 (the most awesome event in Louisville). Given that I am not a morning person, that I’d never run a workshop before, and that I stayed up late on Saturday night because (a) friends, (b) beer, and (c) Imaginarium entertainment, I thought it went pretty well!

My topic was Crafting Cross-Genre Fiction, which is something I love to do and love to talk about with other writers. I will say that I think in the future I would open up some audience participation early in the workshop, right after introducing myself. I think things really started to come alive when I asked people if they already had an idea or a work in progress that blended genres, and I wish I had opened with that instead of giving my talk right off the bat (particularly given how well I speak in the morning.) So I file that away for next time, and pass it on to others out there who might be doing their first workshops and are looking for tips.

But what I was most pleased with was how my activity went! Here is what I did: before the convention, I made a spreadsheet with 22 genre and subgenre categories and 22 “wildcard” story or world elements. I coded playing cards to those 44 options (I plan to modify this method*). At the workshop, everyone drew 2 cards from the wildcard stack and 2 cards from the genre/subgenre stack. Everyone was allowed to trade out one card if they wished to. Then we spent about 10 minutes writing a “book blurb” (the teaser on the back of a book) based on the elements we drew.

Here's exactly how my 9am workshop was. Minus the dead animals hanging from the ceiling.

Funny thing was, three of us (myself included) randomly ended up with elements that described something we had already written or were working on! Some crazy serendipity there.

Everyone who attended came up with really great ideas, every one of which I would totally read if I came across it! Tried it out back at the vendor table with some of my cohorts, too, and they came up with awesome ideas, as well. So I’m very happy with the exercise, but for the sake of simplicity I think *the coding method could be tweaked. There’s probably an easier method with the cards and cards have the advantage that once one is drawn, no one else will get the same thing as the others. I would definitely use two different decks of two different colors in the future to ensure that the two stacks stay distinct. It might also be reasonable in a small group to cut out four of the 44 options and use four 20-sided dice of two different colors, and just re-roll if anything gets repeated. Or you could draw slips from two separate hats! If anyone thinks of a better method, feel free to comment and tell me!

If you want to give the game a shot, pick your way to randomize and play! Here are my lists, but you can make up your own wildcards or use genres or subgenres I didn’t think of:

#Genres & Subs (pick 2)#Wildcards (pick 2)
1FantasyAon a spaceship
2Science FictionBin the Jazz Age
3RomanceCin an ancient civilization
4MysteryDwith humorous elements
5ThrillerEwith a dragon
6HorrorFin a foreign country
7Historical FictionGwith a ghost
8SuspenseHwith a robot
9ComedyIduring the Revolution
10ParanormalJwhen pirates show up
11SurvivalKin a hidden world
12SteampunkLafter civilization crumbles
13CyberpunkMwith a cat
14DystopianNwith supernatural creatures
15Alternate HistoryOand magic
16WesternPleading to a trial
17NoirQwhile on the run from the mob
18FuturisticRwhile on the run from agents
19RetroSbefore recorded history
20GothicTafter the village is raided
21SatireUwhen an invention changes everything
22Coming-of-AgeVduring a family reunion

Here is one of the combos I drew and the blurb I did based on it:

Romance / Alternate History / On a spaceship / Leading to a trial

Tsarina Catherine the Great is at the height of her reign when she is taken away by the dashing captain of a spaceship from an alien world. While Pugachev takes control of Russia in her absence, the Tsarina falls in love with Captain Gugog*. But the captain’s superiors demand her return and court-martial Gugog for interfering with Earth’s affairs. How will Catherine and Gugog sustain the flame they have kindled as the forces of two worlds try to tear them asunder?

*Gugog is a random thing my family says, as in, “You’re such a gugog!” or “That thingy, you know, the gugog!” Since I couldn’t think of a name off the top of my head, Captain Gugog.

Yevgeny Zamyatin: a brief biography

Yevgeny Zamyatin is among my literary heroes. A subversive writer who protested first the Czarist and then the Bolshevik governments in Russia during the tumultuous period between 1900 and the 1930s, Zamyatin was multi-talented and pretty damn close to fearless. He wrote novels, short stories, political essays, literary criticism, and plays; edited literary magazines and journals; served on editorial and theatrical boards; mentored the Serapion Brothers Literary Group; lectured on Russian literature, naval engineering, and creative writing; and designed warships for Russia and England during World War I.

Somehow, with all that on his plate, he also managed to find time to be exiled on three separate occasions. The first time, he was a student in St. Petersburg (known in the Soviet years as Petrograd) who regularly participated in demonstrations against the Czarist government and was caught hiding an illegal printing press in his dorm room. He was exiled from the city in 1905, but he sneaked back in to finish his degree in 1906. Through a bureaucratic loophole, he was able to stay and begin his teaching career at the Polytechnic Institute. He was exiled from the city again in 1911 and then sent to Ukraine in 1913 to get him out of Russia. He worked on warships in England from 1916-1917, where he became an associate of George Orwell (Orwell’s 1984 would be heavily inspired by Zamyatin’s ideas and his novel We). Zamyatin managed, again, to sneak back into St. Petersburg, this time for the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Although Zamyatin had been a Bolshevik since his student days, he was (like many others) repulsed by the brutality of the civil war that followed the Revolution, as well as the pressure for conformity which the new Bolshevik government imposed on society. Zamyatin was as quick to criticize the authorities of the Soviet regime as he had been those of the Czarist regime, earning him epitaphs such as “The First Dissident,” “The Devil of Soviet Literature,” “The Soviet Heretic,” and “the most left-wing man in Russia.” His 1920 novel We became the first novel banned in the USSR; it wasn’t even published yet, and had only been read in literary circles in manuscript format. (It was published abroad in 1924 and would go on to inspire Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Vonnegut’s Player Piano.) Truth in literature, empathy toward others, and a deep awareness of reality were paramount in Zamyatin’s philosophy. He once wrote, “It is not possible to build on negative emotions. Genuine literature will come only when we replace hatred for man with love for man,” (The Goal).

In 1931, after being systematically banned from publication and from the theater, and removed from his teaching positions, he wrote a letter to Stalin requesting to leave the Soviet Union to live abroad. Here is a quote from that letter which pretty well displays Zamyatin’s lack of fear:

I know that I have the very uncomfortable habit of saying what is not advantageous at a given moment, but whatever I believe to be the truth. I never concealed what I think of literary servility, toadyism, and coat changing. I have always thought and I continue to think that such things are as degrading for the writer as they are to the revolution.”

Yevgeny Zamyatin to Yosef Stalin, 1931

As much to Zamyatin’s surprise as anyone’s, Stalin granted passports to Yevgeny and his wife. The Zamyatins traveled in Germany and Czechoslovakia before settling in Paris, where they met Marc Slonim, the man who had published We. Sadly, Zamyatin’s health deteriorated rapidly; he had heart disease. Slonim sheltered him and helped nurse him through his final years before Zamyatin died in 1937.

The striking thing (to me) about Zamyatin’s ideas, his philosophy, his writing advice, is how deeply rooted they are in his particular moment in time and place, and yet how universally they apply. Some of Zamyatin’s quips and quotes could belong just as well to an L.A. punk rocker of the 1970s or a Zen philosopher as a subversive shouting his message from the early days of the USSR.

Yevgeny Zamyatin, the “Devil of Soviet Literature”

A few fun facts:

  • As a child, Zamyatin was bitten by a rabid dog. He didn’t tell anyone until two weeks later, because he wanted to see what it would feel like to have rabies. Luckily for him, he didn’t contract the disease
  • Zamyatin struggled with math as a child; he chose to study engineering specifically to challenge himself
  • Zamyatin applied Einstein’s theory of relativity to his writing style, which is why he avoids chronological narration, changes point of view, utilizes multiple planes of action, and expands time relative to the moment in his work
  • Zamyatin was deeply inspired by Dostoevsky, particularly his concept that the irrational is the ultimate source of freedom and individuality (most famously expressed in The Brothers Karamazov in the Grand Inquisitor sequence)

Zamyatin quotes:

  • “We have long become overgrown with calluses; we no longer hear people being killed,” The Dragon: Fifteen Stories
  • “If I mean anything to Russian literature, I owe this completely to the Petrograd Secret Service.”
  • “Irony, sarcasm, and satire are the most effective weapons of progress…for stopping man kneeling before someone or something.”
  • “There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times,” A Soviet Heretic
  • “Who knows who you are…a person is a novel: you don’t know how it will end until the very last page. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth reading to the very end,” We
  • “Knowledge! What does that mean? Your knowledge is nothing but cowardice… You just want to put a little wall around infinity. And you’re afraid to look on the other side of that wall,” We

If you’re curious to read some Zamyatin, I can’t recommend enough the short story “The Cave.” It’s my favorite of his works that I’ve read. The novel We, as you can tell from this post, is probably his most important piece in terms of influence on literature.

InConjunction 2019

This past Friday-Sunday (July 5-7) I spent in Indianapolis at InConjunction Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. As usual at these types of events, I was wearing the multiple hats of vendor, panelist, writer, reader, and partner/marketing director in the small press publishing house, Per Bastet Publications. This might seem like a lot of hats, but I’m used to it.

Although my panels were MANY, they were a lot of fun, and a nice mix of readings and discussions. I did two readings (one action scene from my novel The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn and one fun scene from the opening of my short story “She Who Dines on Heavenly Food), swapped book recommendations at the Best Book I Read Since InConjunction 2018 panel, spoke on a panel on world-building, and spoke on a panel about balancing plot-driven and character-driven elements in writing.

I was also very excited and honored to be on two panels with the curator of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University (shout out to Doug Powers for the fantastic job he did as moderator)! The first was about science fiction in Vonnegut’s works, and my part was mainly to comment as a Vonnegut reader and as a writer of speculative fiction–although Vonnegut and I do have in common a degree in anthropology, which shows up in the way he writes about both our society and fictional societies in his work. The second panel was about censorship and banned books, which both apply to Vonnegut and Bradbury, but also to another little niche of mine: while I was getting that aforementioned anthropology degree, I did two projects on censorship: one on censorship in general, and one on Soviet subversive literature during the Stalin era. Here’s the thing about being on panels and attending panels: you come away really excited about things all over again. I’ve been away from academia since I graduated in 2015, but being on these two panels in particular reminded me of all the things I miss about it. Not that I don’t talk about ideas a lot, and not that I’m not constantly learning new things in my current capacity as a CRM archaeologist, but damn, school was fun.

It also made me realize that, hey, I have a blog that’s primarily about writing, and that I’ve said very little here about the brilliance, courage, and resourcefulness of subversive Russian writers. Also that I have a lot to say, and that I use my blog far too little for someone who’s as impassioned about as many topics as I am. So, dear readers, although my primary focus at the moment is finishing The Death and Times of Seth McCoy, methinks I’ll try to write a few posts here in the near future about two of my literary heroes, Yevgeny Zamyatin and Mikhail Bulgakov.

If you write, whether you’re published or trying to be or are just starting out, I can’t stress to you enough how good for you it is to attend conventions. Many writers are not people people, or are not good with crowds, or are not good with strangers, or are socially awkward, or all of the above. I don’t exclude myself from at least a few of these categories (one of my dreams is to own a coffee mug that says I’d rather be digging your grave) but there’s this gorgeous energy you only get from conventions, and you’re cheating yourself if you don’t tap into it. Everybody else there is just as nerdy as you are, after all. And once you step into it, you’re family. Seeing friends and welcoming newcomers is part of the joy, and one not absent for me this weekend!

For me personally, there is also always the benefit of sharing even the shittiest hotel room with my crime business partners, T. Lee Harris and Marian Allen a.k.a. Mom, who loves me so much she bought me a plague rat from one of the vendors this weekend. His name is Bubo.

Bubo the Plague Rat. Yes, that is a Wolfman figurine astride Ein from Cowboy Bebop in the background.

Mernan’s Betrayal – $0.99c Short Story Release

Released today on Amazon Kindle is my short story, Mernan’s Betrayal, for the low low price of 99 cents! Originally published in Southern Indiana Writers’ Off the Rack anthology, it’s the first of the Tales of Pasmira stories to be published.

Click image to see on Amazon!

The use of magic is forbidden to everyone but the village mage, Mernan. But a stranger from the north, a man of the longren race said to be descended from dragons, is caught nearby, and the villagers demand his execution. Mernan must choose between his duty and his conscience to decide the stranger’s fate. This story is one of many Tales from Pasmira, a world where humans, elves, longren, and rarer races coexist in anything but harmony.

This story is based in a world I began building for a novel back in 1998. The world has by far overflowed what one novel can hold,  with over 1500 years of history timelined and a plethora of legends, characters, creatures, and encounters with their own stories to tell. This is the first of these stories released, and takes place in the equivalent of the Bronze Age. Most of the others take place roughly a thousand years later. I hope (fingers crossed!) to announce the publication of another before long, and there will eventually be a collection, at least one novella or novel, and possibly a storytelling game! But for now, here is an introduction to the world of Pasmira.

The Wisdom of James Herriot

I don’t know how much of what I’ve written this week I’ll end up keeping vs. cutting. I finished a chapter tonight which may well be completely replaced. But I’m not sorry I wrote it, because 1. I enjoyed writing it, and 2. it gave one of my characters room to open up on the page–not that I didn’t already know certain things about him, but just like with real people, it’s one thing to know a character, and another thing to really empathize with them, to feel what it’s like inside their head. Whether the scene is integral enough to the plot of the novel or not to keep it remains to be seen, along with whether or not it’s anything a reader would care to sit through when there are much more adventurous moments to be had in the book. In a first draft, you can’t worry about that kind of stuff, or you’ll never finish. Be generous with your first draft and ruthless with your second, I always say. Or, in other words, write the first draft as a writer and the second as an editor.

Image result for james herriot

Alfred Wight, a.k.a. James Herriot with doggie. Image cribbed from James Herriot Twitter account.

And speaking of writing, I just finished re-watching the excellent BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, based on the autobiographical books of a Yorkshire veterinarian. The books were written under the pseudonym of James Herriot, real name Alfred Wight. I grew up on his books, which both my mother and my grandmother read to me as a child, and on the BBC television series which aired on PBS when I was little. The time period is the 1930s-50s, the setting rural Yorkshire, the style funny and touching by turns, and the characters (both human and animal) portrayed with a beautiful balance between honesty and compassion in the narrative. Herriot’s (or rather, Wight’s) stories are as ingrained in me as if they were the mythos of my personal culture. So when I finished the series and sat down to check out the special features, I was thrilled to come across a 1970s interview with the author.

There were several things in the interview that particularly struck me. First, Wight spent twenty years saying he was going to write a book before, at age 50, he ever attempted the task. He described his struggles with learning to write from the heart, rather than trying to write “well,” with finding his own voice in the shadow of the literary classics he loved. And then his struggles with rejection letters and the inevitable depression that accompanies their repetition, disasters like having an editor who liked his work but asked him for rewrites leave for another company by the time he did the rewrites, and a host of other obstacles. And yet, he ended up with one bestseller after another, translations into languages for readers all over the world, and a TV series on the BBC.

Second, I was struck by the accuracy of his portrayal of himself and his wife, and their relationship, based on the books in comparison to things he said in the interview. It can’t possibly be easy to portray anything that close to home without skewing it. And I’m sure there’s some of that, but it made me smile to see him act so much like the James Herriot I knew from his books.

Third, the interviewer asked several times, in different wording each time, why a multi-national bestselling author was, at that time, still working full time as a country vet. Wight’s answer: He loved being a vet, his love of being a vet is what he writes about, and he felt it was important to balance his writing life with the activity his career provided him with. All of which just makes me love his books more, because of the depth of his feeling for his work with animals–and the people who care for them. But that third component, balancing creativity with daily life, struck me in particular. It’s something all but the most successful writer struggles with: balancing a day job with writing. And yet, here’s an author who could easily have lived on his sales, who felt that without his day job (if you can call a job where you’re on call 24/7 a “day job”), he wouldn’t have been as productive as a writer. Granted, he wrote about what he did for a living. But still, it’s a point to ponder. We tell ourselves we need time to write, but is it time we need, or is it motivation, self-discipline, and drive?

For my own part, if I’m honest, it’s the latter. Thank you for the reminder, “Mr. Herriot”!

Imaginarium Convention 2016

Imaginarium Convention in Louisville has been my favorite event of the year since it began three years ago, and every year it gets better! It’s the best-run, most organized, yet most relaxed, friendly, and welcoming writer’s convention I’ve ever attended, and on top of that, it’s fun and accessible to not-just-writers, too, since it offers gaming, a film festival, live entertainment, and a free vendor hall in addition to its excellent array of panels and workshops on everything from poetry to documentary film writing to speculative fiction to music. I literally can’t say enough good things about Imaginarium. It’s not just the folks who run it (who are awesome), but the whole atmosphere that makes it magic. Everyone involved, from the staff to the panelists to the attendees, is generous with their time, knowledge, and attentiveness. Truly a special thing in today’s world.

Marian Allen's award

Marian Allen, with Kerosene Kerry’s award

This year was also special because Per Bastet Publishing, which I am now marketing director for and which is one of the event’s sponsors, came away with two awards! One went to Marian Allen (who happens to be my mother) for doing a fabulous job promoting the event. The second, the Sizemore Award for small press excellence, went to the house.

T. Harris with Sizemore Award

T. Lee Harris with Per Bastet’s Sizemore Award!

Coming away from this year’s Imaginarium, I have so many happy takeaways. There’s the momentum of inspiration and ideas from all the great discussions and conversations. There’s the hilarity of cutting up with other writers (especially when we’re supposed to be acting all professional). There’s the happiness of catching up with people I haven’t seen since last year and the happiness of meeting new people I look forward to catching up with next time. There’s the excitement of the great pitches the press got from authors who want to work with us. And great-sounding projects authors might send my way for editing (shout out to Jack Wallen, the best client evarrrrr! for all the recommendations!) I keep asking if we can have more than one of these things a year, but for some reason the staff who work their butts off to make the weekend run smoothly for the rest of us keep looking at me like I’ve grown wings out of my ears when I say it…… 😉

Per Bastet with Jason Sizemore

Per Bastet with Jason Sizemore, award namesake and super-nice guy! Third day of the convention = complete exhaustion, but we’re happy on the inside, I assure you!

Author Interview: Jack Wallen’s Suicide Station Kindle Scout Campaign

Would you like to experience the godlike powers of a publisher, to choose whether to make an author’s heart sing or crush an author’s hopes and dreams? Well, Amazon’s Kindle Scout publishing lets you, the reader, do just that! My client and fellow author of genre-bending fiction, Jack Wallen, has submitted his novel Suicide Station to Kindle Scout, and you have until April 7th (if my math is correct) to read the preview excerpt and nominate the book, if you so choose, to be published. Oh, and nominators get a free e-copy if it goes to publication! “What kind of book is Suicide Station?” I hear you ask. Well, I’ve read it (and edited it) and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I can promise you it’s not quite your average romance! Here’s the blurb:

PROJECT_COVER_IMAGE_1._SX800_A romance with a twist of Grim Reaper.
The world of stand up comedy was too much for Foster Donovan. Leaving a note behind for his wife, he wrapped a noose around his neck, and changed his life by embracing death.Turns out, the after life was nothing like he’d expected. Those who’ve taken their own lives find themselves temporary residents of Suicide Station, where they receive counseling, friendship, and (for Foster) the prospect of love. Suicide Station is a paranormal romance with a twist even the Grim Reaper wouldn’t see coming.”
And now, without further ado, I give you an interview with the author himself, Jack Wallen!

 

SM: Suicide Station is pretty different than your other work. What sparked the idea for this book?

JW: Believe it or not, it was a nightmare that sparked the idea. I dreamed that I’d died and, in the dying, realized the worst part about it was that I’d never get to spend another second with my lovely wife. That led me to wonder what happens to love when we pass on. Not knowing if there is an “afterlife” or not, I decided to answer all the questions the nightmare brought up. There’s no better way for a writer to answer the big questions than to write about it. In the end, I realized that death was not the end of love.

SM: You’re a very versatile writer, with quite a few genres/subgenres under your belt. Was there anything about writing this book, branching out into paranormal romance, that was challenging for you? Or was the story just “there” and the genre was secondary?

JW: To me, genre is always secondary to telling a good story. If you consider reality, you’ll find the horrific in romance and romance in the horrific. I’ve always found books that set aside the multi-dimensionality of reality to be rather 2 dimensional. With regards to romance, it’s not all about steaming passion, abs, long legs, glistening skin, and the soft moans of seduction.

Pant, pant.

If we’re going to escape, let’s really escape from reality and twist the narrative to better match the landscape of our dreams…not our wishes. Dreams can be gritty, dirty, even ugly. That’s life.

To answer the other part of this question…this story really wrote itself. I think the imagery that so quickly developed (as I wrote) helped this story to flow out of me with incredible ease.

SM: Do you think you’ll write a sequel, or other books set in Suicide Station?

JW: Initially this was going to be a one-off. But shortly after I dove into that other-worldly realm of the Suicide Station, I knew this had to continue. This book barely scratches the surface of possibility for what I’ve created and I’ve no intention of letting it die. I thoroughly enjoyed creating this world as well as the characters within. I want to explore and develop the relationship between Foster and Candy and (especially) visit some of the other Stations.

SM: How did you go about setting up the world and the rules and workings of the afterlife?

JW: One of the best parts about being a writer of fiction is that we can toss aside the constructs of reality and forge our own worlds. Before going into this, I knew one thing and one thing only – that Foster Donovan would have to go through counseling in order to move on to his “Forever Station”. That was the original intent. I had no idea this would turn into a love story. The second I started writing this book, in my mind it quickly evolved into a sort of Tim Burton-esque world where anything was possible. So…I allowed anything to be possible.

I’ve always found it unfair that we writers expect readers to suspend their disbelief, when often we’re hesitant to do the same while writing. I pretty much suspended every ounce of disbelief I had for this one.

SM: As a book set in a sort of purgatory for suicide victims, this could have been a very depressing read, yet it’s actually very hopeful, sweet, and funny. How did you maintain the balance between tastefully addressing depression and suicide and keeping the book upbeat and romantic?

JW: Confession time. I’m a helpless romantic at heart. I truly believe in the human heart and the power of connection.

Suicide has such a stigma attached to it. For some, the challenges of existing are simply too much to bear. There’s always help to be had; and I highly recommend anyone flirting with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help. But being that helpless romantic, what I really wanted to address was that the power of love reaches beyond the veil of death. When we pass, people will remember us fondly; they’ll tell stories about us, smile and weep for the loss. To me, that is the afterlife…those memories. There’s a sweetness in that. I can pass from this mortal coil knowing my wife and my friends will smile when they think of me, that I will continue to bring them some form of joy.

So to me, it wasn’t so much about the act of ending one’s life, but of moving beyond that and dealing with whatever might come next. And underneath it all, it’s about knowing your own truth and that things can always work out.

SM: What was the most fun about writing this book?

JW: The interplay between Foster and Candy was so much fun. Considering what I usually write, I don’t often get the chance to make with the flirtations. This is one of the reasons why I also enjoy writing my steampunk series…because underlying all that heady stuff, there’s a sweetness to power it along.

Also, in this book, I found David David to be so much fun to play with. Not being a stoner, it was pleasure to dive into that skin and see how far I could take it.

SM: What’s next for Suicide Station?

JW: I have entered the book into the Kindle Scout program. Kindle Scout is a new program, started by Amazon, that puts the weight of Amazon promotions behind those books they’ve accepted for publication. What this means is that readers can go visit the Suicide Station campaign page, read the sample, and (if they think the book is worthy) nominate the book. Amazon takes into consideration how many nominations a book gets, how much traffic is directed to the book campaign, as well as the quality of the book and the ability of the author to promote the book.

Should Suicide Station win a contract, everyone that nominated the book will get a free ebook copy! Win-win!

SM: How can we find out more?

JW: I’ll be releasing blogs and videos so you can keep up with the progress of my Suicide Station campaign. Find out more on my website.

 

Now, go forth and READ!

Working for History

I’ve added to the mix of archaeology, editing, research, and writing I’m normally up to by getting a part-time job posting at The Clio, an online non-profit educational resource for historic research. (Read between the lines: it’s FREE to use). I’m writing about five entries a week, and having a blast finding out about historic places and cultural centers all over the country (so far I’ve mainly written about the DC, NYC, and Providence, RI areas). Here are links to some of my posts on The Clio:

New York City

Washington, D.C.

Providence, Rhode Island

Why I Decided to NaNo This Year

It’s November – National Novel Writing Month! This is the second (not consecutive) year I’ve participated. Given my experience the first year (2011) I wrote a NaNoWriMo draft, (I “won”, but the manuscript was a mess I haven’t been able to face cleaning up), I wasn’t sure how I felt about doing it again. And for four years, I was busy going back to college for a belated bachelor’s degree, so November was a lot less “novel” and a lot more “OMG, how am I going to write four papers and study for four tests in the next two weeks?!?!?!”

Why did I decide to try NaNo again?

1. I already had a book in my head – the sequel to The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn – and I’d already started working on it…including a skeletal idea of the plot and structure.

2. I’d promised myself after I graduated in May that I’d throw myself into my writing projects and finish a rough draft of this book by the end of the year. Well, here it is November, and I wasn’t anywhere close to being done with a first draft.

3. Four years for undergrad is the longest I’ve gone without writing on a semi-regular or constant basis. Ever. In my life. It was never just a habit with me – it was a good chunk of what defined my life, my time, and my sense of myself. While it’s been nice to find out that I’m good at being things other than a writer, it’s also been hard to face a blank page again. Or even a half-written page. Since NaNoWriMo sets a goal (50,000 words written by the end of the month) and breaks it down into a daily, bite-size chunk for me (1,667 words per day), it seems like a good way to bring the habit back, especially since you HAVE to break through the second-guessing stage and just get on a roll to churn out that kind of word count every day.

I made this clock about 5 years ago. Acrylics, playing cards, and clock kitYes, it’ll be nice to “win” NaNo. But the important thing for me is to get back to being a writer – by actively writing, by consciously thinking about my story, and by being in the mindset of writing in my head all the time, even when I’m driving or doing the dishes or listening to people talk while I’m waiting in line. And although I’ll be thrilled to have 50,000 words toward a working draft down by the end of the month, I know the work doesn’t stop there. For one thing, I’ll probably need closer to 60,000 words to finish this story up – but I can do that by the end of December, if I keep up the good habits I pick back up from NaNo. For another, a first draft is the easy part, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Knowing me, I’ll be another year on the rewrites, because I need time between drafts to get perspective before I look at my stories again. That’s my process, and it works for me.

Now, back to writing this draft……

I Refuse the Winter Blues

Sooooo, it’s November. And that means (1) October, my favorite month, is over, (2) Halloween, my favorite holiday (aside from my birthday) is over, and (3) those of us who live in very silly places such as Louisville, Kentucky, have, through some clumsy arrangement, probably owing to an ill-natured fairy, been subjected to the sadness of Daylight Savings Time, which means now it gets dark at, like, 6pm, and will be dark by about 4:30 by Winter Solstice. BUT! I refuse to submit to being miserable just because it’s going to be dark and cold and rainy and…well…miserable for the next 4-5 months.

So here is my list of things I love about winter, in case I forget the bright side of the dark season:

  1. Appreciating the fact that you have heat, light, and hot food to get you through the winter. It’s nice not to freeze your ass off with nothing but candlelight to read by!
  2. No chiggers, no ticks, no mosquitoes, and barely any spiders. In my line of work, this is especially joyous.
  3. I don’t have to worry about heat exhaustion in the field. Again, as an archaeology tech, this is a big bonus.
  4. Hot chocolate, hot cider, hot chai, hot tea, hot APPLE JACK (heat apple cider, add desired amount of whiskey). AND SEASONAL DARK BEERS ON TAP…someone pass me a bourbon barrel stout, please? Or an Old Rasputin?
  5. All the excuse I need to hunker down and read/write/build up my guitar chops/draw. Why do you think Russian literature and folk art are so amazing?
    IMG_1982IMG_1964IMG_1974IMG_1958
    Hand-carved bone picture frame, hand-carved wooden toy set, hand-carved wooden sculpture, hand-painted bracelet, all in the Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  6. I can take my chinchilla out to the park in her runabout ball, and she won’t overheat while she’s playing!
  7. Snuggling, space heaters, blankets, wool socks, sweaters, and the opportunity to wear an array of jackets. Plus, nobody gives a damn if your layers match or look good on you by February.
  8. Christmas cookies, pot roasts, and other comfort foods.
  9. Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you & your family and friends celebrate) and New Year’s and camaraderie.
  10. Striking winter landscapes, especially with snow on them.
    snow14ice
  11. Looking forward to spring again and planning your next garden.
  12. Watching the light come back after the solstice.
  13. Learning to appreciate sticky-hot weather you know is gonna come in the summer.