Saturday, December 22, 2012

Working the Problem: Guns in America

Saturn devouring his Son
by Franscisco Goya
I haven't been able to write a word of fiction since last Friday. I will return to my work, but today I'm hijacking my blog to talk about guns. My youngest daughter is seven and all this week, when I look at her, she is surrounded by the ghosts of those 20 massacred children and by the adults who sacrificed their lives for them. The heartbreak of their parents and loved ones has accompanied me on all my last minute holiday errands. I think of the horror and helplessness of the first responders and my heart aches for the whole broken community.

I feel like this nation is devouring itself. Like Goya's disturbing picture of Saturn (the Greeks called him  Cronus) who, fearing that his children would overthrow him, devoured them. The media is partisan, politics has devolved to brinksmanship. And dialogue or debate on any important topic is too often drowned out by voices that scream the same tired talking points, like accusations, at the other side. 

Gary Wills in the New York Review of Books begins to articulate our sick relationship to guns in his essay titled "Our Moloch"

"That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year). "
Attending the sorrow that I feel for those families in Newtown, and for those killed every day in America, is the realization that my inaction makes me culpable. 

In response to Newton The Poetry Foundation's Poetry Off the Shelf featured a poem by Dan Beachy-Quick. 

This is not a poem of comfort. 

The poem begins at about 3:40, but the whole thing is less then eight minutes long and the preamble is informative. In the introduction Curtis Fox explains that the poem draws from the Euripides play about Hercules where:
"A god inflicts him with the madness that leads him to kill his wife and three sons, it's not a tumor it's not his father, its a god. Hercules didn't recognize his family and thought they were his enemies. A chorus of old men looks on helplessly as they tell us what's going on, not unlike our media today."
It is a poem that looks at madness and murder. In it I see the madmen who reap mayhem in our malls and movie theaters, in our schools and holy places. In this poem I also see everyone else, all of us who everyday create the world we and our children live in. In it I see myself.

by Dan Beachy-Quick 

I have no interest in the extremes on either end of this argument. While we should be free to own guns, we should also be free to go safely into gun free zones. I believe that we can regulate ourselves as a society so that we do not have to retreat into a bunker mentality where every public space is filled with criminals, madmen and armed vigilantes. 

There are so many things that we cannot control in this world but there are many things which we can. We make the world for our children. To make a world worthy of them, we have to become adults.

Adults who participate in real and candid dialogue. The kind of discussion you engage in with others when everybody is interested in SOLVING a problem, not just getting their own way. We've solved many highly complex problems. That kind of invention, innoviation, and stubbornness is the American way, right?

"Wake up anybody you need and get them in here.
Let's work the problem, people.
Let's not make things worse by guessin'." 
-Ed Harris as Gene Kranz in Apollo 13

Gene Kranz working the problem

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thinking Deeply

This cake's done, but my story isn't ready to come out of the oven yet.
One of the things I forgot to list in my gratitude post was how writing stories forces me to think deeply about the story, about the world, about myself, about everything really. What I love about writing science fiction and fantasy is that it forces me to imagine what it means to be human in a universe populated with other - other what? With the Other. There's nothing like creating a world that is alien (either alien of our own making or otherworldly) and thinking how we would behave around those Others. 

This is the part I think of as cooking the story, and it's what I mean when I say the story isn't "done" yet.
"You're finished," my mom used to chide, "cakes are done."

Maybe I should call it baking a story. In any case there's a lot of head work before a story is "done" enough in my brain, by which means it has arrived at the point where I can begin writing.
It's why a lot of writing looks like this --
-- though most of it still looks like this.
How to start thinking deeply in genre:

In fantasy you must establish the rules of the world of the story. If there's magic, how does it work and more importantly what are the limits? Because there's the rub as Shakespeare would say. And it's the rub, the obstacles that the characters must overcome that give your story its teeth. In science fiction the rules and limits align with what we know of the natural world, sociology, physics. 

Just remember the reader doesn't really care about the rules, not the way you do Don't waste pages laying them all out, turning your story into an instruction manual. The rules matter to your characters. Decide them then internalize them so that the world of the story can become compelling to your reader through your characters' thoughts and actions as they moves through their world.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A New Genre Magazine: Deimos eZine

and a handsome cover too!
I am proud to have a story in this first issue of Deimos eZine. My story Fairview 619 may be familiar to you as it was previously at Revolution SF's website. That little story has legs!

According to their website:
"Welcome to Deimos eZine. Deimos comes from the Greek Δεῖμος, one of the many words translated as dread. Deimos eZine embodies dread in the stories we believe in, the artwork we showcase, and in the lifestyle that many writers lead."
I don't know if I have a "dread" lifestyle (as cool as that may sound), but I've started to read through this issue and so far I like the company. I'm looking forward to getting to know these other writers through their work. The editors have plans to make Deimos available on Kindle and Nook as well as in print. 

For the writers among you, they are open to submissions and are also running a contest for longer pieces:
"We accept longer pieces for the contest, up to 7,500 words, and the contest winner receives a monetary award and publication in the September issue in a special Contest Winner section."
Whether you're interested in writing or reading, go check out this new kid on the genre block.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Belated Turkey of Gratitude

This journal's almost finished.
I love Thanksgiving dearly because it is a chance to relax with family and practice gratitude for all the things we have. I am committed to insulating my family for as long as possible from the encroaching BLACK THURSDAY. One day in our not so distant future only apostates will celebrate Thanksgiving, everyone else will participate in the sport of competitive shopping where credit card-wielding hordes crush the doors of big box stores, trample the weak and prove their worth by purchasing discounted items so that they may return home with an electronic gizmo as proof of their commitment to consumerism... So, in the face of my fear that the practice of gratitude is losing ground to the practice of getting, here's a list:

31 things about writing and storytelling for which I am grateful.
  1. For finishing a journal and looking back on the glorious, sloppy scribbled pages, pictures pasted in, notes sticking out brain dump.
  2. For starting a brand new journal with all those blank pages were anything could happen.
  3. For stationary stores and everything in them.
  4. Specifically for the Pilot P-500 extra fine (for when I'm feeling gel inky) and Pilot Razor Point II (for when I'm feeling felt-tippy).
  5. For writing apps and software like Dropbox, Evernote, and Scrivener that make writing on screens efficient and fun.
  6. For the public library, a well of books for the whole family, and a place where I can write without being required to buy something - because I'm not always hungry or thirsty when I feel like writing.
  7. For coffeehouses and diners for when I am. 
  8. For my ten minutes of freewriting, where I can bitch and moan to a sheet of paper that is bound for the recycle bin.
  9. For the way that writing has taught me to be a keen observer of the world around me and of my own responses to it.
  10. For all the nascent, fragile little story eggs that fill my head, even if they can be a bit distracting rolling around up there.
  11. For how writing has given me something to aspire to. Mastering storytelling is serious fun.
  12. For creating a world, entering it and discovering something, or someone, unexpected there.
  13. For how writing has taught me to stretch and grow my imagination. To imagine worlds stranger than our own and the characters who can live in them.
  14. For how writing has made me broader in my thoughts and braver in my actions. A good story is built on experiences. Good storytellers are experienced. 
  15. For how good characters encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and look at issues from more than one perspective (file under how to write a good villan). 
  16. For writing until I realize the way even if I have to spend thousands of words. Sometimes those who wander ARE lost.
  17. For the camaraderie of my writer's group. 
  18. For meeting new people who are willing to give honest, constructive opinions in an effort to make us all better at what we're trying to accomplish.
  19. For the privilege of having another writer share his or her unfinished work with me.
  20. For all that I've learned about writing by learning how to give a good critique of someone else's story.
  21. For the work of busting apart a draft and putting it back together.
  22. For reworking a sentence until it rings like a bell.
  23. For publications that accurately gague and post their turn-around times for submissions. It's easier to be patient if I have some idea how long I have to wait.
  24. For slush readers who deal with their monumental slush piles with alacraty.
  25. For all the editors who have read my submissions -- all of them. Even when they send a rejection, I know it took time to read my story and many have taken a few extra minutes to comment on my submission. I am grateful for their time and their valuable insights.
  26. For writing podcasts like Writing Excuses and the Coode Street Podcast that talk about writing and Escape Pod and PodCastle that keep my ears entertained with stories.
  27. For semipro zines like ClarkesworldLightspeed and Daily Science Fiction that are committed to finding and putting great stories out there on e-readers, in print and as podcasts.
  28. For how the practice of STORYTELLING has enhanced and sharpened my enjoyment when reading, hearing and watching other stories in books, on podcasts and at the movies. Especially when someone else tells a story in a completely surprising and original way.
  29. For the magic that is a good story, which is more than the sum of its parts.
  30. For sitting in the sun with a good book.
  31. For the journey.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Structure & Freedom

Network Structure
Bonsai Tree Table by Anke Weiss from Dezeen
I'm still working on my process, partly because I am currently stuck on a story. I have this idea. Actually it's a constellation of ideas along with an odd little collection of evocative images, characters, and places that make up a mood or feeling that I think this story could capture. This is generally what my unstructured ideas look like. I've been trying everything to discover the underlining structure (i.e. through line, sequence of events, plot) that will articulate this nebulous idea to the point where I can sensibly write it as a story.

So, the past couple weeks I've been just working toward some kind of outline. I have never had any luck writing by the seat of my pants. I blame my own empathy. I am very driven in my real life to avoid conflict, so when I just write into the blue everyone in my stories comes to sensible compromises or finds a way to walk away from the dragons they should be facing down. But making an outline is tricky. Outlines can strangle or obliterate a nascent unstructured idea before it's even had a chance to be born. I think it might be better so say I'm trying to "find" an outline rather than "make" one.

For me, the outline is important because structure is intrinsic to the world and our experience of it. Here's a quote from the guy that grew/built the table pictured above:
This work is the result of a research project about scale. The “network” structure can be found in every scale: by looking in as far as possible (cells, molecules, etc.), or by looking on the natural human scale (veins, lungs, trees, riverbeds, maps etc.), or by looking as far out as possible (solar system, galaxies). Even representations of the virtual world (the internet) resemble this structure.
Like this table that was once a living tree, my outlines need to grow and change, to be mutable, even while I'm drafting. The outline helps me solidify a collection of thoughts and emotions just enough so that I can capture some essence of the thing that will become the beating heart at the center of the story. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Honorable Mention!

My story "Futile the Winds" received an Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest! Which, according to their website, puts me in the top 10-15% of the entrants for that quarter. While they don't list the numbers, it's a big contest so I consider it an accomplishment to make the Honorable Mention list. I have a new story entered for the current quarter though it will be months before I hear back on that one.

Mars sunset
I'm don't want to say too much about "Futile the Winds" as I'm trying to place it so that you can read it, online or in print, via a pro or semipro publication. I will say that it takes place on Mars and is a story of transformation. The title is from a poem by Emily Dickinson and while there's no other direct reference to it, I tried to steer towards the essence of that poem in my story.

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tools for Writing

It's been a tough couple of weeks writing-wise. Halloween is a banner holiday around here and requires a fair amount of crafting and preparation. As I continue to squeeze writing into the nooks and crannies of my day I am paying special attention to tweaking my process so that I can be as productive as possible with the time that I have. And imma gonna blog about that soon, but today I'd rather talk about some of the various tools, apps and gizmos I  use to write.

I've always been a stationary store geek. There are cups of pens and pencils all over the house and pads of sticky notes secreted everywhere. Then there is my own *special* cup of pens, pencils and highlighters. While not under lock and key, I am very protective of it and whenever I spot one of my writing implements next to hubby's crossword puzzle I switch it out of a normal pencil while muttering quietly to myself... But clearly that's fetish territory. For practical purposes, I take a maximumilist approach and will write anywhere with any implement that comes to hand including pen, pencil, crayon, public terminal on the cloud, laptop, phone (Android), or iPod Touch. I believe you should work wherever you can whenever you can with what ever comes to hand.

Just because I'm willing to write with a sawed off crayon doesn't mean I don't have my favorites. Here are some of the tools I use:

For daily freewriting. I've been pursuing the practice of daily freewriting and it was getting gummed up because, I've come to believe, I was doing it wrong. I was trying to accomplish too much with it. I would try to get the next words of my work in progress out or suss out new ideas or work out a revision kink. But true freewriting wants to be - free. So for my daily ten minutes of true freewriting I've moved it out of my journal and switched to loose leaf paper. This writing is a warm up and a place where I write without stopping about anything, without a plan. Mostly it's nonsense and loose leaf pages are easily tossed into the recycle bin. Of course if I happen to blurt out a gem during a session I can always transcribe it into a document or my journal.

I have these little pads at work, all around the house and in the car. This is for noting random thoughts, ideas and inspirations, some people go old school and use 3x5 cards for this sort of thing (e.g. Annie Lamott) but I like sticky notes because they are, you know, sticky. If I'm busy I can gather them up and just stick them on a page in my journal for later integration/transcription.

This is home base for most of my working stories, notes, research, outlines, freewritten drafts, ideas, quotes. I also try write down my dreams in the morning using a different color ink. I try to put something in my journal every day. I read through it a couple times a month for useful bits and to update the index/table of contents that I keep in the first pages. I'm a visual thinker and while I don't spend a lot of time "arting" my journal up, I do keep a bottle of rubber cement so that I can glue images that I find or print out into the pages.

The electronic home for my work. I'll compose stories from my journal notes, or do directed freewriting on the keyboard. I keep everything backed up on DropBox so that I can access it from my work computer if I should happen to get an extra few minutes there. I also use Google Drive for some drafts and projects. For random notes, ideas and web research there's Evernote. I don't pay for any of this as I'm well below their bandwidth limits. Once I finish a story I delete most of the research files and any online drafts. I usually save a couple print outs with my scribbled hand revisions for posterity. That's the beauty of research for fiction. I'm not out to prove anything -- just trying to juice my brain, so I don't need footnotes.

I just bought Scrivener and have started to use some of the writerly features for my longer short stories. I'm going to be using it to write my novel come January. I'll post down the road after I've given it a real test drive. When I am out and about and feel like noting something down with my thumbs, which is my least favorite mode of writing, a fact that just makes me feel old. I use iAwriter on my iPod, which is very straightforward, with biggish buttons and synchs nicely.

So much to write and so many ways to do it. Fun!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Red Bull, Marketing and the Future

Like millions of others, I followed the Red Bull Stratos Jump story last week. I didn't actually watch it live as I was online with Cat Rambo taking one of her fabulous classes. I definitely logged some time on their site pursuing this story. First, I'm going to say, Wow! Awesome. That was truly a death defying jump and it was thrilling and beautiful to see him safe on the ground after spinning around like a rag doll up there in the stratosphere.

A jump from orbit, Star Trek Style
Baumgartner's jump feels like the stuff of science fiction and in many ways it is. Red Bull definitely has a knack for spectacle and an ear for story. I would have liked it better if they hadn't tried to coat the whole adventure with a veneer of science that is so thin as to be nonexistent.

Stop by Bad Astronomy and check out Phil Plait's great post where he clarifies some of the science claims around the Red Bull Stratos jump and also refutes the meme that an energy drink now has a better space program than our nation. Amy Shira Teitel over on The Crux has some excellent thoughts about the hoopla around Baumgartner's jump along with some background about Joseph Kittinger's high altitude jumps in 1959 and 1960.
 "The Air Force needed a way to stabilize a pilot from a high altitude ejection, and Francis F. Beaupre had a sequential parachute that would do just that. Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet in 1960 as part of Project Excelsior to prove that Beaupre’s parachute would work. It did, the Air Force had data and a healthy Kittinger as evidence, and the project ended. There was no live video of his jump. He was a Captain in the Air Force, and he jumped from 102,800 feet for Captain’s pay to complete a mission."  ~Amy Shira Teitel
Even though the Air Force and NASA aren't going anywhere, the jump, with it's pretenses to scientific and engineering advances reinforces the idea (delightful to some unnerving to others) that space exploration will now simply be handed over to corporations. Of course it's a little more nuanced than that. Several corporations are already collaborating with NASA to take the next steps into space, and I think that's a great thing. They're just not Red Bull. Red Bull isn't interested in space or even in high altitude ejection safety. Red Bull is interested in selling little cans of energy drink.

Of course science fiction has been imagining corporatist futures since, well, the beginnings of science fiction. The man v. society-as-megacorporation has been meat and potatoes for the genre for many years from Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books, to Dune, to one of my personal favorites Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Just about everybody's written something with an evil corporation: Gibson, Niven, Dick...James Cameron has made a career of it.
But it's not that Red Bull is a multi-billion dollar corporation that caught my eye. Their Stratos project did break new ground of course, and that ground was in marketing. Yahoo quoted @JMRooker's tweet: "Red Bull wins the internet for today." And it did. Within hours a Legos reenactment was posted, memes and Gifs proliferated like genetically modified crops. Janean Chun over at the Huffington Post says Red Bull Stratos May Change the Future of Marketing. Why buy commercial time when you can sell your product by making news.
"How do you cut through the clutter and do something unique? See your brand as a story. Go big, take risks. Your brand could be on the front page of global media if you do something unusual." ~Ben Sturner
How we consume media is changing by the minute and how products are advertised must change or their companies will relegated to the dust bin of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It's a sea change, and what's fascinating and a more than a little unnerving is this idea of big marketing stunts where the humans involved are simply a cog in the marketing machine. Sometimes the line between product and marketing gets a little fuzzy where the spectacle serves as a feedback loop for generating the income to undertake a big project. Like Mars One
Astronaut, colonist,  marketing tool or all of the above?
According to their website they will:
... take humanity to Mars in 2023, to establish the foundation of a permanent settlement from which we will prosper, learn, and grow. 
They will achieve this partly by making the whole endeavor a reality show. According to Wikipedia the show will involve astronaut selection by the public (audience) American Idol style and continue to follow the colonists' first years living on mars. Brilliant marketing plan or grim corporatist future? How much reality to you want in your fiction? 

Of course if it's going to play on the internet there will have to be cats.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Next Big Thing

 For the World is Hollow And I have Touched the Sky

Patrice Sarath tagged me to talk about my Next Big Thing. She is the author of the Gordath Wood series (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God's Girl) and the Jane Austin-inspired The Unexpected Miss Bennet. Her latest WIP is Bandit Girls.

It might be better to call it my FIRST Big Thing as (barring the Mayan Apocalypse), I am hereby publicly committing to writing a novel in 2013. 

10 questions about your Next Big Thing:

1. What is the title of your work in progress?
The Iron Tongue of Midnight (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) is a potential title. For now Inside Out is the working title. 

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
What I have so far has coalesced around a constellation of smaller obsessions ideas that consistently interest me. Influences include: the story of Proserpine and Hades, my misspent youth reading Carl Jung, and, you know, space.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Science Fiction with likely some fantasy and/or slip-streamy elements.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in the movie?
That question is pretty far down the road for me to think about. If this novel did get optioned and the casting were up to me I'd like to put Sean Bean in a role where he expressly does NOT get killed. So, spoiler! When you are reading this novel and encounter a Sean Bean like character, you can proceed confident in the fact that he will definitely not die in some horribly tragic way.

5. What is a brief synopsis of the book?
After a failed mutiny, a generation ship continues on to its unknown destination while the mutineers eke out a tenuous existence on the hull. No one has tried to reenter the sealed ship until our hero (yet to be named) begins to have strange dreams, which she believes comes from one of the sleepers inside.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I look forward to shopping it around to agencies. After that, who knows.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I know I can't write fast enough to draft it in the 30 days of NaNoWriMo. I recently bought The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt and may use that as a template for my first draft. I am currently researching and world building and will start drafting New Year's Day. With drafting and revisions, I hope to have something presentable by the end of the year.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
I can't compare it to other books yet, so instead here are some novels I love:

By way of preliminary research, here's a quick list of novels with generation and/or sleeper ships that I hope to peruse before the end of the year:
  • Orphans of the Sky by Heinlein
  • The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe
  • Across the Universe by Beth Rivas
  • Ship of Fools by Richard P. Russo
  • The Dream Millennium by James White
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I am fascinated with the borders people create both in the so called "real world" world and within our own hearts and minds. I'm looking forward to combining the deep outside of interstellar space exploration with the deep inside of our human subconscious.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I'm looking forward to the challenge of writing a dream v. reality story and hope that it will be one of the more interesting aspects of the book.

Here are my picks for the next Next Big Thing - check out their answers!

Friday, October 5, 2012


Vladimir Nabokov's Draft of Lolita

Over at Quoria under Unusual Work Habits of Famous Writers there's a picture of a box of index cards, an example of just one way to work. I've been thinking about how I write as I continue to learn my craft and try to make my writing process more efficient. From old fashioned to new fangled, there are a million ways to get your ideas down on paper or onto a glowing screen and out into the world.

I don't usually start from plot, but I don't exactly start from character either. Usually a situation or a concept piques my interest and I have to grow that into a story. Here's what I've learned about my own process for capturing and growing ideas.

I read around a lot, both fiction and nonfiction. Most of my ideas come from a bit of news or a story element that suggests an interesting situation or even just a tone or emotion that I want to explore.

AKA the "idea bin." I have an actual journal that I keep close when I'm sitting on the couch and need to jot down an idea. I also try to practice FREEWRITING daily, sometimes I write without stopping on a story I'm currently working on, sometimes I do a random writing exercise, and sometimes I just vent.

Every couple weeks I try to read through what I've written, which is a fruitful exercise in itself. I also add to the hand-written index that I build in the back of the book so that I can access all those random notes and quotes and ideas that are scattered throughout the pages.

I then do a little research to flesh out the world and solve any practical/scientific questions that are part of the story. I try to limit this initial research to one day (not a solid day but whatever I can get to in a 24-hour period). This keeps my research from becoming a procrastination station.

I never used to do this, but I've started to write up a quick bio for the main character or characters. I use Nancy Kress' "Mini-Bio" (general) and "Emotional Mini-Bio for Key Characters." Sometimes I do this before I start to draft, other times I stop and do these bios after I've started building the plot. This not only helps me to create dimensional characters but also often sharpens the conflict and in one case entirely changed the direction of a story I'd been stuck on. Chuck Wendig tells it in 25 of my Personal Rules for Writing and Telling Stories:
"Plot is Soylent Green. Plot is made of people."
Yes it is.
Sometimes I draft by hand in my journal as this seems to give me more freedom to suck. I tell myself that I'm going to fix-it-up when I type it in anyway, so it doesn't matter that I'm flailing around trying to figure this thing out. Other times I just sit down and start banging away at the keyboard.

At this point I usually only have a rough idea of where things are going plotwise. I don't consider myself a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I'm not the outliner that I used to be. I've discovered that what I like to do best is outline as I go. I've been doing this more now that I have Scriviner on my laptop. If I'm in my journal I just keep a wide margin for outliney notes. For this reason, I think my next journal is going to be a larger format.

This is hard for me because I need to rein in my urge to tidy and nit-pick and force myself to read through my draft for the big picture. I try to fix glaring errors and plot holes, moving thing around and adding and excising whole chunks of texts, before cleaning up any mechanical and grammar issues. At this point I've usually got something that's ready to show to a critique group.

Okay, saying "first" and "second" revision isn't all that accurate as I often fit revising in here and there throughout the day and so the process is more of a spread out kind of tinkering that I group under those terms. After getting a critique I go through the story one more time to fix anything that other people caught or to incorporate any awesome ideas that might have come up during the session. I also go through sentence by sentence for grammar and style.

Off you go into the world, little story...

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Yeah, sorry Story A Day. Like National Novel Writing Month, it's a great concept and got me really worked up and (this is important) set me on a more productive course. I have generated and written more complete drafts in these past two weeks, than maybe ever.

This happened because I tried this challenge, but failing it has showed me something about my process. And this year is all about me figuring out my process. How to generate and manage new ideas while drafting material and shaping them into stories. And how to keep up with revising what I wrote last week. I would like to write a novel starting in 2013, but I don't want to entirely give up writing short stories so there's a lot to figure out.

I discovered that yes I can generate and draft a flash fiction story in a day, but I also found out that I cannot know how long any given story will be once I start writing it. Starting something requires an emotional committment, which means I must to see it through to the end even if doesn't happen for 6,000 words or more. Given my commitments I cannot hole up for 25 hours to write a novelette so Story A Day, while it's wonderful - is not a great fit for me.

So I've set some new goals. Actually they're old new goals as in ones I've set before, only this time I seem to be achieving them!

  • Write 1,000 words a day (That gives me one standard length story a week or a couple shorter ones.)
  • Keep up with revisions
  • Try to submit one story a week (it won't be that week's story because, you know, revising)

For now to heck with deadlines. It's all about keeping things moving through the pipeline.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Story A Day Week 1, With Cheating and a Story

Well, it's not cheating when you get to set the rules and that's one of the things I like about the Story A Day challenge.
"You get to decide what “every day” means. If you need to take Sundays off, go for it. You make your own rules, but you are encouraged to set them up early, and stick to them!"
I know busy days will happen and life will intervene because that's life's job, right? Also, with any creative challenge it's important to think about how it will serve your goals best. 

Here are my cheats, I mean rules:
  1. Some stories will take more than a day to write. I'm going to try to keep it under three days. This means I'll be writing some of these stories concurrently. To balance this I expect to be writing some very short fiction on some days.
  2. I'm going to finish a story every day, my cheat is that I have half a dozen stories that are either unfinished or not working, but that I can't seem to give up on. I've decided that finishing or refurbishing those stories will count. (This is a lame cheat as fixing a broken story is often more work than writing a new one.) Overachiever alert: not only do I want to write 30 stories, I want to clear the decks of the jetsam that's been adrift in my files for months. Quite possibly I'm delusional.
And here is this week's report:
  • Saturday 9/1  #Blackbird a story in 6 tweets. Posted to Twitter.
  • Sunday 9/2 - Kith and Kin based on a prompt from Brainstormer, the elements being enmity to kin and insects.
  • Monday 9/3 - Naturally a story about a woman and a dog.
  • Tuesday 9/4 - The Trumpet and the Ticket Taker from a prompt on Chaotic Shiny: "Write for at least 5 minutes about a financial difficulty, a horn, a vulture, and a backpack."
  • Wednesday 9/5 - The Mausel Dog based on a prompt from Cat Rambo. It's about 4,000 words long. (I'm supposed to be turning these prompts into flash fiction, i.e. around 1,000 words. Total failure so far on that count.)

My Saturday story was an experiment in web serial writing? Twitfic? In any case I liked it and will definitely do more this month. Jennifer Egan published a great web serial type story on twitter and in the New Yorker. It's not available on the net (yet), but you can read all about it here.


Hemingway wrote a story in six words - “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” How about a story in six tweets. Stay tuned:

For the love of all the gods of the river Lethe I will not abide the --

sale of Krake's horse or his sword. I freed the beast and buried the sword. This giant, I reared from a --

baby. No woman's breast mine, only black feathers, beak and talons. But cold comfort is a kind of comfort still.

Shoes I stole for his feet. A helmet I found for his head. I accompanied him on a journey of a thousand foreign wars. I will --

never forget the hours we gamboled with toy sword and wooden shield in the long meadow grass. The laughing child’s face slowly 

worn away, buried under the scars of battle. Now my brother carrion birds carry his flesh into the sky.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Prompt Me!

I am girding myself for my September folly of writing a Story A Day. I have been wanting to write more flash and this meshes perfectly with my flash fiction tutorial with Cat Rambo (or hopefully it will!). I have a few ideas waiting in the wings. I'm really not worried about coming up with ideas as they do seem to multiply the more I write. That said I will not risk being unprepared on some September day when life is crazy and I feel like throwing in the towel. Here are some of the things I use in general and will have on hand next month.

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field. Each short chapter is by a different flash fiction writer or editor. One of the strengths of this book is that it presents a multitude of approaches to thinking about and writing flash fiction. Every chapter has a writing prompt at the end.

I've always been fascinated by the Tarot and find the cards particularly well suited to fantasy ideas. Tarot for Writers is a fun and useful book for working with the deck for story-making. If you want to delve deeper into the Tarot Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot by Rachel Pollack is one of the best

Every weekend io9 posts its Concept Art Writing Prompt, which is both visual and genre friendly. Also, I have several camera apps loaded onto my iPod, which have been woefully underutilized. I will be taking more pictures and using at least a couple for prompts. If I get a good story out of it I'll have an illustration built in.

Brainstormer is a beautiful little app and I've been using it for a while. Mostly when I have a random 10 or 15 minutes to write but am away from my desk and computer. I'll pull this up, give the iPod a shake, pull out my pen and journal and go from there.

Rory's Story Cubes is marketed as a game for kids. I have it as an iPod app and have played it with my girls. At first I found the images a little limiting but that only made me realize that I shouldn't be quite so literal. Using it as directed is a good way to practice coming up with beginnings, middles, and endings.

Poetry Spinner I think I've made my feelings about poetry clear. This app is inspirational and you should have it on general principles. You never know when you'll get stuck in the doctor's office waiting room or at the bus stop. For writing, I find a good poem has so much going on that it can suggest any number of stories and/or characters.

TV Tropes   Pick two or three random tropes and join them in a story. Beware the site is labyrinthine and oh so inviting. Roll out some string on your way in so that you can find your way out with enough time to write. Oh, they have an app too.

There are quite a few writing idea generators, but my favorite is 7th Sanctum, both for it's ample list of generators and for its sense of whimsy. Their newest generator is a SF Tarot card generator. With a couple clicks I got: Six of Trains, The Artificer of Space Stations, Eight of Singularities, The Android of Cogs. The story just about writes itself!

Chaotic Shiny is new to me but I can't wait to explore their categories such as: culture, people, places, names, accessories, evil, plot/writing, and silly.

Creative Writing also has a lot of material and I like how you can scroll over the number blocks like your playing an enormous game of concentration.

Story A Day posts prompts year round every Wednesday called "Write on Wednesday." During story challenge months she promises to post a prompt every day. I've signed up for them and will see how they are.

I think I'm ready. September is just around the corner. Wish me luck!