reading and (w)riting, no ‘rithmetic

Last night, I wrote about my hope, my not-hope, and my forever-hope, all threaded through with the discouraging guanoshow that was 2016 A.D.

Today, I turn my mind and heart to lovelier things. When it came to reading and writing, 2016 was one of my best years ever. 🙂

On Reading in 2016

In 2016, I started reading 67 books, and I finished 64 of them. (The unfinished 3, I just couldn’t get into or enjoy, but I won’t mention them by title.) That’s 17 more books than I read in 2015, and I credit intentionality for the difference. Last year at this time, I purposed to read as many women authors as possible. At some point, my to-read list and to-read stack basically exploded. When the rumblings echoed away and the dust settled, I found a SMORGASBORD BOUNTY OF WOMEN’S VOICES, and I devoured them with vigor. YUMBLY IN MY READER TUMBLY.

This was the first time in my life I’ve read so many women in the space of a year, AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.

These voices rang fresh and clear in my mind. They reverberated with beauty and sorrow, disgust and joy. They spoke things I’d never before heard. They made me laugh and cry and think. They inspired me to write more. They inspired me to write more freely.

Reading these women, I found myself living the reality that I could write as they do, unbound by shackles.

HALLELUJAH I’M FREE

But more on my writing later. First, their writings.

Books I Read in 2016

Asterisks indicate particular favorites.

  1. The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee ***
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke *
  3. Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse *
  4. Journey to America by Sonia Levitin
  5. Dark Beyond the Stars edited by David Gatewood *
  6. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1) by Sarah J. Maas *
  7. Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood, #1) by Aliette de Bodard
  8. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor *
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry *
  10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab *
  11. When the Silence Ends by Jade Kerrion
  12. In the Woods by Tana French *
  13. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin **
  14. Gateway to Reality (Reality Series #1) by Becca J. Campbell
  15. Kushiel’s Chosen (Kushiel’s Legacy, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
  16. “The Father Hunt” (A Flawed Story) by Becca J. Campbell
  17. The Selection (The Selection, #1) by Kiera Cass
  18. The Likeness by Tana French *
  19. Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel’s Legacy, #3) by Jacqueline Carey *
  20. Open Minds (Mindjack Saga, #1) by Susan Kaye Quinn *
  21. A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #2) by Madeleine L’Engle
  22. Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) and short story “Glitches” by Marissa Meyer *
  23. The Haunting of Gillespie House by Darcy Coates
  24. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess **
  25. The Three by Sarah Lotz
  26. Blood Oranges by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney
  27. Hopeful Monsters by Hiromi Goto
  28. You by Caroline Kepnes **
  29. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  30. Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
  31. The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
  32. Sword-Bound (The Sword-Dancer Saga, #7) by Jennifer Roberson
  33. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
  34. The Wild Road (Book 3 of Karavans) by Jennifer Roberson
  35. Timebound (The Chronos Files, #1) by Rysa Walker *
  36. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  37. The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude *
  38. Just One Damn Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Book 1) by Jodi Taylor *
  39. Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials, a short story by Annie Bellet
  40. The Paper Magician (Paper Magician Series, #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg *
  41. The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater **
  42. Tiny Bites: A Collection by Stacy Claflin
  43. Kindred by Octavia Butler *
  44. The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl *
  45. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  46. The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
  47. Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse, #5) by Charlaine Harris
  48. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
  49. Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson
  50. Candles Burning by Tabitha King and Michael McDowell
  51. Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
  52. The Christening Quest by Elizabeth Scarborough
  53. Ill Wind (Weather Warden, #1) by Rachel Caine *
  54. Trey of Swords by Andre Norton
  55. Uprooted by Naomi Novik **
  56. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere, 1) by Meg Elison *
  57. The Fading Dusk (Smoke and Mirrors #1) by Melissa Giorgio
  58. The Leaving by Tara Altebrando *
  59. Jinian Footseer by Sheri S. Tepper
  60. The Kraken Sea by E. Katherine Tobler
  61. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux *
  62. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope *
  63. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness **
  64. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts *

Recalling these stories is like thinking back on the utter joy and satisfaction surrounding delectable holiday meals. Here’s hoping for even greater tastiness in 2017.

So…what *is* in store for 2017 A.D.’s To-Read List?

Well…lemme tell ya. The other day, during our family’s roadtrip back to Oklahoma from our Florida-panhandle Christmas, I decided to head a head start on my reading list for this year. I already had a few titles and authors in mind, but I hadn’t collected them all in one place yet. Here’s the tentative reading plan so far; the only order is “ladies first” again (with a single exception):

Currently reading: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Further reading
Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
Sarah Maas, Throne of Glass 2
Aliette de Board, Obsidian & Glass 2
Lowry’s The Giver sequel
Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows
more from Kerrion’s Double Helix series?
Tana French on nightstand (that’s not the title, it’s where I’ve stacked the book)
Jemisin, 100k Kingdoms 2
Cass, The Selection 2
Quinn, Mindjack 2
L’Engle #3
Meyer, Cinder 2
Bloggess, Furiously Happy
Carrie Ryan 3
Walker, Timebound 2
Taylor, St. Mary’s 2
Holmberg, Paper Magician 2
Stiefvater, Raven Boys 2
Sookie Stackhouse #6
Caine, Weather Warden 2
Lilith Saintcrow, Night Shift
Delilah Dawson, Three Lives of Lydia
Ellison, Road to Nowhere 2
Harkness, Discovery of Witches 2
Kepnes, Hidden Bodies
St Crow, Strange Angels 2
The Power, Naomi Alderman
Slipping, Lauren Beukes
Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen
Fifth Season, Jemisin
Thin Air, Paver
Copper Promise, Williams
Crosstalk, Willis

Wendig: Aftermath, Invasive, Thunderbird
Nod, Adrian Barnes
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Hendrix
NOS4A2, Joe Hill
Versailles, Yannick Hill
Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones
Paper Menagerie, Liu
Lovecraft Country, Ruff

Well, then. There’s my 2017 reading list already more than halfway sorted, and the year isn’t even a day old yet. And so it goes.

On (W)riting in 2016

Compared to previous recent years, I accomplished quite a bit in 2016. Not as much as I’d planned — I published only one book instead of two — but I ain’t kicking myself over it.

Not too much, anyway. 😉

The Elevator

elevator_cvr_lrgIn tags list at the end of this post, please to be clicking “The Elevator” for more details about this novel. For now, I’ll just say that I consider The Elevator my best published work to-date. As of this writing, it has but one Amazon review to its name, which makes me sad for it. Completely objectively and also quite biasedly, I think the book deserves more. Apparently, others’ mileage varies. Oh well. Can’t make everypony happy, and I long ago decided not even to try. 😉

But come on. It’s a space fantasy adventure with a chaotic psychopath, a cross-dimensional traveler, a vampire, a mech-woman, and two adorable smartass street urchins, all tied up in the nature of Reality at the heart of the multiverse. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

*ahem*

Don’t answer that. Unless it’s with a resounding silence in which you fork over money for my book. In that case, BRING IT ON.

I…uh, what?

elvendeadThe Elven Dead & Other Legends of the Light-Walkers

Ohhhhh, did I ever have such plans to publish this anthology in 2016!

Alas and alack, ’twas not to be.

I just ran out of oomph, y’all. In its final eleventh, 2016 managed to plaster me with that guano I mentioned before, and I didn’t cleanse myself of the disgusting sludge in time to hit “publish.” The short story collection *is* complete, minus a couple of touch-ups. I even have the cover art, thanks to fabulously talented Sam Hunt. All that’s left is to put in some butt-to-chair time to get the book out into all y’all’s greedy little reader hands.

Come on, I know you want it. 😉

Soon, my inklings. SOON.

Writerly To-Dos for 2017

What’s next? Well, that’s an excellent question, dearies. In early December 2016, I counted up the number of projects I could possibly turn to next — after taking care of the pesky pubbing details I mentioned above, of course. The count numbered 9. I repeat, NINE.

Nine project ideas with equal potential for becoming my next completed work.

People ask writers where we get our ideas. The better question is how can we NOT get ideas, so that we have space and time enough to work with the ideas we do have.

When it comes to writers’ ideas, picture a closet with all the junk just shoved in and the door slammed shut, in which each junky-seeming object represents a story or character idea. Except that the closet is actually a warehouse the size of Montana.

That’s why we never need people to tell us *their* ideas for a story *we* “should” write. Our ideas warehouse is already filled to bursting at the seams. Dude. The roof has practically exploded off. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND TRUE AND WRITERLY IN THIS WORLD, DON’T STUFF ANYTHING ELSE IN THERE

*ahem* But I digress.

In trying to figure out what to work on next, I enumerated and described my options to my writer friend Becca. She listened and asked pointed questions. Simply through conversing about my dilemma and sifting through the story ideas in my mind, I realized that I kept coming back with excitement to one particular idea:

the story of Taeven Ravenhair.

Taeven makes a cameo appearance in The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers 3) and gets a mention in Rethana’s Trial (Legends of the Light-Walkers 2). I penned the first 12k words of her tale for NaNoWriMo back in 2004 — and promptly screeched to a halt because I had no clue which word should be number 12,001. The story’s been shelved ever since.

But in 12 years, Taeven has never left me alone. She’s not naturally a patient person, but she has exerted a monumental amount of self-control, waiting her turn. So, as I shared a bit of Taeven with a fellow writer, suddenly it all turned crystal clear:

2017 is the year in which Taeven finally gets a real voice.

Of course, as soon as I decided this, I frantically typed out four pages of notes and then started writing a completely different story.

And so it goes, right? Busy, busy, busy.

This new story, currently entitled The Flight of Elfled unBlessed isn’t part of my Legends of the Light-Walkers series, but it does take place in that universe. It promises to be a novella, so I’m hoping it won’t take up too much of early 2017. But more on it later.

Taeven’s story has gathered dust under the title The Bearers of the Stones. I never really liked it, so I tried to come up with something more suitable while I was taking those four pages of notes. As of a couple of weeks ago, Taeven’s story is entitled Sister of the Black Flame — subject to change at my writerly whim. AH THE POWER MUAH-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA

So. 2017 shall be:

  • pubbing Light-Walker shorts collection
  • first draft of Taeven’s story, hopefully final draft
  • Elfled’s story
  • getting paperbacks prepped and on sale pages for all the longer works

Plus LIFE.

And enough.

For now. 😉

You can’t be bad at art.

When it comes to art, even personalities that aren’t perfectionist suddenly descend into weird, nit-picky hangups.

“It doesn’t look right.” “It doesn’t look real enough.” The one who never alphabetizes her books will develop a dire need for right angles and even planes. The one who can’t keep his pantry in any semblance of order will agonize over brushstrokes that refuse his attempts at realism. “I can’t make it look the way it does in my head.”

“I can’t.”

More demoralizing, discouraging, and disheartening words probably don’t exist in the art world, whether you’re talking visual arts, writing, music, or performance. Artists in every medium and of every range of experience maintain this mental image of what their art should be — usually in comparison to someone else’s. “I can’t” — because nothing they produce ever measures up to that ideal they’ve carried around probably since childhood.

“They.” What am I talking about? This is a case of “we,” for sure, because I’m one of those artists.

Talking to Yourself

There’s this thing called the Self-Talk Cycle. Maybe you’ve heard of it; I can’t remember who first coined the term. But the Self-Talk Cycle describes:

how you talk to yourself about yourself in your head;
what emotions this engenders in you;
what actions you take based on those emotions;
what you tell yourself about yourself as a result of those actions;
and so forth.

Here’s a visual of what I’m talking about (click to embiggen!):
 

selftalk

 

So, imagine that you consistently tell yourself, “I’m bad at art. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. If I try this, I’m just gonna mess up. Besides, doing art isn’t productive. I shouldn’t waste my time or other people’s time.”

What we say to ourselves about ourselves always leads to feelings. How will you feel as a result of talking to yourself like this about your artist self? Your musician self? Your writer self?
Frustrated.
Overwhelmed.
Guilty for even thinking you could take the time for this.
Disappointed.
Angry with yourself.

What actions will you take as a result of these emotions?
Avoid your art projects.
Ignore your urge to create.
Dam up and wall off the impulses that lead to art, music, writing.
Block relationships with other artists, musicians, writers. Keep them at arm’s length so they don’t remind you of what you’re not doing. Heaven forbid they tempt you to try creating again.

What do you tell yourself about yourself as you take these unpleasant actions?
I’m alone.
I’m not as good an artist as ________, so they wouldn’t want to hang around me anyway.
I’m no good at art, music, writing. There’s no point in trying.
If I try, I’ll just waste people’s time.
I’ll just screw it up again.
I can’t.
I’m bad at art.

This circle is particularly vicious. It has teeth, and if you let it go on long enough, it will tear your spirit to shreds. (I should know.)

Don’t let that happen.

Fight that vicious, spirit-shredding monster with the Truth.

Here’s the Truth

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

Read this and let it sink in:

Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist
(@Jay_T1313)
(emphasis mine)

…and…

“When we say we are afraid to begin a project, we are actually saying something else: “I am afraid of how I will feel as I continue.” We do not want to start because we do not know that we can continue. It is not the start, it is the finish that troubles us.”

Julia Cameron

Part of the fear of beginning is the fear of being seen as a beginner…a novice or even an “inferior.” (I can’t remember where I originally came across this idea; possibly it’s more Julia Cameron.) Another part of the fear is fear of knowing ourselves. Fear is where the cycle of art-murdering Self-Talk begins. “It’ll never look right. I’ll screw up. I can’t…”

…because I’m afraid.

But you can.

Because you can’t be bad at art.

And you don’t have to let fear rule you.

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

That little subtitle there is a quote from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament book of Joshua, Chapter 24. Some might accuse me of taking it out of context (though I really don’t believe that I am), but here’s the crux of it for this post:

You have a choice.

You can choose to be subject to fear.

You can choose to immerse yourself in the negative things you tell yourself about your art.

You can choose to obey your fear of being a beginner again.

You can choose to obey your fear of failure.

You can choose to serve your fear.

Or…

You can choose to be subject to freedom. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose life. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose to immerse yourself in speaking kindness, joy, peace, love, and beauty to yourself about your art.

You can choose the courage it takes to get to know yourself.

You can choose the courage it takes to show the world who you are.

You can choose to serve your art,

following where it leads,

even if it leads you to truths about yourself you didn’t want to know.

You can choose to serve your art,

thereby serving Truth and Life and Joy,

thereby serving Good and Light and Freedom.

Sometimes, following your creativity, following Truth and Light and Freedom, means looking into dark places. This seems a paradox, but it’s one of those universal paradoxes that crop up in our existence every so often.

Look into yourself, delve into the dark places, and find in them the Light.

“I know myself, and I will know myself further. I am brave enough to learn who I am. I am good at art. I feel free and strong in my art. And I am brave enough to show it to the world.”

You are everything you need to be, but you’re not there yet.

Become what you already are.
 

Writers’ Blog Hop: 4 Writerly Questions (also Dr. Seuss)

Hidey-ho, beloved inklings!

Did you miss me?

Don’t answer that. ; )

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been rather absent from my blog for the last two months. This is due to three things. Attend, my dears, and I shall tell you them.

Thing One

When I have a spare moment for writing, I devote that moment to (working title:) The Writing of Legends of the Light-Walkers 3, The First Draft: The Draftening. That is not the working title. I just made that up.

More on this later.

Thing Two

Last week, my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage. This is mind-blowing and cramazing and I love them for it. I feel that in this world of hook-ups and hang-ups and h-something-something-alliteration, people like my parents are a ray of hope to those of us who haven’t gotten to the big FIVE-OH (or even the big TWO-OH) yet. Plus, they’ve gone through a lot to make it this far, so all the hats (and possibly other various accoutrements) are off to them.

50years

To show my love and appreciation, I threw them a party (and this is the Thing Two that took up potential blogging time). Cousins and aunts helped, and without these cousins and aunts, I couldn’t have accomplished half of the party prep and the party itself wouldn’t have been half as nice. I spent much of the prep time — and some of the party itself — overwhelmed with gratitude at the loveliness of all of these women who came together to help honor my parents. It was truly a blessing.

With Apologies to Dr. Seuss: Thing Three

I’d thought several times about surfacing from novel-writing and party-planning just long enough to pop in here and say hi. But then Judy Dunn, fellow writer and blogger, contacted me and asked me to join in on a Writers’ Blog Hop. I agreed and then decided to make the blog hop post my “hey how’s it goin’, y’all.”

Hey! How’s it goin’, y’all?

If I’m not mistaken, that brings us full circle. So, woot and cetera.

Writers’ Blog Hop: 4 Writerly Questions

In Judy’s own blog hop post, she answered four writing questions that the previous blogger? hopper? (hoppah!) had asked her. So I get to answer those same questions (AND PASS THEM ON TO THE AB-FAB WRITER ANNOUNCED AT THE END OF THIS POST SO CHECK HIM OUT DO IT DO IT DO IT OR I’LL SEND ELVES TO TATTOO “I’M A NERD” ON YOUR FOREHEAD DON’T TEST ME).

*ahem*

Without further ado or adon’t, here are Les Quatres (4) Questions Writerliques:

1. What am I working on right now?

My current project is the third novel in my Legends of the Light-Walkers series. (The first two are here.) Everything you need to know about LLW3, you can find here. For blog-hopping (blopping?) purposes, I’ll just say that this is probably the biggest writing project I’ve ever taken on, it eats my lunch when I take my eyes off it for the splittest of seconds, and I love every ridiculous minute of it.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

LLW3 is different in that it is the pseudo-urban fantasy prequel to epic fantasies LL1 and LL2. Yes, I’m sorta switching genres mid-series. Except not really. The whole LLW series is meant to be epic fantasy. That’s always been THE BIG IDEA. But for certain things to happen in LLW1 and LLW2, the story of LLW3 has to be told.

The story of LLW3 is the story of Rafe Skelleran — who just happens to have been born in Oklahoma City, OK. That’s not exactly an epic fantasy setting. So when we meet Rafe, he’s still not-so-happily ensconced in his downtown OKC apartment. He crosses over into my epic fantasy world (readers will know this as Rethana’s universe) in…um…a chapter that’s now Chapter 3, I think. But he starts out here. So that’s sorta where the urban part comes in.

Bear with me, y’all. It’ll all come out in the wash, I promise.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I gotta.

Next question?

; ) Just kidding. But no, really. These stories are in my head, and if I don’t write them, I get surly and depressed and start oil-painting deepsea anglerfish mermaids (READ: fishtailed girls with ginormous jaws and spiky teeth) and lots of things in black. And then I get accused of demon-possession and nobody has any fun anymore. So I write my stories to make things better for ALL of us. You should thank me.

Really though, do come see the anglerfish mermaid sometime. She’s a cutie.

4. How does my writing process work?

Well, there’s coffee.

Next question?

Yeah, yeah. ; )

I used to be mostly a “pantser”: Flying by the seat of my pants, I dived into Telling The Story with little to no preparation, and it was magnificent and brilliant and exciting until I stalled out and dropped like a stone at around 10,000 words. KABLOOEY.

Nowadays, I still pants it a leeeeetle, but only after I do a lot of prep work. Great Scott, I know that sounds like a major paradox. Here’s how it works:

  • I write out a short synopsis — just the basics of what I think will happen. This is MC. This is what MC wants. MC does this. This is Antagonist. This is Antagonist’s goal (in opposition to what MC wants). Antagonist does this. And so forth.
  • I write out a Mock Table of Contents, and I let myself be ridiculous with it even if the story isn’t primarily comedy. For instance:

1. “Also, I Can Kill You with My Brain”
2. Down the Rabbit Hole; Dude, Your Ward Is Screwed Up
3. Take Me to Your Dream Weaver (a la REO Speedwagon)
4. Dude Is Janky, Let’s Kill Him
5. Girl’s Got Skillz (Or: Come Here So I Can Hit You with a Rock)
6. In Which the Spirit of Robert Frost Is Channeled. Word.
7. Sanctuary! Also, Get the Hell Outta My Head
8. Most Everyone’s Mad Here; Et Tu, Jael?
9. …

You get the picture. That, by the way, is the Mock ToC for the third Legends of the Light-Walkers novel. For keen observers, there might be a teensy-weensy spoiler or two in there. But for the most part, the Mock ToC means nothing to anyone but me. Each chapter title is just a note-to-self on what’s supposed to happen in that chapter. None of these will appear in the final draft.

  • I also do a character list, with 300-word descriptions for the protagonist and antagonist, and 100-word descriptions for at least two supporting characters. The other supporting chars just get a bullet point each. I’ll jot down notes on the big event (what catapults the MC into the story), the conflict, the obstacles, the climax, and the denouement. None of this has to be very long; it’s mainly just notes I’ll use for reference if I get stuck while writing the first draft.

I might do a long synopsis and also list what happens scene-by-scene in each chapter, but that depends on how tedious I’m finding the process at this point. I do write better when I’ve done some of this pre-writing, but if I start feeling bogged down with the pre-writing, I move on to the actual writing of the story. Boggy feelings don’t go well with creativity.

HINT: This is where I turn from a plotter back into a pantser. MIGHTY PANTSER-MORPHIN’ POWERS, ACTIVATE.

Oooooh, I know what this is called! This is plot-pantsing. PLONTSING. I AM A PLONTSER, Y’ALL. I think I just invented a term. Check me on this, people — but I bet you heard it here first. (If you didn’t, don’t you dare burst my bubble.)

In the actual writing-of-story process, I just write as fast as I can without (much) editing, so as to get the first draft out in “one” fell swoop. That fellness might take two years to swoop all the way, but if that’s as fast as I can go, then so be it.

After Draft 1 is done, I let it sit at least 6-8 weeks before looking at it again. I then read it all the way through without (much) editing. Then I release the Inner Editor in all her full and glorious wrath and edit and revise and rewrite until Draft 2 is finished. I wash, rinse, repeat until I have Draft 3. Nowadays, that’s likely as far as I’ll go before handing it over to an editor. (I’ll let beta readers take their shots starting with Draft 2). I think the most drafts I’ve ever had on one novel was six.

This is now WAY longer than I’d intended it to be, so I think I’ll go home now. : )

Please check out my fellow wordnerdssmiths in the Writers’ Blog Hop!

judyfinal Judy Lee Dunn writes to release her true stories in the hope that they will help her readers learn how to navigate life and live to tell about it. Her blog was named a Top 10 Blog for Writers in 2011. She has written everything from marketing and sales copy to grant proposals, children’s books, magazine articles and news stories. Judy has finally settled on her true passion, creative nonfiction. She was a contributing author for Seasons of Our Lives: Winter and is currently writing her first full-length memoir, Out Tonight. Judy lives on Anderson Island in south Puget sound with her husband Bob. In her spare time, she likes to read early 20th century novels and feed gourmet meals to stray cats.

 

 

tonyhealey Tony Healey is the best-selling author of the sci-fi series Far From Home. He was a contributor to the first Kindle All-Stars short story anthology, Resistance Front, along with award-winning authors Alan Dean Foster, Harlan Ellison and 30 others. In January 2014, he published the speculative fiction and horror anthology Edge of Oblivion, with all proceeds going to charity.
Tony’s post for the blog hop will be available for your reading pleasure on May 12th.

I repurposed a mutant pumpkin. Let me show you it.

So, this afternoon I finally went out and picked up the autumnal, Thanksgivingal pumpkins off the porch.

Some of said pumpkins were actually in the middle of the yard because the husband pitched them there while shoveling snow, and we didn’t realize it until the snow melted and I was like, “Hey, what are my pumpkins doing in the middle of the yard?”

The thought of possessed, self-propelled mutant pumpkins did cross my mind. But I didn’t entertain the thought. I just served it some hot cocoa and let it sit at my table for a couple of days. It leered at me.

LEERED, people.

Ugh.

So, lest the leering contaminate the pumpkins and I should one morning open my living room curtains to find the leering mutant gourds lined up on my window sill with tiny chainsaws and icepicks, I chose this afternoon to pitch them.

They’ve been out there for two months, y’all. A few of them were mushy. One was as wrinkly as a Shar Pei. One was dripping noxious hellspawn fluids. Without ceremony, I consigned them all to the depths of the trash can, hoping that none of them will think to free-solo their way back up and out.

I tossed all but one.

This one wasn’t mushy. This one could be knocked-upon with knuckles, which action I repeated several times just to be sure. And lo, my flesh did not sink into the rind, nor did the pumpkin sprout clawed fingers nor open wide a fanged maw to rip my arm to shreds. I figured it was safe to bring it into the house.

I knew I wanted to paint it with a Christmas or winter theme, so I’d previously checked Pinterest. I found this for reference. I didn’t read the descrip; all I needed was the photo reference.

So, once the itty bitty was in bed this evening, I broke out my acrylic paints, glitter, and Sharpie (for the coal, as I had no acrylic black) and did this:

snowpumpkin2013

Please to excuse the bad photo manip. I wanted to do something to cover up the newspaper he’s sitting on while drying. And I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow when he’s dry to take the picture. Because I am impatient and stubborn and indulge in instant gratification a lot more often than I’d like to admit. #confessions

The flash also reflected badly off the Sharpie, so I darkened the lumps of coal a bit, too.

Anyway, there you have ‘im! My cute snowman pumpkin for the porch. There shall he abide, and from thence shall he smile benignly at the neighborhood and upon our visitors this fair holiday season.

At least until he fully mutates sometime in January and I send him the way of his mushy brethren.

He’d just better not pick up a chainsaw before then.

The Starship Enterprise and a Break from Social Media

Yesterday I posted this to Facebook / tweeted this to Twitter:

So…I decided a few days ago that I need a social media break. It’s starting at midnight, it covers Twitter and Facebook, and it will likely last a week.

notweetingI need this for several reasons, the main one being that I desperately need to finish my work-in-progress, the much-neglected Elevator People. Social media is a wonderful tool for connecting, sharing, horizon-expanding, giving, receiving…but it is also a fantabulous time-suck. I need to see if spending my social-media time on my novel instead will help me finally finish the darn thing.

Furthermore, Twitter and FB have been the sources of a lot of OUTRAGE over various and sundry of late. And I’ve let myself join in on it. Yes, there are many things that SHOULD engender outrage. Injustice and cruelty, illogic and conspiracy. Incomprehensible chaos…. I don’t want to hide from it all, because I recognize the importance of participating in the story of the world, even if that story is sad and gruesome and despicable (usually the sparks of the outrage). Social media is part of living in the future, and I want to be part of that.

But.

All the outrage is contagious. All the outrage is addictive. All the outrage, and I throw myself into it, and my blood pressure rises, and my spirits sink, and I can’t get away from all the pleading voices that clamor for my attention. I can’t think my own thoughts, I can’t feel my own feelings beyond the MUST REACT TO CONVICTIONS AND SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET!

nofacebookingI need to think, need to breathe. I need to be in my own head and heart and in the my-life that I can touch with my fingers and smell and taste. I need to rediscover what it’s like to hear see read feel imagine something and not immediately reach out and tell the worlds about it. I need space…the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…. #kidding #notreallykidding

I need to live my life without status updates and hashtags for a while.

So I’m taking a break. I’ll miss y’all. I’ll have withdrawal symptoms, and I’ll wonder what I’m s’posed to do with myself.

Maybe I’ll blog. ; )

Maybe I’ll finish my book. Maybe I’ll write poetry. Maybe I’ll have apostrophes. I mean, epiphanies.

But whatever happens, I know for certain it will be good.

I’ll leave you with one final thought, and then I’m going dark. I’ll see y’all on the other side.

INVISIBLE ZOMBIE SPIDERS. FBthumbsup

Sweet dreams!

My latest Works-in-Progress Update (Sci-fi stuff!)

Hile, my lovelies!

It’s been a while, I think, since I’ve regaled you with anything seriously writing-related. At least, I think it’s been a while — and since I can’t remember for sure, that tells me I’m right. This might be circular logic, but I’m not sure about that either, so let’s just move on.

Here’s an update on my three latest/current writing projects:

1. I am still plugging away at my soft sci-fi novel Elevator People (working title). I am approaching what should be the final chapter BANGERANG ZOUNDS CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH?!? I love this story, I love the characters, I love it all, but I will be SO everlastingly glad to be done with this first draft. BRING ON THE EDITING, says I! But no, first they have to climb a staircase, then they have to cross into the Prime Dimension or whatever, then they have to talk to The DUDE Dude, and then they have to decide if their story ends here or not. All of that should take fewer than 10,000 more words. I’m excited.

2. Work continues on the Grace & Jack sci-fi short story for Tony Healey’s charity anthology. It’s surreal and poetic and I’m enjoying immensely. Getting into Grace’s head is always a weird experience, and I kinda like those. So.

3. In the space of a few days, I wrote another Grace & Jack story entitled “At the Funeral of a Marriage”. Josh read it and said those two confuse the heck out of him, which means I did my job. ; )

All of this proves that the BLURGLEMAMJUFLOOBELSCHNITZEN is receding, which pleases me no end and affords me copious peace of mind. So yay.

danceswithtesticles

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also put together a post full of fantasy/sci-fi inspirations, including ent larva, elves made of ice, and something I shall now call Dances With Testicles.

These come to you directly via the weirdness that is my brain. Click through if you dare. ; )

Apparently, I’m not a real writer. And I’m guessing you’re not, either.

Hile, inklings!

Tonight, I have opinions. And they will not be silent. You’ve received fair warning.

A couple of authors I follow on Twitter — namely, John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig — led me to this article by Lisa Morton, Vice-President of the Horror Writers Association, in which she expounds upon the difference between a professional writer and a “hobbyist.”

What a terrible, long sentence. My apologies. But I’m letting it stand, because I’m not a real writer anyway, and I probably don’t know any better.

Okay, okay, so that level of snark on my part is a bit uncalled for. (Maybe.) Especially since Ms. Morton isn’t calling me a “fake” writer (as opposed to a “real” one). She’s acknowledging that I’m a writer, just not a professional. Well, I kinda take umbrage at that.

Morton lists ten questions, which, according to her, a writer must answer with “yes” in order for her to consider that person a pro. In her graciousness, she will “cut you a little slack and say you can get off with 80% and still call yourself ‘professional’.” Please note that this is a direct quote in which Morton has her closing quotation marks in the wrong place. But who’s counting.

She also warns that if you scoff at her questions, she will consider you a hobbyist, and you are not to call yourself “professional” in her presence.

No. I’m not even kidding.

I know nothing about Lisa Morton personally. Until tonight, I’d never even heard her name before. Yes, there are places in this post where I’m pointing out her incorrect punctuation and grammar (still to come), but I have nothing against her personally. But her tone and word choices sound elitist to me, and as a writer (whose level of professionalism is tbd), I feel the need to speak out against it. Because it’s bad form, y’all.

Anyway, back to the questions. Or, as Morton puts it, “onto the questions.” (She really means “on to.”)

Lisa Morton’s 10-Question Acid Test of Writerly Professionalism (I just made that up.) and My Answers

1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?

No. My home is messy because I have a 10-month-old and cleaning is low on my priorities list.

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?

No. When I get the chance to go out with friends sans baby, I jump at said chance because if I don’t, I will go bat guano crazy.

3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?

Rarely. For the last several months, TV has been the only way I can unwind, and if I try to write instead, I just fall asleep.

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?

Yes.

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunites [sic] (either research or networking potential)?

No. I haven’t been on vacation in 4 years because I can’t afford it.

6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?

No. I don’t enjoy discussing the business of writing. I do enjoy discussing the craft of writing and will do so happily at any given opportunity. However, I will not do so to the exclusion of chatting with a good friend, because I love my friends (both writers and non-writers) and care about maintaining my relationships.

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?

Sort of. Before I had a baby, I spent 4 years at a job that paid no money at all at the time: writing.

8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?

I don’t understand this question. Does this mean I should think my current home isn’t nice? If I do think my current home is nice (which I do), how does that automatically mean I don’t have a professional mindset?

9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?

Since I’ve answered only one question so far with “yes,” I guess the answer to this one is “no.”

10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?

Is this a question about suicidal tendencies?

One out of ten. I don’t even score as “pro” within the bounds of Morton’s gracious 80%. The thing is, even if I weren’t devoting most of my time to keeping a baby healthy, whole, and happy — even if I were at my previous writing “level” of 5-8 hours per day instead of 2 hours per week — even if that were the case, I’d still only score as “hobbyist” in Morton’s eyes.

Not that it matters. As I stated above, I don’t know Morton, and I never heard of her until today. I have nothing against her personally — but neither do I care about her opinion or her classification of me. Her scoring system isn’t the be-all, end-all of whether or not someone is a professional writer. Her scoring system is a subjective description of her own process and her view of her own writing career. As far any other writer is concerned, it’s a moo* point.

The end of the matter is, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes a professional writer from a hobbyist. A professional writer gets paid for writing. BOOM. If you get paid for writing, you’re a professional writer. That’s it.

Morton’s list is elitist and exclusionary. It keeps people out — when what needs to happen is that we writers band together and invite each other in. We need to challenge the darkness individually and collectively. We need to form a tribe that affirms and reaffirms and assures and reassures. As my friend and fellow indie author Bernard Schaffer writes,

“We all learn together, share our information, and support one another’s endeavors, including stepping in and saying when someone is doing something they shouldn’t. …Be a member of the community and support it, both financially and socially, and it will support you back.”

~from The Manifesto of Independent Writing and Publishing

Designing a test to see who’s pro and who isn’t does nothing more than exclude those who need a tribe’s support the most. And if those people are consigned to the outer regions where “hobbyists” apparently dwell, there’s little chance they’ll ever discover motivation for “becoming professional.”

As for me? Well, I’m not earning the big bucks, that’s for sure. My books were selling well enough to make a car payment, but summer sales are down. So at least I’m contributing something to the grocery budget. Once I get my WIP finished and published, I have every confidence that at least a few more car payments will be in my future. ; )

Hi. My name is Courtney Cantrell, I get paid for writing, and I am not a hobbyist.

___________________

* “It’s a moo point. …It’s like a cow’s opinion. It doesn’t matter…it’s moo.”

~Joey Tribbiani,
“Friends”

Depression and Creativity

The Depression Part

I’ve felt depressed lately.

Sad. Lethargic. Numb. Angry. Frustrated. Disinterested. Dark view of life. No hope. Blech.

I’ve blogged about depression before. And I’ve blogged about one of the main triggers of depression for me: not exercising my creativity.

When I realized that I was depressed, I said to several people who love me, “Hey, I’m depressed.” NOTE: Telling loving people that you’re depressed is helpful in starting the process of getting out of the depression.

Those several people who love me replied, “Hey, we’re not thrilled about this. Do you know why you’re depressed and/or how we can help?”

This was an excellent response for two reasons.

One, it let me know I’m not alone in this.

Two, it helped me figure out how to handle this.

You see, I had to answer them as follows: “There’s nothing that you can do, really. I have a baby whom I love dearly and deeply. I don’t resent her or begrudge her the time I spend with her. But the fact remains that when I’m taking care of her, I’m not writing. And when I do have time to write, I’m so exhausted that I fall asleep at the computer. There’s nothing anyone can do, really, to ‘fix’ this situation (which isn’t actually broken).

“However, having this conversation with you makes me focus on ways I can exercise my creativity in writing without sacrificing my daughter’s needs. So thank you for talking with me about this. That helped.”

The Creative Part, Pt. 1

And then I went and wrote a blog post, and I felt better. And then I invented a recipe for almond chicken, and while cooking doesn’t do a lot for me, it’s still a creative task, so I felt better after completing that, too. And then I reorganized two rooms and a closet, and the exercise in creativity required for that gargantuan task was a humdinger of a creative exercise, lemme tell ya. And then I made up a song about giraffes for my daughter and videoed myself singing it. After that, I was practically glowing.

So. I’ve felt depressed lately. But I’m on my way back up.

I still feel a ton of frustration that I nod off every time I sit down to continue my WIP (Elevator People). But at least I’m doing little creative things here and there. I think I just needed a reminder not to neglect that part of myself — and not to let exhaustion fool me into thinking I don’t have time for that part of myself.

After all…crippled, demented, or crushed: still, I will create.

The Creative Part, Pt. 2

And then, my friend J.T. posted the following on his Facebook status, and I thought it was utterly brilliant:

“Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist

I’ll be blogging about J.T.’s ideas more in the near future. But for now, here’s how I’m relating his words to my depression:

I need to know who I am.

When I don’t know who I am, I get depressed.

When I am not creating, I am not spending time with me, not getting to know me.

When I am not creating, I am not seeing myself fully.

When I am not creating, I forget who I am.

When I forget who I am, I get depressed.

I could flesh this out a bit more, but I think it suffices for my current purposes. More than ever, I see the truth in my belief that I am created to create. To dig more deeply: I am created to get to know exactly who I am. If I am not doing art, I am not getting to know who I am.

If I am not doing art, I am neglecting a main purpose for which I was created.

No wonder that sets me adrift.

I am finding my anchor again.

Cures from the Past

"Castle in Her Coils" by Courtney Cantrell

“Castle in Her Coils” by Courtney Cantrell

"No More Room in Hell" by Courtney Cantrell

“No More Room in Hell” by Courtney Cantrell

"Sea Creature" by Courtney Cantrell

“Sea Creature” by Courtney Cantrell

"Redemption" by Courtney Cantrell

“Redemption” by Courtney Cantrell

In the Zombie Apocalypse, I Won’t Be Wearing Makeup

Me: Hey, see those truck trailers on that train?

Ed: Yes.

Me: How would I break into one of those?

Ed: You wouldn’t. They’re loaded so close together that the doors won’t open. Besides, see that giant metal bar across the back?

Me: Yes, but I have to break into one. How would I do that?

Ed: You could try cutting through the side with tin snips. Or a blowtorch.

In the zombie apocalypse, this will be a blowtorch and I won't be wearing makeup.

In the zombie apocalypse, this will be a blowtorch and I won’t be wearing makeup.

[Notice he doesn’t even question the “I have to” part.]

Me: Where would I find tin snips?

Ed: At the hardware store.

Me: Where would I find a blowtorch?

Ed: Same place.

Me: Where would I find the butane to run the blowtorch?

Ed: Not butane. Oxygen-acetylene. In tanks. And probably at a specialty store. Or ask the hardware store people where to get it.

Me: There aren’t any people to ask.

Ed: Then you’re outta luck.

Me: But I have to break into the truck trailer. So I need the blowtorch and the fuel.

Ed: …

Me: I also need a wagon to haul the tanks.

Ed: …

Me: Wanna know why I’m asking?

Ed: …

Me: After the apocalypse, I need to scavenge whatever is in those trailers.

Ed: *sigh* I was afraid of this.

Me: If it’s a zombie apocalypse, I’m going to have to work quickly. So I’ll need that blowtorch.

Ed: Those particular trailers don’t have food in them.

Me: That’s okay, I’m not looking for food. I’m looking for weapons or goods to barter.

Ed: Or you could try a reefer.

Me: Honey. There are zombies. I’m not gonna just sit there and smoke a joint so they can walk up and tear my guts out.

Ed: *sigh* Reefer as in, refrigerated truck. It would have food in it.

Me: How long would it keep?

Ed: Maybe a few days.

Me: No, no, this is months and months after the apocalypse. I’ve already established my base of operations. It’s time to start going after the big stuff.

Ed: Then don’t try a reefer. You’ll just end up with a ton of rotted food.

Me: You know I’m going to blog this, right?

Ed: Yes. *sigh*

Witch Doctors, Jesus Christ, and the Harlem Globetrotters

Hile, you lovely people! With no more preamble than what you’re reading RIGHT THIS INSTANT, here’s a quick run-down of Courtney’s Recent Life:

  • Writing advice site UnstressedSyllables.com published my recent article on how to choose a target audience for your novel. Click that link to read and go ooh-ahh.
  • Speaking of ooh-aahs, I’ve been singing a lot of “Witch Doctor” to the baby. She finds it entertaining.
  • I’VE BEEN PAINTING. I know. I KNOW. That’s a pretty big one. I hope none of you fainted. If you did, and if you’ve since revived to read the rest of this bullet point, I’ll tell you that I’ve actually got TWO paintings in the works:
    1. an illustration of Revelation: a post-Second-Coming Christ, the church in the form of a house, and a New Jerusalem coming down out of the heavens — you know, iconic epic-type stuff
    2. an image that’s been knocking around in my head for almost two years: landscape with crimson sky and purple hills in the background, and a mysterious dark Something in the foreground. The Something might be a structure. Or it might be a person (possibly a female version of this). I’m not sure yet. But it will be black.
  • I’ve been editing Josh‘s latest: Hell-Bent for Leather, a Weird Western in which supernaturally gifted Chet Leather must rescue the soul of his friend, Dan, from the clutches of a Duke of Hell. It’s an incredibly entertaining romp with plenty of action, deviltry, tongue-in-cheekiness, and heart. Though I’m slow due to time constraints, I’m enjoying it immensely. In other news, Josh has been very patient with me.
  • In further news, Elevator People progresses apace. Our Hero is about five paragraphs and a few lines of dialogue away from his final encounter with The Villain, Carrigan Bell. I’m glad of it, because I’m ready for this story to be in editing and pre-publishing stage, and I also want Carrigan Bell over and done with. He’s a particularly nasty sort, and I always feel like I need a shower after I’ve been in his head for a while.
  • This isn’t part of Recent Life, but it’s a Recent Development pertaining to Life, so I’ll share it: I get to see the Harlem Globetrotters in April, and my brother-in-law will be on the opposing team. BAM.

For now, that is all. I’m going to bed. See ya later, dahlings! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

But if you do, take pictures.* ; )

*I picked that one up from my Grandpa. WHAT.