February Update

I am thrilled to announce that I finished the revisions on my second novel!

I should have made this post two weeks ago, but the very minute I hit “send” to get my manuscript into the hot little hands of my extra special beta readers, my body decided to succumb to the viral miasma my kids have been bringing home from school all winter. I have been brutally ill ever since.

I suppose I should be grateful I managed to complete the revisions before contracting the plague. I am, really. But I am also wallowing in self-pity. I have never been so laid up by a virus! Usually I just take whatever necessary medications to suppress the symptoms and get on with life. That just isn’t working this time. I have barely managed to peel myself off the couch for the better part of two weeks and have spent most of my time napping or staring blearily at the wall and wishing I’d gotten my flu shot this year.

Anyway. I am tentatively feeling better today. Not totally better, but the cold-meds can get me through the day kind of better. So I’m in my office and going to try to get some work done that I planned to finish last week.

My husband is the first of my beta readers to finish and get back to me. He’s stuck up north on the ice road, and had plenty of time to read while waiting for his crossing. Some writers say you should never let your significant other reader your work. But my husband has always been my first reader, and often gives me some of the best feedback. He’s not a writer himself, so he doesn’t bother me about stylistic choices. And he has a great mind for details, so he’s quick to pick up on little inconsistencies in my descriptions. He did not find any major plot holes and says he loved the book. So I have high hopes for the next few to come in!

This whole outlining, fast drafting, and then revising process has given me hope that I can actually put out a novel a year. Or maybe even two! Once I’m finished my current “real job” project, I’m going to start outlining book three and it will be back to the grindstone for another couple of months.

How is this winter treating the rest of you? Anyone else caught the flu from hell? Hope you’re all taking care!

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Indie Book Review: Jim and Martha by Joel Schueler

Jim & Martha: An Indie Classic for the 21st Century

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of writing and revisions I start to get bogged down by my own voice. One way that I kick myself out of a rut is to read something outside my genre, or something completely different from my usual reads. Jim & Martha is something I picked up on a whim because I was so intrigued by the idea of a tragicomedy set in an ecovillage. It isn’t solarpunk, but I thought it might help trigger some new ideas for me. I got all that and more!

From the Book Jacket:

Jim & Martha is a tragicomedy about a couple entering a major lifestyle change, transitioning from a suburban London flat to an ecovillage. Racing along a two-lane road of humour and tragedy at one hundred miles per hour, how will the lovers fare with their new environment, their new cohabitants, their mental health and each other? As the ecovillage becomes a crossroads of instability, who can trust who? Adventure or nightmare, some things are inescapable…

Click on to the ‘zon

My Review: 4/5 Stars

JIM AND MARTHA is a wry, darkly comic novel about relationships, community, and the environment. It is not an easy read by current standards; the language is rich with imagery and symbolism, the narrative flow is at times almost “stream of consciousness” in style.

It took me a while to get acclimated to Schueler’s authorial voice. Because this is an indie book, it would be easy to assume it needed another pass from an editor. The sentence structures can be challenging and Schueler uses a rich and varied vocabulary. I even learned a few new words and I consider myself a language buff!

I assure you, the author knows his craft! If you are at all  familiar with literary modernism, please give this book a chance. It is, in my opinion, a classic for the new millennium that speaks to all the dissatisfaction and cultural angst of our generation.

Once I learned to trust that the author’s language was intentional, I was able to relax into the narrative flow and really hear the character’s thoughts and feel them as my own. The imagery is raw and poignant, and often surprisingly “real” without being pretty or flowery.

Underlying the tale of the titular Jim and Martha’s voyage to an eco-village is a current of anxiety that I think readers under the age of 40 will know well. The urge to escape, to start fresh, and to rebuild is haunted by the fear that we can never truly escape ourselves.

I gave the novel 4/5 stars because I did find some of the unusual sentence structures distracting, and to my eye it didn’t serve any particular purpose. I also struggled a bit in moments where the POV character shifted from one character to another. I could have used more hints, earlier, to signify the shift as I had to reread some passages when I realized I was in a different character’s head.

However, this not detract too much from an overall wonderfully fresh reading experience. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the English language!

Indie Recommendations:

Does anyone have any great indie reads they’d like to see reviewed here? My preference is for SF&F and I’m especially interested in the SolarPunk movement. But I’m open to any suggestions! Let me know in the comments section.

Green Dreams

Solarpunk, anyone?

Visions of Futures-Past

One of the things I love most about being a fiction writer is that I get to explore other worlds; the depths are limited only by my imagination. Of course, my imagination is driven largely by my real life interests, and these shift and change over the years as I grow older and <ahem> wiser.

My first novel, The Timekeepers’ War (Bedlam Press, 2014) is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland known only as The City. When I first started writing this book–in a Starbucks coffee shop outside the Staples store I worked as a cashier–in 2003, the world was loving the sexy hi-tech futures of movies like The Matrix and Minority Report. I was fascinated by a darker vision, though. What if we’re hovering on the brink of the end of the world?

Post-Apocalyptic Nightmares

These questions gave rise to The City, the vast and sprawling skeleton of a once-great metropolis much like those futuristic worlds that pop culture was swimming with at the time. Centuries of brutal civil wars and an unforgiving climate have made life on the surface of The City next to impossible. The elite classes long migrated to the Ursaarian Empire–a safe-haven of towers and bridges strung up far above the ground level. My main characters–Ghost and Lynch–struggle to navigate the anarchic “rules” of life on the surface while trying to bring down the oppressive regime that keeps them there. With the help of The Timekeepers–an enigmatic group of scholars who seem to know more about The City and its past than it should be possible to know–they plot another war.

At the time that I started writing The Timekeepers’ War I was a broke student, mulling over ideas about class systems, extreme poverty, life on the fringes, and of course, the looming threat of global warming. This is the primordial ooze that birthed The City, and they are still questions that linger in my mind.

It’s no coincidence, I think, that around this same time post-apocalyptic fiction had a kind of Renaissance. Zombie movies burst onto the scene, obliterating sparkly vampires in their flesh-eating wake, with 28 Days Later (2002), Resident Evil (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004), and its comedy counter-part Shaun of the Dead (2004) gave rise–pardon the pun–to the insanely popular Walking Dead series (2010-…). Even without zombies, futurescapes took a turn for the bleak with Children of Men (2006), I am Legend (2007), and The Road (2009).

I’d love to claim I was ahead of the curve, with my finger on the pulse of the world zeitgeist, when I started writing The Timekeepers’ War. Really, it just goes to show you how everyone was starting to get a bit nervous about the way the world was going in the early 2000s. Now that I’m writing Book Two in The Timekeepers Trilogy, I’m noticing another shift in pop-culture narratives. I noticed it in my own writing first.

SolarPunk Dreams

I wrote about the rise of the SF sub-genre, solarpunk, here. At first I was thinking about the importance of positivity in fictional futures when the reality of our impact on the environment is looming large on our consciences. Science Fiction has the power to make people see possibilities–dark or hopeful–and envision the world as it could be. When we think about all of the various ways we consume fictional media–in books and movies, digital photography, fantasy art, even music like Janelle Monae’s ArchAndroid concept album–it becomes undeniable that the future is a part of how we experience NOW.

Predictive Pasts

We are influenced by our own visions of the future. Throughout human history, people have been turning fictional dreams into reality. In 1865, for example, Jules Verne wrote From Earth to the Moon which, in retrospect, is eerily similar to the real moon landing in 1969. The food replicators envisioned for the “Star Trek” series’ has become a reality with the advent of 3D printing technology, which can replicate using anything from plastic, metal, and glass, to the bio-printing of skin tissues for medical purposes.

Check out Science Alert‘s “15 Wild SF Predictions About Future Technology That Actually Came True” for more examples. Or do a quick google search for other historical predictions that weren’t quite as crazy as people once thought they were. The barrier between reality and make-believe is tenuous indeed. How much of modern technology was inspired by the over-active imaginations of our favourite SF thinkers over the years?

Green Dreams

In Book Two of The Timekeepers Trilogy, I am exploring some exiting new developments in The City. Now that the oppressive Ursaarian Empire has fallen, the Timekeepers are on a mission to rebuild. It’s a whole new world to Ghost, who has known nothing but underground tunnels and surface-side ruins for her whole life. With the Timekeepers in charge, she explores huge glass-domed neighbourhoods and towering greenhouses alongside solar-powered manufacturing sectors. It seems like a perfect world. But how much freedom is she willing to give up for the safety of a future with the Timekeepers? The shifting political landscape reveals that there is always a price to pay for security.

The Fictional Gardener

In the past few years, since moving to a property with a large vegetable plot, I have become very interested in different methods of gardening. Learning how to work with the environment in order to develop fertile earth without chemical intervention is a fascinating process. A large-scale shift away from traditional farming practices has changed our local agricultural landscape, and there are some amazing experiments going on in permaculture techniques.

I’m dipping my toes into the future of agriculture in this novel, but it’s really whet my appetite for further exploration of the SolarPunk genre. I don’t do hard SF, so don’t expect any detailed schematics on how any of my fictional greenhouses work. But I can’t wait to share with you some of the visions for the future I have, and to shine a little light into the darkness of The City.

Don’t worry, I’m not going fluffy on you. There is plenty not-right about this optimistic new regime. And as Ghost knows, there is always something lurking beneath the surface…

Share Your Dreams and Nightmares

What have some of your favourite depictions of fictional futures been? Give me the dark, the light, and the terrifying! Have you read any SolarPunk? Who are you favourite architects and concept artists dealing with the futuristic green spaces and agriculture? I’d love to hear from you!

A Love-Letter to my Readers

Dear Ever-Faithful Readers,


I think of you all every day, I really mean that. I know I don’t say that often enough, but it’s true. Some of you have been with me since the very beginning, back when getting published was just a crazy dream. Some of you I’ve met later in my journey; you took a chance on a writer with only one book and nothing but frantic promises to keep you with me.

I won’t let you down.

I still mean that. I am working so hard, you guys, and it is paying off in a big way. I could whisper sweet nothings here every day and never have another book to show for it. Once upon a time I spent all my creative energy writing about writing and engaging with other writers. Some writers are great at this. They have an endless capacity for communicating with their readers, fellow writers, and their friends and family.

I am not that writer, y’all. Trying to keep up with social media exhausts me, even though I’m only half-assed active here and on Instagram. It’s time I made my peace with that. I need to save my energy for the most important stuff. My books!

Okay, maybe my family, too.

Blog posts aside, I have been writing a lot! I did the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction (made it to round three) and the Micro-Flash Fiction (never made it past round one) Challenges this fall. I made the difficult decision not to attempt the Short Story Challenge this month, despite placing oh-so-close (12th overall!) in the 2019 competition. I wish everyone who is in the midst of the excitement right now the absolute best of luck. I will miss it.

But I have something more important on my plate right now.

I’m more than half way through the revisions to Book Two in The Timekeepers’ Trilogy. You can check out book one HERE. I’m hoping to have Book Two with my publisher by the end of the month.

There, I said it out loud. Now it has to happen.

I have suffered for this book. Nothing has challenged my skills as a writer and my ability to pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again. Not even the hundreds of rejections I received for the first book can compare to the crushing self-doubt I have worked through to finish the second.

This is the third time I have written this book. The first time, I got 70K words into it (for those of you who don’t speak “publishing” that’s only a couple of chapters from the end) and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. A developmental editor finally pointed out that my protagonist had no agency; she was just floating around reacting to the things happening around her, so when she was forced to act in the end… she couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t do it.

I cried after that edit. Out of frustration, and also out of relief that now I knew what I needed to do to fix my story and finish the damn book. At least, that’s what I thought.

The second time I wrote this book, I reworked my protagonist and gave her all kinds of agency. I wrote a long, detailed, chapter by chapter outline that would take me right to the end of the book. The writing went smoothly, I had more direction. But it was lacking something. I knew it was, but I didn’t know what. I felt distanced from my own story, stuck in endless spirals of backstory that didn’t leave room for my characters to move. When I realized what I had done, I cried again.

I was writing the wrong book, folks.

I had gotten so far ahead of myself that I didn’t realize I needed to write a whole ‘nother book before I got into any of the ish my characters were trying to slog through now. No wonder I was stuck!

At this point I wanted to give up. I didn’t feel like I had it in me to start all over again, to write a completely new book. I wanted to quit. But instead, I went back to the basics. I wrote short stories and I studied my craft. I read books about novel structure and about outlining. I promised myself that, at the very least, I would write an outline before I decided to move on.

I wrote the outline. I even started the draft. My writing was so much tighter than in Book One that I faced a whole new wave of self doubt. I felt like I needed to rewrite the first book before I could write the second one. Somewhere along the way, I felt I had lost my voice. After writing about 25 pages I set it aside.

I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Last November I participated in National Novel Writing Month, where writers can challenge themselves to complete a 50K word novel draft in 30 days. I attempted this feat in 2017 and even shared my attempt here! It was a lot of fun, but I only managed 22K before I lost the thread. This year, though, I had a plan. I had an outline, I had a story that wouldn’t let me be, and I had a great team of friends, family, and super-fans cheering me on.

So I committed to finishing my second book. Even if it was ugly, even if I hated every word of it, I was going to get through my outline and type THE END just so I could finally put it to rest. And you know what? I won.

That’s right. I wrote an entire freaking book in one month!

Can you believe that?

I’m still in shock.

But I did it and it felt incredible. (Many thanks to Simon Farnell over at Beyond the Infinite for being my accountability buddy. Hi Simon!)

This experience taught me a couple of things.

  1. Outlines are my friend.
  2. It’s totally possible to write a book on borrowed time. 15 min here and half an hour there… I averaged about 1.5 hrs a day to complete 50K in one month.
  3. Turn off spell check when writing the first draft. My internal editor still tried to bite every once in a while, but it no longer drew blood.
  4. Writing every day makes me a better wife and mother. When I’m happy, everyone is happy(-ier).
  5. When the first draft is actually completed, revisions are a joy.
  6. Persistence pays off.
  7. Ugly drafts are not nearly as ugly as I thought they would be.
  8. I love my book.

I love this book!!!!

I’m so glad I stuck with it. I’m so glad I made myself get up again and again after each of these setbacks. I absolutely cannot wait to share this book with you all. Thank you for being here, for listening, for believing in me.

Writing Resolutions: 2020

I’m committing to 2 hours a day to get these revisions done and off to my editor. Once this book is done, I’ll start outlining Book Three. You know, the one I’ve already written a couple of times… it might need a few tweaks here and there, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got this. Maybe I’ll commit to finishing my first (third) draft for Camp NaNoWriMo this spring? Anyone care to join me?

Fillers and Filters: Give Your Writing a Fluff-Free Face Lift

I really, truly mean that, literally.

If you have ever received a story critique from me (you lucky dog, you) I’ve probably harped on and on about filler and filter words. It comes up in 90% of the stories I read.

I just made that statistic up out of thin air, but it’s how I feel, and that’s what’s really important, isn’t it?

Filler words get talked about on a lot of writing blogs. We’ve all read, and probably ignored, countless articles about how they weaken our writing and felt that it doesn’t really apply to us. (Really. See what I did there? My own blog pieces are full of the bastards.) Filter words are trickier, and they aren’t discussed as often, but I’m going to shine a light on the ugly blighters today and hopefully scare them out of your writing.

If simultaneity is the death by a thousand cuts, slowly draining your story’s momentum, then fillers and filters are equally dangerous. If I had to stretch this metaphor–and of course I have to–filler words are death by suffocation on Peeps marshmallow chicks and filters are death by toe-suspension. Or something.

Okay, let me explain what I mean by Filler and Filter words before you decide if those ridiculously nefarious images make any sense.

Filler Words: Put your story on a diet

Cut the fluff. Trim the fat. Tighten your prose. It’s time to put your writing on a word diet.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying short story crafting over the past couple of years is the power of brevity. If you are writing a 1000 word flash fiction piece, you must make every word count. You cannot afford to waste precious words on fluff.

I’m looking at you, filler words.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Filler words like: just, that, very, really, literally, totally, quite, perhaps, actually, almost, slightly, simply, absolutely; Filler phrases like: in order to, due to the fact that, etc.

Seeing these filler words in a list, they seem totally innocuous. These are common, every day words that slip naturally into our writing because we use them in our speech. First person narratives tend to be the worst offenders for this reason, but fillers can slip into any POV. The trouble is, in written language, these words do nothing but drag us down.

I get a lot of push back when I point out filler words, for some reason. A lot of writers seem to think that they create a conversational voice and add authenticity to their stories. And in some, exceedingly rare cases, this can be argued if one is writing in a particularly deep POV for a particular kind of character.

For the moment, though, please humour me and lets assume that you are not that special case and your filler words are unnecessary dead weights dragging your story into the depths of the oceans of despair.

Examples: How to cut Filler Words

Ex. 1. a) Breanne really wished that she could just disappear. (8 words)
b) Breanne wished she could disappear. (5 words)

Ex. 2. a) The wind was quite cold and the trees almost bent double. (11 words)
b) The trees bent double in the cold wind. (8 words)

Ex. 3. a) Josie popped into the shop in order to grab a coffee before work. (13 words)
b) Josie popped into the shop to grab a coffee before work. (11 words)

Discussion

Yes. I know. You’re already rolling your eyes at me. Surely saving two or three words here and there isn’t going to make or break your story? Spoken like someone who has never tried to write flash fiction!

But do you see how much cleaner the above sentences sound, simply by removing the filler words? It’s a subtle different that adds up if you apply it throughout your story.

Now, I dare you to search your latest manuscript for the words: very, really, that, and just.

It’s not just a few words here and there is it?

Depending on the length of your story or novel, I’m betting you have hundreds if not thousands of filler words waiting to be culled. I know I do. I’m getting better at not writing them in the first place, but my drafts are still full of them.

I actually love going through my first draft, cutting the fluff, and then deciding where to spend my newly freed-up words. Particularly when I’m confined to a tight word count.

The fact is, filler words give your writing a diluted, wishy-washy feel. Write with conviction, commit to your images, tell the reader exactly what is going on and don’t be afraid to be specific. Cutting the fluff will give an automatic boost to the pace of your story and make your meaning clearer to the reader. It’s probably the only foolproof diet plan in existence.

Filter words, on the other hand, are trickier.

Filter Words: Strip down and get intimate

Now that your story is sporting a trim new silhouette, it’s time to show off. Filter words are all about how close you allow your POV to get to the characters thoughts, emotions, and sensory experiences. You want to eliminate words that filter your characters experience unnecessarily.

I like to think of POV as a movie camera. How your reader experiences your story has a lot to do with where you place this imaginary camera. Panning across a scene from far above shows a breadth of detail with little depth. The closer you bring the camera in, the less the reader will know about the big picture, but the more they will get to see of your character’s actual experience in the world.

I, personally, like an intimate POV. It allows for greater emotional investment and deeper immersion in the story. Of course there are times when a narrative requires a little distance, and I’m not going to argue about that. But for the sake of this post, I’m going to assume you want your readers to BE your characters while they are reading. Culling filter words is how you will do this.

Filter words can be broken into two main categories. Sensing and Thinking. Sensing filters are verbs like: to see, to watch, to smell, to feel, to hear, to taste, etc. Thinking filters are verbs like: to know, to wonder, to realize, to think, to seem, etc.

And the worst offender of all, which probably deserves its own post, is the verb “to be”

Again, these words are ubiquitous. They seem harmless. But they are not. They hold your reader at an emotional distance from your POV character, effectively preventing them from fully immersing themselves in your story. That’s bad.

Filter words unnecessarily filter your story through the characters perceptions when, in a tight first or third person POV, the reader should actually be the character. Filter words are a constant reminder that the reader is reading and not experiencing your story first hand. That’s very bad.

Examples: How to cut Filter Words

Ex. 1. a) Sarah felt a stab of panic in her heart. She heard a scratching sound on the other side of the door. She wondered if maybe she’d forgotten to let the cat back in. But then she noticed something she couldn’t ignore. She smelled damp earth and rotting meat. Sarah knew that Rob was back from the grave. (57 words)
b) Panic stabbed Sarah’s heart. Something scratched outside the door. Had she forgotten to let Mittens back in? No. It couldn’t be the cat. The smell of damp earth and rotting meat oozed in through an open window. Sarah backed away slowly. Rob, fresh from the grave, called out softly, “I know you’re in there, Sarah.” (55 words)

Ex. 2. a) I was walking down the garden path when I smelled the sweetest scent. I looked down and saw bright purple flowers at my feet. It seemed like they were growing out of the cobblestones themselves. I wondered who had planted them there? I heard birds chirping in the trees and felt the warmth of the sun upon my face, and I realized that I hadn’t been this happy in weeks. (70 words)
b) I meandered down the garden path when the sweetest scent tickled my nose. Bright purple flowers waved at me from the cobblestones at my feet. Who could have planted them? Birds chirped gaily in the trees and warm sun kissed my cheeks. I hadn’t been this happy in weeks. (49 words)

Discussion

I hope I’ve illustrated how much more you can show a reader, in equal or fewer words, when you eliminate filters. Again, as with any of the examples I come up with off the top of my head, these are not brilliantly shining beacons of literary genius. But, in the first example I was able to add detail to the scene without adding extra words. In the second example, I conveyed the exact same information, using stronger language, in far fewer words. All I had to do is get rid of the filters.

The thing is, if you tell a reader that “joy bubbled in Ali’s heart, like fizzy cream soda” we know that Ali is the one feeling this. To say “Ali felt joy bubbling in his heart like fizzy cream soda” is redundant, and it only serves as a reminder to the reader than he is not there with Ali, experiencing this joy with him, but a mere observer.

To Be or Not To Be…

Definitely not. “To be” verbs, like was, is, am, were, and all of their various tenses can almost always be eliminated to create a stronger image or sentence.

Bob was looking around the corner. –> Bob looked around the corner.

Sheila was wearing a bright green hat that was drooping on one side. –> Sheila wore a bright green hat that drooped on one side.

I was sad. –> Grief crushed me.

Eliminating “to be” verbs simplifies your sentences and, in some cases, forces you to show an image or emotion rather than telling the reader about it.

Now Forget Everything I Just Told You

Wait, what?

At least for the first draft, try not to worry about any of this too much. It’s the kind of fussing that really slows down the writing process. My advice is to save fillers and filters for later on in the editing process. You can’t edit what you haven’t written yet, and all of these rules can bog even the most experience writers down.

But I would like you to try applying this to one of your own stories and see what you think! Let me know how it goes.

Conclusion

What do you think about fillers and filters? Were you aware of these terms before? Have you read about them and ignored them repeatedly, like I did for years? Tell me all about it in the comments!

SolarPunk: Sci-Fi for a Sustainable Future

Is it time for a little vitamin D in your dystopia?

Out of the Darkness…

Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic themes are all the rage in Science Fiction these days. Arguably, they always have been. Sci-Fi has been a sounding chamber for early warning signals, from George Orwell’s vision of an omniscient government in 1984 to H.G. Well’s prediction of the atomic bomb in The World Set Free, and in some ways that is its greater purpose. Beyond simple entertainment, speculative fiction gives an outlet for great minds to explore the “what-ifs” of new technologies and the effects, both positive and negative, on the world as we know it.

Human nature being what it is, we are drawn to the dark side. Readers and writers alike dive into worst-case-scenario disasters with a kind of morbid fascination. Is this how it will end? Is this what will become of us?

Indeed, dwelling on disaster can be cathartic. We can console ourselves that at least our world isn’t that bad yet. Or that, if it gets that bad, it will still be possible to survive. As with the infamous “preppers,” considering catastrophic events in a logical way and planning for future solutions can be a great way to cope with the anxieties that surround the uncertainty of our fates.

I’m not suggesting you start hoarding cans of sardines and dehydrated mashed potatoes just yet, but hear me out!

Pessimistic Science Fiction has its purpose. Fear can catapult people into action. A lot of sci-fi scares are not all that far fetched, and sometimes fiction is more effective than reality at forcing people outside their comfort bubbles to think about the consequences of their cozy lifestyles.

However, there are risks to clanging the old doom and gloom bell too loudly and to early. People easily become desensitized to alarm. We have seen the effects of this first hand in public opinion on climate change and if/how/when we need to address it. Skepticism, and the desire to maintain the status quo, will win out over making small, necessary changes that cause us minor inconvenience and costs.

… And Enter the Light!

What is SolarPunk?

SolarPunk, a relatively new subgenre of science fiction, is making lightwaves in some circles. It all appears to have started with this post HERE from 2014, and has evolved since. Ultimately, SolarPunk is a response to SteamPunk’s romanticization of the Industrial Revolution and the nihilism of CyberPunk. It envisions an optimistic future in renewable energies and sustainable earth-centric practices are woven together to create egalitarian societies in which which the art, craft, and science of renewable energies takes center stage and egalitarian societies that are more community driven than corporate controlled.

That’s cool and all, but who cares?

Consider the ways that modern environmentalism has stagnated. It has become an echo chamber of like-minded people talking amongst themselves and becoming more and more convinced that they are right. Unfortunately, that conviction has been slow to translate out to the general public and into official channels. My feeling, is that one of the reasons for this failure is not that environmentalists are pushing for too much too soon. It’s that they are trying too hard to uphold the status quo.

Our visions of the future look too much like our current lives. It assures us that we don’t have to change too much. We’ll still drive cars and trucks, the fuel will just be a little bit different. We’ll still eat meat, farming practices will just be tweaked a bit. We’ll get better at taking care of the earth and you’ll hardly even notice the difference!

Science Fiction to the Rescue!

Fear of being labelled as extremist or alarmist has silenced a lot of brilliant people. The goal now seems to be a slow seep into public consciousness rather than radical change. Maybe this will work, maybe it won’t. I don’t have the answers, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. Other, more informed, people have discussed it better than I can. Check out this article on Medium.

But is this really the future that we want? When we imagine these brave new worlds, do we want it to look like the world today? As a reader and writer of science fiction, my answer is an emphatic NO! And I wonder if maybe we could inspire greater participation in the green movement by showing people how wonderful and exciting and DIFFERENT our world could actually be if we chose to make radical changes in our lives.

This all sounds a bit fluffy…

I mentioned the need for optimism in science fiction in a discussion with a writer friend the other day and I was met with some reluctance. Optimism sounds fluffy, doesn’t it? Where’s the conflict in a perfect world? What’s the point of stories without struggle?

Well, let me just clarify that for a moment. Optimism is not perfection. And it’s not easy.

We are primed for pessimism, these days. Just turn on the news, read your social media feeds… bad things are happening, and even when they aren’t we catastrophize good things because that’s what we do. Maybe it’s a survival mechanism that has been twisted by technology, I don’t know. What I do know is that it is increasingly easy to become anxious, depressed, and pessimisitc.

It is a heck of a lot easier to imagine a dystopia than a utopia. People question uptopias, critics pick apart any idea that dares to be too hopeful. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And it doesn’t mean that if we succeed, we’re going to have a boring story.

The best books are always, in the end, about people not places. People are not perfect. Perfection is poison: to conflict, to character development, to tension, you name it.

A a world that envisions solutions to current problems will have problems of its own. Characters, even in the most utopic world are going to butt heads with life. I invite you, fellow readers and writers, to explore what social, political, interpersonal, environmental, etc. conflicts look like in the exciting possible-futures of SolarPunk.

Are You Up to the SolarPunk Challenge?

If you have read any SolarPunk, drop your recommendations and thoughts in the comments. I have no experience in this subgenre yet, and I’d love to dive in!

Writers, would you care to join me in a little challenge?

Write a flash fiction story in the SolarPunk genre and leave your link in the comments. I’ll write one and post mine in the Story Laboratory by the end of the Month. Let’s see what we can do with a little sunshine!

Mystery Blogger Award!

I have been away for a little while, and I think it’s driven some of my bloggie friends to desperate measures to make sure I’m still alive. I’m fine, really! I’ve just been busy melting water on my stove to make coffee and wash dishes while our water treatment system was on the fritz…

Just kidding. Well, not about the water (but it’s fixed now)

I’m actually very honoured to announce that I have been nominated by Matthew Whiteside of “Seeking Purpose Today” for the Mystery Blogger Award! Matt and I did a fun interview a few weeks ago, which you can watch HERE. He’s a fellow sobernaut and creative force, and if you don’t follow his blog already, you should.

Matt is full of enthusiasm for life, support for other humans, and his blog is overflowing with motivational rambles and casual brilliance. Read a few posts and get inspired to do what you love. It honestly has that effect on me every time!

So? What is the Mystery Award?

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.
Okoto Enigma

Three Things You Might Not Know About Me

As a recipient of the Mystery Blogger Reward, I am magically compelled to reveal secrets. It’s in the contract. So, here are three things about me that may or may not be news to you:

  1. I have been sober for exactly 200 days today. Quitting drinking is one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done. I want to say it has changed my life. But it would be more accurate to say that it has changed the way I perceive my life, which is really a much greater challenge.
  2. I do not write because I enjoy it. Many writers say that they love writing. I do not. Writing is hard work. It is a struggle. It is frustrating more often than it is rewarding. I don’t write because I enjoy it. I write because I am compelled to do it. I am driven to challenge myself through my writing, to improve myself and my writing with discipline to the craft. The joy for me is in those fleeting moments of success when I accomplish a particular challenge, communicate a difficult idea, make a connection that wasn’t there before.
  3. I love power-lifting even though I suck at it. Moving heavy things is my preferred method of exercise (although I have had good fun with cross country and back country skiing this year and fat-biking in the warmer seasons)

But Wait! There’s More…

I am also contractually obligated to answer five questions posed by the person who has nominated me for the award. So here are Matt’s questions and my answers…

  1. Why are you on this planet? I am not a spiritual kind of person. I don’t believe in fate or higher-purposes or anything like that. I don’t think anyone is born for a particular reason. However, since I am here, I believe in making the best of it. For me, that means doing the best I can at the things that are important to me, supporting the people I love, and taking care of my little slice of earth.
  2. Are you Happy? This is another trick question. Happiness is not a continuous state. If we were happy all the time, happiness would have no meaning. I am generally content and at peace with myself. I have moments of joy and happiness, and moments of all the other emotions on the spectrum. I do not believe that happiness has any more value than any other human emotion and it is a mistake to place too much emphasis on attaining it. Trying to capture and sustain happiness is the surest way to unhappiness that there is.
  3. What is your favorite Myth? I’ve been reading a lot of Norse myths with my kids lately, and one of my favourites is the one where Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir, is stolen by the giants and Thor and Loki dress in drag–pretending to be the goddess Freya and one of her maidservants–in order to get the hammer back.
  4. How tall are you? I am the shortest person in my family, at a measly 5’9″. Technically, I’m taller than my mom, but not by much and only because she’s shrinking. I guess I’m taller than my kids, for now. My husband’s family towers over me, and the kids aren’t far behind.
  5. Can you make me laugh?  Please Explain? I think I have, once or twice. The trick is figuring out when I’m being serious and when I’m not. I always think I’m hilarious, especially when I’m pretending not to be.

Now It’s My Turn!

Now I get to nominate a few of you hapless bloggies… My victims are:

Simon Farnell of “Planet Simon” – Simon has tons of interesting Sci-Fi goodies on his blog and has been supremely supportive of my own attempt at blogging. We have plans to do some collaborating and guest posting, but I’ve been slagging off a bit. Give him a follow, and tell him I’m sorry, will ya?

Teresa Grabs of “The Haunted Wordsmith” – Teresa is a master of flash fiction and micro fiction. I read often and don’t comment enough. I highly recommend following her work!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this:


Award Guidance

  1. Thank whoever gifted you and include a link to their blog
  2. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  3. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  4. Answer the questions from the person who gifted you the Award
  5. Choose bloggers that you wish to gift the Award to no more than 3
  6. Ask 5 questions of your choice with one weird or funny one
  7. Notify those you gift the Award to

My questions for you:

  1. What writer or book made you want to be a writer?
  2. What is the value of speculative fiction in the modern world?
  3. Is there anyone that you will not allow to read your work?
  4. What is your most impressive physical feat?
  5. Coffee or tea? And how do you take it?

Critique Mystique Part 2: How to Receive a Creative Writing Critique

Oooooh, that smarts.

The first time you receive real critical feedback on writing, or anything, can be painful. It can be painful after you’ve received hundreds of them. Thousands. Any time you are told that what you are trying to do isn’t working sucks.

It does get easier, though. Receiving feedback is a skill you must hone just like giving it. Here are my tips on how to receive creative writing critiques with your dignity intact!

Check Your Ego at the Door

Yeah, yeah. I know. Easier said than done. How do you separate yourself from this brilliantly shining piece of art–it’s ART, dammit! You’ll never understand me–that someone has just defecated upon?

Well first of all, just stop. It’s probably not that great. It’s a draft, and drafts are supposed to be crap. Even if it’s a late draft, if you are at the stage where you are soliciting creative writing critiques, you are still in draft mode. You are asking for other writers’ ideas on how to improve your writing craft. Right?

If you’re not, then you need to go back and read my initial article on what a creative writing critique actually is and how to give one. Go ahead. Click it. I’ll wait.

It was a little long, I guess…

Okay. Are you back?

So we should be in agreement now, that you never ask for a creative writing critique when what you are really looking for is someone to tell you how wonderful you are. If that’s what you want, send it to your mother. She probably won’t read it but she’ll probably still tell you she thinks you’re neato. At least, I’ve been told that’s what other people’s mother’s do. Mine tells me she doesn’t understand anything I do and wonders how she went so wrong…

Anyway.

In order to check that Ego, you have to realize one thing. It’s a big thing. Are you ready?

You Are Not Your Writing!

Do you hear that? You are not your writing, your art, your job, your hobby, your anything. You are you, and these are things you do. Sometimes you do them well, sometimes you don’t. No matter how good you are you can always get better. And no matter how good you get, you should never define yourself by the things you make and do.

Identify with the process not the product.

You are a writer, you are not your writing. So when someone says that your story isn’t working for them, you don’t have to take that personally. In fact, if you take it personally you will never get better. You will live in fear of failure and judgement, wallowing in self pity and unrealized dreams. You will stagnate, because you will never be able to show your work to anyone (except maybe your mom). And we have to show our work. Because that’s how we learn and grow and flourish and become the glittering unicorns of greatness that we were always meant to be.

Yeah, you.

When you accept that you are not your writing, it will become much easier to view it objectively. This numbs the sting of a rough critique, especially if it, too, is written objectively. Which, to be perfectly honest, it might not be.

Objective vs Subjective Feedback

Ideally, your critique partner will be skilled and experienced in delivering constructive criticism. But, of course, this will not always be the case. Delivering creative writing critiques is as much an art as the creative writing itself. Sometimes you will receive feedback from people who are still early in the learning process. And that’s okay, because we are all still learning how to receive feedback, too. We all need practice.

Practice makes PROGRESS!

How can you tell if the critique you have been given is good or bad? Good criticism is objective and focused on the actual writing rather than you as the writer. Poor critiques are subjective, confuse the writing with the writer, and are sometimes, but not necessarily, delivered in a condescending or hostile tone.

The trick is, being able to tell the difference.

Objective critiques:

  1. Focus on the facts. That means, they critique what is there on the page. Word choices, sentences structure, character’s actions, etc. They do not make assumptions about your beliefs and critique that. Ex. “Wow, Charlie is a really despicable character! Can you provide more evidence to show why he is the way he is?” vs “This is totally misogynistic and gross. What is wrong with you?”
  2. Are familiar with the genre you are writing in and aware of the expectations of that genre. Romance stories have happy endings. Mysteries have a reveal. Some things shouldn’t be messed with.
  3. Offer clear examples and actionable suggestions. These should be presented as possible ways around a problem, rather than prescriptions. “You can bring the POV in closer by eliminating some of these filter words. Consider the difference between ‘Charlie realized it was too late.’ and ‘Charlie checked his phone and groaned. He’d never make it in time.'”
  4. Never attempt to re-write your work, change your voice or style to suit the personal preferences of the critiquer.
  5. Are aware of potential biases, and disclose them within the critique. Ex. “I don’t really enjoy romances, so take this with a grain of salt…”

Subjective critiques:

  1. Are based on personal opinions, assumptions, interpretations and beliefs. To some extent, all critiques are a bit subjective. It is impossible to completely divorce yourself from your opinions and experiences. However, a good critique won’t point out a first person present narrative as a flaw just because the reader doesn’t like them.
  2. Confuse the writing with the writer. We all have to write conflict, villains, and disasters. Good stories are rife with bad things happening to our beloved characters. It is possible to write a homophobic character without being homophobic yourself. Good critiques will be able to tell the difference. HOWEVER, it is perfectly valid for someone to point out when it isn’t clear if a particular bit of nastiness belongs to a character or is an overflow of your own personal opinion. If someone points out something like this in your work, thank them profusely. It may save you a lot of negative reviews and bad press. Or identify something you need to unpack with your therapist next week. Either way, say thank you.
  3. Forget that they might not be the targeted reader. If you ever receive a creative writing critique that tries to steer your piece into a different genre, a different POV, or a different style of writing without very good reason. “Oh god, I hate vampire stories. Can’t you make Fang a werepig instead?” Flag it as a personal preference problem and move on.
  4. Assume that how they would have written your story is better. This is the worst kind of critique to get. It’s in extremely poor taste and is best ignored if for no other reason than that you will not learn if someone else does the work for you! Never mind the fact that the people who attempt to re-write other people’s work are usually the least qualified to do so.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

So, you’ve received your creative writing critique. You’ve read it. You aren’t crying anymore. Much.

What do you do now?

First of all, thank your critique partner for their time and insights. Even if you just spent the last half an hour screaming at your computer about how said critique partner is an ignorant worm who wouldn’t know quality writing if it crawled up their arsehole and died. Yes. Even then.

Why?

Because whether you liked what they had to say or not, this person took time to try to help you become a better writer. And even if they don’t know how to write a proper critique and can’t tell an opinion from a fact to save their life, you can still learn from their comments.

Yes, even poorly written crits are valuable. They still highlight potential problem areas in your piece. They still help you to identify what works and what doesn’t work. Even if all you identify is exactly who your intended audience is not.

And then…

Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?

Yup. You survived. Now, you need to do it all over again. Why? Because getting more eyes on your work is what is going to help you decide what is advice you need to heed and what you can safely ignore. If that one weird girl from the back of the class totally digs your favourite sock puppet metaphor (Yeah, I loved it) and ten other people just don’t get it… maybe you need to kill that darling.

Or, you know, accept that what you’re trying to do isn’t for everyone and be okay with that. That’s okay, too.

Whatever you do, do it on purpose.


********************************************************************

Is there something you’ve always wondered about the writing, editing, or critiquing process? Do you need me to clarify any of these points? Hit me with your best shot in the comments.

Want to practice your own critique writing skills? Check out my Story Laboratory! I dare ya…

Author Interview: Jensen Reed

Pixie Forest Publishing, a fun little indie press, has a brand new collection of short fantasy stories coming out on March 8th! Pre-orders are open now, click HERE to snag a copy of Magical Reality. I’m here with Jensen Reed, author of “Heir” in this anthology, and co-owner of Pixie Forest Publishing.

Q: What was your inspiration for “Heir?”

A: I responded to a prompt in Writing Bad. It was a photo I found by Stefan Koidl that pictured a little boat above dragon bones in water. I wrote basically the opening paragraph as the prompt response and once we decided to do this theme for the anthology I knew it would fit perfectly!

Q: Who is your favorite character in your story and why?

A: I really love Jo. She has such a strong personality and I love her quirks. I also love how much Lincoln loves her though.

Q: Do you have a favorite story in Magical Reality? If so, why is it your favorite?

A: I absolutely adore “Misspelled” by Olivia London AND Melissa “Sell’s Mall of Magic.” They are both exactly the type of story I had in mind with this theme.

Q: What is your writing process like?

A: Be inspired, write out the scene that comes to mind, meet the characters, build their back stories, write, rewrite, edit, send to betas, polish. Oh and lots of caffeine.

Q: Is fantasy the genre you usually write in?

A: I dabble. I love fantasy, horror, I write romance, and I’m attempting sci-fi. But I mostly love feeding characters to zombies and making readers cry. 😉

Q: How long on average does it take you to write a story?

A: It honestly depends on the length. I’ve been working on my zombie apocalypse series for at least 5 years now, but I have written and published ten short stories in the last year.

Q: How important was research to you when writing this story?

A: This one, sorta. The most research I put in was for the spells that Jo does. The rest I just made up as I went.

Q: What are you are currently reading, and what made you grab that book?

A: This answer is going to change several times by the time this interview goes live, haha. I have been inhaling books this year as part of a goal to read more. I’m currently reading The Whispers by Greg Howard because I saw it at Target and fell for the cover.

Q: What are you writing now or what are you planning on writing next?

A: Lots. The Refuge series books one and two (zombie apocalypse), Painted Hearts (modern magic about a vampire who lives in a lighthouse), This Is Stupid (sci-fi), and several short stories for more anthologies.

Q: Do you have any upcoming releases?

A: Salty Tales anthology by Stormy Island Publishing launched on March 1st. I have a little Nicholas Sparks-ish romance in there. I am aiming to release Ranch (zompoc book one) this year as well as one of the two novellas I listed above. I have three more anthologies releasing soon too.

Q: Wow! You’re busy! Where can we find you if we want to keep up with all of this?

Facebook: Author Jensen Reed

WordPress: About Jensen Reed at Pixie Forest Publishing

MeWe: Join my anthology promotion group HERE

Goodreads: Jensen Reed


Thanks, Jensen! I’m excited to check out Magical Reality! Make sure you check out Pixie Forest Publishing for more great reads. If you are a writer looking for a home for your own novel or short stories, check out their upcoming anthologies and the submissions guidelines.