Why Sci-Fi?: An exploration of Genre

Recently, one of my Instagram followers commented on how I often passionately post about Sci-Fi writers and works that they have never heard of. Classics that have somehow not been on everyone’s radar, and new writers who have been overshadowed by those in other, more popular genres.

If you don’t already follow me on IG, please do! You can find me @sarahdoesscifi and join in on some of the live discussions we get into, not just about SF but about reading, writing, life, and what makes us tick.

What makes you tick?

The question got me thinking. What is it about science fiction, or speculative fiction, that gives me those visceral reactions?

I read very widely. I love mysteries and crime dramas; I love fantasy and magical realism; I love action and suspense; I love fancy pants literary fiction. The only genres I don’t read are romance and erotica. No, I am not a prude. I just don’t like them. That’s allowed, dammit!

Rarely, though, do I ever gush about any of these other genres. I’ll happily recommend it to others who enjoy similar books, I’ll say that I loved it. “Great book!” I will say, and I will mean it.

But I’m not going to write a blog post or book review extolling its virtues. I’m just not. Because I never, with the exception of some literary fiction and memoir, have ever truly felt changed by any book that was not science fiction.

So, Why Sci-Fi?

Science Fiction is real. It tackles real life problems, or future problems, and it attempts to solve them. Sometimes, it demonstrates how those solutions might fail.

I’m not saying that fantasy or crime thrillers or romance novels can’t be realistic. I believe all good fiction is based in reality in one way or another. Human interactions have to be recognizable to the reader’s experience. The laws of the story world must be obeyed.

Writers across genres are telling us something about what it means to be human. This is why we love to read. It’s a universal bonding experience to reach across the world, or into a fantasy world, and find a character that we love, can relate to, cheer for, or root against.

Terry Pratchett’s observations about human nature are brilliant and philosophical, for example. What Pratchett and most other genre writers don’t do is this:

They don’t offer solutions.

“The Most Important Artistic Genre”

I recently read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus. They, like good science fiction, caused a massive shift in my brain. He changed the way I thought about the world, about being human. He made me reconsider everything, spun me around, and pointed me in a different direction entirely.

“Today science fiction is the most important artistic genre,” Harari says in Episode 325 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It shapes the understanding of the public on things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.” — “Why Science Fiction is the Most Important Genre,” WIRED, 09/08/2018

Science Fiction is real. It is based on a speculation of what might happen if…

And those “what ifs” are real possibilities. They may be far fetched, the author might not get the science exactly right, but they don’t require magic or monsters to get the job done. They find solutions: the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

The Solution is Sci-Fi

The SF author’s job is to make people think about this world, the here and now. To inspire people. Science Fiction can provide distant early warnings about the paths we are currently on. They can show us our doom.

Better yet, they can show us our potential.

The Best of the Best

My favourite SF writers right now are N.K. Jemisin (Check out How Long ‘Til Black Future Month), Octavia E. Butler (I’m currently reading Parable of the Sower, and I also highly recommend the Lilith’s Brood trilogy for a serious look at what makes us human), Ken Liu (his short story collection Paper Menagerie is a great mix of SF&F), and Margaret Atwood (the Maddadam trilogy is wonderful).

Discussion

Do you read science fiction? What is your favourite thing about the genre? Who are your favourite authors, and why? Which genre do you get the most out of? Let me know in the comments!

10 Gardening Quotes to Inspire the Sci-Fi Writer

What does gardening have to do with science fiction? Perhaps not much on the surface. Human beings have been gardening for more than 10,000 years. It’s as old fashioned a pass-time as there gets. Right up there with cave painting and throwing rocks at our enemies. (Please don’t do the latter.)

I have become increasingly interested in the future of gardening, though. Science Fiction is ripe with possibilities for both near and far-distant futures on Earth and elsewhere in the universe. It’s got me thinking, are there ideas to harvest here?

Sowing Ideas

Writers are known for deriving inspiration from unexpected places. Here, I give you 10 quotes about gardening that might just sow an idea or two for your next fiction project.

10. Hopefulness

There is something hopeful about growing a garden, isn’t there? In order to plant something today, one must believe they will be around tomorrow. This proverb makes me wonder about future human settlements–recovering from a natural disaster, maybe, or trying to survive on a new planet entirely. What are their hopes for the future? What challenges will the this new life bring?

9. Garden Teachings

The garden as teacher; it is a wonderful metaphor. Viewed through a science fictional lens, however, this quote takes on a potentially sinister tone. Imagine a world falling apart, where the lessons from the garden are lessons in survival. Patience, watchfulness, industry, thrift, and (mis)trust may become the only thing that stands between our protagonist and death.

8. Survival

We all know weeds grow far better in all conditions than the plants we actually try to cultivate. Is your protagonist a delicate flower, tended and cared for and placed just where society wants her? Or is she a weed, defying all attempts to control and eradicate her? Weeds are what every dystopian fiction needs to kick-start an adventure.

7. Future Generations

Perhaps this is true. But what happens when past generations have seeded something more sinister than shade-giving trees? There are many beliefs and practices that come back from the past to haunt the present. What seems like a great idea today might end up a burden on our children. Can you think of any gifts from the past which could spoil the future of your characters?

6. Immortality

No one lives forever. Yet. It’s no secret that science is working its way closer and closer to this ideal. What will happen to the world when our lifespans grow longer and longer? How will it change our use of land for food and habitation? Humans do not have to be the only gardeners, either. Perhaps gardening is a task entrusted to an immortal artificial intelligence system, too important to be left to our foolish, self-destructive species. What becomes of the immortal gardener? What challenges does it face in keeping us humans from destroying ourselves and everything around us?

5. Vision

It’s true. There is something incredible about the vision of the future required to design a beautiful garden. Emperors may been seen as gardeners themselves, of a kind. Where the green-thumbed herbalist cultivates plants to feed, heal, and inspire so, too, does the Emperor shape his empire. How might the garden inspire great leaders? Will we garden on spaceships hurtling towards an uncertain future on another planet?

4. Back to Nature

Can you envision a future in which human beings embrace Mother Nature and follow Her lead? It is possible that we will learn from past mistakes. Rather than trying to control nature and assert our dominance over the planet, humanity may decide upon a cooperative future with this planet (or the next). Solarpunk has shown us that the future doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. How might humanity redeem themselves?

3. Planning and Execution

No, your characters don’t have to execute anyone. Or do they? We must be the change we wish to see in the world. If you want a garden, you have to plant it. And if you want to turn a corrupt society on its head or overthrow an oppressive government, you have to join the revolution. This quote is a reminder that no matter what kind of world your characters live in, good or bad, the most important thing is that they act!

2. Experiments

Once again, I think of the Immortal Gardener. Perhaps human beings are the cultivar gone wrong. Are we weeds, invasive species taking over the planet? Are we an experiment gone wrong? Maybe you are dreaming of a world in which humanity discovers a cure for one of our many ills but this experiment takes a dark turn. In stories, as in real life, there are no true mistakes if only we learn from them.

1. Optimism

No matter how bleak a world you are writing in, there must be the occasional flower. There must be a reason for living, those little flashes of hope and optimism that keep your characters on their path. Is your character the kind of person who finds flowers in every crack in the sidewalk? Or do they have to have a bouquet shoved under their nose before they stop to smell the roses? Maybe your flower is a bio-luminescent fungi growing in and underground tunnel, like in my Timekeepers’ War trilogy. There are lots of ways to use this metaphor in your own work!

Growing Inspiration

What do you think? Do any of these quotes make you think of a favourite book or movie? Does anything here pique your interest for a future book or an addition to your current Work in Progress? Let me know in the comments!

The Timekeepers’ War: Character Art by Ingrid Nordli

Something I have always loved about fiction is the way it inspires other artists, from musicians to illustrators to film makers and beyond. I love the way an idea can sprout from the mind of one person and blossom into new ideas and interpretations and grow a life of its own.

Fan art has a special place in my heart because it demonstrates how deeply moved a reader can be by a writer’s work. Fan fiction, too!

I’m not famous enough to inspire fan art or fan fic (yet). But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to see how other people see my characters and watch my ideas grow and change through others’ eyes!

Until I have my own fans making art for me, I decided to commission some art myself this year. I am quite active on Instagram and follow a lot of artists and writers. I love to support other creatives in their work, and I thought this might be a good way to connect with people. Plus, I am dying to see my characters come to life!

The first artist I would like to give a huge shout out to is Ingrid Nordli (@authoringridnordli) She did two paintings for my first novel The Timekeepers’ War and I’m so thrilled with them!

Ghost and Lynch are the main characters of my post apocalyptic speculative fiction series. Nordli really nailed the setting and clothes in this piece, and I love Ghost’s attitude!

One of the side characters I get the most comments about is Mouse, the eerily silent canine companion who keeps Lynch company after he escapes his life as a soldier for the Urasaarian Empire in Book One, The Timekeepers’ War. I love this piece. Again, the setting is perfect. Mouse looks exactly as I pictured him. And I love that we get to see Lynch’s softer side, which we’ll see more of in Book Two, Ghostlights later this year.

Thank you so much, Ingrid!

Please let me know what you think in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!

April Update: It’s Still Winter

My garden. This is no April Fool’s joke.

I know I’m not alone when I say 2020 isn’t exactly working out the way I planned. Somehow I neglected to account for a global pandemic, massive economic shut down, suddenly having to home-school my three kids, and being temporarily laid off in my World Domination Schematics. Also, we appear to be trapped in an eternal winter.

I’d ask for help, but we’re not allowed to actually do that in person any more. Please send warm thoughts, if nothing else. My seedlings could use a little pep talk.

Among other things, the turmoil caused by COVID-19 has also disrupted the attention of my beta readers and I have only received feedback from one person. My husband. He pretty much has to do these things for me, though. Even when the rest of the world falls apart, I demand support for my pipe-dreams.

The good news is, he hasn’t found any major plot issues. Other than fixing a few detail inconsistencies, I am ready to package it up for my publisher more or less on schedule. I would have like to have more eyes on it, but I trust my editors to help me with the final polish. Hopefully the upcoming recession isn’t going to delay publication too much. If so, I may have to look at other options to get Book Two out to the world.

One other exciting thing I’m working on is some character art! I’ve commissioned two artists with very different styles to illustrate some scenes from both The Timekeepers’ War and Ghostlights. As soon as they are complete I will be sharing them here and on my Instagram feed. So stay tuned for that! I’d love to see some other artists try their hand at these characters, too, so if that is something you’d be interested in let me know.

I have started an online Permaculture Design Course to help stave off the stir-crazies and ease the transition to my new garden site once the snow finally melts. Gardening has become one of the things I look forward to the most right now, and which helps to ease the anxiety of our current situation. I hope you are staying safe, keeping sane, and reaching out in the midst of all this madness.

Tell me, what are you most looking forward to these days? How are you staying present? Let’s share our ideas!

Growing Pains

Most of you who follow the blog know me for my rambling about the trials and tribulations of being a storyteller. Once upon a time, this place was called Sarah Does Sci-Fi, and I just talked about reading and writing science fiction and my adventures in querying my first novel.

I also do commercial writing, though. My “real job,” the one that actually pays a living wage, is in providing writing services for businesses. I write copy for newsletters, websites, promotional articles, and I’ve even written a training manual for the transportation of bulk chemicals!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working to merge my creative and business writing into one place. The blog will be largely unaffected, but you may notice some changes as I fiddle around with the site and get the flow through where I’d like it to be.

New! Services for Creative Writers

I’m also expanding my business offerings to include some services for creative writers. I now provide developmental editing and coaching services to writers. This includes helping with the outlining, structuring, drafting, revising, and editing stages of any creative writing project you are working on. You can find details on the Writing Services page. Eventually, I will be linking all of my writing craft articles here as well, rather than on the blog.

Newsletter Sign-up!

I have always wanted to start an author newsletter, but I never really knew what to write in one when it seems like eons go between my book releases (I’m working on that!). However, I’ve been doing some research, and have made some decisions about what kind of content to post where, and I have decided that I can do this newsletter thing, too!

You may notice that you receive a pop-up prompt to sign up for my newsletter when you visit the page now. If you don’t, you will soon. I’m still experimenting with these settings. When you see it, please do sign up! I will be putting out a newsletter once a month–no spam, I promise–with more personal updates, the occasional freebie, and other fun things that you won’t be able to find on the site. If the pop-up doesn’t work, you can CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP for the newsletter.

I Want to Hear From You!

Do you subscribe to many email newsletters? What kind of content do you like best? What kinds of things would you like to hear from me? I have lots of ideas, but I’d love to hear yours, too. Leave a message in the comments!

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!

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?

2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: Final Round Results

The results are in! Well, they’ve been in for a while, but I’m slow to update. As you probably know, I have been participating in the NYC Midnight Short Story and Flash Fiction Challenges for the past 2.5 years. I highly recommend them to any writer who wants to shake things up in their writing routine. The thrill of getting your assignment, having a tight deadline to complete it in, and receiving judges feedback on each round is well worth the entry fee.

I began the first round of the Short Story Challenge this January. It was my second attempt at the SSC. The first time, I didn’t make it past the first round. It’s pretty steep competition with the first round having more than 4500 participants and only the top 750 making it into round two.

This year, I not only made it into round two, I made it to the third and final round! From the original 4500+ writers, I made it into the top 90. That feat in itself was enough to put stars in my eyes. In April, we were given our final assignments. We had 24 hours to write a 1500 word story, open genre, subject: side effect(s), and character: a gravedigger. It was a whirlwind of writing and revisions, but I did it and I was pretty happy with my submission. I tried not to think about the final results too much over the next few months…

I am exceedingly proud to announce that my story “The Caulbearer” placed 12th overall in the final round! It wasn’t quite high enough to receive a cash prize (top 10 received anywhere from $5000 to $125 USD… that’s next years goal, haha). But I did score a new writing program, and the massive honour of being in the top 20 stories out of so many talented writers from around the world. The results are posted here if you are interested in checking it out. I will be posting my story with the judges feedback in the Story Laboratory for the benefit of other writers out there who want to see what NYC Midnight is all about, or who want to see what professional critique in a contest setting looks like. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

I just completed round one of this years Flash Fiction contest last weekend. My assignment was Genre: Drama, Location: a submarine, Object: a dozen eggs. This is my third year participating in the FFC. I have made it to the third round the past two years, but never the forth and final round for flash fiction. So this year, that is my stretch goal! I’ll keep you updated when I receive my score and feedback on round one.

Thanks for reading!