28 October 2014

Chapter 2: NaNoWriMo

Dear —, 
Hello from the woman in the ice box. Let me chip the ice from my lips and fingertips and greet you warmly, though I have little warmth to give. I’d give anything for the light that shines when you open the door to my resting place. I’d give you my secrets. 
Apologies from the woman in the ice box. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken in my own voice the slush just slid right out and all over your nice suit. Tell me, is the shop in Burlington Arcade still giving you the discount twice? Or have you found a new purveyor of solid gold novelty cufflinks? 
I didn’t realize I’d be bitter. I thought I’d be desperate to please you and say what you want to hear, and eventually begin to tell the truth. But I started with truth, prettied up as it is. I didn’t expect that at all. 
Let me try again. 
Hello my friend. I have missed you and everything around you far more than is healthy for for me. And now I find I want to talk to you even though we both know that isn’t easy, or wise. Even though I can’t see the smirk that calms my most bitter claims, even though I can’t hear your quick retorts, I want to throw my words to where you are. So I am. 
How do you stop from missing a place? A person you can remember and imagine and have imaginary conversations with, but the conversations of a place are a series of gestures and expressions not easily reproduced. I can look at a photograph or even a video of Picadilly Circus, but this won’t summon the hot wind from the underground station blowing magazine covers on the newsstand, tripping tourists as they peer up and up and forget there’s a roundabout of heavy traffic bleating to be processed. Even the memory of you catching your hat half a foot off your head and recommending The 39 Steps for the dozenth time won’t stop my stomach clenching and my heart stuttering with regret. 
A person dies, and others say, Never mind. She knew how much you cared. She’s in a better place. 
A place is forbidden to you, and there is nothing others can say. A place never knows or cares how you feel, and it is always where it is—unless it’s destroyed completely, so let’s not venture further in this thought. We had enough of that in 2005. 
I am well, thank you for asking. I have a home to myself and a great amount of land that would be some sort of buffer if people respected this sort of thing, but they don’t. Mail is delivered right to my door despite the mailbox at the end of my driveway. This includes human-born advertisements for cookies and other goods to support the local school band. This includes requests, nay demands, for candy from tweens who have put the least amount of effort into a costume since I had to make a limousine driver from one of your suits and my Ray Bans. 
Tonight is Halloween. Oh the tricks I could play. The traps and snares along the drive, and the stories I could tell, each chillier than the last until I wasn’t alone here in my box. Until every beggar in this faux-kind community was candy-coated in ice, blinking and mouthing the words and waiting for the door to open. 
But not all of them would have you to hold them in the world, my friend. Not all of them would feel the icicle stab between their shoulder-blades digging deeper every year.

I'm writing NaNoWriMo this year and as I had an idea for a longer story I'm doing it a bit differently. I'm "rebelling." I've started writing early, and I'll indeed write 50k during November but I might continue writing after, too. I expect a full-length novel that my NaNo 50k is only part of. I've never rebelled quite this much before--my last rebellion was the short story collection--so I'm not sure how it will go, but it's what I'll try.

Visit my NaNoWriMo author page right here and let me know if you're playing along. Happy writing!

22 July 2014

BIGGER THINGS by Ev Bishop is out today!

There are few authors I respect and adore enough to want to read everything they produce as soon as possible, but one such person is Ev Bishop. I've been lucky to have her in my writing life for some years and she consistently impresses me with her talent and determination.

She's showing both in abundance by launching her own publishing house, Winding Path Books, and its first novel is released in ebook form today!

BIGGER THINGS is now available around the world at Amazon and Smashwords. It will soon be available at iTunes, Kobo, Barnes & Nobles, and will be released as a trade paperback in August. I admit I've had early access and can confirm not only that I find this book funny, heartwrenching, and true, but that the synopsis is right on:

Best friends since childhood, Jen, Chelsea and Kyra know everything about each other. Or think they do.
 Jen should be celebrating her whopping 121-pound weight loss. Instead she feels like she's betrayed fat girls everywhere. Will anyone love her for who she is inside, fat or thin? More importantly, will she?
Chelsea appears to have it all--a husband, a family, a beautiful home--but plaguing memories threaten to destroy everything. In her desperation to maintain control, will she succumb to a compulsion that costs her life?
Kyra is sick of the superficial persona she's worn for so long. It's exhausting to pretend to be an airhead while running a successful business. But if she sheds her life-of-the-party facade, will she ever find the boyfriend she thinks she needs?
When a nervous breakdown leaves one of them fighting to survive, all their secrets are laid bare. To stay friends, they need to battle personal dragons, confront the past, and embrace change. But can they break free from the roles they've played so long? Or must they leave one another behind in order to move forward?

If this sounds like a book you'd enjoy, give it a read and let me know what you think. Better than that, write a review at Goodreads, LibraryThing, Amazon, or anywhere else, and help small publishers and all authors to continue bringing us great stories.

Happy launch day, Ev!

30 April 2014


Seeking help moving my current project forward, I've structured the end of the thing using Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, or


Sorry, it just seems like it deserves big letters.

It's a fascinating structure, using for fiction but derived from stories that have already been told, and have been told since we (humans) started telling stories. It's kind of our legacy, if you believe we have one of those. And why not? Despite government budgets and the shitty quality of artistic life (don't take that last link too seriously, it's The Daily Mail for goodness sake) we do love our classics. And classics are basically stories that have survived long enough that we admit we guess they have some merit, we suppose, even though we hated reading them in school, it was probably good for us anyway.

Campbell's Monomyth moves through a three act structure of Separation, Initiation, and Return, with several more detailed steps in each, and it's easily identified in modern stories once you know what to look for. It's a little old fashioned, though, and has been criticized for being sexist as well as ignoring cultural differences. It's not difficult to see the former, considering a few of its steps are flat out "Confronting woman as temptress" and "Atonement with the father." It's possible the structure can still be just as useful as it always was, however, if we admit that those gender norms are also part of our legacy, and by understanding them we can use them as a tool rather than allowing them to tell our stories for us.

But this is why it's a powerful thing: the structure is useful in fiction because it gives our readers something easily recognized and understood. And I'm using it to help me finish my project because it gives me a path in an otherwise murky impassable forest.

I can always remove the temptress in revisions.

24 April 2014

Reflections on publication

I’ve had the honour of being published a few times, so experienced the process a few ways. In particular two stories were treated very differently by the publications that accepted them.

For the first, the story was accepted and I was given notice I’d receive changes. I soon got the attachment that had comments and notes all through the thing, giving me instructions how I could improve the work and make it better suited to the magazine. These changes were extensive and some of them seemed to change the heart of the piece. Scary stuff. I played around with what they wanted versus what I could accept, and we sent edits back and forth maybe twice until we were both happy. It wasn’t a long process but it was useful. The last thing they changed was my main characters name, because another story’s character in the same issue already had that name. What were the odds?

The other story was accepted, and I was sent an email containing comments from a group of readers. Each person had a short, general bit of feedback like “I didn’t understand why they were drinking coffee” or “I liked the description of the mugs.” After I got this message I was asked if there was anything I wanted to change before publication. Since the feedback seemed to be disparate personal opinions, I said No, and the thing was published exactly as I’d sent it to them.

The difference between the publications boils down to quantity. The first publishes a few stories every month, and the other publishes one story a day. This makes a huge difference to the amount of work required to get their stories finished, but I didn’t realize what it meant for me as a writer. I found the first experience far better because their priority was obvious and I knew my place, and my story’s place, in their publication. With the other, giving me the undirected option to change it after acceptance made me wonder what the trick was. What if I changed it to something they liked less? I didn’t have enough information to know what might be wrong, and after all, some stories just aren’t right for some people.

After publication, the first story was much better received than the last. I realize this could be because of the extra attention given it generally, but I think it’s more likely the specific attention given to fit the publication. The second story had a rocky reception at best. And still I don’t regret not changing it after acceptance. I don’t submit my stories unless I’d be happy with the world seeing them as-is. I understand why that publication doesn’t give extra attention, as they don’t have the time. It’s completely fair. On the other hand, given their schedule, if they didn’t think the story fit as it was they probably shouldn’t have accepted it the way it was.
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