Gentlemen and ladies, start your engines…

1 08 2015

zieglerwriterdeadlineOnce again, I’m trying my hand at the #NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Contest. It’s a bit insane, given that I have officially “given up writing” (see previous blog entry), but there’s something oddly compelling about a contest with a very short deadline, given parameters, and a small word count, even for we procrastinator types.

See, in the contest, you are sorted into heats, given a genre, a location, and an object to work into your story. This time they are allowing some freedom about the genre definition, but really really want the location to figure prominently in your story. There are hundreds of people competing in the contest, which has several rounds; people gradually get winnowed out and tossed to the four winds until the last round where you compete against maybe a hundred people from around the world for the last fast fast entry.

As for me, well, I’m procrastinating. What else would you expect? I was given the genre “Historical Fiction” and a location and object that I don’t find particularly inspiring to my creative mind (plus I am not a fan of historical fiction genres unless they are very well-done and I can guarantee 1000 words is not going to be enough to do a good job). So I’ve been researching, looking into ideas that I can pluck from my local area and inhabit with people.

Right now I’m thinking of George’s Island (sometimes without an apostrophe), a little drumlin in the harbour in Halifax that has been used for defence since the first inhabitants landed here. It’s nicely situated in the middle of the harbour, with commanding shooting lines to cover any entry to the landing spots themselves.

The island has been used as a fort, as a prison, as a party locale(recently), a provincial park, and also, alas, as a parking place for many of the Acadians expelled in the Grand Derangement. It’s a windy spot, always, and tales of the poor women and children left there in November of 1756 give me the chills. The Brits didn’t treat the Acadians well, to put it lightly, tossing around 10,000 of them out of the Maritimes and leaving them to freeze and die on boats and in the water and on George’s Island (until they needed them to repair the excellent farmland dykes the Acadians built that were broken down and so they allowed a few of the men back). True, it was wartime. True, the French and Mi’kmaq were winning battles and scalping people and some of the Acadians were right in there fighting the Brits, despite some of their neighbours swearing non-combat oaths. But so many died with the expulsions that the shame was great enough to alter the course of Canadian history.

Longfellow made up Evangeline, and the rest, as they say, is history. Never deny a poet can move a country. Even if he’s never been for a visit to the place.

But enough of politics. Now I have to whip together a story involving these elements, make it read human, channel my inner Wolf Hall-ishness (hahaha), and come up with a readable short short story to send in by midnight tomorrow. Yikes!

On the very good side, we get feedback from our entries, and I can post my entry in the forum for other participant’s comments. Should be interesting…and who knows, maybe this will get me started writing for real again.

Or maybe, my apartment will just get really really really clean…

MjAxMy01MjczYTFkMTAzNDA1NWNj

Advertisements




How do you know when it’s ready?

4 08 2013

41vZycAOEfL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_I’m delighted to report my wonderful, smart, and confident niece has written and self-published her first book and is now marketing it to bookstores in her area, as well as on Amazon. It’s called “Crescent” and I’ll link to it here.

When I first heard about this, though, I was startled to find in my heart a bit of anger. I was frustrated – I don’t have a book yet myself, and yet I’ve been “working” at writing for some time (though procrastination seems to be my main output). The things I do write, people tell me, are good. Why don’t I send them in for publication?

Where does that niece of mine get her confidence? I’ve never ever been that confident in my entire life. Was it my mother’s fault? My English teacher’s fault? (She told me a story I sweated over to write for my parents as a Christmas present was trivial and derivative) (It probably was but I cried buckets writing it and my parents cried even more reading it, so there!) My ex? There must be someone I can blame, surely.

Facebook doesn’t help. Everyone is writing books and books and more books and I am smothering in the weight of all those books published when mine are not.

It’s not like I haven’t been published before  – for a while there I was making a pretty good income from writing. I’ve been on CBC’s Sunday Edition, I’ve got publications in humour, non-fiction, poetry, fiction, even the Oxford Companion to Medicine.

And yet I hesitate. I have turned myself into one of those things I promised myself I would never be, the dilettante writer. The wanna be. The liar.

And so I heap more scorn on myself and freeze myself into even greater immobility. It’s ridiculous, but I can’t seem to stop myself.

Nor can I stop myself from writing.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
― Dorothy ParkerThe Collected Dorothy Parker

Ah, so true. But there is joy to be had in writing – the joy of seeing things more clearly, of being more present in this world, of delighting in all those other really good books out there (we really don’t need another one, I tell myself in my dark heart…) because we’ve struggled to get things just right ourselves.

I’ve restarted The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron in an attempt to jumpstart my mind, and am working on a few things that have deadlines so that is a good thing. I love deadlines. I’m waiting to hear about a couple of submissions, hoping things go well. I’m doing the 3daynovel thing again this year, working on a mystery plot.

I’m wishing my niece well with her book, which is really quite good and you should all buy it. But that initial anger I felt – I’m hanging on to that, too, because it might just push me over the hump to get my stuff done, too.





Taking flight…

28 07 2013

I’ve been working on a little story for a while now. It originally was a story from the fantastical 3DayNovel contest – dashed off in a pile of sweat and handwriting over three days, painstakingly typed into my computer over the next day or two. I was thrilled that it survived the competition, made it to the top twelve!

I was so proud of it.

So then I thought, gee, maybe I should send it somewhere else, see how it can cope out there in the big bad world. So I’ve been working on it, toiling now and again, thinking about it. It’s not an easy story to place, being a bit odd and perhaps a bit offensive to some, though I tried to write it with love and affection throughout.

I had wonderful friends who read it, helped me catch errors, helped me make it clearer, less of a three-day panic attack (though I HIGHLY recommend that contest!). Thank you and kisses to HJ, PH, JP. It’s a shinier thing thanks to you.

Now it’s all grown up, ready to leave the nest, ready to face the cruel world. In fact, it HAS to leave the nest. I’m entering it in a contest and the deadline is so close I can smell its breath.

Of course, it’s heavily laden with my hopes and dreams and such things. Which tells me immediately that I’d better get some more submissions out there so the poor wee thing can fly without having to drag my entire psyche with it.

So fly, little story. A part of my heart goes with you. It’s time for you to connect with others now.

And now, back to work…

animal-beautiful-bird-fly-flying-Favim.com-412310





So, how do you DO a good murder (story) these days, anyway?

30 04 2013

I remember once having a lengthy and somewhat gruesome chat about how you would dispose of a body in these recycling focused days. Would you drop it by the medical school? Dissect it and put the hip joints and such in either the plastic or metal recycling containers? Take the head and the mercury fillings to the harmful waste dump day?

It’s a conundrum.

Likewise, how do you learn to write about murder most foul? Merely calling up your local cop shop and asking for tips  might lead to awkward questions and notes home from school asking you to please not offer to chaperone the next field trip. Calling a local psychiatrist and pretending to be a psychopath isn’t recommended, either – unfortunately, so much psychiatry is based on first impressions you might end up with way too much time to write and too many drugs to be coherent.

The obvious choice is to read read read read mysteries, following the excellent (if somewhat dry) Francine Prose’s guidelines to Reading like a writer. Well, I’ve done that, and I have a problem with that approach.

If the mystery is good, I get all wrapped up in the story and race through, barely noticing the plot techniques while I get pulled along. If it’s bad, I only notice the things that hold it up, ruin the credibility.

OHI0129-CritiqueRule1I remember once being so disenchanted with a book that I dropped everything to see if the plant the author had described actually grew in the place she’d put it. (It didn’t).

I know a book has missed the mark for me when I get that fussy.

So I take courses, rub up against “real” writers, shop my stuff to contests and unsuspecting friends, try to get critiqued. This last bit is harder than it looks. Even in writing groups, there’s the tendency to be nice.

Or horrified.

One of my stories involved a pedophile that I apparently described so well that people didn’t want to read my stuff anymore. So I had to play nicey nicey and write nicey stuff for a bit.

Inside, the seething dark looms.horrifiedwoman

So, instead, I send things to contests. The ones that give you feedback. I figure I’m paying someone my entry fee to have a close, uninvolved reader have a look.

Sometimes the feedback is useful, sometimes it’s just a line or two.  Sometimes it is harsh, sometimes it’s helpful. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to turn it around and offer my comments on other’s writing. I can only hope I’m the helpful type.

In the meantime, I’ve had help from:

Gotham Writer’s Workshop

Crime Writers of Canada

Sisters In Crime

Bloody Words

Canadian Authors Association

and my favourite resource for ways to kill people and those awkward dinner table silences:

D.P. Lyle. Check out his books. Best way to find stuff out without getting asked questions you can’t answer…





Happy happy joy joy

26 02 2013

Okay, I’m officially going to be insufferable for a moment.

Writing and I have a difficult relationship. Sometimes we get along just fine, other times we struggle together. Sometimes I pause for entire hours wondering if that should be “writing and me”.

But every once and awhile I get a brief jolt of joy.
Today I found out I was one of the top runners up in the fantastical 3daynovel contest, the best legal fun you can have of a Labour Day weekend.

You see, you write a whole novel in 3 days. It’s fabulous. You end up slightly mad, almost totally high, wiped out and buzzed at the same time. Total body immersion is required. It’s also an excuse to baby yourself, eat M&Ms, and spend a weekend in your head.

I highly recommend it.

I’ve been published before in journals and magazines, won other prizes here and there, but the stuff I create in the potboiler that is the three day novel weekend is often my best work. One of my entries placed 4th in the Ken Klonsky novella contest; this one is definitely heading out to seek a home.

So so happy.

But I’m part of another contest this week – the New York Midnight short story contest. Have an idea, started the writing, now to finish with a song in my heart and hope of success.





“We don’t need more writers! We need more readers!”

30 05 2012

Somewhere back in Nanowrimo land, I read a commentary about the piles of dreck being produced through the month. The quote above comes from that commentary, but I can’t find the reference this morning, peering as I am through the slits of eyes produced by profound weeping as I realize another dream is lost, down the drain. That writing dream. You know. THAT one.

I’ve produced a lot of that dreck. I know. People have ever so sanctimoniously, kindly, gently, and viciously told me so. (Just GET all those -ly words in one sentence! That takes skill, that does!)

I’ve been “working on writing”, interspersed with sessions of intense parenting, higher education, day jobs that consume my soul, and fighting the urge to nap, for the past 20 years or so. Should I succeed now, I’d likely kill whoever called me an overnight success. Wait, that’s a good idea for a plot…

And therein lies the rub. Like many people, especially the insufferable woman who sat beside me the other day, plots are a dime a dozen. At least in the idea stage. The stories, the ones that grip your heart and make you sink into an alternate reality – well, those are harder. For me, anyway. I imagine insufferable woman could just whip them off in a second, or so she tells me.

There are hundreds of books produced every year. Many of them are simply awful. (see: 50 Shades of Grey) Some of the really bad ones get made into movies, even, and their authors lie about and eat bon bons forevermore. This leads many of us to think that we, too, could wield that magic.

But like the lion in the Wizard of Oz would say, “Whadda they got that I haven’t got? Courage!” I somehow can’t get myself to offer my dreck to the wider world. I feel I should do better. So I paralyze and refuse to write and don’t. And, quite frankly, my skills get rustier and rustier.

So, a few tips for those who want to do this crazy thing (and by the way, my assembly of writing books is going up for sale on Kijiji in a moment).

1. Write. Yah, you knew this.

2. Learn to touch type. My mother never let me take this class as she thought I’d end up as a secretary or something. She didn’t see the time of keyboards. I still type fast, but my error rate is huge, and my hands get weary using only four fingers total. It wastes time, and frustrates my flow of thoughts.

3. Read. Write reviews of the books you read. This will make you look for the things you read that worked, the things you didn’t like, and, more importantly, will stick those things in your mind for when you write your own stuff.

4. Avoid writing courses. I’ve taken dozens of these. They either tell me what I already know, or decimate my confidence. Free ones are okay. I’ve paid thousands and am genuinely no further ahead. Read instead.

5. If you must take courses, pay attention, participate, suck the pith out of them. Squeeze them dry. Pester the teacher for additional help, especially if they’re good. Find kindred spirits in the class and form a reading/writing group for afterwards. This will be the most useful thing of all.

6. Get a group together to share your writing with. Make sure you are on the same level. This is tougher than you think, and it is terribly irritating to have someone ask you the meaning of words or tell you they haven’t read anything much since the Twilight series when you write historical fiction. Plus it is really really hard to critique really bad writing without being mean-sounding.

7. Read some more. TV or movie renditions of writing do NOT count. It’s not the same. Read widely, outside “your” genre. Well, except romance. Don’t read that if you don’t like it. It will just lead you to think you can write it, and good romance isn’t easy, either. It’s easy to shower scorn on things you don’t understand. I know. Bad romance (writing) isn’t something you want your kids to remember you for.

8. Buy books. Go to readings. Talk to authors. For me, going to the Bloody Words Conference – I plan to kiss their feet. I’ve tried to do what they do, and I can’t. I bow before them, trying to let my envy go and to embrace them with all my heart for the pleasure their books have brought me.

9. If you can, give up. It’s tough out there. It’s lonely. And it can be soul-destroying. After trying for so many years, I feel like a Hollywood starlet, who went west to become a movie star, tried and tried and got some bit parts, a little taste of possible glories, but never a big break. Now she’s old, tired, and wherever she goes, she can hear the whispering, “Of course, she never really WAS anyone…

10. If you can’t give it up, make sure you have other things to fall back on in times of duress. Friends help, but no one can patch the gaping hole in a heart when you’ve very nearly almost made art and have just missed. You need something else that deals with internal trauma. Work out, make something out of clay or cloth or wood or anything tactile that does not involve words. Physicality is key when you’ve been working so hard with the verbal mind. Go punch someone. Maybe the insufferable woman. That would be fun.

Try not to look pathetic.





Writing and waiting, writing and waiting

13 02 2012

Writers know about time passages. There’s the percolation time as stories germinate in the mind, root around for a bit, finally reach their little tendrils into the light. Then there’s the expanding/contracting time of writing the story – magical as it whisks by when the writing goes well, dragging on when the ideas don’t flow or your characters misbehave or your dog develops stomach problems just as you need to write something down and you lose it as you hustle the dog out and scoop the remains…

And then there’s the editing time, which can expand infinitely into space unless you grab your writing hand firmly in your non-dominant hand and say “It’s good enough!”, only to find several misspellings as you do a last read through…

But finally all of these times are expended and you send your little marvel (or big marvel) in to a contest or a journal or something, and move on to something new, while in the back of your head, you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And then there’s that waiting bit.

I’ve a bundle of stories languishing in contests all over the place and I’m not hearing from the places I sent them to. Now this could be because they haven’t decided as yet, but I fear it is because they didn’t make the grade and so the length of time in waiting is actually busy time for the winners while they are reached and congratulated and edited and published before the losers are notified that they’ve lost.

So the time seems long only in that I can feel someone else’s excitement somewhere else and it makes me frustrated and it makes me lose confidence in my writing. I can see the others jumping up and down and smiling ear to ear (I’ve had just enough experience with success to know how it goes) while dozens or more writers sit silent, turning grayer by the day, gradually letting the ink dry in their fountain pens.

It’s like having to sit through a spelling bee that you’ve already lost, watching others spell things happily on while you sip water and try to be enthusiastic for them. While mentally wishing you were anywhere else including the dentist, where at least you’d have something to do with your mouth besides smile inanely.

And then I get angry, and I say to myself, Heck, they are publishing all SORTS of excrement out there these days – surely I can’t be THAT bad, and so the germination process starts over again. Creeping along the ground slowly, little green wisp like feelers.

Then the waiting ends.

“Join us,” the contest people say, “In congratulating the latest winner of the XYZ contest, who have won not only publication but a country-wide promotional tour and a three book contract!”

I am finding it hard to join in. Not that I grudge their success, nope, not at all. I hardly ever walk into a big bookstore and weep about all the hundreds of books out there that are no doubt better than mine. Or at least published, bringing in full dollars of self-esteem to their authors.

I haven’t given up hope, yet. After all, I’m still waiting… 

 








Multiple Sclerosis Research Blog

A blog for people affected by Multiple Sclerosis. Interpreting good, bad and other research news

Destination Humanity

Chasing big dreams one photo at a time

Ingridphilipp's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

*UNBREAKABLE QUEEN'S LIFE LESSONS DIARY*

Breaking Free From The Past, In Hope For A Bigger & Brighter Future

Christ a poet

one word at a time

%d bloggers like this: