Monthly Archives: July 2016

Limestone Genre Expo

I spent this past weekend at the Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston, and I thought I’d write a little about that today. Limestone is a very young convention for readers and writers of ‘genre fiction’ (which is one of those tricky terms I feel like I should write about sometime), in this case SF, fantasy, horror, mystery, and romance. By ‘very young’ I mean this was the second one, and to my somewhat untutored eye they’re doing very well indeed.

It was a really fun two days of excellent programming on writing and ideas I enjoy, as well as a chance to pick up some new reading material (which of course I did) and even engage in the dreaded Networking, at which I am awful but know I must persist at attempting. It’s a little concerning to be utterly useless at a skill (or set of skills) that we are constantly told is essential to our survival in modern society, but fortunately at conventions like Limestone everyone is fairly relaxed and many people are just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them. So I was glad to make some new connections and renew some previously-made ones.

I was also pleased at the opportunity to hone my conventioning (I just invented the heck out of that word) skills. What I mean by this is that when you watch certain people they know exactly how to be a good panelist – to contribute energy to a discussion without taking it over, and to talk about their ideas without talking excessively about themselves – or to be a good moderator, which seems to be mostly getting out of the way but knowing when to provide the occasional deft nudge to a conversation. (Unless you’re Derek Kunsken, in which case you rule with a mighty fist of iron) It’s subtly but significantly different from the world of academic conferences, and I’m still learning how to fill both roles as well as I might. It’s great that events like Limestone are there as proving grounds.

It was also great to see many people who are even younger in their craft as writers than I am getting inspiration and encouragement and advice in a welcoming environment. I hadn’t really thought about it much before Can*Con last year and now Limestone, but it is so wonderful to have events like these to help bring along fresh cohorts of writers. We will all benefit from their stories and I think smaller-scale events like Limestone are excellent places to start getting engaged with the wider literary world. I hope I may have been of some assistance to someone who is starting to find their way with their art.

I should also say that I also just relish the opportunity to participate in energetic, excited discussions about reading and writing with people who are just as into these things as I am. The cliche of writing as a very solitary, sometimes isolating pursuit is true, and it is good (for me, anyway) to get into a situation where I am surrounded by lots of other people who are excited about writing – both their own and other people’s – and to soak up (I guess) some reinforcement about the things that I am passionate about. There is a very battery-recharging effect from spending a day or several days immersed in a situation like this; despite some rather early mornings and a lot of driving I came away from Limestone vibrating with writerly energy. Now I need to take advantage of this…

So overall it was a really enjoyable weekend of superheros, monsters, readers, writers, and discussions of the merits of a Pokemon Go safari, and I’m very grateful to have been able to attend and for the opportunity to participate in the programming. I enjoyed meeting many new people and I thank everyone I spent time with for the energy top-up. Thank you in particular, of course, to Liz Strange and everyone who worked with her to make the Limestone Genre Expo a really superb weekend. I am already looking forward to the next one and looking forward to seeing this convention grow. Next year I think I won’t drive back and forth to Kingston from home like a maniac though.13692852_1313487415343258_7244713152967431233_o

Tagged , , , , ,

The Strange Course of Ideas

This is going to be one of those ‘process’ entries that may or may not be of any particular interest, but I do get people asking from time to time where my ideas come from. A lot of times I just go with ‘my crazy brain’ as a response, but over the last week there was a fairly self-contained example of how the ol’ mind-gears work and I thought I would share it today.

To somewhat set the stage, I had just finished the first round of edits for Bonhomme Sept-Heures and fired the manuscript back to the publishers for the second go-round. My plan was to revisit the project I had started writing last summer and then put aside because I got kind of stuck and had more ideas for Bonhomme Sept-Heures. So much for the plan.

Instead a dear friend of mine posted on Facebook that they had driven through a town with a name that they loved: ‘Easter Meikle Pinkerton’. (A town, by the way, that I have since been unable to find out very much at all about, but never mind) For whatever reason I latched on to that and wrote back a hilarious (not really) observation that this sounded like the love interest in an obscure Victorian spy novel. Another friend commented that I was now obliged to write said novel.

And there the trouble began.

I started thinking about Victorian spies and the first thing I decided was that Easter Meikle Pinkerton should be the protagonist rather than the love interest, because a) it’s too awesome a name to not be the main character b) the ‘Pinkerton – not of the agency’ line only works from the lead and c) a female spy in the 1800s is a pretty interesting character. Also kind of d) I haven’t written a female lead in a very, very long time, and not in anything that I have shared widely, so that’s attractive right there.

Now, I make hilarious (not really) comments like that all the time and most of them don’t go any further than amusing me and perhaps exasperating others, so we now reach the part of the process that I honestly don’t understand. Where a lot of ideas and musings and concepts just kind of flicker and vanish, certain ones set the mind-gears humming away, without (honest) me thinking about it, and then gradually more Stuff that goes with the idea starts getting thrown up from whatever strange subconscious alchemical part of my brain does these things to where I can notice them.

So it was with Easter Pinkerton. I started having ideas about what the general plot of the story could be and in general I like it. I know where Easter lives, I know she dresses as a man sometimes (sometimes out of necessity), has little patience for those who aren’t as quick-witted as she is (which is nearly everyone) and has a Welsh butler (whose name I need to nail down) whose main role in life is to smooth over the social upset she causes. Like most fictional spies she can kill you with a knife (and various other ways) but she’s rather unlike most fictional spies in that she builds model wooden ships. (There’s a reason) I know who our villains are and have a broad sense of how the story will play out. I need to start making a plot diagram to help me keep things straight, and I especially need to come up with Easter’s background. I’m trying to decide how many Holmes references to put in there.

I wrote a very rough teaser/prologue thing and sent it off to some friends to see what they made of it. They were foolish enough to say encouraging things and so now of course I have more ideas coming. I am at that point where I know the mind-gears are fully engaged because (among other things) I’m thinking through scenes as I’m running. (Sorry, reset the ‘days since Evan made a running reference’ sign to zero)

So I guess that other project is getting put off for a while again, even though I do like the idea and (because my brain is crazy) do feel guilty about those characters having to wait, again, while I write another story. On the other hand I think I need to jump on this idea that has me excited right now and get as much of it done as I can. I’m even taking the advice of (yet) another friend to write the bulk of this story now, while I’m enthusiastic about it, and do repairs and edits based on research (which will have to be done) afterwards. This goes against my instincts of How to Do Things, but one of the things that helped the other project run into the sand was realizing how much research needed to be done to get it right, and thus my mind wandered off to other things, so this may work out better. We’ll see.

So there you go. The idea for this one, which I hope I will be able to share with you at some point, came from a fairly offhand comment in the most mundane of places, and for whatever reason engaged the mechanisms of my strange little mind to the point that a story has started to form. I wish I could predict what will set that process off, but I can’t. Perhaps that will come in time, and perhaps not.

Perhaps you enjoyed reading that. I hope so.

—–

This weekend I am excited to be at theĀ Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston along with a whole passel of accomplished authors like Jay Odjick and Tanya Huff, talking about reading and writer related things for a few days. I’m going to be participating in a couple of panel discussions on Sunday afternoon and will be around the whole weekend, including spending some time at the Renaissance Press table, where you will be able to get a copy of King in Darkness and say hello if you’d like to.

Online registration is still available and you should definitely come if you can!

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Edits and Drafts

If you look around for writing advice (which this is not) you will immediately find a great many quotes, some ascribed to writers I admire, saying that the first draft of anything you write is garbage and should be thrown away almost entirely. People will tell you this (as far as I can tell) about any kind of writing; certainly I got told it about academic writing just as I frequently see it said about fiction. It always fuels my Impostor Syndrome a little because I do not do that, and have never done that.

I’m not claiming that I write things perfect the first time – far from it! I do quite a bit of rewriting and throwing away of bits and pieces and part of the reason I’m writing about this today is that I’m presently doing revisions of Bonhomme Sept-Heures to hopefully have it ready before too much longer. But I have never done what so many authors apparently do and trash nearly all of a completed work, rewriting it nearly completely, or thrown the entirety of a paper away to redo from the ground up. (Secretly, I wonder if anyone actually does this.) I have never felt that a first draft of mine was utter rubbish (remember, it takes me a while to work up to that); usually I feel there are bits that are pretty good and bits that aren’t and I try to get to work on those.

I also know that before I actually write something down, most times I have gone over the scene in my head multiple times (sometimes, frustratingly, forgetting a ‘perfect’ line of dialogue) and I don’t really write something (whether sentence, paragraph, or longer bit) straight through. I write a bit, erase some, write some more, go back and throw something in the middle of a bit I already wrote, and then go back and start working on the ‘end’ again. I think I did the previous sentence in three little burst rather than one smooth writing ‘motion’, and this one took me two. Of course this is greatly facilitated by word-processing software and if I was trying to write by hand or on a typewriter I would probably have long had to choose between changing methods or the abyss of despair. However that may be, this leaves me feeling that what I might call a ‘first’ draft has really been heavily rewritten already, but I assume most writers do this, so it probably doesn’t count.

This has always left me with a vague suspicion that I am Doing Something Wrong, but on the other hand the results have been ok so I have kept on with it. Along with the Impostor Syndrome, what this also fuels is my sense that there probably isn’t an absolute Right and Wrong way to write, or indeed any creative process. I think it’s easy to feel like what works for you must be the absolute right way – because it works – so most of the advice out there is probably well meaning enough, but I continue to think that you’ve basically just gotta try some stuff and figure out what works for you.

If I’m in two minds about the whole first draft thing, it may be because editing sets off two different feelings in me overall. One is shock/horror – I am always amazed at the terrible crimes against plot and language that have slipped past me. Which makes me very grateful for my Eager Volunteers and editors. The other, fortunately, is satisfaction. It’s nice to re-read something I wrote and maybe haven’t looked at in a while and come away with the feeling that it works all right. It helps with the Impostor Syndrome.

I suppose it also makes me think that we very rarely get things exactly right the first time, that we often need to give things a little work and a few go-overs to get them right, and that there’s nothing the matter with getting some help as you do that. Here I begin to veer perilously close to Advice, though, so I’m going to call it for this week.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Head Up

So despite my repeated assurances that this is not going to become Evan’s Running Blog, in the interests of Having Something To Write this week – you know I really did have a kind of interesting train of thought while out for my run the other day.

Going through the difficult part of the run, (basically every run that I do has a difficult part) I had to do the usual thing of talking myself out of several bad behaviours that start to happen when I start to get tired. I have to remind myself not to put my head down – this compresses the lungs and partly closes the throat, so it makes breathing more difficult. I have to remind myself not to shorten my stride, which results in needing to make more steps to cover ground and therefore burns more energy than my normal form would. I have to remind myself to relax my shoulders, so that I’m not wasting energy by tensing the muscles there; same deal with unclenching my jaw.

I have long found it curious, and a little frustrating, that the body’s instincts (or, at least, my body’s instincts, although this seems to be common) are, in a moment of difficulty, to do things that are not only unhelpful, but actually counterproductive. It would seem (in my extraordinarily poor understanding of evolution) that it would make more sense if the natural tendency was to instinctively adopt behaviours that are more efficient, rather than less, as exertion increases, and therefore do better at what the body is currently trying to do. Instead, without thinking about it, my body switches to a bunch of things that only make what I’m trying to do more difficult to accomplish. The only conclusion I’ve ever reached when I think about this is that the instinctive part of my body has decided that the best thing to do would be to stop running, and so it’s ‘trying’ to do things that will make that happen.

However that may be, its frustrating to feel that I’m ‘naturally’ reaching for things that are making what I’m trying to do harder and working against my own interests (finishing my run as soon and as easily as possible) in the moment. It also occurred to me that running isn’t the only time this happens. I know it happens with writing, sometimes.

When a writing project is going well, I can’t get enough of it and am basically constantly looking for excuses to write a little more of it. When it stops going well, unfortunately my natural instinct is to leave it aside for a while, which is exactly the wrong thing to do because whatever it is will never get better, and never get finished, if I don’t work on it. I even do this with particular parts of a work; if there’s a scene or piece of dialogue that I can’t figure out how to make work, I will (as I think I’ve written before) skip over it (sometimes leaving myself a helpful note like FIX THIS LATER or THIS IS TERRIBLE) and write something else for a while, which certainly relieves the short-term frustation of not being able to make that particular bit work, but doesn’t fix the actual problem. The only way it gets fixed is to sit and try some different approaches and write some bloody stuff down and eventually figure out a way to come up with something that reads approximately ok.

Just as when I’m running, it seems inevitable that these things will happen, and what I mostly have to do is remind myself (again) not to follow my counterproductive, contrary-to-my-actual-interests instincts, and do the things that currently feel difficult, but will get me where I need to go in the end. Open that document. Go to that scene, erase my despairing little note, and jigger around with words until it does work. Much the same as getting my head up and lengthening my stride again, even though this feels like something I desperately don’t want to do, it’s the only thing that get what I want done, done.

It also occurs to me that there is perhaps a parallel to recent political events here, regarding the appeal of figures like Donald Trump, and Nigel Farage, where in times of difficulty we may find ourselves attracted to ‘solutions’ that are not actually in our best interests, and end up doing things that won’t actually improve the situation we’re in, and may make it worse, just as my bad running behaviours do. I know you probably don’t come here for politics, though, and so I think I’ll take this no further this morning.

I will also say that I read a fascinating article a long time ago (long enough that I can’t find it this morning to link it for you) that suggested that human beings had once depended on running distances as a hunting strategy. The reasoning was that humans, without tools and weapons, were not strong enough to defeat many animals in a straight fight, nor swift enough to catch many in a short pursuit, and so what they would have had to do was make a long pursuit over a significant distance in order to bring their prey down more or less through sheer bloody exhaustion. So running, despite the behaviours I complain about above, is part of our instinctive core after all. I have no idea if that theory holds the slightest bit of water, but as a runner I kind of like it, and I also like the idea that, despite a tendency to sometimes do counterproductive and negative things in times of crisis, our better selves are still down there as well, even if we sometimes have to remind ourselves about them.

Head up. Have a great week.

—-

Apt 613 did a very kind review of The King in Darkness, for which I am very grateful. You can read it here.

The Limestone Genre Expo has released its final schedule, which I am even on! Check it out here, and its not too late to make plans to attend if you’d like a weekend of great reader-y writer-y fun in Kingston. I’m really looking forward to it and looking forward to meeting some new people there.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,