Category Archives: The Project

In Praise of Readers

Late last week I sent out another (by which I really mean ‘the second’) chunk of the current WIP to some Eager Volunteers to see what they thought. I’ve been finding the writing hard going of late and I hoped this might help.

It did.

The Volunteers emailed back almost right away, one having read the piece while plagued by insomnia (which is a decision that’s possible to read in a couple ways, but never mind) and sent back their usual thoughtful response, which included some useful criticism, some questions, and some compliments.

On some level the praise is most obviously useful to me in my current situation. Everyone likes a pat on the head and having someone whose opinion I respect say that they’re enjoying what I’m working on will probably always feel good. So that’s a nice shot of positivity to encourage me to keep working away. It also helps to hear that someone wants to learn more about a particular character, or to know what’s going to happen; I guess obviously a writer is always hoping to generate interest and it’s both pleasing and a relief to know that in at least a couple of cases, I’m setting the hook okay.

The criticism is very nearly as useful, though, because concrete areas where the story needs work are better than a sense of generalized unease where I know there are things that aren’t right but not exactly what they are, much less how to fix them. It’s always easier to have something like a bullet list (har) of things that need to be taken care of than a vague idea that Stuff needs to be Fixed. Having people where there’s a strong enough trust that they tell me what they really think, and they know that I really do want to know what they really think, and not just get a pat on the head, is (as I am discovering) both rare and incredibly valuable.

The questions never cease to fascinate me, because the things readers are intrigued by and want to know more about seem always to include things that I never anticipated. I wrote a while ago about how a character in The King in Darkness that I didn’t think anyone would have any particular interest in ended up getting a scene added to the final draft to finish their story, because readers kept asking about it. So it already is with this piece, and what it mostly does is make me happy that what I’m writing can be interpreted and understood in a variety of ways (because if a reader understood it exactly the same way as I do, writing it, they wouldn’t have some of these questions), which is something I always enjoy when I’m reading and very much want to create when I’m writing. It also gives me ideas for things to do next, which is also very valuable.

All of which to say that the responses I get from my Eager Volunteers is a treasure to me as a writer, and makes my task in creating the story so much easier and the final project immeasurably better. I have had a good number of genuinely well-meaning people offer to take on the task and had it not work out (which I completely understand – if nothing else, it’s not easy to devote some of one’s precious store of free time to reading something they may not even like), so that makes the people who are willing to put in the time struggling through a rough-hewn story and then also take the time to share their responses and reactions to it with me a very special breed.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank them once again, because I appreciate what they do more than I can say. Perhaps I’ll pay my debt some day. Thank you very much indeed.

I am also aware that I owe a similar debt to each and every one of my readers, without whom my stories would be silent words on the page and none of my characters, who I love very much, would ever have a chance to live. If you’ve read one of my stories, and thereby given some of my made-up people a home in your imagination, at least for a while, I thank you as well.

It is, of course, a truism that without readers there are really no writers in a meaningful sense, but sometimes it’s the obviously true facts that need to be acknowledged. I’m grateful to everyone who has ever taken the time to read one of my stories; I can think of few better compliments for a writer than ‘I would like to spend some time with your imagination’. I am especially grateful to the readers who let me know what they thought about what they read. A lot of it makes me better, and all of it helps me want to write more. Without writers, people have nothing to read, and without readers, it would be the next thing to impossible to call oneself a writer.

So once again, I thank my readers.

Now to try to do some more of my half of the bargain.

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Promises, Promises

This is going to be a short one this week. There’s a good reason – I went and promised my publisher that I would have Bonhomme Sept-Heures done by the end of the week and I gotta maximize the time I can devote to it to be sure and make that deadline.

I suppose it probably doesn’t really matter – they would probably take it a few days late – but it does to me. Douglas Adams has that famous quote about loving the whooshing noise deadlines make when they go by, but I always wonder at what point in his career he wrote or said that. If you’re an established name whose product people actively want, then yeah, you can do things like that. I’m pretty far from that, and I know that if I don’t produce some new work, the publisher and the people who read King in Darkness will move on.

That’s not really my biggest concern, though. I’ve said several times on this blog (and elsewhere) that I don’t miss deadlines. I never missed an academic deadline, and I’ve never missed a professional one either. I consider hitting my deadlines part of being a professional, in whatever field, and showing that I’m taking things seriously. So it matters to me to make this one, too. I may never make a living from my fiction writing, but however big a part of my life it eventually becomes, I have decided that I want to be serious about it.

I also just don’t like going back on my word. I try not to make too many firm promises because things can always change around in ways you don’t expect and sometimes even what seems like the safest prediction in the world doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. You can all too easily end up not being able to follow through on something you figured would be super easy, and it might not really be your fault at all. But, if I give a solid promise, for reasons I’m not sure I can articulate, I absolutely hate to have to back up on that.

So, gotta hit this deadline. Longer blog entry next week.

For now, I’ll just tell you a little about the new book. It picks up after King in Darkness (which, of course, you’ve read. Right? RIGHT?!?) and returns to Adam Godwinson, faced by (of course, probably) another threat that he wouldn’t have expected. I think it takes things in a reasonably unexpected direction overall, and I hope people will like that. I’m also excited that this book is tied to specifically Canadian spookiness (the titular Bonhomme Sept-Heures), which I think is relatively unique and fun.

I think that if you liked King in Darkness you’ll like this new one as well, and I think it may stand on it’s own ok even if you haven’t read the first book. (But of course, you will read the first book, won’t you?) Now I need to go finish writing it so I can share it with you before too much longer. I’m very excited to do that.

—–

By way of briefly updating what I’ll be doing in the months to come, plans are still firming up, but not to the point where I can say anything for certain yet. It does look like there will be some really exciting events that I will be taking part in though, and if everything comes together I’ll be roaming out beyond the Ottawa area for the first time. I’m looking forward to meeting some new people and taking part in stuff I haven’t before. As I said a couple weeks back, getting to do some conventions and signings and things has been an unexpected joy and I’m really excited to do some more in the months ahead.

I’ll give you details as they solidify.

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Author Moment

I’m going to have a bit of a Moment this week, so if you were expecting whatever it is I usually do on the blog, I apologize in advance.

The thing is that after what I know was a lot of hard work, my publishers at Renaissance have gotten our books on the shelves of some local bookstores here in Ottawa: Octopus Books and Books on Beechwood. This, of course, led to me dashing over to one of the stores in question like a goof and taking the following picture:

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I think the people at the store now believe they are stocking a book written by a certifiable loon, but never mind. For a long time, when I thought about writing and Things I Would Like to Happen, one of the big ones was walking into a bookstore and seeing my book there on the shelf. That happened yesterday and so I’m very very pleased.

I’m not entirely sure why that moment or that image were quite so important to me. Having the book in some physical stores is significant in a practical sense; although lots of people now buy their books online, places like Amazon are not easily browseable in the way a shelf of books is, and some of their content gets filtered by various algorithms that tends to keep stuff by small presses from showing up. Getting on the shelf of actual stores is a big deal because you’re getting in front of the eyes of people who are not specifically looking for your book, but are looking for something to read, and now they might decide that thing is the thing you wrote. So, this is a good deal for me and for Renaissance and so it’s a good reason to get excited.

I know that’s not why I was excited though. I mean, I hadn’t even really thought about those kinds of issues until fairly recently, and I have wanted to see a book I wrote on a bookstore shelf for a very long time. I think it’s more that having one’s book on a bookstore shelf is one of the indicators that one is an Author; and that’s really what I have wanted to be since I was the kid skipping doing my math problems to write more stories about Earth Defence Command. Even with the book published and all, I still seem to keep looking to reassure myself that this really has happened, and yesterday did that very well.

I remember reading an article not long ago about people in my other field of academia, talking about the prevalence of a thing called Impostor Syndrome where people feel as though they, and they alone, are unqualified frauds just waiting to be exposed and expelled by all their colleagues. Having suffered through that as well, I wonder (first of all) if there isn’t a similar thing going on with writing that is (at least temporarily) counteracted by things like seeing your book on a shelf or having someone buy something you wrote at a convention. I also wonder if it might be the case that people in many walks of life suffer from their own versions of Imposter Syndrome and need these little reassurances as well.

No doubt there are plenty of hyper-confident, self-assured folks who never doubt themselves or their own position in life even a little bit. For the rest of us, I guess look for those reassurances when you can find them, enjoy them when they’re there, and then try not to kick yourself too hard the rest of the time. You’re probably much more clever and talented than you give yourself credit for, and you’re probably surrounded by a bunch of other self-described Impostors as well. (Oooh, there’s a story idea in this somewhere now)

I think that’s about all I’ve got for this week. I know it’s a little short. I’ll try to have something more substantial for you next week.

—–

I should of course thank my publishers at Renaissance for their hard work in getting the books into the stores, and thank Octopus and Books on Beechwood for their support of local artists and small press publishing. They are great independent bookstores that have served their neighbourhoods for a long time and deserve your support if you can give it to them. Obviously there’s only so many copies of The King in Darkness that anyone needs to own but they have lots of other great books to sell you; check them out if you’re in the area.

I should also say that Renaissance is having an immense holiday sale on all the products in their webstore (including The King in Darkness if by some vanishingly small chance you haven’t bought it yet) so if you have some spots to fill on your Christmas list (or just, you know, need to feed your book addiction) you should check it out.

Still plugging away on the sequel project. It keeps growing new scenes! I’m going to have to put a stop to this process eventually. 🙂

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Arise, Blog!

Well.

I guess it’s been a while? (Achievement Unlocked: Tremendous Understatement)

Clearly the plan to update the blog once a week didn’t exactly go so well, as with The Project largely finished, I really lost my momentum, both for writing and thus having anything to write about on the blog. In fact, I had more or less decided that writing The Project had been a fun exercise but one that would ultimately not lead anywhere except perhaps reminding me that I do enjoy writing. I did some editting, but no longer with any strong sense that it was for any particular purpose, and so it didn’t seem particularly urgent. I worked at it sporadically. It was probably going to enter the digital purgatory I talked about in an earlier entry until Statler and Waldorf were finished convincing me to never think of it again.

(There’s a whole potential aside here about the danger of setting overambitious goals for oneself that become motivation-killers when one falls short of them, but that’s probably another post. There’s a point I want to get to right now.)

Fortunately for me, another friend asked to read the draft, liked it, and insisted that I should try to publish it. It was a shot in the arm that I very much needed and so Work Resumed.

I’m very excited to say that in the end it paid off: after some relatively major surgery on the draft, I pitched the manuscript to Renaissance Press this past fall and they have agreed to publish what will become my first novel. Having a book of mine published has been a dream of mine for a very long time and so basically whatever happens from this point is gravy. Obviously if the book were to be (on some level) a hit or a success (however we want to define that) it would be fantastic. But people (exact number to be determined) are going to read my story and that feels very much like a success already to me.

I hope they will like it. I can’t wait to share my story with whoever is interested and to see what they think of it. Hopefully we can talk about it.

There is a lot of work to be done between now and the book coming out, though. More editting is a given, and there are no doubt many parts of the process that I’m not yet aware of. I’m looking forward to learning about them all and I’m going to get back to keeping this blog (honest!) with at least weekly updates as part of it.

I’m also working on a new project (with the first chunk already sent out to Eager Volunteers) so I’ll probably talk about that sometimes as well.

Oh yes, The Project does have an actual title! It’s called The King in Darkness. It’s a supernatural thriller story which is, essentially, about despair, or what happens when we are confronted with adversity. We have a choice: give in, or persevere. I guess that’s a choice I would have botched regarding writing if not for that friend of mine. Hopefully my characters handle it a little better. Again, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what people think of the story I’ve told.

Got to be patient a while, though. All being well the book should come out sometime in the fall. Updates about that, and other things, to come.

I swear.

For those of you who have been reading this since I first started The Project, thanks for being part of the ride that got me to this point. If you’ve just arrived, welcome, and I hope to have things to say about getting The King in Darkness ready to publish, writing in general, and perhaps other things, that are some combination of insightful, entertaining, useful (hah!) or at least easy to read.

Meanwhile, why not visit Renaissance Press at their website: http://renaissancebookpress.com/ and have a look at everything they have to offer. They are thoroughly wonderful people who love books and writers and deserve your support.

More soon.

(really!)

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NO TIME FOR JET LANDINGS

Originally I started to write this entry and titled it ‘Mission Accomplished’ because, in a way, that’s true – I did get a complete draft of The Project done on the schedule I set in my last post and sent out to the Eager Volunteers.  However, I think for all time the words ‘mission accomplished’ will forever recall George Bush on the aircraft carrier and maybe that’s a useful association because a lot of times when our impulse is to think that something is done it is far from it.

So it is with this writing project.  While I am genuinely pleased that I have – for the first time ever – ‘finished’ a novel-length piece of writing, in the sense of continuing on with it until it is (in a broad sense) a complete story, it isn’t done.  I mean, you can read it through from the beginning to the end and it isn’t missing any bits or have any of my beloved ‘COME BACK AND FIX LATER’ notations in it.  However, I am also conscious that it is very rough, likely needs a lot of work to make proper sense to anyone that isn’t me, and probably needs a lot of additional love and care to make into something that might read well.

‘Finished’ is therefore an optimistic exaggeration and so would ‘mission accomplished’ have been.  In a way (and I remember this from the thesis writing process) the next steps will be potentially harder because, for me at least, editting is not as satisfying as the raw creation process of writing from scratch.  But it’s probably (again judging from the thesis) more important in its way.

I am fortunate in already having something to get started on – one of the Eager Volunteers already read the thing and sent back some very thorough comments.  Now I have to find time to spend on them and the writing, and that will be the next challenge for the next while.

However, going to try to stick to not finding time, but making time.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

p.s. If you’re wondering about the time lag (and lack of posts) between last time and this time, the answer is ‘a lot of germs’ and ‘bedridden’ and I am going to give myself a pass on that one.  So there.

WORD COUNT: 88, 551

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STILL ALIVE

Well, astonishing in a way to see that this thing is still here.  I had (I swear) intended to get back at this come summer, again, but things happen.

Galvanized into action by a PK Subban tweet (of all things) – you don’t find time, you make time – I am going to make a concerted effort to finish this project ASAP.  To update, I have a very nearly completed first draft of the novel.  It needs (I think) 1 more scene plugged in, and of course scads of work on everything written up to this point.

I don’t think I can realistically commit to 1000 words a day during term, and saying that I will and then not doing it will only be 1) discouraging and 2) motivation to shut things down again.  However, let’s set some short term goals for now:

-Write the final scene over the course of the next 2 weeks. (I have an ace in the hole on this one, and it is called Study Week)

-Updates on the blog at least once a week.

Yeah, that I can commit to.  The good part is that I don’t think the writing I have done so far is entirely horrible, which is so contrary to my usual process that it seems a shame to stop now.

Thanks for reading, anyone that still is.  More updates cometh, including one by the end of the week.

 

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Going to the country

There are a few things I want to touch on this time, which is kind of a nice contrast from last time when I had absolutely nothing to say.

First (and foremost) you’ll see that I’m off my pace (again).  Writing has continued to be very difficult and Statler and Waldorf are currently winning the argument.  It isn’t easy to keep going when I’m not at all happy with the quality of what I’m producing.  I’m not really sure how to resolve this but there are a couple of possibilities.

The first of these is that I am firing off another chunk of product to the Eager Volunteers to get some perspective.  If I really am off the rails (as I currently feel) then independent confirmation would be good.  The second thing is something I had been sort of trying to decide how I would handle from the beginning – I have a vacation coming up and have no intention of taking my computer.  So there will be a few days where no writing will happen, at all.  I’m hoping that will end up giving me a bit of a break and that I can come back a bit fresh.  We’ll see.

Now, I also wanted to get back to a post I made a while ago about a podcast I heard about creativity and how it works that I found interesting.  The podcast was an interview with a (now former) writer for the New York Times name Jonah Lehrer and Lehrer has since been accused of, and admitted to, making up and misrepresenting many of the quotes in the book that interview was based on, in particular quotes of Bob Dylan talking about his creative process.

Reading through Lehrer’s admission was interesting in a few ways (and I’m going to stray away from fiction writing for a bit here) because some of what he talked about sounded familiar – he says he panicked being unable to find sources for quotes and ended up making the references up.  I have had the experience of being sure in my mind that I had a piece of evidence that was perfect for supporting a particular argument, written the paragraph (or what have you) that would make use of it, and then upon going to get the specific reference, been utterly unable to find the quote or fact I had in mind.  It’s a terrible feeling.  There is that impulse to think that you couldn’t possibly have invented it out of thin air, it’s got to be somewhere, and it’s so good it would be terrible not to use it.

I can say though that I have always managed to resist this impulse, and gone with evidence I actually had to hand.  Sometimes I still suspect I must have forgotten to record something properly (so sure am I that this thing I ‘remember’ must exist) but I would rather a less effective argument that I can actually back up than one that turns out to be built on fiction.  But I do understand the impulse Lehrer had and although I’m not qualified to get into an analysis of this, other commentators have already started to discuss what cases like this tell us about the pressure writers are under to turn out marketable product, and how this can lead otherwise well-intentioned people astray.

Lehrer’s reputation, I suspect, will never be the same.  It’s the kind of story I try to tell students to get them to ask for help with assignments rather than fabricating something.  I feel a little bad using academically dishonest work even on a forum as humble as this, but Lehrer’s dishonesty is not under my control.

Now, while I don’t feel like Lehrer’s intellectual dishonesty is something I need to apologize for, I do feel kind of silly about something else that came to light as I read about his resignation.  It turns out, as well, that the book (called Imagine: How Creativity Works) is (probably) not very good to begin with.  I still haven’t read the book, so I won’t advance criticisms here, but I was dismayed to see excoriating reviews like this one: http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/103912/bob-dylan-jonah-lehrer-creativity

It reminds me that I always need to do my homework.  I mean, it’s not as though this blog has a wide enough audience that I feel as though I misled a large number of people, but it was still careless of me to promote (somewhat) a work that I hadn’t actually read, based on a brief interview.  It’s always important to go back to the original source material (in this case, Lehrer’s book) and check it out yourself.  Having read the reviews I’m pretty sure (flattering myself somewhat)  I would have seen a lot of the flaws they mention and probably wouldn’t have written a  post about the interview at all.

There’s something here too about how it’s important not to assume that if something is in print it must be true, even if the product is described as ‘science’.  Scientists can be as wrong as anyone, science can be as flawed as anything, and we shouldn’t assume otherwise.  Usually I like to think I keep things like this in mind, but I admit that in part at least I figured that anything that showed up on Guardian Science Weekly had probably been vetted enough to trust.  Another reminder that no one is any less fallible than the rest of us, even when their business is promoting science.

Anyway, hopefully when I post here next I will be refreshed and ready for the home stretch on the Project.  Thanks for your indulgence, if you made it this far.

Word Count: 86, 460.  It’s something.

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Update in name only

I don’t have too much to write at the moment but need to get a weekly check-in done, so here it is.  I have been back writing, but haven’t been able to build a lot of momentum – I’m really having to work at it right now.  I have had a couple stretches like this through the summer so I imagine this too shall pass, but I also imagine that breaking the process and missing those days didn’t help either.

As I have put pieces into the places they might logically go, I did find (and fix) a couple of continuity errors, so that’s a positive.  I also wonder how many more are lurking there, though…

Anyway, I’ll try to do better the next time.
Word Count: 82.329

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Stalled

Well, I suppose this was inevitable, or at least I comfort myself by believing that it was.  Over the past weekend, I did not get any writing done.  Yes, the great Project ground to a halt in July.  While it’s true that I was sick, and the weather was oppressively hot, the bottom line is I still didn’t accomplish anything.  This is bad.

I spent today getting all the disparate pieces of out-of-order text slotted in where they will eventually need to go, and I guess the good news is I can now see where there is more work, and in some cases a lot of work, that still needs to be done.  I do still have a pretty long piece of work that has a general shape to it and I don’t hate it entirely at this point.  Now to recommit to at least 1,000 words a day and knock out the last quarter of it (or whatever the exact proportion turns out to be).

Now currently I have massive gaps in the story so whether it is finished or not isn’t in question, but I did think it was interesting to start thinking about how you know when a story is finished.  The best description or advice that I have read so far (and, as usual, I can’t remember where it’s from) is that you know it’s done when you can read it through and would not add or subtract a single word.  The thing is I’m not sure I ever do that when I read through my own writing.  Even on the final draft of my thesis when I was meant to just be fixing footnotes and so on, I kept changing little parts of the phrasing.

I think there has to be some kind of point at which you walk away – usually I have used an impending deadline to identify that point – but I’m not sure I will know it when I see it.  Perhaps I will need to put my trust in the Eager Volunteers.

Anyway, I hope I will now be un-stalled and get back on pace.  I really can get this thing done if I don’t talk myself out of it.

Word Count: 75,160

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It’s Done??

No, it isn’t.

However, I have reached the lower end of that ‘ideal length’ for a novel (70,000 words) and so that got me to thinking about whether the book (as I guess I can now call it) feels like it is finished, or not.  The first and obvious answer is that it doesn’t – there are several scenes that are not done at all (you can tell on account of the notes that say ‘write better dialogue later’, and so on) and so there is still work to do here (leaving editing temporarily out of the equation).

More importantly, even though the thing isn’t finished, it is starting to feel like it is in the ballpark of getting finished.  Most of the major plot points are there.  I have written the beginning, some junk in the middle, and the end.  I need to flesh some parts out, and I’m sure I will need to clean up a lot of continuity messes, but there is (I think) the framework of the story established.  I’m pretty pleased with it.

My ‘don’t write things in order’ method is kind of coming back to haunt me at this stage, and makes it a little more difficult to assess the level of ‘doneness’.  I have a bunch of scenes written that are not in their correct place and some that I don’t exactly know where they will go in the story, yet, just that they need to be in there someplace.  For that reason I think the next major task needs to be moving all the bits n’ pieces around and trying to spackle and stitch them into place.

All of this before Statler and Waldorf get too much louder, of course.

Anyway, it’s not done, but it does have the feel of something that might one day be done, at least.

 

Word Count: 72,011

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