Tag Archives: Updates

Just an Update

It’s just going to be a very brief update this week – I’m a little sick, and a little fried from grading, and a little lacking in a clever idea.

I’m nearly 80,000 words into the WIP, which I am resolutely going to try to only call Heretic Blood henceforth, because it really is very nearly finished. I’m fairly certain. Most of what I’m doing now is assembling all the various out-of-order bits into the proper sequence and plastering over transitions. Of course every time I do that it adds about another 1,000 words, but I don’t believe I have too many major components to write from scratch.

Sometimes, though, in putting things together I’ll discover that there needs to be another scene (rather than just a line or two) that gets from one to the other, and so ‘cut and paste’ turns into ‘write furiously’. As a result, I can’t be absolutely positive how much more there is to do, aside from ‘not all that much, probably’. When I write it out this way, the process sounds insane. It may well be. However, it’s also how I wrote the two novels that I actually got finished, so I’m not terribly inclined to tinker.

I have a little bit of a deadline, because (without giving too much away) the agent who will be attending Can*Con as Agent Guest of Honour this fall might – based on their wish list – be interested in the manuscript. But of course, that means it has to be done.

That got me to thinking that originally the plan was to have this thing ready to pitch at last year’s Can*Con, which fell off the rails when that Agent Guest of Honour turned out to be one who would not rep this kind of book. So I am, arguably, about a year behind schedule with getting this book finished. Which, compared to the productivity of some writers I know, is a little bit of a downer.

On the other hand, leaving aside Real Life considerations, this has been a very challenging book for me to write. The main character is quite unlike any that I’ve written so far, and the focus of the story has shifted dramatically as I’ve been working on it. I think I’m trying to do more with this than I have with my previous books, and so I’m trying to take it easy on myself over how long it’s taken.

In any case, I think it’s in the home stretch now. I look forward to being able to share it with you.

That’s what I’ve got for this week. Thank you for reading.

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Fog and Rain

It was a rainy, misty, foggy day here today and that feels pretty appropriate for writing this blog entry as I have no idea what to write about. That, in turn, is in keeping with how writing has been going the last while for me – it has been a struggle. This book is now, I feel quite certain, the most difficult thing I have ever written. Some of that is because I know I’m challenging myself in what I’m trying to pull off with it, some of it is just … things not coming easily.

I know my energy is very divided between trying to write fiction and trying to do a good job at the day job and trying to make sure I do other things beyond those two. It’s still easy to get down when the time goes by and the words won’t come.

Yesterday I did reach a bit of a milestone in that I believe I have written all the major scenes for the book I’m working on, and now “all” that needs to be done is to shuffle them into the right order and patch over all the transitions. Experience tells me that’s a fair piece of work to go, but it’s still good to have all the main pieces blocked out.

So I have been making progress, it’s just that every time I sit down to write, even when I know exactly what it is I want to do, it has been really very difficult. Every word I’ve written has been a struggle, and I’ve only hit those stretches where things start to really flow and come easily for very brief times.

I’m not writing this to complain or to fish for encouragement. The reason I decided to write about this today (barring, of course, the lack of another good idea) is that a lot of times when I look around on social media I see posts from writers about how they wrote 4,000 words this morning or just finished the third editing pass on their book and meanwhile I’ve just written and deleted the same sentence for the eighth time.

It often seems, I think, and we are often told, that creation is effortless and easy, and so it’s easy to feel discouraged in those moments when it’s not. Must be doing something wrong. Must not be a real writer. The thing is, that as far as I can tell, everyone has these times when creation is, in fact, super hard. It’s just as important (although less fun) to be forthright about that as it is to talk about the times when things are going very well. Difficulty is part of the process. It’s neither a surprise nor a sign that something has gone wrong, near as I can see.

The thing that I am trying very hard to teach myself is that the most important thing is not to abandon the project at times like this, but keep plugging away, scratch out 113 words in an afternoon if that’s the best you can do, and eventually, things ease up.

This is all dangerously close to advice, so I’ll stop for this week. I trust I’ll have something a touch more engaging for you next time. Thanks for reading.

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Busting Through

Another short one today, I fear – I am a little pressed for time as (among other things) we get geared up for Can*Con this coming weekend. It has been a lot of work (and I didn’t even do most of it!) but we’re very excited about the con this year and I’m personally very proud of what we’ve put together for our guests this year. I’m really looking forward to it (although I’m gonna be exhausted for Monday) and I will hopefully remember enough of it to write something reasonably coherent about it all afterwards.

For now, though, the main thing I achieved in the past week was finally breaking through the logjam on the WIP. Basically the problem was that I got to a point where I realized there needed to be some pretty major rewrites or at least reworks of even the incomplete first draft that I had done so far. To make the plot work I had to move some things around, create some entirely new material and then figure out where to add it in.

This is more or less the kind of thing you always have to do when working on a story, especially when hammering together the first draft, but the scale of this particular rework was pretty daunting, and the first couple of times I sat down to try to do it (way back in August) I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and ended up just sort of walking away. This happened a couple times, and I would come back to try to write some other parts of the story, but always had the ‘yeah, but you need to do that rewrite’ hanging over me and it never went very well.

I started to think about other stuff that I could write instead. New projects always seem fresh and exciting and it’s often tempting to switch. I got to thinking that maybe this whole project was flawed at its core and that I should just junk it. William Gibson said that the process of writing is, in part, overcoming your revulsion for your own work, and mine got pretty palpable over the past few weeks.

So, basically nothing got written through September, which got me to feeling that the work was Not Going Well, which is kind of discouraging in itself. I tried very hard to remind myself that this happened with Bonhomme Sept-Heures, and it got written, and it really happened with King in Darkness, which I basically did give up on until a friend talked me out of it. So I think this just is a part of the process, or at least my process, and as much as it’s not fun it’s a stage that I need to drag the whole mess through.

This past weekend I had part of an afternoon to myself, and so I told a couple of people that I was going to Solve The Problem (thus committing myself), sat down, and figured out how to make it work. In terms of actual number of words written, it wasn’t a lot for several hours work, but in terms of things moved around and plot restructured it was a successful major surgery. I now know (I’m pretty sure) where all the major pieces need to go and I feel like I can press on creating without the cloud of ‘this is fundamentally a mess’ hanging over me.

So that was a good weekend’s work. I mostly write this as a reminder to Future Me when I’m working on whatever the project after this will be that for whatever reason, this is a stage I seem to go through, and that probably the sooner I just grimly push through the apparently insurmountable issue, the better. Possibly some of you reading have similar issues and maybe this will be helpful. I think it’s very easy to get negative about ourselves and our work, and it’s good to remember that the whole thing doesn’t have to flow in an unending effortless torrent of smoothness. Sometimes it’s a struggle, and that doesn’t mean anything other than that writing is hard.

I am reminded of something someone told me about running once (sorry) – if running half-marathons was easy, everyone would do it. It’s not, it’s hard.

If writing novels was easy, everyone would do it.

The important unspoken part of that is that even though it’s hard, we can still do it.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. See you after Can*Con.

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Ramblings in the Halfway House

I struggled a bit to find a topic for this week. I’m somewhere past the half-way point – somewhat behind my notional ‘schedule’ of where I wanted to be at this time, but not bad – of the WIP (now tentatively titled Heretic Blood) and I’ve sent a chunk of it out to the Eager Volunteers for a check through, but ‘still writing’ doesn’t do much for a blog topic. Overall I think it’s going fine, although I’ve already done a couple of reasonably major rewrites as I come to understand the story a bit better.

One of the rewrites was deciding/discovering that a character who I had originally planned on surviving the book should probably get killed. This really wasn’t a fit of bloodthirstiness (well, not only), it was sort of the most logical or plausible conclusion to an accumulation of actions in the story that all seemed reasonably incidental at the time. Then, all of a sudden they added up to the character being quite different than I originally thought they would be, and their death became the most natural conclusion to their art.

It was one of those times when I feel like I’m discovering things about my plot and my characters rather than creating them, although I know on some level that that isn’t true. However, I’m convinced that there are subconscious processes at work and as much as I find it mildly frustrating at times – it would be wonderful to not have to make these ‘discoveries’ which require significant rewrites and just write the damn story

Maybe that’s what you get from more extensive planning than I do. I know some writers have really detailed and extensive plans of their work before they ever begin to write, either in electronic form or big charts with strings and things going on. I have honestly tried it, but there are two problems. One is that (I guess because I’m somewhat disorganized by nature) my plans tend to be kind of a disaster area, and thus more confusing than helpful about 48 hours after I’m done making them.

The other is that I find making plans boring. Writing is interesting, especially at the start of the project when I think everything about the idea is super rad. If I’m excited, I basically want to stop making the plan and start getting some of the ideas on the page. Maybe this a moment where a more professional writer would be disciplined and do the damn plan and then not have to do as much major surgery on their work once they start writing it.

I kind of suspect, though, that this is one of those cases where everyone has to find whatever process they need to Get Stuff Written and then do that. The more I learn about my own writing, talk to other writers about their writing, and read different people’s ideas about how writing works, the more convinced I become that there is no one correct and proper way to do it. There are basically no rules. There may not even be guidelines. There’s just what works for an individual artist, and you gotta figure out what that is and then do it unapologetically.

Which leaves me with my rather arcane and confusing process where I sometimes feel like I’m in a somewhat uneasy state of detente with my own brain, but it works, or at least works better than anything I’ve yet tried, and thus I continue. I do feel ever so slightly bad for my imaginary person who got flipped from survivor to horribly mangled corpse in the course of a morning writing session, though.

Hmmm. I honestly thought this was just going to be a preamble to another topic, but I should probably get back to Heretic Blood and this feels like enough to call an entry now.

I am looking forward to sharing Heretic Blood with you, since it’s really quite different from either of the books I’ve done so far, and even at this point where I’ve been working on it for quite some time, I’m not hearing too much from Statler and Waldorf yet. Which tells me that yes, somewhat incomprehensible process or not, I should keep at it while that continues to be the case.

Thanks for reading.

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Grab Bag

As the title suggests, this is going to be a bit of a grab-bag of thoughts I’ve had while getting back to work on the current WIP. (Which still lacks an actual title. Hmm.) I was going to follow on from writing a bit about the TV adaptation of American Gods last week by writing about the TV Handmaid’s Tale this week, but I’m not the best person to talk about it and I’m not sure that I have anything especially noteworthy to say at this point anyway. Except I guess that if you haven’t been watching it, you should a) brace yourself and b) go watch it, because it’s quite well done.

I am, as summer reluctantly comes to my part of the world, trying to get back at working on my current project somewhat systematically, with the aim (still?) being to have a complete first draft done by the fall. Part of what I’m trying to figure out is how I can make writing a scheduled part of my routine. I do much better with a lot of stuff when I have a plan to always do it at X time on whatever days of the week than when I just try to figure out when it gets done on the fly. This isn’t just the case for writing, it’s how I get myself to the gym and get my running done and a lot of other stuff. If I leave the time for things vague, they live in an eternal ‘later’, never getting actually taken care of. If I have in my mind that I do this (say) every morning starting at 9, then something takes place.

I don’t at all suggest that this is some iron rule for how to Be an Effective Writer, because that would be advice, and mostly I think everyone needs to figure out their own methods and process that works for them anyway. Some people probably do need to write every day, some people work well with specific word targets per week, some people need to Go To A Place and Work There. Despite (although also in some part because of) all the earnestly written declarations on how to Do Authoring, I think there’s no universal formula and you just gotta figure out what leads to you getting words on the page and then unapologetically do that. Of course that’s not an easy thing to figure out, but neither is trying to contort yourself to fit someone else’s process. I think I have a ‘morning writing’ thing going on now and we’ll see how that works.

Part of what caused me some difficulty recently (along with all kinds of Real Life stuff, and then also just being very tired) was the disappearance of a deadline. I’ve mentioned before that I work very well when I have a deadline (I do not miss deadlines) and that part of the adjustment from being a student to being basically employed by me post-education is not having deadlines imposed on me. Again, that eternal ‘not now, but soon’ becomes very attractive. I’m getting better at working without deadlines but if I’m being honest what I also do is seize on things that I can use as a deadline to restore that familiar motivation.

For this WIP, I had decided that I wanted to have it ready to pitch to the agent Guest of Honour that will be coming to this year’s Can*Con SFF conference in Ottawa, which seemed a solid idea. (Brief aside – I am on the programming team for Can*Con, we’ve got some very exciting stuff planned for this October, and you should definitely come if you can. All the details are not ready to release yet, but you can check out a lot about us here.) Unfortunately, I did the required research and found that she doesn’t rep the kind of thing that I’m working on. Which is of course fine, and of course she’s still an amazing Guest of Honour for Can*Con to have, but her usefulness to me as a deadline suddenly dematerialized, and not a lot got written for a while.

I really need to break myself of this deadline habit.

As I’m writing at the moment, I’m also reading, of course, and right now I’m reading the John Le Carré autobiography I mentioned a while back, and re-reading some William Gibson. They are, I guess obviously, very different writers, but to me they are also similar in that I deeply admire the way they craft with words. They’re both (to me) quite demanding writers, in that their writing requires your attention. Both can get a lot out of a little, conveying things of tremendous importance with a perfectly-chosen word or two, so you really can’t miss anything.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a long time, you’ll remember that there was a time when I tried, very hard, to write like William Gibson, and that it didn’t go very well. I don’t do that any more, but I find reading both him and Le Carré inspirational in the sense of reminding me what is possible to do with words when you put them together right, and to try to push myself to achieve something at least somewhat similar. This isn’t to say that other styles of writing can’t also be effective, can’t also be fun to read, and can’t also be artistic. But I guess the arguably subtler or more intricate mode of operation twangs something inside me just that little bit more, and is the style that I would be most content if I could produce something like. I’m not sure that I’m anywhere in that quadrant of the galaxy, but (all my wittering about struggles with the WIP notwithstanding) I am enjoying the effort.

One of the decisions I made in writing this current WIP was to write it just as I wanted to, to just really let myself use exactly the words I wanted to. I was going to thoroughly ignore the questions of ‘is this the right voice?’ and ‘what kind of audience does this appeal to’? I was just going to write something that pleased me, do it as well as I could, and then see what people thought of it. The basic idea is/was kind of crazy anyway, so if it ended up something that appealed to no-one else but me it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world. Fortunately for me, what I’ve heard back from the Eager Volunteers and my writers’ circle has so far been very kind and very encouraging, which of course makes me more confident to go on doing things this way. Again, I’m not suggesting this is always the right way to do things, but at the moment it’s having good results for me.

Anyway. I’ve got a little over 30,000 words (much of it non-sequential, of course) written, and if I can get down to this over the summer I should be able to finish my story in time for the autumn. Then I will begin a whole new set of challenges, but that’s something to worry about another day. That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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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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Directions

I don’t have any Big Ideas for this week’s entry, so I suppose I’ll just start off with an update (which was, after all, the original purpose of this thing) – work continues on the new WIP (which I am not being intentionally cryptic about, I just don’t have a title I love for it yet) and it’s going all right. The story is starting to unspool itself, which is cool, although it’s also true that it keeps veering off in some unanticipated directions.

By this I mean that as I start to write certain scenes, I’m deciding that they don’t work quite the way I thought they would, and so I change them around. Scenes that I hadn’t originally considered are shouldering their way in. The order that events are going to happen in keeps getting reshuffled because of both these things. Because (as I’ve discussed) I tend to write things out of order, there are some scenes that I quite like that I’m no longer sure how I’m going to get to, now. I don’t want them to end up becoming lost little spare parts of story, but I also don’t want to force them in if they don’t work anymore. (I can probably repurpose them for something else)

This links back to my topic from a few entries back, because some of this doesn’t feel like it’s entirely under my control. As I’ve said, I don’t always understand exactly where the ideas come from, even though I know it’s ultimately all ‘from me’. So it can feel as though the story I’m telling is a little bit out of control as well, and I’m writing furiously trying to keep up with these new directions it’s deciding to go in. It’s exciting most of the time, and a little frustrating some of the time as well, when I thought I had a really solid idea of how the plot was going to unfold and then I have to reassess the whole thing once I actually get to writing.

Although I will be a little disappointed to have to put aside some of the material I thought I’d use in this story, and I’m still working hard trying to figure out how to keep some of it, I’d rather make the changes than not. The reason the story is going in a different direction than I thought is that I have new ideas that I’m excited about. It doesn’t seem like it can possibly be the right call to ignore those in favour of something I scrawled on the back of a postcard two months or so ago. I know I write better when I’m writing about things that I’m enthusiastic about, so the best thing is to accept the differences and follow the path these decisions are opening up.

In some ways, writing a story is like anything else, I find – you have a plan for how things are going to go, and then due to all sorts of factors, some under your control and some not, things probably don’t work out exactly how you planned, and it’s often better to go with it rather than trying too hard to force things to be the way you originally envisioned. Everything is constantly being shaped and reshaped by decisions we all make, and a lot of times we can’t see all the consequences of something we decide, and most times we can’t take it back once we make one. We all adapt and rewrite as we see how things unfold.

I guess along those lines, I will say (for what it’s worth) that if you happen to be reading this in the United States on the day it goes up, you’ve got a pretty big decision in front of you. I’m sure you’ve had more than enough of people telling you which way to go (and if you’ve read much of this blog, you probably know what I think about it) so I’m just going to say that I really hope you’ll be an active part of that decision, and go and vote. It’s easy to be cynical about the process, but you don’t get asked what you think very often. Now’s your chance to take part in deciding, and I think you’ll regret not doing it.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

——

I did a little reno on parts of the blog. There is now a list of some Links that I think you might enjoy.

I will shamelessly remind you that my second novel, Bonhomme Sept-Heures, is now available. The glitch where you couldn’t get the paperback edition from Amazon.ca has been resolved, so you should be able to get it in whatever manifestation would bring you the most enjoyment. If you’d like to try before you buy, there’s now an excerpt from the story added on to the Books section. Enjoy.

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After hitting Send

At the end of last week, I sent out the first significant piece of the new WIP to my Eager Volunteers to get some early feedback. And then started waiting.

I should make very clear that I totally expected to – among other things, it was a holiday weekend here in Canada, so the Volunteers had better things to do, I sent them a fairly sizable chunk of stuff to get through, and it’s extraordinarily generous of these wonderful people to give me their time to help make my writing better to begin with. I appreciate the heck out of it and it takes however long it takes.

However, that period from when I hit ‘Send’ until I first hear back is always a bit difficult. Time passes, for all the understandable reasons I just finished going through, and I start to wonder what the readers have thought of it. Because, as we’ve discussed, I am just a wee bit prone to self-criticize, and left alone to imagine what people may be thinking about what they’re reading, I tend to start to fill in a bunch of negative stuff. At this point I’m still quite excited about the project, but as soon as I submit even a part of my work for someone’s consideration, I do start to imagine just a bit too much about what the potential reaction is going to be.

I guess this may have gotten slightly worse after shopping King in Darkness to agents while I was trying to get it published – I sent it (or, at least, a pitch of it) out to a people and waited to hear if they liked it enough to work with it. I may have refreshed my Inbox a ridiculous number of times. In all those cases, when I heard back, it was in the negative. Some of them were encouraging negatives, but still, no-one wanted to say yes. Even prepared for it, that was difficult. I mean, you know this is how it works, everyone gets rejections, but they still sting a bit, or they did me, anyway. When I pitched the book to publishers at Can*Con, there was that moment between when I finished talking before anyone said anything where I sat and thought ‘That was awful, and they’re going to tell me to leave now’. Fortunately, one of those publishers decided they did want the book, but I’ll never forget that moment.

This even sort of happens with the writing circle I take part in – every session I read a little bit of what I’m working on, and when I finish there’s those few seconds before anyone says anything. Those seconds are, apparently, where all my doubts live. Oh god they hated it. They can’t believe I wrote that and they’re not sure how to say it.

It’s a wonderful gift, sharing my writing with people, it really is, and I don’t want to create the impression otherwise. I love to write and writing is so much better when people read it and tell me what they think. I imagine that’s true for most artists – there’s satisfaction in creation, but then also in sharing what you did with an audience. However, at the same time, it makes you vulnerable, because you put so much of yourself into your creation that you know it’s going to sting a bit if the audience – in my case, the readers – don’t appreciate it or think it’s good. And the thing is, of course people are entitled to react however they react and like what they like. I don’t hold any ill will towards the agents who passed on my book – they didn’t think they could do anything with it, and said so. But as with a lot of things, there is a difference between what you know and what you feel, at times. I would obviously love it if everyone who ever read my writing thought it was the best stuff ever. It will never happen. I suppose trying to get there is one motivation to keep working on my craft.

At least in some of these cases I do get to hear what the readers think of my work. There are really a lot of people, now, who have read King in Darkness that I have never heard from and I have no idea if they loved my book, or hated it. I hope they felt like it was at least worth their time to read it. I know for most of them I’ll never know what they thought, but when I think about that it’s at least a little frustrating. Was it good? Did you hate it?

Of course there’s no way to improve as a writer or grow as an author without sharing my work, and I don’t think I would want to anyway. It’s just that time after I hit ‘Send’, when my doubts can be particularly loud. So I’m always very grateful when i do get feedback, whether it’s the detailed, insightful stuff I get from my Eager Volunteers, or just ‘it was cool’. I appreciate that more the more I do this.

So if you’ve ever taken the time to let me know what you thought of something I wrote, if you wrote a review or rated King in Darkness on Goodreads or Amazon or where ever, thank you. And, you know, if you have a chance to let any artist whose work you’ve appreciated know, I imagine they’d be just as grateful.

[In the interests of full disclosure, the first of the Eager Volunteers sent me a response and it was, as usual, extremely helpful. They’re awesome.]

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Can*Con 2016

This past weekend was Can*Con in Ottawa, which is our annual convention for readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy, horror and erotica. It is steadily growing both in terms of the stature of the guests who attend and the number of people who sign up for a weekend’s worth of discussion on the literature they love. It will also always be special to me because it was a Can*Con pitch session that got me connected with my publisher for The King in Darkness, and being able to see my first novel in print.

As always it was fantastic to get to spend a couple of days really feeling like a writer: participating in thoughtful discussions about both how to write and things we enjoy reading, meeting loads of awesome people who are deeply into the same stuff that I’m deeply into, and talking about my own writing to people who didn’t immediately look shifty and scurry away sideways. Especially when writing often has to be crammed into whatever time can be stolen here and there from jobs that pay the bills and the practicalities of life, it can be easy to feel like your writing isn’t very significant. It’s amazing to have a few days where writing gets to be The Thing and to have your passion validated. I always come away from Can*Con very excited to get to work on new projects. Project. One project at a time, like a sane person.

So that feeling was great to have again, but this Can*Con also felt very different because this was the first year that I was part of the organization team, which is also getting larger as the con (and therefore the work involved in setting it up) expands. This added a whole new level to the experience. In addition to everything else, I was also getting chairs where we needed chairs and hastily creating signs and helping lost souls find the con suite – and also getting to meet all of our guests in a slightly different way than previous years. Getting to (even briefly) say hi to Ed Greenwood was pretty cool. More than anything, this all made me appreciative of the work that goes into putting on an event like Can*Con in a way that I hadn’t really understood before; we started actively planning this soon after the New Year and had basically been working steadily at it ever since. It was great to see all that work turn into the event itself and to watch people enjoying themselves with what we’d put together.

Now I also need to lie down.

All of the discussions I went to were interesting – I was part of talks on epic fantasy, the nature of monsters (which will lead to a radical change to my current WIP), the portrayal of medieval culture in fantasy, the financial side of writing, and Shakespeare in science fiction, and all of them gave me a lot to think about. The one that I’ve been going back over in my mind over and over, though, was the panel on adapting SFF for TV or movies, which (to be honest) I mostly went to because Jay Odjick panels are always awesome.

Now, in all honesty I’m extremely unlikely to have to worry about the things that go into having something I wrote adapted for film (although, as we saw last week, I do think that would be pretty rad), but one of the things that all of the panelists said (including Tanya Huff and our agent guest of honour Sam Morgan) got the Mind Gears going. Basically they said that if your work is being adapted into another format, those writers are going to change basically everything (Tanya Huff was invited to write an episode of the series that was adapted from her book Blood Ties, and they kept six lines of the dialogue she had written) and that, as a writer, you should be fine with this because they’re giving you a cheque, and your original work is of course unchanged.

I gotta say, that makes a solid amount of sense. Stephen King got asked about whether he was upset about what Hollywood had done to some of his books, and famously replied that ‘no, the books are fine, they’re right there on the shelf’. I admire that. I also know that deep inside my bizarre little writer’s heart, I would be screaming at the top of my lungs about something I wrote being changed. It’s my story. These are my characters. I wrote them this way for a reason, you don’t get to just change them around. Or, if you do, it’s not my story any more, and let’s not pretend that it is. (As an example, one ‘change’ suggested by a reader of King in Darkness was that the main character Adam should ‘get together’ with Sophia. Sophia is gay. Adam is at least twice her age. If that change got made to the story, I would be really upset. And yet, ‘add a romance!’ seems like a pretty probable move.)

I really do get the ‘yes, but cheque!’ argument, as well as the one that everyone knows that film writers change everything and so nobody really connects a film version to the writer in any significant way. It’s probably ok if the screaming is on the inside. So I do get that, and understand Sam Morgan’s comment that if a client of his was upset about changes being made to an adaptation of their work, he’d smack them (because: cheque!), but I also know that at least some part of me would be deeply unhappy with the whole deal. It’s probably just as well that this is a moot point and that probably no-one will ever want to make a movie out of King in Darkness, is one takeaway.

The other is that it’s remarkable how much ownership creators (because I don’t think I’m the only one) feel over their imaginary people and their stories, and how emotionally invested we are with the pretend worlds we’ve brought into being. I do write my stories the way I do for reasons that I think are good, and because (as I mentioned in an earlier entry) I feel like I know these characters so well, it seems wrong to just arbitrarily change them. It’s part of why creating art is so risky, because you really do put a piece of yourself out there for the world to look at. (That’s also part of why it’s great, when people look at it and say that they liked it.)

However, I should know from my history studies that stories don’t belong to anyone, or rather they belong to everyone. Stories that survive almost any length of time at all get constantly rewritten and changed and done over again to suit the needs of different audiences and to express the values and priorities of different cultural moments in time. King Arthur and Robin Hood and (more recently) characters like Batman and Sherlock Holmes change and change again as writers and readers who love them want to do something new with them or make the story work for their time and place. It is, really, a wonderful compliment to a creator to say that you want to take something they came up with and adapt it and give it a new kind of life.

So maybe I really would be ok with someone rewriting my stuff to film it.

Once the screaming died down.

And on that cheerful note, I want to use this space to thank everyone who was part of Can*Con and helped make it such a great weekend. We had amazing panelists, really enthusiastic and thoughtful audiences, and our volunteers were outstanding. All of the other members of the organizational team – Marie Bilodeau, Nicole Lavigne, and Brandon Crilly (who was programming’s Batman to my Robin) did fantastic work. I also want to especially thank co-chair Derek Künsken for inviting me onto the team and letting me be a part of it all.

Already looking forward to next year.

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Some of you may have noticed a sudden lapse in running-related entries on here. Many of you probably said ‘oh thank God’. In case you were curious, though, the reason is that I have had only the second significant injury I’ve suffered as a runner this summer and have shut things down for the season. The plan is to spend the winter getting strong and have a great season next year.

This has been surprisingly difficult, though, both because running is a stress-buster for me and has very much been part of my routine for years, and also because (as I’ve talked about previously) I do a lot of writing in my head while running, and all of that is currently lost. I also had to admit a little while ago that there was no way I could do the race I had planned for the end of the month, and just let that go.

In a way though that’s another useful lesson to come out of running that I think applies to writing as well. It’s good to set goals for yourself and to push yourself to achieve them, and to try to set standards that you need to live up to in terms of amounts of work getting done or having something finished by a certain time. That helps with organization and time management and making sure that you’re making your writing a priority.

There are also times, though, when things are just out of your hands and you have to let one of those goals go, and that’s ok. I couldn’t do anything about this injury, and it’s ok, and I will be back running when I can and I’ll hit the next goal. Sometimes the equivalent will happen with writing, and something won’t get done on time, and that’s ok.

Setting goals is only useful if it makes you better, not if it just turns into another stick to beat yourself up with.

Letting go is ok.

That’s what I’ve got for this week, except that if you’re going to be in Ottawa on Saturday, October 29th, you should definitely come to the Renaissance Press launch event for Bonhomme Sept-Heures and seven (seven!) other authors and creators, at the 3 Brewers pub at 240 Sparks St. It will go from about 5 to around 7, and there will be reading from all the authors, prizes, and probable tomfoolery. It would be great to see you there.

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Cinematics

Several things to throw at you today!

First, I recently joined a local writers’ group and it has already been fantastic in motivating me to keep working on the current WIP (so I have something to bring to circle) and our conversations have been really interesting as well. For anyone trying to improve as a writer, I strongly recommend seeking out a group to work with. As is often the case, the internet is probably your friend here, and I really think it will help your writing.

In any case, the group I have joined had some really useful feedback on my current project and one of the conversations we had also got me thinking about something I thought I’d write about on the blog today.  We were talking about what does and doesn’t work as an opener to a piece, and a lot of the discussion kept returning to the framework of ‘if this was a movie, then…’.  I think because film (under which umbrella I am sticking movies, TV, and whatever the label is for things ‘broadcast’ through places like Netflix) must be the context we experience most of our stories through, we tend to use it as a default to think about stories in other contexts.  I also think it very likely affects us as artists working in other mediums.

I hadn’t really articulated it before but I do frequently think of scenes in my writing in terms of how they would work if filmed – or at least, as much as I am capable of doing so with absolutely no background in film at all. I don’t really know anything about how to set up a shot or what the terminology is or even why film directors do things the way they do; I’ve just seen end products that I’ve thought were very cool and they’ve influenced me in terms of what I like to create and given me a sort of framework for how I imagine the story I’m creating might unfold.

So, in my mind, the prologue bit of the WIP would be one long scene, then there would be a credit sequence (because of course), and then fade in to the opening of Chapter One. We’ve been debating whether the prologue needs to stay or not, and one of the reasons I think it does is that I like that idea of a pre-credits scene to sort of whet the audience’s appetite and let them know what kind of show they’re in for.

In fairness, I also think it introduces my main character in a kind of cool way and hits some of the main beats about her without a big wodge of exposition, while also bringing in the setting and hinting at the main plot line a bit. So, I think it does have genuine merit from a literary point of view, but I’d be lying if I said the film scene justification wasn’t in there too.

I imagine somewhere lurking around in there is the thought that it would be awfully cool to see something of mine filmed at some point in the future, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. Film gives its own particular framework to stories, and the cuts from shot to shot can really regulate the mood and tension of the piece (he said from a more or less uniformed standpoint). A director or a film studies person could dig into this much better than I can, but suffice to say that I like to try to do some of that with my written stuff, too. This is also the reason for a lot of scene breaks in early versions of my manuscripts that sometimes baffle and/or annoy my readers and editors – the reason they’re there is because it’s where I imagine that there would be a cut to a new shot. Or a commercial break. (Seriously)

It is kind of paradoxical, though, because (as I’ve written about here before) I don’t really tend to put huge amounts of careful visual description into my writing. I like to let the reader fill in a lot of the scene from their own imagination based on the parameters I give them. So, even though I know exactly how every scene in the book looks in my mind, I’m not sure it’s useful to give all of that detail to the reader, especially as I don’t find reading reams of description a particular pleasure myself.

So, a lot of the ‘works like a film’ part ends up being an internal process for me and I’m really not sure how much it comes across in the finished work. I can see it, but I know that it’s supposed to be there. I guess I’m not sure if it actually makes what I write work better or even differently, but it is part of the engine of creation that ends up with words on the page, so (perhaps due to inherent laziness, superstition, contentment with the results, or some blend of the above) I just kind of roll with it.

Again, none of this is advice (because I don’t write advice) but perhaps some of that will be interesting to any of you who are working on your own writing. I do think it’s sometimes useful to reflect about my process as an artist and think about what works, what maybe doesn’t work so well, and at least recognize my strengths and vulnerabilities as a writer so that I can play to the former and try to compensate for the latter.

Thanks for being a sounding board.

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By way of updates: The final set of edits on Bonhomme Sept-Heures were completed late last week and I am currently going through the proofs before the book is sent to print. I could not be more excited that the book is this close to coming out – should be ready to come your way by October!

This weekend is also Can*Con here in Ottawa, and as a member of the programming team I’m both fired up and very proud about the weekend we’ve put together for you. It is not too late to register and come out for what should be a great 2 1/2 days of workshops and discussions about SFF, horror, and comics writing, and some awesome opportunities to meet people who are both established and up-and-comers in the field. There are spots left in all of the workshops Friday afternoon, and even though online registration for many of the sessions is now closed, you will be able to sign up at the registration desk, so there’s still time to get in on everything! Check out the program here, and if you want to listen to my friend Brandon Crilly and I talk about Can*Con and why we think you should come, you can listen to a radio interview we did about it last Thursday right here. I’m really looking forward to it and you should definitely come.

Finally, but far from least important: I got confirmation this week that Renaissance Press will be at the Word on the Street festival in Toronto this year, and I will be able to attend! I’m thrilled to be able to bring my work to such a massive event and looking forward to being a part of things throughout one of the biggest days in literature in Canada. Renaissance Press will have a table in the Fringe Beat section, and I will be there throughout the day. I’m very excited to get to meet some new people, so come say hello!

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