The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Get out of the Way

21 August 2014 | No Comments » | Jace Sanders

turtlesRather than discuss what I would tell my earlier self, I decided to write about what I tell my children.

From age six to about nine or ten, I spent my days with two turtles, Sammy and Willy. They travelled the ocean stirring up trouble, then mystically transformed into astronaut bears who made it an effort to visit all the forests of the universe and then somehow mutated into aliens that went to scout camp. My friends grew as I grew and helped me experience fantastical adventures.

When I wasn’t with my turtle-bear-alien friends, I explored the realms of Narnia and Middle Earth. I lived on a boxcar and ate fried worms. I travelled to Oz over and over again and eventually sailed with Captain Ahab.

I remember when I announced to my dad that I had discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up. I made my case:

- I was good at writing
- I loved it
- Other people liked reading my stuff
- And I was guaranteed to be successful because every book I had ever read was written by someone famous.

“Tell me one author that isn’t famous?” I demanded. He didn’t refute my claim, but persuaded me to go into the computer industry (we didn’t call it IT back then). I didn’t discuss my writer dream with others after that; I kept it tucked away in the back of my mind.

When I was a junior in high school, my papers were decorated in red with nice big Cs and Ds on top, quite the change from my sophomore year of A+s. From the encouragement of my tenth grade English teacher, I wrote more and took greater risks with my craft. My eleventh grade teacher didn’t like my exploring beyond the lines. I know I deserved the negative marks; I misused semicolons and my vocabulary wasn’t very strong, but the red ink didn’t teach me why my sentence structure suffered or how to fix it, just that it wasn’t good. During that year I slowly became disenfranchised with writing.

More than a decade passed. I didn’t go into IT, but business. Occasionally I’d hear my turtle friends calling from the recesses of my mind, begging me to let them out to play. I’d entertain them every now and then, but mostly I told them that I was too busy.

Another decade passed. A friend of mine from high school (quite possibly in that same English class) had a book published. My turtle friends woke up. Then I heard that my neighbor had written a short story for an anthology. I asked her about it.

“Do you write?” she asked.

“I used to.” Sort of. I want to. I really want to.

“If you’re serious about it, you should come to Superstars.”

My turtle friends begged to go and that was it. I was hooked, living my boyhood dream.

Since attending SWS, I’ve written a dozen short stories and one novel. I write everyday. I write a lot. I write to escape; I write to understand. I write for fun and for serious. But mostly I write to inspire.

A tribe helped free my turtles. I believe that It Takes a Tribe, to become a successful writer, as Nancy discussed earlier this month.

My son just turned nine. He’s been writing since the age of six. He’s fought dragons and explored alien worlds. He hangs out with friends known as the Knights of the Shadow Kingdom.

To him, I say, cheers. Write on my friend, write on.

Another son just started Junior High. He told me yesterday that he knows what he wants to be when he grows up—a photographer.

To him, I say, cheers. Let me know what I can do to help you. I believe in you.

Another son just started high school. Some of his teachers are “tough”. He tells me that their teaching is “all wrong”. We’ve explored his perception and identified that their teaching is—different.

To him, I say, cheers. Don’t get discouraged because you don’t understand. Fight to learn, fight to understand, and fight to be understood. And most of all, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do or be what you want. I’m here for you and support you. I know you can do it.

I think that the greatest thing we can do for young people is to get out of their way.

Unfortunately I can only go back in time in my stories. I would love to have not waited twenty years to do what I always wanted to do, but as the saying goes, it’s better late than never. Cheers. Write on my friend.



When You’ve Got Support

16 July 2014 | Comments Off | fictorians

A guest post by Amanda McCarter.

Okay, folks, get ready for the cheese factor, because I’m going to lay it on you.

One of the things I love about being a writer is my mom. Yes, I’m going there. It’s an incredible feeling. She tells me she’s proud of me and that she loves my books and my stories. It does not get any better than that.

But that’s what moms are supposed to do, right?

They’re supposed to be partial and think everything you do is golden and amazing. Parents are supposed to support you and encourage your passion. It’s what they do.

I’ve got horror stories of watching friends and colleagues torn down by their parents and loved one because their writing is some time-wasting hobby that will never amount to anything. Every story is a struggle and a fight because someone is nagging them to give up their silly pastime or belittling them for doing it.

This is where I get to brag. My mother is not one of these people. She is absolutely tickled pink that her little girl is a writer. She reads all my books and bugs me about when the next one comes out. It’s fantastic.

And it means a lot to me. It’s special to me. My mother is my love of reading. I grew up with The Hobbit by Tolkien and The Harper Hall Trilogy by Anne McCaffrey as bedtime stories. Whenever my mother finished a book, she passed it on to my brother or me. I grew up with bookshelves in my bedroom stacked full of Mercedes Lackey and Peter David and Frank Herbert.

We would take family trips to Hastings where we could rent a movie and choose a book. Sure, we could have gone to the library, but there was something so personal about owning a book. I could read it over and over again and never worry about late fees or giving it back to someone else. It was mine.

My mother gave that to us.

So my mom isn’t just a supportive woman with a proud smile. She’s a reader. She’s well read. The classics, mysteries, science fiction, drama, fantasy, romance. You name it, she’s read it. When she says she enjoys a book, she means it.

Yes, I get a pass. I’m related. But it does mean something when it comes from her. When she says she likes my writing, in my mind, I’m right up there with Lackey and McCaffrey and the dozens of other authors she’s read. Am I as good? I’ve got a ways to go. But I’m good enough for her and that’s a tremendous amount of strength.

Because when you’ve got the support of someone who loves you and loves your field and what you do in it, it’s incredible. She doesn’t just like my books because I wrote them. She likes them because they’re books. Would she have found them if we weren’t related? No telling, but that’s not the point.

Writers are susceptible to a certain amount of depression, angst, and self-doubt. Is this good enough? Should I even bother? Why did I write that scene? Who am I kidding? This is all crap.

But then I talk to my mom and things are right with the world. I finish what I’m writing and work through it.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have this kind of support. I know not everyone gets it. And my mother’s enthusiasm has spread to other members of my family. Two of my aunts are very interested in my writing as well.

I guess my point is, those are the people whose opinions really matter. Friends, loved ones. Yes, it’s exciting when an editor says nice things or you get an impressive review. But nothing feels quite as warm and fuzzy as your mom telling you how proud she is of you.

For the record, my big brother thinks this writing business is cute.

AmandaGuest Writer Bio:
Amanda grew up reading the works of Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, Frank Herbert, and dozens of other fantasy and science fiction writers. As time went on, it occurred to her to write her own fantastic stories of faraway places and distant lands. Encouraged by her mother and family to write, a one-time hobby became an obsession and a passion. An obsession she hopes to one day make full time. Currently, Amanda lives in Tulsa, OK with her boyfriend, one snake, two cats, and two dogs. When not dreaming of faraway places and distant lands, she spends her time knitting, reading, and playing video games.


15 July 2014 | Comments Off | Quincy Allen

Everyday living for most people can be compared all-too-easily to what drought means for farmers, what the dry seasons meant to American Indians. It’s a barren time full of silence and waiting and subtle, fatalistic dread that nothing is going to happen, that life will wither and perhaps even die. And it’s that need for green, for life and living, which brings comfort and joy and the heights of emotional salvation when the rains finally come. One could make the argument that we read drama and fantasy and horror because we have an inherent, hard-wired need for emotional input—a need for rain.

That’s a writer’s job, at least some of the time. We must don the doe’s skull and bright feathers. We must clothe ourselves in tanned hides and wrap bone rattles about our wrists and ankles. We must dance, sprouting clouds of dust as we stomp our feet and we sweat upon the hard-baked clay of everyday life.

It’s our job.

One of the hardest things writers have to live with is the uncertainty that their dancing has brought rain, sprinkled or poured a little bit of life into a reader’s existence. The truth is that most writers, especially at the beginning of their careers, never find out if their dancing has borne precipitation. There is this gulf—a fundamental disconnect—between writer and reader, one that leaves writers with cracked lips and dusty throats.

I recently had two experiences—more milestones in my career—which gave me tangible evidence that my own dancing was not in vain. Last fall I submitted a short story called Family Heirloom to the magazine Steampunk Trials. It’s a steampunk take on the Underground Railroad where a white widow and a freed slave build an Underwater Railroad in Missouri.

Included in the acceptance email was a very simple accolade, and one I’ll never forget. The story had brought tears the editor to eyes. When I wrote that story, it was with the absolute intention of touching, playing upon the heartstrings of the reader. I intended to bring forth the emotions of suffering and sacrifice, highlight the resolve of an individual to carry on and enrich the lives of the next generation in spite of tragedy.

Because of that first editor’s response, I chose Family Heirloom as the lead in a short story collection of mine that came out this summer. It’s not a best-seller in no small part because it contains cross-genre short stories, which is really a double-whammy against people even looking at it, let alone buying it. And yet, in spite of its uphill battle to gain recognition, I recently received another bit of rain. One of the reviewers up on Amazon said the same thing as the editor: that the story had brought tears to his or her eyes, and that other stories in that volume also had profound emotional effects. A reader took the time to let me—and the world—know that there was rain to be found between those pages.

For a writer, there’s nothing better than that.

So, to all the writers who read this, I can say but one thing: keep dancing. And to every reader, for all the rain you have been given by authors, give them some back. Give them the rain they need in the form of emails and reviews and word-of-mouth praise for the rain that has sustained you.

Drought is a fact of life, but we all possess the means by which we can bring rain to those who need it.



They Do Things Differently There

22 May 2014 | 2 Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Amy Groening.

they do things differently thereMy family unearthed They Do Things Differently There (Jan Mark, 1994) at a library book sale when I was twelve years old. We had been consuming Jan Mark books for years and were very excited to discover a relatively new book of his shoved in amongst the clutter of salable discards. Every Jan Mark book I have read has endowed me with some new discovery of how to both play with the English language and appreciate life in general, but They Do Things Differently There was a crown jewel when I was young, and now, thirteen years later, I appreciate it all the more.

The account of a beautiful yet fleeting friendship between two dizzyingly creative teenaged girls, They Do Things Differently There offers clever descriptions of the realities of growing up in small-town Britain, a sardonic criticism of insincere aestheticism, and, most importantly, periodic vignettes of the deeper and much more bizarre episodes of an alternate reality, showing through in patches where the veneer of clean living has worn through.

I’m not talking about Blue Velvet, severed-ears-in-the-backwoods-type double lives; I’m quite sure Elaine and Charlotte would have balked at a crime so underwhelmingly average. Beneath the flowery, scrubbed-clean town of Compton Rosehay lurks Stalemate, a half-forgotten city that boasts a mermaid factory, a corpse-collecting manor lord and the respectable bunch of blackmailers keeping him in check, missionaries from Mars, and the Nobel Prize-winning creation of the Auger Scale of Tedium.

As ridiculous as the world of Stalemate sounds, Jan Mark uses these elements to create an effortlessly bizarre, unapologetically irreverent, and thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It wasn’t until this year that I noticed the underlying references to pop culture and highbrow art that riddled the work. When I was twelve, mentions of Daleks flew right over my head, and I was under the impression that Mark’s cheeky rewriting of Wordsworth­’s verse—Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be a fish was very heaven—was, in fact, just a clever bit of writing she had come up with herself. Even the book’s title is pulled straight from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. When Charlotte breaks the fourth wall and admits they’ve missed half a story because two pages of the book got stuck together, I was practically in convulsions of wonder. While I have now become accustomed to viewing this as a favourite trick of postmodern writing, back then it was the most mind-bogglingly clever writing twist I had come across.

This is one of the many things I love about Jan Mark: she created stories that I could enjoy as an uncultured preteen, and yet she didn’t seem to concern herself with the idea that a twelve-year-old might not catch references to high-brow literature (or British sci-fi shows from the 1960s). She didn’t pander to the lowest common denominator of undereducated schoolchildren, and yet she wrote books that said schoolchildren could still enjoy. I truly believe she wrote for a juvenile audience not because it was easier, as many people seem to think, but because it allowed her to freely exercise her complex, zany, and joyful yet melancholy writing style.

That being said, her novels do address serious matters—They Do Things Differently There is chock-full of loneliness, desperation, and the pain of being a social outcast. The stress of growing up, the terrifying powerlessness of childhood, the cruelty of adolescent alliances, and the dangers of depression come up in many of her stories.

Jan Mark was a prolific and well-respected British writer. When she passed away in 2006, she had published over fifty novels, plays, and short story anthologies, and had won the Carnegie medal twice, and yet the majority of her books are tragically difficult to come by.

When my family discovered They Do Things Differently There, it was out of print, as were Nothing to Be Afraid Of, a book of short stories we seemed to check out of the library several times a year, and Hairs in the Palm of the Hand, a book we finally procured a battered old copy of, which my sister still does dramatic readings of every Christmas. I have often wondered how a collection of books could be so principle in shaping my adolescence and my own writing aspirations, and yet so underappreciated, at least by a North American public.

For the longest time, I was under the impression we were the only Canadians who knew about these books. I was almost disappointed when They Do Things Differently There went back into print, assuming it meant Jan Mark was going to sweep North America and become a household name instead of a much-loved secret.

However, I still haven’t met any Mark fans who were not blood relations of mine; a quick visit to Amazon reveals not a single comment has been left on the They Do Things Differently There page, few ratings have been given, and while she does have a loyal fan base and blog articles devoted to singing the praises of her writing, her books are clearly still not being given the attention they so richly deserve.

Guest Writer Bio:
amy groeningAmy Groening is a publishing assistant at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture, and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cats committing random acts of feline crime.


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