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When the Well Runs Dry

27 October 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A Guest Post by Marie Bilodeau

Marie_TurtleI’ve always seen my career as a long-term one. Whenever I envisioned my future self as a novelist, I pictured a steady growth in sales and popularity. I hardly ever dreamt of immediate bestseller success, since I’d seen so many fizzled careers based on that first, all too successful, difficult to follow up book. I wanted to make sure that I was steady, confident in my own voice and that I kept producing good stories while growing my fan base.

I sold my first book in 2008, followed mere days later by the sale of a second book. Both books were the first of a series. I was thrilled, to say the least. My publishers, both (then related) small presses, had great reputations, and I couldn’t wait to work with them.

One of those books was Princess of Light, first in my Heirs of a Broken Land trilogy. I sold it with the synopses for the next two books (which I kinda-not-really followed in the actual drafting). The agreement was that each book would come out within six months of each other, starting in March 2009. That basically meant that my next year was dedicated to these books. Drafting, rewriting, editing, reviewing final proofs from my publisher, all while maintaining a day job and paying my bills. I’ll admit – quite a few other things dropped from my plate then. Hobbies that weren’t writing related, friends (most of whom I rediscovered after the madness ended), TV shows, cooking… You know, life.

It was a mad rush and I loved it. I lost myself in the Heirs of a Broken Land for a whole year, getting the last two books drafted while bringing all three to print-ready volumes. I lived, breathed and dreamed those books, and because of that, they possess a raw energy that I would now find difficult to reproduce. They’re better for it.

After the last volume, Sorceress of Shadows, came out in March 2010, it was time for my other book, Destiny’s Blood, to release in October 2010 (thank goodness for differing production schedules!). Final edits were sent in (I’d done requested structural edits already, among all the insanity of the Heirs). Oh, did I mention all the media work, books launches, website work, etc. that goes with three released books in a year?

Destiny’s Blood wasn’t even out yet when my wonderfully story-driven and perceptive editor, Gabrielle Harbowy, asked for two more books in the Destiny series.

No problem, I thought. I’ve done this before. With much shorter timelines.

Except, when I came to write it, I blocked. I thought at first it was the story. I hadn’t anticipated returning to the world of Destiny, though I loved the ship and characters very much. But I couldn’t get it to gel. Getting my butt in chair was nearly impossible. Words came out like razor blades – painful, and they left me wounded and a bit on the bitchy side.

It took me a while to realize that I’d burnt out. That the mad dash of Heirhad left my words clunky and my mind tired. Both were now blunted.

I tried to work through it, I really did. I had to inform my editor that I wouldn’t make my deadline for Destiny’s Fall, the second book in the series. My pride has yet to recover.

I decided I‘d take a weekend away at a convent, in a quiet solitary retreat, to work on it. Get maybe another 10,000 words, which might bring me halfway. I wasn’t ready for the silence and being alone with my story. I wasn’t even willing. I was just desperate and tired. I enjoyed a (rare, thank you) meltdown that first night and went home.

Obviously, trying to force the story wasn’t working out.

I took some time to myself. I spoke with other writers. I read books on writing. I read good fiction and got excited about story again. I let myself become immersed in someone else’s world, with no expectations. I rediscovered what I loved about story. How it provides guidelines and inspiration for our own lives. Something to strive for.

After a summer of recharging, I went back to the convent, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle a new challenge. I thought I’d get 10,000 words down. But I’d refilled my story well so effectively that as soon as I opened the floodgates, I couldn’t stop writing. In three fantastic, crazy days, I wrote 45,000 words. I don’t think my fingers stopped. I don’t believe I slept. I just wrote. I let the story carry me.

I learned that refilling my story well regularly is necessary. See pretty things, do stuff I like, talk to friends and read good books. Whatever you need to keep the thoughts inside you fluid, and to keep the words flowing.

It’s worth it. The burn out and the dry well are like razor blades – it’s to all our advantages to avoid bleeding out.

Nigh_Cover

Guest Writer Bio:

Marie Bilodeau is an Ottawa-based storyteller and science-fiction/fantasy writer. Her writings have been nominated four times for Canada’s biggest SF award, the Aurora Awards. Her new dark fantasy series, Nigh, is slotted to be released this November. She’s told stories across Canada in theatre houses, tea shops, bars and under disco balls. Find out more about Marie, her writings and upcoming shows at www.mariebilodeau.com.

Texas Heart Shot

19 September 2014 | Comments Off | Quincy Allen

There’s a ton of preamble I could put here, but let me set this tale with three twenty-year-old college students living for two months in the deep backcountry of Alaska. Deep. I’m talking deeper than Deliverance deep, but without any amorous hillbillies. To get there, we drove seven hours over an undulating strip of ragged pavement stretching across tundra under stormy skies. We flew 120 miles in a single-engine crate to land at an airstrip cut out of thick forest. We rode ATVs another seven miles to an extinct mining camp built and abandoned in the 40s. We took up residence smack-dab in the middle of the Wrangell Mountains.

We laid modern sleeping bags over rusty cots and draped mosquito netting over our heads. We coated ourselves in mosquito dope (that’s repellent to normal people) and spent a good portion of our days digging into the side of a riverbank and panning for gold. I could relate how I almost drowned in the river. I could tell you of the rainy afternoon when one of my buddies fired his .44 magnum past my head while we were sitting at our rickety dinner table.

However, this story about is the still vivid memory of watching that same guy—the one with the .44—sprinting down one side of a mountain saddle and up the other in hot pursuit of a wounded mountain goat.

I’m literally laughing as I type this. Don’t worry, though, this story has a happy ending.

About three weeks into our trip, my buddy and I got it into our heads that we’d go hunt and subsequently eat a mountain goat. His uncle (a then-resident of Alaska and facilitator of this trip) had encouraged us to break federal law and go poaching.

Yes, it was a monumentally stupid idea.

What can I say? We were twenty-year-old big-dumb-males taking advice from a questionable source. The uncle in question had fled to Alaska in the 70s to escape the draft, squatted an entire mountain valley, married an eskimo, and then sold the squatted land back to the government for some millions of dollars.

But I digress.

One bright, sunny morning, my buddy and I set out on “The Hunting Trip”… me with my .357 and he with is open sight 30-6. We hiked all morning from our already elevated campsite, through mosquito-infested underbrush and the occasional sign of grizzly bear, in search of our prey.

We hiked over several peaks searching for any sign of mountain goats. After the third peak, we were starting to get a bit discouraged, and, frankly, I was running out of steam. The thought of butchering a goat on the side of a mountain and hauling it back to our camp was starting to feel like an even worse idea than when we started.

However, my buddy is one of those guys that simply doesn’t give up. Ever. He’s what I like to refer to as dogged and relentless. He was committed, therefore, I was too. At the crest of the fourth peak, he stopped dead in his tracks, held up his hand and went down into a crouch.

The game was afoot, as Sherlock would say. Of course, Sherlock Holmes would have been smart enough not to be in that situation to begin with. We crept over the lip of the peak, and a small group of lazily grazing mountain goats came into view high on the far side of a grassy, rock-strewn saddle. They were a few hundred yards away. My buddy whispered that we needed to move closer so he could take a shot. We went into crouches, inching our way down the hill. Obviously, crouching would ease the suspicious minds of the goats. I should add that they just kept grazing. We were probably the first humans they’d ever seen.

Eventually, about 150 yards away, my buddy slowly unslung his rifle and went down onto one knee. It was an up-angle shot, so he couldn’t lay prone. I paused about ten feet behind him, crouched low, and held my breath as he took aim.

Seconds ticked by. More seconds. I looked at him, wondering if he was having second thoughts.

BANG!!!

His first shot rang out, echoing across the mountains around us. Adrenaline pumped through my system. I looked up the hill and saw a small cloud of dust drifting away about thirty feet high and to the right of the nearest goat. To my surprise, the goats shuffled left a bit and went right back to grazing. My buddy quickly chambered another round and took aim.

BANG!!!

“High and to the right again,” I said over his shoulder. His shot was closer this time—about twenty feet—but the goats still seemed oblivious. They shuffled a little farther left again and went right back to grazing. My buddy darted forward thirty feet and took aim.

BANG!!!

Another miss, I thought. I was laughing inside. The shot hit about ten feet behind one of the goats, and this time it ran up the hill and curved back, finally settling down and looking around, roughly fifty feet from where it had started.

I just couldn’t believe it: three misses and the goats apparently unaware of what was going on. It was laughable, ridiculous, comical. I felt like I was in a sit-com episode. And we weren’t even finished.

My buddy quickly took aim again, clearly frustrated by the failures.

BANG!!!

He snapped a shot off, and this time the goat bolted.

“You hit it!” I shouted. However, the expectant “prey dropping to the ground” moment didn’t happen. We were shocked and appalled to see the whole heard tearing straight up the mountain.

All I could do was stare. The first thing I thought was that the goat was injured and would end up dying miles away. It would have been wasteful on our part, even shameful. It was about that time I realized what a bad idea the outing had been. I keep reminding myself that twenty-year-olds are not well known for comprehending consequences.

My buddy, however—the dogged and relentless one—did more than stare. He went streaking after them, losing his straw cowboy hat in the process. Did I mention he was on the track team? Javelin thrower. Weight lifter. Runner. He raced down what was left of our side of the saddle and started up the other just as the goats disappeared over the next ridgeline. My buddy didn’t even slow down. He tore up the far side of the saddle, rifle in hand, intent on finishing what he started. We were pretty much committed now, but I knew that there was no way I could keep up with him, let alone the goats.

As he was halfway up the other side, he shouted back, “Head back to camp!” I have to admit, I was torn. Part of me wanted to follow along and help. However, common sense got the best of me. I retrieved his hat and headed back where I waited with our other friend, the one smart enough not to go. Naturally, my buddy came back empty-handed, but we at least got the rest of the story, which was a relief to us all.

“Did you get it?” I asked with mixed feelings about the whole thing.

“No,” he replied.

“But what about the goat?” Our folly was really starting to hit home. “You hit it.” I was worried that it would die out there and we would be responsible for wasting that life.

“It was a Texas heart shot,” he replied, a great deal of embarrassment on his face.

“A what?”

“A Texas heart shot,” he repeated. “I grazed its ass. Barely nicked it. It’ll be fine.”

It was too much. I’d already told the friend who stayed behind what I could, and at that point the two of us just cracked up. We couldn’t stop laughing.

To this day, we still talk about “The Hunting Trip” in Alaska where there is at least one mountain goat who would rather not have met humans. It is our belief that he lived a long life with a wary understanding of how stupid twenty-year-old big-dumb-males can be.

Get out of the Way

21 August 2014 | Comments Off | 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.

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