Tag Archives: Guest Post

For Stage Or Page

A guest blog by Marie Bilodeau

Back in 2005, I wasn’t getting published. I had lots of stuff in the mail (SASEs, anyone?), but not many bites. I stumbled across storytelling, a performance art completely revolving around stories. I fell in love (with the idea of a captive audience, as most audiences are too polite to walk out). I took a class, started telling, and I’ve now had the chance to be a professional storyteller for 13 years, telling stories across Canada and the United Stated, in lovely settings like theatres, and shiny settings like under disco balls.

In my early days, I thought that stories I’d tell would be great to published, and vice versa. Except for a few exceptions, I have been utterly and completely wrong. But this is so that each story can shine in its own medium, much like books don’t always translate well to movies.

The “why” is still a question that haunts me (haunts may be the wrong word here), but I have unearthed a few reasons:

The Thread

Like most storytellers, I don’t memorize my stories. I get up there and let the words flow (I do practice them, however. Sometimes.)

To make a story memorable, I typically memorize (more or less) three things:

  • my first few sentences (so I can nicely set the stage)
  • my last few sentences (to nail it)
  • a few images / pieces of dialogue (to make it memorable / stand out)

Everything else has to flow for the audience to be able to follow (their brows furrowing is super distracting while you’re telling) and, to accomplish that, I also have to find the story thread. That’s the core of your story – the journey that everything hooks onto, from action to characters, so that it’s easy enough for the listener to sit back and enjoy the journey.

It doesn’t mean your stories are simple or that the thread is obvious! Think about some of the earliest oral storytelling examples: Epics, myths, legends, fairy tales… they all have similar beats. That’s the thread.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, if you know your story thread and you get lost while telling (a banging door, a screaming child, your feet hurt, you’re sweating under the spotlights), you can easily hop back in your story and improvise your way back because you know where to go. The teller must never break their own spell, after all.

The Audience

Your audience is there with you. You’re sharing a story, not just living it alone. You can throw in movement, song, a glance that highlights sarcasm. You’re living a story together, so you adapt as you go, to get your audience to feel or react in the best possible way. You can develop in-jokes, which you share only with your audience.

Because of the audience, the stories are never told the same. And because of you, the teller, they’re always a bit different.

You’re not just words. You’re a full package experience!

The Silences

These are similar to the breaks and white spaces in writing. But in telling, the hardest thing to get used to, and the most important, are the silences. It’s letting that empty space sit, so that your audience can digest something you’ve told them, make the connections and follow where you might be heading, sit with their emotions for a few moments. And you’re holding them by looking at your audience, sweeping over them and making eye contact, and they’re looking back, and every second feels like an eternity. You’re not there to hide, my friends. You’re there to deliver the story, silences and all.

Telling and writing may not be interchangeable (fully), but I know that they’ve helped each other get better. I’m better at story because of both of these art forms. Parsing a story differently is a great skill to develop, so even if the stage is not for you, definitely find a different medium to try out. Those skills will be handy in one way or another.

Check out some storytelling! 

About Marie Bilodeau: mariebilodeau
Marie Bilodeau is an award-winning science-fiction, fantasy and horror writer. Her latest book, Nigh, which she fondly describes as a “faerie-pocalypse,” is currently being serialized in bite-sized chunks, and is all about exploring tension through setting. Find out more about Marie at www.mariebilodeau.com.

Free Reign

A guest post by Tonya L. De Marco

Do I keep a depraved soul locked in my subconscious, caged unable to act on her desires? Is there a past-life sister sharing her memories with me, breathing life into my characters and infusing them with her ideals of right and wrong? Is it just good old-fashioned curiosity about what makes such characters tick? Do I admire their freedom, their lack of concern for the moral and ethical shackles that bind most of mankind?

I try not to delve too deeply within myself seeking the answers. It’s likely I have a sympathetic personality or a very open mind that allows these characters to speak to me. I give them free reign through my writing. My voice is their voice.

My stories are dark, often with twisted characters and an erotic flavor. No subject is taboo. Incest, rape, murder, cannibalism, mental illness, sacrilege, and acts against children can all be found in my published work or my work in progress. These atrocities occur in the world, I see no reason not to include them in fiction. These are the stories that need to be heard. They are the tales I’m meant to tell.

Traveling through Wyoming on a return trip home from a convention, I encountered a new character and found inspiration. Now known as the Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum, we stopped in Rawlings to take a tour of what served as the territorial prison from 1901-1981. The imposing stone facade and high wall surrounding the yard were daunting, but it’s what transpired inside the fortress that still haunts me.

Stepping into cell block A, the oldest part of the prison, was an immediate shock. A chill permeated my body seeping into the very core of my bones. I wanted to weep, cry out, and run all at the same time but something held me immobile. The silent screaming of the tortured souls of the past invaded my mind and my being. I was overwhelmed with emotion flooding in all at once; hopelessness, fear, anguish, depression. I felt smothered, suffocated, controlled. The feeling of oppression was a palpable weight on my shoulders. It was as if I was being buried alive.

Collecting myself enough to follow along with the tour, the sense of straddling a line between the different times hung with me. As the guide recounted stories of some of the prison’s infamous inmates, their images played out before me as if etched on a veil hanging over my eyes. The prisoners endured remarkably deplorable and harsh conditions – cramped quarters, no heat, constant threat of violence, a cement ledge as a bed, persons convicted of petty offenses in the same general population with the most depraved criminals. The lives and circumstances of the prisoners intrigued me. I have to admit, I felt a level of respect for anyone able to survive in the inhumane situation.

I was particularly drawn to the history of a young woman inmate convicted of killing her father and incarcerated in the prison in 1908. Annie was sentenced when she was only fourteen years of age. The museum had some of her letters on display enabling me to learn more about Annie. Her voice spoke to me across the lines of time.

After returning home, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feelings I’d experienced. The sadness and hopelessness clung to me like a shroud. Deciding to immerse myself in the darkness rather than try to avoid it, I did some more research on Annie.

Annie’s letters give no indication that she was remorseful. She writes, “….a feeling or a wish came over me to kill someone and this feeling, I could not resist.” She was housed in the facility approximately a year then transferred to Colorado where she finished out most of her four year sentence before receiving a pardon. Annie’s life before and after the murder and incarceration, by all accounts I’ve found, was unremarkable. She went on to marry and have children and live a normal, quiet life until her death in 1975.

The story I’m writing is fiction so it’s inspired by Annie rather than based on her. All manner of horrific events will happen to my character, Anna, before the murder, during her stay in the prison, and after her release. I have to let go of all the emotion that overwhelmed me that day at the prison. My way of accomplishing that is to write about it. Feel the feelings and move past them as I let the characters I write experience the emotion for me.

Unlock the locks, throw open the doors, uncage the dark demons of your mind. Give them a voice through your pen and let them tell their stories. Maybe they’ll connect with the darkness in the readers and you’ll have a best-seller!

 

To learn more about the museum and Annie, follow the links below:


tonyasquareimgTonya L. De Marco is a Costume Designer, Cosplayer, published Model, and published Author. She splits her time between the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

You can visit Tonya on her Amazon Author Page, her Instagram page, her Facebook page, or on her website, TonyaLDeMarco.com.

New Beginnings from Old Endings

Whenever I begin a new writing project, I know I’m building on what I’ve learned from previous projects. Having written non-fiction for over two decades, and fiction for a few years now, I’ve come to recognize certain patterns in my writing habits that have been formed—both consciously and unconsciously—by my previous efforts. All my new beginnings follow a long chain of old endings.

In simple terms, it’s the learning process. My articles and book chapters, my short stories and novellas, all contained both successes and failures: things that worked, things that didn’t. Yet each one taught me something that I could take into the next project. The failures, if I’m honest, are the better teachers. That’s where the real learning is done. And the failures don’t need to be epic. Simple mistakes, recognized for what they are, show me what to do differently next time.

For example, my first professional fiction sale (a short story to an anthology), contained a fairly subtle yet significant example of floating viewpoint: “head hopping,” as it’s better known (where the point of view suddenly switches from one character to another without any cue to the reader that it’s happening). In my case, I was too inexperienced at the time to recognize what I had done, and it was subtle enough that the editor himself didn’t notice it until his second or third pass. (It was a scene in a séance, wherein I jumped blithely between the main character, a man trying to contact the dead, to the old woman who was leading him though the ritual.)

When the editor caught it and pointed it out to me, I was sufficiently mortified (another classic newbie move—overreaction!). But I also learned why head hopping was a problem, how it can disrupt the flow and pull the reader out of the story. I have been careful not to make the same mistake again. (Don’t misunderstand: many very good authors head hop through their characters all the time, and do it well. But not me, not then.)

The point: it was a learning experience. One that I wouldn’t have made had I not given that project my very best efforts, and made a sale to a good editor who then helped me improve the story. Because even my best at any given time will have shortcomings. Only by pushing myself will I make mistakes I can really learn from them. These are the good mistakes. The “new mistakes,” I now call them, stealing a line from the Shakira Zootopia song “Try Everything.”

Speaking of stealing, the best illustration I know of the process of making these “new mistakes” comes from one of my favorite books, Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. I think it speaks for itself:

(Image source: tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/102479069106. Note that Kleon himself stole this from Maureen McHugh!)

It’s a great illustration from a great book. Notice, however, that implicit in the “life of a project” is that we must complete our projects. For fiction writers, this is the equivalent of Heinlein’s second rule of writing: finish what you start. That’s the best way to learn. Even the epic fails, the stillborn ones destined for the scrap heap, teach us something … even if it’s just the extent of our current shortcomings.

But finish. Learn what you can. Then start something new.

Starting a new year is a lot like starting a new story. We can look back on the successes and failures of the ones we’ve finished, figure out what we’ve learned, and then begin a new one with a little more confidence.

Here’s to 2017—may it be full of new beginnings built on old endings.

Steve Ruskin has been a university professor, a mountain bike guide, and a number of things in between. In addition to fiction (most recently the sci-fi novella A Deal with the Devil’s Brokerhe has written for academic and popular audiences in publications ranging from the American Journal of Physics to the Rocky Mountain NewsVisit steveruskin.com.

Nathan Dodge: Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Reflections of an “Old Newbie”

Nathan Dodge

I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer—mainly science fiction—since I was twelve years old. Problem is, life always seemed to intervene.

I grew up, well, not exactly poor, but certainly what would be called “lower middle class.” Often it certainly seemed that we neared the poverty line. I was an only child, certainly not coddled or spoiled, and my parents were loving, nurturing parents, but we didn’t exactly live in the lap of luxury. So, as I was good at math and science, I decided on a career in electrical engineering, for which I seemed to have an affinity—I wanted to have a career where money would not be a problem. Eventually I earned a Ph. D. Along the route to finishing my education, I got married, and children appeared on the scene. Suddenly (a couple of marriages later), children were out of school, I had retired from industry to a teaching position at the University of Texas at Dallas, and I was seventy years old. So far, no writing career.

In 2011, I took a one-day seminar at UTD by Tony Daniel and Bob Sawyer, two amazing authors and speakers, got a few compliments from Tony on a writing exercise, and decided, okay, it’s now or never. It’s not like you’ll be around another fifty years. I started writing and looking online for courses or studies about writing and saw an advertisement for SuperStars Writing Seminars sponsored by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. By golly, I had heard of them! Famous writers that were willing to share their secrets with amateurs like me!

So I signed up—and shortly, I’ll be attending my sixth SSWS. These last five-plus years have been amazing. Whereas a half-decade ago, I was a wet-behind-the-ears wannabe, with maybe a smidge of talent, I am now a somewhat experienced writer, with lots of wonderful friends and colleagues via SSWS. That talent, though still far from perfected, is at least refined a little. I have even published a bit, though my main accomplishment is writing two series of novels and discovering that I really like writing young adult science fiction. I have two novels submitted to a publisher and I continue to write, although at my age, I realize that I have a limited future in writing (as I am fond of saying, I have a fairly short timeframe in which to become an “overnight sensation”).

As the senior member of the SSWS tribe, (even older than Don Hodge, who was generally regarded as our “elder statesman”), I may be an old fogey to many of the younger members, but I sincerely love and appreciate all of them and treasure my opportunities to interact with them. I am fortunate enough to count Kevin, Rebecca, and Dave Farland among my friends, and David has even edited some of my work. His editings of several of my books have been highlights of my short “career” and major learning experiences in term of our craft. Another huge plus is that I have persuaded my youngest daughter (and superb author) Sharon to join the tribe, so that each February I not only get a chance to renew old friendships but also spend time with her.

The last twelve months have been a real breakthrough year, as I placed a story with Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, and saw my writing style hit a major maturation point. Do you believe in the “10,000 hour rule”? I do, and as my six-year experience in writing approaches that mark, I can see that my ability to coax emotions out of the written page has improved a good deal. I’m not a Kevin or Rebecca or Dave by any means, but maybe I’m not a million miles off anymore. Daughter Sharon and I are readying an anthology of stories on alien contact for publication and discussing with some other writers a second anthology on science fiction stories about religion.

Though semi-retired, I still teach an engineering course at UT Dallas, trying to stay active and on the go. I treasure my interactions with tribe members, and one of the highlights of the day is getting on Facebook to see what fellow writers are up to. I thank my lucky stars that I found the SSWS website and for the friendships and relationships that followed. How many men can say that they share a passion for something with a daughter who is nearly forty years younger, plus have an encouraging wife who says “go for it”? Pretty amazing, right?

So, only about sixty years late, I am “living the dream,” finally practicing the profession that I aspired to when I turned twelve years old and wrote long, involved, truly terrible 200-page novels that have long since turned to dust. I look forward to early February about as much as I do to Thanksgiving or Christmas because it gives me the chance to reunite with many friends and colleagues. I offer thanks to all of them—Monique, Vicki, John David, Jason, Phil, Lissa, and so many more—who have befriended and inspired me, and in doing so, made an old guy feel far younger than his years.

The saying goes, “Do what you love in life, and you’ll never have to go to work.” I’m lucky enough to be living that truism, and even if my time horizon is more limited than most, I plan on living what’s left with zest and joy. How lucky can one guy get?

Thanks, Kevin, and Rebecca, and Dave, and Eric, and James, and all the rest who make SSWS so inspiring and fulfilling. I’ll see you in February—and every February to come, so long as the future allows.

 

Bio

After receiving a BSEE from Southern Methodist University and MSEE and PHDEE degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, Nathan Dodge practiced engineering in industry for nearly 30 years, retiring from Texas Instruments in 1998. He also worked at General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Joining the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas, he taught full time for 16 years before retiring a second time in 2014, serving as a senior lecturer, teaching four courses per semester and working full-time through the summer season. For five years, he also served as manager of undergraduate electrical engineering laboratories. He still teaches half-time at UTD.

In addition to activities listed above, he also served as a member of the Executive Board of the SMU School of Engineering and Applied Science, a member of the USC School of Engineering Board of Councilors, and a member of the Advisory Board of The University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory.

He was for many years a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas. AT UTD, he was awarded the Electrical Engineering Department Faculty Outstanding Teacher Award in 2005 and 2011, and the UTD President’s Outstanding Teaching Award for Senior Lecturers in 2007.