You’ve all heard this. IN A WORLD… the deep voice of the announcer fills the theatre or your living room, or your headphones. IN A WORLD WHERE… Where anything can happen but the writer has decided that this is the world that you, the audience, are going to inhabit for the next few minutes, hours or days. It could be anything from the world you live in to one on a distant planet or one from a past that may or may not have ever existed but for right now, it does. IN A WORLD WHERE such and such happens… this person… AND there have it. THE PERSON. That’s the most important element.
Because IN A WORLD is just the opener. They could just as easily say, once upon a time, or the famous in a galaxy far, far, away. The clincher is always going to be the person in that world trying their darnedest to get something or save something or win something. They are the person who we are going to follow in that world, into that dire situation. This is the person who we are going to root for.
Writers call these phrases, loglines. It can help a writer focus on the story, to keep one’s mind on what the story is really about, to ignore all the random distractions and stay on its throughline. A logline is that important phrase that captures attention, entices, teases. It gives just enough to make you wonder; who is this person? What do they want and why can’t they get it? And most importantly, are they going to succeed?
I’ve got a new short story out in the world. This one is with Pulp Literature.
A husband hungry for fame and with an appetite for hot peppers enters competitive eating contests, and though his wife worries for his safety, he’s willing to take extreme risks to be seen.
Is it enticing enough? Check out this link to where you can read the magazine’s enticement and a sample of my story. Hopefully it’s enough to make you want to read the whole thing, to eat it up, like hot peppers.
Sometimes when you put things together that seem like they shouldn’t go together, you can come up with something unexpectedly engaging.
That’s how things like New Wave, and Urban Fantasy, and Chicken and Waffles got invented; combing the aggression of punk with the style of disco, Fae magic woven through a modern city, and savory and sweet. A fusion of dichotomy. Then there’s my favorite science fiction western show Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Score. On all accounts.
I mean who would think that a western in space would work but it does, regardless of its shameful cancellation only two seasons in. Its brief resurrection in movie form was a balm that soothed the more wounded hearts and only proved that this unexpected science fiction story, with its wagon-ho attitude, black-hatted, brown-coated rebels and oriental flavouring proved once more to be oh so zesty.
And inspiration for these amalgams can happen anywhere and anytime. Quite a few years ago a billboard got a group of us talking about concepts of beauty. And so Ampu-Chic was conceived; a cyberpunk fantasy hybrid. Quite a few drafts later my story is finally out in the world and for the next few weeks you can read it for free.
Check it out at Hybrid Fiction – a magazine that is keen on mashups and genre blending.
In Michelle F. Goddard’s “Ampu-Chic” “Enhancements” are all the rage—if you can afford them. Nurses are automatically connected into the cloud—but you still have to wait for hours to be seen by a doctor.
So next time you hear an urban rap galloping through a country song, just lay back and indulge the hybrid.
Keep your mind open to the possibilities and enjoy!
When I originally wrote this post I was going through several upsets in my life – who would know that a year later, the world would join me in world-wide upheaval. Strange, how this post is even more apropos.
A Year Ago
I’ve had a change in my life. No need to go into details. We all experience this. We merrily, or not so merrily, but at least resolutely go about our daily lives. Blithely immersed in the mundane, or perhaps even one might say safe routine of our lives, when something suddenly changes. Now it is time to, in the immortal words of David Bowie, go and face the strange.
Change and Strange
And strange it is. What was once is no more. The world looks different. The future is an even darker shade of gray than it had been before. The past is Escher-ladders of should haves that plague you until you are twisted and upside down almost unable to move. Worse yet is that feeling of vertigo that makes every little bump that you come across feel as if you are standing at the edge of a very tall building. It’s disturbing to find yourself crying in the middle of your favorite coffee shop because your usual breakfast scone has been taken off the menu. That is one change too many for your poor bruised heart.
Now it sounds as if I am making light. Not really. That upsetting change does not have to be of a life or death nature to upset your delicate balance. Even the most physically survivable event can set your world to tumbling, let alone the earth-quaking affect that others can have. When that happens we need to make sense of it. Perhaps that is why we cling to story, why we binge watch and read to all hours of the night. Yes, we wish to be entertained, distracted, but there might be a deeper reason. The reason may have to do with how closely the hero’s journey relates to the seven stages of grief.
Stages and Plot
The hero’s journey is a quest story. And what is anyone’s life but a quest. We quest to find happiness, in whatever manner we define it. The seven stages of grief is a clinical examination of what we go through when confronted by a tragedy or a loss. In order to achieve the goal of our quest, we often have to deal with the obstacles that get in our way, obstacles such as change, or loss. One might say at its most basic level, a story is the passage through these stages.
The inciting incident of your plot is the shock to your world in act 1, the change which we then deny. After all, rarely does one enthusiastically embrace a change in our daily routine. It represents an obstacle to our perceived happiness so we refuse this call to action that all change demands of us. The result of that is pain and guilt. The only way out of that immobilising stage is to somehow take action. For that we need to get to the anger and bargaining stage. This galvanizes us into action. Only then do we enter act 2, where we attempt to solve the problem that has been thrust upon us in act 1.
These attempts however are often unsuccessful. The further thwarty-ness of our endeavours inevitably leads to depression, reflection and loneliness; rock bottom so to speak. And how many times have we heard the story that, only once someone has gotten that low, are they able to rise? That turnaround sends us into act 3.Our plucky hero begins to work through their problems, battle their foes, both physical and psychological. Not only do they accept their loss, but embrace the power to manifest their happy ending; a power they would never have realized without the change and obstacles thrust upon them.
Strange and Sane
I am not the first to make note of this comparison. I won’t be the last. On some level we appreciate this. We read a book or see a movie, watch the main character want and need, only to be thwarted. We know about being thwarted, don’t we. A story is about how a character tries to overcome their obstacles to achieve their goals. And whether the character is successful or not, we engage in this endeavour. We relate to it.
Perhaps story even helps us to be sane. We need to make sense of the chaos in our own lives, to give purpose to your loss, and reason for tragedy.
Story allows us to find a closure that in many cases is beyond our ability to grant. It is a way to not feel as alone as we struggle. It is a way for us to acknowledge that our particular case is not as bad as it could be. It can be the inspiration to rise above circumstances that seem insurmountable; even more important to us when the change is truly devastating.
Perhaps it is then, and only then, amongst the chaos of change, that we can embrace the concept that we are still the authors of our own story.
The world of publishing has exploded and authors so often now tagged authorpreneurs have been introduced to an ever changing landscape. What I say is not new. In fact I may be very late to the party, but I’ve arrived and one interesting benchmark is the interview.
I have the pleasure and honour of being a part of a new anthology hitting the bookshelves – The Wand That Rocks The Cradle. This fantasy anthology contains stories of family and magic and as usual with anthologies one of the fascinating aspects is the diversity of ideas even when given a narrow prompt or theme to spark the imagination. I’m always amazed that craft, with its tropes and forms, rules and schools of thought can produce such varied works of art. But of course that is because artists are unique; their experiences, influences and attitudes are theirs alone. How better to see that than in the interview. For some insight into me, here is the interview I did for the publication.
If you had to tell someone, “If you like this person’s stories, you would like mine too,” who would you pick?
This is a heck of an opening statement to make. I’ll preface it by saying that I love exploring the extraordinary in the ordinary, doorways that open between worlds and open us to the strange or let the strange come for a visit. Authors like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King accomplish this in spades and I’d include Joss Whedon and his many television shows as well. George RR Martin has managed to bring dragons and magic into a story that is fundamentally about people and their relationship with power. I greatly admire that skill to tap into real issues while dealing with the fantastic. I try my best to explore that as well.
What attracted you to writing?
I think most, if not all writers were and are avid readers. I was one of those read-at-the-dinner-table kids, eyes riveted to the page, blind to all else. Even my mom remembers my reaction when I first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, excitedly telling her all about the children and the magic wardrobe and how whenever I would find a wardrobe, I would check it thoroughly, not wanting to miss out on an opportunity for an adventure. So I suppose, as years went by I figured, if I wasn’t going to find Narnia, I’d create one myself. But truth be told, I still look at the back of wardrobes… just in case.
How did you get to this point in your writing? Did you take classes, or intensively study particular authors, or simply do a lot of writing and learn as you go? All of the above?
Certainly all of the above and then some. I’ve always made up stories. For the last few years it has been a serious focus. I’ve found wonderful guidance and inspiration online and among fellow authors. So to pass it forward, let me suggest two great sites: 1. Nanowrimo, an online community of writers with a unique approach to getting out that first draft, and 2. The Story Grid, a site that will help you get to a publishable story that works.
Are there particular themes that run through your writing?
I’ve discovered as I look back on them, that most of my stories illustrate the value of the individual to make positive change. It’s a common theme found in my writing. I believe that everyone has a purpose and value.
What was your most emotionally satisfying experience as an author?
I had the pleasure of my first reading last summer (2018) and it was a wonderful opportunity to, not only share my story, but to utilize my theatre and vocal training to bring the story to life.
How do you want your writing to make people think, or feel?
That there is magic in the world, hope for the future, and that we can persevere in the face of difficulties.
What project are you working on now that most excites you?
In 2013 I completed a Nanowrimo first draft of a YA science fiction story called Spry. I’ve had a few detours along the way, most notably my first short story publications, but I am keen to finish and start querying.
For a reader just discovering you in this anthology and wanting to see more, which of your published works is a good place to start?
I have two other short stories that are available right now – “The Floating City of Pengimbang,” found in the Water anthology and “Time Enough To Heal Old Wounds,” found in the Blood Is Thicker anthology. I have several short stories that will be forthcoming in the next year, so if you’re interested, you can check back with me.
It was interesting exercise to think about the answer to these questions. It made me examine the how and why of my writing in a way I had never done before. Some interviews can be fun and light-hearted allowing a playful insight into the author. But deep or shallow they offer a chance to wade into the artistic process. And isn’t everything process? Whether you listen to rock or classical, drink tea or coffee, prefer chocolate to potato chips while your work, it’s all how you get the words on the page.
Interviews can offer an inspiring insight into an author’s mind, but nothing more than the stories they create. Please check out this wonderful anthology The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family, and all the stories that share this engaging theme from authors with their own unique voices and stories to tell.
I’ve been away for a while – It’s been an interesting time,
with many changes.
Some challenging. Some inspiring.
One of the inspiring ones involves another short story publication,
my first reading at a public event and steps on a road I had not thought to
take, let alone enjoy so much. Who knew.
You want to make God laugh, tell him your plans
I have always thought of myself as a novelist. That was the plan: to get my novel published. But as I struggled to improve my writing, I realized the best way was to, one; get some perspective, and, two; create smaller projects on which to hone my skills. I must admit getting my first short story publication in the anthology Water (Optimistic Sci-Fi Series) (Volume 1) helped. It gave me strength to keep going, a sign that I was on the right track, and proof that there was a reason for my endeavors. I was inspired to continue perspiring and it paid off. I got my second publication. I am so pleased to be a part of Blood Is Thicker an anthology and joint effort from Iguana books and The Canadian Authors Association. These two successes were enough to send me into a head long dive into the world of short stories.
Of course this wasn’t my first foray. Many years ago I took
a turn at short story writing but after the inevitable rejections, turned away.
I had heard many published authors promote the benefits of short story writing
but I felt, honestly, a little bit of that
was then this is now. From my limited perspective, in decades past, the
path to publication seemed a bit more straightforward for science fiction and
fantasy writers. Feel free to disagree; I admit my opinion counts for very
little, especially now with my mouth full of crow.
Short Stories offer great opportunities
Learning to write must ultimately be done while writing. There are books to read of course, wonderful books out there, whole sections, rows even, on actual bookshelves. I might do a post just on books writers should read, but just reading them will not make you a writer. Writers write. The short story offers this opportunity in spades. And its forum on the internet, a world of kickstarters and small presses, anthologies and emagazines, can offer a salvation from the writer’s greatest nemesis: writer’s block.
From my experience, the writer’s problem may be not the blank
page, so much as the mind being overwhelmed by too many ideas. Which one do you
pick – which road do you follow – what story do you tell? There’s a new
discussion roaming the zeitgeist about how many effective choices anyone can really
make in a day. Think about how many choices you make while writing a story.
Limitations and creativity
Many of the calls for submission, especially anthologies, offer detailed guidelines, prompts, themes or genre preferences. The Blood is Thicker anthology’s only requirement was that all the stories start with the same first line. These limitations help to narrow your vision and focus your story on the parameters in front of you. Already many of your choices can be disregarded. I even tried to combine some themes so that I could submit to multiple anthologies. It was a wonderful exercise to see what I could come up with; a story that might satisfy both parameters, especially if they were seemingly contrary. Certainly got the imagination rolling, but not in that crazy speed wobble way that too many ideas can cause. There is also a deadline to these submissions, a limitation of time, that gives you a concrete goal that can galvanize you into action; something we all need.
So, after many rejections (room-plastering many – if I actually printed them off and stuck them onto the walls), it is wonderful to begin sharing the worlds and people that live in my mind. I’d like to share my latest with you now. Please check out my story Meet The Teacher Night – a lighthearted tale about the end of the school year, over at Polar Borealis. And if you’re a writer, why not check out their submission page while you’re there.
After the madness of the holidays, when the weather has gone from novelty to nuisance, when Christmas turns into crisis, curl up with something warm around you and something warm to drink and read these 15 great winter short stories.
I am pleased and proud to be a part of Blood Is Thicker, an anthology and joint effort from Iguana Books and The Canadian Authors Association.
The first line to every one of these 15 Great Short Stories is –
“It was February 29 again, and I was wondering which member
of my family would try to kill me this time.”
From this intriguing premise, authors have created glaringly different stories. They’ve explored subjects as diverse as vampire conversions and French-Canadian werewolves, to family dramas about humanoid robots and fairy-zombie hybrids. You’ll keep turning pages as you read unique short stories that differ in tone from humorous to moving, weird and twisted to down-right grisly.
My own story delves into a broken family relationship against the backdrop of a deadly competition on the aforementioned February 29. After the holidays, with family on your mind, it might be apropos to settle down with a chilly short story exploring family dysfunction. Might make one feel a bit more appreciative about the family you’ve got, and thankful it isn’t one of the ones in the anthology.
should hurry. It isn’t a leap year this year, but it would be wise to prepare
yourself for the next February 29th. You know… Just in case.
I have recently seen the economic effect of influencers in action first-hand. But I won’t be dropping any names. Well, maybe one.
Have you heard about Acrylic Pouring? Over the summer while I ruminated on my writing, I let my hands get a little dirty. I love to craft. It’s a great way to let my mind wander and acrylic pouring seemed the perfect medium. As I researched – on YouTube, of course – I found many examples of how to go about doing this abstract art. Essentially you take acrylic paint, mix it with various thinners, and apply it to different kinds of canvases. I tried all kinds of mixtures for my paint, experimented with a few of my own, given the resources at hand and sallied forth to get messy with my art with varying rates of success.
So here’s where the name dropping comes in. Home Hardware. Surprised? Me too.
One of the recipes called for a paint thinner that could only be found at Home Hardware. So I called. They were out. So I asked when they’d be getting in another shipment and resolved to call then. Not only did I have to inquire more than once, I had to hit up several stores. Finally, I was given confirmation that yes, they had it in stock and yes, they would put a bottle aside for me.
When I went to pick it up the manager shook his head and laughed as he rang it up. “Can’t keep this stuff in the store,” he said. Mine was the last bottle on the shelf and he’d only just that morning got in a new shipment.
“Really?” I said. I had thought it was one of those rarely stocked items and I had just been unlucky with my timing, but now I was seeing a different picture. “Have you heard of Acrylic Pouring?” I asked.
“I have, now,” he said. A woman the other day, with the same mission as mine had told him all about it.
“I guess that’s good for business,” I said (especially as the item in question was not cheap). He nodded and handed me my purchase. I left with a new and rather profound realization of the power of influencers.
This is not new. Not even new to me. But to actually experience it in such a direct and personal manner gave me a new appreciation for this much discussed concept. Here’s this guy, a hardware store manager/owner, going about his business, stocking his hammers and shovels, his manageable-sized bags of fertilizer, his doggy chew toys and baby monitors and out of the blue this bump in paint thinner. Did he expect it? No. Is he profiting? Yes. All from something happening in the electronic aether. That’s modernity, right there in action.
So here come the questions. Should those influencers doing their acrylic pours get a piece of the pie? After all, some (who shall remain nameless) do. Do we want to know if influencers are getting paid? Should that matter? Does it affect their legitimacy if they are? Does getting paid negate their effectiveness? But what if we learn they don’t actually use the item. Isn’t their testimonial that they have first-hand experience with the item what we are buying literally and figuratively into? But how can we know? Who do we trust? Can we trust anyone?
Here’s where I stand. Let’s go back to Acrylic Pouring. On YouTube you can watch artists create their art. They say they are using a product, you can actually see them using it. I am going to choose to believe that they are not doing a bait and switch with sly video editing – maybe I’m naïve – time will tell. But for my money, you see them prepare their paints– often sped up for pace sake – and then see them pouring them together and applying them to the canvas. You see them use heat or a spatula, or tilt the painting to spread the acrylics. Then you watch the result. If they say this so-and-so magic elixir was added to the paint to get this result, you probably saw them add that elixir and then you get to see the results and judge their success for yourself. There is a certain amount of truth in this advertising. But I don’t know if that is always the case.
I am not a socio-economics professor or media and marketing analyst. I don’t know the trends or all the inside scoops. I am not a conspiracy theorist, though I hope I have a healthy skepticism. At least I know enough to know I don’t know everything. But once upon a time we got information from people we trusted, whether that was your grandma’s best pancake recipe, or your teacher instructing you on the proper use of a comma, or your neighbour down the street passing you the name of the guy who took down his tree without destroying his house.
But now our world has gotten really big.
We might not know our neighbour. Who makes pancakes from scratch anymore? And spellcheck checks most of our grammar fumbles (not all). But does that mean we take the word of someone we don’t really know, about an item they may or may not actually use? Why is it we are living in a world where we distrust experts, people who have studied and explored a certain topic, yet we are so willing to believe the flash?
Now, more than ever, what we do, who we pay attention to, where we spend our money has far reaching consequences. We may not be omniscient, able to see all the ramifications of all the little decisions we make each and every day, but we are certainly not going to if we never question what it all means.
You vote with your dollars, you pay with your time and attention and you contribute to the general wellness of this world with what energies you disburse out into the cosmos. That includes the virtual aether. Spend wisely.
I have come out of the fog – not a fog in any kind of momentous navel-gazing brood spiral, mind you, but I have had the need to think, and in so doing, ventured into the foggy domains of my mind. At least that is what it felt like. I needed to figure stuff out, contemplate on options, chew on problems. And chew I did.
I can’t believe it’s been three months since my last post. I had big plans. My last post was about the pressure to be outside and as if the gods had wanted to make me a fool – not a hard job – I hardly did any of the usual outdoorsy things I do do. Yes, plans were made, but just as easily broken. Which, truth be told, are always my kind of plans – those that are flexible and have no problem fragmenting into other plans. So I and my significant other did not get out and about. Not physically.
Instead, I wandered in the wilderness of my thoughts. I rambled through my stories, trying to discover the best path. I took serpentine perambulations, and trekked on rocky trails, all in an effort to find my way. Frankly, I was feeling lost with my writing. And, sure, I could have stayed in one place, like they tell you to do in wilderness training, but as I have as of yet failed to adequately train my stories to rush St. Bernard-like into author-rescue-mode, I didn’t think that a wise choice. After all, I could have been waiting out there twiddling my thumbs for a long time. I had to get myself out.
When the student is ready, the teacher will present themselves. These words have echoed through many parts of my life as of late and heeding the call, I enrolled in a class, sought guidance and information online and advice from my friends. I think of myself as a lifelong student. But the thing about learning, being a student, accumulating information, is the need to digest it all. Thus, to ruminate. Amazing that the definition of this means all at once to chew repeatedly for an extended period, and to go over in the mind repeatedly and often causally or slowly.
You may know about Nanowrimo, that upcoming yearly online event where writers commit to a 50,000 word first draft. It is a great way to challenge yourself and an easy way to gauge your success. You write, you count, you keep track, you get to 50,000 and you win. But other parts of writing are not so straight ahead. How does one quantify or qualify rumination? When someone asks, what you are doing and you say thinking, it’s hard not to flinch at your answer. What does that even mean? Sometimes thinking can come off like you’re just wasting time.
Now to be fair, my thinking also entails making notes and reading and then striking things out and then re-reading and reading some more as I bounce all over my work [or works] in progress. It also means studying and researching and trying to find solutions or other ways of looking at a problem. It can mean jumping from one thing to another to give my mind a break, going from a big problem to a smaller one and then back again. But ultimately, it is thinking and it is hard to calibrate the value of that work. Not until the end. And sometimes all you’ve learned at the end is the way you were thinking about the problem was all wrong so now you’ve got to try another tack.
Word count is a palpable method to monitor your progress, and come November you bet I’ll be counting. But story generation, plotting and editing for me, at least at this stage in my writing, calls for a more contemplative approach and keeping track of word count feels like a pointless exercise. So I’m trying not to have guilt about what might be perceived as wasted time. From an outsider, sure, it doesn’t look like you’re doing much but ‘butt in chair’ is ever one of the golden rules of writing. As long as I’m in that chair, pouring concentrated (see how I did that?) energy into my art, that counts. In the words of Albert Einstein – creativity is the residue of time wasted.
Shall I explore rumination further? Give you something to bite into? Well, without chewing on, chewing through, chewing into that food for thought, you cannot get closer to solving the problem. Or perhaps I should say solving the problem in a manner that can be replicated, something you might be able to recreate the next time. So let the word rumination play on your tongue. It is so much more active a word than thinking.
Next time someone asks what you’re doing as you stare off into space, or at your screen or at the page, say you’re ruminating. Because sometimes you just have to bite into a problem.
I am not a particularly outdoorsy person. By this I mean, I do not ravenously partake in outdoor sports or have too much of a wandering spirit. I do not grow restless in one spot for too long, with a fierce need to be out and about. I leave most of my wandering to be done in my mind on distant planets or in the company of dragons. Or perhaps this is just wondering. Huh.
Still, I do not get myself all in a tizzy with gatherings, shindigs, bacchanalia, and the like. I do however enjoy long walks. No, this is not an ad for eHarmony. But, I do love nature and can easily spend hours walking among trees and shrubs and listening to the birds and looking at flowers or strange shaped mushrooms or rocks that I imagine to be toes of some sleeping giant hidden under the forest floor. There I go wondering again. Adversely, I love treks into the city, especially in the summer with all the festivals and streets shut down so that people can walk where cars had dominion, and food trucks lined up and bands on every corner. I love window-shopping and people watching, and being a tourist in my own town.
And being from where I am, when summer hits and it hits like a hammer – as my significant other said – summer is on a switch, not a fader – I am overcome with an almost guilty pang to get up out of my chair and get out. I feel it like an obligation. As if I owe the outside for all the times I have ignored it over the long… long… long winter. As if outside had waited patiently for me to remember it was there. Now I pay penance for all the times, past and future, when I have and will be happily choosing to stay cozy indoors instead of braving the wind, rain, and obscene temperatures of winter. But now, I can no longer cling to frigid excuses and seducing hot beverages. No. I must do my duty and venture forth.
So when the days lengthen and warm, and coats are suddenly no longer necessary, and legs must finally be shaved – seriously – for shorts and skirts and swingy dresses, and the summer crooks her finger, gently at first and then more forcibly with a hooked double nostril pull, I must bend to her will. Before I know it however, there is less need for those forceful yanks. I gather lists and create plans. I mark thick X’s as if the calendar is a treasure map and a day, a chest with a broken lock that spills doubloons. I check that sandals, sneakers and slippers are in suitable states for sortie. I dust off backpacks. I venture out, inspired by all outside has to offer.
All this to say, that I will be blogging a little less consistently over the summer months, as I follow this moral imperative to soak some vitamin D through my skin, breathe fresh air into my lungs and generally creep, arms raised, blinky-eyed and hunched, out of my hidey-hole toward the naked brazenness of outside. Of course with all this adventuring, I may very well have even more to say, but my time being finite and my sleep being necessary and my effulgence of energy being miserly, I am forced to prioritize my activities.
So here I go, into the welcoming warmer weather. Summer, she appears, festooned with fragment flowers and lit by promising dawn until waning dusk leaves like a reluctant lover. Watch me. Here I go. Kicking and screaming… Ah, poor me.