Friday Desk Report 2-17-2017

The return of the Friday Desk Report! And look at that fabulously almost-symmetrical date.

So, there hasn’t been a Friday Desk Report for a while, mainly because for the past couple of months they all would have read something like, “Tried to work on the novel edits this week in between bouts of feeling utterly depressed with the world. Drowned my sorrows in Guild Wars 2. Also, winter.” I mean, how many times would you want to read that?

But here’s the good news: there’s actually news. I turned in the novel manuscript! I turned in the short story! I edited and submitted another story! So things have really picked up again around the old desk. With luck, it will continue. I have a few new projects pestering me for some attention, and some older ones lined up in the “go back to” queue. Time to open up my year-out project planning spreadsheet and fill in some things for the next few months.

I’ve also been asked to give a WFNS workshop this spring, which is exciting. We’re calling it “Exploring Speculative Fiction,” and I’m looking forward to spending a day talking genre with folks writing and hoping to write specfic stories. So over the next few weeks some of my desk time will be spent putting the workshop together.

I’ve also been busy Saving The World Through Knitting. Well, okay, not *quite* saving the world. But making a small difference. So far I’ve knit ten hats from my yarn stash, which will be sent to an organization that distributes such items to refugees in need. I’m finding it a very useful strategy in coping with stress, distress, and the darkness demons of the winter months. (In the course of this project I’ve also become addicted attached to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I expect I’ll be writing some new mysteries this year…)

NaNoRetro: 2002

nano2002Yup, today we’re going all the way back to the beginning. This was my first year of NaNoWriMo! And yes, in this picture you can see what I expect is a pretty rare artifact–the 2002 t-shirt.

My first NaNo novel was The Y Plague, a story about a future Earth where the male population has been reduced by a very large percentage. No, I did not write this because I hate men. I wrote it because it was an idea that interested me and I wanted to explore it. Here’s the blurb (from before I really understood how to write a good blurb, but someday I’ll write a better one):

In a future where genetic degradation has reduced the male population to only five percent of the total, fertile males are prized as research subjects and breeding partners. There’s unrest, however, as men begin to resent the bonds of society and start to form their own Freemen colonies. The radical X/Alt group wants to see the end of all research aimed at restoring the male genome, and in Rome, the last male Pope uncovers a secret that will either drive him mad or rock the Catholic Church to its foundations.

I had a one-year-old and a six-year-old when I wrote this novel, so it required getting up early in the morning and staying up late at night. I remember pouring up a glass of juice every night so that in the morning, I just had to stumble out to the fridge and retrieve it, sipping as I made my way to my office. Then I pried open my eyelids and tried to get a few hundred words down before the day started. This strategy worked out very well for me, as I found that by the time I got to write again once the kids were in bed, my brain had been working on the next part all day. I wrote over 2k words nineteen days of the month that year, which I think was pretty consistent.

Looking at my spreadsheet from that year, I see that I passed 50k words on the 25th of November! Wow. I was on fire that year. I finished out the month with 58,337 words, and an outline for the final fourteen chapters of the novel. I kept writing until the 3rd of December and reached 59,029 words, but wrote the outline when I realized that although I hadn’t gotten to THE END, I had to turn my attention to the upcoming holidays. I didn’t want to forget where the novel was heading when I picked it up again in January.

I have never written those last chapters. *headdesk*

However, I pulled this novel out last year and began looking at it. I think it’s good. Better than I remember, actually, and perhaps even more relevant in many ways than it was when I started it. It’s very near the top of my list of things to finish. I think it probably needs a new title, since the “plague” is not really a plague and has happened long before the book begins, but I can deal with that.

One thing I’m doing during this retrospective is considering these unfinished novels, what state they are in, and what they need. From this I’m making a to-do list for 2017, so expect to see some of these titles (or replacement ones) popping up over the next while.

NaNoRetro: 2003

My NaNoWriMo Retrospective continues with a look back at 2003. I came, I wrote, I bought the t-shirt. And I wrote “THE END.”

nanoretro2003This was my second year of NaNoWriMo, and the year I wrote the first draft of One’s Aspect to the Sun. I learned a lot about novel-writing that year, including the fact that sometimes characters you intend to kill off in the second chapter just keep hanging around until you realize they’re not ready to die after all. I also found out how fulfilling it is to reach some semblance of an ending and type those two wonderful words.

I wasn’t certain if this was the year I became a Municipal Liaison, but I’ve just gone and checked my email (yes, I’m an email hoarder, I confess), and this was the year I started. So I’m glad to have that figured out, because I’m never sure when filling out the ML form each year. It didn’t occur to me before this to just go and check those old emails, for which I really have no excuse. As I recall, we were a pretty small group that year, and far-flung across the Island, as we still are, although there are definitely more of us participating now. I remember mailing out pins and possibly stickers to a few participants.

Anyway, this is a big year in the retrospective, because the draft I wrote this year became my first published novel (from Tyche Books) in…wait for it…2013. In November, even! Yes, ten whole years after I wrote that first draft. Now, I wasn’t working on it constantly during those ten years (I wrote a lot of other stuff in there, too), but I did write several drafts. I submitted it to the Atlantic Writing Competition (now Nova Writes) and took second place (which one of the organizers assured me meant that the novel was “publishable”), and rewrote it using the feedback I received from the judges. After a couple more rewrites and submissions, it found its home at Tyche. The beautiful cover art is by the talented Ashley Walters. The book was named “Speculative Fiction Book of the Year” by the Book Publishers of Alberta.

Here’s the blurb, which remained pretty much the same from the time I first wrote it in 2003 until the book came out:

When Luta Paixon, captain of the merchant trader Tane Ikai, looked in the mirror, she saw a woman in her thirties–even though she was actually eighty-two. Luta’s only explanation might lie with the mother who had disappeared over sixty years ago. But even if her mother were still alive, it would be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the farthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart.

Looking back at my spreadsheet from this year, I see that I finished November with a word count of 50,715. On the second day, my note says, “A little worried that I don’t know where I’m going,” but by the end of the first week I seem to have settled into a groove and flown straight on till morning. I actually finished on the 27th, averaging 1878 words per day.

Which year will we visit next? Stay tuned!

It’s My 15-Year NaNoVersary!

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_municipalliaison-2-250x250Yes, 2016 marks the 15th year I’m participating in the wonderful creative blast of National Novel Writing Month. I thought it would be fun, as the month progresses, to look back at the things I’ve written, the data I’ve kept, and, even more important, the t-shirts and other nano-merch I’ve acquired over the years. So sit back, pour up a celebratory glass of your favourite liquid for toasting, and enjoy this little trip through time and word counts.

I’m doing this in no particular order, so today I randomly picked 2008 (because that’s the t-shirt I’m wearing today).nanoretro2008This was the 10-year anniversary of NaNoWriMo itself, and the brown baseball-style tee boasts “NaNoWriMo” and a large number “10” on the back. This is one of my all-time fav NaNo t-shirts. That was the year I wrote At the Sign of the Starcase, and yes, that’s STAR CASE, not a typo. This was a middle-grade to young adult story, and I know I wrote it specifically trying to incorporate many of the elements my daughter enjoyed in the books she was reading at the time. Here’s the blurb:

In the five years since Maddie’s father disappeared, she and her family have struggled to go on with some semblance of a normal life. That life is shattered by the arrival of Neb, a vaguely rabbit-like creature who turns up in Maddie’s room one night, pleading for her help in finding a powerful book called the Cyclopedia and telling her that her father is still alive—but trapped in an alternate world. There’s no question that Maddie will try to help Neb and hope that by doing so she’ll be able to rescue her father. But keeping the rest of her family safe grows increasingly difficult once she finds out that there are others from that world who want the Cyclopedia too…and they don’t care what they have to do to get it.

Looking up my tracking spreadsheet from that year, I see that I finished up at 50,699 words. Some selected comments from the daily “notes” section of the spreadsheet: “Still no idea what I’m doing with this story, but at least it’s started,” “I hate that message that says, at this rate, you won’t finish on time,” “bleh,” and on a more positive note, “Woohoo, I’m getting so many great ideas in the last 24 hours!”

Unfortunately, all those great ideas did not lead to a finished first draft of Starcase, and I didn’t get to type “The End,” which is always my ultimate goal during NaNoWriMo. I always get the 50k, but that goal is more elusive. My daughter is no longer a middle grade reader, but I’m sure if I ever finish Starcase she will read it anyway just to be nice.

We launched our first Third Person Press title, Undercurrents, during that November, so I think that contributed to my struggle with this manuscript. However, I still like it and think it has potential, so it remains on my TBF (to-be-finished) list.

Friday Desk Report – October 21, 2016

barneysriverfall

I detest the end of summer, but we do have a beautiful autumn in Nova Scotia.

So far, October has been a super-busy month. Unfortunately, not a lot of that busy-ness has resulted in word metrics to report. In between home improvements, road trips, meetings, family events…sometimes writing does get sidelined.

Oh, I’ve been working, it just hasn’t been the sort of working that translates into a lot of new words. It’s been planning, reading, changing, re-evaluating. A few new words written on a couple of projects, but hardly enough to share the numbers.

However, that’s what the writing life is like, sometimes. It’s not always quantifiable. That hour I spent working out the story thread for a new short story–sure, it looked like I was only doing jigsaw puzzles on the iPad. But there was so much going on behind the scenes while part of my brain focused on looking for patterns in tiny digital pieces; another part focused on looking for different kinds of patterns in that short story project.

lapdeskRemember that “Shoe” cartoon from Jeff MacNelly? I won’t put it here since I don’t have permission, but Google will find it for you. The one about how typists pound keyboards, and writers stare out windows? Yes, that’s what it’s like a lot of the time. I also considered the trajectory for one of the characters in my current novel manuscript while I sewed a new pillow for my lap desk – it was spilling tiny styrofoam beads and also had lost some velcro. It now has a new life and I like it better than before! AND now I can use my laptop more comfortably again, which will help productivity. See how it’s all interconnected?

The continuing education course I’m teaching this month seems to be going swimmingly–I’m enjoying it very much and I think my students are, as well. We’ve covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and it’s hard to believe there’s only one class left. And that experience has been inspiring as well. Interacting with other writers and creative people is always rewarding.

And then it will be November. I’m considering being a bit of a NaNo Rebel for National Novel Writing Month this year. I’m thinking of a project I’m going to call “The Finisher.” This will entail finishing the first drafts of several–I have three in mind–NNWM manuscripts that still need final chapters. Still toying with the idea, and it will depend on the state of some deadline projects, but it’s appealing. I do, of course, have new ideas begging to be written this November, but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of finishing things, too. So I’m thinking about it. Stay tuned…

Interesting things from the Internets this week:

Art isn’t free–can we stop pretending it is?

7-Point Plot Structure Story Mapping Template

Creating Mood Worksheet

Friday Desk Report – October 7, 2016

img_6712

Lavender shop in Venice (I’d like to be back there breathing in its soothing scents right now!)

It’s been a purple week around here.

Purple, because that’s the color we’ve been painting my daughter’s room…rich, luxurious purple. The color of royalty, luxury, and the unity of mind, body, and soul.

Which is actually kind of ironic, because rarely do my mind, body, and soul feel so out of sync. Too many things on the to-do list, too many aches and pains (from moving furniture and painting and climbing up to stretch and reach), too much chaos in the house (always the fallout of painting jobs), too many deadlines zooming at me at once. I just made a loooong rapid-entry list in Nirvana, which is part of my current attempt at staying organized and getting everything done. That feels like a step in the right direction, and, whew, it’s Friday…

…and the beginning of a busy family weekend, since it’s Thanksgiving here in Canada. So I guess I’m not getting a whole lot done until Monday.

This week saw the start of a continuing education teaching gig for me, though, which runs throughout October. I have a small but enthusiastic class of students, and we’ll be discussing pathways to publication and all the attendant considerations, best practices, and pitfalls to avoid. Not that I consider myself the last word in any of these things, but I do enjoy sharing what experience and knowledge I’ve gleaned to this point. I think it will be a fun and enjoyable course.

I did finish editing that novella and sent it off to my beta readers. Huzzah! I also sent out my newsletter, but hmmmm, that could have been last week…

And I just looked at my year-out schedule spreadsheet (which plots what I should be working on and when, and which I adapted from Ron Collins), and I realize I’m not irrevocably behind. Not yet. So that’s a bit of a relief. But I need a lot of desk time this coming week, so we’ll see how it goes.

Fellow writers and procrastinators, I wonder if you see yourselves in this article? It goes a little off-track at the end, but it does make sense in a way. I think this might be a good time to re-install Cold Turkey on my computer…and it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving.

Friday Desk Report – May 6, 2016

school-05It’s been a busy few weeks, both at and away from the desk. This week I was out of town for a couple of days doing Writers in the Schools visits, and they were, as usual, wonderful experiences. I had great sessions with elementary, jr. high, and high school students, who were interested, engaged, and willing to participate in the writing exercises we did; they also asked great questions during our Q&A times. They came up with some wonderful story ideas and some even seemed interested in writing them later! I had a lovely lunchtime chat with two Grade 12 students who asked insightful and interesting questions about many aspects of the writing life and business (and I hope I gave them decent answers!). All in all, it was a rewarding (if tiring!) two days. Wow, I don’t know how teachers do it. Much respect.

Work continues apace on the novel draft, slower than I would like but more steadily than I feared at one point. I’m also writing a short story with hopes of meeting a looming deadline. Which looms, and LOOMS…Slowing both of these projects down just a little is an idea for reinvigorating a long-languishing manuscript. This idea insists on knocking on the door of my attention with relentless persistence. I just spent half an hour making notes on it in the hopes that it will be satisfied with that and sit quietly in a corner while I finish up these other things first. Then it can take up as much space in my brain as it wants. But for now I need it to just Wait.

Ideas are seldom so conciliatory, but it’s worth a try.

In the midst of all this I watch in horror as wildfires destroy parts of our country. I might write apocalyptic scenes sometimes, but watching some of the videos of this fire and the wild escapes people have been forced to make from it, my brain is overwhelmed. If you are interested in helping, the Canadian government is currently matching any donations made to the Canadian Red Cross for Fort McMurray relief; the website is here. This is a wonderful first step in the government’s efforts as your donation is immediately doubled. I’ve been so heartened by the endless stream of offers of help and support pouring in from all over the country to help those displaced and devastated. If only the rain would pour with such vigour, the fire would already be out.

Things I researched this week:

  • underwater habitats
  • pressure suits
  • sea monkeys
  • ocean trenches
  • King John’s lost crown jewels

Yes, it’s like a game of “one of these things is not like the others…” ;)

 

Friday Desk Report ~ April 8, 2016

oldcashregister

Marketing is not my strong suit. I find it difficult to push my self or my work too hard, I don’t like repetitive blast marketing, and I never seem to be able to come up with creative and interesting ways to work in a plug for something while not really making it seem like marketing. However, it seems I’ve been doing a lot of marketing and promotional stuff lately. This week was no different. I spent a fair portion of my desk time working on social media and promotional things. Which is, of course, a good thing. It means I have stuff happening, I’m involved in things–some really cool things, actually, and I’m excited about them. But it’s also not my favorite thing about the writing business.

In between all of that, I did manage to get some writing in–in fact, I had one glorious day on the novel draft where I really made some good progress. It’s still a slow climb, though, and I wish I could recapture some of the momentum that took me through November. At least now I’m writing every day, so the end of the draft draws ever closer. I also finished a draft of one new story and am getting close with another one. Too many projects at once? I don’t think so. Any more would probably be non-productive, but juggling a few is often a good thing for me.

I had a wonderful school visit and met some lovely kids. We had fun coming up with characters and story ideas, and they asked some really great questions. A good day all around.

Oh my, I listened to an audiobook* this week and, although I listened all the way through, the characters really started to annoy me as the book progressed. They were all so perfectly perfect! Everyone good-looking, with fascinating jobs, wonderful relationships, and personalities all sweetness and light. The only cranky person in the story–got murdered. It was fun and light at first, but after a while it was just too much to swallow. I hope my characters are never this perfect. I do tend to write nice people–because that’s who I’d rather spend time with, when all is said and done–but I try not to make them candidates for sainthood.

A habiticalevel33while back, I began using Habitica to try and stay organized and on track. It’s basically a gamification of your to-do list and habits, and I have to say it’s working pretty well for me. Yes, that’s my avatar, now level 33 and riding a freaking red dragon mount!  Apparently I can be organized, I just have to have the right motivation.

If you’re following this blog, you know the things I’ve been promoting of late: the Rogues bundle from Tyche Books, the Middlings bundle from BundleRabbit, and now an upcoming Facebook chat next week with a couple of other Dreaming Robot authors. One good thing about all of these is that they’ve given me more opportunities to experiment with SocialResponseApp, which I’ve been beta-testing. Developed right here in Cape Breton, it’s a very useful and intuitive app for helping schedule your Twitter promos. I like real-time and real interactions on Twitter, but there are some things that I also like to set once and let run for a little while. I find this app perfect for that. If you think this sounds like something you could use, you can sign up for early access here.

In between other things I seem to have a lot of sewing projects in the queue right now. Over the next few weeks I’ll try to share some pics of the finished projects. At least, I hope they’ll be finished. Because right now they’re taking over my sewing room.

*No, I’m not going to tell you what it was.

Photo credit: RebeccaMatthews at morguefile.com

Friday Desk Report – April 1, 2016

Would I write more, or sleep more, if this were my desk?

Would I write more, or sleep more, if this were my desk?

It was a busy week at the desk, although not all of it translated to actual word count. I did, however, finish out the month with my monthly word count goal for this year (15.5k) attained, which is a first for 2016. January was abysmal, February marginally better, but March gets full marks. And about time, too. I dislike being so unproductive and am very glad to have turned things around.

I also wrote journal pages at 750words.com every day of March, for a total of over 25k words. There’s a little bit of overlap between these words and my fiction word count, as sometimes I’ll write fiction there instead of the usual “morning pages,” but not much. Also, they’re not always in the morning, but they serve the same purpose–musing, parsing, reporting, and general brain-cleansing.

This past week I finally, finally sorted out the last of the novel draft fixes necessary to be able to start writing new scenes again. I’m not generally an advocate of stopping in the middle and going back to rewrite, but in this case, it was necessary for two reasons. I’d decided on such extensive changes that I needed to make them in order to see my way clear again, and I also needed to make them to get my head immersed back into the story so I could pick up all the threads and carry on. I’m still not expecting it to be a cake walk to get to “The End,” but I can see as far as my headlights again.

I did a school visit this week and had a lovely time–a presentation about storytellers in the gym for all the grade P-3 students (who were great participants and asked surprisingly astute questions), and then classroom sessions with grades 4 & 5. We all had a good time, I think, which is the very best outcome for school visits. I was struck by the instant hush that descended over the gym when I began to read aloud to the students. It really says something about the power of reading to kids when that many of them just go quiet and listen.

Apart from writing, I sewed a giant fabric d20 this week. It’s not stuffed yet, but I promise to post a picture when it is! I used these patterns and instructions, which were fabulous. You know, in case you find yourself needing to make giant stuffed polyhedral dice. As one sometimes does.

Friday Desk Report ~ March 4, 2016

Rumsey-nova scotiaWhew! That week went fast, and it was a busy one.

Yes, that’s a map of Nova Scotia on the side, including Cape Breton. We’re in the news so much lately, of course I have to try and capitalize on that. After all, my desk IS in Cape Breton, right? And this report is coming from my desk. So it’s not such a stretch. ;) #capebreton

Most notably this week, I wrote a new short story–in a day. That never happens! My short stories are rarely all that short, and they normally take weeks or more to come into being. But this one just popped into my head and I wrote it. Boom. It also sparked the idea for several more, which are currently rattling around in my brain. Possibly a whole project’s worth. But we’ll have to wait and see what comes of it all. I was also moved to pick up an old, abandoned story and work on it some more. I think I still haven’t solved the main problem that stalled me on that one before, but I’m a lot closer to having it figured out.

I also made some inroads in the novel draft. Finally! It has been a dark two months on that front, and it’s only now that I’m coming out of it that I realize I really was stuck in a bout of the winter blues. Well, let’s call it what it is: seasonal affective disorder. I’m fortunate to get reasonably mild symptoms and to have discovered over the years that I can take steps to alleviate it–most notably, keeping active and spending daily time with a full-spectrum light. However, sometimes it takes me a little while (read, weeks) to clue in to what’s actually going on. Duh. I should set a reminder for myself now, scheduled to pop up next January, that says, “start walking and get out your Ott light!” Anyway, I figured it out eventually and am no longer spending long hours playing Animal Crossing and subsisting on chocolate chips.

Here’s something new happening: this excitement will be dropping around the middle of the month, and I’ve just seen the cover art:Rogues 3D_01Awesome! This looks like a great bundle (put together by Tyche Books) and a smart way to start on some really cool series. I’ll be sharing links and more when it goes live, so stay tuned!

I had a Writers In The Schools visit this week at the local high school and as usual, the kids and teachers were great to work with. Two more scheduled before the school year is up!

Things I researched this week:

  • names for parts of bagpipes
  • Cape Breton fiddle music
  • 19th c. highland dress
  • the birds of Rhiannon
  • Celtic deities

…a definite theme happening there. More on that later…

*Map: Mackinlay’s map of the Province of Nova Scotia, including the island of Cape Breton. – David Rumsey Historical Map Collection