Wow, It’s Been a Spell, Hasn’t It?

Hey there, fellow creatives! Did you forget I have a blog? I might have.

Honestly, amid everything going on in Canada and the rest of the world, this blog definitely fell into the category of “non-essential.” Part of that was my own bandwidth, and the fact that the past seventeen months or whatever (has that joke gotten tired yet?) stretched even my ability to remain upbeat and positive sometimes.

Part of the problem is:  what in the hells do I talk about here? Especially on topics that others are speaking about much more eloquently (like COVID-19), or topics where my role is to listen and signal boost (like Black Lives Matter) or topics that I have very little stake in personally as it hurts people I know (like recent news around folks like Myke Cole). Also this blog was never meant to contribute  to the ongoing doom-scrolling and commenting on said doom-scrolling that I totally never fall into (or the collective burnout we’re experiencing, according to this Medium article my friend Tracy Townsend shared).

The other problem is that I’ve been very lucky compared to other folks. I’m safe and healthy, my loved ones are safe and healthy, and I’m fortunate to live somewhere that right now has few COVID-19 cases due to lockdowns and social distancing. (That doesn’t mean I like seeing busy patio bars downtown, mind you.) My only major source of stress has been teaching, in the sense that the necessary Learn from Home here in Ontario wasn’t nearly as fun or useful or productive as teaching in a classroom. Admittedly that’s because I’m an energy vampire who needs to feed off a live audience, and staring at a Google Meet of faceless avatars doesn’t allow me to take full advantage of my Encyclopedia Britannica/David Copperfield/Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson model of teaching. But now the school year is done and hopefully a) things will be safe enough to do at least a hybrid teaching model in September and b) everyone’s realized that promoting more mandatory online courses is a terrible idea, which isn’t surprising since it comes from a Ministry run by someone who understands fuck-all about education, and passed the buck on coming up with that September plan mentioned a few lines above.

Oops, I got political there for a second.

Courtesy of circumstantial luck, I’ve managed to be pretty productive creatively, which I’ve also hesitated to talk about because I know a lot of people aren’t amid amid lockdowns and social upheaval. But it’s the truth, mostly because losing myself in a project is one of my best coping strategies. I managed to finish the draft of a novel, which has been sent out somewhere Very Important (sorry for the vaguebooking), and yesterday I dove back into Different Novel Rewrite, with the hope of getting that done by end of summer. I’ve had some releases and public appearances, too; for anyone who’s curious, there’s some links below, which is as much self-promotion as I feel is appropriate today.

The thing I’m trying to maintain the most between creating and teaching is signal boosting other amazing creatives whose work people should check out. That’s most of what I do on Twitter, besides madcap arguments with my Can*Con teammates and geeking out over stuff, to try to put some more positivity into the hellscape. If you want to see more regular updates from me, please follow me there, but I’ll try to post occasionally here for those of you who follow this blog. In the meantime, hope you’re keeping safe and well, and that we’ll one day meet again in something akin to Spaceballs II: The Search for More Money.

Links to What I’ve Been Up To!

  • Season 2 of Broadcasts from the Wasteland, my podcast with Evan May, just concluded! We had a blast chatting with a bunch of guests, including a Batman Duel with Erin Rockfort.
  • Broadcasts was also nominated for an Aurora Award – and voting is open now! Full details here, and any support/signal boosting would be appreciated! Voting closes July 25th.
  • My short story “Rainclouds” was reprinted in A Dying Planet Short Stories (Flame Tree Press). You can learn more about the anthology here. Plus Flame Tree is spotlighting the contributors on social media.
  • A couple other appearances that you can go watch on YouTube: the first ever online version of Lee Harris’s Ready, Steady, Flash game, feat. myself, Tina Connolly, Paul Cornell and Sienna Tristen. Flash fiction written on the spot via audience suggestions! In addition, we’ve posted two interviews from the Before Times, where I chatted with Charlie Jane Anders and Kameron Hurley.
  • I had the pleasure of taking part in Pulp Literature’s Friday reading series a couple weeks ago, reading from my story “Clearing Out Nests,” about the ghoulish side of gentrification.
  • And last but certainly not least, Adam Shaftoe-Durrant and I put together the No One’s Alone Reading Series, an audio production to fill the void left by various literary events that have been cancelled due to COVID-19. You can listen to the full production here, which includes readings by folks like Marie Bilodeau, Kelly Robson, ZZ Claybourne and Dan Stout.


So Trying to Write Non-Linear Was a Mistake

What’s funny about our writing process is that somehow it always changes. Even if you have a consistent, comfortable way of working, every project is different, which means sometimes you’ll tweak your process. I haven’t written every short story the same way. Sometimes I need to do a bunch of outlining before I start draft 1. Sometimes I write a bit then realize I have to go back and prep more. My flash fiction tends to come out in one go, whereas even a 2000-word story will sometimes take weeks to draft.

For longer fiction, though, I think I might have finally figured out one thing for sure: I have to write linear.

For this novella-to-novel project, I started off making a bunch of notes on what flashback scenes to add, where I can expand my “A” plot, some character sketch work on things I hadn’t considered, and then spent time trying to figure out where to start. Since I’m not entirely sure where each of my flashback scenes will fit, I figured I could write those first, then expand my “A” plot, and then I’d know the right places to add the flashbacks in. So I picked a flashback scene I thought I knew really well, which will end up becoming one of the emotional tent poles for the novel, and started drafting.

Those 7000 words are done now, but fuck me they were a slog to write. Which was weird, because I know my characters, I know how this moment in the past affected them, and I had an outline for what happened in that moment. But finding the heart of that scene in those 7000 words was really hard, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Naturally I spiraled a little bit afterward, with the usual thoughts like Was taking on this project a huge mistake? and Maybe I’m just a hack and I should stick to short fiction. I had no idea what scene to write next, since none of them were speaking to me. But I need to keep working on this thing, so I decided to go back to page one and start reading, to see if something jumped out at me. No joke, I get partway through my old Chapter 2 and realize exactly what scene needs to be added there (not a flashback). I write that scene, and I keep reading, and sure enough at the end of Chapter 3 my gut tells me exactly what flashback needs to go in there, which is what I started writing next.

There are a bunch of cliched metaphors to describe this process I’ve gone through, but the important thing is that I finally figured out how to write this gorram novel. I figure by the end of this new first draft I’ll have to go back and pad things – I don’t like overly long descriptions in fantasy, which is sometimes a problem when you’re trying to hit a certain word count – but for now, I’ve got a path and procedure to move forward.

No one ever let me try to write non-linear again.

What I did this week:

  • Finished a press release for True Balance (comic) and started sending out
  • Recorded two episodes for Broadcasts from the Wasteland Season 2, including the fabled #BatmanDuel
  • Edited and uploaded a previous Season 2 episode
  • About 2500 words on the novella-to-novel project, not including outline notes

Shout-Out of the Week

Guess who has a new book out? It’s Marie Bilodeau! Her second Guild of Shadows book, Hell Bent, dropped on Amazon and elsewhere as a fancy new eBook. The series centers on a devilish assassin named Tira as she navigates a world that’s largely out to kill her, and her own impulse to make poor life choices. (Wait, that might be Marie’s D&D character…) If this whole series is news to you, learn more about book one, Hell Born, in the link above.

Current Project: Novella to Novel

My big project for the now is to expand the novella I was working on through 2019 into a novel-length manuscript – for semi-secret reasons that a bunch of people in my immediate circle know about, but which I’m not making public yet. The cool thing about the meeting that led to this novella-to-novel plan is that when the suggestion was first made, I immediately thought, “Oh, yeah, I can totally see that. I can do that no problem.”

You can probably guess where this is going.

As you can see from my word count on the list below, I haven’t slouched on the novella expansion these last couple of weeks. (Sweet fuck, has it been two weeks since I posted last? How in the hells did that happen?) But getting back into writing new words for this story has been an adventure. Basically the existing novella focused on a bunch of characters with a long history together; they’d mention past events that caused them to drift apart, including specific things each of them said, but the focus was very much on the now. The decision we’ve come to for the novel is to actually show those events in detail, in what probably be periodic interludes since I don’t like a lot of heavy flashbacking. Not nearly as much bounce as The Witcher or Haunting of Hill House, or even Lost, but a similar idea.

The easy part comes from the fact that part of writing the original novella was making a bunch of notes about all of this backstory, so I have the bones of it all mostly figured out. What I don’t have is the heart: I know the emotional core of those scenes, and how each of them develops the relationships between my characters, but it’s figuring out how to properly convey that that’s the trick. Plus they’re different people in these new scenes I’m writing, which I have to keep in mind when I consider their dialogue and decisions, without overcomplicating to the point that I paralyze myself. And of course I started with the most difficult flashback scene, which maybe wasn’t the smartest idea, but I never claimed to be 100% smart all the time.

It means I’ll have to shrug off some other projects I want to write until I get this done, but that’s another story. In the meantime, wish me luck! I’m sure I’ll keep you posted here, especially when I feel like procrastinating.

What I did in the last week TWO WEEKS OH GODS

  • Talked contributor copies and publicity for upcoming anthology
  • Signal boost comic release of “True Balance”
  • 5300 words on the novella-to-novel
  • Coordinated author visits at work for I Read Canadian Day
  • Revised and submitted article on ELLs
  • Probably other little things I don’t remember

Shout-out of the Week!

I’ve had the good pleasure to hang out with Jason Sanford at pretty much every SFF con I make it to in the States (Jason gets around) and read some of his short fiction over the years, which is excellent. Recently, though, I’ve been impressed by his coverage of newsworthy stuff going on in our industry through his Genre Grapevine column on Patreon. It’s not easy taking a journalistic look at the industry you’re a part of, so I have mad respect that Jason’s willing to do it, and with care and professionalism. If you want a taste of that, check out his recently-published #SFF2020: The State of Genre Magazines, which examines the economics of the big SFF short fiction markets, including interviews with some of the top editors in the U.S. I’ve been at this a while now, and it enlightened me!