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  • A Good Writing Group Is A Great Thing To Have

    As writers, we tend to be solitary creatures. It’s the nature of our work. Sitting in the dark pounding away at a keyboard for hours upon hours doesn’t really lend itself to rich and varied social life. Add the fact that most ‘normal’ people don’t want to hear how our characters hijacked our story yet again, and it looks like we’re doomed to be hermits, doesn’t it? So we can’t be allowed around the general public. But what about… other writers?

    Other writers? They get us. We can vent about our character troubles or share an exciting yet disturbing epiphany about our plot and rather than backing away slowly, a fellow writer will say, “I know, right?” Suddenly, we are not alone. Gather one or two more, and we become a writing group. And a writing group is something we want to be a part of for many reasons:

    A Writing Group Provides Support

    Having a writing group means having people we can go to when we’re stuck or frustrated or feel like giving up. These are the people who can offer workable suggestions for our stories, and even if we don’t use those suggestions, they get us thinking about why giving the MC a pet alligator isn’t going to work which can lead us to an idea that will. They remind us why we wanted to write in the first place even as they commiserate with us. They encourage us as we battle through word count and edits, and they celebrate with us when our hard work pays off. And we do the same thing for them.

    A Writing Group Pushes Us To Improve

    A good writing group is never satisfied with simply writing; a good writing group wants us to write better. This includes critiques and writing challenges, sharing resources we’ve found, and coming up with new ways to work on our craft together. A writing group gives us structure, which as much as we hate to admit it, is something we all need. One day we look up and realize that we’re sitting with a group of friends, analysing something we half-killed ourselves to write, and that we’re doing this voluntarily. That is when we know we’re in a good group.

    A Writing Group Forces Us To Finish What We Started

    In order to discuss each others work, we have to have something written to discuss. A good writing group won’t let us off the hook with a half-finished story; they will make us finish it even if it means shunning us over dinner while we pound out the penultimate battle and final confrontation. And when we finally submit our masterpiece, they will still give us brutally honest feedback, because that’s what friends are for.

    A Writing Group Is An Idea Factory

    Put writers in a room together, and we will feed off each other’s insanity. Our conversations are wild, and often wildly inappropriate (just ask any server who’s waited a table of writers.) The littlest thing will spark an idea. A joke becomes canon, a ‘what if’ becomes a story, a ‘we should’ becomes a reality. A critique group spawns short story challenges, and a short story spawns a forum where our multitudes of characters can interact, just to see how someone from one person’s universe interacts with someone from another’s.

    We make each other work hard, but we also play hard, having so much fun that it’s hard to tell where the ‘work’ left off and the ‘play’ began. We leave each other energized and ready to dive back into the editing we’ve been struggling with or start that story we’ve been meaning to get around to. A good writing group helps us do what we love, and helps us feel less alone while we do it.

    And now for an announcement!

    FELT TIPS – The World’s Greatest Charity Anthology of Office-Supply-Related Erotica is coming out December 12, 2012. It includes What Is It, Suzie? by yours truly, as well as many other exciting stories by authors I am proud to be featured along side of. Check out the ‘Coming Soon!‘ tab above for more information and updates.

  • It’s Not Bragging If It’s A Short Story

    I brought it on myself really. There’s no denying it. After all, I’m the one who chose the number for the latest writing challenge sent out by Danni… how was I to know that it would turn out to be so, well, challenging?

    Here’s what I apparently chose:

    “A Twist of Truth”

    Tell us a story from your past.


    1) It must be a true story, but it can be any story that you want to tell.
    2) It does not have to be completely accurate.  Think of this more as a dramatization rather than a biography.
    3) The story cannot be from your POV.  In other words, it’s your memory, and your story, but it should be from the POV of someone else who was there.  (This could even be the family pet, if you’d like)

    Ignoring–or perhaps allowing for–the fact that rule 2 offers some leniency, I’m faced with a dilemma. In any story of mine with actual conflict told from the other persons point of view I either a) come off as looking like a terrible person, b) look like I’m trying to be sensationalist, or c) both. A corollary to b is that I’m afraid that anything interesting about me will come off as trying to make a political point somehow.

    If I’m completely honest with myself, I’m a little afraid of the soul-bearing involved in this. That sounds weird coming from me, I know. After all, I tweet and blog pretty freely about my trans experience, my ADHD, and to some extent even my faith(though I still hold back there sometimes for fear of being too ‘evangelical’.) On top of that, my short story for the previous exercise was nothing if not a morality story that pretty much came down to ‘good Christians don’t throw their kids out of the house for being trans*’ and Fallen Things is nothing if not my soul refracted into a multitude of characters. I have no issues sharing these with the group, so why am I so hesitant now?

    Partly, revealing myself through my characters is safe because it’s not ‘really me’. I can hide myself in the bit that are pure invention. And on the other side, revealing myself through my own perspective is authentic. I know how I feel or think I feel about the things I’ve experienced and the things I’ve done, but I can’t be certain how others perceived me in the same event. I’m terrified enough of getting my sister ‘wrong’ that I won’t even give a character her name. Actually, most close friends and family are off limits for names, for just about the same reason. I don’t want to get into their minds and get it ‘wrong’.

    All of this of course just underlines why I have to write this. If it makes me uncomfortable, that’s just one more emotion to tap into for my writing. It’s one more thing I need to face so I can grow in my craft, and thus become a stronger writer. I may have to drag myself through this story kicking and screaming, but I will do it.

    Is this something you’d have trouble with too, or would you have no problem with it? What other sorts of topic or situations are challenging for you to write? Don’t be shy, tells us all about it in the comments.

  • The Long And Short Of It

    Some of you on Twitter may have noticed me blaming my friend Danni for the current predicament of some new characters of mine. I stand by the statement that it is all her fault, both their existence and the fact that I’ve thrown another character out of their home at a young age, and in the rain no less. You see, our critique group has sprouted a writing aspect, and last Monday she sent out the first short story assignment(s).

    Now I find myself bemoaning the fates of my characters, pulling my hair out over the most appropriate use of gendered pronouns in this context, and trying to find the right shape for the Morality Hammer I’m beating my readers over the head with. (It has been decided that Morena Baccarin would be the perfect shape for a Morality Hammer.) I also find myself contemplating the difference between the first draft of a novel and the first draft of a short story.

    I think–though I’ll let my group inform me whether I’m right about this or not–that I write a much cleaner first draft with a short story than I do with a novel. This is hardly surprising of course; after all, a thousand words into a short story puts me half or two thirds of the way through, while a thousand words into a novel is at best a chapter. I have a much shorter arc to deal with, and in the same amount of space I’ve had to establish and develop setting, character, and plot. I’ve gotten to know the players very quickly, and if I need to go back and change something I only have a few pages to tweak. It keeps things simple. With a novel, changing something can mean dismantling whole chapters in order to maintain structural integrity. (And it just occurred to me that if folks built houses the way I write novels, there would be no chance of structural integrity what with putting up drywall and painting before the framing is even half finished. Never mind that doorway I cut out, boarded up, and moved two feet to the left only to put up a beaded curtain and a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign.)

    Anyway. Let’s get back to the subject at hand, which if I remember correctly, is short stories. In some ways, it’s easier to produce a clean first draft since I’m working with a much shorter narrative, but in other ways it’s harder to produce a first draft at all. Like I said above, within a thousand words I’ve already had to have some major plot and character development. I have to find out where our story is going that much sooner. Each detail is that much more important, and must be orchestrated with that much more finesse. It’s enough to drive a writer mad.

    That said, I’m now just over twelve hundred words into this story, Morality Hammer and all. The end is written in my head; I just need to type it up. Now if only I could figure out what to do about these pronouns.

    How does writing short stories compare to writing novels for you? Do you have a preference? How about other forms of writing? Poetry, scripts… tell me your tales!

  • Surviving A Cold


    When To Give In And Stay Home

    So, this week I got hit with a cold. Still being hit with it actually, which is why I’m at home blogging and not wrapping up Youth Church right now. While I’m here, I thought I’d give you all a breakdown of the week that brought me here in the form of easy to follow, step-by-step instructions.

    Tuesday: You start feeling poorly, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Besides, it’s poker night! You can’t miss poker night! You’ve tried. They wouldn’t let you. And you can’t let anyone else miss it either, so you really really have to be there! So you hang out in a Tim Hortons for two hours after work (only noticing the ’20 minute time limit’ sign you’ve been sitting under as you get up to leave) and grab some cough syrup on the way to meet everyone so you don’t end up coughing on all your friends. Easy.

    Wednesday: Get up bright and early, get dressed and polished because you have a résumé to drop off and you want to make a good impression. Make sure everything’s sorted out with your worker, print off the best copy of your résumé, and head out. Pick up some mint flavoured cough drops on the way so you can speak and make a good impression at the mini-interview. Ace it.

    Realize that it’s Wednesday, another friends evening that you can’t miss. Find out that for some reason we’re making pancakes tonight rather than ordering pizza, so you have to go out and get some buttermilk and no sugar added jam. Pick up some honey for your tea while you’re at it. Have a good time with friends and a surprise visit from your sister, help out by proof-reading a letter, and collapse into bed far later than you intended to.

    Thursday: Drag yourself out of bed and go to work. Have absolutely no energy or voice for the interview workshop, but muscle through it anyway. You’re learning good things, and you have plenty of cough drops, right? At the end of the day, decide that maybe you shouldn’t go to that thing at the book store after all. Stay home watching My Little Pony, and collapse into bed at 8pm without writing a blog post like you meant to.

    Friday: Drag yourself out of bed and go to work again. Spend the morning drained. Have several people tell you that you don’t look so good. Take a look in the mirror and realize that they’re right. At lunch, decided that maybe you should go home after all.

    Go home, watch even more My Little Pony. Try to work on critiques and stay up for #FNTWP (Friday Night Twitter Writer Party) but collapse into bed at 7:30 instead. Turn off your alarm because clearly you’re going to sleep as long as you need to.

    Saturday: Wake up possibly twelve hours later, maybe more. Who knows. Decide that you need food, but don’t want anything in the house. You’re not feeling that bad now, so maybe going to Smitty’s would be a good idea. Three hours later, leave the house. Arrive at the restaurant half-dead, order and eat. Get an email asking if you can put together a lesson plan for Youth Church tomorrow. You’re really tempted to say, ‘Sure! No problem!’ but you remember that episode where Apple Jack tried to do everything herself and made a mess of things, so you reluctantly let them know you can’t. Grab a bag of oranges and some lemon and ginger tea on the way home.

    Sunday: Vow not to leave the house this time until you’re actually feeling better, and pray that this will happen before the official interview. Wish that you’d thought to pick up some cans of soup last time you were out of the house.

  • Let’s Talk About Food

    One way or another, food has been on my mind a lot this past month. The reality-hammer hit me in the face pretty early on when I came face-to-face with being broke, out of work, and having to wait until the 25th before getting any sort of income support.

    Strangely, coming down with a cold right around the New Year made the first week a lot easier in some ways. I didn’t have much of an appetite, so I could ignore the food question for a while. My aunt gave me some leftovers from New Year’s day dinner (which I froze to avoid spoilage while I worked on getting my appetite back,) so that fuelled the next week or so quite nicely, especially when the roast beef became soup. I had to scape the bottom of my spare change jar for the vegetables I needed, but I made it. All I can say is thank God for self-checkouts. It was bad enough feeling like I was feeding pennies into some mad vending machine; I would have been mortified having  to stand there counting them out for the cashier.

    After that, I had to start playing with whatever staples I had on hand. This meant finding out what I could do with pizza dough, because I couldn’t afford the milk for bread dough. And again, thank God my mom left me with a freezer full of ground beef. Having meat on hand has been an absolute life saver. Outside of some meals subsidized by friends, I’ve been subsisting on whatever I could throw together from the staples in my kitchen.

    Now, I’m in a work experience/employment program, which means I’m that much closer to being properly employed again. I also got my support check yesterday, and after taking care of some necessary bills, I splurged. I went to Smitty’s for dinner today and got myself properly gorged. It felt so good, and so indulgent, and it was such a relief to be able to treat myself like that.

    So it was with a full stomach that I read this post, shared via Twitter by Anarchist Reverend.

    Words cannot describe how grateful I am. Grateful for the ability to cook, grateful for the staples already in my kitchen, and grateful for the people in my life who have helped me out during this rough patch. But most of all I’m grateful that I’m coming into the up-swing. Not everyone is that lucky.

  • Critiques, Revision, and Editing

    There’s something amazing that happens when you join a good critique group. You begin to develop a keen sense of what is and what isn’t good writing. This can be a mixed blessing as it means never being able to read (or in some cases watch TV) for pleasure without critiquing ever again, but the impact on your writing is well worth it.

    It almost goes without saying that receiving proper critiques can greatly improve our writing. However much we study the craft of writing, and however many times we go over our own work with a fine-toothed comb, there will always be something we overlooked. Some big, glaring problem that we just can’t see because we are too close to the story. We need a fresh set of eyes to look at it over and point out the problem. With a good critique group, that’s multiple sets of eyes. And these eyes know what to look for.

    Sometimes it’s as simple as a really embarrassing typo. More often it’s a fundamental problem such as a complete and utter lack of description, or chapters with short scenes that switch POV four times in five pages. (Or was that five times in four pages?) In any case, it’s a good reminder that just because we know what we meant, doesn’t mean our readers will.

    Getting an outside perspective on our work is an obvious benefit of a critique group, but the side-effect is that we also learn how to critique.

    Suddenly, we see writing through a different lens. We notice things like sentence structure, or where the author struggled. This perception may get in the way of simply enjoying a book, but when applied to chapters from our group members, it becomes invaluable. What’s more, it spills over into our own writing. We become more aware of what we are doing. We begin to develop a little voice in the back of our head commenting on what our group will think of the scene we just wrote. This isn’t to say that our group will always be right, or that fear of critique should stand in the way of how we feel our story needs to be told, but being aware of what we’re doing helps us make better decisions about our writing.

    And because no story is ever complete on the first draft, this leads us to revision and editing.

    Personally, I don’t let my critique group see anything less than draft 2. I’ve even taken to revising my chapters before sending them in. I figure if there are issues I can see on my own, it’s in my best interests to fix them so I don’t get a critique coming back with problems I already knew about. So there’s always a little polish done before the critique.

    After? Well, that’s where the fun starts. We now know where others are seeing issues with our work and whether we agree with every point or not, we still have to deal with it. We have to make the hard decisions. Kill our darlings. We need to edit.

    It’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s worth it. Once cranked through the critique machine and edited, our stories will (hopefully) be ready to send out into the world, be that querying agents or publishing.

  • Where I’ve Been, and Where I’m Going

    I may be a little late to the New Year party, but I still think this is the ideal time for a look back at what’s happened in 2011–especially during those months of silence on this blog–and to look forward to what I have planned for 2012: The Year Where Things Happen.

    A lot happened for me last year. My career and employment prospects went up and down like a mad rollercoaser; my trans history began to be just that, a history, rather than a daily struggle; writing became central to my life, giving my a greater drive and purpose; I began to face and manage my ADHD which brought focus to my drive.

    I also found God, or maybe He found me. Either way, I’ve been delving into my theology like never before, finding that if I can ignore the vocal factions of fundamentalist bigots calling themselves Christians, there’s actually a solid and powerful message of acceptance in the faith itself. It’s made me question my beliefs about a lot of things, but rather than changing my values, it’s strengthened those I already held dear, principally: love each other.

    2011 was a year of discovery, a year of finding out who I am and what I want to do with my life. 2012 will be a year of action. It will be the year where I put myself out there and Make Things Happen.

    I’ve been working on my novel, Fallen Things, for over a year now. In the next few months I’ll be putting on a final push to polish it up and get it out the door. It’s being cranked through the Critique Machine with my group, A Bitch Of Writers. And if you’ll take a peek at my friend Danni’s blog, you’ll notice a little counter on the side bar. I’m participating in her Epic Year of Querying, and therefore have no choice but to get Fallen Things out to agents.

    I’m also putting together a portfolio on this site, showcasing my cartography and graphic design work. I’ll be adding to it over the next few weeks, but until then you can check out the land of Felsirq.

    Also in the next week or so, I’ll release the details of an experimental publishing project that’s just waiting to be funded and developed. If this goes well, and I have every intention that it will, I’ll be able to devote more time to my creative aspirations, and write a book in a way I’ve never written, or seen a book written, before.

    2012 is the year to take risks, make mistakes, and create something glorious along the way. I plan to do all of the above, and lucky you, you get a front row seat to it all.

    Any grand plans for 2012? Who else is jumping in feet first, and damn the torpedoes? The year is young; let us bask in the glow of optimism and Make Things Happen!

  • Work-Life Balance and the Holidays

    Wow, but it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, hasn’t it? Apparently I haven’t been doing so well on the work-life balance thing lately, but I’m back, and ready to rock this cyber party! And what better way to do this than to celebrate the various joys and challenges of family visits over the Christmas holidays.

    Since my parents split up and my Dad moved to Ottawa oh, twelve years ago, I’ve spent most Christmases with my Mom and her side of the family at my Grandma’s house in Edmonton. These were usually squeezed in around my school or retail schedule, with many a drive up from Calgary in the dark on Christmas Eve. This year however, I decided to do something different. I decided that it was high time I visit my Dad.

    Between a far more flexible work schedule in construction and a desire to make the most of my trip across the country, I figured two weeks would be ideal. Not only that, but I could keep working on my writing and graphics work at the same time, so there was no reason for that part of my life to slow down, right?

    Apparently visiting people actually takes time out of the day. If I actually want to talk to people, catch up on everything and enjoy each other’s company, I can’t go straight from my bed to my computer, work for a few hours and emerge some time in the early afternoon like I can at home. Who knew?

    On the other hand, it turns out there’s only so long I can ignore my work before going completely batty. As much as I want to visit and do and explore, two weeks solid would be too much. Even running at about half the pace my Step-Mom has tried to set in terms of hikes, ski-trips and museums, at a week and a half I’m ready to crawl into the computer and hide from direct human contact for a while. It’s been good, every minute has been a joy, but I’m exhausted. I need some work time so I can recover from my vacation.

    On the whole however, I think the balance has been pretty good. I had to shift some priorities, but I got my visiting in, my critiques done for my critique group and even managed to meet up with said group over Skype, I got some mock-ups sent to a graphic design client, and made some tourist-y excursions in the area to round it all out. When I fly back home, I expect it will be with a mix of relief at returning to a familiar setting and routine, and sadness at leaving loved ones behind once more.

    I’m excited to get the momentum going on my work again, to put plans and ideas that have been gestating these past few months into action. I’m ready to face the New Year with verve and vigour, to make 2012 The Year Where Things Happen. I’m ready to make my dreams a reality.

    I’m ready to go home, but I’m glad for the chance to visit and to reconnect with family.

    And now, because it wouldn’t be a proper holiday greeting without pictures no one else is interested in, here are some obligatory family photos:

    At the abandoned carbide factory in Gatineau Park.
    Dad and Step-Mom, Shawna, on Christmas Eve.
    Step-Sister, Collette, decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.
    Sasha, Collette's university room mate, putting the finishing touch on the tree.
    Collette, Shawna, and Sasha with Irish coffees on Christmas morning.
    Obligatory while-taking-a-photo photo.

  • The Close Relationship Between Foreshadow and Irony

    The other day I was working on some rewrites, and found myself giggling at the irony of a character dismissing as irrelevant a piece of information that would later become very important. Then it occurred to me: the only reason I find this ironic is because I know how important it will be. To a brand new reader, this is foreshadow.

    For a writer, or someone rereading a story, foreshadow takes on an incredible transformation. We are no longer following clues, we know where this is going. This is officially Dramatic Irony. The character says something, does something, thinks something, and we get this little voice in the backs of our heads singing, “I know something you don’t know!” and we squeal with delight/dread/titillation. At least, that’s what I do.

    It’s why we reread our favourite books, isn’t it? That extra pang of sadness when a beloved character we know won’t survive the book puts on a brave face. The feeling of complicity when someone’s true identity is hinted at but not yet revealed. The heart-sore sighs as you watch your favourites dance around their love interests, or else stand oblivious to their friend’s affection. It’s what brings us back time and again.

    This is why foreshadow is such an integral part of storytelling. Not only does it give a first time reader clues so they aren’t completely blind-sided by the plot twist, but it adds a layer of irony for those returning to the tale. It’s what brings a story to life.

    Have you ever noticed how foreshadow turns into irony? How do you use it in your own work?

  • Hello, Who The Hell Are You and What Have You Done To My Storyline?

    If you’re a writer, you know what I’m talking about here. We’ve all been there, merrily writing away, when along comes some new character we hadn’t planned on. Or maybe it’s a character we’re well acquainted with, but they decide to go in a completely different direction than we’d anticipated. Suddenly we’re left standing there going, “Wait, what just happened here?”

    I’ve seen it happen to planners, watching their meticulously choreographed plot get obscured by post-its when the random girl in the hall takes on a life of her own. Even pantsers, for whom the whole process revolves around following where the characters lead, find themselves somewhere entirely different than where they thought they were going.

    I’ve seen it happen to others, and I’ve had it happen to me. In fact, it’s happening to me right now. With my second book, I thought I’d be all organized, give myself a rough time line so I knew where I was going from the beginning, rather than build one half-way through when I started to get lost. Plenty of room for surprises of course, but I thought I’d given myself a solid enough structure to work with.

    Then one of my characters went for a walk. He met up with another character he hadn’t seen since the first part of book one. And that’s when it all went to hell.

    I hadn’t counted on their reactions being so intense, or their abilities so unevenly matched. By the time I realized that I had left my two most volatile characters alone in a room, unsupervised, it was too late. The damage was done. They’d ripped a great, big, gaping hole in my time line, leaving myself and a host of my more stable characters to clean up the mess. Seriously, things haven’t gone this far sideways since I realized in book one that my supposed villain was actually the main character, and kind of a nice guy besides.

    The damnedest thing about it though, is that when my characters take the story completely off the rails like that, they’re usually right. They take me some place I hadn’t expected, some place completely off my radar. I may never know how they managed to find the plot equivalent of a swamp in the middle of a desert, but watching them struggle their way out of it is always far more interesting than what I had planned in the first place.

    We’ll never fully be able to control what characters make it into out stories, or what they do to them once they’re in there. If we aren’t ranting about our characters turning left when we were certain they should be going right, we’re doing something wrong. Because the best way I’ve found to create full, dynamic characters, is to let them run rough-shod over everything. All we can do is make things difficult for them, take away the things they rely on and put obstacles in their path. Give them tough decisions to make, rules to follow and consequences for breaking them. The rest is up to the characters themselves.

    What about you? How have your characters surprised you, and how did you deal with it? Give us your best tales of the unexpected in the comments.