That’s right folks, the Felt Tips Office-Supply Erotica anthology, featuring my short story What Is It, Suzie? along with stories by over 40 other amazing authors, is now available in print!
Edited by the inimitable Tiffany Reisz, other of the Original Sinners novels, all proceeds from the sale of Felt Tips goes to charity, providing kids with much needed school supplies. So go ahead, let this unique and exciting volume grace your shelves (or nightstands) and remember: it’s for the children.
I am still–and continually–reading Page Fright, which means I have become more obsessed with the process of writing than usual. It also makes me think of how both writers and non-writers fetishize the process, giving birth to the idea that ‘real writers’ write longhand, or only use typewriters; that ‘real writers’ must have certain conditions met–perfect silence, a particular type of paper, a certain brand of pen or colour of ink. It can lead many budding or potential writers to believe that unless they also adhere to these ideas, they cannot possibly write and will never be ‘real’ writers.
Yet this fetishizing of the process comes with a grain of truth.
I’m leery of the idea that a ‘real’ writer must do anything but write, but I also recognize that I have my own process that I find difficult to deviate from. When I write by hand, I could use a ballpoint pen if that’s all that’s available, but I vastly prefer my Sharpie pens because I like felt tip pens and Sharpie has everything I want in a felt tip. I can write in a typical word processor–OpenOffice, say–but I’m only truly comfortable with a Scrivener project where everything is set just so.
I have my preferred formatting (Times New Roman, 12pt, 1.5x line spacing when drafting; Andalus, 12pt, 1.5x line spacing, printed with a 2″ right margin for editing and rewriting) and my preferred setting (on the bus or train; in a coffee or tea shop, or in a diner; at the front desk at the motel where I work; and always within speaking, texting, or tweeting distance of fellow writers). My Moleskine notebook–where all manner of notes both writerly and practical are written–must be black, and so must the Sharpie pen I write in it with. I edit in green Sharpie pen, and my critique partners get their critiques written in purple and orange Sharpie pen, respectively.
I have these rituals which surround my writing, but they have all developed as the result of squeezing the most writing time possible out of a very busy schedule. I write longhand at work because it is more practical and edit longhand because it gives me a fresh look at my work; I write and rewrite in Scrivener because the labels and folders help me keep track of where I am in my writing or revisions. I save and compile redundant copies all over the place because I don’t ever want to lose the work I’ve done. Everything I’ve incorporated into my writing process is there for a purpose.
And that is the most important consideration for any part of the writing process. Writers write; how we accomplish that must be there to help us continue writing, not tie us to conditions we won’t always have the luxury of meeting. So whether you write longhand or exclusively with a computer, and whether you use fountain, felt tip, or ballpoint pens, find a process that works for you and keep on writing.
Why Am I Wrestling An Octopus Into A Mayonnaise Jar Again?
“Writing a novel… is like wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar.” –Attributed to Patti Hill.
I think this quote describes the writing process perfectly (thank you @BA_Matthews for bringing it to my attention). It’s not impossible to wrestle an octopus into a mayonnaise jar. They’re squishy and can squeeze into small places easily. But they’re also slippery and will wriggle out of your grasp, especially if they’ve decided they don’t want to be in mayonnaise jars, thank you very much. And we invariably come to a point where we wonder why we decided to try wrestling octopuses into mayonnaise jars in the first place (but are too stubborn to give up because now that we’ve started we’re going to damn well finish the job).
I’m not sure what possesses us to write. I can’t quite say why, after two years, I’m still beating my manuscript into submission, but I am. What I do know is that I couldn’t stop if I tried. I can’t imagine not having half-edited chapters strewn across the house, not tapping furiously away on my computer, and not yelling at my characters for refusing to reveal some all-important element until part way through the third draft. I can’t imagine not living in this constant state of joyful exasperation.
And perhaps that’s the point. The joyful exasperation. All the frustrations, hair-pulling, and setbacks come with visible progress, excitement, and growth as we learn our craft and our art. For us, the process of writing is at least as important as the finished product. We complain, we moan, we gnash our teeth… and we love every minute of it. In the end, when our octopus is firmly in its jar and sitting on the shelf, we’ll look at it and remember what an insane, wonderful time we had putting it there.
Walking into this bookstore is a different experience than walking into pretty much any other bookstore for one very good reason: it isn’t any other bookstore. It isn’t just another of a large chain of stores striving to make every shopping experience absolutely identical. This bookstore has an identity.
I’m talking specifically about Shelf Life Books in Calgary, but I’m sure a lot of this applies to whatever independent bookstores exist in your community.
To understand what Shelf Life Books is, let’s first see what it’s not. When I walk into a big chain bookstore like, oh say, Chapters, I usually need to know what I’m looking for specifically. It’s not really set up for browsing, confronting me instead with shelves packed with dozens of copies of the current best sellers. It feels more like going to a grocery store than a bookstore, and I tend to treat it the same way. I go to a specific aisle for a specific item. I can be assured to find the latest from any of the major publishers, but the chances of discovering something new and relatively unheard of is unlikely.
Here, I have to browse. Even if the store is laid out into genres—I can’t imagine a book store that isn’t—the displays and the books themselves compel me to slow down, walk around, and really look at what’s there. For the first time in my life I’m deliberately looking beyond the fantasy section for something different. I’m looking—shock and horror—at non-fiction, finding books about things that interest me and things I didn’t even know interested me. Picking up The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Bable by Nicholas Ostler was hardly a surprise seeing as how I love language, but Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber was something I never expected to get into but did. Today it was the ninetieth issue of The Believer and Light Em Up, a book of microfictions that fits in a matchbook. Some of these things I wouldn’t be able to find at a Chapters, and the rest I wouldn’t even think to look for.
Shelf Life Books encourages me to linger a while. I can sit at a table and write, just as I am now, which is something I haven’t been able to do easily at a Chapters (I’ve tried. The tables at the mandatory Starbucks are tiny and noisy.) The atmosphere here is an escape and not just another mad-dash stop at the mall on the way to the movie theatre.
Another thing that bears mentioning is that a local, independent bookstore is, well, local. There’s a section for local authors—fiction, non-fiction, and poetry—and works from local artists on display. The red chair on the wall behind me is by a local painter by the name of Veronica Funk, who also has paintings on display at Café Koi on 1st Street.
I never know exactly what I’m going to get when I walk into Shelf Life Books, and that’s the beauty of it. What I do know is that I’ll find something new and interesting to discover, and is there any better reason to love a bookstore than that?
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.
In a bit of a continuation of my previous post on planning after the fact, I thought I’d share with you one of the things I’m doing to help myself figure out what I’m doing with Fallen Things.
It started as a spur-of-the-moment suggestion from my critique group to help me with identifying and writing description: going through a favourite book and highlighting instances of description. I’ve decided to take it a bit further by also marking whose POV a scene is from so I can identify POV balance, another place I’ve had a few… issues. In that spirit, I bought a fresh copy of Lynn Flewelling’s Stalking Darkness. I chose this book for three reasons: 1) There’s description. There must be, because I can picture characters and settings clearly and consistently whenever I think of them. 2) The story is told through multiple POV, and yet it’s clear who the main characters are. 3) Even if it is the second book in the series, I’ve read them all so many times that I nearly have them memorized, and can therefore focus on the mechanics of the writing.
Now before you worry too much, this is not an exercise in plagiarism. Fallen Things is its own world, full and complex, and I certainly don’t need to steal someone else’s. This is me brushing up on my technique. Are there inherent similarities? Of course. Whether we admit it or not, there are no new ideas, we are all influenced by what we’ve read before, and the only thing that makes our work different from the rest is how we put it all together.
Anyway, back to the lesson. What I’m doing right now is going through the book highlighting every instance of description and marking the POV of each scene. What I plan to do with this is to look at all the description to see what she did and why it works. I’ve already come to the realization that, sometimes, description occurs in dialogue. I’ve also noticed that this makes what could otherwise be a fairly dry passage more active.
For POV, I plan on looking at what is happening in each scene and why it’s important for that scene to be told from this character’s perspective rather than another’s. One thing I’ve already noticed is that, surprise surprise, the bulk of the scenes go to one or the other of the two main characters and that there are only a handful of other regular POV characters. I on the other hand am juggling more, and I may need to decide whose POV to cut and whose I should focus on.
All in all, I’m looking forward to this, and not just because it gives me an excuse to read a favourite book all over again. It gives me a chance to delve into why it’s my favourite, and the chance to improve my own work.
What strategies do you use to improve you’re writing? How often do you look at your favourite authors to see what you can learn from them?
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, if you’re going to write a book–and want it to make sense–you’re going to have to do some planning at some point. It’s a given that plotters will do the bulk of their planning before ever putting fingertips to keyboard to write their first draft, but what about those of us who just start writing?
All right, I’ll admit that I’m more likely than I once was to do some planning beforehand, but that wasn’t really the case with Fallen Things. Ironically, it actually started out as an exercise in description(my critique group will get a laugh out of that thought) and a ‘what if?’ and went from there. So now, somewhere around my third draft–give or take ten drafts depending on the scene–I’m finding that I need to do some planning.
As the book grew, it became more complex and more layered, which is great. Mostly. The problem is, I’m now juggling several POV characters, three distinct worlds, and about as many plot lines. My focus has gotten a little fuzzy, and it turns out I’ve actually forgotten to introduce important elements until half way through the book. This is, as you might imagine, a problem.
Now I have to go back to the drawing board a bit. Who are my main characters? What are their motivations? (You’d think I’d have that one nailed down by now, but that’s not always the case.) Does this scene have to be told from this tertiary character’s POV, or would it be better to change it to the POV of a more major character? Where do I need to slow down the pacing to show character growth? Are all the relevant elements properly explained, or am I assuming that my readers are also mind readers?
My critique partners are excellent for helping me figure out where I’m having issues in these areas (especially the mind-reading part.) Now it’s time for me to figure out what I’m going to do about it. A lot of it comes down to brainstorming and writing out ‘character bibles’ based on what I have so far so I have something to work from as I revise my book. Once I know my characters’ motivations, I can figure out the plot. Once I know my plot, I can figure out what each scene needs to be doing and whether or not it’s doing that.
It’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s worth it. I already have a much stronger book than I had in my first draft. And from here, I have a better idea of where I’m going with book two and beyond, which means I’ll be able to write a tighter first draft when I get there.
Whether we like it or not, planning will happen at some point in the writing process. If we don’t get it in before we start, that just means we have to do it after the fact.
How do you plan your books? Do you plan everything out in advance, or do you end up playing catch-up afterwards? Alternately, have you had any interesting slips as a result of not planning ahead?
In some ways it feels like just yesterday that I started at Alberta Job Corps, and in others it feels like I’ve been there forever. Job Corps was always meant to be a short-term program and there I was, coming up on my third month and wondering if maybe there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t find work and wasn’t even getting any call-backs.
Today, that changed. Today I was offered a job as a hotel desk clerk, and I took it.
It’s a good opportunity for me. Full-time, decent wage, benefits after three months, and above all, work that I’ll find rewarding while still giving me time for my writing and studies. I’ll get to interact with new and different people every day and let’s face it, service feeds me. Why else would I be looking at ministry?
The one downside: the shift I’ll be working includes Sundays. This means I won’t be able to continue as an assistant youth church leader and I won’t be able to attend my regular church as often. I had to think hard about it, do some soul searching–and talk my minister’s ear off a little–but I finally decided that this was an opportunity I needed to take. I had to realize that this does not represent a step back in my faith journey, only a detour.
The way I see it, if I take a chance on something and it falls through, then it wasn’t meant for me. By that token working at the registry wasn’t where I was meant to be right now, and that’s fine. But if I have an opportunity and I don’t take it? That’s on me. It’s up to me to take what I’m given, and I’m done with letting things pass me by because I’m afraid or because it’s inconvenient.
I have to work Sundays? All right. I can’t help lead the youth church, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be involved in my church in other ways. For example, there’s still bible study on Monday nights where I can keep in touch with my minister. I can still worship, even if that means going to the Wednesday service at another church. I can still study; after all, no one’s taking my books away from me just because I got a new job(and I’d like to see them try.) In fact, this way I’ll be better able to afford going back to school in the evenings which is a step forward in the long run.
Today, I cleaned out my locker at Job Corps. Tomorrow, I start my new life as a hotel desk clerk. And for the first time in a long time, I feel like I have solid ground under my feet.
It has been two years today since I started stabbing myself in the leg, and a year since I started this website. It has also been a year of incredible change and growth; in fact, I’m beginning to wonder if there is any other kind.
I’ll start at the end for the moment, and note that I seem to be collecting milestones for February 26th. Two years ago I started on testosterone, a year ago I started this blog, and today I became a full, adult member of Campbell-Stone United Church. I was baptised into this church when I was 16 I believe, and I’ve been something of a member-by-association through my mom since I returned to the church during Advent in 2010, but I felt that it was time to stand up and become a member in my own right.
Becoming a member is an incredible experience. Standing up in front of the congregation to proclaim my faith and commitment to the church, and having them give me their acceptance and support… I felt a very really connection in that moment. It’s one of the many steps in my life bringing me closer to God, and confirming for me that I am on my right path. This is where I belong.
Not only have I grown a lot in my faith journey, but I’ve also grown a lot as a writer and as a person. I’m invested in my writing more strongly than ever as I put my first novel, Fallen Things, through the ‘critique machine’ with my writing group, A Bitch Of Writers. I have learned so much about my writing process and how to give a good critique, it’s incredible! I can already see the difference it’s made as I edit based on these critiques; I have description now! Mostly. It’s also been brought to my attention that some of my writing technique it well-geared towards script writing, so in my over-scheduled insanity, I’ve decided to do Script Frenzy this April. That should be interesting to say the least.
I’ve also had to take a long, hard look at my direction in life. Having a better idea of who I am and where I want to go means I’m a lot less satisfied with ‘survival jobs’ in retail or labour while I work on my writing and look at paying off previous student loans before going to school again. Right now I’m working through Alberta Job Corps to try to find something interesting that I’m even marginally qualified for. It’s been a good, if frustrating, experience for me. While I’m glad to have the support while I work out my career path, it’s also a little disheartening to still be there over a month later while most of my hire-mates have moved on and a new batch of hires is coming into the system. Still, I’ve gained valuable job search skills, and am going full-ahead with a new strategy starting tomorrow.
Last but not least, after two years on T my transition have become more of a background concern… for the most part. Twice in the past year drug shortages have affected my ability to fill my prescription. The first time I was lucky and only had a delay of one week before my pharmacy started getting Delatestyl in again. This time however, I’ve had to switch to AndroGel for the time being, or do without entirely. Word on the street is that Depo-Testosterone, which would be a preferable alternative for me, will be available February 29th… or possibly March 7th (see comments.) All in all, it’s hard to find reliable information on this.
But enough of that doom and gloom. It’s time for progress photos!
Me two years ago… I think the only thing that’s really the same any more is my glasses. And I can’t help thinking how round my head was…
Yep, bow ties are still cool. At this point, I was just starting to get enough scruff on my chin to contemplate growing a beard. In fact, I think I did start growing one shortly after this picture was taken. I was still holding onto the earrings, though…
I… always seem to need a haircut when I do these, don’t I? In fact, not much has changed between this picture and the last. The only real difference is that I’ve taken out the earrings and grown a beard. It would feel incredibly weird now not to have a beard. I know; I shaved it off briefly around Hallowe’en for my Tesla costume, and quite frankly, my chin felt naked.
So that’s my Year In Review, and there’s still a lot I didn’t really get around to mentioning. I’ve been busy, very busy, and if things keep going the way they are, this next year will be even busier. I’m looking forward to it.
This has really just been One Of Those Weeks so rather than posting on a single topic, I’m giving you all a whole bunch of topics. Aren’t you lucky? And now, in no particular order:
Standing Up For Yourself
I haven’t always had the greatest track record in this area. Most days I’d rather let something slide than risk conflict or risk losing/not getting a service I need. This time however, I realized I needed to take a stand.
Those of you on Twitter may have noticed me mention ‘awkward questions about my genitals’. Without going into too much detail, during the interview for an unrelated psych evaluation, the psychologist got overly curious about my trans history, to the point that I felt uncomfortable. I decided I needed to let him know how I felt about it, so I wrote him a letter. I kept it calm and reasonable, using ‘I feel’ language rather than accusatory, even if part of me wanted to call him an insensitive idiot, and other invectives along those lines. I also included some of the ‘what is trans*’ resources I received at the gender clinic, because I think it’s important to educate where I can, whatever the topic.
And you know what? I think it worked. I got a call from him thanking me for the feedback and the articles, and apologizing for putting me in that position. Does that make what he did all right? No. Did his apology wipe the slate clean and repair my trust? No. But now he knows and can do better next time, and I have closure and have taken away his ability to hurt me. (This, by the way, is what forgiveness is really about. Letting go of the hurt someone else has caused, not ignoring the hurt and letting them hurt you again.)
All The Fun Jobs Require A Degree
Brain-mush and inappropriate questions aside, I actually enjoy psych evaluations. I love seeing what’s going on in my brain (and I kind of feel like it’s a licence to show off.) So I asked one of the ladies administering the tests how I could get a job doing that, and the answer was pretty much: “You need a degree.” This is pretty much true for everything I would like to do. Librarian? Need a degree. Minister? Need a degree. Even Graphic Designer; for anything in-house you’re better off with a degree. All of this pretty much leaves me with the question of how do I afford going back to school? Because one way or another, I’ll be going back.
AndroGel Is Not A Good Long-Term Substitute For Delatestryl
This may not be true for everyone of course, but for me it’s no contest. Delatestryl is an injection every two weeks that is effective, inexpensive, and covered under my insurance. AndroGel is a daily topical gel that is ineffective for me, can be transferred to others if I’m not careful, is expensive, and is, of course, not covered by my insurance. Granted, it might be more effective at full dose, but since I can’t really afford the starting dose as it is? Yeah. Unfortunately, I have very few options right now, since Delatestryl and all other injectable testosterone compounds are currently unavailable in Canada due to manufacturer shortage.
In Spite Of It All, I’m On The Right Path
One thing I have gotten out of this is yet another confirmation that I am headed in the right direction for me. Yesterday, even after all the awkward questions, my first genuine smile of the day was when I talked about my experience guest preaching at my church. Remembering how it felt to look at the text, to find the message in it, and to share it with others… it was amazing. Just the memory of that connection cut through all the crap of that day and reminded me of the most important thing: this is what I’m meant to do. This is my path. As crazy as it sounds, this queer trans boy is going to be a Christian minister. And I feel good about it.