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  • Writers, Writing, and Fetishizing the Process

    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.

     

    Do you want to read an erotic short story by yours truly and stories by 43 others while supporting a worthy charity? Of course you do! Get the Felt Tips: Office-Supply Erotica anthology by Tiffany Reisz today! EBooks available at AmazonSmashwords, and Barnes & Nobel



  • Writing for Fun and Frustration

    or

    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.

    That, is why we write.



  • And Now For Something Completely Different

    We all have our writing routines. Some are more strict than others, some involve a particular setting or music, and some include what we’re reading when we’re not working. Sometimes we need these routines–and sometimes we need to abandon them for something completely different.

    My routine typically involves listening to no music whatsoever while working, and reading a similar genre to my own during leisure times to keep in the proper mindset. Recently, however, I hit a bit of a snag. The novel I’m up to the eyeballs editing and rewriting, Fallen Things, is urban fantasy (though I wonder sometimes if it isn’t more contemporary fantasy), so I’ve been reading a lot of urban fantasy. A good idea usually, but it wasn’t working this time.

    Whenever I sat down to work, I was annoyed with what I was writing. Whenever I went to relax with a book, I was annoyed with what I was reading. Whatever I was doing, I was annoyed, and I realized that I just wasn’t getting a break from anything, which wasn’t helpful. Something needed to change.

    A couple of things happened at once here: the first was that I was looking for some music that related to the character I was working on. While I usually find listening to music while writing distracting, I relate certain songs to certain characters and listen to those when I’m doing other things. This one, however, was being tricky. Nothing seemed to fit–until I abandoned the lyric-filled pop and rock music for Beethoven. It fit him so perfectly, and since I wasn’t trying to sing along with it, I could listen to it while I worked.

    The second thing was finding a selection of classic literature on sale three for ten dollars. Having two versions of the song Wuthering Heights, (Kate Bush and Pat Benatar), I thought I ought to actually read the book sometime. This was a complete departure from what I had been reading, and I loved it. For the first time in a while, it actually felt like I was giving my brain a break from the work I’d given it. I didn’t have to compare things like style and point of view because they weren’t  meant to follow the same guidelines.

    I still spend a good deal of editing time glaring at the screen. That’s a natural part of the process. But the task doesn’t seem so impossible any more, and my leisure time, filled with Emily Brontë and Beethoven, actually feels like leisure time again. I can actually relax.

    Sometimes our writing routines help us to be more productive, but sometimes we need to know when to put aside old practices and shake things up a bit. Sometimes we need something completely different.



  • Why I Love My Local Independent Bookstore

    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?



  • 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.

    THE RULES:

    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.



  • Happy Second T-Day!

    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!

    Woah, who's that kid?

    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…

    Bow ties are cool.

    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…

    Suave as ever

    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.



  • Grab-Bag Week

    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.



  • 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!



  • 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!