Here Be Merfolk

The call of the deep rings ever in our ears, from myth and legend to crime and mystery. Sea-people, mer and monster, immortals and reluctant heroes feature in this sea-worthy bundle.

I have been tardy in talking about the Here Be Merfolk Bundle which came out in March 2021 and is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/here-be-merfolk-a-l-butcher/1130334254

https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/here-be-merfolk

I’d like to begin by putting a plug in for a fellow author J. M. Ney Grimm, whose wonderful story Fate’s Door is in this bundle as well. Her link is here and worth a read: http://jmney-grimm.com/2019/03/here-be-merfolk/

my story Ondine is about a Diva who steals the sweet voice of a mermaid and ultimately suffers the consequences.

The setting is Vancouver Island as many of my short stories are. I live in a west coast paradise and I can’t avoid posting sunset pictures from my back door on facebook and Instagram.

Characters from my parallel universe in Ardebrin sometimes find themselves cast through the Rift of Shadow where demons reside to find themselves on the Island, and sometimes I write about selkies and the grandmothers of selkies and small boys who journey down to our beach for the Christmas season. Or maybe a romance between a young woman hunting for an armoire only to find the man of her dreams emerging from it.

The Island is filled with indigenous lore and with sprites and spirits I am certain. Ghost dragons and merfolk emerging out of the ocean at Chesterman Beach in Tofino doesn’t seem more far-fetched than surfers garbed like aliens dancing on the swells.

 I can’t stop writing about what might be just at the edge of one’s vision. The Here be Merfolk Bundle is brim full of great stories and I’m just delighted to be a part of it with Ondine.

After all there are dragons in the sunset clouds and the rocks coil and surge against the waves in a liquid manner to inspire what ifs.

I’d love to know what you think. Happy surfing.

Chesterman Beach, Tofino, B.C. Photo by Brenda Carre

The Viper

We don’t know what we don’t know

We don’t know what we don’t know. AKA the Viper

I’ve had an epiphany over the past few days which I will explain by telling a very old joke that comes from well before social media or the internet.

The joke begins with a young fellow hearing the very fast slamming of doors and a bellowing voice approaching his house: “The Viper is coming! The Viper is coming!”

Terrified now, the poor guy rushes inside and locks his door. His imagination goes crazy. Who or what is this Viper? A snake? A criminal? Dangerous and terrible for sure given the threatening cry.

As he cowers in his entry hall there’s the thud of thick boots on his porch and a thunderous knock. “I am the Viper!” the raspy voice bellows along with the pound of a fist.

Trembling, the protagonist peers out the peephole, only to see a small bearded man in bib overalls, shiny black Wellington boots up to his knees and armed with a ladder and bucket.

“Sir or madam! I am the Viper!” he yells. “Vould you like me to vash your vindows?”

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria B.C.. A house of many windows. Photo courtesy of Neil Dickie.

My epiphany this week after having surgery to remove the cataract is this: A ‘Viper’ I didn’t know existed ‘vashed my vindows’ and nobody could have prepared me for the psychedelic experience or the crystal vision in my right eye that resulted from it.

Colours are brilliant, whites are intense and I have been gifted with clear distant vision. Here’s a ‘normal’ ability I have never had before. Ever. Not even with contact lenses. I was not an abnormal person. I just could not see. Did I even understand I could not see? Nope.

Epiphany number one: disability is a fallacy.

I coped fine, because I had to. I built a successful career and then a second career, raising sons and wrangling my day job and a household. I did this without a ‘typically’ functioning pair of eyes.

Sometimes there’s no ‘choose’ what gets thrown at you. The choice comes in how we adapt and act. This is what we do. We fight battles big and small and they make us stronger as a result.

I don’t ever remember how it was when I was a kid seeing colour. Yes, I saw colour. I even became a visual artist. But. I’ve never seen colours like this during my pre-teens or my adulthood. I have lived my entire life looking through a dull lens (obscured windows) and worked hard not to come across as a dull human being as a result. I have fought through a barrier of corrective lenses and blur only now for the first time knowing I was fighting a constant battle.

My ‘windows’ were dull, not me. This is a revelatory thing—as if a greater power has lifted this burden I didn’t know had and said, ‘you are stronger now because of what went before’.

My viper was a surprise.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and that ignorance of not knowing made me act accordingly. I have been that poor dude with the over-active imagination cowering behind his door.

Epiphany two: There will still be issues of course. The only constant in life is change.

I still have two eyes that don’t work in tandem and my brain is going to have to figure out how to adapt, but my hope is that once the left eye has been scraped and augmented with a clean, clear lens at least the colours will match up. Having six weeks to work on strengthening my right eye, its muscles will be a little stronger and ready to cope with the strain. Whatever comes, I will cope because I’ve learned how to do that.

Epiphany three: There’s not always a solution.

Will I still fear the new ‘vipers’ that come to my door? Of course. Some will be an actual threat. As I said in my previous post, fear is there for a reason. It’s a nudge that says ‘pay attention, something is here and there’s a real possibility it will even be mortal. Look closely and act. Determine the threat, or non threat. Make a choice based on age and circumstance (like the pandemic). Up until now, every choice I made in my life was affected by issues with my vision. My vision has changed and as a result my understanding of the world, my surroundings and even my art will change.

Epiphany four: I now see those of you who struggle with being ‘other’ as warriors, fighting a battle on an emotional level you have no way you can explain. You see through the lens of who you are and you deserve to be who you are, no question. You can’t be who you are not.

You press onward and you fight to be heard, understood and acknowledged. Sometimes knowing it might even be futile. Yet you keep going because that’s what you do. That’s heroism, that’s being there not just for others that fight similar battles. You fight for yourself.

Be proud. Be your own hero for the battles you know you fight and for the struggles that make you who you are. Sometimes the viper arrives and he gives you the gift of awareness that you have done well.

I’d love to hear of the battles you fight and have won. Especially those. Leave a note in the comments.

I’d love to hear from you.

When the Small Becomes Big and the Big Becomes Small

Large frigate, small balanced stones, Warrior Point, Patricia Bay, Vancouver Island

My summer has been spent mostly away from the computer trying to achieve some kind of focus both physical and emotional. Is my career at risk from a growing collection of age-related issues I can’t ignore? What if there isn’t anymore time? My eyes don’t work right now due to ripened cataracts and double vision and surgery for them is imminent. In a very busy summer of constant family chaos I am desperate to return to my interior world. The inciting incident of my personal story is impending eye surgery.

This was intended to be a fun photo on a quiet walk on a deserted beach at 6 AM on a summer morning. The house still quiet as our many summer guests lie asleep. Now, looking at this photo again I see it as a metaphor for my life. Not just right now, but for always.

I write about protagonists who make choices because an incident incites them to act. Sometimes their needs are like that ship (in reality the size of an apartment block) anchored between four giant watery pylons. The frigate looks small enough to be a bathtub toy yet is so out of reach at the moment. Ah, but is it? People reach for the moon and walk there because of desire. We are the protagonists of our own lives.

I write about reality and illusion and here all of a sudden was a metaphor I could understand. Here lay the ship of story and in front of it a beautiful construct of the unexpected. Sculptures of stones on a big rock that diverted my attention into creating a picture of them. This thing of strange big and small diverted me from my worries and then became a metaphor for them.

I’m not the kind of person to be public about my worries, yet I have to talk about this here. Why? Because as artists and creators we all share the same desire to create. We all share knowledge of the pebbles that turn our ankles. When situations arise that threaten our desires there’s a kind of panic.

I’ve been a story teller as long as I can remember and I can remember back to when I was two years old and still sleeping in a crib without a pillow. My way to negotiate life was to tell stories by looking hard at the world and create my own situations. To alleviate my fear of not being understood and not being heard I lived in a world of my own creation.

This isn’t the first time in my life I’ve faced dilemmas that seem overwhelming. As a child it seemed I had no control of my life at all and my choices were made for me. Not the first time I’ve felt trapped by the unexpected and managed to weave a path out by building story. Building story amid the unexpected has kept me more or less sane. I know so many artists who have stayed responsible to their vision through their creation no matter what. It’s so hard to separate what I write from who I am.

Yes I’m aging. This I cannot control. What I can control is what I write and when.

Me worrying doesn’t take away tomorrows troubles, it takes away today’s peace. And when the troubles of today stack up like inukshuks and take away today’s peace I have to make choices to accept them or not. I learned this early when it seemed I had no choices at all.

Even then I did have a choice though didn’t understand that I did. I told stories, long before I could write them down. That huge frigate sailed in my bathtub. Nobody could remove these choices from my mind and those choices and those realizations made me who I am traveling into and out of my own days of Mordor. I now know as long as my wits are still keen I can make sense of my life through story.

I’ve taught workshops and art classes and helped young people everywhere to see that what they have is now. At age two I instinctively understood that story and art and metaphor could help me make sense of my own dilemmas.

In my case now, yearning for the youth I no longer have is a waste of the time I still have. I still have eyes on that frigate. I can name those little stones and play with them in my hands and create new constructs out of old. I can play with illusions and make them real. So can you.

Never let your fears overwhelm your dreams. Whatever is holding you back, see it, name it and keep dreaming and building. Never feel guilty if you get diverted by issues at work or issues with family, health problems or loss. These are not to be ignored. The big and the small are really one and the same, they are you in your infinite number of possibility. They create you, the protagonist of your life and they give you the chance to make choices and yes, make mistakes.

Believe in your possibility because that possibility is built on both pebbles and frigates.

Birdie

Do you see a woman named Birdie fleeing from demons? Or a troupe of scaled merfolk? Maybe you can just glimpse the ghosts of Birdie’s past and an enigmatic revenant? You don’t? They are there, in the story and all very present in her life. Birdie has just given birth to a powerful son who is the hope of her world and this island she has found for sanctuary may help her or not. You find out.

The more I delve into my worlds in my own island home the more I come to see that the mystical world likes right outside my window. This also includes the window of my personal creativity. I get to look far but I also go deep. Into the water, into the land, into the unknown parts of me that feel terror. The thing about this is, that like Birdie, the character in this cover story, I have to reach for it.

Birdie is capable of wonderful magics yet she is still troubled and fearful of something unknown and greater than herself. It’s that greater thing I love to write about because it’s a fearful terrifying thing until you face it and understand. Demons lie waiting but maybe it’s the fight against all odds we all must tackle.

I’m currently hard at work on the final revisions of the Book about Birdie’s mother, Gret-of-Roon. And here I have given you a secret even Birdie herself doesn’t know. She wishes she knew who her mother was and why her mother gave her up. Could that answer lie perhaps in her mother’s book?

The image for this beautiful cover was created by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki. I highly recommend you head over to her site to look at more of her wonderful art. I adore the art on this cover. It speaks not only of the island I live on but to an artist with the vision of what lies beyond the boundary of the canvas. My editors at Pulp Literature Magazine know this too. It’s impossible not to see the wealth of wonder as you peruse the covers and stories found in the pages of the 31 issues you can find. Great art and great stories for the price of a beer. Cheers to the magical unknown. Tankard raised!

When the Water Becomes a Sea of Cloud

Have you ever considered that when your eyes are open what you see is an illusion? I love to play with this idea all the time. This morning I woke to transformation and the water was a sea of cloud. A sea of reflections. Sometimes it’s a fiery piece of armor and at others a sheet of silver glass. Sometimes it’s buried in mist or smoke and you can’t see a thing. It’s still a body of water, but it’s the magic and the charm overlying the wet of mundane salt water that I adore.

Ships float in and out of view like venturing spirits, under bluster or storm or serene under white sails or red stripes, or they perch like gulls watching themselves. Boats can be birds and the osprey is an arrow diving for fingerling fish.

The crows in the Garry oak tree are nesting and I’m yet again reminded that you need to respect crows because if you piss them off, they will never forget. You might as well move because they’ll harass you unto their future generations and yours. They might just be birds but if you go deeper, they’re a wonderful enigmatic species with an intelligence that lets them impress the memory of your face on their babies not yet born.

Crows and trees and seas of cloud and demons and dragons. Did you know that when the waves are just right on the shore, they sound like an ancestral dragon breathing a warning?

I live half in one world and half in another constantly reminded that we are allowed to do this. We dream, we seek, we hope for good things and we fight the bad. Crows could be spirits and spirits crows in my stories. We can touch the element of wonder every day if we let it happen to find an avenging crow or a hero who will risk all to save a world.

I can walk on Willows Beach in Victoria and be with Sue, my character.

In her world, crows are the avenging ghosts of kids who died tragically, who still work for good fighting demons from another world. Crows can be a metaphor for our own intelligence.

The Crow War of Willows Beach is up as a free story right now. You can meet Sue if you want. I’m in the process of writing another story with Sue as my protagonist.

I am spending time these days, sussing out the taste of what I write. Is it fantasy, science fiction, romance or any other genre? Nope. I write in many genres, but the taste of my writing holds fast to the mystic—when water becomes a sea of clouds. I write about when reflection pulls you down into mystery, romance, wonder and fear like the mirror pulled Alice. I can’t write if I’m not so pulled and I hope to share with you the ways in which I am so pulled and see if you are too.

This blog is for you now, dear reader. My drawings are for you, my maps are for you, the links to other kindred sites and the sunset pictures and mood pictures I plan to post in quantity will be for you too. I know they’re for you because you’ll be kindred with me in wonder.

Waiting here for you in the mirror.

I Sold A Story

First of all how are you doing? Are you hanging in? What are you doing to restore yourself?

In the past couple of weeks I have taken a break to do mindless things like work in the garden, and refinish furniture in my workshop. To cool off my fevered brain I have backed away from days of intense revision to walk in the woods and read books by friends and favourite authors.

And yes, I sold a story set in my fantasy world about Birdie (who happens to be Gret’s daughter).

And I wrote Gret’s book. Which is the prequel to ‘Daughter of Stones, Father of Stars.’ (already completed) For some reason I decided I would write this trilogy in reverse order. Son of Ravens (prequel to Gret and still to be written) will begin in the past where the whole demon/dragon war began.

Yes this is a world with Demons and Dragons and Magic.

The magic  comes from the minds of dragons: a kind of telepathic magic that works like the internet does in our world. The demons are entities that look like deep sea monsters and are impossible to get rid of even by the dragons. It’s a complex world filled with complex races of beings all in immediate danger of being devoured by demons.

Sound familiar given our own personal fears these days? Creative people and the publication industry are in this bubbling foment. Plagues and Politics, combined with ‘everything else’ that’s personal feels like we’re living in a novel. 

So much has been going on it’s hard to remember the person I was at the start of 2020. In the past 6 months I have written well over 500k of words in dogged determination to keep going no matter what. Though production has been up, actual sales have not been great. 

So flip back to four days ago when Facebook lit up with commentary and emoji’s about my selling a story. This was a gift to my heart that showed me that the community of friends and family I belong to found a kindred joy in saying yaay! This is important and a good thing in a place where we so need good things right now.

Birdie is going to take flight in her story, she gives birth to the character who becomes the protagonist of book three and she is the daughter of the protagonist Gret who strides through book two. Dragons take flight and demons beware, it’s time to restore and conquer!

It stirred my heart to have over a quarter of the 2k friends I have on Facebook come to my page and let me know they care. They care that I write and like them, I have a dream. That this world I have spent a lifetime creating is now coming to birth in its own wonderful way.

This has made me realize that like my own characters I have the choice to go in the direction of yes and not be wimpy about it. Like my characters I have choices even in a time of turmoil, or maybe because it is a time of turmoil. Stepping back for a few days has given me a different perspective and being an artist I can see more clearly.

I can take flight! I have taken flight. I am my own dragon.

 

 

Exploring Your Awesome

AdviceTo many of us the word ‘critique’ is regarded as judgement. Why, because we all know people who are ‘critical’. We may have had critical parents, may now have critical neighbors, critical colleagues, critical friends and critical spouses. We see situations that are critical—that is, situations that need remediation and immediately so. We are trained to see critique as negative and so we are already conditioned to focus on the negative. But what if focusing constantly on the negative only increases focus on the negative? How many of us constantly focus on the bad stuff and forget the good?

A good friend of mine who is one of the strongest people I know and a clinical psychologist to CEOs told me just recently that her way of helping her clients was to help them own their strengths before owning their failures. Her clients were focusing on what was going wrong  in their lives and in most cases this was eating them alive. As a result their employee/staff-interactions were eating their companies alive.

moving on after having the stuffing knocked out

Her plan of attack was to have her clients talk openly about whatever they wanted to talk about. Talk always fell on the negative from both their present and their past. It was then her process to ask, ‘What good do you think came out of this?’  Usually they couldn’t focus on anything good. All they could see was that they were talking the same cr@p and she was just sitting there listening and they were only repeating: ‘my life is trash because’….

Her response was this: ‘The good I see is that you’re owning what happened and you’re talking about it, but what if I told you there’s ninety-five-percent of your life you aren’t owning yet?’  This is inspiring because my psychologist friend showed her clients how to recognize their own worth before they could solve the problems they feared were in their way. Consider this need to focus on worth in the writing field as well when you choose to be critiqued, or agree to give critique.

Self Worth

Here’s something that happened to me:  Back when I was a baby writer in the early 90’s (ten years before I sold a thing) a wonderful author/editor critiqued a chapter of my writing. She was one of the guest pros at the Surrey International Writers Conference that fall. She made my chapter bleed red and she didn’t hold back with critique, but in all that red she marked one page with a line that went from top to bottom and in the margin she wrote ‘all good’ and she told me verbally that I had already done all the hard stuff, that I had a ‘story’ she’d never seen before. She also told me I had a lot of work still to do. On my page she gave me two points of comparison and by doing that she started me out the hard but confident way to publication by giving me something to shoot for. I will never forget that kindness to help a newbie grow even though at the time she was the editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Kristine Kathryn Rusch had time for a newbie and time to show me what I could aspire to.

Good critique involves a dialogue with the person you are critiquing. Face-to-face critique works best, a discussion on the phone or on a ‘messenger’ program is good too. Written critique without dialogue is not as helpful because it’s hard to gauge how something is being said. In my friend’s case their critique partner SHOUTED at her in all caps on the critique. Shouting in any manner across any medium is not a good practice. Good critique involves an attitude of ‘mindfulness’ and of listening and questioning. Revision should be a positive process leading to positive results leaving the recipient of critique uplifted, dynamic and filled with the urge to go on and conquer the work.  All of us have heard of pep talks in the locker room—of rallies in the streets—these are visions of possibilities. How would it be if the coach merely said, ‘you fools are a mess and here’s everything you’re doing wrong. The more medicinal the critique, the harder the knee-jerk and the harder it is to return to the process even for a pro.

proceding with caution

When I was functioning as a Visual Arts teacher in a collaborative school for the Creative Arts, I knew I had to fight each student’s fear of being judged before I could help them create and enjoy the process of creating. So many art students begin their practice in high school by negatively self-judging their process even from the first marks they make on the page. It was my job as their teacher to coach them to create with passion not tell them what to do. I began each year by showing my new students that ‘talking about their work’ was not a bad thing but constructive and informative. New students were afraid of being ‘critiqued’ because they couldn’t see that real critique involves creative dialogue about their ‘already strengths’.

So here’s what I did. As soon as somebody brought me a partly-finished piece and stated:  ‘I don’t like this; I want to start again,’ I knew the time had come to start them on the path of good critique. First I asked them to look at their work and tell me what parts they liked. My questions were a positive prompt for self-evaluation starting with ‘What good did you do there? What parts are strong and exciting? How about the shapes you used, the shadows, the contrasts, the tones? What good choice of line did you make, what about your juxtaposition of image?’  This was dialogue: a real and important part of critique. At first, like my psychologist friend with the CEO, I gave them some initial help by pointing out elements of good: ‘Do you see how this line helps the composition? Do you see how that green with that yellow makes them both pop? Look at that negative space you set up. I really like the movement of that figure.’

Once they could appreciate what they’d already done well the natural step was to look at the whole. I’d tell them to put their hand up between them and the work so their hand covered only the unfinished part. ‘Look at what you already have. Imagine what lies under your hand. Knowing the good we’ve talked about, what’s behind there that you haven’t yet seen?’ This is the vision of their own possibilities–giving a person free rein to imagine and then bring to life a vision they hadn’t thought of a minute earlier. This kind of critique opens doors to want more. Sometimes it took minutes of silence, but I never had a kid tell me they didn’t see anything. I adored seeing the look of surprise and passion that would cross their faces when they could ‘see’ what they envisioned under their hand. The mind envisions and makes connections naturally as long as it is given free rein to do so, in every kind of art, including the art of living. Imagine the possibilities. The first step in quenching self-doubt.

Then comes the weeding and the revision if necessary, rather than wanting to rip everything out and start again. All it took was their mentor (at times a class-mate once the technique was learned) using the dialogue and the coaching and learning to coach this way themselves. All it took was dialogue about what they liked and only at the end what might need to be altered (read ‘revised’ in writing.) Now they were rousing themselves to get back to the creation and I never had any problem with them wanting to ‘talk’ about their work again either with me or their trusted peers.  I deliberately stayed away from the word ‘critique’ and I told them why. We are conditioned to see ‘critique’ as negative judgement: something critical that needs immediate fixing.

 

 

the barbs of harsh critiqueEvery pro has stories of how they soldiered on past hundreds of rejections on the same novel, the same short story that finally somebody loved and bought, but to a person who self-judges everything, this knowledge doesn’t help. It shows them up in their own heads as the frauds their egos think they are. ‘You can’t do art. That doesn’t even look like a person. Grass is green, not orange. Writing is hard. It takes years of patience to do this well. You’re way too young to write a novel, get a real job first.’  Yada yada to all the rest. How many times have you been told something similar by people who think they’re helping you out? I ask you, how did you feel after a dose of harsh critique? How did your gut feel? How did your heart feel? Were you excited and roused to get back to work or did it take effort to get you back there? Did you need to talk to a friend, a spouse, a writing partner? I was glad my friend came to me, trusting that what they needed was the coaching to get back to their power.

Only after a good dose of ‘hey, what do you think you are already doing right? What do you know? What did you like?’ got my friend back to work. Talking about it got them to take a second look at the bitter critique and weed it for some useful information. They didn’t need an excavator for their story, they needed a careful gardener’s glove.

excavators on the move

I’ve set critiques aside for months before I went back to dig out a nugget of truth. It takes self-worth to be able to do this. I have been blessed with mentors and support partners (not all of them writers or visual artists) who know how do critique like the masters they are. What about you? Do you have some horror stories you’d like to tell? Do you have some stories of helpful wisdom in the critiquing department? Do tell. I’m all ears.

In my next post I talk about how to keep going in a sea of advice from well meaning friends, from beta readers and from editors once you sell something. I’ll also suggest other ways to critique well. I’ll give you a few more attack skills on how to avoid being cowed by critique in all areas of life and some wonderful thoughts from other great authors out there. I hope you come back.

Imposter Syndrome and the Nature of Critique

SFS1

A few days ago I had a friend come to me in despair and grief because of what they termed a ‘medicinal critique’ that they first considered ‘bad’. This critique really messed with my poor friend’s head and they were very willing to admit this to me if not to the world in general. This friend was ready to up and quit the whole process of writing they were so devastated.

Now I have seen this time and again from students of mine in the thirty-four years I was a pro educator and in the twenty-five I have been a writer struggling through that sea of rejections up to professional publication. (The banner for this post is the cover for the first market ever I sold to back in 2010 and that first sale was an amazingly fortunate one to the Magazine of F&F. Please note that before this I had written more than five ‘practice’ books and a bunch of short stories all of which were rejected for various reasons.)

Because of my dear friend’s need I have had the chance to really explore my own feelings on the nature of critique and how I waded through that sea of critiques and rejections, and later a sea of expert editorial advice. I asked pros in the publishing industry how they deal with critique and got some amazing responses which I hope to share with you.

Because this topic is huge, I’m going to do two blog posts. The first will talk about the positive nature of critique, and how this can be mistaken for disabling response.

Why am I qualified to do this? I have thirty-four years behind me as an educator helping creative students who disbelieved in their own creativity. Many of these former students now hold important positions as artists, actors, designers and mentors themselves.  I have spied some of them on the big screen, some are newscasters, TV personalities I have even spied former students on Netflix series.

As a writer of fiction I have written and worked my way up to recognizable professional status in the publishing industry. I know a lot of pros out there who have given me feedback on critique at conferences and in professional online forums. I have critiqued and been critiqued hundreds of times. I have mentored new writers in critiquing sessions and been a guest pro at a number of genre writing conferences.

In accord with the way I do things (ie: starting with the positive first) I want to start the next blog post a positive tangent by discussing the benefits of critique, how critique forms a very real part of our daily lives and how the idea of critique does not have to have a negative connotation in our heads.

I hope you’ll come back to check these out. Please tell me how you deal with critique. Is critique a source of irritation to you day to day or can you soldier on without losing your cool and what allows you to do so? I’d love to hear what you say.

Until next time. Keep creating.

What’s Next?

FRP7 Writers Without Borders ebook cover

I had the pleasure last year of being  included in this wonderful anthology of Authors and editors who have been published by Fiction River and who do not live inside the borders of the USA. Some of us are American citizens living abroad and others like me have nationality outside the US (I’m Canadian) but write professionally in American publications as well as Canadian ones.  Before I go on to say what’s next for me this year I feel obliged to say where I went in 2017 as this bears a lot on 2018.

2017 has been the most successful year for me publication-wise.  I had nine pieces of short fiction professionally published and many thanks to the editors of Fiction River for including my work in four of these.  I completed a 120,000 word Mythic Fantasy novel called Daughter of Stones, Father of Stars.

A book cover featuring an image of a blindfolded woman wearing a white toga and holding a sword.

I was involved in three story bundles and am currently at work on stories for two more of these. One of these bundles is dear to my heart as the money this bundle earns will go entirely to charity. Stars in the Darkness: Stories of Wisdom, Justice and Love.

Also in 2017, I traveled extensively, several times to the US for conferences, to France (where I broke my wrist in Carcassonne–trust me don’t fight with a castle, it will win every time) to England and to the Riviera Maya. All excellent places to gain experience for story, though some experience was a little over the top. (see snapped radius), though even this has been a learning experience in working with my non-dominant hand.

I had some serious issues with this website, and was unable to blog for a number of months, just long enough to let my wrist heal and get some much needed writing done, but now I am ready to blog again and will start out the year with a tremendous series of interviews with cover artist and writer Alexandra Brandt.

A book cover showing a can hanging from a rope.I came to understand also in 2017 that if I hope to up my production, I need to have a better manner of planning forward, thus I spent a deal of time looking at good ways of outlining.  Two books were exceptionally helpful:  Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder and the amusing ‘How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method’ by Randy Ingermanson. 

Both books showed me that outlining does not have to be tedious and can help a novelist develop a process of structure that can avoid a lot of backtracking and redrafting during the revision process.  As a short fiction writer now working her way into the long fiction market, I am excited by the possibilities this opens for me this year.

So what’s next? According to my calendar, a whole bunch of short fiction and at least three manuscripts this year. So how do I plan to write three manuscripts this year. Answer is one word at a time, but also by getting out of my own way (blog post on that to come).

A book cover showing a scientist holding his finger up. My plans are to finish my final revisions on my fantasy novel Daughter of Stones, Father of Stars by the end of this month and get it sent to the editors who have requested a read. I have defined my work process on a calendar so I know what and where my deadlines are (subject of course to unavoidable disruptions–see broken wrist.) Some of what I put on my calendar are personal writing deadlines. Some are deadlines structured by editors and others are defined by travel and family time. Making deadlines is an amazing way to see on a board how much potential there is in a year to complete work.

Here’s an example: I knew I was going to write at least four short stories during the month of January for a specific challenge I had been set and accepted. One story per week for 4 weeks. Therefore, I could mark out on my calendar what that might look like per week and figure out how much time I could spend each day on story writing. (take my word for it. sitting on my hiney for hours at a time is not the way to go. It’s hard on the back and gets you hangry so I try to do my writing in the morning and by using any method I can to get out of my own way and write fast.)

In the last week for instance I was able to do my short story on the morning of three days and that gave me four whole days to work on outlining for my next long manuscript. Having a structure allowed for things like dentist appointments and trips with family to be added in. The structure was there so I could see what had to be done and how to do it. All I had to do was open my toolbox of ideas and get busy (How to do this will be the subject of a future blog post.)

So, how are you planning out your coming writing year and do you feel you had success in 2017? I would be interested in hearing of some of the things that are working for you in your what’s next.
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Finding A Name For Your Antagonist

P1100157So, dare I mention Hannibal Lecter? What is it about such a name that already raises the hairs at the nape of your neck?

What antagonists do you remember the most? Were their names original to you? What was it about them that makes them memorable? Were there grey areas to their character that made them memorable, believable and even admirable and how did their names convey such a thing to you?

How do you find a name that makes your reader both fear and yet uncomfortably understand the antagonist of your story?

Here’s a hint: it might be one-syllable or a many-syllable one, but it should never be one-dimensional.  P1100155

How do you go about this very important naming of names?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been revising a big book fantasy and in the process, I established a marker name for my antagonist: a name I will not disclose as it was simply a name to mark the place. Often names come to me before the character’s story, but this guy is old and his name is not his own but the one his legend has given him.

In late April I went on a road trip to the FutureScapes workshop in Utah, where I had the first few pages of my manuscript work shopped by some of the best minds in the business. A wonderful New York Times bestselling author mentioned in her critique that my antagonist’s name sounded like something that might belong to a cartoon villain. Ouch, was my initial thought, but my critiquing author was right. even as a marker the wrong name had to go.

cartoon villain

(Gargamel, pictured left, is the primary antagonist in Hanna-Barbera’s Smurfs franchise. He is an evil wizard who – with his mangy sidekick, Azrael the cat – is constantly trying to capture the Smurfs.)

I didn’t want a comic antagonist. My antagonist is a complex being–no Gargamel.

My antagonist battles soul-devouring demons. He steals bodies to keep himself alive, sort of like a ghoul. But he was a good dude once and somewhere deep inside of him there’s a terrible struggle. He does horrible things for what he believes is a good purpose.

He loves so deeply he is willing to do just about anything to reclaim that love and also the innocent delight it once inspired in him. In short, he has a goal and it isn’t revenge. Oh and there are demons and dragons involved in this plan, did I mention that?

I already knew that to write a good antagonist he can’t be just a really evil dude. They have to have redeeming characteristics. S what about that name? Something that inspires a kind of cultural fear, yet sounds kind of awesome as well? You could so have gone to school with a guy called Hannibal, right? After all the historical Carthaginian commander Hannibal caught the Romans off guard by crossing the Alps on an elephant. Awesome, right?

And Lecter? That sounds like something you could stand right up to and give a speech. lectern

Come to think of it it also sounds like a corpse. See ‘lich’, which is Old English for ‘corpse’.

Hannibal Lecter is just the perfect name in both sound and person.

What resulted for me was a very long and interesting search on the internet for words that typified a number of emotions. Words for terror. Words for ghost, demon, soul-thief, revenant. This search went into many cultures, most of them of indigenous flavour, since there is an indigenous context to this fantasy.

I needed a name that sends shivers and that grew up around around my antagonist’s legend. I already had the name he was born with: the ‘Tom Riddle’ backstory to the ‘Voldemort’, so to speak, but I needed his ‘mark.’ The sound that ‘makes’ him believable.

Could you trust a guy named ‘Tom Riddle’? well, maybe.., but could you trust a guy named Voldemort?  (If you answered ‘yes’ to this I’m not sure I want you on my side…)

I needed a name that spoke to my antagonist’s skin-walking nature without using that word.

I say again this fruitful search was motivated by valuable critique and also by pointed and caring support from my writing community.

I wanted to be strong in my choice but I needed feedback. I was willing to listen to constructive critique and act if suggestions triggered my ‘gut’.

I found first readers who were writers themselves but also first readers who read a lot but don’t write. I found critiquers of an inciteful nature and readers of a professional inclination like that fabulous NYT bestselling author who wasn’t afraid to tell me my basic villain name sounded comic, not scary. I had then to decide what I wanted my readers to believe about my villain. Did I I want my reader to believe my antagonist steals bodies? Oh yes.

I returned to my search.

I decided I wanted a name with an ancient intonation. One with close to world-wide shiver factor.

I searched a lot and ran names past friends on facebook and in my many searches for words on the internet I search came across an interesting thing. The word ‘revenant’ exists in the same form in most cultures and therefore curdles the blood with its connotation pretty much equally in most cultures. It does not stem from a single culture but most of them.

I went back to facebook and asked my wall if given a recent movie of the same name would it matter if I have the people of my world calling this guy ‘the revenant?’ What I got back was ‘maybe yes, maybe no.’

Hmmm. Too vague for satisfaction. Feeling I was on the right track though, I looked farther and discovered that one slight variation of ‘Revenant’ occurs in Haitian Creole.

I rolled it around on my tongue and my mind. Now yes, all of a sudden a name that felt right. Not his true name but what the world calls him in fear of what he does. Rvnan. Such a word could exist in a parallel world to ours and not seem to be stealing from a specific indigenous culture. Something that sounded like the buzz of a ritual rattle filled with bones. A name with an almost soothing hum like a hive of dangerous bees. Somebody who could lull you to sleep like a friend and then kill you for your skin.

Rvnan.

Know your characters, what their weaknesses are and also their strengths. I call Rvnan my tragic villain because I know the road that brought him to steal bodies and it was both a powerful one and a lonely one. He has no one, and he thinks that’s what he wants.

Rvnan is the mirror of my protagonist. Where my protagonist is young and unskilled, Rvnan is ancient and strong. Where Rvnan has lost his heart and his empathy, my protagonist will give up everything to save a friend.  Rvnan is easily capable of succeeding and I hope unpredictable enough that it should not be clear how this book will end.

All the time I wrote this I wasn’t sure, so I think I might have been doing something right. I had an outline like a road map but I never knew from minute to minute if my young protagonist would survive.  Remember I said Rvnan steals bodies? Now hold that thought.

Oh, and if anybody has an extra book title hanging around, let me know. That needs changing too.