Building a Site

I have been working closely with my new webmistress, Amanda Truscott to build this site. It is still in process, but I do believe it speaks more strongly about who I am and what kind of stories I write. Amanda is the perfect assistant. She is industrious, A writer, and artist and a soon-to-be world traveler and a keen listener. I am so very happy we are working together.

We are still figuring out how to make my blog posts run according to when they were initially published on my old site, but so far, no luck, so any posts previous to this one will be out of order. Nevertheless, I have included them anyway as they do represent my journey up to this point.

Currently there is a lot of distraction at our Island home. The Municipality of Saanich is working on the easement beside our house in order to put an access stair down to the bay. Living on the water has disadvantages but also the glorious pleasure of watching the water, the day and the seasons change before one’s eyes minute to minute.

Two excavators are currently at work moving earth and creating a toddlers’ bliss of machinery, rumbling and beeping. I so wish I could rent a child for the day just to let them watch what is going on next door. Sometimes I sit on our flat garage roof and watch them do their work on such a steep incline it makes my bones shiver. I guess there is some toddler in me as well. excvators in the easement

Credit Where It’s Due

I have come to appreciate my sister, Mary, in so many ways over the years.  In our early years, I was her baby, much to my annoyance, but she took her position seriously.  It was she who made me understand the power of the written word. She who encouraged me to draw and celebrate my successes.  She who first wrote and read her own stories to me.

Mary showed me how hard a person can work against brutal obstacles and succeed.  She was disabled with polio at eight years of age. She married a great guy and lost him a decade later to Huntington’s disease. She raised five children on her own (her youngest are identical triplets), continued to work as a youth librarian, and continued to paint and draw when there was no time to do so.

In 2011 Mary discovered she had colon cancer and dealt with a series of operations and infections that seriously affected her ability to paint. She dealt with the big C with the same kind of courage and optimism as she faced everything else. She fought hard for three years, and when in May 2014 she was told the cancer had moved to her brain, she understood her gift of time was gone. She and I had three precious but very painful months together.

When I am overcome with ‘troubles’ and the darkness that affects all creatives, I remember the path she took with heroism and unfailing hope. She told me at the end that she was proud of me. That I needed to do it–go for the gusto and follow my bliss. I promised her I would.

From time to time on my blog posts and in my stories of the month I intend to spotlight  Mary’s work as well as my own. I do believe she was on the point of breaking out with her art when cancer caught her and her energy left her. The picture in the banner above is a detail from one of her paintings. Like Mary, her paintings were dancing with light. I know wherever she is now, her spirit is doing that too.

I give thanks for Mary every day. For her friendship, for being my muse.  I miss her and always will. We were sisters of the heart. Our angels were sisters. My dearest muse will always be with me and I with her.

Do you have someone in your life who was instrumental in helping you be who you are? I would love to know.

The Road Trip of the Mind

On my way home from Missoula, Montana, just prior to returning to Canada across the border, I made this brief entry into my journal:

Having logged almost 2000k  on my car and some amazing memories in the bank of my mind over the last five days, I made a rest stop and got to thinking about way stops and ‘weigh’ stops and from there about losing weight, which I almost always do when I am traveling. I pondered about what matters and what doesn’t and how a journey can often clear the way, open new vistas and put the past into a different perspective.  Last night I decided to read over an entry in my journal. One made two years ago when I, my husband and sons took a journey to Europe and Croatia, and how, at that time, my journal enabled me to ‘snark’ about what seemed just then a journey more of endurance than joy. I began to laugh from the gut at an event that at the time was certainly not funny. Now, I see the joy behind the snark.

How was it I couldn’t see it then? Now, after taking this journey, I can look at the quirks of that time and see how constructive that earlier trip was. I see how it forged the more decisive me of today. On that two-month journey, I lost nearly twenty pounds in weight, due to constant travel, lack of worry about what I was eating (Italian food, need I say more) and the intense bursts of exercise–running with luggage, walking through ancient places. Not all this weight loss was physical, though. Nor was it due only to eating right and walking lots. I believe the weight loss was also do to the property of the way. Not the ‘weigh’.

The travel itself had an effect on my being lighter.  I have also lost some weight on this trip. My body feels lighter and my spirit does too. Travel and spirit. They connect.  Even if during those travels one feels busted down, harassed and frustrated, it’s a different kind of process working through it than being at home.  Not that one can’t approach frustration from a distance. It’s just I usually don’t. In my home state I have the tendency to become overshadowed by frustration and I seem to lose sight of the way. And the way stops where I can look again, think again and take a new step forward.

Therefore, as I begin this last lap of my journey home and cross that border into Canada,  I resolve to think differently about the road trip of my mind. Even the everyday one. Is it possible to make each day in the same manner as I did when I was traveling? I don’t know, but I aim to find out.

Go in the Direction of Yes

I have been sadly remiss in keeping up my blog.  No excuses or whining here. Writing the blog took a back seat to all the other experiences I have had in the past two years.  Exactly two years ago my husband, sons and I took a two-month trip of a lifetime to France, Italy, Croatia, Scotland, England and Wales. During this time I walked about twenty pounds off my body and filled my mind and my viscera with so many experiences, I came home dizzy and exhausted. Back home, I discovered my sister was ill with cancer. I spent the second half of 2011 watching her courageously meet her trouble and partially recover her health. She is an inspiration.

2012 was the year we purged our house, packed boxes, and moved to a new home. This took time on both ends as it took awhile to sell our old house and feel at home in the new one. 2012 was filled with saying goodbye to the city I had lived in since I was 18, many of the friends I have had for years, and the house where we’d raised our boys. Our sons were both out of the nest and it was time for us to stretch ourselves and follow our own inclinations.  I have traveled and kept a journal during this time. I have broken through opposition and done the impossible in so many ways. In short as one of my characters said once, I have chosen to go in the direction of yes. Now, I have returned to the manuscript that I set aside two years ago. During that time I have sold some short fiction but I have been daunted by beginning again. I know, however, that if I don’t go in the direction of yes with this manuscript and finish it at last, I will feel I have chickened out.  It is time to resurrect my blog as well. Not for any other reason than I need this outlet of creativity. It’s time to breathe again.

What outlets of creativity can you not do without and why?

Not for the Faint of Heart

I am currently staying with friends in Palm Desert decompressing after a transformative publishing course on the Oregon Coast. I was a part of a roller coaster of a workshop led by six top-marketing, award-winning editor/ authors: Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, John Helfers, Kerrie Lynn Hughes, Rebecca Moesta, and Kevin J. Anderson. I and my fellow course participants prepared for this course by writing six short stories in six weeks, (in my case these were mainly genres I was not familiar writing for) and then reading all 250 manuscripts in one week (the equivalent of five books in a week) and submitting our work not only for review but for possible publication in six live anthologies to be published soon by Fiction River.

To accomplish this (and to make sales as well) was only a part of this experience. The most amazing part in my opinion, was to be privy to the decision-making process editors go through when choosing among the top stories submitted for their anthologies, what qualities in a story make it a good fit for a certain anthology, how tastes can vary widely between editors for the very same anthology and how the buying editors’ vision for the anthology does play a huge role in choice where the submissions are all of a very high quality, how word count is also an influence in a decision. I do not believe any other course for high-level writers exists like this. To have your story dissected before a group of amazing writers is both challenging and rewarding. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but well worth the experience if one is not wedded to one’s words and willing to stretch further every day in one’s craft.

This was also a course about publishing. Learning the directions the industry is taking and how I too might take advantage of that move. Our last day at the course was devoted to seminars with experts in the field of publishing. Not only did our editors step in and give us insights into the paths they took to success (and challenge) but we also had seminars with award winning author Matthew L Buchman on setting goals of publication, Romance Author Christina York on meeting personal challenges and getting back to the writing process, Lee Allred on his experiences writing for Marvel and DC Comics, and the inspiring Mark Lefebvre of Kobo on the value of e-publishing. We learned about constructing cover art, by the brilliant publisher/CEO Allyson Longueira at WMG Publishing Inc.

As I began my drive toward southern California and the weather warmed and the trees began to blossom, my own awareness blossomed too with the possibilities that had been presented to me. Many of these possibilities scared me too, as they involve steps into technological territories I have avoided before now. I now have a clearer idea of my career, however. I now need to get busy and lay out a business plan for myself. This involves a re-structure of this website with more links to what I have out there in the market, so that those of you who might be looking for my work can find it. It also involves getting more of my work out there into e-publishing.

In summary, I not only bumped up my writing to a higher level, filled my poor little head with so much knowledge that I feel like my brain is exploding, I also networked with other brilliant writers who are publishing and winning awards out there. I hope soon to establish links to their sites so you can meet and enjoy them all!

Have you ever had a time in your life when the knowledge came at you so fast and furious you weren’t sure how you could process it all? A time when you knew that such knowledge would change you forever and you were totally ready to embrace that chance? If so I would love to know.

Distractions vs. Priorities

I am currently working on two short stories at once. One is for a Kickstarter anthology open call, and the other is a wonderful shared worlds anthology I have had a request to submit to. I am now working to two deadlines, and at a time when my dearest friend, confidant and sister is facing her own most horrible and inexorable deadline with brain cancer. So, of course here I am up-dating my blog. Why? Don’t writers need to be diligent? Nose to grindstone? Stay on track, butt to chair and all that? My answer is yes, of course.

All that, but I do believe we are complex beings as well. We need to understand ourselves and what is blocking us.

Sometimes we just feel lazy (it’s summer I want to go lie in the sun) sometimes defeated (what makes you think you stand a hedgehog’s chance against a mallet you can make it into this amazing anthology? With these incredibly successful and diligent authors?) We can meet most distractions like this with force and determination. (Butt in chair first, you slacker. Don’t think, just do.) But at other times it’s our failure to look up from our thwarted, anguished page and see that what we’re facing is our own physical and emotional torment. Ignoring our reasons for procrastination is as bad as hitting ourselves over the head with a hammer because it feels good when we stop.

Sometimes we must seem to let go in order to hold on.

So I have. I have put the longer WIP on hold 40K short of completion. A hard choice. It is a project very dear to my soul and I have an editorial request for it. Setting it aside might be fatal. But not an error. Not now. Career vs Family? No contest. I have looked my guilt straight in its mean little face and seen her for the varmint she is. My first priority is family and my own emotional health.

There are times I let the ebb and flow of the ocean take me. It’s healing just to watch it and not think at all. At others I re-finish furniture, draw silly cartoons, work in my garden, write poetry, talk to friends on Facebook. I have allowed myself to cut back while keeping up my morning pages, this blog, and a few short fiction subs. Rawness, dear reader, is not the same as distraction. Nor is it a reason to stop living either. As author Graham Joyce put it in own final blog post: “Just cherish it all.” And raw as it is, I intend to.

I would love to hear what you think.

The Fall

I do not profess to be a poet, however today upon this autumn equinox having watched my dearest friend and sister pass with grace through that thin space between this life and that other I am compelled to write words. If they are poetry so be it. They are the words I perceive on this day, granted the gift of vision only such a profound and graceful passing could give me.  Thank you my Mary. This one is for you…

THE FALL

Death opens us all

As nothing else can do

Shell

Nut falling from the shatters

New

Revealed we are broken

And remade a thin place

A membrane. A shade

Left behind is all

This is.

Light calls. All is Well

As we yield to open that letting go

Anger Ego no more.

The Floor we pass through observing Death.

The dear one—

We are there our own loss

Our own self. Gone

Passing in startled surprise—

All other emotions enter it: Love

Birth. Despair all passing,

Passing with the tick-tick of

Veins pulsing in-out-breath

Fading from that skin

Belief is in—

Re-leaf. It comes to us all    As we fall.

What is Success?

This is not the answer to a JEOPARDY question. Well, wait, maybe it is.

Just before the Holidays 2014, I found out I’d made my fifth short story sale of the year. “GRET” a short story that takes place in the fantasy world of my work in progress “TRUTH SEER” sold to Ragnarok Publications BLACKLIST ANTHOLOGY, which is the companion anthology to the greatly-anticipated BLACKGUARDS.  BLACKGUARDS’ table of contents reads like a who’s who of many of the best writers in the fantasy field. Because the BLACKGUARDS Kickstarter campaign surpassed every stretch goal set for it and became a Kickstarter staff pick, Ragnarok editors Joe Martin and Tim Marquitz rewarded their backers with an additional anthology. Thus the BLACKLIST ANTHOLOGY was born.  260 hopeful authors and writers submitted to Ragnarok’s open call. Thirteen stories were selected. Two for BLACKGUARDS and eleven for THE BLACKLIST.

Here’s where the JEOPARDY part comes in.

My short story GRET was written because I really wanted to get into BLACKGUARDS. I admire Ragnarok, an amazing up-and-coming publisher, I like writing fantasy fiction and more specifically Grimdark Fantasy. Mostly I wanted to be a part of what looks to be a stunning line-up of authors. But, as in all open submission, I was taking a risk (thank goodness not in front of a huge TV audience). That risk was I might not make the cut. I could have been one of those other 247 open subs.

Would I still have been successful even so? Of course! Are those who get invited to appear on JEOPARDY a success even if they don’t win? Of course! Competition or no, it takes brains to be on JEOPARDY. Nobody gets on there without a ton of smarts. If you are making sales as a writer at all, it means you’ve been invited to the show.

Success is writing a story in a limited time and finishing it and then going on to write the next and the next. Success is sending out those stories. Success is accepting passes as well as sales because both these things are about progress, about learning the market and learning the writer’s craft.

I have sold stories this year. I have also had passes, some decent ones and others crusty and one non-response. I’ve continued to put down words. I’ve forced my butt into my chair, through death, through anguish, through fear and through just plain deadlines. This was my success in 2014: that I kept going, that I took responsibility for my own career and that I re-submitted stories others had passed on.

I would love to hear about your successes last year. What were they and what kept you going?

Wing-chicks, Muses, Mentors and Friends part one

Wing Chicks:

May also be read as ‘Wing Man’. This term was explained to me by Gay Haldeman, the wonderful wife of author Joe Haldeman at a World Fantasy Conference I attended one year. Gay told me that a ‘wing-chick’ is that person who is there for you to support you when you are in action. I found I liked it so much I resolved to be that for several writer friends I know, as well as hoping I might aquire a wing-chick of my own. Since then I am honoured to have several wing-chicks and all of them are very dear to me. In my profession, action involves public appearance: readings, presentation, networking and sales. Action also involves writing and production. A wing chick helps with all of these and is more than a muse, a mentor, or a friend. It is possible to have more than one wing-chick and one may be a wing-chick for more than one person. Being a wing-chick is a commitment. You can’t be one unless you care deeply about furthering somebody else’s career. Being a wing-chick is a selfless paying forward of time and effort, but it is also fun. Wing-chicking has so many benefits. You have the pleasure of watching the growth of someone’s career. Of having early and often the first access to reading their work. You gain pleasure from making the path a little easier for your partner by being there at their readings, by their side at conferences, celebrating successes, plugging their work, stepping in and assisting when they need back-up, providing a sympathetic ear, facilitating in every way to the best of your ability. A wing-chick learns while being a wing-chick. Every experience is a chance for taking in knowledge and learning what works in the business and what doesn’t and often applying it to one’s own endeavours.

I think that to understand what it is to have wing-chicks of your own, you must first be a wing-chick yourself and watch other wing-chicks in action. Keep your eyes and ears open at conferences and you will see them in a big group of writers, interjecting a genuine compliment here or a suggestion there. Good wing-chicks do it easily, without being obtrusive, and often while working on their own careers as well.

A wing-chick is appreciated, needed and active. I do not believe I’d be able to keep going without my wing-chicks. I do not ignore them or take them for granted. They are all a stimulating drink of much needed incentive and I try to see them as often as time and finances allow. Thank goodness for social media and email to bridge the gap between re-unions. My wing-chicks/ wing-men are all active writers, but a wing-chick/man could also be a spouse, a family member or a writing partner. In every case it should be somebody who cares about your work almost as much as you do.

Being a wing-chick is freeing for me. It keeps me thinking outside the dimensions of my own creation and within someone else’s. It helps me celebrate another’s genius with delight and enlightenment. I know I will never write the way my author friends do, and they accept my individuality.

Wing-chicks.

So what about you? Who are your wing-chicks? How did you get them? What are the rewards for you?

Part 2: Mentors

When I find myself challenged is when I most need to challenge myself. I learned this technique by watching my mentors at work.

Two days from now, I will be attending the SuperstarsWriting Seminar down in Colorado Springs http://superstarswriting.com/ thanks to a wonderful scholarship I received from WMG Publishing.http://www.wmgpublishinginc.com/  This is an intensive and holistic crash course with a super-powered tribe of writers and NYT award-winning authors in the business of writing. I cannot wait to challenge my skills with these inspiring people.

I am a writer. This I did on my own. But improvement and success has come about with the much-valued assistance of my mentors. I have learned by the best process possible. I have found and learned from artists who travelled the path before me. In the early 90’s Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, incredible speakers, editors and award-winning authors, were the first to give me encouragement and some very honest advice. They didn’t need to do this. They had busy lives but they took the time to reach out to a newbie/ hopeful like me and give me a much-needed push. I had completed a manuscript and thought it was ‘ready’. *sighs at younger self* After a lifetime of writing and getting nowhere as far as selling went, or bumping up the level of my writing, hearing their information about the craft was like watering the root of a starving plant. I heard truth, knew it and surged forward, writing four novels (while holding a day job and raising two kids) and taking a number of incredible courses down on the Oregon Coast. I improved by practice, became a member of the Oregon Writers Network and found my tribe.

In 2000 I met award-winning author Carol Berg,http://www.sff.net/people/carolberg/  who writes glorious, soul-stirring Epic Fantasy novels for ROC Books. At that time she had just launched TRANSFORMATION her debut novel. We became instant friends but in this process she has become the ideal mentor. I have had the privilege of following Carol’s career close to the beginning and learned so much about every aspect of this business through writing sessions, plotting, and attending conferences and readings with her.

I learned that no writer/author gets where they are without hard work, set-backs and frustrations in this business. Well, maybe a few go astral right away, but those are exceptions and once they hit the New York Times List, this presents its own set of challenges.

2014 has been a heck of a year filled with several bereavements, estate legalities and house purging. Yet during this intensive time, through the horrendous loss of my dear sister and muse, I have managed to mentor young writers and do the WMG Anthology Course.

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/workshops/

In 2014 I wrote at least 100,000 words, sold five short stories, attended four major writers’ conferences as a panelist and yet another as a volunteer. I did all these things because, though life was rolling over me, my soul needed to speak, to scream at life and keep going or I was going to fall apart. I needed mentorship and to be a mentor. It has been my salvation. I am still sane. (I think.)

Four days before she died in hospice, Mary, my dear muse and sister, asked me to read her the story I was writing for a shared worlds anthology—one which I had set aside for several weeks due to my need to be at her bedside 24/7. It was the last day she could speak, yet she wanted me to read THAT story to her, unedited and rough as it was. It was a beautiful experience sharing with her that one last time. Almost her last words to me were. “You are going to do this thing. I want you to promise me you are.” I promised not just Mary but myself. Since the day I was born, my sister has been my first and important mentor. Even now after her passing her words keep me going.

Mentorship. I have been so blessed to find mentors. Artists with courage to keep me going even when there seemed to be no going. Find your mentors, dear friends, for in these you discover the path to inspiration.