Advice from the Greats & a Terrifying Revelation

I worked up the courage a while ago to ask a question. A question I’ve been struggling with since before I started this blog, over a year ago. Then I needed to work up the courage to post this.

I didn’t just ask my Facebook friends. I humbly asked three honest-to-goodness published, famous authors I look up to.

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And even crazier, they responded to me.

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  • Eeach of the authors I asked responded–amazing.
  • Each of them had a different perspective on the answer, but they were similar answers.
  • Each of the authors like the other authors’ tweets, showing that, to some extent, they all agreed with what each other.

 

“Do you want to be an online personality or a novelist?”

 

Brent Weeks’ question began haunting me.

Why did I start this blog? The more I see on Pinterest from ‘professional’ bloggers, the more I asked myself this question. They’re doing it to make some money on the side, either lots of it or enough to supplement other income. They’re promoting DIY projects, new products, recipes, etc.

I’m not here to sell you anything. That’s not why I started this blog. I started the blog because I had decided to self-publish, and countless articles said that having a blog was essential before self-publishing. Growing an audience, a readership. I thought I’d share my writing journey, grow some similarly-minded writers, and share advice along the way.

I started this blog because I heard that writers need to have an online presence even for seeking agents for traditional publishing. That agents won’t sign with you if you don’t have a blog. I don’t think this is universally true, but they framed it in a way that if you didn’t have a thriving blog, you were kicking yourself in the shins. Never mind even trying to write the book at the same time.

With a polished first draft of a novel sitting ready on my laptop, I first had to worry about a blog. Worry about creating an ‘author platform’ for myself. Worry about gaining followers. I don’t have many. Worry about how releasing my first novel would mean getting the second in the series out within no more than a year after the first because your audience wouldn’t wait that long for another. Worry about making an online personality for myself. Not being a novelist.

That’s not me.

As a writer with only a few short stories published, I feel fake shelling out piles of ‘how-to’s’ on writing, pretending like I know everything to hook another reader. And I feel the same way reading others blogs offering advice on writing the best dialogue, the darkest villains, etc. If you haven’t published anything, by what basis are you offering this advice?

And while I stress on getting blog articles out to keep the blog going, I set my writing more and more to the side.

That’s bad. That’s down right the opposite of what needs to happen.

It became a chore. If I wasn’t writing posts on my blog or working on my novel, I felt more and more guilty until now, turning on my laptop for the express purpose to sit down and write gives me roiling anxiety.

I’m not a blogger personality. I’m a creative writer. I’m a fan-fiction enthusiast who delights in complicated villains and shades of grey and have won several contests doing just that. I enjoy grappling with turning the usual way things should go on its head and surprising readers. Tell me I need to write a story about a kiss and I’ll give you love lost and poisoned, a lingering cruel brand on a cheek. That’s me.

I don’t want to be an internet personality. I wanna write. I want to get back into the grit and not worry about blog stats and followers. My writing should speak first.

I’m going to stop putting expectations of thriving success on my shoulders. Of the how-to’s and ‘tips for success.’ Not a single one matters if I’m not writing. Instead of listening to Pinterest, I’m going to listen to me for a while. That had gotten me the farthest.

I’m going to disappear for a while.

See you all on the other side of…writing.

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Supper in a Box: Trialing Chefs Plate

I tend to ignore the flashy Facebook ads running pictures of mattresses in a box or meals delivered to your door. What caught my interest in Chefs Plate was excited conversation in a boardroom, from a coworker, who was sick of grocery shopping.

Now, I am a frugal person (unless it comes to books), so I didn’t dash online to order right away. I looked up reviews, read other people’s experiences, and then found something that clinched it. A coupon! With coupon code loaded, I started the process. I even have a coupon code to pass on, right at the bottom of this post.

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Chefs Plate gives you lots of choice. You can choose either a two person or family plan (we chose for two). Each week has a different menu with many meat options (chicken, beef, pork, seafood) or vegetarian, and they let you see the menu for two weeks out. And the options aren’t simple casserole,s folks. These are delicious looking, intriguing, healthy plates I had trouble picking between. After you’ve picked your meals, you give them your postal code to make sure they can deliver to you, pick which day you want the food delivered (either Tuesday or Friday) and send your monies. Don’t worry–you don’t even have to be home to sign for the food.

For our trial meals, we ordered Paprika Chicken with orzo, feta, and spinach, as well as Gaucamole Turkey Burgers. Husband approved.

As promised, I found a cardboard box of food on my porch when I got home from work on Tuesday. Then I unpacked the goodies! The box is refrigerated and has ice packs so everything stays cool–it’s all recyclable too.

Because we ordered two meals, there were two bags of packed foodables, with each packet of spices, bag of lettuce, or cup of feta individually packaged and labelled.

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Very handy.

Then we set up the colourfully printed recipe card, with follow-along pictures and instructions, and got to cooking.

Yes, it’s blurry. Yes, I may have been too absorbed in dreaming of this delightful dinner than thinking of taking good pictures.

I mean, look at that cooking! Bright tomatoes and boiling orzo? So great. I didn’t even know what orzo was before this (like rice basically).

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Both this dinner (and the turkey burgers I have zero pictures of but were stacked with juicy, guacamole with a side of crispy, freshly juiced lime-iness) turned out spectacularly. The produce was fresh. The meat was delicious and juicy. The spices had true flavour to them. This was good good food. True to time listed, both meals took no more than 30 minutes from start to finish, and was not difficult in the least. The recipe card label both as ‘easy’ cooking difficulty.

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The paprika chicken, garnished with sliced almonds.

We ended up even having leftovers, not necessarily of the mains (two people=two burgers, but I was more than full), but of the shallots, the lettuce, the avocado. We didn’t use all the sides, so I had fun extras to play with for leftover nights.

Overall, I’d do this again. Not often, but as a treat that saves shopping time. And it’s still cheaper than eating out.  Full price for two people with two suppers is $49.80 including the delivery fee (if you pick three meals, delivery is free). Totally up to your family what’s worth your time and what you can afford.

But I can help you with the cost! If you use my referral link, you get the first 3 plates for free (=one and a half free suppers). http://www.chefsplate.com/?r=3pc-va9lO0k 

Full disclosure, if you use this link, I also get one supper coupon.

Anyone else try this? Or use my link if you’re curious and get a taste of it for cheap.

Best & Worst Reads of 2016

2016 brought me so many new authors! I have my list of go-to favourites, but in 2016 I scoured lists of anticipated upcoming authors and found some solid, and wonderfully strange, gems I may have never otherwise discovered.

I read 22 books in 2016. 10,484 total pages. And my longest book was roughly 742 of those pages.

Here’s a list of my best and worst reads from 2016 (note: not necessarily published in 2016, but simply what I read last year).

The Good Stuff

The Builders, Daniel Polansky

I’m a huge Redwall fan. I can still picture the rows and rooows of Redwall books stacked on my bedroom shelf as a child. So when I saw animals on the front cover of an adult book,  I think it took me three seconds before I decided YES PLEASE.

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This novelette was short and punchy. When your book is only 226 pages long, every sentence counts, and Polansky’s writing is precise, vivid where it needs to be, and makes these characters memorable even a year later. You should read this. It features a mouse and a stoat. A STOAT.

The Vagrant, Peter Newman

I wrote a review on this book earlier in the year because it was THAT GOOD. The cover greedily grabbed at me when I first saw it. A guy with a sword and a baby? What??

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This novel is a stunning journey through a devastated world with a mute man, a baby, and a goat.

Depravity is pitted against virtue as the Vagrant struggles against demon invaders and humans alike that seek to scrape raw the human sense of love, generosity, and kindness. Each interaction is a risk, a gamble, a battle.

Newman’s writing is beautifully wrought and wrenchingly grotesque. The characters are layered, complex, and hilarious. The plot takes you through towns, cities, and memories that linger long in your mind afterwards, like twining smoke.

Pick this book up for incredibly rich writing, a twisted take on an apocalypse, and the degradation of human nature. Highly recommended.

–Newman’s follow-up book, The  Malice, is already out! It was also AMAZING.–

 

The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins

What a messed up, psycho-freaky trip through the lives of abused demi-gods. I was horrified, deeply intrigued, and glued to the story the entire way through.

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This is…fantasy. Sure. Yes. The story of a girl named Carolyn, her fellow librarians with unique powers, and their grasping for control of the universe held within their library. God did go missing after all. Carolyn’s got a shot at being top librarian, but has she lost everything that once made her human in return?

If you want something totally different, this is totally different.

 

The Blood Mirror, Brent Weeks

This is probably the most well-known series I read this year. The Lightbringer trilogy is four books in, and has been thoroughly enjoyable. Weeks’ magic system is based on manipulating light, and he’s got a broad spectrum of interesting characters with a twisting plot that keeps you guessing what’s real or not. Over the four books, the series has been strong.

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I struggled with his second book (his portrayal of women and sexuality sometimes made me cringe). And I struggled a touch with this fourth book as well. I found myself less interested in Kip’s tactical journey, and yearning for more character-driven struggles. Also, Weeks’ choice of personal struggle for Kip with his lady friend seemed a bit…oddly specific. He chose to particularly focus on a strange physical issue, and it took up much more of the plot than it needed to. I won’t go into details lest I spoil things.

Gavin goes through some fantastic mental twists, but he seemed to revert to ‘sexually objectifying full-on jerk Gavin’ instead of the more nuanced Gavin I was enjoying. The flip flop from jerk to thoughtful and then jerk again has been frustrating between his books. Just when I start to feel like his character has grown, he returns to his previous behaviour. This feels like inconsistent writing rather than a deliberate character trait choice. Overall, I didn’t get the same rush of tense excitement as I did with his previous books, but it took me less than a week to read it, and when I read books fast, it means I’m enjoying them.

 

The Bad Stuff

Going Grey, Karen Traviss

I know Traviss best from her very well-written Star Wars books, so when I saw she’d published a new book in a new world of her own making, I was eager to dive in.

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It started strong. A young boy in an isolated community, suddenly orphaned, with a secret his family has tried to keep from him. A government experiment that wants the boy back. And the two family military men determined to keep him safe. It’s a thriller…but I never felt thrilled. The plot lumbered through large stretches of plodding manly bonding. Her writing is usually so thoughtful and descriptive in ways that surprise you. By halfway through, I started reading faster and faster to get through it, and never missed a darn thing. There was nothing to savour or sink your teeth into. I was bored. I skimmed, shrugged at the end, and was more than happy to move onto something else.

 

Children of Fire, Drew Karpyshyn

I wanted to read this primarily because of Karpyshyn’s work with BioWare and my favourite videogames of all time. But alas, the writing I hoped for did not translate into a novel.

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Children of Fire started off with an intriguing idea: a few select children are cursed with a chaotic power that will inevitably twist their lives with strife and sorrow. The first 1/3 of the book follows them from birth, how their lives are warped by this event, and the terrible things that happen to them. I read fairly quickly through this part, but then my reading abruptly slowed.

For me, it became a popcorn read. It was a fantasy involving a chosen one with a global destiny, a big bad antagonist, magic systems and histories too often reiterated, with characters that never quite clicked for me. I read pages in a skim and never felt the prose needed any concentration.

If you want a light read with a basic bad guy who wants to destroy the world because he just needs to, magic explosions, and a few violently gory fight scenes, this might be right for you. If you’re looking for challenging prose that’s gets you thinking or complex characters, this isn’t it.

 

Did you read something last year that made you want to hold the  book up like Simba on Pride Rock and proclaim to the world everyone should read it? Or read something that just stank? Tell me in the comments!

Tolkien’s Twelvety-Fifth

Happy 125 years of life and legacy, Tolkien!

We all know of his immense impact, so I wanted to share a few special Tolkien tidbits.

He started his legacy with a scrap of a thought…

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He led a fascinating life…

  • Tolkien said his surname came from the German word tollkühn, meaning “foolhardy” or “daredevel.”
  • Tolkien was an orphan by 12 years of age.
  • He acted as a signal officer in World War I at the Battle of the Somme, but contracted trench fever and was sent back to England.
  • During World War II, he was earmarked as a codebreaker.
  • Tolkien told off the Nazis when they wrote asking him to prove his ‘Aryan’ line before they published his novel in German. Full text totally worth reading. He then described Hitler as a “ruddy little ignoramus.”
  • There are a few dictionary words that Tolkien is said to have first used. One is “eucatastrophe,” which Tolkien said meant “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.”
  • Tolkien had a lot of languages under his belt: Danish, Dutch, French, German, Gothic, Greek, Italian, Latin, Lombardic, Middle and Old English, Old Norse, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh and Medieval Welsh.

He gave us wise words on fantasy…

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He had a favourite line from his own writing…

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If you’re curious what Tolkien sounded like, here’s audio of him reading The Tale of Beren and Luthien.

And as a lesser-read piece of his Lord of the Rings world, I encourage you to try (if you haven’t already) The Children of Hurin. Enjoy the pure heartache. It’s worth it.

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”

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Do you have a favourite quote of his? Or a favourite anything of all his works and wisdoms?

NaNoWriMo – Week 4. Not with a Bang, but a Whimper

nano_logoThank you T.S. Eliot for supplying the title for my last NaNoWriMo update.

The great NaNo finished on November 30th. I did not.

I haven’t yet opened the novel I was working on to tally my final word count. Let’s discover together, shall we? Opening word document…

10, 172 words. Out of the 50,000.

Now, I did say I wasn’t going to try for the full word count as I knew it would just end up stressing me out, but honestly, I was hoping I’d manage somewhere around 25,000. That clearly didn’t happen. I’m a little disappointed. A little frustrated. But this has only cemented something that’s been growling like a hibernating bear woken up by a squirrel throwing a pinecone at its head.

If I’m going to write a novel (a trilogy, more accurately) I have to commit to it. I have to commit the time away from my husband, tv shows, my favourite gaming website (I love you GiantBomb), and invest in the skill I have by USING it.

Crazy, right?

But for those who don’t write, I cannot overemphasize enough that the act of writing takes time. Not just hours. Hundreds of hours. And unlike, say, art, where you can sit down for an hour and see progress towards something beautiful by the end, that doesn’t necessarily happen with writing. I use that example as I dabble in art as well. I often find drawing/painting more satisfying at the end because I’ve created a project I’m proud of by the end of an hour–or several. Whereas, after writing for an hour, I know that I’m going to have to go back and edit, revise, look at if it fits with the rest of the plot, and possibly delete most of it. Writing is a different beast for me.

So what are next steps?

A wonderful bestie of mine mentioned that being back in school–instead of an office–with other writers has stimulated the excitement for writing again. It was the community around her that did it. My office is full of nice people, but it is a corporate job, and it’s just not the same as being surrounded by people who share your love for the written word. I’m not going to head back to school, but maybe plugging myself in to a writing community is the way to go. Or creating one. And then deliberately setting aside a time every day, or certain days, where writing is my only focus.

How did everyone else’s NaNoWriMo go? Does anyone know of a writing community they would recommend?

NaNoWriMo – Week 2 1/2. Illness, the Great Destroyer.

nano_logoMy whole office has been sick for weeks. They each took turns coughing. In my pride, I thought I could best the rampant, thriving sicknesses assaulting me every day.

And oh how my pride fell.

There were a number of reasons this particular week (and let’s be honest, it’s almost been two weeks) was awful for writing. Some were great reasons. Some were sucky reasons.

Reason 1: A fantastic friend of mine was getting married. That took up a Saturday.

Reason 2: Moving to a new place at the end of October means that our house is a disaster, and it has needed much time to get in any semblance of order. It still isn’t. (think organizing boxes, wads of laundry, constant cleaning, painting, trying to set up electronics…on top of regular life stuff.)

Reason 3: Regular life stuff. Bible study nights, family get-togethers, celebratory dinners, all things that suddenly make most of the nights in your week disappear.

Reason 4: Catching a nasty cold that wouldn’t let up for days. It was so mind-foggingly awful I could barely read a book. I spent three days watching The Office.  (Secretly, the break of not having to worry about or do anything besides rest was really great).

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This made me laugh far too hard. It’s also vaguely wordish related.

And so we came to a place where I hadn’t written in days. DAYS, people. And with the looming successive failures to write stacking up, it’s getting harder to want to get back in it each night. I said in my last blog post that failing was ok, but giving up is not.

So it may not be tonight, but so help me…(someone help me) I will get back into the groove this week.

How are other people doing? Are you racking up the word count or slogging your way through?

NaNoWriMo – Week 1. Aiming to Fail & Why that’s Ok.

nano_logoNaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, for those who don’t know, is when a large group of folks set aside November to madly type at a superhuman pace with the goal of writing 50,000 words by the end of the month. They don’t have to be great words, they just need to be on the page.

Up until the day before NaNoWriMo was set to start, I had no idea whether I was going to do it or not. The first time I participated I hit the goal, and it formed the basis of my first novel. But I also wasn’t working at the time, or unpacking a house, or or or…Thinking about joining this year, I got a rush of excitement, then fell down the steep slope of overwhelming word counts in the midst of overwhelming life and came to the bottom battered and depressed. Then I’d stare at the top again and think how awesome it would be to have a big chunk of another novel slotted in.

But that word count…

And I knew–knew with all my heart–that if my drive for NaNoWriMo was to hit that magic number (around 1,667 words every day) to reach 50, 000 words by the end of the month, this whole exercise would suck. Not push me beyond my internal editor to write freely. Not unleash a burgeoning novel inside myself. It would be long hours of finger-writhing agony each night to make sure I hit a number.

So I decided to fail.

I will not, nor will I try to, hit 50, 000 words and ‘win’ NaNoWriMo. (this is also a public declaration holding myself to not trying to win because the perfectionist in me is getting twitchy about doing this). I made a decision to make NaNoWriMo work for me. Their word count was too stressful for where I’m at right now, too much pressure to write crap when I know my writing style is to write a bit more slowly and do less revision later on.

My goal: sit down every night and write. That’s it.

You should have a goal that fits you. NaNoWriMo is great if this gets you into a habit of writing or vomits out a first draft of a novel you needed a kick in the stomach to get out, then I’d go for it. For me, it’s a way to develop the habit within a structure and community of people cheering me on. Thanks, all 😉


Specifics

  • I’m working on the second novel in my yet-unannounced trilogy (dark fantasy anyone?).
  • 7-8 p.m. is my write time(to put some structure to it).
  • I will write more than 100 words a day.
  • If I miss a day, that’s ok.
  • Keep the flow going, without devolving into writing junk for the sake of writing (don’t let the inner editor edit as much–if you have anything on the page, that’s more to work with than if you had nothing).
  • When the creative juice for that scene runs out, take a break or stop.

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Anyone else out there doing NaNoWriMo? Are you going for the full 50,000 or taking a different approach?