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Scotland Easter

I haven’t been writing on here nearly as much as I used to, and I want to change that.  In the meantime, I might make up for lack of blog words (as I’m trying to focus all my words elsewhere at the moment) with photos.

We just returned from a week in Scotland, and spent 2 nights camping in our favourite spot at the foot of Ben Nevis. There was snow and hail above 700m and it rained almost the entirety of our stay, plus I was on week SIX of a mutating flu/cold/virus thing with my right ear completely blocked, so we didn’t do any proper climbs. But it was gorgeous as ever, regardless of where I stood.

Once back on dry, sunny land in the lowlands, I managed to meet one of my favourite authors (Laini Taylor — author of the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy and the recently released STRANGE THE DREAMER, which I’m currently devouring). And ate some scrumptious Mexican food.

Hope you all had a marvelous Easter weekend! <3

Rushing water everywhere on our first hike of the day.

 

 

Love this tree.

 

First view of Steall Falls (my 2nd, but first on this trip), which was used as backdrop in Harry Potter & the GoF.

 

The infamous wire bridge.

 

Steall Hut in the glen facing away from the falls.

 

Steall Falls.

 

Sodden.

 

But all that water makes for gorgeous green, right?

 

Just wet.

 

 

Miros Cantina in Edinburgh, best Mexican in the UK!

 

Had a brief chat with the inspiring and utterly fabulous Laini Taylor at Waterstones in Edinburgh, after her talk and Q&A.

 

Back on dry land, down in Cumbernauld.

 

Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading (when everything is a) Challenge

Last week I tweeted about how excited I was to smash my 2017 50-book reading challenge on Goodreads, since I was ridiculously proud of my mere 30 in 2016 (recap, and, okay, a bit of justification: 2016 was not a smooth year for me). I WAS excited, I noted, until I’d decided to re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS this year (the latter being my absolute favourite book of all time).

Don’t get me wrong — I’m euphoric about reading these. It’s been several years, and while I try to watch the LOTR trilogy every Christmas, reading the books takes a bit more time. My books-read counter is going to crawl over the coming weeks. Not because I’m a massively slow reader, but because these words must be  s a v o   u   r    e      d.

As Pippin quoted Treebeard:

So I’ve started THE SILMARILLION, this time with a Tolkien dictionary and map beside me (for following all those Valar and Maiar and Quendi around). But it got me thinking.

Reading As Respite — and Motivation

Truth is, in times like these where concentration is hard to come by due to current issues, the best thing to do is dive into what inspires you, and remind yourself of what makes you feel hopeful, and strong, and creative, and motivated, and just plain good. And just as Tolkien described in his beautiful essay, On Fairy Stories, this isn’t about escapism in the negative sense:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he . . . thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

And as C.S. Lewis said in OF THIS AND OTHER WORLDS regarding the reader of fantasy: “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

So. Rather than buckling down and sticking to my usually-demanding daily word count (or, when editing, scene tally), I’m giving myself a bit more grace. If my struggle to focus is throwing up brick walls (or walls that look like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and news outlets…), I need to step back and not beat myself up for it. And in the evening, maybe start my reading a little bit earlier. Rather than staring at a screen and berating myself for sub-par productivity, I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay to just go to words I love, and sit there for awhile.

Granted, I’m not on a deadline other than any I give myself right now…

Why I Write

I love what Tolkien said about his Elves in the preface to THE SILMARILLION:

Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations . . .  And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation.

The Elves used their abilities to add beauty to the world, not control it nor become its master.  Tolkien wrote much about writers as sub-creators, made by a creator they’re naturally inclined to wish to imitate. “We make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made.”

But this is WHY I write — with the hope I can also create a world of a story and characters and events that might someday be someone else’s respite, inspiration, or encouragement.

We create to inspire, and we read for inspiration. While my productivity might be a bit lower currently, my well is being filled, and that’s no bad thing. It’s the very thing I need to prepare me for the next set of words, and the next set of days.

I hope you’re filling your well with words that inspire you. <3

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We can be heroes

It’s been over a month of the Earth spinning without David Bowie and Alan Rickman still on it, still creating art. I wanted to write about it right away, but it seemed too fresh, and now that time’s passed, I feel like I can better put into words what it’s meant.

Some people say it’s pointless to have “heroes” or look up to celebrities because they’re as fallible as the rest of us; that they’re “nobody special” and I didn’t know them personally nor they me, so why are my emotions involved?

Well, I can take that argument five steps further than most, because I *have* known some of my heroes personally. I dated one of them for half of my twenties. I can tell you that what you think you know about someone whose work you admire may be twenty miles from the truth. But what I can also say is, whether you have a real-life connection or not is not the point. The point is the work, and the gratitude you have for that person’s willingness to share it with the world. A person’s work can say different things, specific to each person who receives it. And that’s part of its beauty. That’s part of what makes living beautiful.

Like a lot of people from my generation, I suspect, Labyrinth was my childhood gateway to David Bowie. Still one of my favourite films, partly because my biggest creative hero in life, without realising it for many years, is Jim Henson. Sesame Street and the Muppet Show played a huge role in the kind of person I grew up to be. Sesame Street in the 70s & 80s was *magic* and it taught kids so much. It’s still teaching today. If you ever get the chance, check out Jim Henson’s biography by Brian Jay Jones, one of the best books I’ve ever read.

What Jim did was devote his life to his passion, through incredibly difficult times, through painful rejection on his most beloved projects that he put his entire heart and soul into, and he never gave up. He was also taken from us too soon, though it’s mind-boggling to think he could’ve given more than he did. He drew teams of other visionary artists around him, and they made worlds of education and love and storytelling come alive. People toss around the word “legacy” with little consideration for its weight, but Henson, Bowie, and Rickman truly have left us their legacies.

So Labyrinth was a big deal for me, and Bowie was genius casting. He was Jareth. He was a goblin king of both light and dark, unafraid to face both sides and question each. As I got older and played in bands, one band covered Ziggy Stardust, and our guitarist gave me the album as a present (thank you, Jeremy). I was enthralled. It had taken me that long to dive into Bowie’s music, and as trite as it sounds, he truly lives on in it. He’s not gone from this planet. He’s here for as long as we are.

If you missed it, another of my heroes, my favourite actor Gary Oldman, gave the most perfect and moving tribute to Bowie at the Brit Awards, along with Annie Lennox. I don’t think anyone could put it into better words than these two.

And Alan Rickman. Another of my favourite actors, This was such a hard week and I think I must have said, “No, that can’t be right,” in utter confusion for several minutes when scrolling through headlines. I loved Alan’s work since Die Hard, from music videos to personal projects to Hollywood blockbusters, to Snape, to my favourite philanderer in Love, Actually. He was also an artist who gave his everything, not for celebrity or red-carpet moments, but because his soul’s expression was through the characters he brought to life. You could see the passion written on his face. You believed him, every time, utterly. And if you read his quotes in recent tributes, you know he believed his talent was a responsibility. It was serious work, to him. It wasn’t a job – it was a calling in life that he could not refuse or ignore. He knew he had a platform to do good things, and he used it.

The similarity between Bowie and Rickman isn’t just that we lost both during that horrible week; it’s passion. Both reached inside and brought it out with every creation. There was no half-assing. They could do nothing BUT give us their all.

So why do I look up to the people I call my “heroes”? If they’re fallible and imperfect like the rest of us, and they just happened to be born with drive and talent and innovative minds, and they got money and fame in exchange for doing it, why do I look up to them?

Because they didn’t stifle their creative voice. They did something with it that’s inspired me to share my own. There are hundreds of pop songs, fun books, films, TV shows, theatrical shows, and actors I enjoy immensely — but there are only a *handful* of creative people I call heroes. They’re the ones who bring me true joy, who make me feel alive, whose work shows me something important about life. They’re the ones who’ve inspired me to live better, work harder, create more, and not give up on my own passion.

We all have passion inside us for something, but sadly, I don’t think we all chase it as though our life depends on it. These two did, and I’m grateful to God for it.

“A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”
– Alan Rickman

<3

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#WIP Marathon — January!

Last report word count:

When last I left my WIP, SAPPHIRA RISING, I was at about 20k, with a load of backstory and character arcs written out on top of that…

Current word count:

…but, somehow, despite feeling not *fabulous* about my progress in January — you know, berating myself for too many breaks, too many internet black-holes, not enough consistent daily habits — I somehow managed to get the WIP up to a whopping 59,988!

If this t-shirt would suit you like it would me (though I did a film degree, not English. Sentiment’s the same!) …

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… then to help you out 😉 that means I somehow got almost 40k done in January! WOOHOO! Not including all the other stuff I wrote that WASN’T this WIP.

WIP Issues This Month:

I’ve been away from this WIP for since early summer, busy on other manuscripts and online writing classes. I realized the truth in something Delilah Dawson said in her LitReactor class on world building back in Nov/Dec. As I mentioned last month, she said she sees first drafts as carrying hot laundry from the dryer. You need to hold all of it tightly and walk as fast as you can. If you drop stuff, you have to go back and find it. If you go too slow, it gets cold.

I loved this analogy, but this month, I recognised its applicability. I let this WIP go cold, and as a result, had to work really hard to find any spark in it. I should have written it when the idea first came, but my writing brain was occupied by other stuff. I’m not 100% back in love with the original idea, but at least after January, I can say I’m rolling out the words again, and maybe a *new* spark for me — for this story — will ignite.

And as for first drafts, these two recent tweets spoke to my soul. Maybe you can relate, too:

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That’s the best way I’ve ever seen to summarise first drafts:

“Here’s the worst version of this scene I could write. Moving on.”

That should be my aim. In fact, I want to write that on a Post-It and stick it to my monitor whenever I’m first-drafting.

Four things I learned this month in writing:

Apart from the above, there’s also everything I read in Elizabeth Gilbert’s rad book, BIG MAGIC. Walk, do not run, to your nearest bookstore or Amazon and buy this book. I’ve never read EAT, PRAY, LOVE nor anything else by her. But this book picked me up from a dark place and put me on my feet. And each time negative thoughts have encroached on my flow, I’ve gone back to highlighted passages. I went to a café and copied all the best bits into the back of my daily planner, so they’re there, with me, all the time. Reminding me.

One of my favourites:

“The ones who stand at the gates of our dreams are not automatons. They are just people. They are just like us. There is no neat template that can ever predict what will capture any one person’s imagination, or when; you just have to reach them at the right moment. But since the moment is unknowable, you must maximise your chances. Play the odds. Put yourself forward in stubborn cheer, and then do it again and again and again.”

(emphasis mine).

What distracted me this month while writing:

David Bowie. Alan Rickman. The days we learned of the deaths of these two wonderful artists, I felt physically hit by a wave of loss. I’m writing a very belated blog post about this that I’ve not put up yet. That was an extremely emotional week, especially given of course that I didn’t know either personally, and I can’t begin to imagine what their families and loved ones are going through now. I’m just another fan and appreciator of all they did. But wow. I hadn’t expected the impact.

On the bright side, I dove into Bowie’s music and Rickman’s work with renewed love, and am inspired more than ever.

Gylly Beach, Falmouth, Cornwall
Sunrise on Gylly Beach, Falmouth, Cornwall

On another bright note, I then went to Falmouth, Cornwall for another writing retreat for five entire days. (I know, right? I’m trying to enjoy it while I can). I got a lot of thinking, reading, and writing done, so while this could have been a major distraction, the weather was decent enough that I got out for seaside walks but didn’t sit lost in people-watching all day. I actually sat in my closet of a hotel room most of the time, pounding away at the keyboard.

Goal for next month:

I’d hoped to get 50k written in my WIP during January, but since I got almost 40k + a few thousand on two separate stories, plus my first completed short story ever (4k) through a 2-week Lit Reactor class with Richard Thomas on short story mechanics, I’m absolutely thrilled with my progress so far in 2016. Praise God.

So for February, I’d like to finish my WIP first draft, and finish the edits on my last MS that I thought were long done. But no. An adverb hunt led from one thing to another. It’s amazing how in love you can grow with the adverbs that have been in your story since the beginning. You feel like they’re part of the DNA. I’m here to say, THEY ARE NOT. CUT. Cut the ones you don’t need! I’m leaving in a few that I think are integral to the tone, mostly in dialogue. I don’t think you need to cut them all, but just try it. Cut out an adverb you’ve been clinging to for months, and then re-read the entire paragraph, and come back and tell me it doesn’t sound cleaner, neater, more elegant. 🙂

Last 250 words:

This is so very first-drafty. But I haven’t done it in awhile, so here’s something.

“Fretting doesn’t suit you, Charon,” came Galen’s voice from the tank. “And it’s unnecessarily. It’s my fault. I told you people on Staffa were after me. I stole tech from Staffa when Arthur was still alive. He required help with a project, and that was the easiest source for the parts he needed. I got them, but not before being ID’ed, and banned from entering this sector. They only discovered it was me four years ago, but when they did, they had my commanding officer inject me with tracer fluid.”

“So if you flew in this sector, an alert would go up. Great. But why the hell did this affect Sapphira just now? What’s going on?” Jericho stood and leaned over the tank, glaring down at Galen’s face.

Galen sounded like he might shrug if he was attached to a body. “I went rogue, shortly after.”

“I can understand why,” said Charon.

“But why Sapphira?”

“I suspect those on Staffa raised an energy field when the tracer fluid set off alarm bells. The timing of the field raising must have coincided with your download of my memories back into my brain. This set off a reaction, like static electricity, only much more powerful, and as Sapphira was touching me . . .” His voice trailed off. “Also, you’ll find this cruiser is unable to pass out of the field.”

“Lovely,” muttered Jericho. “We’ll see about that.” He pulled up a chair to the comm panel and Charon got out of his way. “I’ll see what I can do. Charon, see if you can get that tracer fluid out of Galen’s head. We need to get the hell out of here before his old friends lock on.”


If you’re writing, I hope you have a fabulous and productive February 🙂 The days are getting longer! Hooray!

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WIPMarathon Report #2 – March

Hooray for WIPMarathon!

I’m so glad we’re continuing to check-in with each other, mostly on Twitter right now but also with monthly blog posts to note our progress on our respective current manuscripts. Lately, I really appreciate accountability for much-needed motivation.

Having said that, however, I am officially a week late on this, but my excuse is I was in London last weekend and then this week seemed to be playing catch-up no matter what I did.

On Waterloo Bridge
On Waterloo Bridge

Last report wordcount + chapter count/scene count: This time last month, I was still in the idea sketching stage. So, a month has passed . . . I must be WORLDS ahead by now, eh? EH?! 

Current report WC + CC/ SC: A month later — words: 13,195; chapters: 3; scenes: 6. Draft #1 is on its way. Slowly. I hope it picks up the pace.

WIP Issues This Month: As I’m now keeping a spreadsheet in Google Docs containing notes on what I set out to accomplish each day versus what I DID accomplish, I can actually look back and answer these questions with some accuracy. This is the first time I’m starting a MS with a 3-act structure diagram and (vague-ish) outline from the get-go. Each day before I sit down to type out a scene, I’m trying to sketch a brief outline with ideas for what NEEDS to go in the scene, in a notebook. I’m hoping this gets me into a kind of routine that helps push me forward each day (thanks to Susan Dennard‘s recent blog series).

The problem I’m finding is that not every scene has an obvious “magical cookie” (i.e. the thing that makes you really excited to write that particular scene). I agree with Susan that each scene SHOULD because of the old, “If it’s boring to the writer, it’ll be boring to the reader” maxim. I believe that 100%. Susan says that if you can’t think of a magical cookie for a certain scene, go back to your original inspiration for the story in the first place, and find it there. This is excellent advice, but I’ve not been doing it. I’ve been trying to force a cookie out of thin air. So I need to work on that.

St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral

Four things I learned this month in writing:

1) Reading books you once adored and thought were the BOMB is healthy — because you might realise you no longer think that. Or you might learn what specific things you loved about them, but where they went wrong that you were idealising all this time. It’s healthy! Though a little disenchanting.

Example: I’m rereading a book that was one of my favourites in my early teens. I haven’t read it since I was about 20. It’s a re-telling that expands on someone else’s characters; sort of an old-school fan-fic. What I loved about it all this time is the *characters*, the idea behind them, the gothic tone, and the historical reseach the author did. The prose and dialogue is actually rather elementary. It’s nowhere near as detailed as I remembered it. It’s a little bit of a let-down, but I’m glad I’m rereading it to find the gems that drew me to it in the first place. It’s nice to know I’m becoming more objective.

2) What kind of story should *you* be writing? I won’t sum this up but simply point you to a great article by the always wonderful Janice Hardy: http://diymfa.com/writing/writing-right-story

3) Don’t know why a scene is happening, or what its motives are? Find the love in the scene. Figure out what the characters love (what they want to happen), and you’ll figure the scene out. Brilliant and surprisingly simple advice from Biljana Likic over at Pub(lishing) Crawl: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2014/03/28/motives/

4) When someone you really admire gives you compliments mixed in with advice (that you might not agree with)… and I mean, someone you REALLY admire, would love to get to know, etc. etc., take those compliments. This person is not a crit partner, nor a friend of a friend, but someone with a position to know what they’re talking about. Take those compliments, and move forward with them 🙂

What distracted me this month while writing: My sister had a baby (her third! A girl!), and thank God for Facetime 🙂 I had some disappointing news mixed in with the good that brought me low for about a week; I had my first (I think) migraine which lead to a week of panic about my eye health; and I had a weekend away in London. I also recorded my first Vlog this month, for Write Away! Lastly, I read the truly inspiring Jim Henson biography by Brian Jay Jones. For someone who grew up with the Muppets (only the originals, please!!) and Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, this is a must-read. It’s hugely inspiring especially for those in creative fields, and I found Jim’s eternal optimism, when when networks and critics panned his work, is as magical as his body of work. I found this distracting because I essentially spent a week watching Jim clips on YouTube and crying my eyes out.

If this video doesn’t move you, you have my sympathy!

Goal for next month: For real this time, I would like to have the entire first draft of this WIP completed by May. We’re already 5 days in to April so I need to get a move on, but I’ve at least made it to Act 2.

Last 200 words: (this is a very, very first draft!)

Without pulling her eyes from the heavens’ arresting mélange, she knelt to the ground, neck still craned. The stars took turns in their luminosity, one color intensifying before ebbing as another outshone it. It was a night sky ballet of twirling tulle and organza of light, donned in all shades of the rainbow. How long she had slept, how she’d fallen without major injury that she could suss, what time or even day it was — Luma knew none of it. She knew only this: she wasn’t in Cornwall. She wasn’t in Britain. And she wasn’t in her right mind.

She sat cross-legged, hugging her knees as though doing so hard enough would prompt the dark earth to swallow her up and spit her back out beside the engine house. Night sounds closed in; a susurrus of scuttling as though from a creature with too many legs, and the dissonant melody of wind rustling leaves filled her with frightful wonder. With unfamiliar constellations pirouetting above, and the inexplicably small barrow at her back, Luma at last took in the ruins of an enormous statue, its pieces dotting the clearing. The limbs were mammoth, and marble perhaps. Arms shot upright like macabre trees, and a giant head leaned crookedly in the center.

In the midst of her disorientation, of alien lights, no mine in sight, and a sense of otherness she could not escape, Luma’s prevailing worry was how Brielle would get to work without her car.

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Thanks for stopping by!

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P.S. Had a fun weekend away in London with my lovely friend Lauri from uni. We saw Phantom from the 3rd row, frolicked along the river, and had many adventures (some of which included the ever-popular game of suitcases-on-the-Tube).

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