Tag Archives: writing

Slushy Confessions

I resigned from my position as a First Reader at Strange Horizons. I held the position from mid-September 2012 to the end of July 2013, so that’s about eight-and-a-half months (SH was closed to submissions in December and January.)

Slush: crushed ice and syrup. Tasty.

the other kind of slush

I’m a bit sad it’s over. Slushing was a good experience, and I learned a great deal.

Writing instructors will often say slushing will benefit your writing. They’ll say it’s good for you. But I have to admit that when I applied I was a little vague about exactly what that benefit would be.

Here are a few things I learned from my first reader experience.

First, I learned that all of the standard advice about writing good fiction that gets repeated in every writing class and how-to-write book is actually true. I knew it on an intellectual level. Now I believe it, on a gut level.

Second, a form rejection letter/email means exactly what it says. The magazine has decided not to publish my story. That’s it. Really. As a First Reader, I sent form rejections most of the time. A thoughtful personal comment for a rejection letter takes time to write. Time that could be spent reading the next story in the FR queue, or writing, or reading that neglected novel.

Third, a personal rejection doesn’t necessarily mean my story is “close” or my submissions are getting better. As a first reader I occasionally added a personal comment to the rejection email because I thought I had something useful or helpful to say about the story. But even then, I only wrote that comment if time allowed.

Fourth, I think I’ve gotten better at giving feedback to members of my critique groups, at least when it comes to identifying story problem areas. Whether or not I’m better at identifying problems in my own writing, or figuring out how to fix them, remains to be seen ;-)

Lastly, I learned the secret to getting your story past the slush reader, and into the hands of an editor. The secret? Write a fantastic story. So simple in theory, but of course difficult in practice. As a first reader, it was the best feeling ever to read a story that I could pass on to the editors with a note that said I loved it. That made my day.

And now that I’m retired from slushing, I’m looking forward to spending more time writing, and making a dent in the piles of books that have accumulated around my house (at a faster rate) since I started slushing.

Happy Writing!

Words Like Lego

One thing that Mary Rosenblum said during the one-day workshop I took with her was: “Words are like Lego Bricks”

That idea really struck a chord with me, and soon after that I saw this Lovecraftian lego sculpture at the business where my oldest daughter works.

giant octopus attacks spaceship

giant octopus attacks spaceship

Words are just building blocks. The magical comes from the way we connect them, and they can be put together in an infinite number of ways. So all I have to do is snap those bricks together and build a story. Edit, and take them apart. Rearrange and build some more.

This is fun, like building with Lego.

Happy Writing!

LegoOctopus_1

Dandelion Inspiration

Argh. It has been almost three months since my last post. Time for some introspection? Excuses? Self flagellation? Pledges to post regularly from now on?

Naw. (Who wants to read that?)
Well, maybe an implied pledge. Because obviously I’m starting to blog again.

I found this dandelion growing in my driveway the other day.

Nature finds a way to keep growing.

Nature finds a way to keep growing.

It inspired me with its tenacity and simple beauty. I want to be like this dandelion. Push through the cement and grow like a weed.

Happy Writing

Character Building in Layers

Photo of a lilac tree Miriah saw on her walk in Bellevue on 30 April 2013

Lilac tree in Bellevue. It’s Spring!

Looks like Spring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Beltane!

I’ve been busy with real life, the kids, etc. Slushing has also kept me busy (since February 1st I’ve first-read 179 stories totaling 702,600 words).

About two weeks ago I attended a Clarion West ONE-day workshop with Mary Rosenblum “Step Into Their Shoes – Breathing Life Into Your Characters”. This workshop was amazing. Mary Rosenblum is not only a wonderful author, she is also a fantastic teacher. If you ever get the opportunity to take a class from her, I urge you to do it!

One thing I learned in the class is that depth can be added to characters during the editing process. An approach Mary suggested is to edit for characterization in layers, progressing to the next level on each pass.

Levels of Characterization
1. External – What the character does in reaction to physical stimuli.               (The first draft)
2. Internal – How the character reacts physically. Body language, facial expression, etc. that indicate thoughts, attitudes, emotions, etc.
3. Modify the internal reaction to convey a sense of backstory.
4. Modify the internal reaction with character faults that are known to the character.
5. Fine tune so that as the story progresses, character traits that the character is NOT aware of are revealed to the reader.

Photo of a fern Miriah saw on her walk in Bellevue on 30 April 2013

A tentacle fern, ready for Spring!

Here are some more things I’ll be thinking about when I try to create deep characters. (This is sort of from the notes I took in the class, filtered through my brain. Mary’s version and numerous insights were SO much better.)

Voice – What the character says and does.
I’ll be asking myself, would my character really SAY that? Because if I write a character speaking with my vocabulary instead of their own, then that character will sound like me instead of himself. I’ll also be asking myself, would my character really DO that? As the author, I am holding the puppet strings. But the reader should not be aware of those strings. So if I need the character to notice a clue or look out the window to further my plot, I’ll make sure she has a believable reason to look.

Environment – How the character is molded by their world and society.
It can be really easy to fall into the trap of having my character react to situations the way I would. But if (for example) I have created an oppressive world, then my character needs to reflect the pervasive world view. I will ask myself how my character has been affected by living in that society and how he has internalized that society’s ideals. Then I’ll ask myself if she is reacting in a way that makes sense.

Perspective – How the characters evaluate what they observe.
People are constantly noticing what other people are doing, and observing their environment. So I’ll be asking myself how my character relates those observations to themselves. How do they interpret the surroundings and people around them? What does it mean to them? A person who gardens will notice more specific things about a room full of plants than a person with no interest in plants.

Change – How the character changes over the course of the story.
I will remember that like regular people, characters don’t just have an epiphany and change suddenly. The character needs to change as the result of external stimulus and experience. In a character-driven story, the character should make one step along their character arc in each scene.

For more about getting into a narrator’s head, check out Cat Rambo’s recent blog post.

Happy Writing!

not accepted and moving on

A drawing by Alison Hetherington

by Alison Hetherington

I applied to the Clarion West six-week Writing workshop, and received my rejection letter last Friday (March 22).

Oddly, it wasn’t until after I sent in my application (five weeks before the deadline) that I realized how desperately I really wanted to go. It was like holding a lottery ticket. I hardly ever buy lottery tickets, and even when I do I don’t daydream about winning a million dollars (well, not for more than five minutes). But I did daydream about going to Clarion West, and how indescribably amazing and life-changing it would be.

Hoping for that golden-ticket phone call was far more stressful than I had expected it to be. I watched the forums on the Clarion West web site. On March 12, applicants on the forums were already speculating that acceptance phone calls were imminent. Although I made only a couple of brief posts myself, I saw the craziness I was feeling echoed in post after post from other people. Some “forum-ers” with far better Twitter-stalker skills than me found a tweet from one applicant who got their acceptance phone call on March 19.

I wish I could say that I was able to channel my anxiety into a flood of productive writing. But no. I have been at a creative stand-still for the past two weeks. Today I dredged up my last unfinished short story, a Sci-Fi story based on an early 1600s Border Reiver ballad. Because it’s time to shake it off, move on, and keep writing!

My rejection email included the phrase “our readers particularly commended your work”, which I’ve heard is a good thing. I will be thinking about participating in the Clarion West write-a-thon, and I hope to apply for the workshop again next year.

And this summer in Seattle there will be weekly Clarion West Instructor readings to look forward to.

Happy Writing!

Urban Green Man

My Green Man story, “Green Salvage” was accepted for The Edge publishing’s Green Man anthology, edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine. It will have an introduction written by one of my most favorite authors, Charles de Lint. The anthology is scheduled to be released in August. The table of contents is posted here.

Green Woman with Rowan Berries

This Green Woman is on the wall over my desk;-)

I am utterly thrilled. The prospect of having something I wrote in a book with Charles de Lint’s name on the front cover was a huge motivator for writing a story that might fit. Plus, I love green man (and green woman) mythology. “Green Salvage” is my favorite of the stories I have written, and I am grateful to the editors for putting the anthology together, because otherwise I might not have written it.

Thursday evening I got to actually meet Charles de Lint. He and his wife MaryAnn Harris were speaking at the Pacific Northwest Writers Cottage in Issaquah.  Charles and MaryAnn were delightful, so warm and personable. They sang a song Charles wrote about Johnny Cash – his dog, and a song he wrote for (the amazing) Terry Windling, “Cherokee Girl”. Charles talked quite a bit about writing (most of the audience were writers after all).

I bought “Under My Skin”, book one in Charles de Lint’s new “Wildlings” YA series. When he was signing it for me, I mentioned the Green Man anthology and that I had a story in it. (I was so nervous I was shaking.) He shook my hand and congratulated me!

And that is the absolute highlight of my writing experience so far!

Happy Writing!

Character with a Bow

I’ve been taking archery classes for about four months now.

It looked like fun and I wanted to try it. Also, I plan to write a main character who uses a bow for survival, so I wanted to have first-hand experience. If that sounds like an excuse well… Okay it is an excuse.  I found out that it not only looks like fun, it is fun!

Miriah's best target shooting at 10 yards (so far)

Miriah’s best target shooting at 10 yards (so far)

But now whenever I see characters on TV and in films with a bow, I notice the inaccuracies. Partly because I want to make sure my writing is as realistic as possible.

First of all, a real archer would never hold the bow when she draws, aims and releases the arrow. When you see that archer in a film drawing the bowstring and gripping the bow with their bow hand? There is no way that is real. After safety, this was the first lesson. Gripping the bow with your bow hand when you shoot throws off your aim in an unpredictable way. So a real archer wears a finger sling – a loop of cord that goes around the bow and is attached to the thumb and a finger of the bow hand so the bow does not fall to the ground after he releases the arrow.

Anchor under jaw lineNotice my bow hand is not holding the bow

Anchor under jaw line
Notice my bow hand is not holding the bow

Another thing I notice on TV and film is the fictional archer’s anchor. When the archer draws the bowstring, are all three fingers under the nock, with hand resting (anchored) against his cheek? Is the nock between the first and second fingers with the hand under the jaw? Is the palm turned inward or outward? I have tried all of these techniques in class. In the current modern sport, which one depends on the type of bow, usual range, individual preference, and probably lots of other things I haven’t learned yet.

Anchor at corner of smileNotice my bow hand is not holding the bow

Anchor at corner of smile
Notice my bow hand is not holding the bow

In the fantasy or historic setting of a story, the anchor method would be a significant identifier of where (region or culture) the archer was from. For accuracy, the important thing is consistency and releasing the bowstring without conscious movement – your fingers simply relax. All movement in the bow arm when the arrow is released comes from tension in the back muscles that are working to draw the bowstring.

I’ve learned that you never (intentionally) “dry fire” a bow. That’s what it’s called when you draw the bowstring without an arrow nocked, and release. The energy that would otherwise go into the arrow and send it flying feeds back into the bow instead – it can break the bow. One way that could happen accidentally is if the arrow’s nock breaks. So a good archer always takes care of her arrows and inspects them regularly.

Another thing I will be taking into consideration when I write an archer is that shooting arrows is very tiring. A long bow (the most likely version in a low-tech setting) requires a great deal of strength just to draw. A composite Recurve bow (like the one Katniss uses in The Hunger Games film) is not as difficult to draw (it’s the type I usually use in class), but still wears you out. A compound bow is more high-tech (that would be my choice for a steam-punk setting) and makes it possible to “hold” the bow in the drawn position without much effort.

The character I write who is relying on her bow skills to survive will also need to practice every day. Luckily she won’t mind. Because shooting a bow is fun.

Happy Writing ;-)

An Sgeul Beag (The Small Story)

In my last blog post I wrote about writing intentions and goals for 2013. I have other goals unrelated to writing – like getting more organized and the standard improve-my-health-through-diet-and-exercise. Let’s not forget my ongoing goal of raising two pre-teens to eventually reach their full potentials and be (hopefully) less narcissistic than I was at their age.

Another goal I have is to improve upon my understanding of the Gáidhlig language. Luckily for me, my friend and Gáidhlig teacher Geoff Sammons has thought of a way for me to work on my Gáidhlig and for both of us to blog more frequently. (Yay Geoff!)

Geoff started a story, in Gáidhlig – on his blog, and I added my best shot at the translation in a comment. Now I’m going to post what he wrote plus my translation, then add a few more lines in English. Hopefully we can keep this up, and write a little narrative together.

Sin agad e! (There you have it!) Blog posts, Gáidhlig learning and storytelling fun all in one;-)

Happy Writing!

 castle_scotland

Geoff:

An sgeul beag ùr airson Miriah

’S e oidhche dorcha ’s stoirmeil a bh’ ann. Choimhead a’ bhànrigh a-mach uinneag an caisteal ris an gailleann, dh’fheitheamh i ris an rìgh. Chuala i a-rithist mu dheidhinn an rìgh agus ceannard an fhreiceadain.

Miriah’s translation:

The new short story for Miriah

It was a dark and stormy night. The queen watched the storm from her window in the castle, and waited for the king. She had heard (or heard rumors?) about the king and the leader (of their personal?) guard.

Miriah’s addition:

Sir Iain had served on the personal guard of king Niall’s father, the old king, during the war. Queen Siobhan’s marriage to King Niall established peace between the two kingdoms. But after five years, Sir Iain still did not trust Queen Siobhan and insisted on meeting with the king in private.

And next: Geoff’s addition, anns a Gáidhlig??

Year in Review: 2012

Bliadhna mhath ùr a-huile duine! Happy New Year everyone!

Drawing of bagpipes held in tentacled arms

Tentacles and Bagpipes (sounds like the name of a pub)

First of all, my big news is that The Drabblecast accepted my “Earth Music” story!!! I am truly thrilled. This is a story I’ve previously blogged about writing and editing (also known as my alien and bagpipes story). It began about a year ago on 1 January 2012, whilst I was attending a “First Footing” event and thinking about a writing prompt from Cat Rambo’s SF&F class.

If you aren’t familiar with Drabblecast.org, you should be! Check out their short story podcasts – it’s free and awesome! They really live up to their byline, “strange stories written by strange authors for strange listeners”. To be perfectly honest, not all of the stories appeal to my personal taste (I suppose my strangeness is not fully developed), but all of them are beautifully produced. I am honored that they accepted my story, and I can’t wait to listen to it (so far I don’t know when that will be).

Miriah Hetherington learning to use a bow

Miriah in (beginning) Archery Class

A little over a year ago I sent in my first story submission – and got my first rejection from Daily Science Fiction on 20 December 2012!  The email print-out is prominently displayed over my desk, next to a framed copy of my first acceptance.

My stats for the past year:

Acceptances: 2

Rejections: 12

Pending: 1

Number of different stories submitted: 5

(Writing-rpg posts: a little over 100)

I will resist (sort of) the temptation to make a list of New Year’s resolutions about writing. “Resolution” seems like one of those ill-fated words. A word destined to result in failure, a word that weighs you down with its negative subtext.

Instead I’m going to declare some writing Intentions for the New Year. These are my personal goals, subject to change and in effect only for so long as they motivate me in a positive way!

Writing Intentions (NOT resolutions) for 2013

1.    Write AND submit ten new short stories (goal: one a month)

2.    Finish the first draft of my novel (goal: 2,000 words per week)

3.    Blog more frequently (goal: weekly)

What writing intentions/goals have you set for yourself in 2013?

Happy Writing!

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Today, I’m a part of The Next Big Thing blog hop, thanks to speculative erotica writer Victoria Pond, author of My Lady Gambler. The Next Big Thing is a branching pyramid-of-prose for authors to discuss their latest release or WIP. Each author answers ten questions (see below for my answers), and then tags other writers to do the same.

So it’s kind of like a chain letter for writers, without the dire threat of evil consequences if you break the chain. (Oh hey, that could be a writing prompt. Hmm…)

Marymoor Park, Redmond Washington

Rainbow over Marymoor Park in Redmond Washington

At the moment I am primarily focused on writing short stories and even submitting a few. But, I’m going to play along with the spirit of this exercise, and answer the questions based on my novel Work In Progress… using a very broad definition of “Progress”. It’s also the book I started for NaNoWriMo.

1. What is the working title of your book?

Arthropod’s Touch

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for the “creatures that need killing” in my book came from watching a murmuration of starlings video. This is truly a spectacular sight, but just imagine if you saw that after watching Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Now imagine insects instead of birds.

My two main characters were conceived of as part of the backstory for one of my Player Characters in my cooperative writing Role Playing Game. Since then they have transformed and grown into separate personalities who demand their own unique world.

One influence in my world building has been the pervasive inequality in western culture. I tried to imagine an ideal, and was also thinking about the MVP (Minimum Viable Population) concept in terms of humans colonizing a new planet. How would I (or my fictional counterpart) select humans to colonize a new planet with the intent of a) making sure the human race survived and b) increasing the likelihood that a new human culture would develop without a privileged class based on gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. This was the beginning of my world building. I’ve found that a vision of idealized perfection is a great place to start because then I can figue out all kinds of stuff that can go wrong.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Post science fiction heroic fantasy.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Now that is difficult, but I will give it a WAG (wild ass guess).

The brother might be played by Ben Barnes, whom I remember best for the title character role in the film “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”.

I think I’d like the sister to be played by Parminder Nagra, whom I loved as Jess in the film “Bend It Like Beckham”.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Whilst coming to terms with what they are, siblings Kestra and Razmer must  rescue their Sept’s children, expose the Dyozan Bishop’s purpose for kidnapping them, and unite the Clades against a greater threat: the Sturmitera are swarming again and humanity cannot survive another Grand Murmuration.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Until I have an actual manuscript in my hand, this is something of a moot point. My gut inclination would be to go the traditional route. But, who knows?

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I would need a time machine to answer this question. So instead I will declare a goal: to finish my first draft one year from now.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My hope would be to create something that fans of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books might like. Not that I could come close to her awesomeness! And whilst I’m in the land of wishful thinking, I would also hope it might appeal to fans of David Gemmell’s Drenai Series.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My mother is a big inspiration and source of encouragement. She provides an attentive ear for bouncing ideas around. When I’m having trouble figuring out a scene or short story, describing it to her helps me clarify it in my head. If I can’t explain it aloud, I know I have some more day dreaming to do. And of course I couldn’t be writing at all without the support of my wonderful husband!

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

One of the things distracting me from writing this novel is the backstory. There is a short story, or possibly a novella simmering in the back of my head about the humans from earth that colonized the planet, and the aliens that are there when they arrive. I may need to write that story first.

That’s it! The Next Big Thing Blog Hop! Are you a writer willing to be tagged for the Next Big Thing blog hop? If so, let me know via comment or email [ miriah (at) live (dot) com ] and I’ll add you to my list here!

Now, I  hereby tag these writers to answer the same questions in about a week. (Or when they get around to it. No dire consequences, remember?):

Jessica Broughton, Genre: Speculative Fiction

Gayle Weatherson, Genre: Speculative Fiction

Frank Kim, Genre: Contemporary and Speculative Fiction