Monday, July 30, 2018

Retreat! Taking a step back to move forward (now with scene cards!)

The word retreat is a funny one. It can mean giving up the fight and running away. It can also mean a purposeful step back, a repose or reflection. This year I needed both.

I had dropped my novel entirely in May and June, choosing instead to work on short fiction to match my shorter focus (end of school year teaching + graduating daughter = scatterbrained Samantha). I was having a hard time getting back into the flow and picking the project back up. I felt lost in my own novel. All my momentum had fallen still.

My critique group has a tradition (we've done it three times now, so that's a tradition, right?) of taking a summer writing retreat. We pool our funds and rent someplace nice for a few days in July and go and write our fingers off. This year's retreat was at Pelican House, part of the Trinity Center in Salter Path, NC. I've been on two previous writing retreats here with the RCWMS and when my group said they wanted beach instead of mountains this year, I suggested here.

3 Views from my retreat
Besides the access to the sea and the wetlands, wonderful for walking and thinking or clearing your head, this complex offers a variety of working and contemplation areas and a dining hall, so I can just show up and eat without having to give over any time to meal preparation (anyone who prepares the meals at their house will understand how much time that really is). And, especially for beach access, it was very inexpensive. Just over $300 covered my share of three nights food and lodging. 

But, I'm not meaning to make this blogpost into an ad for Pelican House. I'm meaning to write about the value of a retreat. 

I'm a writer with a full time job (sometimes more than full time: I teach) and a family (a husband, a teen/young adult, a tween, and a rescue dog), so my writing is often in the backseat of my life, crammed into the corners where I can stuff it. I'm pretty good at being productive this way. In the five years since I "went pro" by signing my first book contract, I've completed two more novels, several short stories, and drafted three other novels that are simmering on my back burner now. But, it's not easy. Too often I lose the flow because I can't get enough focus: either I'm short on time, or my mental and emotional energy is pulled somewhere else. 

But a retreat is dedicated time. 
  • I go somewhere else, so I can't get distracted by the state of my house and decide that clean towels matter more than fresh words. Out of my usual element is a good place for fresh starts.
  • I make arrangements for my children and dog (the husband went with me this time, but even if he hadn't, he'd make his own arrangements). I put off any other life business and really, truly live only my writing life for a few days. No teaching life. No home life. No mom life. Just writing. 
  • I go with trusted writing friends, which leaves room for talk and discussion to help hash out ideas if I want it, and makes my company people who will understand if I find a zone and ignore them for eight hours, too. 
  • I go with a clear goal. This year, mine was to map out what I've already written, trying using storycards for the first time to organize my vision, and then to get back into writing this book!

StoryCards for Thursday's Children, Day 1

I feel really good about the progress I made. Not only am I feeling focused on this book, I think using storycards might be my new M.O. 

I've tried doing this digitally with Scrivener and other tools, but it wasn't really working for me. So, I went with paper and pen. Sometimes, changing the tools you use can make all the difference in how it works for your brain. I'm mostly a digital tools kind of writer, but I do find that some things work better for me on paper and by hand.

Orange notecards here are Kye'luh Wade's (my main character). Green ones are Jason Berger. Yellow ones are Malcolm Singletary. Pink ones are rando-thoughts that I didn't want to lose about problems to fix or other chapters to write, sort of my "parking lot" for stuff to pick up later. 

When I sat down to do this, I had about 50K of the novel written, all pantsed. I've seen several different versions of storycards, storyboarding, post-it outlining, or whatever you want to call this process. Most recently, I'd read DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira (well, part of it; I'm not done yet). Pereira calls this process "scene cards" and says that each scene card should include: a title, a list of major players, a description of the action, and a statement of the scene's purpose. That last part is crucial for pantsers like me, who are always looking to impose structure after the fact. 

So, that's what I did first: made a scene card for each chapter I had already written, adding the color coding element for my three point of view characters to watch for balance among them as well. 

It was enlightening. 

Sometimes I couldn't easily name a purpose for a scene, or I could only name one purpose and it didn't seem like a very important one. Sometimes, I ran into a glut of several chapters in a row with a single character, leaving my other storylines hanging too long.  Sometimes I spotted a GIANT hole where there's nothing to connect an earlier scene to what happens later. 

This was so helpful! It probably also helped that I was far enough into the process to have a little distance. It almost felt like I was the helpful friend examining someone else's books to find the flaws and help fix them, rather than being my own critic. It felt like good useful work instead of self-recrimination or negative self-talk.

So, does this mean I'm an outliner/planner now?

I don't think so.

I think my process will still involve a fair amount of exploratory/discovery writing where I pants my way across the countryside waiting for the story to tell me what it's about. But I think I'll get to a point on each project, where this will become useful and will help me get to the end and build a more coherent first full draft. So, I'm excited about finding something new that works for me!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Guest Post: Favorite Five by Patricia Josephine

It's always such an exciting thing when a new book comes into the world and July 24 is Patricia Josephine's book birthday. 
To help her celebrate, I've invited her to share my blog space and tell us about her new release. 

At first, Quinn isn’t impressed by Keane. He’s cocky and has sex on the brain. The polar opposite of her. Despite their differences, something blossoms between the two.

Never one to take things seriously, Keane is an incubus coasting through life without a care. When he meets Quinn, her lack of reaction to him piques his interest. No human has ever been able to resist him.

As Keane and Quinn struggle to understand what is going on between them, something sinister rocks their world. Young incubi are vanishing, and Keane's friends go missing. Someone is after his kind. When Quinn is kidnapped, Keane must uncover who is behind the abductions and get to her before it's too late.


Favorite Five: Tempting Friendship
by: Patricia Josephine

Another author did this for her book, and it looked like so much fun, I had to get in on it. Here are my answers to my favorite five things about Tempting Friendship.

1. What was your favorite line of dialogue?

"Seriously?" That's Quinn's favorite reaction to outrageous things and it often got he and Keane bickering which was fun to write.

2. What was your favorite scene setting?

When Quinn and her friends are in the private room at the strip club. It was fun writing their reactions to such a posh room.

3. What was your favorite cliffhanger? 

When Quinn sees what Keane is. It gave me an evil laugh. >8D

4. Who is your favorite secondary character?

I love Quinn's BFF, Abby. She's carefree, sweet, and, a great friend. She always knows when to push Quinn and when to listen.

5. What was your favorite change? 

There really isn't one that was big enough to think it made the story so much better. There were lots of little changes, but nothing big.


Buy your copy: 

Enter the Giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
About the Author

Patricia never set out to become a writer, and in fact, she never considered it an option during high school and college. She was more of an art and band geek. Some stories are meant to be told, and now she can't stop writing.

She writes New Adult under the name Patricia Josephine and Young Adult under the name Patricia Lynne.

Patricia lives with her husband in Michigan, hopes one day to have what will resemble a small petting zoo, and has a fondness for dying her hair the colors of the rainbow.

Social Media Links:

Storytime Blog Hop: Team Building Exercise

Today I'm playing along with a new (to me) blog hop: The Storytime Blog Hop. Participants are asked to post a speculative fiction story less than 1,000 words quarterly. So, here's my story: "Team Building Exercise." I hope you enjoy it!

“Now stare into your partner’s eyes.” The trainer’s voice had taken on a dreamy, hypnotic sort of tone. “Imagine you can see into their very soul. Let the connection between you flow.”

Adam looked at the man across from him. Though they had worked together for several months, he realized he didn’t even know what the man’s name was. Will? Walter? Something W, he felt pretty sure. He looked steadily at the man, but he felt nothing. He was a quiet, steady sort. No one that Adam found particularly interesting.

These kinds of exercises were the favorite team-building activities of the new department head. She was kind of flaky, to say the least. Adam missed the old guy. He’d gone with good old fashioned alcohol as a bonding element. Even if he didn’t feel any closer to his colleagues at the end of the day, at least there had been some fun and laughter. It had been better than all this earnest, touchy-feely shit.

It wasn’t long until his attention wavered. He wished he had been partnered with Lisa. That was a pair of eyes he’d happily gaze into hoping for a connection. Hers were that sharp clear blue that it felt like you could cut yourself on. But the only two women in the group had been assigned as each other’s partners, probably in an attempt to avoid another debacle like the sexual harassment training that had cost the old guy his position. Lisa had her laser-gaze aimed at the new girl just transferred from upstairs. So, that left Adam with Wilbur, or whoever he was.

He forced his attention back and saw the amusement in the other man’s eyes. His lack of attention must have been obvious. He shrugged apologetically and tried again to maintain focus on the task at hand. He met the man’s steady gaze and tried to feel something.

“It’s Wilt, dumbass. My dad was a big basketball fan.” Adam blinked. The man’s mouth had not moved, but he was sure he’d just heard him speak.

He broke eye contact and looked around. Everyone else was intent on their partner’s faces. The teamwork guru cleared her throat and arched an eyebrow at him when he met her gaze. That had been weird.

Wilt wasn’t smiling anymore when Adam looked back at him. His brown eyes had gone dark and cold, and Adam swore he felt a swirling hatred in the look. He couldn’t imagine what reason the man had to hate him. They barely knew one another. “You don’t even remember, do you?” The voice was in his head again. Suddenly his throat felt tight. Adam gasped a little, trying to catch his breath. Panic rose and his eyes grew wide. The room seemed to grow grey at the edges and then he collapsed on his desk.

“Ms. Smith? I think there’s something wrong with my partner,” he heard Wilt say. He swore the man sounded amused. He heard all the chairs moving back and everyone talking at once, but he couldn’t move. Somebody pulled him out of his chair and laid him out on the floor.

“What’s his name?” the trainer was shouting.

No one answered her.

Adam, he thought. It’s Adam. Then it was all black and quiet.
I hope you enjoyed this bit of flash fiction! Don't forget to check out the stories by my colleagues on this bloghop (links below):

Another Time, by J. Q. Rose
Suds and Scales, by Eileen Meuller
Beginning Again, by Karen Lynn
Under The Bridge, by Katharina Gerlach
Black and White, by Bill Bush
Summer Siren, by Elizabeth McCleary
The Birch Tree, by Juneta Key
The Zoning Zone, by Vanessa Wells
Secrets, by Elizabeth Winfield

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Art and the Artist

I was a guest author last weekend at ConGregate (a FANTASTIC small convention in High Point, NC that you should all attend if it's reasonable at all to your lives). I've written about it before: here, here, and here.

One of my panels this time was a conversation on separating the art and the artist.

Carol Cowles of the podcasts Guardians of the Geekery and Out of Our Skull moderated a panel of me, sci-fi/fantasy author and publisher Nicole Givens Kurtz of Mocha Memoirs Press, and sci-fi/fantasy author and editor Margaret McGraw.

It's always epic to have a conversation with intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, and articulate women like these three, but this discussion has really lingered with me. It's still resonating several days later.

What's a reader/viewer/media consumer to do when a work of art you love is sullied by realizations about the creator?

When you find out the author is a racist, misogynist jerk, or the actor sexually assaulted someone?

Are you a bad person if you still admire the work? Or a hypocrite?

The four of us couldn't solve this quandary in a fifty minute conversation at a convention, but we did break it down a little and how it works for us when we find we have a problematic love. The big conclusions I walked away with:

1. Context is everything: consider the timeframe and life experience of the creator. (Especially useful when we're talking about classic works of history)

If you read or view media that is more than fifty years old, there's a high probability that you will find attitudes that seem old-fashioned or even outright offensive to modern sensibilities (and not just if you're liberal; conservative views have evolved, too). Art is always part of the era in which it was created and artists are people with beliefs and attitudes, too. (NOTE: there's plenty of misogyny, racism, and hatred in contemporary work as well, but I don't give it a "bye" like I might in an older work).

So, do you throw Herman Melville's Moby Dick back into the sea unread because of the cringe-y chapter with the black cook? (Or Queequeg?) Do you burn copies of the First Folio because of antisemitic jokes in Shakespeare's plays? Is Rochester still hot even though he locked his first wife in the attic when it became clear she was mentally ill?

If you follow me on Goodreads, then you know that I read a fair amount of classic literature. So, I run into this quite a bit.

There are some classics I can't get through because the bile fills my mouth until I'm ready to vomit. There are others that I can grimace through a section that makes me feel uncomfortable because there's enough to the rest of the work to keep me pulled in and engaged.

I don't write off the problematic attitudes entirely and automatically as "well, it was different back then" because that's only partly true (I'm looking at you HP Lovecraft, considered racist by your own peers even "back then."). But nor do I refuse to read anything that reflects a world view I disagree with.

A major part of why I read is to learn. To walk in someone else's metaphorical shoes and see what it is like to be them and live their lives. That includes learning about people I wouldn't want to invite to lunch. Understanding is at the heart of growth and change.

2. Attitude in the art: is the attitude or belief that troubles you evident in the work itself?

When I'm reading a living author, currently writing, it's pretty easy to learn about their lives and attitudes. Like many contemporary readers, when I like someone's work, I check them out on social media, follow their Twitter or Instagram, subscribe to their newsletter, attend their public events.

That's not always great for my enjoyment of the work. I learn things I wish I didn't know.

More than once, I've learned that someone who made a piece of art I enjoyed is not a good person by my personal moral compass.  Sometimes, this changes how I view their art. I can't, for example, watch anything with Woody Allen in it anymore without getting slammed in the face by all the troubling sexual attitudes, when once I would have laughed those off as comic exaggerations.

But, sometimes, I don't find the "problem" in the work. There are some writers I have enjoyed reading that I was genuinely surprised to learn held attitudes I find offensive. HP Lovecraft's racism is directly in the work. You don't even have to dig for it. But when I read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, I didn't notice an anti-homosexual agenda, even though I now know the author has one (I haven't gone back and re-read since I learned though, so I don't know yet if it would color my perception of the work).

But then…especially if the author is still living, I have to consider what I'm supporting with my money:

3. Follow the money: Are you funding bad behavior that you don't support by buying this work?

When the #metoo movement started uncovering poorly hidden predatory behavior in Hollywood and other media, I felt gut-punched more than once. Someone whose work I admire was revealed for the ugly face beneath the pretty mask and I learned once again that actors ACT, so it's a mistake to conflate actors with the characters they play.

But, when I go to a movie, my dollars don't all go to that actor. A movie employs a LOT of people doing a lot of different kinds of work. Of course, if an actor stops being a box-office draw, they will stop being cast, but I don't generally go back and destroy all the copies of movies I already have and enjoyed before the fall. I might even still see a movie with a problematic personality attached, depending on how intrinsically linked the project and the person are.

With a book, there's also a production team, but it's much smaller, and it definitely feels like more of my dollars are going to the writer. So, just like I don't eat at some restaurants or buy some kinds of products because I don't want to hand their owners dollars to ruin my country with, I also don't buy books by people like this. If I want to read them still, I borrow from my library or buy second-hand to mitigate the financial aspect of support.

So how about you, friends? How do you handle it when you learn something troubling about an artist? Or are the art and the artist completely separate in your mind? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shall We Play a Game?

I've always liked games. It's partly the game itself--the brain tease, problem-solving feeling of achievement--and partly the camaraderie of the time with my playmates.

When I married my husband, I leveled up when it came to games, learning about a world of different sorts of games than the Gin Rummy, Clue, and Yahtzee that I grew up on. Now we're a pretty serious gaming family, whether we're talking about board games, card games, improv games, role-playing games, or video games. We have quite a library of games to enjoy, but it can be hard to find time amongst all of life's other demands.

I got to play quite a few games in the past few weeks. Summer vacation is great for that, because I sometimes still have a little brain left to use for fun at the end of the day :-)  Some of the fun is choosing the right kind of game for the group and the time frame.

So here are a few of my favorite picks from Bryant family gaming so far this summer.

What do you play with an 11 year old girl, an 18 year old girl and her boyfriend, three grandparents, an aunt, and a set of parents during a family graduation party? We went with Use Your Words.

It's a party game for a videogame console. We played it on our Playstation 4. It doesn't require any video-gaming skills. Instead it networks your phones, tablets, or other internet-accessing devices through a website with a room code. It's a series of mini-games in which you make up subtitles for a film clip, newspaper headlines, and mad-libs style fill-in-the-blanks, with the goal of being funny enough that the other players will vote for your answer. It's great in that it's not knowledge based (unlike trivia games), so younger players (so long as they are old enough to read and write well) can participate fully. 

Another console based game I enjoyed recently was Overcooked on the Nintendo Switch. This one is a co-op game (meaning all the players are working together to achieve a goal, rather than working against each other). It's probably easier for people who have some video game experience, but there are only a few buttons to figure out. This matters to me as I'm not that great at remembering complicated game controls. 

The premise is that we are a group of chefs trying to fill orders while the kitchen itself provides additional challenges, like occasionally getting rearranged as the ship rocks, or having very narrow passageways so it's hard to move around each other. It's got a silly animation style and each challenge is short, so you don't need a lot of time to play either. I'm especially fond of co-op games, so this one is right up my alley. 

Off screen, I've been enjoying short board and card games: games with a less-than-15 minute
playtime. Our recent high school graduate is one busy young woman and it can be hard to pin her down long enough to play something good, but with quick-but-fun games like Kokoro, Tides Time, and Wonderland, we can fit in a quick round of fun after dinner and still leave time for her to spend time with all her friends.

Kokoro is my favorite of these three. You get a printed white-erase board with the grid for the game on it and based on the cards you pull, have to build a maze-like path connecting certain elements. The more you connect, the higher your score.

Tides of Time and Wonderland were also beautiful and fun to play, but are only two player games, so great for me and my husband, but not great for family night.

I'm looking for more games with a very short play time like this because they really fit well into this phase of life.

One more recent play was Rising Sun. This is a big board game. Best with several players (we played with 5) and requiring a long play time of three or more hours.

My husband scored this one on Kickstarter, so we have the edition with all the fancier fiddly-bits: metal coins, 3D building and tokens for various parts, and extra materials that don't come with the standard edition. The more I've played games, the more I've come to appreciate the art and craftsmanship of well made game pieces. They make a game feel like a luxury experience. 

This game took me a while to understand, but I really came to appreciate it. Both complex and easy to understand, it's a satisfying experience for more experienced gamers who are looking for something a little different. It's a territory game in some ways, but there's also a political element, monsters, special abilities, and several different possible paths to victory, not necessarily coming from winning the most battles. I look forward to playing this one again!

So, that's what I've been playing this summer. You can read my fuller reviews and comments about these and other games I've been playing in this Google Plus collection

Any other gamers out there among my blog-readers? What have you been playing? Got any suggestions I should check out? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

IWSG: Ever-changing Goals

It's the first Wednesday again, which means it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. This month, we're celebrating on Tuesday because in the U.S. July 4 is a holiday and hopefully we'll all be too busy having picnics and fireworks and eating hotdogs at baseball games to read blog posts!

July 3 question - What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

The awesome co-hosts are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne! Be sure to check out what they have to say after you finish here!

For the longest time, my goal was pretty simple: finish writing a book. It took me a shamefully long time to do that. But I *did* do it, and I'm still proud of that because I know that while a HUGE number of people think they want to write a book, only a small percentage ever actually do. 

I started writing my first one when I was about fourteen--it was a romance with a tennis theme, co-written with my thirteen-year-old best friend. It was probably terrible, but the world will never know because we didn't finish it. 

I started and abandoned MANY over the next few decades--that Alcan book, the haunted house one, that painfully autobiographic lament. Some of those are definitely better left abandoned. Others might have been good someday. 

But when my youngest daughter was born and I was suffering with post-partum issues and trying to build a new life in a new place, I found my critique group and they saved my writing life. 

Because of them, I learned to stay focused on one project rather than jumping around to every new shiny that caught my eye. Because of them, I learned to produce pages regularly. Because of them, I finished that first novel (His Other Mother, unpublished, completed 2013, twenty-nine years after my first attempt at writing a book). 

Once I'd done it, my goal changed. I wanted to write a book I could get published. 

Once I'd done that, I wanted to finish the series (that one is still in progress). 

That's the nature of goals, after all. When you achieve one, you need a new one. 

At this point, I know I'm in this for the long haul, so I have several categories of goals, and they are always changing:  

Immediate 2018 Goals:

1. Finish Thursday's Children (current novel WIP) and decide if it will be indie or if I'm seeking a traditional publisher for it. 

2. Finish three short story projects that are still dangling.

3. Submit all my unpublished work (no one will publish it if I don't submit it!). 

Longterm Goals:

  1. Get faster. There are a lot of ideas on my BackBurner that I'd like to complete. My TBW list (to be written list) is dangerously long, and I'm not producing as fast as I want to. So, I'm always looking at my process and my time management and my skill level to see what I can do to work faster without sacrificing quality.
  2. Diversify. Most of my published work is connected to the Menopausal Superhero series. That's great! Because I love that world and I want those stories out there, but I don't want to be a one-trick pony. I have other ideas that need developing as well, so I'm working on balancing writing time to keep momentum alive in the work that I've found success with, while still exploring new projects. 
  3. Expand my readership: I want to make my living as a writer, solely as a writer. So that means I need a broader readership. I'm grateful to everyone who has ever bought and read one of my books and hope they all love the experience and tell all their friends, but hope isn't enough. So, I'm seeking opportunities for promotion and trying to balance all of that alongside writing new material. Whew!
There are sub-goals in there and vaguer aspirations, more like hopes than goals. I'd like to win a major award. I'd like to gain acceptance into SFWA. I'd like to be the author guest of honor at a convention. I'd like to earn enough from my writing to pay for a decent vacation some year. 

But mostly, what I want is to keep writing because it is my very favorite thing in this world to do.