Masterclass with Margaret Atwood

***This is not a sponsored post. I am writing this blog post because I want to***

 

One day as I was scrolling through my personal  (as opposed to my DN page) Facebook feed I saw an ad for something called “Masterclass.” I saw things like Shonda Rhimes teaches writing for television, which sounded cool, but didn’t speak to me. Then one day there was an ad for Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing. Maybe it came up with this because I like the Red All Over fangroup of The Handmaid’s Tale. Or it showed up because I talk about writing a lot. Regardless, I saw it and I was intrigued.

I went to the Masterclass site, and saw that the online course of twenty lessons cost $90. This is obviously a limiting factor for a number of people, and it sucks if it is a limiting factor for you. I grew up poor and even though I was a teacher, I have massive student loans–the only reason I can afford this sort of thing is that via my partner, our family has economic privilege. But full access to the site for a year was 180, or the cost of two classes. Was there at least one more class I wanted to take? There’s also a Judy Blume Teaches Creative Writing class, and that appealed to me. I also want to study cooking with Gordon Ramsay. Other cooking classes. Maybe watch the videos for the Shonda Rhimes or R.L. Stine because whether I want to write for tv or young audiences or not (it’s not) I can probably get some useful writing information. So I paid my 180 and started my Margaret Atwood class.

I am on lesson five and I find it really helpful that I can take the class at my own speed. One day I got through two lessons, but I haven’t done any for almost a week because life stuff came up. I love learning, but being a mom can be limiting sometimes–a college class sounds both wonderful and like too much commitment all at once, for example.

Each class has a 10-15 minute lecture by Margaret Atwood, and then there’s a pdf reviewing what she talked about including an assignment. The videos don’t cut perspective as much as the trailer does–the trailer is a bit irritating that way, tbh. What I find most helpful, though, is listening to Margaret talk about writing. Is it news that you should do revisions? No, but hearing her talk about it as re-vision-ing instead of revision reframed the concept from onerous chore to an opportunity (that is still kind of onerous, but less emotionally taxing that before).

If it is something that has interested you, feel free to ask questions in comments and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.

Missing the Mark

There have been several occasions where I’ve missed the mark, professionally. Times when I mangled the call, or pushed myself to write something I think the person might like that isn’t true to who I am, or just plain fucked up.

I have rushed to submit. Sometimes, even though you’d love to be part of an anthology, you miss the mark because you rushed, and the quality of your work suffered. Sometimes all you get is the rejection. But sometimes the editor lets you know that they like your work, but what you sent them is half baked. Sometimes you just have to say that you’d love to have been a part of something but your work just wasn’t ready.

I have pushed myself to be edgy. I wrote a story called “Lab Rats” last year to submit to a call. I thought the author wanted edgy, so I ended without the happily ever after/for now, and ended on an ominous note. I haven’t given up on the story, but I’ve put it to the side for now. It would fold into the larger paranormal I want to write at some point, and will be much more romance and less edge. I’d say write true to who you are. If you love happy endings, don’t feel guilty for writing happy endings–with everything going in the world today, we need happy endings. And if you’re dark and ominous, be dark and ominous.

I have triggered beta readers on several occasions. We all have our buttons and it’s hard to know when you’re going to hit someone’s buttons. I can’t read any story where someone gets kidney damage–it’s an oddly specific one, but because Athena almost died as a baby and lost a kidney to that infection, it’s very triggering to me to read that sort of thing. But somethings just don’t work, and don’t come across the way you mean them to, and it upsets your readers. Sometimes it’s a not every book is for every reader. Other times, it’s that I fucked up and hurt someone unintentionally. But intentions don’t matter when you cause someone grief. You just hope they can forgive you.

But when you fall down, own up and accept the consequences. No one is perfect, but we can all strive to do better. As authors, and as people.

Changing Up Writing Styles

For years I’ve said I’m a pantser, and that I begin with very little preplanned. I usually know the inciting incident, and an idea of the end of the story, and then I let my characters fill in the blanks. I don’t do outlines. I write the story in a linear fashion–I might throw out some chunk of the first bit of book, or reweave it into the story in the editing process, but for the most part, I write start to finish.

Book three, which has the very trite working title of The Game of Love (because it takes place at a video game company ,GET IT?), is confounding me at every turn.

I first conceptualized the story many years ago. So many I can’t tell you if it was in my literotica days, or if I started a story later and then moved onto something that answered a specific call in the years since I turned professional. It’s stayed on the periphery of my radar, but it’s never been quite the right moment to write it. I’d thought I would do a big multi-pov paranormal for book three, and I have a ten bullet points or so list on tentpoles through the story, but ultimately it was too political for me at the moment. There is a subplot of wanting to take shifter children from their parents, and with everything that’s happening to migrant families, it felt like the wrong time to sit down and try to write it. So when I put away the paranormal, I started going through my “ideas not in production” folder. Some of what’s in there is a single sentence. Other files have the start of a story. The Game of Love had two false starts, and that was it.

When I decided that I was going to play around with The Game of Love, I sat down with my little Ravenclaw notebook and made some preliminary notes. Having done a full length novella and a full length novel meant that I had an idea of what pitfalls were ahead of me. Corporate espionage is one of the biggest tentpoles of the whole book, so I need to know who did what, who got set up to take the fall, and how. But character sketches led to thinking about the books in general, and I started to note down more ideas. Noted down ideas started to come together to make up a plot, until I had essentially plotted out the whole book. I typed up my notes, and ended with a six page, single spaced document of characters and the plotted events of the story.

Thus far, I’ve been writing in a linear way, sort of, in that I’ve written things that took place prior to the start of the book that will end up needing to be in the book, like where my MC’s met, their first kiss, etc in some sort of linear order, but I’ve written very little of the actual book’s chapter one, so to speak.

I’ve joked with friends that they’re rubbing off on me, but really I think that the process of writing is an evolving one, and I don’t know if I’ll ever write two books exactly the same way. I don’t know if any authors truly do, especially at the start of their careers, where every new book brings a slew of new discoveries like I CAN WRITE BUT ONLY IN MY BLUE SWEATSHIRT or I CAN WRITE, BUT ONLY AFTER MY DVDS ARE PROPERLY ALPHABETIZED. All kidding aside, as long as I have flow, I’m down with experimenting with process.

One, Two, or Many Narrators

When I sit down to write, one of the questions I ask is “How many narrators does this piece need?”

For me, short stories are exclusively single narrator. There’s so little time to get the story told that it’s nearly impossible to establish two characters voices. I’m also not sure what a secondary viewpoint would add to the story. Would Dumped have been made any better from getting Storm the asshole unicorn’s voice? No, because it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose. I can show that he’s a jerk without jumping into his head. There’s nothing he knows that my MC needs to know that she doesn’t find out organically within the story.

 

Novellas and novels are trickier. There are great single voice novels, like the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. There are also great multi-narrator/omniscient narrators who jump into multiple characters point of view. But for me, the higher word count gives me the opportunity to full establish two points of view. For example, both Capturing the Moment and Plunder I write from the female and male lead characters’ voices. Books like the Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop, in which we get easily more than five points of view are harder to pull off, but when done well are amazing.

I will confess to trying to write a multi-pov with more than two narrators and it was something of a mess, much like my attempts to write sex scenes with more than two people in it. Not my strength, but something I may do better at in the future.

What about you? Do you deliberately write single/multi narrator books? What motivates your choices?

Audiobooks

Recently I learned that Irresistible has an audiobook. I have not purchased it, but I’m curious.

While at WorldCon, I attended a panel on audiobooks. I’ve never created one, although I’ve certainly considered recording myself reading the first chapter of Capturing the Moment. I learned how expensive they are to create, how complicated they are to make, and why you shouldn’t just give away your audiobook rights when negotiating your contract.

I’ve grown to love audiobooks and I currently have two going in the car. The first is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas with my older daughter, Athena. I want to take her to the movie in October and I think she can handle the book, even though it is intense. The narrator does a great job at reading the story, and I nearly started crying when she narrrates the scene where Khalil is shot. (Not a spoiler–it’s in the flap copy and is the incident that puts the book in motion). The second is Discount Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire, which I am enjoying a bit less because I don’t love the narrators choices (including mispronouncing Aeslin mice, based on the cannon pronunciation guide per Seanan). David Sedaris is a great narrator, and that’s how I super recently fell in love with him–not through his written essays, but by listening to him narrate them on the drive from San Francisco to LA. Ditto David Rakoff (RIP), who I have loved for years. I’ve listened to What Happened by Hillary Clinton on and off, but thinking about the 2016 election (and how she was right) is still tough for me.

But then there are terrible narrators. I love Madeline L’Engle, but she shouldn’t have narrated A Wrinkle in Time. There has also been several dreadful audiobooks of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. If the narrator is crap, the experience of listening to it is crap.

To revisit the question of the Irresistible audiobook–should I get it?

Rereading your own work

I first started writing for Literotica in 2001/2002. I got lots of good reviews, feedback, and all the affirmations a new writer could ever hope for.

I’ve worked at the university stacks for 5 years now…and can I tell you, nothing beats sex among the stacks. I’ve had horny professors, pervy grad students, and uptight law students fuck me up against the books more times that I can count. Who knew bookworms were such sex addicts?

None of what I wrote was….good. Or even okay. I can actually reread that story, even if I roll my eyes multiple times each paragraph. It’s so bad that I wouldn’t even bother using the idea as an inspiration without ripping out the guts of the story and starting over from scratch with a title and a setting. The rest of it? Right in the trash. Why do I still have it? I have no idea–I have a subfolder in my cloud called “Literotica” and all of my terrible, wretched writing is there. I guess it occasionally gives me bare bones inspiration?

Then came my “first novel” if we’re going to call it that. I call it the NaNo novel that must never see the light of day. I started with a decent premise–what if my husband’s family rejected me? But if I hadn’t been in NaNo, which favors word count over quality or process, I would’ve realized that the main character’s sister’s lesbian romance was the far more interesting direction and chucked it to start over. But in NaNo, there is no starting over. There is no going backwards, only forwards. So forged on and I hit 50k words in November 2006.

That book is so unreadable I can’t force myself to read past the first page, if that. I don’t even think about it when I talk about first novels–for me Plunder is my first full length novel. But the truth is that I wrote it, and it taught me important lessons like “write a good book, not a bad book in an arbitrary amount of time.”

My first professional sale was “Renewal.” It was…okay. I rewrote parts of it to resubmit it to If Mom’s Happy, which makes it unique.

But I don’t frequently re-read my own work, mostly because I want to rewrite it. Which I think is common–we are constantly evolving as authors and part of evolution is that things you’ve written in the past feel “bad” even if they represented the best you could do at that time.

That desire to rewrite old work is why time is a gift an author can sometimes give themselves. Sometimes you’re up against a deadline. Other times you just want to get something done with. But if you can, try and create wiggle room in your work schedule. Because sometimes the best thing you can do is let a story sit in a drawer for a while. The irony was that while I didn’t work on Plunder for a little over a year, it was probably a good thing because then I hit it with fresh eyes. While I don’t recommend taking year long hiatuses from your work if it’s avoidable, it can be good to put something in a drawer for two weeks. A friend caught typo errors/missing words in a story I was rushing to finish and was just blind to, even when I read it out loud to myself.

Now this isn’t a universal rule. I recently re-read Capturing the Moment to get a quote for an interview, and I was surprised how much I still like three years after I wrote it, but I may feel differently in another three years, or in thirty years.

What about you? Do you reread your old work? What do you think of it?

 

Worldcon 76

In my last posted I noted that I would be at a conference over the weekend, focusing on writing. It was actually a sci-fi/fantasy convention where they give out the Hugo Awards (the biggest literary prize in the genre, if you’re unfamiliar). While I am not primarily a SFF writer–I identify as a romance writer who dabbles in the genre–I have been a SFF reader since I can remember, more on the Fantasy than Sci-Fi side. I mean, never say never–I’ve been considering turning Dumped into a longer piece, but I think that I’m more likely to make romance a central plotline, which would mean it would be marketed as a paranormal romance, more or less.

The classes I took were specifically for genre writers, but a lot of the lessons translate. Classes like the one I took on contract negotiations were incredibly useful, as was the lesson that I probably will never write children’s/middle grade/YA books, apart from what my children make me write for them. The class on wounds you can get from various weapons was useful for me specifically to help me think about a fencing match Bree engages in while on the Ghost in Plunder.

One of the things that comes up again and again is word level polishing, which is an area where I could definitely improve. Do you do it? If so, where in the process do you do it? Is it its own round of edits, or is it part of your revision process as you’re simultaneously doing chapter/paragraph level fine tuning? Come to think of it, how many drafts do you go through?

Another topic that was referenced more than once, and was even the subject of an entire panel, was that of imposter syndrome. We all have it, and it’s both comforting and exhausting to realize that there probably isn’t a writer out there (person, but today we’re focusing on writing) who doesn’t suffer from it. Which means that no matter how successful I become, I will probably always have imposter syndrome.

I’m starting to plot out my next book, a contemporary romance. I’m usually a pantser who knows the goalposts I need to hit, although I leave such big gaps between the goalposts that my characters sometimes wrest control of the book away from me at time. This is still a goalpost sort of planning, but I’m fleshing out the world, figuring out the characters, etc. Which is relevant because the main character owns a gaming company.

I did a bunch of panels on gaming, specifically women in gaming because as a woman my MC will face a set of barriers and gatekeepers that a man in her position wouldn’t. I’m not much of a gamer, which is why when my new laptop arrives I’m buying World of Warcraft and a few other big games to get to know them, and am also adding a bunch of mobile games that have commonalities to the sort of games my MC would develop. I also took a class on writing interactive fiction, which a layperson would call writing video games. I’m now well informed enough to be intimidated by my choice, but not so intimidated that I’d scrap the idea.

There was also a class on roads to publication. I’d thought indie publishing wasn’t easy, but I didn’t realize how expensive or challenging it really is. Thus far I’m traditionally published and I think at the moment I’m planning to keep it that way. If you self-pub, you have my respect.

If you get a chance to go to a convention with writing panels, check it out. Like I said, even if you rarely write in that genre, there is so much useful information to take away.

Submission Call

Jayhenge Publishing, whom I have worked with on several occasions, has put out a story submission call. I highly encourage you to work with Jayhenge–the editor, Jessica, is amazing and will help you develop as a writer.

Hey, all you women writers out there! Let your pioneering spirits soar! Whether exploring new vistas or encountering ancient ones, the call of unknown places and unseen sights is strong in many of us. Our planet has so many wild places—jungles, deserts, mountains, and more, and the cultures that go with them—the type of “wild” that you might have found on the steppes of Mongolia, the dusty heat of India, the blowing sands of the Sahara. Imagine all that wild, difficult nature wrapped up in speculative fiction. Then consider generational ships, as well, bringing life not only into the world as women, but spreading it across the galaxies as well; that’s also pioneering. And what about the wild “west” surface of Mars? Gene Roddenberry once described Star Trek as “wagon train to the stars” and so much has come from the imagining of those potential frontiers; where will your imagination take you? Show us!

Payment for stories will be $5 USD per 1000 words

We’re looking for speculative fiction across all anthologies (unless otherwise specified). That includes everything from high fantasy to hard scifi and anything in between.

We do accept reprints, simultaneous submissions, and multiple submissions, though these will slow down our response time.

Story lengths should be anywhere from flash-length to about 20k words, but we have at times made exceptions. We know a story is complete when it’s complete, and arbitrary word count requirements are not always helpful. If you have an amazing story that exceeds 20k words, let us know. We may be able to make special accommodations. 🙂

With regard to copyright, we request the non-exclusive right to publish your story in the anthology to which it was accepted. You retain the rights to your individual story to do with as you wish. Please let us know if you have any questions.

Formatting a manuscript for submission is a pain. Every publication has its own rules–headers, spacing, font, file format, required information, and so on and so forth.

The truth is, it’s just a means of separating those authors who are genuinely serious from those who are just inundating publications with their as-yet unappreciated epic.

We want to make it simple. Our submission guidelines are:

Send a short query describing your work to:

editor@jayhenge.com

If we like what we read, we’ll ask for more info. If we don’t, we won’t.

Just keep the following in mind:

  • Make it clear. You’re a writer, so that’s the easy part, right? 🙂
  • Include your name. (You’d be surprised how many forget.)
  • A “short query” is probably fewer than 500 words, but use your best judgment.
  • A full plot summary (including the ending) is helpful. Please don’t send marketing copy.
  • Word count is also helpful.

We won’t/can’t read anything in a format we can’t open or a language we can’t read.

Microsoft Word doc files are always a safe bet, and Apple’s Pages is also good. If you’re an Open Office user, please save as a Rich Text File or similar.

We reserve the right to reject a manuscript or query for any reason, including but not limited to criminal neglect of creativity, first degree murder of the English language, adverbial abuse, possession of cliché with intent to distribute, and pathological telegraphing.

Usually, however, it’s just that we didn’t think your work was a good fit, and that’s all. Nothing sinister.

Story Acceptance!

I have had a long, hard drought for me since my last story acceptance. I had even reached a point where I had started questioning myself–Had I lost my talent? Had I ever really had it in the first place? While rejection is part of #writerlife, there’s a certain point where my imposter syndrome kicks in and it’s hard to keep sending stories out.

I’m really excited by this acceptance as it is a story unlike any I’ve written before. While I’ve done paranormals, I’ve never written a vampire story. Nor have I ever written erotic horror.

For as Long as You Need Me

A vampire who only hunts men.

A war veteran with PTSD.

Will she be his death or his salvation

Here’s a sneak peek…

Felicity pursued her newest prey. He hadn’t done anything wrong, yet. But if Felicity had learned anything in two hundred years, it was that with men, it was almost always yet. She just had to wait for him to fail her test.

So she followed Sam, and waited for him to slip up.

Why wouldn’t he give her a reason to kill him?

He was helping a woman with her groceries. Surely he’d make a pass at her? He didn’t. He called his mother. He always said please and thank you. He called women “miss” and “ma’am.” He tipped shoeshine boys and newspaper boys. He was irritatingly good.

He didn’t fail the first week. Or the second. He’d passed, so by the rules of her game, she should move on. Instead, she persisted in watching him—three weeks, four weeks—daring him to slip up.

Felicity was following Sam down a darkened street when a car backfired. Sam shrank down, covering his head, and let out a cry. Without thinking, Felicity shot forward, wondering what had happened.

“Are you okay?” she asked him.

I hope you’re excited to see where the story goes!

Why Did My Story Get Rejected? — Stephanie Andrea Allen

I’m sharing this post by Stephanie Andrea Allen, who is an excellent editor. Why did your story get rejected?

My short piece, “Why Did My Story Get Rejected?,” was originally published on the BLLC Review. Rejection is hard, and let’s face it, as writers, we’ve all been there. We’ve worked tirelessly on a new story, only to be rejected from what we thought was a the perfect medium for the piece. Why? Well, no […]

via Why Did My Story Get Rejected? — Stephanie Andrea Allen