I learned in graduate school that I had gotten by for years in school without ever attempting a second draft. My modus operandus was to write one, perfect first draft. Something complete and ready for submission. This isn't how it should work, but it's how I managed to survive through school and undergraduate college.Read More
There was a huge part of me, when I graduated from Tulane University with a Bachelor's in English and a concentration in Creative Writing, that wanted to go on to get my MFA. My writing professor and mentor, Paula Morris, had put my eye on the University of Iowa, and I placed it atop a pedestal. The University of Iowa became my dream school, and I planned to go there—right after I finished my year or two of teaching math in New York City.
The 2008 Recession toppled that house of cards. What I built after that was made of grittier stuff.Read More
So much has happened, and I barely have time to mention it all. Let's do this step-by-step.
The 2016 OWFI Writers' Conference
The Oklahoma Writers' Federation (OWFI) had its annual writers' conference on May 12th through the 14th. I always learn a great deal at this thing. I've been going for three years now, and every time I come back inspired to get started on a project that's been rattling in my head.
This year, my writing group and I volunteered to serve as customer service at the registration desk and in the pitch room—where you can pitch your story ideas to agents, editors, or publishers and see whether they're into them. We didn't get to go to many sessions, which is traditionally where I learn the most. This year, however, I hung out with a lot of people. I had an opportunity to sit and chat and drink with acclaimed novelist Steven James and Noah Ballard, an agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. They had a lot to say about the writing and editing processes that really helped me to put into focus what I want to do in my second draft of Stormborn: Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm, Book One of my new series.
The pitch room was pretty amazing, too. Noah Ballard and Dr. Uwe Stender, founder of Triada US, both talked to me and gave me insightful tips on getting my floundering novel Mister Kiefer to work. Thanks to them, I've been able to recapture the magic of starting that story.
I had awesome talks with Christine Jarmola and Mari Farthing, both of whom were instrumental in my becoming the new webmaster for OWFI. Mari in particular has been tremendously awesome, and I'm pretty sure that she'd be fine if I started calling her my friend in public. It turns out that she and I have a lot in common, with one exception; she makes setting look easy. Her writing is nothing if not vivid and engaging.
And who can forget Carol Johnson and Eric Reitan? I've known Carol for a while, and she's a deeply endearing person with a heart as large as a house. Eric is just cool. Apart from being a fellow writer, he also teaches philosophy at Oklahoma State University. He and I sat together and talked about Plato for a while. He, too, had ideas for a villain that exists in the Stormborn universe, though he doesn't present himself in the first book.
I returned to Tulsa excited and overwhelmed by all of the socialization I did at the conference. I needed rest before getting back to work, and I didn't get any. I've been hard at work finishing Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm so that I can begin editing it into a more viable second draft. Then I have to get to work on Mister Kiefer so that I can query a certain agent with it. When I have some time, I'll have to make some new additions to my Friends page.
Becoming the OWFI Webmaster
This is probably the hardest volunteer job I've had in awhile, and it requires much attention. I have become the official webmaster for OWFI, and I created its new website with a lot of coding that I hadn't expected to have to do. You never know what problems you're going to need to solve when you're building a website until you come across them. Fortunately, I had some help.
Adrean, thanks for standing over my shoulder and telling me what's what. I needed that.
Mari and I are working on a couple of things on the site, including making it interactive enough that users will want to visit it when there's not a major OWFI event looming. Like this writing contest. It was nice to see the majority of the work done. There's still a lot of little things left for me to do on the website, but I'm taking a short break to catch up on other things while people peruse the new content.
The Award-Winning "Xinsheng"
I won three awards at the OWFI Writing Contest! My one first place award came in the science fiction/fantasy category for "Xinsheng," a story that was published in Dark and Dangerous Things III. According to the people who have read it so far, I should warn people not to eat before or while reading "Xinsheng." It's got elements of horror, ergo why it fit in the anthology wherein it was published.
I also won an honorable mention for the poem "A Melancholy Gift" and second place for the novel Pyrrhic, which I'll be continuing to work on beginning in November, December, or January, as time allows. I gotta get a new Stormborn book out, after all. And my editor has me on deadlines that I must keep.
I finally finished the first draft of Stormborn: Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm. Yesterday. I've had this problem for a while where I get to within one or two chapters of finishing a story before I get stuck. It's not writer's block. More like writing anxiety. Or work-finishing anxiety. I'm a big procrastinator, and finishing things gives me tremendous anxiety—anxiety that only the threat of a looming deadline seems to push me past.
But it's over. Now I get to think about other things while I edit this 32,000-word monstrosity.
Mister Kiefer for Young Adults
As I think about other things, Noah and Uwe both seemed to agree that Mister Kiefer would be better as a YA novel. I agreed with them both, and it's making the novel much easier to write. I spoke to Adrean about it, and I realized that I have to censor myself less when I write YA than when I write for adults. She suggested that it's probably because teens and young adults tend to be more OK with the expression of strong emotions. Adults are more reserved, and they tend to expect the same from others; whether the other is another adult or a child.
I agreed with her, but I'm curious to hear what others think.
I'm a counselor who works primarily with teenagers. Maybe I just relate to them more. I don't feel very mature myself, and being emotionally reserved feels like a little death is happening in my chest. I'm excited to write for this audience. Ultimately, I think I was really missing my target audience for that book, which is a huge problem. Knowing who I want to read my writing makes it easier to write for them. Mister Kiefer is definitely for people like its main character, Adam Al-Wali. Less for people like its eponymous character, James Kiefer.
I'll probably post more about Mister Kiefer as time moves forward. Since it's such a big project—with a target date for querying of January 1, 2017—it only makes sense to pause every so often to blog about it.
Visiting with the Oklahoma City Writers
Last, but not least, Nevermore Edits and I are going to Oklahoma City to speak with the Oklahoma City Writers about writing nonconventional characters. I'm focusing my part of the talk on minority races and ethnicities in fiction because, honestly, we're not evenly represented in fiction. I found this out while writing "Xinsheng"; the main character, Alyssa Arreguin, is Chilean. But because her ethnicity isn't mentioned, people tended to assume that she was a White non-Hispanic.
It's an important subject matter. In Stormborn: Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm, a large number of the characters identify as gay or bi. The characters who are straight don't identify. At a critique group meeting, one person mentioned that it was "unrealistic" that such a large number of gays happened to exist in the same story—after all, only about 3% of the population identify as being lesbian, gay, bi, or trans.
I didn't mention that in a heterosexist society, straight people don't tend to identify, and erasure of the bisexual identity means that bi characters tend to get lumped in as gay or straight depending on the gender of the person they're dating at the time. I didn't mention that 13.2% of my characters weren't Black and 17% of my characters weren't Hispanic. I didn't mention that 19% of my characters don't have a disability. I didn't mention that not a single one of my characters identified as Muslim.
I didn't mention any of these things because we have rules, and authors aren't supposed to speak when their work is being critiqued. Fortunately, Shannon Iwanski came to the rescue with a scathing critique of our society, as well as of an editor who suggested that there was such a thing as "too many gays," which any reasonable person should find at least as offensive as someone pointing out that a story has "too many Blacks."
I won't say anymore because this talk is gonna be awesome, and I want to try and record it for posterity. If I manage that, I might put it up on YouTube and embed the video here.
See you all again later!
The sound of an alarm is shrill and sharp, and most people can't sleep through one. I don't have that problem—never have. Needless to say, I seem to have missed the switch from November to December. Even work was able to surprise me with things I hadn't yet done. (And work is one of the things I generally do impeccably.)
I've gone ahead and removed the NaNoWriMo update thing from the site since November is over. I didn't win, but I'm okay with it. The month of November was less productive than I wanted it to be, but it got me back on track. I'm more productive now than I've been in months. I've completed two short stories, started a novel that I'm flooded with inspiration for, and I've written a lot of non-fiction stuff.
Moreover, as January approaches, I'm going to be submitting a bunch of stuff to the OWFI Writing Contest. It's gonna make the convention this spring more fun. Honestly, if you're a writer in Oklahoma, and you don't go to the OWFI Conference, you're missing out.
A Murder of Storytellers is coming out with one anthology in January that I'm helping to edit! It's called Theater B. I want to get you excited about it, so I'll repost the blurb from the back of the book, which I wrote. Enjoy...and anticipate!
Evil Dead. Grindhouse. Brain Damage. Motel Hell. Night of the Comet. There are no conventions that the vanguard writers of these films wouldn't eschew. There are no rules that they wouldn't break. These maestros of the macabre took everything we know about horror and set it on its head, all for fancy's thrill. For them, there is no caprice too bizarre to indulge. No limits. No precautions. Just you, a story, and the wind rushing past you with the ground fast approaching. Oh, and your bungie cord isn't attached to your harness. Your evil hand must have loosened it.
Maybe the voice living in the zit on the left side of your nose can help. Why don't you ask her? Oh, yes—your zit is a chick. The incarnate ghost of your dead great-aunt.
Theater B is a collection of short stories written in the same vein as the classic B movies that we fell in love with for their utter lack of shame. They are orgasms of creativity, sluicing imagination from every orifice. They are monuments to the raw idea, bereft of filter, spawned to electrify, to terrify, and to nauseate.
Last thing. Look up! It's a new logo! It doesn't look very different, but you get special bonus points if you notice the sleek differences. 😉