Story Notes

Story Notes – The world of her own making

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My story ‘The world of her own making’ was published recently in A cappella Zoo (Issue 14) and I was so excited.

To read the story just head A cappella Zoo and order up Issue 14.

Because I love to know about the origins of a story from the writer’s perspective, I thought I would share some notes about this story with you.

Spoiler Alert: There are spoilers in the story notes below. So if you want to read the story with fresh eyes check it out first at A cappella Zoo before reading the notes.

About ‘The world of her own making’

I love origin myths; the expansiveness of the claims and the simplifying of all the complexity of the universe into something completely human centric. Our gods are so often personifications of us, with all of our most basic (and sometimes terrible) traits; jealousy, lust, rage, hunger. Any origin myth we’ve conjured up is such a great indication of our humanity—our desire to connect with something bigger than us, our wish for the simplicity of a god-like figure.

I wanted to write a story of a girl who ate the world and naturally, as I was writing it, it turned into an origin story. A new world from the old, not something from nothing but something born from a normal girl who simply got hungry.

I can’t imagine a universe where something comes from nothing. I think ultimately that makes me a believer in an infinite multi-verse which has its own issues but I like the idea of a new universe coming from something pre-existing because a lone god in an empty void creating all of existence is even more confusing and definitely less science-friendly.

I liked being able to really get into the texture of things in this story, assigning common tastes to objects that aren’t meant to be eaten and I enjoyed the ultimate grandeur of the tale. I guess thoughts of the universe are never far from my mind because they creep into my writing at any given opportunity.

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Honorable Mention – Friends of Merril Short Story Contest

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The other day it was announced at the Friends of Merril Short Story Contest that I received an honorable mention for my story, The One in Green.  Very exciting!

I’d like to offer a big congratulations to the winner, the other honorable mention and all the finalists, it’s a great contest and I’m sure everyone’s stories were absolutely wonderful!

For anyone who is not familiar with the Merril Collection, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate its virtues.

The Merril Collection is a Science Fiction and Fantasy collection located at the Lillian H. Smith Library in downtown Toronto (an awesome library if you haven’t been there).

Here’s a description from the library website about the collection:

‘The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy is a non-circulating research collection of over 72,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as magic realism, experimental writing and some materials in ‘fringe’ areas such as parapsychology, UFOs, Atlantean legends etc.’

Parapsychology?  UFOs? Atlantean legands?  Etc?!

Awesome stuff!  What could be more exciting?  The answer is nothing.

So if you want to be involved in the Friends of Merril organization you can check out their website and discover how to become a friend of this amazing collection, or you can submit to the contest next year when it rolls around again.

Once again congratulations to everyone and thanks for running a great contest Friends of Merril!

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You can’t spell Urban Fantasy without exposition

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I used to think I liked Urban Fantasy, but now I’m not so sure.

I like the concept.  A world of magic and mystery just beneath our own, adventures in the city where mythical creatures come to life and secrets unravel.  It all sounds so exciting in theory.

So I’ve been reading some Urban Fantasy of late, because I thought I had written an Urban Fantasy novel.  A girl hitchiking from Toronto to California, encountering subtle magic and finding the magic in herself, sounds pretty UF right?  Apparently not.  I am missing one important factor in my novel to make it Urban Fantasy it seems, exposition.

Whether it’s Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, Doyce Testerman’s ‘Hidden Things’ or TV’s ‘Lost Girl’, they all share one important feature, massive amounts of exposition.  I have to admit I had to put down American Gods because it was too obvious for my tastes, I like my magic subtle.  What possessed me to finish Hidden Things I can’t say as it was pretty unbearable, but I did get it from the library which provides a magic motivator for me to get through it as it won’t stick around forever.  In terms of Lost Girl we gave up on it in the second season as we felt they were treating us like morons by explaining every last bit of what was going on.

So what is it about Urban Fantasy that inspires people to hand hold and spell out absolutely everything?  Shouldn’t it be obvious to readers/watchers that magical creatures are coming to life without having to say it aloud?  Do we really need to explain the fundamental magical underpinnings of reality in all its convoluted detail?

It turns out I don’t really like Urban Fantasy all that much, I like Magic Realism.  Although the differences could be debated eternally, to me it’s about the obviousness of the magic and the use of magic as metaphor.  The magic in Urban Fantasy seems to take a front seat, becoming the star of the show, whereas with Magic Realism it becomes a part of the backdrop, an element mixed in to add flavour and metaphorical meaning to the world and the lives of the characters.  The magic in Magic Realism is typically accepted, without need for endless explanation and exposition, it just is.

I don’t want the magic of the universe to slap me in the face, proclaim its awesomeness and try to show me how clever and inventive it is.  I want it to support the cast or characters, add meaning, metaphor and a bit of mystery.  I want to fill in the blanks myself, not have some over-explain-y character do it for me.  I want to use my imagination to create the connections, to do the work.  I believe that sometimes there are things that are better left unsaid.

Another problem with exposition in books where mystery is a strong component is obscurity.  The balance of explanation and obscurity can be hard to strike without just being plain annoying.  For example, in Hidden Things the main character had a ‘guide’ to the world of magic, but there were many things that the guide refused to explain.  So we got part of the story and the rest was written off as ‘something unexplainable’ by the guide.  He obfuscated, confused and tried to act mysterious and because of this it simply came off as annoying.  You can’t have it both ways, you’re either explaining it all or you’re not, but to try and walk the line is just unbelievably obnoxious.

I don’t do exposition.  The magic in my novel just is.  It is only very occasionally remarked upon by the protagonist, but overall it’s just a part of the world, like traffic and streetlights and fresh cut grass.  This leads me to believe that my story is not actually fully Urban Fantasy, but Magic Realism with a hint of UF.  I’m certainly open to other interpretations though.

So at the end of the day I feel like all the exposition in UF ruins the mood for me.  I don’t want to know exactly how and why magic is there, sometimes it’s just enough that it is.  I’d love to read more UF with a Magic Realism slant, but I’m not entirely sure how to look for that.  I don’t want my hand held or some character yapping in my ear telling me about the veil between worlds or the hierarchy of gods, I don’t want all the secrets unravelled for me.

I haven’t read a load of UF, so I certainly can’t comment on every book out there, but there seems to be a growing trend in the things I’ve read and watched that I’d like to veer away from.

Have any suggestions for more Magic Realism based UF?  Think I’m dead wrong about exposition?  Let me know!

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Beating Writer’s Block

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In my experience, writer’s block means one of two things.  Either fear of moving forward, or being lost in the woods of your imagination.  I suppose it could just be a bad day too, but those pass more often than not without much ado, so let’s stick to the big two.

Tell fear to fuck off

Ben said a great thing to me once: ‘being angry is better than being sad’.  At the time I was trying to overcome a phobia (agoraphobia triggered by the subway) and it was the best advice I’d ever gotten.  So I started swearing at my fear, under my breath of course.  I tried my best to think of all the things in the world that made me angry and I got pissed.  I told my fear to fuck off and it worked.  Getting sad or low about writer’s block will probably only serve to send you into a funk that ends with you sitting on your bed, watching the ceiling fan and thinking about nothing.  But that’s just boring.  So before you get sad, get angry.  Try giving your writer’s block a few mental kicks and a little bit of rage then settle yourself down and…

Just write

Write anything.  It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the offending novel or story that got you into this mess in the first place.  Write a list of your favorite foods, make up a character and write about him or her, write about a day at the beach gone horribly wrong.  Don’t think too much, just write, no pressure for greatness, footloose and fancy free.  Once you get back in the saddle of free and imaginative writing, you’ll remember why you love it, I promise.

Don’t try to be amazing

While in the midst of this ‘just write’ trance, don’t try to be awesome, don’t try to write the next great novel or story that you want to have published by the New Yorker.  Just write because you love it and it feels good and real and wonderful.  Trying to be amazing is a fool’s errand anyway because everyone has different opinions on what greatness is, so it’s up to you to find out what YOU love, not what everyone else loves.  So after you’ve done the anger, then the free form joyful remembering why you love writing, it’s time to find your way again.

Make a map

Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t want to ask for directions out of pride or the feeling that you ought to just ‘know’ which way is west.  Make yourself a map.  If you’re writing a novel this will look an awful lot like a story outline and if you’re like me and writing a fantasy novel (yes my short story suddenly turned into a novel) then it will be an actual map.  Structure and form can often be helpful for writers, even if we’re used to flailing about and simply ‘being creative’.  Order is good, but remember you only make lines so you can colour outside of them.

So now that we have the big two covered, let’s take a quick peek at the other options for beating that jerky writer’s block.

Exercise

I know you’ve already done your 30 minutes of exercise today, because it’s healthy and you can’t just sit around writing all day long letting your muscles atrophy, but when writer’s block strikes, it’s time to get up and move.  Exercise is awesome for a million reasons.  It loosens you up, gives you time to think, makes you feel good and apparently, makes your brain bigger!  Holy cow, how awesome is that?  Go now!  Run or walk (preferably in nature as that has stress reducing benefits as well) and get your brain working for you!

Talk to someone

Ben is my muse.  We get endless hours of enjoyment from planning out my stories and novels together.  If I’m facing writer’s block there’s nothing like a half hour walk with my honey to get me back on track.  Find yourself someone you can trust and bounce your ideas off them.  Writing doesn’t have to be a stoic, lonely thing and there’s no shame in talking it through.

Have an adventure

Go out there and live, then come back and write about it.  The world is a big place, filled with inspiration and excitement.  If you spend all your time at your computer writing about life, you might just end up not having anything to write about.  Go live it up and don’t be afraid to take a moment away from your writing, it will still be there when you get back…I promise.

Okay that’s all.  If you’ve done all these things and still have writer’s block, perhaps it’s time to switch gears and start a new project.  Leave your old one behind and give it some breathing room, then come back to it in a couple of months and see if it still has legs.

What do you do to beat writer’s block?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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Advice for new writers (or old ones that need some inspiration)

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The Short

Just write.  Writing isn’t about being good, it’s about being passionate.  Don’t let anyone tell you how to write or what to write, just keep writing and don’t stop till your arms hurt and your eyes refuse to focus on the page.

The Long

Each time I sit down to write and stare at an empty page, a void opens up in front of me.  It’s a wide expanse that alternates between self doubt and emptiness and I peer into it with wide eyes and half a heart.  Sometimes it lasts a fraction of a second and other times the seconds march on into minutes, but either way, it’s my job to leap over the void and into the story.  Each time it’s my job to overcome my boundaries and write.

Art is an act of bravery and writing is an act of art.


When we put words on a page it exposes us, our hopes and dreams, our darker side, our interests and passions.  We are exposed to whomever might be reading our words, but more importantly, we are exposed to ourselves.  When we write honestly and openly, there’s nowhere for us to hide and that can be a scary thing.


Try it now.  Open a word document or a journal (of you like writing by hand) and write a series of statements about yourself.  Each one should start with ‘I’.  Write until you come to a natural end.

Did you do it?

I did:

I am tasting the water.
I am speaking with fire.
I am opening my eyes.
I close them too often.
I am thinking of something I don’t want to do.
I dream of things I’d rather not speak of.
I wish for little but hope for everything.
I am waiting for summer to arrive.
I wish I could see the moon on the lake every night of my life.
I want to write well.
I want to be good.
I need to be real, or else what am I?

So what does this mean?  Maybe something, maybe nothing.  It’s just words on a page that came from my mind.  Sometimes it is more meaningful than others but if we spent our whole lives trying to read into the words that we conjure, we wouldn’t get anything done now would we?

So my advice is to write…but how to write?

Write like no one’s reading


Because no one is.  Sure you’re reading, but you know yourself right?  So it’s not all that bad.  The more you write for other people, the more you will veer away from what you are passionate about and what drives you.  If you aren’t writing for you, you will probably get bored of it mighty fast.

Write like there is no good

There are so many different kinds of writers (and readers) out there, who’s to say what good really is?  And even if there is a good and you’re not it, as long as you are doing what you love, why should it matter?  If you’re writing for fame and fortune, it’s a long shot anyway, even for people who are really crazy amazing.  So best stick with the love and try to go from there.

Write with curiosity

Try new things.  I’ve always written urban fantasy, but I have a great deal of respect and passion for truly well written high fantasy (which I believe is scarce), so I’m going to give it a try.  I’m curious to see if I can write high fantasy well.  Don’t limit yourself to what you think you’re good at, try new things, because they may surprise you and if nothing else, the challenge will hone your skills.

Write free

People will try to tell you all sorts of shit about your writing, I promise.  Everyone will have a different opinion.  Some people will love it, some people will hate it and, unfortunately, some people might even try to read into your psyche through your writing. This is about as effective as a psychic reading (meaning not effective at all).  Sure writing exposes you and opens you up to your inner voice, but trying to make sense of that in any psychologically profound way is nigh impossible and ridiculously fruitless.  Write free.  Don’t read too deeply into your writing.  As humans we are great at (and love to) find patterns.  We will even find them when they are vague or nonexistent.  So don’t cling to patterns and let yourself believe they mean things about your subconscious, and for the love of all the gods, don’t let anyone else do it either.

Write with the knowledge that you can always edit later

Everyone has a different way of doing things, but I like to get a full thought out before I edit.  Whether it’s a paragraph, a chapter or a whole story, if you’re in the flow don’t chicken out and go back to check if everything’s al good.  The past is the past and it isn’t going away, so move into the future as far as you can before venturing back.  But please don’t forget to venture back, because it isn’t perfect back there, not yet.

Write with passion

Write for the love, not the money (because the money will either be slow to come or will never come at all).  Write because you can’t stop yourself.  Write because it makes you happy (or makes you miserable not to).  Write because you’re curious and you want to try.  Write because beauty is possible.  Write because life is too precious to go without mentioning.

All of the points above are well and good, but they all have one thing in common.  The word ‘write’.  So at the end of the day, the take home message is, was and always will be: write.  Just close your eyes, jump over the damn void and write like hell.


Tell me about your challenges and share your ‘I’ lists!

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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Why Speculative Fiction?

I used to write a lot of non-fiction.  I would write about my world travels, my love affairs, moments in time that felt significant.  But it always fell short for me.  It felt laborious and although I tried to infuse my non-fiction with the magic I feel lives in the world, I could never quite make it…magical enough.

So I turned to fantasy.  The more I write the more I fall in love with the genre.  I am mostly interested in urban fantasy, magic realism, myth, fairytale and more subtle types of magic.  No high fantasy with elves and orcs.  No sci-fi with spaceships and lasers.  It’s not that I have a problem with high fantasy or sci-fi, it’s just not quite right for me.

What I love about the more subtle tones of fantasy is that it allows for vivid and vibrant metaphor.  I get to play with magical creatures and concepts and use them to represent things that are typically more mundane.  It gives me an opportunity to build the world I always used to imagine (and still do), where there are mysteries just beyond our reach and you can catch glimmers of magic in the corner of your eye.

A speculative approach also allows us to examine hard questions, challenges, bias’ and conflict within a unique and sometimes safer context.  When it is just beyond reality, it is easier to hold tough issues up to the light and take a good hard look.  Through the metaphor of magic we can find ways to express things that might otherwise be too crude or dull.

I want my stories to mean something and for the most part I’m succeeding at having them do just that.   You certainly don’t need to write non-fiction or mundane fiction (I don’t know what else to call regular fiction) in order to delve deep into the psyche of the world.

I’ve read a couple of articles suggesting that the world of speculative fiction is taken less seriously as an art form or a form of literature.  I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but to those who think that magic can’t have meaning I say, why not?  Sure there’s loads of speculative fiction out there that may not strive to do much more than tell a cool story that involves vampires or witches or spaceships.  But the same could be said of any genre.  What matters most is that there are loads of stories out there in the speculative fiction world that strive for meaning and purpose.

I love speculative fiction because it allows me to imagine a world just below the surface of our own, where magic is metaphor and everything means something.

Why do you love speculative fiction?

Or if you don’t, why not?