the shipped girl: ysma is ready to tell more of her story

i have no doubt this is because she got published and she's in a happy home, but ysma decided to tell me more of her story today. 

what a relief.

i've been STRUGGLING girls (you know it) to get past any kind of first draft. the last story i was working on has fallen completely flat for me. it has too many questions that i don't want to answer and that aren't forthcoming. it was an exercise to some extent - to see if i could subvert a bit of sword and sorcery into something more edgy and modern and arty. well, screw that. ysma is whispering and i'm listening.

i know there are evil dolphins. i know the ship she sailed away on is empty, but it sails still. and more. and more. she has secrets that are rising to the surface, like so many bubbles from the deep. i know there is salt and bright white light and the dark woman's return.

i know more of a story than i have for a long time. and i have nothing be thanks for it.

ysma, come through. welcome home.

trot trot to market

did you miss me? i'm missing my muse.

so after a great conversation with my loving husband last night, i'm dusting off the old pieces that can't find homes (and one that has - my first attempt in selling a previously published work). 

just a little thing, but here's hoping the vibes of my power season can leak into this attempt.

fallow, by ashley blooms

"He waits until all he hears is his own breathing and the creek water running, until the two sounds are one sound, the same. Like all he has to do is walk to the creek and open his mouth and a whole stream full of minnows and rocks will come rushing down his throat, running over the bare bones of his ribs, collecting in his fishbowl belly where nothing could ever get out again. William can almost taste the water, sour and green and a little sweet." Fallow, by Ashley Blooms

without a doubt, this is best short story i've read in a dog's age. there are also some nice corollaries to the story i'm currently working on, which - in reading another author's work touching on some of the same subjects - has given me a sort of permission to run with it and not be scared.

shimmer never disappoints and today is no exception. please, take fifteen minutes and give yourself some beauty today.

 

 

race isn't yummy: a quick look at adjectives in fiction

so many people have written so much more eloquently on this, that i'm not really even gonna try. mostly, i wanted to share these links with you. i find myself constantly going back to them to make sure i'm approaching my characters (who are sometimes POC and sometime WP) with the best intentions. as writers, we craft words - shouldn't we stretch past the easy ones?. 

no one in my work with ever be chocolate. no one is honey. no one can be creamy. 

i hope you take a minute, even if you aren't a writer, to explore these links.

writing with color: part one

writing with color: part two

 

test pages for 'the cross, the mother': the graphic novel

quick update on the progress for the graphic novel:

today was a BIG DAY. not HUGE, but a milestone has passed. tanner finished the first three test pages of the work. that means it was scanning day! the work has been passed on to our tech guru, chris, and in a couple of days we'll have beautiful tweaked pages - MAYBE EVEN WITH COLOR. can you believe it? this baby is on her way and i just couldn't be happier about it.

so as a reward to you, loyal reader, he's a preview of one of my favorite passages in the work. 

just a snippet. here, we see a scholar from the great university at twimmins. opposite, you see our wild mother, full of rage and extended lower canines. 

guides and books

when i was a kid - and really, still to this day - this book was all over our house. we probably had three copies, at least. i remember looking through it, connecting with my dad over it, and learning all about orioles and how they're not really just from baltimore. a year or so ago, i sat on the porch of my parents new home (which isn't that new anymore, but still, not the house i grew up in) and leafed through one copies yellowed pages.

for no reason at all, i thought of this book yesterday and found an opening into a story that i couldn't really get off the ground at the end of last year. maybe it's because i recently finished a heavy revision of 'little queen'. maybe it's because i'm reading again (more on that in a second). but a guide book was my guide back to my story, and i'm thankful for that. sadly, this gem, this gorgeous color guide to the birds of north america won't appear in the story. but another will.


i like to read, but lately, i've been so broke that i haven't been able to satisfy my book buying craving. i like to own the books i read - i'm a dog-earer of pages and a spiller of coffee. i like to crack spines so books lay flat. i leave books face down and flat for days, screwing up their ability to close correctly. 

so i've been sticking to rereads, which is nice, but also not exciting. 'the wheel of time' in particular. i love those books and RJ is one of the driving forces that helped make me a writer. but i've read them so many times that it's easy to walk away for a few days. there's not the panic, the thrill of finding out what happens next. the experience is more slow, more about savoring words and description than plot.

i fixed this by going to the library. what a dummy i am, to have waited this long. 

i got WAY too many books to read in the three weeks i've rented them for, but i'm happy to say, i've already finished three of them. finding stories that are new has warmed me back up. different styles, different tones, and plots that i don't know are bubbling and boiling the stories kicking around in my brain.

this, then, is a thank you. thanks, margaret. thanks, leigh. and thanks, china. all of you are partially responsible for bringing the muse back. 

i missed her a lot.

how to cook a horse: life lessons from the critters workshop

i'm sharing this with the best intentions. hopefully, the author, if they ever discover this process journal takes no offense. of course, if i have to, i'll take it down. 

BUT!

this is why i workshop. this kind of information is beyond valuable and so much more interesting than "you forgot a comma here" or "it's not its". i can get an editor for those things. this information is what makes fantasy writing OUTSTANDING. so thanks, AW, for bringing my work to the next level.


a small introduction: our main character, Nuoley, has decided to butcher her horse in order to make a soup to feed a group of bad tempered shepherds on a mountainside and convince them to leave said mountainside and return to 'civilization' with her . . .


I'm guessing you haven't done home butchery. 

I have. 

A gelding, even if it's a little pony (and it had better be!) is still 700-800 lbs live, and at least 400 lbs of meat cut up.  Also, it is a large animal which will be dangerous if frightened.  For a girl to kill one hand to hand without drawing on supernatural strength is remarkable and unlikely, but even if she does, it's going to fall in the dust and be something she cannot lift.  How is she going to gather the blood if it's not hanging?  This is usually done with pulleys and chain lifts (or a tractor!).  If it's not hanging, how is she going to heave it around to get the guts out and the hide off?  When gut removal is done in the air, gravity is your friend.  If you're butchering on the ground, it isn't.  It can be done, obviously, but it's a serious, serious job.  It's going to take hours, and she's going to wind up completely covered in slime.  Then, when she gets the hide off, the meat is covered with a bubbly membrane called the fell.  This is very, very sticky.  Dirt sticks to it and doesn't come off.  If you have to butcher on the ground, you usually leave part of the hide attached under the carcass, and spread out the rest as a sort of tarp to try to keep it clean, but it's still a mess.  Then she has to actually cut up the meat.  This is also a lot harder than it sounds.  Warm meat sort of squishes under the knife; any butcher I've ever known cools it as near to freezing as they can get, so it's firm enough for the edge to bite.  This takes at least overnight, and cooperative weather.  And then there's processing the bones, or any bony cut.  Usually a carcass is split in half or quarters with a hack saw (another long job by hand power, even if you have the saw), hung for as long as possible, and then divided along the bones.  Getting the vertebrae apart with a knife takes serious skill - each bone locks to the next, and the cut has to wiggle along the line, get in to sever the cord and connective tissue, and then pry.  But if this is a large animal still in a heap on the ground - and it would be, because she cannot lift it alone, even if she had a saw to divide it with - all she can do is hack messy hunks off the uppermost bit, one at a time.

Then she's cooking for 21 men.  That is a HUGE pot.  It requires a HUGE fire.  I guarantee it has taken her at least six hours even to get to the point she can start lugging hunks of flesh over to the pot.  It's also going to be some hours to bring it to a boil, and several more to cook the chewy meat.  And moss won't burn long; it will flare and fade.  It takes something heavy to provide heat for hours.  You could maybe boil tea for two on moss, but not stew for twenty-one.  You have her cooking it in the blood, but I think even blood stew needs the addition of water if it's not just going to scorch.  Straight blood gently cooked hardens into pudding pretty fast.  Gently = more indirect than an open fire.  Moss isn't going to make good coals.

So, and then she's still got this 400 lb messy carcass.  That's way, WAY more meat than would run out in four days, if she's the only one eating it.  It would last her all winter.  But what's the weather like?  If it's hot, the limit of usefulness is spoilage, not running out.  What a waste.


dear AW. i love you. 

workshopping: Little Queen

so, at the end of december, i finally got a whole slew of notes from my online workshop for little queen.

oh, little queen, much maligned and underloved by publishers. maybe most misunderstood but definitely not the most forgotten.

today, i'm going through the emails and condensing the notes into more actionable tasks. getting rid of the repeats, the notes from people who didn't really read the story, the things people didn't understand . . . 

i thought you'd get a kick out of some of them. welcome to the revision process.


"I am thinking this story takes place in a fantasy version of Europe a la Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones since there is talk of tribes and Queens, but we aren't really given anything to give us a sense of the environment. There is no world-building." - JK

Dear JK: Did you read my story? The setting isn't really close to Europe at all, but takes more from Japanese mythology and folklore. Also. all I do is world-build. I don't think you know what that word means. THANKS! alex.


"I also spent the whole of the first read through trying to figure out why she was here. I completely missed the ‘challenge.’ Why did I miss it? Because it was stuffed at the end of a paragraph about wind and the rocks. Pretty, but not really keying me in and I skim over this rather important piece of info." - AJF

Dear AJF: Oh, you didn't understand the story because you skimmed it? And in skimming, you missed important information? So really, this is a comment about how you're lazy? Right. I'll revise that into the next draft. / Bonus validity points: Yeah, I probably should move that info to a more prominent place. CHEERS! alex.


"Mountain wind tugged at the parchment in her hand, > ripping it free and carrying it out over the river-plain > below If she lets the parchment go without chasing after it, it must not have been very important. If that is the case, why mention it?" - WM

Dear WM: Did you get a visual from this? Did you understand how windy it was and did that the parchment was a map and that this is the opening sentence of a story that's meant to place the reader directly inside a scene? No. Did you read it? No. Cool. Thanks for critiquing. BUTTS! alex


"Ok Alexander, I'm confused by the ending. Did Nuoley win or lose?" - KG

Dear KG: Nope. Neither. That wasn't the point of the story. Thanks for playing though! DUMMY! alex,


"It felt like some sort of weird dream or hallucination, which has a certain appeal. However, I think that a lot of people might be put off by that." - CF

Dear CF: I'll take it! LOVE AND CONFUSION! alex.


I think you've given us just enough information to view Nuoley's expected role and her outcome with all the mixed emotions you intend. - AW

Dear AW: Please give a class on how to read stories to the rest of the folk in this workshop. I'm glad you actually read the piece and so, could follow along. FOREVER YOURS IN CONTEXT CLUES! alex.


 

so there's a little taste of the gems i've been wading though this morning. the last comment, from AW, has a brilliant follow-up. so brilliant in fact, that i think it deserves it's own post. you can find that here.

 

wish me luck, as i descend into the editing mines.

status update: DONEZO

welp, i did it.

today i finished the first full draft of the cross, the mother: the graphic novel

the beauty here, is there are sure to be almost no revisions. since i wrote and rewrote and wrote this story again - probably about 10 to 15 different incarnations since i started writing seriously four-ish years ago. this was my first baby. the baby i couldn't sell (that's kind of weird) and i know it like the back of my hand. yeah, there will probably be some reworking of image descriptions and maybe an insert here or there. 

BUT!

no, i don't need to fiddle with plot. yes, i know that character is well fleshed out. sure, that all makes sense, because i've gone over every angle of it too many time.

THIS BABY IS DONE.

it feels strange to have completed a work and to know that i won't be sending it out for potential publication. this is the first time i've been DONE with something for months and to know it's gonna be a long road from here - well, that's not the MOST wonderful feeling in the world. but it's something. 

so here's to Pal Johnny, Sammin the Sweet Lad, the Widow Gemner and all the baddies of Morrens Cross. we've traveled far, we've still got a long way to go, but right now, you're right where you're supposed to be.

chugging

just a quick update:

the graphic novel is chugging along. i'm just about halfway through the initial treatment and couldn't be happier with the direction that this bad larry is going in. 

one of my struggles with storytelling invovles adjectives. i love them. and i want you to as well. i want to spend ten pages describing the clothing, the hairstyles, the architecture, the season - basically anything that doesn't move the plot forward. its the anthropologist within - birthed thanks to my incredible husband. in all honestly, it was this that made me really take a serious crack at writing. when i embraced my love of fantasy and magical realism it was through the context of exploration and immersion. it wasn't nerdy (which i was very concerned about in my early 20s, living in new york, trying my hardest to be the scenester i believed i was), as long as i expressed it through an anthropological lens. GUESS WHAT? - that makes a terrible story.

but NOW! graphic novels need adjectives to live!

taking a story that i wrote right at the beginning of this experiment - this dedication to being an AUTHOR - and giving it new life is an exercise in forgiveness. forgiving the nerd in myself, who i was so afraid of being for such a long time - forgiving the story that wanted to be written, the one that got shoved down into concise sentences and terse descriptions - this forgiveness let's everyone (and everything) be who they are. and isn't truth in writing one of the most important and enjoyable parts of storytelling? i think the graphic novel format will let 'the cross, the mother' but the story she always wanted to be. and i think that's fucking fantastic.

facial studies of nerrick, biggest bully in all of the cross.

returning

pretty jazzed on a project that i thought was dead. much like the approaching solstice, light is coming back to this guy and i couldn't be happier.

nearly a year ago, a coworker approached me about turning a desk drawer story into a graphic novel. i wrote about it on the blog back then.

things change and come back around and he (tanner) wants to commit fully now. and he gave me a deadline! which is a great way for me to work. so by 1/31/17, i'll have a graphic novel treatment of the pal johnny story, 'the cross, the mother', ready to go. i've never done work like this before, so i'm embracing comic culture (thanks marvel unlimited!) i'm learning how to break down a story into panels, work out what's dialogue and what's exposition text and how to translate my dreamy imagery into what could sort of kind of be a visual story. 

i'm all about this work becoming something new, because i'm pretty dry on content over here. (trying to remember that there's no such thing as writer's block. as the wise erykah badu once said, 'writer's block doesn't exist. when you're not actively creating, you're just downloading in order to create more'.) (this download is frozen worse than an AOL dial-up signal.)

so as a treat, here are a couple drawings that tanner has passed on to me as test pieces. 

our villaness. or maybe not. 

our hero, pal johnny and his trusty fox.

she sleeps

"the trouble with my ideas is, if you put them out there just as ideas, everyone looks at you as if you're a lunatic." - margaret atwood

fine marge, i'll take your advice. but i'm throwing in a hint, because, well, i'm bad at secrets.

                                                                                                                                 utnapishtim: a tiny hint

i'm tapped out on revisions for the moment (not particularly knowing how to fix the issues i have with my two recent babies, apples to apples and traitor/trader). so what do i do? i start a new piece!

after my success with maryam that was, which was written with a prompt for a specific anthology (but, uh, that anthology didn't buy it), i've been thinking about approaching new work along the same lines. thank the gods for duotrope. a quick search this morning gave me results for five different anthologies with specific themes that are accepting work over the next two months. that's a nice time line for knocking out a piece (i wrote the roving jewel in about a week, with full revisions - that's a dream, but i'm happy to hold onto it as an aspiration). after looking at my options, i found two that i thought would be good fits for my style and myself. 

one is a story about horses. that's it. just a spec story about horses. luckily, i've had the root of a horse story kicking around for years now: sister-horse dreamthere's good potential there but it's also SUPER murky and based on a dream i had like five years ago and i'm not too sure what the plot would be and blah blah blah.

the "better" option - at least the one i'm more interested in at the moment - is working with the concept of mother earth's revenge. YES PLEASE. YAS QUEEN. i'm not sure if there's something more tailored to my tastes - apocalypse, earth-goddess worship scenarios, room to run and space for myth making. i let myself go with this and already have a firm idea unfolding. the title of this post - she sleeps - is the working title right now, and oh boy, i have so much i want to say about it. but i'll hold back . . . for now.

this is not:

this is not a post where i will complain about the stilling agony that is being a writer who can't find their voice.

this is not a post where i will tell you all about how hard it has been to find work that i feel good about.

this is not a post where i will ask you to tell me how good of a writer i am, or to validate my artistic experience, or ask you to fortify me with words relating to your own struggles.

 

this is a post about success. and my success for today was getting a full, red pen, hard copy revision of the newest incarnation of 'little queen' completed.

 

and honestly, that's enough for me today.

battle cry

SCREW YOU VOICE OF NEGATIVITY. I DON'T CARE IF THIS STORY SAT AROUND ON A BACK BURNER FOR A YEAR I'M SUBMITTING IT FOR PUBLICATION ANYWAY AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME.

 

 

 

(also. 'mordant and mast' really deserves to be realized in a magazine. so everyone cross your fingers and wish me luck. this guy got put to bed after i left a bad writing group that didn't love it. but hey, what do they know? i've sold more stories than any of them.)

the wombly: k.l. morris

without a doubt, Shimmer, is my favorite speculative magazine. the stories are always challenging and inventive, the authors are largely female and 'other', and i really really really want them to buy one of my stories. this would be a 'making it moment' - every time a story is sold it's one of those moments. but with Shimmer there would be a opening to a larger audience and to a world of recognition that could lead to deals and asks and maybe even a Hugo (i know enough to realize i'm not winning a Hugo anytime soon, but hey, a guy can dream right?)

so today, i actually wanted to read a short story. i've been so wrapped up in books lately, i just haven't had the will. and honestly, there's a big push in the places i read right now for sciencecy-fictiony stories and that's just not my cuppa. 

i chose Shimmer because i knew i wouldn't be wasting my time. and boy, did i not.

 

the wombly, by k.l. morris, is weird. it has no explanations. it has worldbuilding that you'll never know. but, as with the most successful stories i read, the speculative element drives the emotional content of the story. that is success. that's what gets you published and makes memorable stories. and that's what i'm struggling with in my recent work. how do you write emotion that makes sense, that actually moves, that is believable - and not have it be heavy handed and predictable. how do you write something new about feelings and reactions that have been around for millennia? k.l. morris exceeds expecations there. the story is a quick read and worth your time. go give some love to another writer.

the wombly, by k.l morris

four free writes for june

husband currently has the revised draft of Little Queen in his possession. while waiting for those notes, i've given myself a brand new project. 

this month, i'm writing to write. i don't want to make any stories.

i feel like i've gotten lost in trying to write for publication (this isn't a new topic for me) and that it is high time i do something about it. with each new piece, i struggle to find a way to cram story into setting. sometimes i'm pretty successful. but, like with Apples to Apples, sometimes i get six rejections over the course of a month. (she's retired for the moment, i gotta figure out what's not working). 

so instead of being a WRITER this month, who wants to sell stories and rack up credits and get the glory of accomplishment, i'm just doodling. i'm word-doodling. four free writes, that's my goal. i'll write and then walk away from it. for now, nothing needs to happen there. i don't need to groom or tailor, there's no need to worry and push sometime into the submission rotation. this month, i'm looking for story first. i know that's the way it should be and in a perfect world, that's the kind of writer i would be. but the world isn't perfect and i'm not that kind of writer. 

i've got two down so far and SURPRISE, without pressure to write something wonderful, i actually like what i've got so far. today, i worked on a piece about a girl with doors all over her body that take her different places. it's weird. good weird. and the tone is pretty different from how i generally write, funnier i think and more potent at times. it's also set in our real, true, modern world - something i've never done before. i really like this story. it's gonna take a lot to not jump back into it tomorrow. 

i know that i can, if i want to - jump back in. but i'd rather let her marinate. the idea came to me in the car while i was driving to work yesterday - something that i used to be able to cultivate all the time but has eluded me for a while. i whipped out my phone and made a voice memo. i thought about it all night. it feels great. i will, most likely, come back to this story at the end of the month. but right now, i've got two more freebies to get through. and i cannot wait to see what comes of it.

return of 'little queen'

gods, the muse is a fickle lady with me.

i worked hard on 'three moons'. i'm still working on it. unfortunately, i can't find the character. the one you're supposed to love and identify with and want with and hope makes it through at the end. writing something like the myth-storytelling-chant-on-high thing i've been pushing through is making it hard to connect to one individual. everything is so big (it's UNIVERSAL - ha, see what i did? space pun.) plus, i don't REALLY know how i want it to end.

which is just to say - back burner.

 

maybe this is what this blog is for? to show you all how tough it can be to commit to projects? to explore how inspiration comes and stays? (why won't it stay?) maybe, it's just a place for me to be able to look back in ten years and laugh at myself. 

 

anyway.

'little queen' is back in my life. remember this one? this story that became part of a novel that got so big that i became afraid of it? i won't be afraid anymore. i'm working now to make 'little queen' short story publishable. that means BIG CUTS (the story is around 7000 words, which is banana-pants and totally unnecessary). it means tucking things in and tightening up and getting rid of a lot of extraneous worldbuilding. it means coming back home to character i believe in and that i think you can believe in too.

i was just over at duotrope where i track all my submitted work. i was checking in on 'apples to apples' and the never-getting-published pal johnny novella when i realized, i never actually tried to shop 'little queen' around. why? i love this story! there's really great stuff in it and cool characters and FULLY FORMED CHARACTERS. so why did i give up? i'll tell you. 

WORKSHOP.

that not-so-great-for-me workshop that i was a part of this time last year basically destroyed both 'little queen' and her sister story 'mordant and mast'. but then again, they destroyed 'the water cure' and pretty much hated 'the roving jewel' and hey, both those sold. after i left the group in june, i remember telling myself that they didn't get the work (they didn't, they aren't fantasists) but what i didn't do was give myself permission to go back. 'little queen' is a great story. i'm gonna prove that to you and to a publisher and that writing group.

i opened the master file for 'little queen' today and saw that i hadn't edittd it since june of last year. almost of a full year of growth as a writer, exposure as a reader, and confidence infusions from sales should put me in a place where i can get this story to be the concise, emotional, and thrilling tale i know it can be.

three cheers for 'little queen'. three cheers for nuoley and grandfather and the matron and the mountaintop city of ruogenny. i missed you 'little queen'. i'm glad i'm back in your neck of the woods.

mid-may meh update / (asides)

so-

maybe i set that last bar a little too high. revising a whole novel in a month. my first novel. the first time. birds of avacine:the novel just never really got off the ground in this process. i made it through the first thirty pages (which, indecently, is about the longest any of my short stories get to. pretty sure i've trained myself to be able to edit that much  at any given time) before i gave up. i've said it before and i'll say it again, there's no joy for me in editing. i sit down and i want to see the whole picture. i want to understand the way larger things mix to create beautifully articulated ideas that span an entire novel. but it escapes me. 

i'd rather be creating.

but you know what? i'm not there yet. short stories are still a mystery to me in so many ways (authors: are your stories never not a mystery? do you come to a place where it all makes senses and you have your characters and plot and just stick them in the outline and VIOLA? if so, please tell me how that works). so i'm telling myself that walking away is okay. do i want something to come from all that work? yes, of course. do i think i've got it in me now? nope. and instead of lingering and beating myself up for not wanting to do the work because i don't want to edit, i've given myself something new to focus on.

THREE MOONS.

(voted on by you, dear readers of my blog and facebook page. thanks for helping me make the tough choice of where to redirect my energy).

i like three moons so far. it's messy and there are probably three different stories worming their way into this thing i'm writing. is it  . . . a myth? a family history? a religious text? apocrypha? i'm not sure.

i've got great names, which is a good sign for any of my work. if i love my place and character names - i can't say why - but the story is more likely to bloom fully. (like in little queen, i've got GREAT names and i dig that story - so why don't i believe in it more? maybe it needs to go back into the submission cycle? maybe it can be stand alone). i really want you to read three moons, just because i want you to stumble across the strings of too many consonants and then tell me how YOU think the names should be announced. it's one of my favorite games to play with fantasy nerds.

almost 2000 words in and i just put the nose to the proverbial grindstone (moonstone?) less than a week ago. i'll take it. redirecting focus to small goals - valuing the 500 words i managed to write, patting myself on the back for participating - i forgot about these things. doing my best to come back into them now.

cross your fingers. clap your hands (if you believe in my writing ability). and keep me in your thoughts. i'm getting lost in the sky and there are a lot of stars there to distract a guy.