Sunday, July 10, 2016

The End of Things

I'm not shutting this blog down, but life is getting in the way and I now have two other blogs to manage (and rather a few social media accounts). So instead of making promises to update, I'm going to promise I won't be updating for a while. I might pop in every now and then to share what I'm up to, but mostly you will be able to find me on my other blogs. I'll post the links to those when they are completely up and running (still in the works) and give you a preview of what I've been working on (new business!)

Happy writing, one and all. It's what makes my life worth living and, I hope, fills yours with joy too.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The First Half of Things

Hard to believe half the year is gone already, but there is goes. Six months ago I was planning a trip to Iceland and thinking that would be the highlight of my year (not to say it wasn't). But things move on, of course, particularly in my life.

And this year has brought changes, in only the first half of it. I'm now self-employed, starting up yet another blog, am much more focused on doing the things I enjoy in life, am querying a novel, am planning more travel (camping! I've never camped!), have taken up golf (again), spend more time enjoying life and less time fretting about it, have officially reached what I would call 'being fit', and have made a few decisions about the future that I am A-OK with.

I'm sure many others have accomplished more in six months. But though I planned for this year to be about 'CAREER', I decided fairly early on it actually needed to be about 'ME'. Last year was supposed to be about me. About learning about who I am now, about figuring out what I want from life, about adjusting to being post-PhD. But I wasn't able to start doing any of that until the end of the year, so instead of rushing through it (which one should never rush through discovering oneself), I decided to spend 2016 doing it instead. And I'm glad I made that choice. It's already taken longer than I would have thought, but at the same time, I'm already discovering more than I thought. I didn't think I was that different now, but I've realised I most certainly am. And I'm still changing. And that's okay.

The next six months are going to be ever more career oriented, but I feel like I am in a much better place to start those things. I feel like I know who I am now and what I want, and therefore I can  now figure out where to go to get it. And how to get there.

It's hard to take the time to figure your life out. We're told that's what high school or undergrad are for. But the truth of the matter is that no one I know actually figured their life out until after undergrad, and some people are still figuring their lives out. And that's okay. There's no magic age by which you need to have done this. Some people spend their lives changing and evolving constantly, and end up figuring their life out again and again. We change, as humans. We evolve. And that's how it should be. We are never quite the same as we were 10 years ago. Or even a year ago. But that is what makes being human so amazing, and why life is so exciting.

I'm not the same as I was a year ago (thankfully) and hopefully in another year I will be different too. Until then, I'm trying to do the best I can at figuring myself and things out as I go along.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Waiting Games

Deciding to query is terrifying. What comes after is...kind of anti-climatic. It's mostly waiting. You send out queries everyday (or every week, whatever your chosen schedule is) and then you wait. Some agents might respond to say no, some might not respond at all, some might get back to you with more optimistic answers (like asking for a full manuscript). But in the end, a lot of it is just waiting, and there's nothing you can really do to make that go faster.

I thought waiting would be horrible. I've never been very good at it. I sucked at waiting for my viva and got more and more anxious as the weeks went by. I was pretty bad at waiting for exams to happen too. And I've never been great at waiting for vacations, especially when they involve international travel.

But I've gotten much better at it now. Hurry up and wait is pretty much a motto of this whole thing, I'm discovering, because even once you're signed there's waiting for publishers to be interested, waiting for editors to get back to you, waiting for the launch, waiting, waiting, waiting. Patience is definitely a virtue of the publishing industry. There's mostly long stretches of nothing, interspersed with short moments of exited terror. Which is life in a nutshell, isn't it?

As always, however, waiting is much easier when you keep busy, and I've definitely been keeping busy. Formulating a business plan is a long thought process and one I'm very familiar with, even if I'm not familiar with business plans. PhD-ing is 80% in your head and only 20% content to show for it (or less, some days). This feels the same way. A lot of months of thinking and planning before there is any pay-off, and publishing appears to be the same way. I am not surprised by this fact.

So I am waiting, hopefully for a good day to come. Until then, I'm keeping busy doing things that I hope will also one day lead to good things. After a year of feeling stuck in the mud, it's good to be walking along the trail again, even if I don't know where that trail is leading.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Business Plans

I have something to admit. I don't have a head for business. I never have. I've never wanted to. Having said that, I've always been fairly decent at math.

I've spent the last two weeks reading about business plans. They are simple, at face value, but actually crafting one is much harder! So far, I've got the headings in place, and a short paragraph about what I need to include in each section. But there are sections I haven't even been able to give thought to yet. In other words...this is going to take a while. But that's all right. Business plans should not be rushed. I want it to be a good, solid plan as I go forward, because that's the foundation I want to build on.

It is simply the first step in a long process. I am going to start keeping a document with blog posts about what I'm going through, and once I've gotten further in this process (realised my mistakes) I'll start posting them on a new blog, so other people can learn from my stumbles and also what worked for me! I hope it might be useful. So look out for that in a couple of months (probably the autumn). I'm also going to try my hand at setting up a whole website, with a blog page, and several other areas that can grow over time. I shall also have to learn how to do that.

Just like everything else in life, it's a learning curve. I kind of feel like starting my PhD all over again, except instead of a degree with an end point, this is the rest of my life! But that makes it more exciting.

So, further up and further in. One baby step at a time.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Trying Something New

So, for those of you who might be humanities buffs, I'm tweeting over at the @WetheHumanities twitter account this week. We call it 'curating', although that's a word choice argument for another time (tomorrow). But I'm managing it, and using it to spark conversation about museums and digital. If that's up your alley, come join.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Surprisingly Exciting

I got my first rejection! And it was both exceedingly polite and encouraging. I feel, well, rather happy about that. It's entirely a positive thing.

I've only queried about 10 agents so far, and most of their websites said 4-6 weeks' response time, so I was rather surprised to hear back from anyone yet (or at all...) I actually hope I get more rejection letters in this vain, because it was at least semi-personal and friendly, rather than just a form. I appreciate the response, anyways, and it gives me hope. And that's really what this is all about. Keep hoping until someone says 'yes!' [And then keep hoping until a publisher says 'yes!']

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Start of...Something

I signed up for Camp NaNo this year (April), but only set my goal as 'edit one novel', which I did. First edit, I mean, because I've a long list of things that need to be done with it now. But I made the list. And I finished the last round on another novel, so I guess I can say I 'achieved' NaNo this spring. It was a month filled with other things, and sometimes that happens.

But it's now May, and I promised myself I would start querying in May. So I have. My goal is to send a query letter out every week day until...well, until the end of the month, at least (which is how many agents I have in my Excel spreadsheet to query to). After that, I have to go looking for more. So that's about 20 or so agents. I'll start looking for more now, though, so I have 20 or so to query in June, and then etc. I could be doing more than one a day, but finding and researching them takes even longer than actually sending out the queries.

[I'll let you know what happens. Maybe I'll be one of those lucky people that doesn't have to send out a 100 before they get an agent. Maybe I won't be lucky at all (lack of luck going around in my life right now).]

I already have Book 2 lined up to query, so I figured I'll give Book 1 a few months, then try Book 2. Often you have to wait up to 8 weeks for a response from an agent anyways, and that's just for them to ask for your manuscript, not read it and report back if they want it. So the agent I queried yesterday might not get back to me with interest until mid-June or later. Or will probably not get back to me at all. Reality check.

I'm gearing up to have a go at the list for the next novel (see first paragraph), though there is A LOT to fix in this novel before I even send it out for beta-reading. And then there is Book 3, which I am blatantly ignoring for the foreseeable future, because it might be borderline crap (the story isn't, the writing is, it was my first novel) and need to just be scrapped and written again. And I can't deal with that right now. I already have another book for NaNo in November already lined up, which needs to be written AND edited that month (it's Middle Grade, it's like 40k). So I think I should just concentrate on editing this one between now and November. And querying the other two.

And if I hear from an agent, all bets are off on that schedule. :D

Further up and further in!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Creativity Update

My, it has been a long time since last autumn when I posted a picture, hasn't it?

So here's an update. I am - mostly - finished. I wanted to leave it to dry for a week to make sure it wasn't still tacky when I did the last part, as the last part goes overtop of half the painting. It's a big red tree on the left in the foreground. But for now, here's the rest of it.

I'm rather pleased with it, I think. I definitely like how bright it is.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Titling or Tilting

You know, words are important for an author. The most important thing, in fact. It's what makes us writers, after all. But if the choice of words that is important; the order, number, and tone are often even more so.

This was no where more apparent to me than when I did my PhD. Novelising is one thing, academic writing another. I found 'tone' to be easy to come by. It was something that either comes naturally or you have to learn it (which is entirely possible). It wasn't hard to hit the right tone, for academia. I'd done a lot of academic writing before the PhD, and it came back naturally. It is mostly characterised by a formality not found in prose and a more traditional (and larger) vocabulary.

Voice is also, like tone, something that can come naturally or must be learned. It is harder to learn. I know people who have never figured it out. That's alright, as that's what editors are for. But when it comes naturally, it certainly makes writing easier. 'Voice' is no where more important than in a PhD. There is an academic voice that is needed, just like there is in academic tone. But within that are other voices: the active and the passive. They each have their place. Many people will say a research paper should only use active, but passive is important, and combining the two at the right point in time, even more so.

But this is also important in prose, and passive voice is not good for a novel. Time and again you will hear 'take it out!' shouted loud and clear. Novelising is active. But passive has it's place too, in historical books, in reflecting, and character introspective. Don't just throw it out and be done.

And although vocal and word order is important in academia, it doesn't make or break it I've found. Going over board is as bad an idea as being too simple. But in prose, sometimes, that one word can change an entire scene, or explain a character trait. Or have everything click. Word choice is hugely important, and how those words are presented, even more so. But that is, after all, why words are so important to writers and why they call to us from out in the wide universe, demanding to be put on paper. And it is, in the end, why we write.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Great Purge

I used to love to collect things. Lots and lots of things. I've never been a hoarder, but I had things I collected, and I would collect anything that pertain to it. Like coins. I have a huge coin collection. And Beanie Babies. And collector's editions of magazines.

In the last ten years, I've moved a lot. Most things have stayed in my parents' basement, because there was room for it there. I've done without a lot of things while I moved to and from England several times. And it's amazing what you don't miss. I didn't miss any of that stuff I'd collected. I collected a few other things, but each time I moved back to Canada I got rid of a lot of stuff. My goal was if it didn't fit in two book boxes and two suitcases, it wasn't coming back with me. And I was pretty good about that (I was better the second time around).

But since I've been back I've been purging. And I realise this comes from the time I lived in England and the travelling I've done. You learn to live without a lot of things. But in England, I learned to give stuff away. Charity donations of stuff is big over there, and nearly every month I made a trip to one of the shops to hand over a bag, and most people I knew did the same. It became a thing: the seasonal purge of stuff for the donation box. And as time went by, I got more selective about what I bought or acquired. I started to judge things by whether I actually needed them or not.

That has continued. I have no money now, so not buying stuff is rather a necessity. But even if I did have money, I've become more deserving about asking 'want or need?' And if it's want, it almost always goes back on the shelf.

It feels great to get rid of things. I've got boxes of stuff in the basement I haven't looked at in 10 years. That's a long time to go without something, so out it goes. It feels good to donate. It feels even better to purge. A lot of people collect stuff, or keep stuff they don't need, because they have space or because they think 'I'll need it one day'. But we hold on to a lot of things and things take the place of people. Or happiness. Or whatever you feel you're missing in life.

Getting rid of almost everything has taught me that there are things missing in my life. Important things. And stuff will not replace those empty spaces. I need to fill them with love, with a partner, with a career I adore, with close friends I love. Stuff won't fill them up, and it's only been a bandaid over the years.

But getting rid of stuff? It just feels good. I've always loved spring cleaning, and doing it every week of the year is liberating! Freeing! It feels amazing to rid myself of baggage and start fresh.

There's a world out there and I want to see it and live in it. And now I can, with just a couple of suitcases. The nice thing about that? I can take them with me on the plane. No more shipping internationally. No more boxes and boxes of crap I don't need living 3000 miles from me. Just my clothes, my dearest possessions, and people. And those you can take anywhere.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Who Is Halton?

I live in the Halton region of Ontario. It's one of the oldest counties in the province and it has quite an interesting history, at least by Canadian standards. I've been learning a lot about its history lately, because I'm working on a research project for an exhibition that will open in the autumn called Who Is Halton? about the people of the region, past and present.

We're lucky enough to have a map that dates to 1858 of the Halton region. On it is every land owner in the community in that year. There's quite literally hundreds of names, some so small and badly faded they're impossible to read. But quite a lot of them are clear, and I've been researching each name in turn and finding some incredibly interesting individuals! There's the owner of a shipyard who built ships for his brother, the captain. There's the doctor who devoted his life to helping the sick. There's the founding families of Oakville, Burlington, Georgetown and half a dozen other towns. There's just so much history here, and I think we often forget that, because Canada is so 'new', but Halton is 50 years older, and there are counties here twenty years older than that and that date back to the American War of Independence, which is the founding of America, after all, so pretty old. And there's a lot of history tied up between the two countries back then, and it's kind of interesting to see how many people settled in this region from the States, or from the UK via the States.

But I think it's the really personal stories I've been finding that are really the most interesting. There was the gentleman who's first wife died in childbirth and he remarried so his children would have a mother. And there's the guy that had two different mills burn down. And there's the Chisholm family, who is confusing enough I had to actually look up the family tree to figure out who everyone was, but it was worth it because I've been obsessed with the Erchless Estate since I was little. And I really liked learning about all the men who were the first postmasters in their respective communities and I spend a lot of time envisioning life a la Lark Rise to Candleford.

I'm having a lot of fun, anyways, researching all of this, but we've also been doing a lot of talking with people in the current community, to get their stories. It's so interesting to research these 'original inhabitants' and then contrast them with the current people who live there. I can say my own family has been here for 84 years, and I've been here for 32. That's a huge amount of history. But my favourite thing has been meeting people who have only been here a few years and finding out what brought them to Halton. Those are the truly amazing stories I'm looking forward to telling in this exhibition. Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to Write a Synopsis

Here's the thing, after a great deal of research, it seems that a lot of agents still ask for a synopsis and not just a query letter (or actual pages). So, as well as working on editing and editing and re-editing the query letter (and still editing the novel), I'm also writing a synopsis.

Google was particularly unhelpful when I asked it how to do this. It was super helpful with the query letter, so I was rather disappointed by this. Most of the links that came up said things like 'there's not one way to write a synopsis' or 'everyone has a different way to do this' or 'it's hard to give advise on the dreaded synopsis'.

None of those filled me with much confidence. But after a bunch of sites, it became apparent that even if there is not 'one way', there is a bunch of things NOT to do, and there's a few things that YOU MUST do. Unsurprisingly, neither of these lists were as clear-cut as the query letter ones. Are you getting a theme here?

One of my favourite things on the NOT to do list was: don't make it sound like a story. And for a while that confused me a lot, because it's the synopsis of a story, how can it not sound like a story? But after reading a bunch of sample synopses online, I realized what they were getting at. It's supposed to be boring. It's supposed to be 'this is what happens' and then 'this is what happened afterwards'.

That doesn't mean it has to be dry as dust or just a statement of events. One of the best pieces of advice Google gave me was to remember to put emotion into the synopsis. The story is all about how the characters feel and react to the events that happen, and the synopsis has to convey that. So it can't just be all 'Character X goes to a party and meets character Y.' 'Character Y is a bad boy and isn't good for her'. 'Character X falls in love with character Y.' OMG I'm bored already. There's no emotion in that. There's no story in that. It shouldn't sound like a story, but it should clearly show that you've written a story. A story is not just a bunch of things happening. It has to have emotion.

Now how to show that in the synopsis. Well, I'll get back to you, shall I, because I'm still writing it. Like the query letter, it's a work in progress. It takes time. It takes a lot of rewriting and reworking. It takes a lot of editing. And a lot of having other people read it and tell me how wrong it is. I'm not sure I'll ever be 'happy' with it, but I will reach the stage that I have to let it go. And hopefully, at the end of the day, the query will make the first impression...and the synopsis won't blow it too badly.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Dreaded Query Letter

I've been clandestinely working on a query letter for months now. Perhaps even since I first started writing the novel. For purposes of being mysterious, I'm going to call that novel Jordan Valley in these blog posts, but that is only its working title. I have a secret one I prefer and hope ends up being the published title.

After I had the novel written (which was by last spring) I started crafting a pitch for it. I kept it to 200 words, even though I know a pitch is often only a 100. I re-wrote it several times, then had a friend review it, then worked on it again. A few weeks ago, I took that pitch and started to write it into a query letter.

Janet Reid suggests a good query letter will take about two months to write, with several iterations. I guess one could say I've been working on this one for about that long, if you count the number of times I re-wrote the pitch. I've used most of that pitch in the query, but restructured it to fit the format Reid suggests.

If you haven't encountered Janet Reid, and are attempting to query a novel, I don't know where you've been. Her blog Query Shark is indispensable. There is a lot of information online about how to write a query. Reid offers a lot of information of how not to, and that's actually more useful. There are hundreds of queries she's critiqued, and also many of them give multiple iterations, so you can see how the author evolved the query with Reid's help. A lot of it may seem like common sense, but obviously there are a lot of people out there writing bad queries. And although a good query doesn't guarantee a book certainly helps a great deal.

I'm still working on it, and then it's going to go to a lot of people before it goes anywhere near an agent. Because that is how you do it.

[Also, because that's how long it's going to take me to work up the courage to actually send the damn thing out to anyone.]

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What Happens After NaNo

I talk a lot about NaNo, but beyond complaining about editing, I haven't really talked about the afterwards. Often, there isn't an afterwards. Half-finished or un-edited novels languish on hard drives the world over and no one ever gives them a second glance.

That is what happened with my first two novels. I finished them, but I never edited them. Mostly, I thought they were crap and might as well be rewritten from scratch than edited.

But in 2014 I wrote a novel for NaNo that I didn't think was an utter waste of words. I spent all of last year editing it, and even had it test read. I'm still polishing up the last few things on my long list of 'issues', but at least those are the little things like continuity of hair colour and making sure the calendar is right (there are a lot of events that happen in a very few number of days - and there are still only 24 hours in a day in this world).

Editing was not fun. There were times it was, but overall it was as hard work as writing the novel had been, and that hadn't been easy. This was not one of those 'words flowed onto the page' novels. This was a lot of work to outline, plot, world build, and then write. And it was just as hard to edit afterwards. It was scary as anything to have test read, because I've offered up plenty of my writing for public consumption, but never let a single person near my novels. Asking people to 'please read this and give me your brutally honest opinion' is terrifying. There's no way to do it without thinking 'what if they say it's awful and I should just delete it?'

They didn't, thankfully. They were actually very supportive and very helpful, and found issues I hadn't noticed. One of them was especially excited, because it was exactly her sort of genre and she fell in love with the story. Which is always a nice pick-me-up. That didn't mean she didn't send me a long list of questions, though, but at least I know what I have now is something she'd pick up off a book shelf. So I have a reading audience of one. It's a start.

Now I'm struggling with the next big thing: building an audience and a brand. I have no desire to self-publish (unless I exhaust every other avenue), but I still want to position myself in a way that will appeal to agents. I don't have a website (well, not one that's public anymore - thankfully), but I do have this blog. And so it's going to become much more writing focused in the coming weeks. And I'm going to be much more honest about the nitty-gritty. This is just the introduction post.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

10 Things About Iceland

[Well, Reykjavik, specifically.]

There was a lot to like about Iceland, even in January. More than enough for me to want to go back (even in January!).

1. Icelanders are unfailingly polite and very kind. And they all speak better English than many native English speakers, which I always find impressive.

2. Barren landscapes are stunningly beautiful, especially when the weather is awful. There is just something about deserts and tundras that are so very simple, and so very beautiful because of it. And Iceland has a lot of barren landscapes.

3. Reykjavik is so small it's the easiest European capital to get around I've ever visited. Even in winter weather, walking to everything was super easy and nothing was further than 15 minutes away.

4. It doesn't take long to hit wilderness. Everywhere outside the city offers something for nature lovers. In fact, it might just offer everything for nature lovers. I didn't find anything that isn't available in some part of the island! That's not bad for such a small country.

5. If you love fish, you'll love Iceland. Everything is very expensive there, but fish is actually decently priced and ALWAYS fresh. How can you go wrong?

6. The tea options are good, but the coffee is even better.

7. It's really close to Europe. Comparatively. And cheap to fly there.

8. There are dozens and dozens of museums and they are all worth a visit.

9. It's very expensive, but like most places that are expensive, it's also exceedingly safe. You can walk down a city street at 2am and not worry and I appreciate that in a travel destination.

10. This country is worth a visit 365 days a year, and it's hard to say which of those days would be better than others. I think they'd all be brilliant.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Plans within Plans

So it's 2016. Last year was going to be my Year of Awesomeness, but then my viva happened and it ended up just being another year of my PhD. Whatever. I'm over it.

[I'm not.]

Instead, I shall move on to 2016 being my Year of Awesome Things. It's looking good so far. There's quite a bit of travelling planned, including to new places. There's scuba diving again, and hiking, both things I've missed. There's a museum internship and potential for research projects. There's a book review and peer review for academic journals. There is one novel finished, and two more to complete this year. There's the very scary process of finding an agent (next step!) and hopefully getting a book contract. There is a definitive plan to move into my own place (or at the worst, move in with a friend). There is also a still dream-like plan to get out of dodge completely and jump ship to another continent. This probably will not happen until 2017, but if it does, I'll be planning and setting the stage this year.

There are also the less tangible things, like stop apologizing so much. Stop regretting things and go out and do them instead. Stop feeling guilty for having bad days. Get my mental health into a much better place (I feel this will probably always be a work in progress, but making progress this year would be a good thing). Being better at seeing friends (and new friends!). Socializing more, but not so much it makes me miserable. Enjoy winter more (and get outside in it). Stop feeling ashamed of many things that are not my fault and that I in no way should apologize for, because they are not my fault. Embrace a new lifestyle and stop living like a student.

Take each day as it comes - and if something happens I didn't expect, go with it - be spontaneous, break the mould (and the schedule), try new things, meet new people (and don't freak out), love life a bit more.