IWSG Blog Hop: Creative Outlets

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The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

December’s Question is:

Besides writing what other creative outlets do you have?

Other than writing, photography has been my most consistent creative outlet. I loved taking pictures even when all I had was a disposable film camera.

I remember having at least one 35mm and  one 110 film camera as a child. I can’t quite picture the 35mm, but the 110 was long and silvery. I was fascinated by my mom’s polaroid, and eventually, she bought me a couple kid-friendly instant cameras, one of which printed the pictures on stickers.

When my mom started selling antiques on Ebay, she bought a digital camera so she could photograph the objects she sold. When one camera would get old or become obsolete, I remember being able to use that to take pictures of and with my friends instead of my instant cameras.

I loved how digital cameras gave me the chance to see the picture right away without wasting material. If the picture didn’t come out right, I knew immediately. I could delete and retake it. This took away the stress of wasting material because of a mistake and I loved photography twice as much. Now, this is something I take for granted every time I pick up my camera.

I have to sit and think to remember what it was like to not really know if the image was going to be underexposed or blurry until it was developed. It’s hard to remember what it might have felt like to know I wasted material when an instant from my polaroid came out blurry too dark.

These days, the only images I print at all are my favorites.

Much like writing, photography is a medium of story telling with drafts, revisions, and edits.

Simply snapping a picture might be enough to just say “I was here.” Sometimes, that is enough. Other times, I might photograph the same scene or object over and over again at different angles and shutter speeds so I can tell a more detailed story. “I stopped to gawk because this caterpillar because those stripes are fascinating.”

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I’ve never had the patience to really learn how to make the most of my camera’s manual settings, so often, when I get home and load my images to the computer, they fall short of my expectations and I end up in photoshop adjusting exposure and color balance and adding filters.

Sometimes, when I really want to tell a story without words, I’ll let my imagination run wild while I merge and blend different photos into something so strange and abstract that it might be some kind of art.

Mostly, photography and photo editing are hobbies, but I’ve been dabbling in cover art, and that, my friends, is paid work. It means getting paid to tell a visual story. It’s writing with pictures. Well, maybe more like writing a book blurb with pictures.

Some of my favorite photos:

A Reflection on My Reaction to My First Negative Review

Note: As you read this post, you may notice I’m vague about the content of the review. You could probably go on Goodreads and figure out what I’m referring to, but I don’t want this to be seen as a response or rebuttal to the review. My goal is to capture my thought process as a new author seeing a negative review of their first novel.

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At some point over the past day, Link’s face was an accurate reflection of how I felt.

Up until this week, all the reviews that I’d seen for Power Surge have been positive, which of course, made me skeptical. Inevitably, someone was going to burst my bubble.

It finally happened. Someone who didn’t finish the book left a review without a rating.

I disregarded advice I’ve heard across the internet and read the review. I’m glad I read it, even if I was surprised by my reaction.

At first, my brain processed it like feedback from a CP or beta reader. I had to squash my instinct to explain why I wrote something the way I did, and then I had to squash my urge to reply thanking the reviewer.

I thought about what I could’ve changed in a scene the reviewer alluded to. I came to the conclusion that in general, I need to be more careful about how my main character and my narrative voice react to characters who say problematic things or hold problematic opinions.

After a day, I realized that in my mind, the review had shifted from what it actually was something completely different. I had latched onto to a specific phrase the reviewer mentioned and made the whole thing about that scene.

Early in the morning when I just wanted to go back to sleep, I took it personally, as if the characters flaws were my own.

I realized one assumption the reviewer made was literally wrong.

I thought that it was the only review people are going to pay attention to. No one else would buy my book. No agent or publisher will represent future works of mine.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief is good at keeping me from writing things I shouldn’t. Sometimes.

I thought the reviewer was wrong. I thought the reviewer was calling me out on an important issue. I wanted to thank them. I wanted to argue. I wanted respond, to know more, but I didn’t because writers need to leave readers and reviewers alone.

Instead of  filing the feedback aside for future work and moving on, as you can see, I obsessed over it.

But something good did come out of it.

It reminded me that just says they don’t like a character or can’t connect with a character in a published work, I’m shouldn’t think much of it, especially when I know other readers have connected to that character. That type of thing is subjective and varies from person to person.

If a character makes someone uncomfortable? That’s okay. I’ve read books with characters that made me uncomfortable too, but that didn’t mean that book was bad.

Different people react differently to different characters. A good chunk of this bad review was based off of things I think of as subjective, and some assumptions the person made because they stopped reading too soon.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief does not approve of something I wrote.

However, when I see a reviewer mention something harmful, like misogyny,  it is worth reflecting on. The reviewer mentioned a phrase a character used in a scene, and I think I could’ve done a better job showing the main character and the narrative voice’s disapproval of that attitude.

Now, that might not have fixed it for the reviewer, who might have perceived an overall tone that I’m somewhat oblivious to, but to me, that change would’ve helped.

If a reviewer calls an author out on problematic or harmful ideas, then the author needs to listen. They need to take that into account and reflect. Maybe the reviewer is onto something. Maybe they are misconstruing it or their reading is being influenced by some outside factor. Either way, it’s something for me to keep in the back of my head when I’m revising the sequel and other works, especially since I do tend to include characters who hold problematic opinions or say harmful things in some of my works.

Sometimes those characters change.

Sometimes I kill them.

Sometimes they don’t actually mean the things they say, but feel they are expected to act that way fit a certain mold…or they are just trying to piss someone off.

In future science fiction and secondary world fantasy, I’m open to leaving those characters out and writing about societies that have out grown a lot of the problems that plague Earth today. On the other hand, when I write books like Power Surge, urban fantasy with a contemporary setting, the nasty side of present-day humanity rears it’s ugly head.

Sometimes problematic ideas creep in unintentionally, stemming from things I may not realize I internalized. Other times, I think I am deliberate exposing the dirt and raking up the muck, yelling “Look! This is a problem! Do you see why?”

I need to careful that the narrative voice isn’t endorsing their harmful words and to remember that silence equals endorsement. I need to acknowledge that some readers don’t want to see certain harmful concepts represented on the page in any way, shape or form, and that if those readers pick up a book like Power Surge, they might have a problem with.

Books that ignore problematic concepts and try to show us a better way to live and think and act are incredibly important. Books that get messy and roll around in humanity’s, books that acknowledge harm ideas and punch them in the face are also important.

Reading a critical review of my book ended up being a thought provoking excercise that was worth the stress it created.

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Sometimes, I just need to keep swimming against the current, whether it is made of rejection, reviews, or anxiety.

If you are interested in reading Power Surge, for yourself, here are some buy links.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2TodlCV

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729

NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/

IWSG: Five Objects in my Writing Space

December 5 question – What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?

My writing space changes with the season. April through September, I wrote on my screened-in-porch, or, on really nice days, the picnic table by the lake.

 

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Tavi thinks he is a cat

When heat becomes necessary, I move to the kitchen table. No matter which space I’m using, my laptop is always there because it’s what I write on. For the sake of this list, I’ll focus on things unique to the space.

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The Meowditor-In-Cheif is hard at work

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  1. Teapot.
  2. Blanket.
  3. Salt Shaker
  4. Dog Bowl
  5. Cat’s Brush

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  1. Beach Towel
  2. Pitcher
  3. Notebook
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Chuck-it toys

No matter where I am writing, Goose the Cat aka The Meowditor-In-Cheif, is near-by. He likes to the delete words. Nothing is allowed to be fluffier than him.

 

Reflections on My First Two Book Events

This week, I attended my first two book-related events as an author: a book talk / signing at Jabberwocky Books and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival.

For someone with lots of social anxiety, planning, committing too, and/or attending events is no small feat, but somehow, I managed to set up a launch event and sign up for a book festival.

After convincing myself that one event or another wasn’t going to happen, they did. I did my talk and signing at Jabberwoky. I sold books at the festival.

I learned a few things.

43950609_10214216395229934_1937355220606517248_nFor first time authors, launch events are really for family and friends. Unless you have a fascinating non-fiction topic people want to learn about, if they don’t know who you are, they are probably not going to take time out of their Friday night to listen to you talk about your book. That’s my theory, anyway.

On the other hand, my family and friends showed. They were super excited to be there, to have me sign a copy of Power Surge, and to congratulate me. I was the only one that seemed disappointed that there weren’t any “strangers” in the audience.

It is a lot easier to stand at a podium and talk to strangers than it is to talk to people I know.

The book festival wasn’t any different than the craft fairs I attended back when I sold sea glass jewelry. A lot of people attended, but there were also a lot of vendors. People walked by the table, picked up books, said good things about them, and walked away, saying they needed to look more before buying.43880502_10214220942663617_5203961892581670912_o

90% of people who say they will or might come back do not.

I brought about fifty copies of Power Surge and sold three. I brought ten copies of Drabbledark and sold four. At craft fairs, I’d have at least fifty pieces of jewelry, and I’d sell somewhere between four and ten pieces.

I made some mistakes:

  1. As usual, I left something I needed at home.
  2. I arrived at the venue with just enough time to set up, but not enough time to take a breath between set up and people walking in.
  3. I had to make three trips to the car because I brought too much and it wasn’t packed up efficiently.

These three mistakes are ones I made early in my craft fair and flea market days.

It wasn’t all a disaster. I remebered to get plenty of one dollar bills, so I could make change. I brought snacks, and ALL the pens and sharpie I needed.

Next time, I won’t let anxiety and imposter syndrome stop me from preparing. I’ll pack efficiently, and get everything ready the night before. I’ll have a larger variety of items.

I’ll be ten times more confident.

 

Publishing Paths: Roads go ever ever on (I hope).

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I’ve missed a few months, but today, I realized it was  Insecure Writer’s Support Group Blog Hop Day before the day was over. The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

September’s Question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

When I got serious about my writing, the publishing path I always imagined for myself was a traditional one. Get an agent. Get a deal with a big publishing house. Eventually, make money off of my writing.

I’d been writing on and off for along time, starting projects and never finishing them, until one November, my anxiety got so bad that I could hardly breath at night when I went to bed, let alone sleep, so I got up and I wrote. I wrote about the things that scared me, that kept me up at night and triggered my anxiety. After a 200,000+ word draft and more words of backstory and world building, I swore I was never going to let anyone read that book, opened a file for an untitled book  I started back in 2007, and decided I was going to finish it.

Not only did I finish it, but over the next year or two, I revised it about ten times. Meanwhile, I wrote and published flash fiction and short stories. By the time I was consistently getting paid for my short fiction and had truely lost count of just how many revisions a book that had morphed from “The Erin book” to “Inattention,” I decided I was ready to start querying agents.

I researched queries and agents, I bought a copy of  Writer’s Market’s 2016 guide to Literary Agents, wrote a query, had my critique parter and critique group read and sent it off. By my second batch of queries, I changed the title to Power Surge. If you read any of my posts or tweets about my publishing journey, then you probably know I made all the newbie mistakes. My query was too long. It had too much backstory. It made the characters sound passive.

My attempts to personalize queries were horrible mostly because I didn’t have a person read every single personalization, and I have a problem with proof reading. I can print something out, read it out loud, read it backwards or out order, I can apply every known proof reading strategy and miss some ridiculous typo, especially if I haven’t taken my ADHD meds. When I queried Power Surge to agents, I wasn’t on them at all and hadn’t yet discovered how much they could help me edit.

I still miss typos, especially on last minute blog posts like this one. I got some requests and over 100 rejections. I was probably up around 120 when I’d had enough of querying agents. Some people would’ve shelved the book at this point, but Power Surge was my baby. In the time I had been querying it, I’d finished a 3rd novel and turned my 200,000 monstrosity of a first book into a decent draft of a 87,000 word supernatural thriller.

More importantly, I believed in Power Surge and needed to find a home for it. I some ways, it was the book I always needed and never had. It embodied elements of my favorite writers, but had the mental illness rep that was missing from my favorite books, and had a main character I poured a little too much of myself into.

PowerSurge-f500I revised one more time, trimming the book and brining Erin’s non-binary gender identity out of the shadows just a little, and queried small publishers. Within a few months, I had two offers and signed with NineStar Press. They’re traditional in the sense that they don’t charge writers anything, have a talented in-house cover artist, and do very thorough editing. However, there is no advance, and while they do some online marketing, its up to me to book events and get into brick and mortar stores.

It’s not the traditional “Big 5” debut I dreamed about, but its a start. I have a fantastic cover and an editor that really gets the book.

Editing  Power Surge reminded me just how much I love the characters and world it is in, so now I’m back to drafting the sequel even if it does mean putting a revision of my YA space opera on the back burner for a little bit. The Evanstars are calling me, and I feel like if  I don’t head that call, my writing will suffer all around.

In the long run, I still want an agent and a chance to get a deal with a big publishing house. Some people tell me this will be harder now that I’ve published under my legal name with a small publisher. Others have told me this isn’t a problem. Either way, I’m going to keep writing, revising and editing. I’m going to keep putting my work out there.

For now, i’m content with as long as I don’t have to pay to have my book published, get great covers and professional edits, but I will never stop trying to break into the big leagues of publishing.

For now, you can help me out by adding  Power Surge to your “to-read” list on Goodreads. Or Pre-order it from NineStar Press.

Power Surge (Evanstar Chronicles)

Concussive Puppy Trouble

DSC_0019This is the longest I have gone without making a new post since I started this blog, and it might be a while before I get back to my regular posts, so I figured I’d hop on for a few minutes and let you all know what is going on.

Late January was the start of a new semester, once where I was teaching 12 credits instead of the nine I’d done the previous fall and spring. That included a six-credit section of Reading, Writing and Reasoning, a course I have only taught once before.

The extra prep work was making it harder to keep up with my writing, and the amount of WIP’s in need to editing or revising resulted in me hopping from project to project in the time I could steal away to write.

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The dog next door.

Neighbors, both friendly and stupid, weren’t helping. The woman who moved in next door to me in the fall is amazing, and I love having someone I can connect with in my neighborhood. However, socializing while our dogs play is time I am not writing.

 

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My pup, Tavi.

Another, less friendly neighbor that I don’t really know, made the doggie play dates with the nice neighbor even more time consuming. He has this outdoor fish pond is filled with large, orange fish. Which was fine, until the water heater broke during a cold spell. When the fish died and froze, the dogs discovered them, and no matter how much I practiced recall with Tavi, he and his partner-in-crime couldn’t resist sneaking over to munch of frozen fish.

 

Then came a messy Nor’Easter. Alternating layers of ice and snow coated the ground. The community college I teach at closed early, and when I got home I let Tavi out to play in the snow. We played fetch and worked on commands like sit, stay, and come, giving me a chance to decompress from the stressful drive before diving into my backlog of grading.

Just as I was getting ready to head inside, Tavi bolted for the fish. I knew that when he put his nose down and ran full speed, his little mind only had room for one thought: get the fish.

I did the one thing trainers say not to do when a dog runs away. I chased after him. Determined to catch him before he reached the fish, I didn’t realize I had crossed from the beach to the lake.

At a full sprint, my feet flew out from under me. My head smacked solid lake ice. I yelled a few bad words. Everything went black. Tavi was standing over me, staring with his amber eyes. I grabbed his leash, stormed in the house, and with only a few breaks, one that involved yelling at someone who was driving a truck on the ice, I graded until 10 p.m.

I didn’t know anything was wrong until it was time to go to bed and I didn’t know where my phone was. After tearing the house apart, I realized couldn’t remember what order anything happened in. I literally had to message people to find out when I talked to them and make a timeline. ‘

The next morning, I had a killer migraine. I called out of work and before lunch time, I was at the doctors, and they were telling me I needed to rest my brain, and to avoid reading and screens so my brain heal. I even had to limit handwriting.

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There are plenty of first graders who draw better than me, but it was the only way I could focus on audio books.

Two weeks without doing things that seem as necessary as breathing was hell. Thanks to sensory processing disorder, audio are usually more of a struggle than they are worth, but I was so desperate for stories that I found a way to focus on them: drawing. However, audio books and me are a completely different post.

 

Let’s just say that after being out of work for two weeks (I had subs cover my classes) I had a boatload of grading to catch up on, and it was mid-march by the time I really got back to the amount of writing I am used to. I’ve had to put a few projects on the back burner, but I’m still hopeful that novel #4 will be ready to pitch when #DVpit comes along.

My life finally seems to be getting back on track, so hopefully, I’ll be back to my usual writing related posts, book reviews, and even a few teaching-related pieces.

 

Replacing Textbooks With novels in First Year Writing

For the past five years, I’ve taught first year writing at community college and state universities. I assigned textbooks and/or trade books based on what other teachers used or what seemed like the kind of book college students should read. It didn’t work out so well. Now, I’m using books I get excited about.

The first books I recall assigning were writing textbooks like Curious Researcher or Axelrod & Cooper’s Concise Guide to Writing. While these contain good information about writing and some useful exercises, they didn’t engage students. Half the students didn’t even bother reading, and the ones who did complained the book wasn’t worth the $50 or $60 they paid for it. 

As I got more experienced, I realized that most of the material in the textbooks could be conveyed through discussions about writing and having students reflect on their own writing and/or other people’s writing.

I stopped making students buy expensive textbooks and started assigning one or two trade books. Additionally, students would read assortment of articles they could access for free online or through the library’s databases. This works well for a lot of teachers.

While I did manage to find a handful or articles and essays that engaged my students, I couldn’t seem to find a book they liked.

The Mind at Work by Mike Rose held their attention for one chapter. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba was a neat concept, but they got bored with the amount of detail in the story. They liked some of the “facts” in Modified by Caitlin Shetterly, but were easily confused and claimed she kept getting “off topic” and wound up hating the book. They claimed Dwellings by Linda Hogan only needed to be a few pages because it repeated the same message over and over again.

The first book I assigned that more than one student seemed to enjoy was Feed by M. T. Anderson—a novel.

It took a while, but I finally figured out what my problem was: I really don’t enjoy reading book length non-fiction. I know it is sometimes necessary, and that a lot can be learned from it, but it always feels like work.

I don’t get excited about it, and that is a huge problem.

Students have very sharp bullshit detectors, so they know when I’m faking it. If I’m not excited about the book, why should they get excited about it?

Feed was the first novel I asked students to read. It also happened to be dystopian, YA, and science fiction – a combination of genres I love.

Because I was so excited about it when I introduced it, they gave it chance. Because they gave it chance, many of them got pulled into the story and enjoyed it. A few loved it. One student told me it made him want to start reading novels again.

Sure there were a few who didn’t like it, but since books are so subjective, that is to be expected. Enough liked it. And enough wrote thoughtful, sourced based papers because of it.

I’ve learned my lesson. Unless the department requires it, I won’t teach a book I am not passionate about. And novel’s can get students thinking just as much as non-fiction, and the questions those novel’s raise can prompt students to do research for essays.

So this semester, I am using novels all around. Comp 1 is reading Feed again and writing a sourced based paper about the issues the novel raises. My reading class is going to read Love, Hate and Other Filters as well as Shadowshaper.

I’m still working out the details of the assignments, but I am confident these books will go over better if I can express my confidence and excitement when introducing them to the students.

I’ll post something later in the semester about how it worked out.

The Puppy went to doggie day care for the first time. The staff at Let’s Go Canine shared this video. Even though Tavi is home now, I keep watching it over and over again. He was so excited about all the other dogs.

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I could share more thoughts on dog daycare, but I haven’t figured out what they all are yet, and it’s NaNoWriMo, so I have other things to write about. In the mean time, enjoy the cuteness.

National Novel Writing Month: 2017

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing color, the days are getting short, and it’s almost time to embark on an adventure: National Novel Writing Month.

Last year, I wrote a romantic sci-fi thriller about a hacker and a small town boy on the run from some government contractors. After a few revisions, I thought it was done, queried it too soon, and got a lot of rejections. One editor was kind enough to give me some feedback, and after sending the book out to a few more beta, who agreed that the book needed work, I started a revision, got stuck, and put it in the to be revised later folder.

This year I am going to be more patient. I’m really excited about my project, and want to make sure it’s really ready before I send it out. Luckily, I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy.

I haven’t written or outlined enough to know exactly where the plot’s going, but I know who my characters are, I know the world, and know that it is totally queer. It’s space opera, and that means there will be whispers of Star Wars, Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy, but I’m also certain my cast of gender-fluid characters, teenage drama, and  retro flare will make it unique.

Yes, there are space ships, aliens, magic and a quest, but the characters are what will make this book shine.

For now, here is a working blurb and some images:

Dianny doesn’t want to take over Mom’s business dealing in sex and drugs, or wind up like one of the beings Mom employs. However, with ADHD, anxiety, sensitivity to Oomph, and a gender identity their peers don’t understand, Dianny isn’t doing so well at avoiding that path. Dianny isn’t sure if they are relieved or terrified when they find Mom’s club shut down and swarming with federal agents, but they don’t dare disobey the task given to them by one of Mom’s girls: find their father, who is in a prison half way across the galaxy, and give him the Oomph enhanced artifact that the authorities are after. 

 

 

 

Bailing Boats and Books

Yesterday, as rain poured out of cumulonimbus, thunder rumbled, and lightening compensated for a lack of sunlight, I realized my bilge pump wasn’t working.

I spent the morning indoors, editing, tweeting, and exchanging feedback on #preDV tweets. When the rain let up and I went outside, there was about a foot of water in my old Boston Whaler.20170906_164649

Swamped boat + broken bilge pump +broken hand pump = bailing boat out with a bucket.

Bailing a boat with a bucket is tedious. You scoop the bucket, dump it out, and repeat.

After the first few dumps, the water level hadn’t changed. I was damp. The dog had slid off the dock while barking at ducks and was staring at me, all scruffy, wet and smelly. I couldn’t tell if he was going to jump on me or back in the lake. I wanted to chuck the bucket out to the water.

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I took a deep breath, tied the dog to his run in the yard, away from the dock and the lake, and then I went back to bailing.

Eventually, I did notice the water level going down. Before I knew it, there wasn’t enough water left to scoop with my bucket. The boat was as empty as it was going to get.

After the first few tries, I wanted to give up, but I kept going even though it was damp, cold and I was being eaten alive by bugs, and eventually, I achieved my goal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to bail this boat out by hand, and I doubt it will be the last. Every time it happens, it makes me think of my barely existent writing career.

Whenever I start a new book, I feel like I am never going to finish it. I switch back and forth from being super excited to so overwhelmed I want to chuck my draft across the lake, but I don’t chuck the draft. I keep writing.

This cycle of excitement, frustration and despair repeats through each revision and edit, but I always keep going, and I always finish the damned the book.

The same goes for publishing the book. Right now, I’m in the despair phase. One novel has gotten about 110 agent rejections and a handful from small publishers too. However, whenever I seriously feel like scrapping it, I think of the boat.

No matter how much rain gets in it, and no matter how broken it is, I never let it sink. I bail it out, and make sure what is broken gets fixed, usually via unspoken trade offs with my dad (i.e. pet sitting in exchange for replacing my spark plugs). Afterwards, when I’m speeding across the lake feeling the wind blow what’s left of my hair, I know it was worth the hard work.

The same goes for my books. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep revising. I’ll keep submitting.

I’m not one of the those fluke success stories who gets their first book agented and published right away, but I will get published, and eventually, I will get agented, and published by bigger houses that get can my books to more people.

I will never let my writing career sink.

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