IWSG Day: Writing Through Life (and doggy drama)

Writing Through Life (and doggy drama)

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

October’s Question is:

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

My answer is yes.

Major life events can affect how frequently I write, how coherent that writing is, and sometimes, even the content of my writing.

When I’m stressed, anxious to the point where I can’t even think about going to bed at a reasonable time, writing is the only thing that keeps me going. When my spouse goes to bed, I’ll sit up at the kitchen table with the cat at my feet, frantically writing until two or three in the morning. The sentence structure and punctuation might be more off than usual, but it is also when I can actually write emotion, show characters feeling things.

With Power Surge, the book that took a decade to finish, life events and revelations about my self shaped how I finished and revised the novel. In fact, one could say it was a major life event that lead me to finish it in the first place: I finished a different book. And I finished that book because it was the only way to get through a few months of very high anxiety.

Whether it was Power Surge, or one of my yet to be published manuscripts (Song of the Forest, Like Birds, or Earth Reclaimed), my novels, and my numerous short stories, have all helped me coped with anxiety, depression, or whatever my brain throws at me.

This summer in particular, writing helped me deal with a stressful neighborhood situation. The two people who live on either side of me both have dogs. One dog is female, yellow,  and about 45 pounds (the same size as my dog). Tavi, my pup, was still a baby when the yellow dog came to the neighborhood, and I swear she thinks she is his mother, at least she protects him like a mother dog would protect her puppies. To the other side of me is an 8lb ball of yapping energy.

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Tavi

This was not a good combination. One day, the little dog chased Tavi out of my yard and into her driveway. I thought Tavi had been tied to the trailer of the boat I was cleaning, but I had never actually clipped his 15-foot training leash to anything, so as he ran, that dragged behind him.

Tavi stopped and play bowed, possibly oblivious to little dog’s ruffled fur and bared teeth. Yellow dog charged out of her yard and down the driveway, grabbed little dog, and pullled her away from Tavi.

Little dog got hurt.

And for the next month, neighborhood tension grew as yellow dog’s and little dog’s owners passive aggressively argued over whose dog should be leashed and who was responsible for the vet bill.

Literally and figuratively, I was in the middle of it.

It was summer, so I wasn’t working. Yellow dog’s human, also a teacher, wasn’t working. Little dog’s owner, a national grid gas employee, was on strike and eventually, locked out.

I wrote.

In one month, I wrote a 20,000 novella and revised it three times. It wasn’t directly about what was happening in the neighborhood, but in one scene, a similar incident occurred. The main character was dealing with the same kind of mental health problems as me.

I haven’t looked at the story in a while, so I can’t confidently say whether or not it was good. But after proof reading the third draft, I remember thinking it was fantastic, and that it was the most emotional piece I had written since Power Surge.

 

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 Power Surge buy links:

  • Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2RoANiQ
  • Amazon Paperback: https://amzn.to/2xWqpqp
  • Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729
  • NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/
  • Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/897512

Twitter Pitch Parties Are About More Than Just The Likes

When seeking an agent or publisher for a novel, I participate in every twitter pitch party I get the chance to. So far, no one “like” or “heart” has landed me an agent or a book deal, but I still participate. They help me figure out what agents like the kind of stories I write, and it also helps me network with like-minded writers.

Events like #DVpit, #pitmad, #pitdark, #kidpit, #IWSGPit, #pit2pub, and a few others that I may be forgetting offer writers a chance to connect with the right agents and editors. However, you don’t necessarily need your pitch to get liked for that to happen.

This year, I used #DVpit as a deadline to finish editing my latest novel. I got my manuscript and query in good shape, but didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked to perfect my pitches. I tweeted them anyway, and tried not to refresh twitter every three seconds.

I didn’t get a single agent like, but that night, I still sent out my first volley of 11 queries, and within two weeks, two of them turned into partial requests.

The agents may not have liked my tweet, but I saw the kinds of tweets they did like. I searched the feed using hashtags that were in my pitches.

For example, I searched #DVpit #YA #F #LGBT. I made a list of agents requesting those projects. Then I did the same search without the #LGBT and added those agents to my list. If reviewed their guidelines, and if I wasn’t familiar with them from my first three attempts to get an agent, I looked them up on Absolute Write.

I ended up with a long list of agents, and picked ten who didn’t require a full synopsis (because I hated and still hate my synopsis). After getting two requests and about 5 rejections from that first batch, I sent out another. Some of them were agents from my #DVpit list, some were agents I’d queried in the past, and others came from a #MSWL search.

In total, I’ve gotten 3 requests (1 full, 2 partials) and 11 rejections. I’m still waiting for a response on 10 more queries.

Those odds are not bad considering I didn’t get any likes.

With my other three manuscripts, I received lots of likes for pitches, some that evolved into requests, but none of them turned into an offer. However, one of these did indirectly lead me to NineStar Press, the publisher who I signed with for Power Surge.

NineStar didn’t like any of my pitches for Power Surge, but they did like a pitch for a different book. I queried them, and ultimately got an R & R. I still haven’t revised that manuscript, but I did send NineStar a dark fantasy novelette called Half-Breads, which they published as part of their Halloween story, an urban Snow White retelling they accepted for Once Upon a Rainbow 2, and Power Surge, the novel that is nearest and dearest to my heart, and rejected by over 100 agents.

Had they not liked my #DVpit tweet for the other book, I might not have known they existed. And that would’ve been said, because some of the best book’s I’ve read this year were ARC’s I reviewed for them. Through NineStar, I’ve also connected with an amazing community of writers who have helped me boosted my confidence, hone my craft, and even feel more comfortable with my gender identity. Words can’t express how grateful I am to have found them.

In general, I’ve also built my twitter network though pitch contests. If someone’s pitch sounds really cool, I follow them. Sometimes, nothing comes of it. Other times, they and I engage with each other’s tweets, encouraging each other, offering advice, and boosting posts. Some even become beta readers or cp’s.

Getting agent likes are a big part of pitch contests, but they are not the whole story. If you have an eligible manuscript, pitch it on twitter, follow the feed, and think of it as a way to engage with a community. Think of these contests as opportunities to learn and network, and look at the potential for agent requests as a bonus. Celebrate when you get them, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t.

P.S. If you write dark fiction check out #pitdark, which is happening tomorrow. #PitMad is June 7th, so put that one on your calendar and polish your pitches.

 

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.

 

Beta Readers & Remembering my Characters are NOT me.

Good beta readers and critique partners are essential for writers, not just because they make individual manuscripts stronger, but also because they can make writers aware of problematic patterns.

My beta readers often comment that my characters don’t react or show emotion to big things – like finding out demons exits, losing a loved one, seeing someone get shot, or having some slightly mundane but life changing news delivered.

Despite the validity of these comments, I often get very defensive about them. It’s not that my characters don’t feel or show emotion; they just don’t do it right away.

There is a reason I write them like that.

I almost never have instant reactions to things unless that reaction is rage or something completely irrational.

I may have immediately dissolved into screaming and swearing that one time there were cars on a hiking (I may have had a staring contest with the car)but when my grandmother died, and when I got offer a contract for my book, I just kind of stared and went through the motions before I truly reacted.

When big things happen, I don’t react to them right away. I go blank and stare until my brain figures out how it wants to react, considers how people expect me to react and finds a compromise between the two. Therefore, in my first drafts, my characters seldom react the way readers expect.

I need to stop mentally fighting readers about this.

My characters are not me.

Maybe if I am writing a character that has the same not completely diagnosed flavor of mental illness that I have, the readers would have to deal with it. However, if I am writing a neurotypical character and/or one that is mentally healthy, then they need to react like one of those people would.

Without beta readers, it would be almost impossible for me to see this. Even with them, it has taken me far to long to figure it out. Even being aware of it, I’m sure it will still happen in all my first drafts, but I am going to work harder to catch it early revisions so that my readers can focus on other things.

 

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. 

 

 

 

Pronoun Problems

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Aesthetic of Earth Reclaimed

I’m in the midst of revising a novel (Earth Reclaimed) with a non-binary protagonist. Since this work blends high fantasy with solarpunk and has alternates points of view, I choose to write it in third person. However, several of my beta readers and critique partners have been having a hard time adjusting to me using “they/them” as a singular, gender neutral pronoun.

Readers have suggested I switch to first person, or use something like Xe or Ze. Not realizing it was own voices, one reader even questioned if it was necessary to write the character as non-binary. She meant well, but just because there is a non-binary character doesn’t mean the story has to be about being non-binary.

I knew I didn’t want to write this story in first person, and I couldn’t picture this character CIS, but I did briefly consider a different pronoun.

Before making any decisions, I wanted to see how other writers used neutral pronouns, so I read the first two books of the Ardulum series which used two variations of gender neutral pronouns for aliens who had a third gender. It worked great for those alien characters, but would not suit my protagonist or my writing style for two big reasons.

One:

Xe and Ze are not as neutral as they seem at first glance because they lose some of their neutrality when they become possessive. The writer has to make a choice: does Xe become Xer or Xis? In Ardulum, the author choose Zir as the possessive form of Xe, but when read out loud, it still sounds a lot like Xer or Her.

Some non-binary folks, including me, use gendered pronouns. I use she/her because it’s what I grew up using, and I get overwhelmed when I think about telling friends and family I prefer they/them. I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered announcing to most people that I’m non-binary or gender fluid because it’s a conversation that could turn awkward too quickly. Plus, I don’t like labels and boxes. No matter which one you stick on me, what matters is that I know who I am.

Even though Earth Reclaimed is an own voices story, the main character isn’t me. Serena lives in a future and region where gender is fluid and people are not boxed into identifying as men or women. They are also braver and bolder than I am. I wrote my first draft using she/her, and it just didn’t feel right. Serena needed a gender neutral pronoun, and at least to me, they is more neutral than the others.

Two:

Neutrality is not the only reason to choose they. Xe and Ze do not come to me as natural as they does. Growing up, if I didn’t know whether a person was male or female, I would automatically use they/them until I knew whether they were a she or a he.

Back then, I hadn’t heard of words like non-binary or gender fluid. Those terms may have existed, but they weren’t part of my vocabulary.  I was in my later twenties when I discovered those words and thought “that sounds just like me.”

Identifying with the label didn’t lead me to change the pronouns I use, but that doesn’t mean all the non-binary characters I write have to use the same pronouns, especially of the conditions that keep me using she/her don’t exist for them.

When I write a third person, own voices narrative with a non-binary character, I am going to use they/them as a pronoun. Will there confusion in the early drafts? Yes. However, with careful editing, I hope I will be able to write third person, gender neutral they/them without confusing my readers.

ISWSP October Question: #ownvoices?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeOctober 4 question – Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

My answer:

Yes, but sometimes it is more intentional than others

While none of my characters are directly based off of my self, many of them share my non-binary gender identity. They struggle with similar mental health issues, like anxiety triggered by crowds or touch. Occasionally, they even like the same things as me, like Star Wars and vegetable gardens.

Of course, there are instances where I write characters that are opposite of me and have almost nothing in common. Sometimes I need to escape my world and truely become someone else while I am writing.

Yet more often than not, it’s hard to fully filter myself from my creations, and when the ones with bits and pieces of me sewn through are more authentic, why bother filtering?

Authenticity is important. Representation is important. My experience with mental health and gender may not quite be like someone else’s, but that is kind of the point, isn’t it?

People do read for entertainment, but they also read for education. Ideally, both happen at the same time. If my book can keep people entertained, make them feel things, keep them turning pages and teach them a little something at the same time, then it was success.

Publication and Politics

For the past few years, I had been living under a metaphorical rock. Things like the news, current, events, and politics gave me panic attacks. Last year, I had a wake up call and realized that ignoring  the news wasn’t making it any less scary.

I used to show my students a documentary called “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” shortly before having them write an essay about marketing and advertising. Donald Trump is briefly interviewed in that movie about the profitability of co-promotion. The first few times I showed, no one really even noticed him, but in Fall 2015, that changed. The second he appeared on screen, my students booed him.

At this time, I knew Trump was running for president, but I didn’t take him seriously. I had heard he was racist, and that he was ignorant, but I knew very little about him.

As the semester went on, I heard the students talking more and more about him, his racism, his anti-immigration policies, and his wall. Soon enough, I found my self slowly getting pulled back into the world of current events. I had to know if this guy for real, and if he had any chance of winning.

I started by reading articles that my more educated friends had shared of Facebook. As I reinvented my twitter account to network with other writers and publishers, I followed politicians and news organizations. Eventually, I was looking at their tweets and reading articles on a daily basis.

I came out of my cave. I became informed about the elections, about the environmental issues that were keeping me up at night, and about the human rights / labor rights violations taking place around the world.

Then some beautiful happened. I realized I didn’t need to go out and campaign or donate money to foster change. The bits and pieces of news I consumed were starting to seep their way into my writing. Whether I was imaging an America where health care was sold like a phone or vacation package, an earth without bee’s, or steampunk America where woman never won the right to vote, I could take my fears, my nightmares of a world gone wrong, and share them with everyone.

The first of these stories was published today in an anthology titled “Its All Trumped Up.” This is a collection of stories from writers all around the world that uses fiction to explore nine different ways a Trump presidency could affect the world. Please support us by read and sharing!

No matter what your political views are, please, please, please exercise your right to vote this November! And if your not American, you can still read, and you can use the social media to make your voice heard. We live in a globalized society. This election will have implications far beyond American borders.

 

Empty Space and Writing by Sara Codair

I hate empty space. Fortunately, this helps my writing process more than it harms it.

When I see emptiness, I feel the need to fill it. If there is a room with too much empty floor, I want to get more furniture. If the table is empty, I get urges to clutter it up with books and papers. When I clean, I move the clutter, wash the dirt away, and put the clutter back.

My disdain for space is one reason why painting or drawing has never worked for me. Last summer, I went to a bachelorette party at a paint bar in Arlington, MA. We were painting a hill in Boston with the skyline in the background. I closely followed directions for the sky and hill, but replaced the buildings with mountains, because I hate cities. Even though they are lacking empty spaces, they are filled with the wrong things.

DSC_0646.jpgIf I had just followed directions after that, put in the prescribed three trees and small clumps of flowers, I would have been fine. But I felt like the foreground was too empty. So I kept adding more trees and flowers until the whole front was just utterly cluttered with my doodles. What could have a been a clean painting of a park overlooking a mountain range morphed into a chaotic jumble of rotten broccoli-trees, dotty flowers and distorted, oversized lupines.

Most of the time, my compulsion to fill space is an asset to my writing process. It means I seldom get writers block because if I see the blank page in front of me, I need to fill it with whatever stories or ideas are wrecking havoc in my head. What I write isn’t always good, but I keep going through the crappy parts of my mind until get back to better writing and sometimes, some of the crap turns out to be salvageable with significant revision and editing.

What often worries me with this compulsion is that I may add too much to a story later when I should be cutting back. I’m not worried that I will write too much initially. I don’t think that is possible. The more I write, the more I know about the character. What worries me is revision. Will I make the story drag on too long? Add scenes and characters that weren’t needed? Somewhere along the line, I will come to a point where I need to stop revising a story. Period. But how do I know when I’ve reached that point?

Right now, my answer is when that particular piece gets published. However, for the ones that don’t, I occasionally find myself worrying if draft seven might have been better than draft eight.

Maybe as more of my work gets published, I’ll get a better sense of what “done” means to me. On the other hand, I may have to concede that the concept of “done” just doesn’t apply to writing.

©2016 Sara Codair