Saturday, 29 June 2013

Writer's Toolbox

This week's 5 most interesting posts. Feel free to add more in the comment section.

Critique


Platform building


Writing and storytelling


Literary origins of names


Dialogue




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Friday, 28 June 2013

Can you hold a spark? – Balancing inspiration and work

Last week I guest posted about the influence of Montreal on my writing on Scott Bury's blog Written Words.  This week, ATUA is lucky to host Scott for a great guest post.  Thank you, Scott!

Next time you’re on a plane or train, ask the person next to you if they’ve ever had an idea that would make a great movie. Chances are, you’ll be in for a long conversation. Everyone has ideas for great stories, or at least, the beginnings of great stories: a gymnast who solves mysteries, or how their parents met — life is always sparking inspirations for creative people.

The difference between the daydreamer and the novelist lies not in coming up with ideas, but figuring out the ends of those stories, and then putting in the hours and months of hard labour to get from beginning to end.
Right now, I have five stories in various stages of development — and by that I mean, I have worked for months or years on them, and I will need to put in more months on each before they’re finished.

On top of those, I have a whole bunch of other ideas for books. Readers have asked for a sequel to The Bones of the Earth. I have an idea for a serial-killer story  with a twist; a love story about a girl with amnesia; a novel about a crime war in a coastal town; a novel about a naive boy who marries the worst person in the world; a novel about politically active young people ... oh, yes, my writing guide for non-writers ...

The beginning is not everything


I keep thinking of great opening lines for stories: 

  • Sunrise purpled the sky over the harbour.
  • She wasn’t pretty, not by a long shot.
  • The last thing William heard Dr. Daswani say before the rumble drowned out his voice was “Don’t!”

The hard work lies in seeing where the story goes from that beginning to a logical, interesting and satisfying end. 

It also takes a lot of time: planning, research, revising the plan, writing the story down, revising it, revising it again, cleaning up the messy grammar, removing all those phrases that sounded so cute at first, sending the clean manuscript to reviewers and editors and proofreaders.The book I wrote the fastest was One Shade of Red. I got the idea last fall and decided to make it my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) entry. I wrote about 60,000 words during November 2012, finished the first draft by December 10, revised it by mid-January, sent it to editors through January and February and finally published it on April 2, 2013.

Notice that in that span was a little time-consuming event called Christmas. There’s also a day job, a family that wants some of my attention occasionally.

Inspiration is wonderful. A creative spark can produce pages and chapters of terrific prose, but it’s not enough to take you to the end of a novel. There are just too many hours, too many dark nights when the coffee runs out. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was so inspired he turned his car around on the way to a family vacation in Acapulco, but finishing One Hundred Years of Solitudetook him 18 months.

Writing is work. A writer who finishes and publishes books is one who has learned how to balance inspiration and concentration — how to hold onto that creative spark to the end of the story.

Scott Bury is an author, editor and journalist who lives in Ottawa with his wife, two mighty sons, a huge orange cat and a very pesky kitten. He is the author of The Bones of the Earth, Dark Clouds and One Shade of Red. You can read samples of all these works and his other writings and musings on his blog, Written Words, and follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Dreamers Interview Series – Christine Guenette

Today I'm very happy to host Christine Guenette on ATUA for the first Dreamers Interview Series. Christine and I met in 2012 while taking swing lessons.  She's an amazing girl and I'm proud to have her as a friend.  I would like to thank her for agreeing to this interview and for her generous giveaway offer.

The details of the giveaway will follow the interview.

Tell us a bit more about what you do?

I am owner, director and Swedish Massage Therapist at The Nest, a massage space nestled within our host home HappyTree Yoga, in Westmount, Quebec. I am also a yoga teacher teaching at about 5 different yoga studios and a weekly outdoor class.


Was this a dream you had for a long time? If not, how did it come to be?


I knew since high school that I wanted to teach yoga and give massage. I discovered both through a book my mother had at home. It was a fun book that gave an intro to both things (as well as aromatherapy which I also wanted to get into until I learned that an actual career in it was pretty much nonexistent). I tried the massage techniques out on my mother while she lay on the living room floor on some blankets. I also practised all the yoga sequences on my own. 
  
I didn't know anyone who did those things for a living so I found myself pursuing a more traditional path. I went to school and found a full time office job. My first job was in a non-profit organisation where we helped people with cancer. Here there were support groups and information sessions, but also a calendar of activities for the members to participate in - including yoga! I started taking my first group yoga classes with a handful of different teachers.

Over the next 10 years my career blossomed and I found myself working at a bank, being paid some decent money and with 5 weeks of vacation. I continued to practise yoga at yoga studios and in my living room. I simply could not leave yoga behind. During those years I also went to school part time and became a certified massage therapist. I did some massaging on the side but never really pursued it further. In 2011 I began yoga teacher training and began to feel the pull ever more strongly to follow my dreams.

In November 2012 I did just that and I left the corporate world behind and finally dedicated myself to a fulltime pursuit of the work I love - teaching and massaging!

At first I ventured only to find work in those two fields at existing establishments. Meanwhile I had been giving massages part time at the Wellness Room at HappyTree Yoga. In January the owner decided she no longer wanted to manage that side of her business. So I took it over and The Nest was born!


What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in its pursuit?


The biggest obstacle for me was learning to see my own worth and to believe that it was possible. I had for so long believed that it was impossible to be a yoga teacher and have a comfortable lifestyle. I believed that to do what I loved I would have to be poor. That I would have to give up on certain dreams in order to have another. Thankfully, I was exposed within my yoga and massage community to people who were living it. I don't know how much money they make, but they live wonderful lives! They have quality of life not only in their personal lives, as they are able to afford to live in the city, go on the occasional vacation and even drive a decent car. But they also LOVE what they do! They seem to always be on vacation as they come to class smiling and enjoy the class as much as the students do. They are often free during the days to enjoy the nicer weather, and they meet lots of wonderful people in their classes and in the community of other yoga teachers and health care providers. I began to see that the model which my life fit into would change, but it wasn't necessarily impossible or undesirable. In fact, more was possible that I could even imagine!


What is your next goal?


I'm still working on my initial goals! It's only been 8 months since I left my old life behind. I am currently working towards having The Nest become a thriving successful business that not only is profitable for me, but for my staff. My goal for The Nest is that it provide abundance for all who enters its doors - for me, for my staff and more importantly for my clients.

I also am still pursuing a more stable situation for teaching. I currently teach regular classes at two studios and I substitute teach at 3 others. I would like to teach many more regular classes to integrate more stability and routine into my life. I may no longer work a 9-5 grind, but having done it in the past I all too well understand the importance of having some consistency.

Long term, I hope to have enough of a following in my yoga students to be able to offer workshops and retreats. I see yoga taking me around the world!


What advice would you give to would be entrepreneurs?


I believe that the world is full of people with something absolutely unique to offer the world. If you know you want to start a business, please start it doing something you love. When you follow what you love, what you love follows you. Starting a business only to be profitable may leave you lacking the passion for the work involved to make it successful. Allow your drive to come from the passion you feel for the product or service you are offering. Your passion will become contagious and you will attract staff with the same drive, and a loyal clientele.

So start first with what you love. Then look into all the details on how to get it up and running. Starting a business and building it up is hard work. There is a lot to do even for the simplest of business models. If it doesn't come from that place of love, it will always be a struggle. When you love what you do, it becomes a labour of that love. Energetically you pump positivity into your business when you love it, when you believe in it. 


Author Erin Grace interviewed last week would like to know " How, and how long, did you prepare to leave your job; did you have any support from friends and family; and how ass-clenchingly scary was it to begin despite the preparation and support?"


I spent the last couple years at my job slowly declining. My job productivity was suffering and I simply couldn't wait to leave and hit my next yoga class. I thought it was my job, so I changed jobs. Then I thought it was my boss. I often thought it was because my personal life had gone through some major changes. When I sat down and meditated upon it though, I knew deep in my heart it was actually because there was something bigger calling to me. After a few very difficult conversations with my boss, we agreed I wasn't right for the role I was in, and I was given 3 months to find something else at the bank. I didn't find anything else. I knew what I had to do. Because I wasn't dismissed for any wrong doing I was able to collect Employment Insurance so the transition was at least financially a bit easier.

Friends were hyper supportive. I think we all have some big risk we a little too scared to take so when we see a friend standing on the precipice we get excited to watch them fly! As for my family it was very difficult for my parents to understand how exactly I was going to make ends meet. They couldn't understand leaving a successful job to willing accept unemployment and maybe get some work teaching yoga classes and giving massages. They were happy with the stability I had had and felt fear for me when I gave that up. As parents I think they did their jobs really well. They were genuinely concerned about how things would turn out. They just wanted me to be ok! They also never scolded me or judged me. They know I'm not a dumb girl that I have a good reasonable head on my shoulders (when it comes to reasonable things anyway LOL) so they also trusted me to make the right decision for myself.

This has been the scariest thing I have ever done. And I'm still very frequently quite frightened. My bank account isn't as comfy as it once was and I'm amazed at how much work I have to do OUTSIDE of the actual time to give the massages and teach the classes. Sometimes I wonder if I really have it in me to make this a success. I fear losing my condo, or having to get a full or part time job to make ends meet. I fear I'll never go on vacation again or that my wardrobe is forever destined to hand me downs. At the end of the day though all this fear has me LIVING more than I ever have. I'm super aware all the time and I no longer fear that life is just passing me by. THIS is life. Working hard for my money, meeting people, feeling and spreading love. Now more than ever I feel strong enough to take what life delivers!


Our next featured guest will be Jim Burke, an English playwright who now lives in Montreal and runs his own company, Funhouse Theater. What question would you like him to answer?


How challenging is it to be in English theater in a province where the English/French battles never die?

GIVEAWAY!

For a chance to win a gift certificate for a one hour massage, leave a question for Christine in the comment section.  The best question will determine the winner (Christine gets to choose.)  You can also earn brownie points by becoming a follower of ATUA or by following me on twitter.  For the latter, make sure to let me know by tweeting #CGGIVEAWAY.  You have until Tuesday July 2nd 11:59 ET to enter.  The name of the winner, along with the answers to all the questions, will be posted on Thursday July 4th.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Review Wednesday – The Infernal Devices – Clockwork Prince



**SPOILER ALERT:  This review contains spoilers for the first book of the series, Clockwork Angel (see my review here).**

Clockwork Prince, the second book in The Infernal Devices series, starts a few days after the end of the first.  Following the havoc created by the Clave's search for Mortmain, Charlotte's management of the Institute is questionned by Benedict Lightwood.  As a result, she is given a forthnight to find Mortmain with the promise of stepping down if she can't.  In the midst of all this, we see Tessa grow closer to Jem and we learn more about Will's secrets.

There is definitly more exposition in this book, however the pace doesn't suffer from it.  The information provided helps us understand Will's motivations a whole lot better. In the light of it, I actually started rooting for him, although I had previosuly prefered Jem.  

As we learn more about familiar characters, new ones are introduced to us.  I particularly liked Gideon Lightwood and his brother, Gabriel.  With their father, they form a trio that is the equivalent of Malfoy and Draco.  The parallel is very clear, but since these were characters I tremendously enjoyed in Harry Potter, I didn't mind at all.  I can't wait to see how they will develop.

In my previous review, I said I had a hard time picturing the different locations in which the action takes place; either I was not in the right mood when I read the first book or Clare has greatly improved her descriptions in the second.  It was much easier to see a little movie in my head this time.  What changed in a negative way, however, was the love triangle between Jem, Will and Tessa.  In Clockwork Angel, the trio didn't know enough of each other yet to be deeply involved but in Clockwork Prince, things take a turn.  Once Tessa realizes that she might love Jem, we are constantly reminded of her internal conflict. Who does she love more?  What should she do?  At least she still doesn't mislead any of them and her choice is clear, if only on the outside.  I guess this kind of conflicting relationship is appealing to younger readers but I found it repetitive.  I have a clear idea of how it's going to end but only Clockwork Princess will be able to prove me right or wrong.

Despite the love triangle, I truly enjoyed Clockwork Prince.  I devoured the book in four days or so but decided to take a break before reading Clockwork Princess.  Hopefully, my refreshed mind will be able to appreciate it better.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Guest post announcement – Scott Bury

Photo by DAVID ILIFF, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licensed
I recently had the pleasure of writing a guest post for Scott Bury's blog, Written Words.  You only need to click here to see my thoughts on being a writer in Montreal.  In exchange, the author The Bones of the Earth (yes, that's Scott) will be hosted on ATUA soon.

Stay tuned!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Hipster Word of the Week – Coruscate

I surely hope that last week's word has battened your hipster's pride.  This week's contribution should be equally pleasing.

CORUSCATE

v. - sparkle; flash. coruscant, adj. coruscation, n.

Have you seen how the new rims on Mary's fixie coruscate?

Your turn!  Leave your sentences in the comment section!
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Saturday, 22 June 2013

Writer's toolbox

This week's 5 most interesting posts. Feel free to add more in the comment section.

Character


Plot


Learning from Stephen King


Foodie Reader


On success


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Friday, 21 June 2013

Finding what you love is a lot like moving


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Last week, we talked about time management and how planning too much can be your downfall.  Maybe you read this and thought, "This is all well, but I'm not even sure what I'm doing actually is what I want to do." Maybe you felt slightly jealous of those people who are able to get so caught up in something they end up losing tack of everything else.  You shouldn't because finding what you love is a lot like moving.  Allow me to clarify.
Homeowners
Some people are very lucky in the sense that they seem to be born with a passion.  We all know this one guy who dreamed of joining the army since grade 4 and grew up to do just that.  For those people, there is no doubt possible.  This passion of theirs is like the perfect house. If you found the house of your dreams and had the certainty that you were never going to leave it, you would naturally unpack all your things.  You wouldn't mind investing time and money in the house because you'd know without a doubt that you were adding value to the place while making it your own.  People who know they've found their calling act the same way.  They apply all the knowledge they have (they "unpack") to thrive doing what they love.  They invest time and money in their craft (regardless of its nature) because they know they are becoming better at what they do and will have added value in their field.

This doesn't mean the "homeowner" have it easy and never feel doubt, but the path is clearer for them.  For most of us, however, the real estate hunt for passion takes longer.
Tenants

Imagine you were looking for a place but didn't have a clear idea of what you needed or wanted.  It would take you much more time finding a place you deemed decent; you might choose something following a friend's or relative's suggestion.  You might decide on something convenient although it doesn't really seem right for you.  Once settled, you probably wouldn't unpack everything, feeling that you might move again, yet, you would probably invest just enough to make the place comfortable.  You'd then find yourself stuck in the following conundrum: I'm not very fond of this place, but I've spent money and time on it, so I feel bad leaving.  The thought of looking for a new place probably would also be very daunting.  Now transpose this idea to your hobby, passion or craft.  Many people who are unsure of what they want to do end up trying things that don't really make them happy, but because they've made a time investment, they don't want to stop.  It takes time, but usually they do end up quitting, just like an unsatisfied tenant will eventually pack up his things and try to look for another place, in hopes it will be the one.

Now there's another type of passion seeking tenant, and that's the one who thinks he knows what he wants.  This is the type of person who falls in love with flats without even looking around much.  They move in, unpack everything (even the paper mache sculpture from grade 3) and start decorating right away.  They have great plans and invest a lot of time and money in the place.  Unfortunately, after a few months, they realize that the place isn't exactly what they thought it was.  They rapidly stop investing and start looking for a new flat.  They move often.  Those people are those who, upon finding a new hobby, activity, passion or craft, just hit the ground running.  They buy every possible tool even remotely necessary for the craft and invest huge amounts of money and time.  They do so because they feel that this time, they've found the thing that makes them feel alive.  Unfortunately, they are discouraged at the first difficulty and soon abandon.
Moving wisely
Of course, the above are extreme examples, and many people combine characteristics from the two 
tenants.  I also failed to mention the people who don't care to find what they want or don't even care to know what it is in the first place.  However, what unites those who try is the embarrassment or shame felt when having to admit abandoning whatever it is they had invested time in because it just didn't turn out to be what they thought it would.  This mindset is dangerous because it can lead people to stop searching.

We all want to be like the "homeowners" and find that one thing that makes us vibrate with life, but the truth is most of us will be tenants for a while before we can get where we want to be.  And there is no shame in that at all.  Better do something and fail (I wouldn't even call it failing, most of the time) than letting life pass you by on easy mode.  It takes courage to recognize we were wrong and strength to try something new but in the long run, we acquire knowledge and experience we will be able to put to good use once we've found our true calling.  

Knowledge is like the things you have in your living space.  The more things you own, the longest it takes to pack when you have to move.  As a result, when you move you go through your possession and get rid of what you don't really need, only keeping the essential.  The more you move, the more you declutter and the more you do, the more what you own is useful and valuable.  Homeowners, however, don't need to do that, so they accumulate a lot of useless things (thing of your parents' house).  I'm not saying that people who know exactly what they want have tons of useless knowledge, but they definitely don't have to do a regular inventory of what clutters their head. Also, trying different things makes you more flexible, a better adaptability to chance. You see, it's not so bad being a tenant.

Remember that there is no shame in trying new things as there is no shame in looking for a new flat.  Avoid the extremes and keep decluttering.  Eventually, you'll find the perfect "house," and you'll be glad your mind's cartons are only filled with the things you really need.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Author Interview Series – Erin Grace – Giveaway winner and answers

Today I have the pleasure of revealing the name of the giveway winner for Erin Grace's Author Interview.   But before, I would like to thank Erin for answering all your questions. Here are her answers:

Maria Cardovà asked:

How long did it take you to write the book? 
Hi Maria! The first draft only took me a month – largely because I wrote it during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – but at that stage it still didn’t have an ending. I let it sit for about a year, then I got to work on the ending.


Did you self publish the book or did you find a good publisher?
I didn’t self-publish, but I didn’t get a “big” publisher either; I worked with a small local  start-up. They gave me three months to finish the editing and proofreading. I probably should have asked for more, but I was so scared and excited that I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. So in terms of active writing and re-writing, I probably spent about five months. But chronologically, the book took well over a year from start to finish.

Kari Ploysa asked

Did your studies in Japan help you create or inspire you at all for your new short story?
Wow, lots of questions, Kari!   My time in Japan didn’t directly inspire the story, but there some subtle ways that Japan affected it. I find that my stories capture an emotional snapshot of who I was when I wrote them. When I wrote “Wright Brothers” I was still dealing with issues of isolation and reverse culture shock, which went directly into the character of Jeremiah. I also couldn’t stop thinking about the sexiness of creating a new life unfettered by old connections, which also worked its way into the book

Do you speak any Japanese?
I can, but I used to be better. I’m actually much better at reading Japanese than speaking it because I’ve spent the last several years translating for a Japanese music website.


How long did it take you before you realized you really were not a psychopath?
Hahaha, it luckily only took a few minutes!


Who other than Stephen King were your inspirations?
Chuck Palahniuk is a huge inspiration for me; I love all his books. I also love Kurt Vonnegut, especially the way he embraces the absurdity of life.


What inspired your newest book?
 The short story about the Japanese firebombing of the West Coast was inspired by a photo prompt selected for a writing group I’m in. The photo is a black and white of a young woman standing in a field with one hand over her face and the other holding a gun. The murder mystery was inspired by my mom. She’s always coming up with ideas for me but usually I’m not into them. (I keep telling her to write the ideas herself, but she never does.) This time she told me to write a British manor house mystery and I was about to dismiss it when I came up with an interesting twist. It’s been stuck in my head ever since!



And the winner of the giveaway is... Kari!  Make sure to send me an email at scbecauseican(at)gmail.com to claim your prize!

Thank you everyone for paticipating and be sure to come back for ATUA's next giveaway!  

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Review Wednesday – The Infernal Devices – Clockwork Angel



Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare is the first book of The Infernal Devices series,  the prequel to the Mortal Instrument series, which is currently being adapted into a movie.  

I don't usually mention covers when I review books but I will make an exception for this one. Although I had never heard of the Mortal Instruments or Cassandra Clare before, the moment I saw the cover of Clockwork Angel in the bookstore, I knew I had to read the book.  Luckily, the cover wasn't the only great thing about it.

The story opens with Tessa, short for Theresa Gray, arriving in Southampton to meet her brother who sent for her.  Having nothing left in New York, she crossed the pond in hopes of a new life in England.  She is met at the port by two sisters who claim to have been sent by her brother.  She soon regrets trusting them as she is taken prisoner and forced to master dark powers she didn't even know she had.  What follows is an unbelievable tale of magic and mystery.

There is a constant sense of immediacy in the story.  From the moment Tessa goes to the Institute, the action progresses so rapidly that neither Tessa nor the reader have time to stop and question the newfound order of things.  The urgency of the current events forces them both to go forward without looking back.  This creates an amazing pace.  Tension builds and when something seems about to be resolved, we discover that the door we unlocked only led to more locked doors.  The plot is straightforward and the many subplots (character background story, the love triangle, etc) help fleshing the story and making the characters more believable.

While on the subject of characters, I must say that Clare is very good at creating them.  All of them have a very distinct voice and personality.  I really like Tessa because although she is a bit helpless at the beginning of the book, she grows to be a very strong girl.  The two boys of the story, Jem and Will, are like the two sides of one coin; the story would be uneven if one of them was missing.  Love triangles usually annoy me but this one, between the three main character, is exploited nicely to serve the main plot.  Also, Tessa does not spend her time hesitating between the two of them, misleading one then the other, which is definitely a redeeming feature.  I personally root for Jem, but I have a feeling my choice is not going to be very popular with Tessa.  The only character I have a hard time understanding is Jessamine, but I have a feeling her motivations will be revealed later in the series.


I would say that one of the weaknesses of the series is setting.  Although Clare does describe London and the Institute, for some reason, I have a very hard time picturing them in my head (and I've watched enough BBC and Victorian era series to easily be able to.) It's as if  Clare invests so much in the characters that she forgets to give life to the surroundings.  The rapid succession of events makes the book feel like it's a movie, but one in which the sets have been replace by pale shadows of a city.  Another thing that annoyed  me was Will's beauty.   It's not as bad as Edward from Twilight, but I get that our hero is pretty; no need to repeat every other page.

Clockwork Angel is a YA novel, thus the language is light and accessible.  Nevertheless, Clare uses precise and more researched words when necessary, which prevents the reader from feeling that the prose has been dumbed down. Although many of her characters have regional accents, the author does not over do it.  She uses regionalisms sparingly but still manages to convey the background of the characters.

Demons and angels are a recurring theme in YA literature (Darren Shan is another great author whose stories involve demons) yet I found Clare's approach refreshing and enjoyable.  I totally immersed myself in the story and couldn't put the book down.  As I write this, I only have about 100 pages left to read in Clockwork Prince, the next volume in the series.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Dreamers Interview Series – Announcing Christine Guenette

Inspiration comes in many forms, many a time from other fellow artists of the same craft, but sometimes of an entirely different one.  Henry James loved paintings, Yukio Mishima admired the bushido and Vladimir Nakobov had a soft spot for butterflies.  In our appreciation and study of different forms of art, we allow ourselves to view approaches and techniques that, although seemingly unrelated to our craft, can actually benefit our creative process. 

This is why I have decided to run the Dreamers Interview Series parallel to the Author Interview Series.  In this series, I will interview people who have decided to follow their dreams and have created (or are still in the process of creating) a life out of their passion.  I believe we can learn much from them, regardless of our craft.

Next week, I will interview Christine Guenette, a massotherapist and yoga instructor who quit her day job to become who she really was.  Christine is now the owner at The Nest: Therapeutic Massage & Yoga and she hosts weekly Grassy Yoga sessions in the summer.  Tune in next week to learn more about her and enter the giveaway.



Please note that the "Writing Prompt Tuesday" will be discontinued in order to improve the content of ATUA.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Hipster Word of the Week – Batten

How's your inner hipster doing?  Did he enjoy last week's absquatulate?  Here's another word to feed him this week.

BATTEN

v. - to thrive and grow fat by feeding

Julius will never batten if he keeps eating nothing but bean sprouts.

Your turn!  Leave your sentences in the comment section!



 Source: Luciferous Logolepsy

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Playing to Win – Contest Roundup

June 24th– All Groan Up
101 Secrets for your Twenties Writing Contest

Pssst!  Need some inspiration?  Why not check this week's writing prompt

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DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with any of these contests and cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage incurred through them.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Blogging, Plotting and other things that end in "ing" – Writer's Toolbox

This week's 5 most interesting posts. Feel free to add more in the comment section.

Blogging


Plotting


Creating conflict


Writing that First Line


Professionnal editing



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Friday, 14 June 2013

Planning yourself to failure

Regardless of the type of art that makes you feel alive, if it's something you do on top of work and family obligations, you have to come up with a plan.  If you're serious about  your craft, you need to find a way to fit it in your busy schedule.  Long story short, you need planning.

This is common sense, nothing more, and an advice readily available on every blog that addresses the topic of "following your dreams."  So why do I even bother to talk about it? Because it's dangerous.  Don't be too quick to scoff.  Over planning can be like paving your way to failure.

You've all experience a sudden spur of motivation for your project.  This time, it's going to be different.   This time, you will plan carefully and follow that plan (unlike last time...)  You're convinced that the secret to success is a mix discipline and dedication.  And so you carefully build that perfect schedule (Google calendar makes it so easy!  And just look at all the colours, so pretty!)  It's so magnificent it makes you feel like you could be hired to manage Stephen Harper's agenda (not that you'd want to...)  Everything is calculated, balanced, thought out. 

Your beautiful clockwork schedule
You hit the ground running and start following you schedule religiously.  It works great and you're sure the elation you feel warrants your success. Secretly, you feel invincible and  mock the silly mortals that aren't in to the big plan. *snicker, snicker, snicker*

A week passes, maybe two, and everything goes according to plan.  The kids are clean and fed, the chores are taken care of, you're doing great at work and your project is on a roll.  You're on a high.  You're so glad you planned; you can't understand how you lived without your clockwork schedule until now.  Two more weeks pass. Life starts creeping up on you, but you brush it off, quick to fix any issue.  You don't have time for this, you're too busy feeling great.  Little grains of sands get caught in the cogwheels but the machine still turns, so why worry?  Maybe you feel a bit tired but you can't give up this perfect schedule. You told everyone about it, what would they think if you suddenly stopped following it? You keep going.

Suddenly,  Life throw a boulder at your perfect machinery.  You come to a screeching halt.  Everything goes silent.  You look around and start wondering how long your hungry kids have been staring at you from the piles of dirty clothes.

You might want to have someone look at this...

Dumbstruck. you're not sure what happened or how it happened.  You try to fix things, to get the machine running again.  It has to.  And it does, few days until it doesn't break, it explodes.  The gears are now disaligned beyond repair. Life has made a mess of things and  now that your perfect clockwork schedule is busted, you feel depressed and can't shake off the thought that you failed.  You find yourself not even the things you used to do.  You have no motivation, you're spent.  If the crash is intense enough to convince you that maybe following your dream was a silly thing to do, you might end up shelving the project never to touch it again.  In most cases however, you'll build a new miraculous schedule machine and start again in a few months.

Most of us need spontaneity in our lives and having a tight schedule does not allow for it.  Although it might work at first, it more often than not ends up in discouragement and the complete abandonment of the project. I'm not saying you shouldn't plan – on the contrary, I think it's very important to have a set amount of time dedicated to your craft, or else it becomes a hobby– but you should allow for the unpredictable. As silly as it sounds, it's easy to burden ourselves with more and more tasks when things are going well.  When on the rise, we feel like we could take on the world.  Thus, it's never a good idea to introduce an entirely new schedule to your life all at once.  Try to add the new things slowly, in small doses and see how it goes. That way, if things don't work out the way you planned, you won't feel like the whole thing was a complete failure.  You'll recover and try something different.

Look for signs to know if you might be doing too much.  It might not be obvious at first but after crashing a few times, a pattern will start to emerge.  For example, I can tell my schedule is getting too heavy when my apartment becomes messy.  When all the cups I possess are in the bedroom next to the computer and I have to ascend Mt. Dirtyclothes to take a shower, I know it's time for me to take a few thing off my weekly to do list.  Also, when things seem to go well and you're tempted to add one more things, take the time to ask yourself if you can really do this new thing.  Is it essential?  If yes, is there something you could swap it with?  Can you saccrifice another activity for this?

It sounds very obvious but I had to learn this the hard way.  I had to crash several times before I understood that I had to make choices.  Being naturally curious, that was very hard to come to terms with.  It's a slow process and I still struggle with this but I find I've been much more productive when my schedule is looser.

What about you? Are you an extreme planner? How can you tell when you're loosing control of your schedule?  Do you have any advice to share?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

ATUA's Author Interview Series – Erin Grace



Today I have the pleasure of hosting author Erin Grace on ATUA.  Erin and I met in Japan where we attended Waseda University in 2003. We've been friends ever since.  I want to thank her for accepting to be the first of this series and to take time to answer my question in the midst of a family emergency.

The details of the giveaway will follow the interview.

 ***

The Indefatigable Wright Brothers is your first book, but I know for a fact that you always have stories brewing in your head. Where did you get the inspiration for this one?

I’m a very curious person, so I find myself reading a lot of weird Wikipedia articles. One day a few years ago, I was reading the Wikipedia article about psychopathy. The Cleckley checklist that I quote in the book was listed there, and after I read it, I thought, “Holy shit, I’m a psychopath.” After a few seconds my mind came back to me, and I realized that I’m probably not a psychopath (because a real psychopath wouldn’t have any kind of emotional reaction to that revelation), but the idea of a person becoming convinced of it on weak evidence really interested me. That’s how “Wright Brothers” got started.

Painter Chuck Close Once said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just shows up and gets to work." How do you "get to work?" Do you have any ritual or specific requirements to get the juices flowing?

I set a specific time to write – usually in the evening after dinner – and a specific amount of time or a specific number of words that I want to reach. Then I put on my headphones with some music that seems right for the scene or the character, open the file on my computer, and force the words out. Having my own “headspace” with music is the most important for me – I can work almost anywhere as long as I have the right music and sound-cancelling headphones. When the going gets really tough, I set small word goals with rewards (a glass of wine for 500 words, 10 minutes of TV for a thousand) to push myself the rest of the way.

Close is very right: you can’t just sit and stare at the screen thinking, “Goodness, I wish I could think of something!” Writing isn’t about being Rapunzel and waiting for Inspiration to gallop in on its snow white charger to save you. It’s about being Frodo, slogging through wet, cold, dirt, blood, fear, and anguish to reach something magnificent. It’s not glamorous, but when you get to the top, the view is incomparable.

Are you working on a new story at the moment?

Yes! It’s a short story about the Japanese firebombing of the U.S. West Coast during World War II. I’ve never been good at short stories, so I thought I’d take it on as a challenge – no more than 5 pages! (For someone accustomed to 100+ pages, this was a serious constraint.) I’ve finished the first draft, and now I’m letting it “gestate” before I move on to the rewrite. My next project is going to a murder mystery in the British manor house style – another personal challenge. I haven’t started because I’m still working out some kinds with the puzzle, but it’s going to happen soon!

One of the people you dedicated your book to is Stephen King. Is there a story behind this?

When I was 10 or so, Stephen King was my favorite author. Although I had a hard time grasping his themes and didn’t usually follow the “adult” scenes, I loved the imagery and the way he put words together to sound so visceral and terrifying. I wrote him a letter to tell him how much I loved his books, and asked if he had any advice on writing. I didn’t expect much, but what I got was beyond what I had hoped for: a small green notecard that assured me Mr. King had read my letter even though he couldn’t respond personally, and a very fat stack of photocopied pages that appeared to contain every single magazine article in which Mr. King had given advice on writing. This was before Google, obviously, so this was a wealth of advice that would have taken me years to pull together on my own. I was floored that he would treat some dumb girl from Kansas with that kind of respect. I already loved to write, but I redoubled my efforts, knowing that Mr. King was rooting for me. I swore that if I ever published a book, the very first one would be dedicated to him, since he was the one who told me in no uncertain terms that I could do it.

What has writing The Indefatigable Wright Brothers taught you about the creative process?

The biggest thing is that sometimes you need to do something dramatic to make your characters scramble. There’s a pivotal scene (I’m sure you’ll know which one if you read the book) in which everything changes for Jeremiah overnight. That scene came out of desperation – I’d been slogging through the writing for days, the characters were unmotivated, and I just wanted to chuck the manuscript out of the window. I initially wrote the scene because I needed something to shake things up a little, so I jumped at the most absurd option I could think of and I wound up loving it. But even if I hadn’t loved it, throwing that scene at the book would still have been important. Seeing how the characters react is an important part of learning who they are, which is an important part of writing about them. Also, writing is almost always a thankless, stressful process that makes you want to explode the planet with your mind. Since you can’t do it in real life, it’s relaxing and rejuvenating to blow up your characters’ world instead.

What is the one advice you would like to share with aspiring writers and creators?

Don’t let your first draft get you down. Or your second, or your third. Earnest Hemmingway said that the first draft of anything is shit, but he failed to mention that many of the subsequent drafts are only minor improvements. Keep retooling and reworking, pounding out the dents and the kinks, then break out the sand paper in finer and finer grits until it shines. And make sure that you give yourself time between each rewrite to step back and ignore it for awhile so that you maintain perspective. Finally, if you reach the publishing stage, remember that Gaiman’s Law is a normal part of the writing experience: “if there’s one typo [in a book you just wrote], it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.”

Our next featured guest will not be a writer but an entrepreneur who quit her stable day job to fulfill her dream of becoming a full-time yoga teacher and massotherapist; what question would you like to ask her?

How, and how long, did you prepare to leave your job; did you have any support from friends and family; and how ass-clenchingly scary was it to begin despite the preparation and support?

***

Erin Grace is a freelance writer from Salem, Oregon. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Japanese Culture that mostly gathers dust. Her favorite color is green, her favorite ice cream is vanilla, her favorite book is Invisible Monsters. She wants desperately to re-meet Chuck Palahniuk to apologize for that little misunderstanding in Powell’s.

GIVEAWAY!

For a chance to win a digital copy of The Indefatigable Wright Brothers, leave a question for Erin in the comment section.  The best question will determine the winner (Erin gets to choose.)  You can also earn brownie points by becoming a follower of ATUA or by following me on twitter.  For the latter, make sure to let me know by tweeting #TIBWGIVEAWAY.  You have until Tuesday June 18th 11:59 ET to enter.  The name of the winner, along with the answers to all the questions, will be posted on Thursday June 20th.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review Wednesday – Erin Grace's The Indefatigable Wright Brothers

"I’m still too afraid to sleep with a psychopath in the room."




Jeremiah Meza, a ball shagger at the local driving range, has just been dumped by his girlfriend.  He normally wouldn't care but she left him with the one insult he can't get over; she called him a psychopath. After doing some research and worrying a lot, Jeremiah soon becomes convinced he is indeed in a psychopath.  This realization scares him until he meet Bonnie (Just Bonnie), who persuades  him he needs to take things to the next level. Now that he knows what he is, he should strive to become the best of them all.  What follows is a crazy adventure, only made possible by the (un)predicted fall of a meteorite.


The indefatigable Wright Brothers, Erin Graces' first book, starts with a bang,  We meet Jeremiah who is trying to handle his (ex)girlfried as she is breaking up with him.  Although he is presented as a somewhat insensitive boyfriend,  I immediately sided with him. Regardless of the trouble he was in, I grew fonder of him with every page.  I didn't like Bonnie as much.  In fact, I liked some of the other members of the brethren more than I did her.  I wish she hadn't taken the backseat of the story and had had a bigger presence in the latter part of the story. Nonetheless, I feel Grace has a great understanding of human emotions and  knows how to make them lovable and realistic without the need of extensive description.  The same goes for her settings.  I could easily picture the different places where the characters interacted.

The premise of the story is amazing, the idea being original and unusual ( to be quite honest, I had been expecting a story about the real Wright brothers.) I enjoyed it very much.  I felt however that I had been cheated of part of the story when, after the fall of the meteorite and the creation of the Brotherhood, the pace suddenly picked up to take the allure of a rocky-esque montage.  Although key information was provided, I would have liked to see the evolution of the group at a slower pace.  The book being fairly short, a chapter or two more wouldn't have hurt. Plus, it would have contributed to strengthen the relationships between the characters. This change of pace led also me to me utterly confused when we flashed forward and all the characters suddenly had codenames.  I caught on later, but some I still wasn't sure about, even as I reached the end of the book.  Speaking of which, the open ending couldn't have been more appropriate.  The reader can't help but wonder what will be Jeremiah's next move.

Grace's style is rich but simple. The language is accessible yet filled with little jems such as the opening quote of this review and as "We’re both a little dubious about our abilities to handle machinery larger than mechanical pencils." The book reads easily, which is great because you don't want to be hindered: the author keeps you wanting to know what is going to happen next.  The usage of first person narrative  was perfect for this story; a third person narrative would have dulled it greatly.

All in all, The Indefatigable Wright Brothers does a good job of showing the potential and talent of  author Erin Grace.  It is a novel bound to please anyone with a good sense of humour and a taste for the incredible.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Writing Prompt Tuesday – Salt or ice?

Sometimes it seems our brain is flooding us with a torrent of ideas; they keep on coming and coming so fast we barely have time to jot them down before they escape us.  Then, there are those other times when our mind is as dry as the Sahara. Luckily, I'm here to help!

Writing Challenge!

Source: Personal collection
This week, inspire yourself from the above picture. What is this cartwheel doing stuck in the middle of a salt lake?  Who put it there?  What's your character's reaction to this strange discovery?

Share your story or excerpt in the comment section or link back to your blog. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Hipster Word of the Week– Absquatulate

People talk about the inner child all the time – listen to, heal, feed, (smother) your inner child – but what about our little less known but as (if not more) tyrannical  inner hipster?  

An inner what?  Don't be ridiculous, I'm NOT a hipster!  

There, there.  No need to deny it.  I bet you've felt that smug smile creep on your face after impressing someone with the extent of your knowledge at least once. So here is my weekly contribution of words so underground they'll make your inner hipster spill his fair trade coffee all over his ipad as he squeals in glee .

ABSQUATULATE

v. - to leave hurriedly, suddenly, or secretly

After hearing about the Apple Store sale, Atticus absquatulated.

Your turn!  Leave your sentences in the comment section!

  



 Source: Luciferous Logolepsy

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Writer's toolbox

This week's 5 most interesting posts. Feel free to add more in the comment section.


Make them bleed
Writer's block
Editing tips

Characterization
Learn something

Image source

Friday, 7 June 2013

Stepping off the Pedestal

Have you ever had a great idea?  An idea so cool it was going to revolutionize the world.  An idea so awesome that it made you feel that although other people had explored it, you were going to rock it so hard you would take it to the next level?  People would look in awe and venerate you for your genius.  You know the kind of idea I mean.  The type that makes you all motivated and inspired.

 I have.  I thought I was going to make ATUA the best blog about writing.  I worked and worked on plans and structure. It was going to be UNBELIEVABLE!!  (Cue the kittens, rainbows and unicorns.)

My face, exactly
Enter this.

For those of you who don't feel like clicking, the gist of this blog post by Kristen Lamb is that writers shouldn't have blogs about writing.  Wait a minute, you'll say, isn't her blog about writing?  Yes. It is about writing, but she has something I don't: experience.  Kristen is a published author and has an established platform: I don't. Setting aside the fact that I'm not a pro like her, her post points out something very important: writers who blog for writers condemn themselves to a very limited readership. 

So after I had gone through the five stages of grief, I decided I still wanted to keep ATUA alive. What was I going to write about?  I thought and thought and couldn't find anything.  I then talked to Mr. ATUA for an hour on the phone, enumerating all the things I enjoyed in life and that I could write about. We both agreed that here were enough travel and cooking blogs out there.  Then what?

That's when I came to the realization that, despite what I had believed until now, I am quite a "normal" person. Although some of my interests and tastes are not mainstream, I'm not that far from the norm that I may be called a hipster.  I'm just one slightly geeky girl who likes to write and who's not allowed to write about it. In the end, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find anything to write about.  What is wrong with me?

I'm terminally uninspired. 

There.  I've said it.  It's out in the world.  Now I could just give up and abandon ATUA but I don't want to do that.  I want to fight it!  That's right.   I'm going a quest for inspiration. I will go out into the world and I won't stop searching until I've found inspiration.

So stay tuned.  In the next few weeks you'll see changes to ATUA (layout, names and titles) but you'll also get to enjoy my adventures.

Rocking the knight uniform.  The horse costs a fortune...

Have you ever had an idea that you had to give up because it wasn't going to work?  How did you overcome the setback?  Did you end up coming up with comething even better?  Let me know!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

ATUA's first GIVEAWAY and INTERVIEW


Next thursday I'm very lucky to interview  Erin Grace, author of The IndefatigableWright Brothers.  Along with her book, we'll discuss her craft and other great topics.  Be sure to think of a question to ask her for a chance to win a digital copy of her book!

See you next week!

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