Something for Everyone

A few months ago I had the honor of being published in a new anthology, Mythic Orbits Volume 2 (I also had a story in the first Mythic Orbits You should read them both!).

So anyway, I thought you’d like to know what to expect if you decide to get the book—and of course you should. All the stories are speculative fiction tales by Christian authors. The stories themselves may or may not have Christian content, but they were all written by Christians, including yours truly.

First up is “Living History” by Steve Rzasa, set in the future where humans have been subjugated by aliens and the main character works as a historical re-enactor of Earth’s past. It’s a fascinating glimpse of what it might be like to be the losers in a contest with alien invaders.

“Her Majesty’s Guardian” by Donald S. Crankshaw comes next, featuring a more medieval setting and a protagonist who works as the queen’s guardian. I can’t say much about the plot because I don’t want to reveal the twist at the end! It’s a short little gem of a story.

Following that is my own story, “Dragon Moon,” which you will have to read for yourself to decide if you like it. It involves a tattoo.

“The Other Edge” by C.W. Briar comes next, a relatively hard sci-fi story about astronauts who are the first to board an alien ship and who get a lot more than they bargained for. A gripping read.

“Seeking What’s Lost” by Cindy Koepp is set in the world of video gaming, where a bereaved mother is doing a final run-through of her game program and grieving for the loss of her children at the same time. Touching and relatable for anyone who’s had kids.

C.O. Bonham’s story, “Recalled from the Red Planet,” is probably the most overtly Christian of the stories in this anthology. A teenage boy living on Mars is forced to evaluate his life when a stunning Biblical prophesy fulfillment occurs, changing his world forever.

“The Workshop at the End of the World” by Kristin Janz is a fresh take on the lore surrounding Santa and his elves. A fun holiday read.CC

William Bontrager’s story, “They Stood Still,” is much longer than most of the others and will require more investment from the reader. A combat vet suffering from PTSD experiences the surreal sensation of being the only living, moving being in a world where time has frozen. This one also has a Christian message, one that many will be able to identify with.

“The Memory Dance” by A.K. Meek starts with a car crash during a blizzard, leaving a man and his young daughter trying to find shelter before they freeze to death. What they find is rather unsettling.

Keturah Lamb’s story, “Unerella,” asks the question, what if you were one of the girls in “Cinderella” who went to the ball but didn’t get the prince? I love stories like this with a fresh take on a familiar tale.

And finally, “Mark the Days” by Kat Heckenbach is another heavy-hitter and one of the longer stories. This one also has a Christian theme, and an intriguing premise. I struggled with the ending, though. I felt like I was too stupid to understand it. I don’t normally think of myself as stupid, so I will probably reread this one and see if I get it the second time!

All in all, this collection of stories is well worth your time. Everything from medieval fantasy to futuristic sci-fi and magic realism are represented here. Some of them will no doubt spark your own imagination—and that’s the point, isn’t it?

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Back On the Horse

When I was a teenager, we lived several miles outside a town in Africa, in an area where most of the properties were farms. The farm next door was a favorite haunt of mine, because it contained two teenage girls and five horses. The girls had both qualified as riding instructors in Scotland, and were eager to teach me how to jump.

The prospect of jumping on a horse simultaneously thrilled and terrified me. They put me on the horse they felt was the most reliable jumper, a gelding named Brandy. Brandy and I cantered right up to the jump and then Brandy changed his mind quite suddenly, as horses are wont to do. He stopped abruptly and I kept going, sailing gracefully through the air before landing in the dirt with a thud.

Were my friends concerned about me? Not at all. All they cared about was that I get right back on the horse and attempt the jump again, for both our sakes. If Brandy thought he could get away with throwing his rider, they’d have no end of trouble ahead of them. And if I was allowed to freak out for even a few minutes, I might not get up the courage to try again.

So I had to climb right back into the saddle and try again. I was thrown again, a little less violently. And yes, it was right back into the saddle for the third attempt. This time Brandy and I made it over the jump together. After two failures, the successful jump was exhilarating.

In my writing life, I’m still waiting for that successful jump. My recent submission has already been rejected. No specific criticisms, other than that they just didn’t “connect” with the story. Of course they were right to reject it. No one wants their book published by someone who is lukewarm about it. The search continues for someone who DOES connect with my stories. Rather than wait months to submit again, I’m trying to make a priority of getting right back in that saddle . . .

The “BEST” Writers’ Conference

Last week while I was traveling, someone in the writing world posted a question on Facebook asking, “If you could only go to ONE writers’ conference, which one would it be?” I was too busy and had minimal time online to answer, but I did read some of the responses, and I found that they rankled a little.

Many of the responses listed the “biggest” Christian conference of all, ACFW, which I have attended three times. Others, who like me write speculative fiction, mentioned Realm Makers, which I have also attended three times, and which has become pretty big and just about as expensive as ACFW. I doubt that I will ever attend either one of these again.

Here’s why these responses rankled: if I were a novice writer fresh out of college, with a depressingly large student debt and a desire to grow as a writer, and I read those responses, I would have looked up those big conferences, would have seen how much they cost (plus staying in a luxury hotel AND transportation), and I would have despaired, knowing that such experiences were completely out of my reach.

In writing circles, people are always saying that if you REALLY want to go to a certain conference, you will find a way to make it happen. I’m sorry, but this is not true. There are any number of reasons why you might have no hope at all of getting together $1000 or more for a weekend of writing classes. Telling people it is possible when it’s not just makes them feel like failures for not being able to do it.

However, my point is that all hope is not lost. The big conferences are not the only game in town. If you have limited means, then your best bet is to look close to home. Look for smaller conferences and conferences that are relatively new. There are so many advantages to this approach:

—Smaller conferences are likely to be much more affordable. Instead of $500, you may pay $150 or less for a weekend of classes, and you will still probably get to learn from some top tier bestselling authors.

—You won’t have high transportation or lodging costs. You may be able to commute from home, or stay with a friend like I did last weekend.

—You will meet other writers from your local area and learn about writers’ groups and other resources available to you locally.

Now, it’s true that these smaller conferences will not have the wide array of publishers and agents in attendance that the big conferences have. However, over the years I have realized that many, if not most, successful authors found their agents the old-fashioned way—by querying and letting their work speak for itself. This means you can go to a conference without being under pressure to pitch your work, and can choose which agents/publishers to query at home and at your leisure.

Because of our reduced circumstances, I had assumed that I would not be able to go to any conferences at all this year. Then in December, I found out about the LoneStar.Ink writers’ conference in Dallas, a brand-new conference debuting this year. By registering before the “early-bird” deadline, I ended up paying only $115 for two full days of classes—and that amount included two “add-on” expenses of a pitch session with a publisher and a two-hour master class.

They kept expenses low by holding the conference in the Dallas public library instead of a luxury hotel. The faculty was excellent. I took classes from David Farland (one of my favorites) and J. Scott Savage (a new favorite). Only one of the classes I took left me feeling less than satisfied, but even that one was fun because the presenter was hilarious. I will totally try to go again next year.

So what I guess I’m trying to say is that the best conference for YOU to go to, is the one you can afford. Don’t feel cheated if you can’t make it to a big name conference. I have been to several smaller, local conferences now, and I have become a huge fan. In my experience, you get a LOT more value for your hard-earned money.

PS: My pitch session resulted in a request for the full manuscript. Not expecting much, but reminding myself that each rejection is a step on the way to acceptance. One of the presenters at last weekend’s conference was rejected more than 400 times before receiving an acceptance!

Also, I test-drove one of the new “lap boards” I made and it worked beautifully! I am a convert to small-format notes.

 

When Star Trek Drops a Truth Bomb

My husband and I are watching through the Star Trek: Voyager series (again) with our sixteen-year-old son, who had never seen it before. It has been an enjoyable experience, especially as we come to our favorite episodes.

Currently we are in Season Five, and last night’s episode was “The Fight,” where aliens attempt to communicate with Chakotay using boxing as a frame of reference. Boxing is a sport in which I have less than zero interest. However,  during one scene, Chakotay’s trainer says this to him: “It all comes down to the heart. Do you have the heart for this? That’s the contest. It’s not against him [your opponent], it’s against your own natural human desire not to get hurt. That’s the real fight.”

I have seen this episode at least a couple of times before (not one of my favorites), but this time the trainer’s words stopped me dead in my tracks, because they are so applicable to writing. Once you’ve written something, and you want to get it published, you find out that you are in for a world of pain (unless you are very unusual).

I get looks of disbelief from those in the industry when I admit that I have completed seven novels but still haven’t sold a single one. The reality I’ve been forced to admit is that this is due in large part to my natural human desire to not get hurt. Every time I mentally strap on my guns and gird up my loins for another round of submissions, I find out yet again that I’m just not “enough.” Over the last ten years, editors and agents have told me the following:

  • You’re not special enough.
  • You’re not funny enough.
  • You’re not Christian enough.
  • You’re not quirky enough.
  • You’re not creative enough.
  • You’re not contemporary enough.
  • You’re not American enough (my personal favorite).

After the first few years, it’s harder and harder to go back and knock on more doors, knowing that you will most likely get the same types of rejections, and knowing that your writing has improved dramatically but will most likely not be given a chance. This would be easier to take if my test readers were lukewarm about my stories, but almost all of them have really loved my stories.

The amount of resolve required increases exponentially when no one in your life believes you will ever succeed, and when you face ongoing disapproval for your dogged determination to keep trying. So my natural human desire to not get hurt has led to my neglecting the “selling” side of writing. Instead I’ve focused on writing more and better stories—but of course those stories will never see the light of day if I don’t keep sending them out.

In a little over a week, I’ll be attending a new writers’ conference in Dallas. These days, I can only afford the cheapest of conferences, and this one looks like a great value. And, despite my natural human desire to not get hurt, I have signed up to pitch one of my books to a newly-formed small press. I no longer have any expectation of success, but I am increasingly aware that failure is guaranteed if I continue to do nothing.

It brings to mind another movie quote, this time from Chariots of Fire, when Harold Abrams whines to his girlfriend, “I won’t run if I can’t win.” And she comes back with, “You can’t win if you don’t run.”

True words.

 

O Frabjous Day!

Did you hear my massive sigh of relief from wherever you are on this terrestrial ball? This month has been a hard, hard slog. Why, oh why do they have NaNoWriMo in November?

BUT—I did it. Last night I passed the 50,000 word mark and today I finished the novel, which I’m tentatively calling Simon and the Sky Gypsies. So here are my statistics:

Total word count: 53,327

Average number of words written per day: 2,133.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Most of my novels land more in the 100,000 word range. How can I say I’m done after only 53,327 words?

Well, because this is my first middle grade novel, and this is a typical length for this genre. I wanted to end up between 50,000 and 60,000 words, and I nailed it. I assume it will be closer to 60,000 by the time I’ve done my revisions and added in some detail, but right now I’m very, very happy to have written “The End.”

Better yet, I love my characters and the story world and am looking forward to doing four more stories about Simon Somerset. Whew!

NaNoWriMo 2017

I’ve been threatening for almost a year to start a new novel, but my revision focus of the last several months meant that I kept putting it off. Now that National Novel Writing Month is here again, I decided the time had come to finally start my Sky Gypsy story.

I did not sign up on the NaNo website, but I am faithfully following the rules and have been averaging just over 2000 words a day. I really need to have a few 3000 word days to “bank” for days when I don’t have time to write the normal amount. Like, Thanksgiving for instance.

This is my first foray into writing for middle grade readers. Because I am planning a five-year arc, my main character is starting off at fourteen years old. By the fifth book he’ll be eighteen.

The beginning of this book has been difficult, because I’m setting everything up and trying to keep it interesting. I’m just about to get to the fun part though. One thing I didn’t expect was for my main character to play my own instrument—the autoharp. It has ended up being essential for his character, because he starts off as a very “uncool” kid, and there are few things more “uncool” than playing what many think of as an “old folks” instrument.

This is the only story I’ve literally “dreamed up.” I had a very vivid dream, that was really just a few seconds of seeing the sky gypsies, but it was enough to spark a whole world and give me the genesis of a story. I am excited to see where it will take me.

Writers in the Field!

I think it was James Herriot who said that a true fanatic is irresistible. It made an impression on me because I have also found that to be true. A fanatical enthusiast can dupe you into being interested in something that never interested you before. Once upon a time, there was a man who actually interested me in trigonometry! (The effect wasn’t permanent, alas.)

I bring that up to give you a frame of reference for the weekend I just experienced. The folks at Writers in the Field managed to assemble a group of experts who also happened to be fanatics about their areas of expertise. So what we had was a group of passionate fanatics teaching classes to a bunch of nerdy, fanatical writers who were eager to learn. The result was (at least for me) an explosion of joy and enthusiasm.

Although there were some writing classes, the focus was on helping writers with research by letting them talk to real-life experts. There were so many options for each time period that I had to make some very hard choices. These are the classes I ended up taking:

Saturday

Introduction to Archery—John Stout

Historical Dances—Caryl Morris

Country Healing and Herbalism—Brittney Volker

History, Customs, and Manners of the Renaissance—William Teel

Archery—Practicing the Basics (observed)—John Stout

Ask Seth Skorkowsky: The Pitfalls of Writing a Series—Seth Skorkowsky

Lockpicking—Nathan Coffield

Historical Archery—John Stout

Japanese Archery Demonstration—John Stout

Concert—Plunk Murray, Irish Blind

 

Sunday

Exotic Bladed Weapons—Bill Riddle

Court Dancing—Caryl Morris & friends

Historical and Fantasy Armor—Bill Riddle, John Stout

Concert—The Returners

Rapier and Court Swords—Bill Riddle

Strange New Worlds—Keith Goodnight

Fight Dirty—Like a Girl (partial)—Jeremy Metcalf

I have included the presenters’ names because they were so outstanding and I want to acknowledge them. I watched quite a bit of archery—the only P.E. class I ever enjoyed when I was in college!

Both dance classes were so full of information and I took copious notes. The lecture on the Renaissance was so excellent I wanted there to be more of it.

The locksmith was amazing, and adapted quickly once he realized his class was going to be a lot more popular than he had expected! He explained the process so well that it took me less than five minutes to successfully pick my first lock. Not that I am planning a life of crime, you understand. But now if I want to write about someone picking a lock I have a clue how to do it.

The swords/weapons guys were so knowledgeable and entertaining I enjoyed every minute of their presentations. They confirmed several facts that I had already picked up elsewhere. So nice to know your information is accurate!

The herbal medicine presentation was also very interesting to me, especially since I’ve been attending that homeopathy class.

I almost didn’t go to the worldbuilding class, because I’ve taken several other classes on that topic and think I’m pretty good at it—but I’m glad I went. He had a different spin on a couple of aspects of worldbuilding and I can use those insights in my writing.

The live music was a huge bonus too. Saturday night we had wonderful Celtic music, and Sunday we had a “Video Game Cover Band,” a genre that I didn’t know existed. They were great! I love listening to live music, especially in an intimate venue where you can really see and hear everything.

There were also firearms and martial arts experts, historical re-enactors, horses and their handlers, and a wine expert!

Oh, and did I mention that all this took place on the grounds of a Steampunk Faire known as Steampunk November? Wall-to-wall chandeliers and other fancy accoutrements. That’s another reason I enjoyed myself so much—the faire environment is so familiar and comfortable for me. And look what else I found there:

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I tried a somewhat new strategy for note-taking “in the field” and am now sold on it. Normally, I take a clipboard filled with unlined computer paper so I can take my “tree and branch” notes. This time, though, knowing I’d be lugging my chair around for two days, plus a bag with a heavy water bottle in it, I decided to be more of a minimalist. I took a little square sketchbook I’d been saving for some mysterious future need.

Here is the notebook I took: Square Sketchbook

It was so much easier to handle since I had to write on my lap. The pages are thick and opaque, meaning nothing bled through to the other side. The square shape meant I could arrange information anyway I liked. Depending on the class, one or two square pages were sufficient to record the information I wanted to remember. And instead of loose pages, I have a nice bound book with everything together. I’ll use this one for writing-related stuff, but I’m already planning to order another one to use for other subjects!