Back to Basics

I haven’t posted to the blog in ages!

I blame Umbridge (see previous posts), the pandemic, and a general discomfort with the INTERNET IS FOREVER dilemma.

I’m still around. Still writing. Still editing. Still recruiting Virtual Assistant clients.

After taking several workshops to spark my writing again, I’ve decided to put more time into the blog. We’ll see how this particular endeavour works out.

THE PLAN – AKA 2016 Writing Resolutions

At the beginning of 2015 my writing resolutions were:

1. Create a writing plan, and execute the plan to meet my word goals for the 3XN novels.

I have been focusing on this task, first and foremost.

2. Edit and submit to market ALL of the new short stories from 2014.

A summary of the state of my 2014 short stories:
“Black is the Source of Her Smithing” – has 4 more rejections, bringing the total to 6 and is out at a market right now.
“Beneath a Cloak of Fear” – has 2 rejections. Since it’s not genre, I haven’t been as aggressively marketing this one.
“Papa and the Steam Rifle” – I sent this story to its intended market. They asked for edits but I didn’t have the time for them. So my Stop-Watch Gang colleague, Stephen Kotowych made the edits and it’s now being marketed as a collaboration. So far, mostly thanks to Steve’s enthusiasm, it has 10 rejections and is out at a market right now.
“Mr. Ice” – I changed the name of this one, sent it to its intended market, and it was rejected. I’m not much of a superhero author, so this one likely will never be submitted again.

3. Write, edit, and submit to market at least 1 ADDITIONAL short story, adding to the requirement as I’m invited to anthologies.

Done! I wrote “Slaughter-Greedy” for an invitation anthology.
I wrote about half of “Proof of Love” for another invitation anthology, and hope I can squeeze the time to complete it in early 2016.

4. Pursue grants in the spring and fall.

Epic fail. I did not submit any grant proposals in 2015.

5. Aim for the sub-a-week challenge with my existing inventory, but allow for a low goal of 30 submissions when the 3XN work takes priority.

Done! I made 56 submissions in 2015, including delivering 3X1 as well as submitting the galley proofs.

6. Use National Novel Writing Month to sprint for the final 3XN goals of the year.

Done! This year, I spent most of November behind the goal line, but hit 50,000 words with one day to spare. I now have about 35,000 words to go on 3X2. I posted a very math-intensive summary of NaNoWriMo activities year-by-year.

7. Write a minimum of 300 NEW words every day.

Epic fail. I fell off this bandwagon after my knee surgery in April and never climbed back on.

8. Do my best to get ELEMENTS on ballots during award season.

Done! Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction  was nominated in the Best Related Work category of the Aurora Awards and two of its stories, “Soul-Hungry” and “Jelly and the D-Machine” were nominated in the Best Short Fiction category. Although I didn’t win, “Jelly and the D-Machine” was included in 2 best-of anthologies:

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2014  from Twelfth Planet Press and
Imaginarium 4  from ChiZine Publications.

This year I sold one new short story, The Patent Bagger to AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Issue #20, Fall 2015.

I sold 3 reprints – the two sales of Jelly to the best-of anthos above, plus “Free Range” to the brand new magazine The Singularity.

What else happened in 2015?

I had knee surgery at the end of April. The surgeon repaired two meniscal tears, one below the kneecap and one above. He also “cleaned up” the underside of the kneecap. I didn’t get back to “normal” — I still use my cane to walk, but the pain is better than before the surgery and I’ve made a conscious decision to not return to physiotherapy. I posted more details about the knee on my Phoenix post.

That leads me to my writing resolutions for 2016:

1. Accomplish “THE PLAN” to complete my 3XN goals.
2. Finish “Proof of Love” and submit, if time permits.
3. Pursue grants in the spring or fall.
4. Aim for the sub-a-week challenge with my existing inventory, but allow for a low goal of 30 submissions considering the tight deadlines of THE PLAN.
5. Treat every month like it’s NaNoWriMo, especially JAN, FEB, MAR, MAY, and JUN.

I’ve spent enough time on these resolutions. It’s time to start writing…

Another NaNoWriMo WIN!

The title says it all.

Since 2005, I’ve done NaNoWriMo (AKA National Novel Writing Month) nine times, skipping years 2006 and 2009. Of those 9 attempts, I’ve won 8 times, and lost once (writing just over 31000 words in 2014).

Because I love math (I have a degree in mathematics) I needed to summarize my participation with a whole pile of statistics.

First, a chart that summarizes the total number of words I wrote during each participating November.

NaNo yr9 totals chart (2)

Notice that in 2013 I wrote WAY MORE than 50,000 words. That was the year I rented a cottage for a week for a solo writing retreat, during which I wrote 40,482 words in 6 days.

Next, I give you two charts for 2015!

First, my daily word counts for 2015 (note I excluded the days I didn’t write any words at all).

NaNo yr9 table 2

And second, my word count highs and lows for 2015:

NaNo yr9 table1

Also, because I was curious and because I am THAT much of a mathie, I analyzed my productivity week-by-week, and compared that productivity on a year-by-year basis, all summarized in this chart:

NaNo yr9 byweek

As you can see, this year I had a great start and then fell apart in the second week, forcing me to work extra hard in the second half of November to catch up and win.

My recent Blog Tour Posts

I’ve been busy, touring the blog-o-sphere recently.

You can expect more of my guest posts to pop up in the coming weeks as my promotional tour for ELEMENTS  kicks up a notch.

On March 28th, “Planners Vs. Pantsers” appeared on Steve Vernon’s Blog. I discuss the two categories of writers: those who plan out in detail (Planners) and those that write by the seat of their pants (Pantsers).

On March 24th, “New Project Freshness” appeared on Eugie Foster’s Blog. I discuss that wondrous feeling you get when you begin a brand new story.

On March 14th, “The Skill of Asking” appeared on Howard Andrew Jones’ Blog. I discuss the many different ways that writers must learn to ask for things, ideas, and help.

The Final Story “Soul-Hungry”

Below, dear reader, please find bonus content for Suzanne’s book: ELEMENTS: A Collection of Speculative Fiction.

This series of posts provides stories-behind-the-stories for each tale in ELEMENTS.

The last story in the Table of Contents is: Soul-Hungry

The last story in ELEMENTS  was written specifically for the collection.

Near the beginning of January of 2013, my publisher sent me three different cover art possibilities for the collection. I studied them carefully, but none of them spoke to me. I selected the one that I felt was the best of the three. He agreed that my choice was adequate and he also felt somewhat uninspired.

Fast forward to January 30th when he sent me an email that read…

I was not happy with the way the cover design was heading, so I’ve switched things up. What do you think of this cover mockup?

For the other cover options I had sent emails to my “peeps” asking them which cover they liked. But for THIS cover by Neil Jackson I immediately responded…

I love this cover. The font, the shadows in the background, all of it!

Elements-5.5x8.5-100dpi-c8And so, the cover of ELEMENTS  was chosen. Release the doves!

From the moment that I saw the cover, I was inspired to write a story. At that point in the editorial process, we had pretty much decided on the stories and the order they would appear in the collection, except for one story that we were debating replacing.

So I suggested that I write a story based on the cover. The publisher agreed.

On the 13th of February I sent him Soul-Hungry  and after a minor edit, it became the last story in the collection.

Fun Fact

I’ve always loved the word “posse” which I believe resonates more than words like “friends” or “peeps” and I tend to use it liberally in conversation.

I’d already submitted the Acknowledgements page before I even considered writing Soul-Hungry. In retrospect, I’m glad that I had thanked Sandra Kasturi and Marcy Italiano as my “girl-posse” because after writing Soul-Hungry, the term had that much more meaning to me.

It really does take a posse to put a book together. I can’t possibly list everyone here, but the people who come to mind first are:

My publisher at EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing: Brian Hades. And the rest of the remarkable people at EDGE including Ella Beaumont, Aviva Bel’Harold, Anita Hades, and Janice Shoults. And a big WOW to Neil Jackson for the fantastic cover.

My DC2K writers’ group: Eugie Foster, Lisa Guilfoil, Scott Hancock, Amy Herring, Teresa Howard, Alan Koslow, Aaron Longoria, Jenna Lundeen, Linda Pickett, Gwen Veazey, and Debbie Yutko.

My Stop-Watch Gang writers’ group: Richard Baldwin, Bard Carson, Costi Gurgu, Ian Donald Keeling, Stephen Kotowych, Tony Pi, Mike Rimar, and Pippa Wysong.

My Writing in the ‘Loo writers’ group: Suzanne Carter, Stella Congi, Rick Hipson, Marcy Italiano, Danielle Lowry, Nick Matthews, Sarah Tolmie, and Catherine Warren.

The authors who graciously read early ARCs of ELEMENTS  and “blurbed” the collection: Kelley Armstrong, Ed Greenwood, Kij Johnson, Nancy Kilpatrick, David Morrell, and Robert J. Sawyer.

Fellow EDGE author Michael J. Martineck who’s generously donated his time and expertise to help organize the best double-book-launch of all time at Ad Astra this coming April 5th.

The group of attendees at the Clarion South 2005 workshop in Brisbane, Australia, and especially tutors Ellen Datlow, Ian Irvine, Margo Lanagan, Michael Swanwick, Scott Westerfeld, and Sean Williams.

The 2004 group of attendees at the two-week short fiction workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and especially teachers James Gunn, Kij Johnson, and Chris McKitterick.

My friends and family…you know who you are!

Cue the curtain and turn up the house lights. That’s a wrap.

And so ends the month-long adventure of blogging the stories behind the stories in ELEMENTS. I hope that you — dear readers — enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy sharing this journey.

See you on the book tour.

Elements LJ sizeELEMENTS: A Collection of Speculative Fiction is available in Canada and the USA from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.

ELEMENTS of Me in “Muffy and the Belfry”

Elements LJ sizeBelow, dear reader, please find bonus content for Suzanne’s book: ELEMENTS: A Collection of Speculative Fiction.

This series of posts provides stories-behind-the-stories for each tale in ELEMENTS.

Sitting in the 20th slot in the Table of Contents is: Muffy and the Belfry

I’ve written several stories about ghosts. Probably because I believe in ghosts.

Most writers include ELEMENTS  of themselves in their stories. It’s part of how we speak our truths. How fitting that this story, new to the collection, has so many pieces of the young version of Suzanne.

Christmas Suzanne 1974 miniThe young protagonist in Muffy and the Belfrynbsp; is named “Penny.” (For those of you who think I named her after the character in the television show Big Bang Theory  you’re wrong.) I chose her name because of the ways that Russell-the-bully teases her.

Penny is built of many pieces of me, including…

She anthropomorphises her stuffed animals, as I do to this very day.

Elise and Suzanne Christmas 1974 miniShe lives in an apartment above a store, as I did growing up.Her mom works long hours and comes home hungry and weary, so Penny has dinner on the table for her when she arrives.

She’s afraid of the dark. Like most kids, I was also terrified of the dark, especially if I woke up when my mom and sister were asleep.

And because it’s fun to humiliate ourselves online, here are a couple of photos from Christmas in 1974. My older sister and I are wearing our special holiday outfits that our mother sewed for us.

Fun Fact

The creepy skylight in Muffy and the Belfry  was a real part of my life.

From when I was three until I was about thirteen, we lived in an apartment above a store on Pape Avenue in Toronto. The creepy skylight was in the bathroom.

Many, many times while sitting in that room, I would look up and see …

…four crinkly glass panes shaped like triangles. A big crack zigzags along the one closest to me. The black wood posts holding it together meet at a point and an old piece of rope with a knot at the end hangs down from the center. A bunch of spider webs cling to the knot, and on windy nights, like tonight, it sways back and forth.

Boo Bear miniThat description is from memory. I don’t have any pictures of the skylight, and I haven’t seen it in over thirty years. But I swear it looked just like that description and used to scare the bejeebers out of me at night.

I spent a long time this morning trying to find a picture of a skylight that comes close. I came up empty. Sure, there are photos of skylights online, but none of them looked creepy enough. They were all very pedestrian.

Instead, I give you one of the many stuffed bears from my collection. His name is Boo Bear or Boo for short. Because, hey, he’s blue. He was a gift from a high school friend. To use a stuffed animal term, he’s “well loved” AKA old-and-scruffy, just like Muffy in the story.

Elements LJ sizeELEMENTS: A Collection of Speculative Fiction is available in Canada and the USA from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.

Exploring Gender Issues in “The Flower Gathering”

Elements LJ sizeBelow, dear reader, please find bonus content for Suzanne’s book: ELEMENTS: A Collection of Speculative Fiction.

This series of posts provides stories-behind-the-stories for each tale in ELEMENTS.

Sitting in the 19th slot in the Table of Contents is: The Flower Gathering

As a woman writing genre fiction, I’ve heard the “equality” debates and “gender” discussions enough to understand my position in the mix.

I’m a woman. (go figure)

I write Fantasy (so do plenty of other women). I also write Science Fiction and Horror. So do…oh, wait a minute.

tiptreeawardSearch on “gender” on any speculative fiction blog/website and you’ll have plenty of reading material. There’s so much dialogue on the topic that there’s even an award specifically designed to initiate the gender conversation in speculative fiction.

From the Wikipedia entry,

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award is an annual literary prize for works of science fiction or fantasy that expand or explore one’s understanding of gender.

I wrote The Flower Gathering  as a way of exploring the gender topic. I wanted to ask the question, “What if a colony was designed, populated, and governed entirely by women?”

Tecmessa is the Prime Minister of the Pyleia  colony on Titan. She describes the colony’s origins in her own words:

On Titan, our settlement, named after the Greek Amazon Telepyleia, had been populated only with women. To escape the war-ravaged turmoil of Earth, our foremothers organized the evacuation, built the transport ships, and gathered supplies, all with minimal male assistance. Radical lesbians, the original colonists believed men were a threat to a sustainable civilization. They sought a place to build a new culture.

All sociological arguments aside, a single-gender population can’t biologically sustain itself. So the colonists in my story had to build rules to be able to procreate and sustain their population.

carnationThe Flower Gathering  takes place more than a generation after the fictional colony is established. The frozen sperm samples show signs of deterioration and need to be replenished with carefully bred donors.

But if they allow men to be born into their population, they need to ensure that they will always remain a minority in the population, so they pass the “law of the fourths.”

All pregnancies occur via in vitro fertilization, selectively breeding girls. If a woman wants to bear a son, she can only choose a male embryo after she’s successfully delivered three healthy girls.

Fun Fact

With a title like, The Flower Gathering  several types of flowers are mentioned in the story.

fabric carnationI garden. I wouldn’t say I’m good — more like competent. This story provided an opportunity for me to share my love of flowers and the feeling I get when something I’ve planted and nurtured blossoms. I haven’t had much success with carnations, but they are one of my favourite flowers.

Since the story takes place inside a domed colony on Titan, I had to be careful about what plants the colonists would have brought with them and what they would spend valuable resources growing and nurturing. They wouldn’t bother with ornamental plants like roses and carnations, so Tecmessa has to create her own carnations with fabric scraps and glue.

220px-Okie_0102The colonists would need to eat, so they’d bring harvest seeds. But what about coffee?

Coffee is too hard to grow in a domed environment, but I wanted the characters to have a tolerable substitute. After some research, I discovered that okra is easier to grow and you can roast its seeds as a coffee substitute AND eat it as a nutritious vegetable.

The blooms, seen in this photo, are white with a dark center.

Elements LJ sizeELEMENTS: A Collection of Speculative Fiction is available in Canada and the USA from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.

Interview: Mark T. Barnes

Mark Barnes was born in Sydney, Australia, in September of 1966. A strong athlete, he was also drawn to the arts at a young age, penning his first short story as a seven-year-old. He worked in finance and advertising before establishing himself in IT services management. Currently he owns and operates a freelance organizational change consultancy.

Mark Barnes headshotIn 2005, when Mark was selected to attend the Clarion South residential short story workshop, he began to write with the intention of making it more than a hobby. Since that time, Mark has published a number of short stories, worked as a freelance script editor, and has driven creative consultancy for a television series.

Mark is the author of the Echoes of Empire series, published by 47North. The series includes The Garden of Stones (May 2013), The Obsidian Heart (Oct 2013), and The Pillars of Sand (May 2014).

You can find out more at his website, his Facebook page, or follow @MarkTBarnes on Twitter.

Suzanne Church: The Echoes of Empire trilogy includes The Garden of Stones (May 2013), The Obsidian Heart (Oct 2013), and The Pillars of Sand (May 2014). For a first-time author, that’s an incredibly tight schedule. How did you write three rich and detailed fantasy novels so close together?

Cover Garden of Stones miniMark T. Barnes: Thanks Suzanne. I run my own business and was in a position to take some time away from work to write The Garden of Stones. The world was created first, along with all the histories, cultures, and social mores. That determined the story I could tell, which in turn informed the characters I thought best to tell it.

The Garden of Stones underwent some changes but was finished pending the publisher’s editing process in 2012. The Echoes of Empire series was planned as a number of trilogies, so when we got the deal for the first three books, it was only two that needed to be written.

I ended up sacrificing a fair bit. My social life was virtually non-existent, and thankfully those closest to me were understanding. I’d returned to work, so was either working or writing for between 15 and 19 hours a day in order to deliver the 280K words of the next two books in about nine months. I don’t recommend it.

SC: What fraction of your world-building is based on Earth’s socio-political and environmental principles and how much is pure imagination?

Cover Obsidian Heart miniMTB: I researched systems of government as the grass roots for how the politics would work, then made the rest up to suit the world and its history. I wanted something unique, complex, and baroque, where the political system was as much there to administer the nation as it was there to protect the people from the worst of their own dark and savage past.

SC: If your characters were real people, which one would you choose to interview first on your blog. Why?

MTB: Definitely Indris. His backstory is rich, and filled with adventure, excitement, honour, sacrifice, sorrow, and joy. He’s seen a lot of the world in his thirty something years, and is an educated man with a deep curiosity about the world.

SC: Describe two aspects about living in Sydney that’ve influenced your prose.

MTB: That’s a difficult question, as my prose was changed to be more amenable to American readers. I remember the first draft had almost no instances of “but”, “just”, “that”, or “and”. I certainly would never have started sentences with those words. Most of the cultural influences of being an Australian were around landscapes and their descriptions, and some of the dialogue.

Cover The Pillars of Sand miniSC: What advice do you have for new writers searching for an agent?

MTB: I wrote the article Finding An Agent on my blog that provides a more detailed answer to that question. The single most important piece of advice would be to do your homework. An agent is your advocate and ally, as well as your voice to the publishers. They will spend a lot of time representing you, so it needs to be somebody you believe will be passionate about your project.

My suggestion is to see whether your writing style and subject matter is similar to that of other established authors, then find out who represents them. An agent who represents work similar in nature to your own has demonstrated their passion for the genre, their knowledge of it, as well as their knowledge of who publishes it.

SC: What are you working on now?

MTB: I’m working on two projects now. A near future urban fantasy that my agent has finished reading Act I of and seems to quite like, so we’ll discuss what our next steps are. The other is another epic fantasy set in Īa. New characters, in a different part of the world. These books occur at roughly the same time as the first three Echoes of Empire books.

SC: You write rich and complex worlds, and the characters that go with them. What is it about world building that you enjoy?

MTB: Speculative fiction gives us great freedom to explore the boundaries of worlds. I enjoy the challenge of a blank canvas and filling it with history, exploration, societal rises and collapses, people of interest, etc. I think a strong world, which is consistent and works on clearly understood rules, provides a solid foundation

For the following flash questions, try to answer with the first idea that pops into your head.

SC: Imagine a prison of eternal misery. Is it hot or cold?

MTB: Hot! I live in a hot country and it gets pretty miserable when you don’t want to go outside because you might spontaneously combust.

SC: If you were only allowed to read ONE book more than once in your lifetime, what book would you choose?

MTB: Dune, by Frank Herbert.

SC: Santoku or chef’s knife?

MTB: Santoku. Or better yet a dragon tooth long-knife from my books.

SC: Stickers on your laptop or pure out-of-the-box plain?

MTB: Clean and simple! No stickers for me.

SC: At the beach do you soak up the sun’s rays, rush into the water, or read in the shade?

MTB: You’ve seen me Suzanne. 🙂 With blue eyes, fair skin, and fair hair I tend to avoid the beaches in Australia. When I do go, I stick to the shade in the hottest part of the day. The water is for the early mornings, afternoon, evening, or night.

SC: Music while writing, or total silence? And if you chose music, name three inspirations.

MTB: Soundtracks definitely. Anything by Hans Zimmer, Bear McCreary, Cliff Martinez, or Trevor Morris. Some favorites are the original sound tracks for Black Sails, Sunshine, Man of Steel, and The Dark Knight.

SC: Thanks for participating in this blog tour!

MTB: Thanks for having me! I hope your readers enjoy it.