Beating Writer’s Block…Again

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m prone to long periods of not writing fiction. These tend to be accompanied by self-flagellation and an existential crisis: if I’m not writing, who am I? Then comes depression (or sometimes that happens first), which makes it even harder to write, and round and round I go.

The only way to break the cycle is to start putting down some words.

This, obviously, is easier said than done. It’s intimidating, especially if you’ve been away from the blank page for a while.

In the past I’ve tried fanfiction, though it’s not normally my thing, or played around with a completely different genre–not to try selling, just to play with. This time, since the beginning of the year, I’ve gone through several different stages. It’s working, so I thought I’d share…

1. First I resurrected my own blog. It’s not fiction, and doesn’t completely fill a need for me in the way writing fiction does. But I do blog with an audience in mind, and putting together coherent opinion pieces or travel posts is good practice in writing down the words, finishing a piece, and shipping.

2. Then I branched out from non-fiction and started writing the smallest possible thing every day. On some days, they were fragments of stories that didn’t and probably won’t go any further, but mostly they were haikus. I’m not trying to become a published poet, so I was writing …

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Half-Baked Opinions on the 2017 Hugo Award Nominees

Hey, guess what? The Hugo nominees are out!

The what, you say? The Hugo Awards are one of the most prestigious awards for science fiction and fantasy authors. They’re voted on yearly by several thousand people–not industry insiders, exactly, but a mix of professionals and fans who have bought memberships to a Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention). That means they can be, and have been, hijacked by small groups acting in bad faith.

There’s lots more background–google “Hugo Awards controversy”–but I won’t dwell on it here.

As an author and fan, what do I think of the nominations? Here’s where I admit that my reading is too far behind for me to have an informed opinion. I usually read one or more of the nominated novels…but not until a year, or several years, later. That won’t stop me from having an uninformed opinion on a couple of the categories, though (and I’d love to hear yours!)…

Of the Best Novel nominees, it’s interesting that 3 out of 6 are later books in series–I wonder how that will affect their chances. I’ve read one of the earlier books in those series (The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu), which blew me away. (I wasn’t the only one: it won the Hugo two years ago.) They’re also a good mix of subgenres: the Liu novel, Death’s End, is hard SF; Anders pits magic and science against each other; Chambers is writing small-band-of-misfits space opera; Lee’s novel is a very different …

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Fourteen Years, In Memoriam

The other night I dreamed that my dad was taking one of my siblings and me for a drive on the West Coast (British Columbia, for you non-Canadians). The timing was contemporary, for we had modern cell phones and we felt like our current adult selves, in that way you know things in dreams.

I didn’t remember until an instant after I woke up that my dad has been dead since 2003.

I don’t think about him often anymore, except right around this time of year. He died in March, late in a bitterly cold prairie winter. The day he was buried, there was a thaw and, finally, everything began to melt. Ever since then, I’ve found late winter difficult to bear. Some years are harder than others; this one has been easier so far, probably because it’s been so unseasonably warm here. Bittersweet for sure.

He feels now like part of another life, one I don’t remember as well as I would wish to. He did get to meet the man who would later become my husband. For that I will always be grateful. But since his death, the two of us have moved across the country, joined or made new communities, established our careers, bought a house, assumed adult responsibilities within our families, traveled to seven countries (eight as you’re reading this!). He didn’t live to see Turtleduck Press or all the writing I’ve done here, or to hold my first novel in his hands. And my two …

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The “You Can’t Do It” Voices

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

I have a brain that persists in telling me that I am Doing It Wrong and that Everyone Else Is More Capable Than You and also that This Is Hard and You Can’t Do It, Ha Ha. What is “This”? Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s my day job. Sometimes it’s adulting.

I would just like to register, for the record, some recent evidence to the contrary. Since I’ve blogged before about how the brain-voices relate to writing, this time I’ll focus on other parts of Life.

Exhibit 1: The Day Job

I’ve held the same job for nearly 12 years. Parts of it I’m really good at. Other parts still make me flail around. But on the whole, my You Can’t Do It voices have learned to be quiet more often than not. Then, last fall, my boss asked me to train with a co-worker who was retiring, so I could hold down the fort until she could be replaced. Her position doesn’t have much overlap with mine; I don’t really have the background for the job. To make things trickier, I still needed to do my regular job too (luckily we were able to shift around some of the workload and responsibilities). Cue the voices, loud and clear. But saying no wasn’t an option. I said yes.

So far, I haven’t made any horrible mistakes that cost lots of money. I’ve kept things going, mostly. It’s been a scramble sometimes, …

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The Smallest of All Steps

Happy New Year, friends! I think the world in general has had quite enough of 2016. Here’s hoping for better things in 2017.

On a personal writerly level, I had a very mixed year. I released my first published novel (co-authored with Kit), which was amazing, and then dove into a months-long promotional campaign for it, which was interesting and educational and sometimes fun, but not so amazing. (Except the two book launches. Those were pretty neat.) One of my co-workers at the day job bought my book recently, and today she walked past and waved it at me with a bookmark in it. That was also pretty neat.

But the promo campaign has been over for months, and I’ve written almost nothing since.

You may or may not be a writer, but I’m sure you know this about habits: if you let them drop, the longer you’ve been away from them, the harder it is to pick them up again. They start to feel big and scary and insurmountable.

I’ve fallen into that trap before. For months. And writer who are not writing? Not the most pleasant people to be around, let me tell you. For starters, they tend to mope around and complain of existential angst, while their family members (and sometimes, the writers themselves) wonder why they can’t be content with normal diversions and enjoyable things like regular people, or alternatively, how it can be so hard to make stuff up with one’s brain. …

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Operating Systems

A poem by Siri Paulson

He was an apple boy
she was an android girl
living their lives side by side
orbits and orbits, never intersect
lost in the space ‘twixt the stars.

He went for coffee here,
white earbuds and logos on every table;
played on the blue side of app-based games,
drank his beer at the chosen locations,
walked the streets with his tribe.

She loved her artisan tea café,
black tablets and laptops everywhere near;
played with the reds, talked smack to the blues,
drank her artisan ciders one gastropub over.
They crossed paths outside and went their own ways.

His school taught him iOS,
hers taught her Linux; he learned to draw
and she programmed on Windows.
They never saw the same job ads; Google
showed them half the world only.

His search results, social media feeds,
the ads that followed him through his day,
pointed all to one reality. Living on the flip side,
she saw black where he saw white,
two views almost entirely unlike.

One saw hope where the other saw fear.
Change was coming too slow, or maybe too fast.
Tilt the world like a kaleidoscope, and watch the facts
fall into place; then tilt again and see them shift.
The patterns are only what you see.

The social networks where they hung out
watched …

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Mental Health for the Holidays

I think November’s been tough on a lot of us, and December isn’t necessarily any easier. Personally, besides the obvious stressors, I’ve also had a truly hectic month at work and came down with two colds in quick succession. Seems like a good time to review self-care. So here are some reminders, for myself as much as for you all…

1. Take the time to do something you love.

I was lucky enough to attend not one but two contra (folk dance) weekends away from home in November. Lots of exercise, friends, wonderful live music, the state of flow, and a natural high, not to mention the excitement of a road trip. (Of course, that’s probably also where I picked up both of those colds. Argh.)

2. Do something creative. If you’re a creative professional (like a writer), do something else creative.

I’m a big believer in “creative cross-training”. We writers love to talk craft and work on improving our craft, which is important. But it’s also important to go and try something else — something that doesn’t have the same stakes and expectations attached. For me right now, it’s Instagram, contra dance, and occasionally tinkering in the kitchen.

3. Try something new.

At one of the aforementioned dance weekends, I got to try English Country Dancing (a cousin to contra) and swing dance, both new to me (swing dancing has footwork, ack, but the music is so much fun…). At the other, I got to try dancing …

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The Makings of a Princess Story

Hello, Turtleducklings!

Today I am super excited because I get to unveil…

THIS!

To Rule the Stars cover image

 

What is it, you ask? It’s our next release, an anthology of longish short stories by three Turtleduck Press authors, plus a sneak peek at our next novel. (Never fear, KD Sarge—our fourth author—hasn’t gone anywhere. Look for her next piece right here on December 1!)

And yes, each story features outer space. And at least one princess.

To be honest, I had a lot of trouble with mine. I didn’t want to go the route of Star Wars, with a grand space opera, since I only had the length of a novelette to work with. Next I ran through some classic Star Trek rip-off ideas and abandoned those as well.

But then what? How to reasonably put a princess in a space setting and give her an adventure…oh yes, and a romance?

Luckily, I already had a space setting—the steampunk ‘verse featured in The Haunting of Heatherbrae Station. It’s based on an alternate nineteenth century where a powerful source of energy, called ether, enabled humans to invent space travel more than a century early. Lots of fun…but I still wasn’t sure how to use …

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Mental Health Breaks and Mini-Staycations

Have you ever come back from a vacation and immediately felt like you needed another one? Or has it been a while since you’ve had one?

If you’re anything like me, you fall into habit during your non-vacationing life. Maybe you have a favourite coffee shop, or a park or a restaurant you love. Returning over and over again to places you enjoy is comforting, for sure. I do it a lot. But don’t underestimate the power of novelty for R&R.

Last weekend was my wedding anniversary. We took the opportunity to go on a mini-staycation, just the two of us. It was a lot of fun, and it wasn’t particularly expensive. We had dinner at a new-to-us steakhouse chain, went home instead of staying at a hotel, then the next morning, ventured into a trendy neighbourhood we don’t usually frequent, and wandered down the street and picked a restaurant for brunch at random (why yes, we are slightly addicted to Yelp, why do you ask?). Good choice, too – they had delicious house-smoked bacon!

That particular street was full of fancy/trendy furniture stores, so we poked around a few and drooled at all the gorgeous reclaimed wood and designer tables. We’re not even in the market for new furniture, and a lot of what we saw wouldn’t fit in our tiny rooms anyway (giant harvest table? uh, no), but window-shopping was fun! On our way back we picked up some bright yellow potted chrysanthemums to decorate our front steps …

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7 Lessons from the Garden

What I have learned about life gardening this year:

1. Some things take a lot longer than you think; be patient. Other things happen so quickly they’ll surprise you; be ready.

We planted radishes for the first time this spring. They were ready to harvest within a month, and went to flower (meaning no good for eating) just a few short weeks after that. Conversely, we waited and waited for last year’s snapdragons and this year’s wildflower seed mix. After we’d given up, both kinds of flowers emerged and were blooming by mid-June.

2. Novelty is always more exciting, but reliability is invaluable.

Every year we try a few new vegetables. This year: parsnips (very few came up), beets (yum), red onions (they stopped growing while still small), snap peas (double yum), and cucumber (it died in the summer drought). Every year we also fall back on our favourites: three sizes of tomatoes, hot peppers, herbs. (And every year we keep hoping for better luck with the carrots and sweet peppers.)

3. Some things just aren’t meant to be.

We’ve tried growing bell peppers several times. What we end up with are stunted, squashed bells that don’t ripen past green. (Climate? Nutrients? Dunno.) We do have luck growing hot peppers, but everything we’ve planted turns out to be VERY hot and I can’t handle more than a sliver of it. This year we bought a sweet banana pepper plant and I was excited. Turns out? Either it was wrongly labelled or …

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