Friday, May 15, 2015

On Beginning

And, I suppose, on ending as well. This week, I completed my capstone project for my creative writing major. I graduate from college in three weeks. To say it's hard to believe is an understatement. These past three years have been incredible, and to know they are coming to an end is a weird mixture of relief, sorrow, and excitement.

For beginnings, I have started working on a new project. It feels odd. I have been in revision mode for so long, and when I wasn't revising, I was writing short fiction, or creative nonfiction, or poetry. To start a new novel looks a bit daunting now. I'm trying to remember what my process is, and I'm also trying to take what I've learned from working in various genres in college and apply it to this novel.

Right now, I'm a teaching assistant for a Beginning Fiction class. The professor, when speaking about creating narrative, said this: "Take a character. Put them up a tree. Throw rocks at them. Then get them down."

I keep this in mind as I think about beginnings, about crafting a narrative for a 300 page manuscript. It keeps me from getting hung up on the small details that don't matter until later. At its core, there is a simplicity to storytelling that's easy to forget about. Peel back the layers, the nuances, the experimentation, and you have a character, some rocks, and a tree.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Speculative Fiction in the Classroom

This term, I have the opportunity of assisting a professor with a beginning fiction class, and that includes presenting several short stories to the class in a discussion on craft. Last week, my first story came up. I gave the class "Cloud Dragon Skies" by NK Jemisin, who is one of the best speculative fiction writers today, in my opinion. Her work constantly challenges the tropes of speculative fiction, and her first novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is nothing short of marvelous.

The discussion went extremely well as the students picked apart the story to see how to world build within the constraints of a first person narrative. Halfway through, I was struck by something: no one had brought up the genre of the piece, and no one had questioned its place on the syllabus.

After three years in an undergraduate creative writing program, I've gotten the same sentiment over and over again: genre fiction isn't real writing. Sometimes, the message comes from professors; sometimes it comes from fellow students. I only write speculative fiction, and in workshop, I've had people tell me that a story is bad because it's fantasy. My professors constantly question why I write fantasy and science fiction, but they never ask anyone why they write realist work. Workshops encourage focus on realism, but never ask students to try more speculative stories.

Speculative fiction is not inherently simplistic or "unliterary." We delegitimize it by constantly shoving it under the rug. I didn't have a genre story or novel on a syllabus for any of the writing classes I've taken. When professor do include speculative fiction on their syllabus, and they do, it's speculative nature is never brought up. Think 1984, The Handmaiden's Tale, The Odyssey. If students are never shown that speculative fiction (or any genre fiction) is as relevant and distinguished as its realist counterparts, then they are left with the idea that it is inferior and therefore they shouldn't waste their time writing it.

In my beginning fiction course, Jemisin's story was put on the syllabus right alongside Lori Moore and Raymond Carver, and no one thought twice about it. I'm hopeful that this will encourage those who want to write speculative fiction that those stories are worth writing.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Trimming the Excess in Storytelling

After months and months of trying and failing, I have finally gotten back into a writing groove. One of my biggest personal goals right now is to add structure to my life, and this has been super beneficial to my writing. I now have a writing routine and am making forward momentum on projects that aren't just for class.

Right now, I am finishing up The Iron Phoenix. Finally. This novel has been two years in the making. I've rewritten it quite a bit with the advice from my fabulous critique partner, and now I am going through and giving it a thorough line-edit. One thing I talked about the publication process of The Thunderbird Project was that I cut about five thousand words just in the line-edit. Nothing substantial, just excess.

I write with a lot of excess, I've learned. Lots of repetition and unnecessary actions and details. So, for The Iron Phoenix, I am going through it page by page, and cutting twenty words a page. That may seem like a lot, but I usually end up cutting more. Once you really look for what doesn't need to be there, you can trim it down quite a bit.

I'm 100 pages in, and I've cut about 3,000 words. Not only is the prose tighter, but the storytelling is leaner now, which helps with the pacing. I highly recommend doing this if you tend to be wordy like me.

After I finish, I'll finally be able to send this book out into the world, and focus on something new!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Short Story Acceptance

I am pleased to share that my short story "The Bear-Woman of the North" will be published in Parsec's Ink new anthology Triangulation: Lost Voices. This story came out of a desire to experiment with narration by using a unique character to tell the story, and it was a lot of fun to write.

In other news, I will be going to grad school next fall. I'll be attending Indiana University's library science program. After I graduate this June. From college. I cannot believe how fast these past few years have gone. It's very exciting to be moving forward, though. Onward!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 Goals

2015 is going to be an exciting year. I will be graduating from college and going on to grad school, which means moving to a new city and getting my first apartment. Writing wise, I hope to continue to improve this year. I didn't make many of my 2014 goals, but it's a new year with new goals.

1. Officially finish The Iron Phoenix. 

This is my YA fantasy novel, and it's pretty much finished. However, I will go through it once more to do one final revision and polish it up.

2. Write a new novel.

I just started a middle grade fantasy novel that I'm very excited about. It's been awhile since I've done the entire novel-writing process, since this year has been the Year of Revision. It is taking some time to get back into the groove, but I hope that cobwebs come off soon and I can get this thing written.

3. Write more short stories and submit them.

I want to put together a more active submission process for my short stories. They aren't doing anything just sitting on my hard drive. I've written several for class, and I have another fiction class this term that I'll produce more work for. I want to continue to improve my short story writing, and I hope that'll translate into a sale or two.

4. Read 50 books.

This is something I've struggled with throughout college. Looking back at my Goodreads, I see that I go months without reading anything, and those months are almost always when classes are in session. This year, however, I will read more and put a substantial dent into my TBR pile.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Reflections on Japan

This winter break I had the incredible opportunity to go to Japan for two and a half weeks. My friend Emily and I had studied the language for two years, and one day last spring we both just decided we wanted to do something with it. So we went.

It was amazing. We spent a week in Tokyo, three days in both Kyoto and Hiroshima, and then back to Tokyo for a day and a half. Everything about it was just incredible. I got to see so many beautiful shrines and temples, tried a lot of great food, went to Disneyland, saw the deer in Nara, climbed two mountains, mastered managed to use the train and subway system, put my language skills to the test, navigated one of the largest cities in the world, and had a blast.

The trip challenged me a lot, and I learned quite a bit about myself. It was scary at points to be in a foreign country where I only had a slight grasp of the language. On the flight there (14 hours from Toronto), I really wanted to be home. But as soon as we arrived, all those worries faded away. We handled each challenge as it came, and having done it, I feel like I can do anything now.

Onto the pictures!

Hiroshima Castle

O-tori Gate of Miyajima
View from the top of Mt. Misen on Miyajima
Gate of Nijo Castle in Kyoto
Fushimi Inari
The deer of Nara
Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto
Atomic Bomb Dome in Kyoto
View of Tokyo from the top of Tokyo Tower
Senso-Ji Temple in Tokyo

Ikebukuro in Tokyo
Ariel's Castle in Tokyo DisneySea
Children's Memorial in Hiroshima

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fall Reads

Hi everyone! It's been quite a while since I've written here. The past few months have been pretty tough, but I'm hoping now to get back onto a more regular blogging schedule. I really do miss writing about writing and books and science fiction and fantasy goodness.

In other news, I just got back from Japan! A friend and I spent two and a half weeks visiting different parts of the country. I'll have a more detailed post complete with pictures up later this week.

Onto the fall reads...

Richard II by William Shakespeare

I read a lot of Shakespeare this past term for a queer theory Shakespeare class I took. My favorite by far was Richard II. I loved the characterization in the play. At the beginning, you're rooting for Bolingbrooke and Richard is set up as the villain. By the end, you're (or at least I was) firmly on Richard's side. It's a story with no clear hero and villain. I wrote my final research paper on Richard as a Christ figure, and the more I dug into the play, the more respect I had for it. Definitely recommend.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

The sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, DoBaS delivers on higher stakes, greater emotion, and a roller-coaster plot that ends with an amazing cliffhanger. The prose itself is one of my favorite things about this series: it is so beautiful without being overdone. This is an angels and demons story but it certainly doesn't read like any angels and demons story I've ever read before. Highly recommend.

Batwoman  by Gred Rucka

For an independent study I did this term I got to read comic books, and the Batwoman series was one that I focused on. Seriously, this is one of the best comic book runs I've ever read. Kate Kane is so real, flawed, and captivating. Her relationship with her girlfriend Maggie is very well done so that the romance never overshadows the plot. Kate fights monsters and criminals, and yet the biggest conflict comes from family. If you even remotely like comic books, give this character a read.

Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn

Another comic series I read for my independent study. Set in the Marvel universe, the story surrounds a group of teenagers with varying abilities who discover their parents are members of a supervillain group known as the Pride. Sometimes I feel like the big-name comics (Avengers, Justice League, Spider-man, etc.) tell stories that are almost too vast and consequently leave behind the kind of character stories that made me love them in the first place. Runaways is a character story, one full of action and romance, but a character story at its heart. Another recommendation.

The Confessions of Frances Godwin by Robert Hellenga

I read this novel (by a former Knox professor) for my fiction class, and I really enjoyed it. It's a relatively quiet story set in Galesburg, IL about a woman named Frances who is looking back on her life and writing her confessions. As it turns out, she has quite a bit to confess. Very well-written and wonderful characterization. Recommended for any fans of literary fiction.

Bitter Night by Diana Francis Pharaoh

This book had been sitting on my Kindle forever, and I'm really glad I finally read it. It's the first book in the Horngate Witches series, and it's about Max, a Shadowblade of a powerful witch. Max is strong and fast, turned into the perfect weapon through magic. What separated this from similar urban fantasy stories is Max's complex relationships with the world of witches. The romance was a bit much for me, but none of it felt forced. Recommended for all urban fantasy fans.

World Divided by Mercedes Lackey

This is the second book in the Secret World Chronicle series by Mercedes Lackey. I've talked here before how much I love this series. Superheroes, alien Nazis, angels,'s got everything. The story follows a hero-filled world in the aftermath of an attack by powerful armored soldiers wearing Nazi swastikas. It's a podcast first and foremost, and you do lose something reading it in book form. Things are cut, including one of my favorite characters, Handsome Devil. Still, I recommend listening to the podcast and  reading the books. Either way, you get immersed in a world that's as fun as it is unpredictable and exciting.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Another book that had been sitting on my Kindle for a few years. This is the first in Jackson Pearce's fairy tale retelling series. It takes Little Red Riding Hood and turns it into a story about two sisters whose parents were murdered by wolves and who now hunt them. It's set in a slightly different version of our world. There's romance, but unlike most YA novels, it never overshadows the novel. What I loved most about this book was the relationship between Scarlet and Rosie March. Sisters Red is definitely worth a read. And a reread.

Acorna's Search by Anne McCaffrey

I love the Acorna series, which is a science fiction story about an alien girl born with a horn and an ability to heal. This is the fifth book, and it's definitely not the strongest of the series. I still enjoyed it, however. More of the background of Acorna's people are revealed, and McCaffrey once again shows her mastery of world building. I recommend the series--the first book is very good.

Firelight by Sophie Jordan

This is another YA fantasy, and I thought it was okay. The concept of dragon shapeshifters in our world was pretty cool. But it was very heavy with the typical YA romance, and ultimately, I didn't feel as if I had read anything new. It was a good lazy afternoon read, but not something I'd read again.