Posts Tagged With: Short Stories

On Writing in 2017, and Nanowrimo

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We’re getting to the end of the year, and I’m starting to think about my resolutions from last year.  Spoiler: I completed almost none of them.  I just found the blog entry that John Scalzi wrote the other day that I thought was incredibly poignant.  And it instantly made me feel less guilty, too. Frankly, he explains it better than I ever could: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2017/10/02/2017-word-counts-and-writing-process/ 

I thought my lack of production was a little bit of depression, or perhaps I was just in a non-prolific season right now.  After all, you can’t be on-point all the time, right?  Reading Scalzi made me realize that it’s probably not me… and a lot of other people are having this problem too.

I’ve been doing exactly what he says he had been doing.  I’ve been trying to figure out why my system isn’t working and how I can go back to it.  I’ve wasted almost a year on it.  I don’t know what the answer is yet, but I know now that I have to regroup and find a new normal for myself.  The old way isn’t going to work in this climate.  Or, most likely, with baby in tow.

At least I’ve been feeling more like a writer lately. I have to thank the L. M. Montgomery institute for that.  There’s nothing like a deadline and a required bio to get the juices flowing.  I’ve been feeling that soul-itch, too, to put words on paper and make a new thing out of them.  I haven’t felt that way in a long time.  Now all I have to do is come to terms with my less-than-stellar production.

Nanowrimo is gearing up and I want to participate.  I have a 7 year winning streak to uphold, and the knowledge that the biggest writing party on the web is happening and I’m not a part of it is agony.  But this year I’ve decided I’m not writing a new novel from scratch.  I’m writing instead a few short stories for a collection I’d like to put out sometime this year (with the excuse being that I’m learning how to format and upload a Kindle book, in prep for Blue Gentian).  So, 5 short stories in just a few weeks?  I probably won’t make it, but it will be fun to try (and to be able to call myself a rebel for once).

If you’re interested, The book will be called “A Blatantly False History of the World” and will feature the following stories.  Everything with an asterisk is something I still need to write or edit heavily.  The ones with titles have plots.

  1. The Sea – Rome, 73 BC
  2. Ordeals – England, 1490
  3. The Wages of Sin – Plymouth Colony, 1622
  4. *A Stitch In Time – Virginia, 1779
  5. There Must Have Been Some Magic – London, 1814
  6. *Coyote’s Earth – California, 1831
  7. The Call – Arlington, 1862
  8. *Dr. Pragnum’s Restorative Tonic – England, 1896
  9. The Immortals – Italy, 1917
  10. Plenty of Fish – India, 1924
  11. Easterbay – Costal Maine, 1945
  12. *Thunderbird’s Desert – California, 2017
  13. *???

Looking for a Nanowrimo buddy?  I’m Caseykins, and I’ll buddy up right back.  Happy writing if you’re trying it.  And cheers to finding a new normal in this relentlessly stressful world.

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Oh Horrid Night

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It seems a little bit anti-climactic in the face of the world burning right now in America, but I got some good news yesterday.  The Christmas anthology I’m in is officially an official thing, titled Oh Horrid Night, and featuring 210 awesome pages of frightening short stories.  It will wend its way to you on December 3rd.  And what better time is there for escapism than this particular holiday season?

You can pre-order on amazon here, and if you have Kindle Unlimited it’s even free!

We also have a Goodreads page.  If you’re on Goodreads, shelving it as “to read” can help us out.  And, on another note… I officially have a Goodreads author page. (!!!) I look so fancy and professional, you can hardly believe it (did I just ruin the aura of professionalism?). If you’re interested in that, too, it’s here.

That’s all for now.  I may seem chipper, but I’m definitely still processing the results of the election this week.  I can’t be nice or reasoned about it right now, but I would expect a blog post about it at some point when my thoughts are more together.

Keep your chin up.  With some serious love for you all,

~Casey

 

 

 

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Book Review: Fragile Things and The Darkest Part of the Forest

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I realized, as I was writing this review, that I have reviewed Black and Gaiman together before now.  Their work is so different,  but it feels like 2 sides of the same coin in many ways.  Gaiman writes mostly for adults, Black for YA.  Gaiman deals in myth, Black in fairy tale.  The books are filled with the weird and the strange.  And those weird, strange things often take place in the modern age.  It was an accident that I’m putting them together this time.  They’re the only 2 non-fiction books that I haven’t reviewed yet.  It seemed right to do them together at the same time. So here we are,  with the books fulfilling the “a book that will be a complete mindfuck” and “a book you bought long ago but still haven’t read” categories for the reading challenge.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman:

I should probably couch this review by saying that I mostly don’t enjoy short stories.  Or, rather, that there is a celebrated type of short story that I loathe, full of beautiful words and terrible happenings that brings me more unsettled upset than entertainment.  It’s a staple of the genre. But I love Gaiman, and I have read all his novels already.  Some multiple times.  Also, his work is always a mindfuck.  It’s strange in ways that are completely right yet unexpected.

I enjoyed Fragile Things and I didn’t, in about equal measure.  A Study in Emerald is worth the price of the whole thing, I enjoyed it so much.  I think anyone with a penchant for Doyle would.  But there were others in there that just made me rather horrified.  They were all so hit and miss that it’s impossible to go through and say worth it/skip of each, which I would have to do.  And to be honest, if you can find Emerald not in this book, that’s the route I would go with.  For me, the joy wasn’t worth the pain.  The quality of the work is amazing, the subject matter was not often my cup of tea.

Looking for something Gaiman to read?  American Gods, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Stardust are all good options.  Looking for something new of Gaiman’s to read?  He just came out with a non-fiction book of essays “The View From the Cheap Seats,” which I hear is good (although I haven’t gotten around to it yet).

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: 

Every time I read Holly Black, I remind myself that I need to read more Holly Black.  I don’t know why she doesn’t come to mind as an immediate “yes” author to me.  Everything I have read of hers has been joyfully frightening, fascinatingly horrifying.  This one is about a modern town on the edge of faerie.  There is a horned prince in the forest, sleeping in a glass coffin, and then he goes missing. And then people start dying.

It’s all the things I loved about the Tithe world with a more epic heroine to balance out the story.  There are several things in the genre that are always a YES for me (almost irrespective of content).  Fae, love stories, and women with swords are a few of those, which this book has in spades.  I loved it.  It made me want to buy Valliant immediately, and then re-read Coldest Girl in Cold Town.

I bought this book almost a year ago.  I don’t know what made me linger in reading it.  I lingered with Gaiman’s Ocean, though, too.  I think perhaps it’s because I know I’m going to love it so much and I only get to read it for the first time once, that I feel the need to savor it as much as possible.  Or maybe it’s a fear of ultimately not liking something I’m looking forward to so much.  Both Black and Gaiman always deliver, though.  I should remember that more.

The final verdict on Darkest Part of the Forest is go buy it now.

Happy reading!

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Short Stories Galore

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I haven’t done a post on how the writing is going for a long time, so I thought I’d do an update.

My attempt in June to write a bunch of stories based on cool photos I found mostly hasn’t panned out, because I’m flighty.  And because everything I’m writing these days has somehow ended up CRAZY, unsaleablely long.  I’ll maybe finish them someday, but right now I’d rather spend energy on other things.  Especially since it’s now the end of July and I’m no closer to making my New Year’s resolution than I was in January.  I mean, I guess I’m 2 dozen rejection letters closer, if we want to get technical…

In lieu of completing anything new, I ended up taking that time for administrative organization: I cataloged all the pieces of short stories that I have lying around, the full stories that were too problematic to print and needed re-writes, and organized the records of where I’ve sent everything I’m currently shopping.  Not fun, but a necessary part of this ‘trying to get published’ stuff.

I did drastic edits of 2 imperfect short stories, and am now doing rewrites on another 2 unfinished works that I’m hoping to get rotating.  Right now, I have 4 things on the market.  That’s at least twice as many as I’ve had at any given time before now.  I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

I’m on draft 3 of my novel synopsis, too.  Which is just as hard to write as all they say it should be, if you were wondering.  Legitimately awful.  I’ve given myself a tentative finish date of August 1st.  It’s coming up quick!

So, no real news to report.  Just the ongoing tide of stories out and stories in that has become my regular course of things.  I’m feeling good about movement, though.  At least I’m being productive.

Now on to all that editing.

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Spring 2016 Reading List

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Guess what?  It’s a regularly prescribed blog day and I am actually posting a blog.  It’s a small miracle.

The vacations are over, and so is the school year.  All our students graduated last weekend in a blaze of glory.  Which means I should officially share this list so I can start on the summer one, don’t you think?  I do.

And just so you know, I’m usually pretty good about putting things on Goodreads before they get to here.  If you want recs early and not in one giant dump like this, that’s the place to go.

So without further ado, here it is.  All the books I’ve read since the spring semester started:

  1. Winning the Wallflower by Eloisa James: I should just say that I ALWAYS enjoy a James novel. This one was quite solid, with an interesting premise.  Would recommend if you like that sort of thing.
  2. No-Where But Here by Kate McGarry: I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my favorite either, mostly because it sent some of my feminist “no!” alarms off, although gently.  I cared to finish it, but I’m not sure I’ll pick up the next.  Or maybe I will.  I’m wishy-washy about it, and I did like the main character.
  3. Steering The Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin: Oh, so wonderful.  It made me value the art of writing practice all over again, though it reads more like a work book than it does like advice.
  4. A Knot In The Grain by Robin McKinley: McKinley is another I always love. At first I wasn’t so hooked but the stories kept getting progressively better, and the title story is something I’m obsessed with, except that I want it to be a novel and not a short.
  5. Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn: Thought it would have more to do with the Bridgertons that just having a heroine with the same last name, so I was a bit disappointed. But it was a solid story for all that and I’d recommend it.
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway: Um… no. I don’t know why I even finished this book.  I didn’t enjoy it and I found the conclusion (and most of the novel, to be honest) to be unlikely and unsatisfying.
  7. Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein: I don’t really know what to say about this book except that it’s fascinating and poignant, and important for anyone who has been a girl (I had so many “me too!” moments) or anyone raising a girl.
  8. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: A re-read.  I still loved it, though it didn’t seem quite the captivating masterpiece it did on my first read.  I guess I just wished I cared a little more for Richard and Door at the end.
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling: I forgot how good this book is. And it’s honestly the prettiest thing I’ve ever read.  It was so fun to come across all the amazing illustrations while going through.  I basically didn’t come out of my room for a day and a half.  I can’t wait to collect them all.
  10. Chalice by Robin McKinley: I’ve read this book at least 4 times now, and it always leaves me wanting to keep bees in a thatched hut with the man I love. One of my favorites, and officially a comfort book by now.
  11. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I’m glad to find I can read it again, and that I love it as much as I ever did, which is to say obsessively.
  12. Fool For Love by Eloisa James: As James novels go, this one was on the silly side. I still enjoyed it, though.
  13. Poems by Rudyard Kipling: You know, I don’t always love his poetry. But when I do, I REALLY love it, and it was a joy to go through and pull out gems of couplets.
  14. If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Happy by Raj Raghunathan: I learned a lot from this, partially about the importance of practice in writing, and partly about making room for happiness without pursuing it head on. I’m glad I read it, and will be putting some of the suggestions into practice.
  15. Shakespere’s Wife by Germaine Greer: Such a dichotomy of a book. The writing is super dry and academic, but it’s about FASCINATING things.  I’m impatient when reading it and feel like I’m not enjoying myself, but I’m always telling Brian about the neat things I learned with enthusiasm.  I think it’s ultimately worth it.
  16. Duchess By Night by Eloisa James: Nice and satisfying, with a hilarious daughter to top it all off. No outright silly like in some of James’ novels.  Would recommend.
  17. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: A strange collection of things, some of which I had read before. I went from “So good, I’ll never be this good, I love this story” to “No.  No, no.  No” about them.  My favorite was the Study in Emerald.  I’m not gonna pick a least favorite.  All in all, I would recommend it to Gaiman fans, though I enjoy his novels more.
  18. Once Upon A Tower by Eloisa James: I liked this one QUITE a bit. May be my favorite since the Essex Sisters.
  19. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: The book was really repetitive, and I didn’t care at all about the pages and pages of testimonials that she included, which may be a translation problem? But I did ultimately feel that her ideas were helpful and will put some of them into practice.
  20. Midnight Pleasures by Eloisa James: I generally liked it, but felt like the plot wasn’t tight. I mean, they end up with this mysterious French kid for no real reason and the scepter thing resolves WAY too easily.  It was also sad.  I enjoyed it, but think James has better work out there.
  21. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Strangely, this book speaks differently to me now that I’m a little farther along the path to become a writer. I find that I’m more willing to listen to her advice without saying “yes, but an agent…” and to embrace the actual writing as the thing to fall in love with.  Still balm for my crazy soul.
  22. This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James: Devolved a bit into farce, but I always enjoy a James novel. I’m slowly working through her backlist until I’ve read them ALL.
  23. A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James: I mean, Villers is my FAVORITE James heroine. I Loved this one, especially his son Tobias.  It was nice to see him get his own novel finally.
  24. Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James: This was one of the first James books I read, and I realized after a while that it’s partially from the perspective of Villers’ son. Which meant that I had to re-read it, of course. It was good the first time, but even better in context.
  25. A Wild Pursuit by Eloisa James: Another farciful one, with too many people at a house party.  I would say it’s good romance, I just think other things by James are better.
  26. Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James: While I felt like I wish the heroine had a little more backbone, I LOVED all the music that’s in it. Ultimately, this is one of my favorites of hers.
  27. Enchanting Pleasures by Eloisa James: I think James is at her best when her heroines are smart, and Gabby is very smart. Quill is also super-easy to fall in love with as a character, though I feel as if I wish they had a tighter plot to play in.
  28. Why Diets Make us Fat by Sandra Aamodt: Interesting, if sometimes full of dry scientific studies. It makes me fear dieting, and also gives me hope that I can be healthy and a bit chubby.  Wonderful book full of important info.
  29. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray: I don’t know what to say about this one because it seems in a lot of ways like the original Diviners book – zippy, jazzy, a bit heartbreaking, scary. But for some reason I just didn’t care much about the characters like I did in book 1.
  30. Excuses Begone by Wayne Dyer: I tend to take advice from millionaires to ignore money when making decisions with a grain of salt, but I do think a lot of his points were valid. Worth a read, and very motivational.
  31. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: Holy crap this book is good – Tumblr you were totally right, even if you did ruin one of the big secrets for me ahead of time. My new obsession. Bonus points? All books are out – no waiting.
  32. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: I usually find sequels to be not as good as the originals, but I’m finding that this one is even better. If that’s possible.  Can’t wait to read the rest of them and will be burning through them the next few days.
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The NaNoWriMo Blues

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I am definitely at the point of the tale where I have the Nanowrimo blues.  Also, I haven’t written anything productive all week.  I’m ahead in word count, behind in story output.  But I’m not VERY far behind.  Could still make it if I get serious about it.  (I’m seriously feeling like I shouldn’t have signed up.)  Why am I beating my head against a rock to get this done when none of it is looking like it will be publishable stuff, even with edits…?

Which is probably the absolute wrong attitude to have. I mean, practice is practice, right?

In any case, I’ll have to decide if I’m validating.  I committed to writing 10,000 words which I will easily meet.  But what I really meant was 4 short stories of at least 2,500 words apiece.  I have 2 stories finished, one that turned into a saga of unknown length and won’t be finished for years (I’m guessing), and the other isn’t even started yet and defies all attempts.

Maybe I’m just having separation anxiety from the novel…

I’ve read all the pep-talks and communed with my cabin mates, and I think I’ll make a halfhearted push to the finish line.  After all, I still have another whole week, and only 1.5 stories to go.  Just 2000 words until the arrow hits the target on the website.  I did commit…

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Book Reviews: Neverwhere and A Knot In The Grain

I’m posting a few more book reviews this week even though they’re horribly late.  It’s been a doozy of a weekend, although I’m not 100% sure why I feel that way.  I don’t always get a Thursday entry in, but I ALWAYS get a Monday one and I didn’t this week…

But I will get this Tuesday one done if it kills me (I mean, it won’t kill me…).

I’m charging along on the old 2016 reading challenge.  Out of 32 books, I only have 13 left to read. And we haven’t even hit the middle of the year yet.  Here are two I haven’t blogged: A book of short stories, and a book with a dark and mysterious cover.

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A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley (a book of short stories):

As I’ve said on the blog before, I’m not usually a fan of short stories.  I picked this one up, though, because it was Robin McKinley and it was free on Kindle Unlimited (thanks mom!).  It’s comprised of five tales, and honestly I think it’s arranged from worst to best.  The first 4 stories take place in this odd fairy tale world that feels like Grimm but actually contains happy endings, or at least contented ones.  My favorite of the first 4 tales was Buttercups, and I think it was definitely worth the purchase price.  While I didn’t exactly enjoy the other stories, I did find myself thinking about them between times, which I think is a sign of good stuff.

The story the book is named after, though… oh man.  I wish it were a whole novel.  It takes place in a modern setting where a high school girl moves to a new home and finds a strange box in an attic.  I don’t know how McKinley captures real life so well, but she really does mundanity so that you want to live it.  This is the sort of thing that makes McKinley one of my favorites.

I enjoyed the book quite a lot, and would recommend it.  Especially to fans of McKinley’s other stuff.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (a book with a dark and mysterious cover):

I don’t even really know where to start with this one.  It’s a re-read for me and I liked it less the second time around.  Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it.  I don’t know, it’s hard to pinpoint.

Richard Mayhew, average executive in dubious relationship, stumbles on a bleeding girl while on his way to dinner.  He helps her, and then finds that no one recognizes him anymore.  He now belongs to an alternate city below the London he knows: London Below, and must go on a perilous journey to get back to his home.  If that’s what he really wants, that is.  It’s filled with creepy Rat Speakers, A Huntress, vampiresses, the Lady Door, and evil Angel, a dreadful prehistoric beast, and sadistic Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar.

It’s definitely well-written and such a cool idea.  Gaiman comes up with all sorts of interesting things for the defunct names of London past.  Like the Earl in Earl’s Court who has set up a medieval home on the tube.  Or the Shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush that you really don’t want to meet.

It’s great.  It’s cool.  It’s creepy. It’s everything you could want from a Gaiman story.  But is it missing a bit of emotion?

I guess I wished on the second time around that I felt more affection for Door and for Richard than I ended up feeling.  But seriously, go read it.  You won’t be disappointed.

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I’m Officially Camping

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Alright, well, it’s official.  I’m certifiably crazy, and doing Camp NaNoWriMo in April.  The plan? 4 short stories in 4 weeks.

I’ve done stuff like this before, most notably for the Clarion Writeathon.  I typically commit to 6 short stories in 6 weeks for that, and I don’t ever quite make it.  The reason (I think)? I hardly ever have more than a plan for a story or two when I get started.  I promised myself that if I could cobble together ideas for 3 stories, I would do Camp.  And I have managed to figure out 3 stories.  Now I’m just trolling for a fourth (and actual plot points for the 3rd, but hey)…

And, of course, I’m plugging away on Blue Gentian today in a last-ditch effort to do as much as possible before the insanity starts.  The heavy reorganization parts are done, it’s just the endless drafts of polishing that are left.

We were sorted into cabins a few days ago, and I got a GREAT one this year.  We’re actually talking to each other! That never happens…

Here’s what I’m writing for Camp:

There Must Have Been some Magic in that Old Top Hat They Found: England, 1814: Sam crowns his snowman with a top hat he found in a snowbank, hoping to collect pennies for the sculpture at the faire on top of the frozen Thames.  But the snowman has other ideas.  He thinks Sam should make a wish.

La Llorona: Chicago, 1892, : When Geneva is tasked with keeping unwanted things out of Hull House, she’s thinking intoxicated husbands, not the wailing, dripping woman on the 3rd floor who is already dead.  A continuation of a sketch I wrote as a character background, here: https://caseykins.com/2013/06/08/geneva-allerton/

A Golden Apple: Italy, 1917: Hera let the thing slip from her fingers, and now a troop of half-immortal soldiers must find the golden apple hidden within the Italian front before WWI becomes a permanent conflict.

And one more, TBD…  Will it be the one where Robot Rasputin runs out of batteries? Will it be the Pony Express driver who must deliver a very strange package?  Will it be Dr. Pragnum and his Infant Restorative Tonic?  (I think I can confidently say that it will be none of those).  Stay tuned to find out!

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Camp NaNoWriMo

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Well, Camp Nanowrimo is coming up in April.  And everyone knows I can’t resist a good Nanowrimo.  So here comes the age-old dilemma on whether I should participate or not…

I’ve resisted the camp version of Nano for 2 years now because it’s just not as helpful.  The atmosphere is different at camp, the stakes are less, and there are less people participating.  I have never lost a November Nanowrimo, but I have won Camp only 50% of the time.  I always have high hopes about the cabin process and am inevitably disappointed.  It’s just not ideal, neither for my work style nor for my current projects.

But it’s also a giant writing party on the internet.  How do I stay away from that?

So, the questions are – is it worth it?  And what project would I commit to?  I already have more drafts of novels than I know what to do with. I don’t actually want to write a novel in a month right now, either.  That takes stamina, man.  So that leaves progress on current projects by benchmark.  I have half a mind to commit to 4 short stories in 4 weeks.  Setting actual, measurable goals for this draft of Blue Gentian would be helpful, too.

I don’t know… I have a month to decide, right?  Nothing is happening over there until April.

Giant writing party on the internet!  And their art is so cool this time around, too!

Or maybe I should just keep plugging and forget the whole Camp Nanowrimo thing. It’s hardly ever a good idea.

Except…

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The Writing, and Quantity

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I read somewhere about in a study they did with musicians in college.  They found that the amount the musician practiced determined how successful they were later in life.  1-2 hours a day, and the person usually became a music teacher or did small ensemble work.  The folks that got the prestigious Philharmonic gig were practicing 3+ hours a day in addition to all the ensemble work they were doing for class.  I’m trying to apply that to my writing, although I’m not terribly sure how well I’m succeeding.  I know I’m hitting 1-2, just not sure if I’m getting all the way to that 3 mark.

I say this, because I realized this week that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about how the writing is going.  It’s going as well as it ever goes.  Some days it feels like I’m charging along.  Other days it feels like I’m flogging myself because I need to write and I just don’t want to.  I am in the weeds of the messy last ½ of Blue Gentian, and not enjoying it.  But I am making progress.  I’m trying to tell myself that I hate it because I’ve been over it too many times, and that it’s not a reflection of the actual writing.  I’m trying to tell myself that it’s definitely not a practice novel and it’s worth it to keep going.  Brian has been bucking me up about it as needed.

I’m hopeful that when I finish this draft, I will be awfully close to being able to shop it. Brian is my alpha reader, and he will have been through it all at that point and all revisions will be made.  I’m working on my synopsis and on my pitch letter.

When Blue Gentian gets too depressing, I’ve started to put together the 2nd draft of my next book – about a girl who has to travel to the Egyptian temple in the Grand Canyon to release a goddess from bondage so that the world doesn’t implode into a thing full of nothing but h bombs, earthquakes, and polio.  It’s set in the 1950s.  That’s going well, but slowly.  I’m in love with the world, so it’s nice to be in the middle of it for a while. Even if I’m not quite sure what the next part of the story should be.

I have a couple of short stories that are also going slowly, and I am shopping around another short.  Mostly it’s a waiting game at this point.  I hope to hear this weekend from the place I have it now, and then be ready to send it to the next place if the news is bad.  Spoiler: the news is almost always bad, although I’m a little more hopeful that this mag will say yes than I am for most others.

That’s how it’s going.  I’m plugging along.  And I’m hoping that quantity will eventually turn into quality.  I think the odds are in my favor.  If I can just get to hour 3…

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