Counting My Blessings

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday in the States, I’m taking a break before my final WorldCon CoNZealand write-up to give thanks for all my blessings.

20 Things I Am Grateful For In 2020

While 2020 had been a pretty rough year for most of us, I know that many of you have had it far rougher than I have. My heart goes out to all of you whose lives have been touched by the pandemic — with illness, lost jobs, isolation, election anxiety, or more. Meanwhile, my life changed far less than I imagined it would.

My days have been filled with my dayjob and my nights with my writing. Plus? A LOT of online conventions needing staff.

I’ve been going to the grocery store every month and a half, with the occasional farmers market trip, and not much else outside of my household. I’ve attended three very small, outside gatherings spread across five months. Then, two weeks ago, I topped off my groceries and gas tank, in preparation for the holiday and stayed completely alone until this afternoon.

And so it was that I found myself near in tears of relief as I drove down to visit my mother for Thanksgiving, counting my blessings.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my blessings:

  1. I have a mother who’s been staying isolated and healthy
  2. My mother is within driving distance
  3. I have a job
  4. I can work from home
  5. I have a home that I can comfortably work from
  6. I live in a quiet, safe neighborhood
  7. My health
  8. I have a family and friends who love and support me
  9. I get the Thanksgiving and Year End holidays off from work
  10. I’ve managed to keep my obligations light so that I can keep up with NaNoWriMo
  11. I finally got to meet my newest puppy brother, who was born at the start of the pandemic! [french bulldog]
  12. I have a writer father who understands my dayjob and writing complaints and triumphs
  13. My blog and vlog are having their best year yet
  14. Very few of my friends and family have been impacted directly by the pandemic or job losses *knocks on wood*
  15. My supportive twin sister is my perfect alpha reader
  16. High speed internet — making my job and virtual cons possible
  17. The wonderful and supportive writing communities I’ve found – Write by The Rails and Spilled Ink, locally. My local NaNo writers. The AuthorTube tribe — especially Sarah, who lets me join her stream, and Sako, usually joins my weekly write-in stream, the PitchWars community, the Insecure Writer’s Group, the Sub-it-club and… Um. I’ll stop there or I could be here all night.
  18. My wonderful critique partners and beta readers who have donated their time to help me improve. Especially Ashley Cass – The Book Babe!
  19. Getting to eat food my mom cooked, tomorrow!
  20. Did I mention getting to see my puppy brothers? Charlie, the maybe 9-month-old french bulldog, and Buttons, the 11-year-old papillion.

Black Lives Matter

I’ve been saddened. I’ve been outraged. I’ve talked to my friends, my family. I’ve shouted at them. But publically? I’ve been silent.

What could I say? Shouldn’t I be listening to those who were suffering? If I spoke out, would I be speaking over those whose voices we need to hear?

Besides, my blog is about writing, not politics. I told myself this wasn’t the space. It wasn’t my fight, I should stay out of the firing range.

But right now? My silence is tacitly supporting the status quo.

Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman. While the Black Lives Matter movement stood up, and I was silent.

Renisha McBride. Eric Garner. John Crawford. Michael Brown.

Vonderitt D. Myers Jr. Akai Gurley. Twelve-Year-Old Tamir Rice was murdered on a playground.

Antonio Martin. Freddie Gray. Sanda Bland. Elisha Walker, Islan Nettles, Kandis Kapri. The Charleston Nine. Philando Castille. Korryn Gaines. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Iyanna Dior. George Floyd. Tony McDade. I can’t breath.

And I was silent.

Freedom Riders rode again.

The Ferguson protests, St. Louis. Baltimore.

No one arrested. Or, at least no one indicted. Or.. all acquitted.

Protests fill the sports games, the internet, the roads. The peaceful ones aren’t even covered. The ones that end up on TV are called out for being ‘the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong way’. And I was silent.

Protesters in my city being tear-gassed with my state delegate in the front row, three miles away I could hear the sirens. And all I asked was for “everyone to stay safe.”

I could fill a book with the names. So many names. So many lives taken. And that’s only looking at the ones the media deigns to mention. The ones in the last 5 years alone. This problem isn’t new. So many places where police have escalated situations when they should have de-escalated. So many killed for the alleged suspicion of a crime whose fine is less than $1,000, in this nation of the free where ALL people are supposed to be created equal.

Where all people are supposed to be valued.


Where Your Very Being Is Politicized

Any life experience outside of the default is seen as ‘political’.

When I talk about the unique issues that women face? Well, “women’s issues” are seen as political.

When black people talk about the unique issues they face? That’s political.

When black women talk about the unique issues they face? Being both black and female? That’s extra-political.

Black lives matter. The black men. The black women. The black trans community. The black LGBTQA+ community. The black children.

All of them.


But. This is a writing blog.

If you look at my past posts, you’ll see me talking about ways to add diversity to your novels. To make sure you’re not stereotyping or parodying the people you want to represent. The people you should be representing.

No matter where or when you go in history, life has never been as homogeneous as the history books try to insinuate. Why should it be?

And? The ruling class has never been equitable with the enforcement of their laws — be they just or not.

Now, genre fiction, science-fiction and fantasy, is a space for exploring the worst possible futures that could lay ahead, if we stay on this path. As like Ebenezer Scrooge, we see the shadows of what might be. And they loom dark.

Genre fiction is also a place to explore the worlds that could have been, if we had been better: more welcoming, more inclusive, more just. It can show the bright future, of what could be if we rise to our better natures. It can show a possible roadmap forward. Genre fiction can show hope.

What Do We Do?

If you’re in the majority culture? In this case, if you’re white. It’s on you to reach out and learn about other cultures, other experiences, the black American experience. Do your research. Don’t assume you can lean on someone of the culture you wish to learn about, your black friends and family, and make them do the heavy lifting for you. They’ve got enough of their shoulders already.

There’s a whole world out there, just as entitled to the idealized versions of the freedom, justice, and liberty we were all promised.

It’s past time to me to speak out, and stand up, and fight for it.

Join me.

Finding My Way Out Of The Eternal Revision Roundabout

Did you ever get the feeling that you were NEVER going to finish your revisions?

I’m definitely feeling that way these days, as you might be able to tell from my runner-up titles for this post, including:

  • Another Bloody Round Of Revisions?
  • Fighting Past A Bad Case Of The I-Don’t-Wannas
  • Holy BLEEP, When Will My Revisions End?

My novel has been written and polished for years. I queried it. I got rejected. Lots of form rejections and a couple requests that turned into nothing. So, I’ve revised and queried, and revised again.

You know I’ve talked about the editing spiral before. I’ve been here and wrestled with this time and time again.

Every time I finish a draft, I think I’m done. (Well, every draft since the third draft. You don’t want to be too hasty.)

This is my eighth round of revisions, and seeing as how I applied for a mentor in January, it’s only fitting that I should be revising again with her help.

I’ve been working with Leona Wisoker since February. And with her help, I’m adding a lot of sensory details and working on tightening my plot. My main character can get stuck in her own head pretty easily, and — for the sake of both the characters and the readers — it’s best to have her look up once in awhile.

I feel pretty confident in my characters, my world building, and my story. I just need help to take my second-world fantasy from a light read to something that will linger in the minds of the reader.

And Leona’s help is wonderful. I’m THRILLED to be working with her. (If you’re interested, she’s currently open to clients at editor@leonawisoker.com)

BUT.

It means I’m doing another round of revisions when all I want to do is query and pitch and dream of The Call.

I wanted my story to be ready so badly. I’ve been working on this story since 2013, with a full draft in hand for nearly five YEARS.

You always hear about how most writers first novels are practice books that deserve to be in a drawer. I’m scared that the reason I’m still working this novel is because I won’t give up, when there’s no chance for this story to succeed.

The market is too crowded. Everyone has a book these days.

Yet, then I think back to those who have read it. My beta readers enjoyed it, my critique partners cheered for the story. The worst anyone’s ever said is “it’s clear this is an early draft” when I thought I was done. Back around draft five. (You thought I’d forgotten that, didn’t you. You know who you are.)

Everytime I want to throw in the towel on this round of revisions, I read my latest chapter and find myself filled with something warm and exuberant. Something that feels a lot like pride.

If I didn’t feel that sense of improvement, of rightness, after a round of revisions on a chapter, I would stop. But this is why I write.

As long as I feel at the end of the day that what I have after the effort is better than what I had before, I’m going to keep revising. Where I can take a chapter from merely telling a story to bringing the reader along for the ride.

That’s what I want.

And I’m getting closer, every day.

The Reward For A Job Well Done…

In my day job, I’d been working hard on a project for nearly a year, but turned the last of my work in back in December. Then, all I could do for that project was wait for everyone else to be done with their part. Tuesday, we had a big, milestone test, and it passed. But? It’s far from done.

But, my day job isn’t the only place where that happens, my writing works the same way.

I work hard, polish it up so it passes my own tests, and then I send it off to beta readers, or critique partners, or agents. I wait… maybe not-so-patiently for my writing to pass their ‘tests’, and then I hear back (or pass the no-answer-means-no-thank-you deadline).

So far, my responses have been positive — or at least neutral.

No one has told me my writing sucks and I should stick to reading. But? They all have ideas for improvement. Ways for my work to get better, for the plot to flow more naturally, to give the emotional core of the story a greater impact, to make the setting and main character something that an agent can connect with and draw them in.

Both of my projects already have a form, a function, and a shape. Now, it’s time to really see what I can turn them into.

This coming year is a year of revision for me. Taking rough manuscripts and turning them into a polished form. Rough stone to elegant statues.


Where are you with your projects? Are they still ideas and raw material?

Or are you ready to polish them ’til they shine?

When You Ask For Someone To Read Your First Chapter

When You Ask For Someone To Read Your First Chapter

Warning: Rant Coming

nature-grass-leaf-green.jpg

 It seems so innocuous, especially when you’re first starting out. You’ve managed to write something, you’re trying to decide if it’s worth pursuing, and you want to reach out. So, you log onto a writers forum and ask the question.

(It’s okay. Everyone does it.)

You log and you ask someone to read your first chapter.

I have to confess, when I see that plea, I just sigh. I sigh because I know the truth.

When a beginner writer asks someone to read their first chapter, I know what they’re really asking for.

What Beginner Writers Want

Well, they want what EVERY writer wants, really.

  1. – They want to be told their story sounds interesting
  2. – They want to be told they can write
  3. – They want to be told their characters are fascinating
  4. – They want to be told they’re writing something marketable
  5. – They want to be asked for the next chapter
  • BONUS: SOMETIMES, they want even want suggestions to make it better or a collaborator to bounce ideas off.

Most of all, though? They’re looking for validation.

But, unless you are an amazing writer who somehow excels, right out of the box, at this one particular skill that eludes even most professional writers, there’s a problem.

Which is?

The Problem With First Chapters?

  1. Rough Drafts Suck
  2. Stories Change
  3. Opening Chapters Are Usually Trash

Even for plotters, things can shift, the emotional core of the story might change, or you might find a plot-hole you’d missed 20 chapters down the road.

As a reader, without more story to go on, there is no way I can tell you if your first chapter is any good. You don’t even know what your story is going to look like, how can I know if it sets up your story well?

And, there’s a belief in certain writer circles (and editor circles) that the first 20 pages can usually be thrown away.

I’ve found this particular belief to be true for me, and most of the writers I know, no matter their caliber.

Don’t get me wrong, you HAVE to write your first chapter. Even if you intend to cut it, first chapters are very useful.

The Benefits of First Chapters

  1. You have to start somewhere
  2. You’re exploring the setting
  3. You’re learning how to write the characters – you’re learning their voices

But the first chapter is for YOU, not for your readers.


This goes out to a special subset of writers, usually fantasy or romance writers…

If you’re a first time writer, who’s managed to write almost 20 pages and you tell me it’s the first chapter of a planned 7 book series?

pexels-photo.jpg

My sigh is going to be extra heavy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to set your sights high.

But for many writers, including me, the energy and motivation for a new story idea will take you about 5,000 words in–right about where you’re at.

You’ve just written 1% of your proposed story.

Plus, there’s another problem–especially if you don’t have an agent.

You should only sell ONE book at a time. And that book?  It needs to stand alone. Yes, overarching storylines are great, but each story needs to have its own natural stopping point.

Prove to me you can write and plot for ONE book and I might take a chance on its sequel.


Do you have this reaction? Have you asked for feedback before?