All posts by Julia Muldoon (PiscesMuse)

About Julia Muldoon (PiscesMuse)

Lover of exclamation marks, YA novels, tea, and knitting. Nerd enthusiast. Aspiring writer. Advocator of JamieJam Sundays. All around procrastinator with a long to do list.

Just a crack in the wall

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So I started writing this new project.  (shh don’t judge me.  Sometimes you just have to give yourself a week or two to get something out of your head.)

As I’m writing, I’m playing with this back and forth timeline.  Present day, to past day reflections, to build this complete scene of the book unfolding and connecting to this over here, it occurred to me that where you start writing the book, is not actually the beginning of the book.

I was having this same issue with Paris Above.  For the longest time (to be honest, let’s say four years at least) I thought my story started in this one particular place with this one scene, just because it was the first scene I thought of, and had written.  Don’t get me wrong, if the story was going the way I first thought it would go when I first thought of it, then that was the beginning.  But now that I have a better handle on plot, wear the book needs to start is somewhere else entirely.

Have you every read how Stephanie Meyer came up with Twilight?  (stop rolling your eyes at me, I’m both a romance junkie and a lover of YA).  Yes, it was a dream.  But the particular dream was about Edward and Bella in the meadow.  So Stephanie rights from that scene to the end, but then has to go back and write from the meadow scene to the beginning.

Now I work a day job that is customer focus, and deals primarily in customer communication.  I communicate in person, on the phone, and by email.  In this case I use logical progression.  First you must do this, before you can action this.  I walk people through on a step by step basis on how to proceed.

Writing is not like that.  I mean I certainly wish it was, but it’s a much more chaotic experience.  Being inspired for this scene over here, and then seeing how it ties into the rest of the book, doesn’t happen all at once when I want it to.  It happens as I’m walking too and from a lot of the time.  I go, oh if I did this, then I can do this.  And then a funny thing happens when I start writing.  How I thought I saw the scene coming together, is a little different when I start going from the big brush strokes, which are ideas, to the fine details of fleshing out a scene.  Those details, can offer so many clues to other things, and I don’t even get those until I’m drafting, not just plotting.

Starting your story, that’s like seeing a crack in the wall and looking at the wonderland on the other side.  But it’s just a crack. Just a way in.  And that is okay.

After that you get your pry bars, and your blasting powder, and you dig into that story, and you muck through it, and eventually, maybe sometimes only in hindsight, do you truly know where your story starts.  Sometimes you write the beginning only after you’ve written the end.  The great things about a book, is that you can do it this way.

And just like that, the cure. 

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Is a love or romance a sickness?

We hear the terms Trashy Romance and I wonder how much that influences our perspective on the genre?

We hear people around us look down on the genre, and I wonder how much that forces us to hide our love of romance, keep it like a dirty little secret?

Even as a person who loves the genres, I find myself also critical of it.  I find myself thinking, is that a healthy relationship?  Is that a good example of what a functioning couple looks like?  Is that sort of possessiveness healthy?  Is that all consuming burning fire, going to set them to ashes?  Can one person really heal another?

Actually the answer to that last question is yes.  From personal experience, I can tell you that having someone give you the time and space you need to learn to grow past your experiences, to keep trying to be better, to treat each other fairly with love and understanding, that that can help you heal.  Not all at once, but slowly over time.  Romance novels do it on a shorter time frame, so I can see how that makes it hard to believe.

I can also see how the writing can be criticized, because I do it while I’m reading it.  Now that I read most of my romances on an ereader, I make notes every time I think the writing is lazy, or a description pulls me out of the narrative, or every time a writing tick pushes my buttons the wrong way.  I like to think of it as learning from what’s out there.  How would I do that better?  I think that some of this comes from personal style.  As a reader, I find myself consuming an authors works all at once.  Which is vastly different then how they are written.  Looking at their career as a whole, I can see how they grew as an author, or stagnated. I can see their ticks, how they describe certain things the same way.  How they treat certain aspects of a relationship.  What their overall style is.

I also wonder if the pace of which the romance genre is published, that authors aren’t given the same amount of time to get the next book out, to really push it to be the best that it can be.  Fantasy novels are given more time.  Romance, it’s all about keeping up on the production so you are not forgotten.  That too can affect the overall quality of the book.

There is also something to be said about the readers too.  We are all looking for that addictive style of book, that hooks us, and makes us feel.  However, what works for one, doesn’t work for another.  There is a lot of personal taste in there, that effects how one relates to a book.  For a long time I hated the word pussy.  Now I’m more inclined towards that word than any other feathery language to describe a woman’s sexual region.

However, as the weather changes, and I start to think about fall, I think about magic, and witches.  About things that go bump in the night. I want more magic in my romance.  I want things like A  Discovery of Witches, Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  More meaty with their writing, but still with that epic romance, although still sexual, far less erotic.

I’m never not going to want to read a romance.  But it turns out that I need different types of romance to indulge in.  Purely contemporary, and I find I burn out.  The same can be said for big meaty tombs.  It’s about finding the right balance and the right medium.  Sometimes it takes burning out, to realize a change is needed.

So I’m off for a re-read of a Discovery of Witches.  It’s good company, and its the type of book that I can sink into, and get more out of from each experience.

A much needed vacation

I feel like I have a lot to post here, but don’t know how to tie it together in a coherent post.  Basically I unintentionally took a break from writing and blogging, and keeping up on social media for the month of June.  I had a friend in from out of town for the month.  I had a Cowboy home from work.  I took some vacation days from the day job.  I read a lot of romance novels.  I did some colouring.  Watched some Asian dramas, and a few American dramas.  What that really translates to is that I needed time to fill up and feel full again.  Slow down, disconnect from online, and not feel like I wasn’t doing things now or fast enough.

So here are some observations from that time off:

  1. A lot of writing advice or lists you’ll see online tell you to turn off the tv.  But I’m going to tell you that movies and tv they are stories told in a different medium.  Authors don’t just write books, they tell stories.  We are story tellers.  Why would I not want to pay witness, observe the art form from a different angle?
  2. I am a Romance Junkie.  I’ve read about 15 Romance novels in this past month.  Just tore through them.  I found a new favourite author.  I love the emotional connection of the books. Also the sex is hot too.  I can’t believe I have fought myself so long on my utter adoration of this genres.  Why am I not trying to write romance?
  3. Which leads me to… Don’t get me wrong I love my WIP Paris Above.  It’s a long time in the making.  It was founded on the idea of a romance after all, but it’s not being held together by romance.  It’s being held together by a rebellion.  It’s a thing that has been ticking about my mind as I have consumed a lot of fantasy and scifi, and dystopia.  The how to build back up after you break the system. While I’m in love with the style of writing this book takes, and I am so pleased with how this is coming out, it’s also not easy.  It’s a long drawn out process.  It takes a lot of time.
  4. Which also leads me to, this realization, do I want to lead my writing career with Paris Above?  I think the idea of it, and the execution of it are amazing.  Some of my best work yet. However, it’s a deep read/write kind of project.  It requires vast expanse of time to sink into.  I’m also the type of reader/writer who likes quick writing.  Down and dirty, about raw emotions.  First person love stories.  I’ve read some rough notes of Paris, done like that, and I was like, that’s my voice.  That’s who I am as a writer.  I guess the question is can I be both?  Can I do both the quick and dirty romance, with the heartbreaking emotions, and can I also do a world builder/world destroyer fantasy?
  5. I want the answer to the above to be yes.
  6. I’m also going to give in and write the romances.  I need them.  I have to stop fighting who I am deep down in my soul, and that is and forever will be that I am romance junky.
  7. America as a culture is fascinating and scary.  Seriously.  Being in Canada we get so much of our media from America, and I used to think that my template for life was based on the media I consumed.  When prom wasn’t the be all end all of the world, that’s when I first started to shift this perspective.  That perhaps the media I consume is not the culture I live?  I thought we where so much the same when I was younger, but the older I get the more I see that divide.  We don’t have the same gun culture, sports culture, or religious culture.  We don’t place the same emphasis on prom here.  Even the military romance novel’s I read this past month that cut my soul open, I had a hard time imagining the same in Canada.  It was so clearly an American military experience.  I appreciated getting to read about it, but I could see how our mindsets were different.  I’m finding this fascinating as I watch tv shows like Nashville, Scandal, and Friday Night Lights.
  8. That life is not a perfect set of ups or downs.  That you can both happening at the same time.  That life doesn’t just start to happen when everything is going right.  That it is often our downswings that teach us the most about ourselves.  What we do to turn things around.

It’s been a good month to be away.  I needed it.  I didn’t know I needed it though till I got to the other side of it.  At first I was still trying to squeeze in writing, because I felt I HAD to.  But the more I let it go, I feel like getting back to is, is because I WANT to.  And that right there means that it was worth the time away.

I’ll try to be more regular around these parts again.  Aiming for an every wednesday vibe for the future.

However, this is your PSA that sometimes, you need to take the time to refill, before you can poor more of yourself out there.

Vacation

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Oh man.  Guys.  What a week.  Sorry I missed our regularly schedules Wednesday, but I had holidays this week and literally have been away from online.  It was so nice.  So very very nice.  It started off super stressful, but after that road bump we are still working on, I’ve let go and am in the just wait it out camp of things.  Sine then i’ve had some time for family and friends, and sleeping in and dogs, and hubby and colouring, and a new tv show, and music, and reading.  It was great.  So great.

What I didn’t do as much of was writing or larger house projects.  Originally I thought that was how I was going to spend my time, but then honestly, it kind of gave me anxiety, trying to complete a to do list a million miles long.  No instead I just relaxed and it was amazing.

I did however, spend a Saturday morning/afternoon, at a coffee with a good friend working on plotting a novel.  Not the novel I should be working on, but still a novel plotted in an afternoon.  That’s amazing.  It helps to ask the questions. I used to think that plotting was about knowing the answers, but sometimes it’s about asking questions.  Like who are their friends?  What is their family background and dynamic?  What do they like?  Write the questions down, not just the answers.  Come up with multiple answers for those questions.  Write yourself notes, like research this more.  Research will spur ideas for inspiration.

So I think the reason I’ve been struggling with Paris so much is because it lacks direction.  I think I finally found that direction, but I also need to figure out how that direction affects everyone in the novel and what their goals are in relationship to the problem and how they play together.  What is each of them striving for?  That will help me figure out where I’m going, because right now I have some great writing, and some amazing scenes, but we don’t have a goal.  We need to make the goal very apparent right from the beginning.  Do we add a ticking time bomb?  I don’t know.  I just know I need to make the issue known so we have a goal to work towards and keep turning the pages.  Discovery writing is fun, but it lacks direction and now feel like I have a sea of words, that might not serve the story.

I think I’m going to turn into a plotter.  I know it’ scary. but I think that’s what I need to do.  Read through my notes, and then plot the Beetlejuice out of that.

Anyways, this is just a quick check in.  Hope you all are having an amazing summer.

 

P.S. I did not get to chill on a beach like that with chairs like that.  I wish.  but still, a most enjoyable time off.

Crushing anxiety and a haunting pile of TBR

How Out of Control Is Your TBR PileI was writing a blog post in my head on my way back from lunch to work, and low and behold I forgot what it was. Then I go into my feed for blogs, and there is one by Epic Reads and its 16 must read books releasing in July.  And I was just like, OMG, like I know I read more than the average reader, but 16 in one month, that’s a LOT!  That’s a book read every 1.875 Days.  There are no book hangover days in there, you finish a book, you pick up the next one.  No wonder I feel overwhelmed when it comes to reading.

And then I remembered my blog post idea.

It was about reading.

So at home, I have bookcases, like any good reader does. Notice that it’s plural, more than one bookcase.  My dreams is that all my walls are covered in them some day.  My dream is that I’ve read everything on my shelves.  My dream is that when a new book releases I can concentrate on that book, and not feel like there are a million books I haven’t read haunting me from my TBR shelf.   Seriously if unread books that I own where ghosts, I would have a serious problem.  I would be like Hogwarts dudes.  And I’m not sure all those ghosts are friendly like Casper.

However, sometimes I like to think of my bookcase and all of the books I haven’t read as comforting. I could literally finish a book, and I have soooo many options for what to read next.   Especially by favorite authors. Sometimes I like to keep a book as unread, because once you read it, then you don’t have more.  But sitting on the shelf unread, the author is an old friend, but the book is a new friend yet to be discovered.  There is a certain comfort to that.  I can curl up and know that I’m in good hands.  It’s kind of magical knowing all the worlds of possibilities I have yet to slip into.

But new book releases. Those things are the devil. I want to read them right now, but then I think at all the books I’ve shelved.  And I feel bad.  But read it now!  But old books!  It’s this infinite loop.  I try to balance an old book by a new book.  It just feels like this slow avalanche of never winning, even though I literally read 50+ books a year.

I don’t know how other people do it.

At some point though it’s like looking at your life at all the things you haven’t done, and being completely overwhelmed by that, but not taking into consideration all the things you have accomplished. Or it’s measuring everything you have done as being not enough compared to what you have yet to do.  At some point you need to sit back and be like, dude, stop with this madness.  Appreciate everything you have done.  That’s big on its own.  Relish in that.  It’s the same for the TBR pile.  Think of all the books you have read!

I need to stop and consider everything I have done as being enough. I need to enjoy that.  This driving myself crazy by looking at the list of never ending, it’s adding anxiety I don’t need in my life.  I think that’s also where I’m feeling panicked in my writing.  It’s all the things I want, and feeling like I should be doing more, and being paralyzed to act by how much there is still to accomplish compared to where I am.  Getting to where we want to be starts off small, and we have to learn that effort is worth it.  We have to appreciate the effort we put in, and we have to stop being so damned hard on ourselves.

This post started off inspired by my TBR pile bur really it’s about anxiety that we give ourselves over the things we haven’t done yet. You have to start somewhere.  You have to praise yourself for what you’ve done, instead of heaping on the pressure about all the things you haven’t yet.  We have to stop being so damned hard on ourselves. We have to appreciate where we are, and tell ourselves that as long as we are working on it, that has to be enough for now.  Our journey is our journey.  We have to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else, and only measure ourselves against ourselves.  The other way lies crushing anxiety.  Trust me, I’m on the other side with the anxiety pile on, trying to come back to the self-appreciation of I am enough.

Repeat after me. I am enough.

Let that be your mantra.

Writing is Hard

good-writing-is-hard-workTrying to be an author is hard.  It is so freaking hard. I remember when I first started out words felt easy.  I would write with reckless abandon, never stoping to pause if that was the right way to take the story, if I had enough description, too much description, enough back story, not enough back story.  I just wrote.  It was glorious.  That mad dash of creativity was an addictive high.

Now though, I find the more I want it the more paralyzed with self doubt I feel.  I’m coming at a project that feels bigger than myself, and the intensity with which I want it, is overwhelming.  I want it to be GOOD.  Not good.  But GOOD.

I want it to be the thing that people take notice of.  I want it to be the thing people go wow she can write, she deserves this.  The more I want it, the higher I pile those self expectations on, the harder the writing becomes.  The easier it is to find reasons to not get to the page.  I don’t have the time or the energy to give this what it needs, become default values in my vocabulary.

I try different methods.  I try small daily word counts.  I try large swaths of time on the weekend.  I try deadlines.  I try no deadlines.  I try getting up early. I try staying up late.  I try taking notes when inspired.  I try getting a writing group together.  I try sitting in the comfy creativity chair.  Thus far the chair works. Some things work for a little while, others not at all.

Sometimes the math looks like 2438 words, 1 finished scene, and 5 hours of writing time.  Creating feels strangely disproportional to the time and effort put into it.  It’s like a black hole.  On one hand I feel incredibly accomplished for the word count.  On the other hand the time spent on it, I feel like I should have gotten more.  A younger version of myself might have gotten more, but this version of myself, has a scene she loves, that will require very little work to polish later.  A scene with far less gaps, and far better writing, than a younger me could have ever produced.

The truth is that the better you get, the more you realize how much harder doing it right is.  How much more time and effort it takes. And that time and effort can act as barriers, and ad to the anxiety of wanting it now, in a world where we have fast rewards.  However, writing a novel is like training for a marathon.  It’s a long term goal.

So, this is me, plugging away at a thing that I love, that a younger me tried and failed writing many many moons ago, that I finally, finally feel I have the skill to tackle.  It’s hard, but hard is worth it.  That’s the thing we need to remember.  Is that just because a thing is difficult, does not mean it is not worth the effort.   This writing thing, will always be worth it for me.

Ideas are like Unicorns

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When I first started out on this writing quest one of my first questions was how does one get ideas?  And what I seamed to find from seasoned writers, who deemed this a worthy question to answer, was that ideas where a dime a dozen.  Literally, I swear that’s what they said.  They couldn’t even come up with a better metaphor.  They used a recycled one to describe how they came up with ideas.  This kind of sort of maddened me, like a lot. Because when you are in that beginning stage, you are so earnest with your quest for knowledge, that this is a lot of sass, maybe too much sass, for such a fragile creature as a new hopeful writer to handle.

However, as I’m not a new hopeful writer any longer, I can say with absolute certainty that they where not wrong.  Sometimes there is no easy way of saying that ideas are easy. However, the caveat being that you have to be aware of them, and how to filter them.

When you are in that boring mundane life, and you are looking across the fence to that creative playground, your brain isn’t yet trained in the pursuit of creative exercise.  It’s a damned muscle, and like learning a sport, you need to use it to get better at it.  So at first, ideas feel like sparse creatures, like unicorns you are trying to tame out in the wild.  You sit and you wait, and you wait, and then oh look it’s gone again.  Or you capture it and it’s a damned rhino and that is not what you had in mind.  It is not shinny and pretty and magical. It is clunky, and grey, and stinks.

After awhile you get better at idea hunting.  You learn how to stalk them.  You learn where there hunting ground is, and you hunt them there.  You capture one, but because it is so damned rare you treasure the thing.  You build it up to be more than it is.  You do this with the next one, and the one after that, thinking that all of these captured ideas are separate projects.  That there need for space is apart from the last one you caught.

But after awhile you learn too that this is incorrect.  The ideas morph into mosquitoes.  They buzz, and they suck the life out of you. They become kind of pesky.  The buzz about you when your working on something else, demanding your attention.  Sometimes you gotta squash them.   You’re like no, you are not the magical unicorn I’m hunting, you are a distraction, swat, swat, swat.

The last stage, or maybe it’s not, maybe it’s a cycle, but this is where I am, is when you have found their lair.  When you can walk amongst the unicorns, and they take you as part of their tribe.  You can revel at how unique they are, and how they work well together at the same time.  You live in a forest, sleeping in tress, or behind waterfalls, and it’s really like Avatar at night, where everything is alight, and completely surreal and wonderful.  You learn how the ideas are a larger part of a whole, an ecosystem supporting creativity.

So when someone says ideas are a dime a dozen, what they mean is you need to train your brain like any other muscle.  You need to show up, and go through the slog. Ideas are a skill set, and you need to work out at it, like going to the gym.  You need to learn how to hunt them.   They are a dime a dozen, to the trained veteran, but to those new folk they are magical mystical unicorns, and the only way to find the hunting ground and the lair, is to do the time and the work.

When I’m not writing, I’m writing.

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 (The tree in my front yard in full bloom.  Wish it stayed like this year round)

Things that are writing that don’t actually look like writing.

  1. Taking my dogs for a walk.  Whereby I run through scenes trying to figure out the mechanics and flow of them.  Then I get home and promptly all those fine laid points going fleeing out of my ming.
  2. Going to watch Cowboys band play at a bar.  I sit, I film, I knit, I think about that German Heavy Metal book I was working on, and figure out where the plot went wrong.  Also don’t take notes and try to trust my mind to remember it.  Sigh…
  3. Texting a friend to come out and watch Cowboy play, and have them criticize the bar for being sketchy.  Shrugging it off, because I actually find the place charming.  Realizing that I am that girlfriend who goes to all the performances, no matter how sketchy the bar, or the local (one time I was at a biker festival, camping in the middle of nowhere in some guys field).  Thinking about the juxtaposition of me and my summer dresses and knitting, and thinking of bar band girlfriends, and how I could work that in to a story.
  4. Driving home late late at night and seeing all the crab apple trees in bloom, and how they look so much different from day to night.  Like ghosts haunting the road side, standing sentinel.  Wanting to use that in a novel.
  5. Walking into work and having ideas on plot points and scribbling them madly on scrap paper, and stuffing them into a pocket to get back to later.
  6. Watching movies, or TV, and thinking oh I like how they did that scene. I could use that type of style in my storytelling.
  7. Reading a book and thinking man I like how they do descriptions.  I need to pay attention to the correlation they make.
  8. Hanging out on twitter, and seeing the political discourse, and thinking about my roll in it, and how that could cross over to my writing.  What do I want to say in response to current events, that will have a long outreach.
  9. Talking about the day job, and how we react to change, and how we can be slow moving, and have to weigh the cost of change against the potential additional problems it will create.  Realizing that I can use this in my writing, and world building.
  10. Living my own love story.  The years of how a relationship builds, seeing the tentpoles of story against the mundane backdrop of every day life, and how that could be written.

Writing doesn’t look like sitting at a keyboard all day.  It’s life experience adding up. It’s reading and consuming stories, and thinking of how those stories are told, and what you can learn from them. It’s quiet moments, or loud moments, away from story, as you let your mind roam over those finer points.  The key is being open to these moments, to observing them and letting them seep in. It’s keeping your writer brain turned on all the time, despite the day job, and whatever else is happening around you.  It’s being open and receptive.  Writers are sponges.  Soak it in, and figure how to filter it out.

Good words, writing peeps.

How I am a Writer.

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I was going to write a blog post as a warm up exercise to getting back into my WIP.  However, I’m glad I ditched that idea and did the writing first.

I have not been working on my WIP as diligently as a girl who wants to get professionally published should.  I have a long list of reasons why but really what it comes down to is I’m damned scared.  Wanting a thing, and then getting the thing, are two different things.  What a piece of clothing looks like on a hanger VS when you try it on, are two different things.  Expectation VS reality, and I’m scared that it’s going to be harder than I thought, and not live up to the warm fuzzy feeling I want it to be.

So here are some things I have learnt about me and writing on this journey.

  1. First I must do all the chores and then I can write. Using writing as a reward, but then making my to do list so monumental that even where I to get it all done I would be so burnt out I wouldn’t have any energy left for the writing.  Writing needs to be put on the to do list, and not as the last item.  As the first.
  2. I need to eat first. I really do need to make sure I have some foods before I get to the writing.  Empty stomach is an empty brain.
  3. I need large swaths of time to do the writing.  Large swaths of time are nice, especially if I hit my mojo and want to keep going.  However, large swaths of time can also be overwhelming.  Looking at all those hours stacked up in front of me, thinking I should be writing but being paralyzed by their magnitude.  Fifteen minutes is a great way to get started.  Setting a timer for distraction free writing time, is a great way to make sure I start.  Starting is the hard part.
  4. I had a really great 10k day this one time, and I want to recreate that magic.  I can’t.  Somedays are 10K days, and somedays are 500 word days.  Each get to be celebrated.  Set a minimum goal and as long as I meet that, I’ve won.
  5. I need to write every day. I find when I’m writing every day, all of a sudden it’s like I’ve gone from a frozen tundra, to spring time.  It’s snow melting, and rivers overflowing and flooding with ideas.  It’s like training a muscle, I have to be there training every day.  It doesn’t get stronger without the practice.
  6. The writing is a mess, and it’s overwhelming.  It’s like my house and it needs to be cleaned up now. But I need a lot of time to do this.  Yes, and no.   A lot of time is overwhelming.  Take a little bit of time each day to clean it up, and keep it as organized as possible as you go.  It turns out I’m an edit as you go type person.  Know yourself and your writing style.
  7. Just draft.  See above.  This is not you. Yes drafting is hella fun.  Writing snappy dialogue back and forth, is so much fun.  But also I need to take the time to add tags and scenery.  Don’t let that build or I feel buried by it. However I can draft a scene one day, and clean it up the next. It doesn’t have to be perfect all in one day.  This is a WIP in progress after all.
  8. I need to have a complete outline before I progress.  Not true.  This is delay tactics for me.  My brain doesn’t work that way. I have to know my end point and my starting point yes, and I have to have some cool ideas for the middle, but every single inch and detail about the world, save some surprises for the writing.
  9. Know my own process. Not the writer next door, but my own damned process. My process is not their process, and stop measuring myself against them.  Write the best damned book I can write.
  10. Know that I am a work in progress as much as the thing I am writing is.  The more I do, the better I’ll get at it.  Accept the journey.

P.S. So Sorry for skipping out last week.  I caught a cold or a flue, or some sort of snot infested virus that had my head feeling like a bobble head doll while being completely congested.  Mostly I watched TV and knit, and even that was a little too overwhelming and required muchos naps.

#AdAstra2017

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 (Sylvie, Me, Aura, – part of our writing group the Underground Writers)

This is my fourth Ad Astra (I think).  The first one I just felt so new I didn’t know what to do with myself.  The panelists felt like gods, and I didn’t know how to talk to them, and mostly I was just a little star struck.  I also only wanted to travel in packs, and had a hard time going off on my own – a fear I don’t much have anymore, but it’s always nice having someone you know sit in the audience with you.

My first Ad Astra, I distinctly remember being out in the hall telling a woman I loved her shoes, or was it a hair piece?  I can’t remember, but I do know I paid her a compliment, and then we get in the room and she was a panelist.  And I was kind of like OMG I just talked to her, enter panic mode, try to keep it cool.  That woman was Leah Bobet.

There was another panel that first time where they where talking about the end of the world.  It got into the survivalist area, and I was there for the zombie talk personally.  So we have two older gentlemen, who start preaching about a thing they are passionate about, but perhaps a little too intense know it all style, and a lot off topic from where we where supped to be.  Then there is this breath of fresh air on the panel, this woman named Karina Sumner Smith.  Who through quip put these guys back in there place.

Side note, when I meet you as an author my brain will always give you what’s on your book for your name, all of it, always.  Example E.K. Johnston, is still E.K. Johnston, even though I know she prefers to go by Kate.  My brain is wired a certain way, and even getting to know authors I still sort of think of them as magicians, because that’s what it feels like when I’m writing.  I’m conjuring nothing into something.

Leah and Karina where my first two authors, except at the time, they where on the brink of publication.  They where at that almost stage. I met them at the beginning of their journey, and it has been amazing to follow them since.  To get to know them, and feel not just like the girl on the outside looking in, but the girl who can have a conversation with them about ideas for writing, or the world in general, and who we are in it.

This convention was different, and by far my favourite (yes, I know even topping the year I met E.K Johnston and totally fangirled over her book recs, and fell in love with her writing).  Maybe it’s because I had been going for a few years, and I had an idea of how this would play out.  I knew the landscape of the con, and I knew how it worked best to pace ourselves. Maybe it’s because I had been writing for some time now, and I know my craft a lot better, I felt more like I could talk at their level.  Maybe it’s because I follow my industry and have done my research, and I knew what the journey would look like, so I didn’t need to ask them the basics and make those newbie faux pas.  What I can tell you is that I met a bunch of amazing young woman, doing what I want to be doing, and willing to have those conversations between panels and hang out.

It started with Friday evening, and walking into the panel Gender Terminology in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I thought oh no, there she is.  There is a person who ends up on panels that says things that are so dated and condescending to the category she writes for, I have a hard time listening to her opinions.  She writes YA, but how she talks about it is like an authority figure who needs to shove a moral down your throat because they are right and you are wrong.  But at this panel an amazing thing happened.  The panelist and the people in the room came out and where like, I don’t agree with what you are saying, and this is why. It brought out the best in everyone around her.  New rules, use this woman whom we don’t like as a barometer on Friday evening panels to find out how everyone around them reacts, and those who show gumption with good ideas, follow them.  Follow them hard! (sorry no pic for this panel. I forgot.)

(As a side note Christina Vasilevski, was on the gender panel, and held her ground and was willing to take the conversation where it needed to go.  She also wrote an amazing blog post about her experience of ad astra this year.  I feel you when you talk about the gravitational pull you felt at the con, and the friendships formed there.  I got to catch up with her a bit more on Saturday.)

I had a game plan with panels that sounded interesting. I even have some names I know that I avoid, so I already had a couple of panels crossed off because I couldn’t take their opinions.  But I also left room for flexibility.  There where three things I was not missing come hell or high water, and I made sure I got to those.  But everything else was in flux.  This made it so I could adjust my schedule to the panelist, or to having a bit more social time in-between, or shopping time, or food, or in this one case a nap. This is what works best for me, knowing what I want to do, but leaving space for be flexible as needed.  The true gem of this conventions are the people you meet and connect with because holla, you all love the same thing.

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(On my forearms, part of the look I was rocking on Saturday – these are temporary, and sadly almost all gone now.  Though I am thinking of getting Knit Punk on one arm, and Book Dragon on the other.  Will ruminate more on making it permanent.)

Saturday I took a little extra time to get ready, and look badass, and when I walked off the elevator, there stood Leah Bobet and Karina Sumner Smith, and the rest of my writing group.  It was like a light had split the sky, and said today is going to be awesome, watch out, I gift you with this great start to the day. I mean I had panels I wanted to go to, but grabbed a coffee so we could sit and chat with these lovely ladies instead.  It was not a mistake.  It was a great conversation and really set the tone for the day.  Leah Bobbett is one of those amazing souls who we follow each other on twitter and Instagram, and who smiles and welcomes me every time I see her.  I keep thinking of her as this magical feisty character, something I could evolve into some day.  She is kind, but fierce.  Also her writing is amazeballs.  It’s an amazing feeling being able to call her a friend (and a small part of me is like, is that too presumptuous?).

At noon I bowed out and ran off to the YA Revolution panel where I got to see these women in action.

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 Rebecca Diem, L.E.  Sterling, Amanda Sun, Alyxandra Harvey, Deanna Laver (this last one I’m not 100% on).

If you want to know a good moderator (and I can’t believe this is her first Ad Astra, because she was a total pro at it), Rebecca Diem was on it.  She had questions for the panelists, brought her own introspection, helped lead the conversation without dominating it, and in general was absolutely lovely.  I asked a few questions at the end, and having intelligent questions to ask, opened up room for conversation with these women later. Also the combination of Alyxandra and Rebecca’s bangs made me want bangs, and I know it’s a bad idea, but I’m easily susceptible to chopping my hair off at will.

Also, if you ever see me post writing on Wattpad, it will be because L.E. Sterling tipped the scale, and asked if I had posted anything there before, and suggested it’s a great place to build audience.  I don’t know if I will blame or give her credit, but now it’s an itch in the back of my mind, that I’m thinking about.

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L.E. Sterling signed Sylvie’s book, and I think that is the best compliment for our group ever.

The other panels that where total highlights for me where:

IMG_2843 Space Opera and New Directions (Derek Kunsken, Andrew Barton, Christina Vasilevski, Jon Oliver) Derek has a book coming out in fall of 2018 which was described as a Space Opera heist, a cross between Oceans 11 and Guardians of the Galaxy, and I am so disappointed I have to wait that long to read it.

 

IMG_2854Reading Revolution (Selena Middleton, Leah Bobet, Amanda Sun, Alyxandra Harvey Rebecca Diem, L.E.  Sterling)

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Leah Bobet’s Reading (Totally jealous of her writing voice, but in a good kind of way, the kind that is in awe.  Her descriptions, emotional connection to her characters, and world building, in just that one scene was SOOO GOOD.  I mean yes, I like the concept, but the writing alone is enough for me to tear through that. KEEP WRITING IT!)

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Disrupting the Narrative (Left to Right: Rebecca Diem, Carolyn CharronEli K.P. William, Charlotte AshleyVanessa Ricci-Thode).  The book recs on this panel where through the roof.  Also we nominate N.K. Jemisin as the next GOH for Ad Astra. (I also caught up with Vanessa the Saturday evening in the con suite, who has amazing geektastic fashion sense, and a love of dogs)

Turns out that 90% of the panels I had selected had those amazing YA authors on them.  It was like continuing one great conversation leading into the next. I could have just happy sighed my way through the entire convention.

Going back through the schedule on Saturday, while it felt so happy and productive while I was there, I noticed that I didn’t go to as many panels as I had intended.  Still it was a reassuringly soul filling day.  Don’t get me wrong panels are great, and a good launching pad for ideas and connecting with others  However, it’s the conversations we have and the people we meet, that really opened it up for me.  I talked to authors and panelists between panels, continuing to share ideas.  I talked to authors and vendors in the merch room and connected with them there. I posted on twitter throughout the convention taking pics, and being witty, and garnered new followers (who I also followed back, because you are my people).  I had ideas for how to improve my stories, and those aha moments you search for.  We went to the con suites in the evening, danced with a storm trooped, had drinks with not just our group, but welcomed others into the conversation.  To cap off this wild crazy day, I even made it to the dance before crawling up to my hotel room. However, through it all, the thing that shined the most for me where those connections, the people and conversations.

Our Storm Trooped both in and out of costume.  You can find her on Twitter.

I don’t know if I have told you this but I HATE the word networking.  It sounds so dirty, like the only reason you are talking to someone is to use them, because they have something you want.  There is a distinct lack of respect for the person, instead treating them like goods or services.

One could look at my weekend, and be like, hey Julia, you networked.  Technically they would be true.  But I prefer to think I connected with people passionately over a shared interest.  I prefer to think that we planted the seeds for friendships, or at least friendly acquaintances the next time we see each other at an event.  The type of people you follow back on twitter or Instagram and cheer on their successes, or like their jam making, or lipstick selfies, or dog photos.  The type of people you can gush over a good book, or grab a beer with when you are in town.

This event, I felt comfortable in my own skin, and who I am becoming.  I used to look at life as a series of goals, achievements, a once I get there, I will be fully made kind of thing.  Now I recognize that this is just one long road trip of learning about yourself.  As long as I’m comfortable with being a changing being, it makes it easier to accept who I am, and be that person comfortably around others. This is me now, this is me learning, this is me – a work in progress.

These woman that I met this weekend, these are what I want to grow into. They are magical badass wordsmith warriors. They are also kind, and willing to make those acquaintances and friendships.  They don’t snob off above you, but rather reach down and lift you up. The example they set is high, but worthy of achieving.  Thank you ladies for everything, you made this weekend for me.

P.S.  Seriously GO to Ad Astra, it’s got great content, and has a very intimate feel.  This blog post only captures the tip of the iceberg of what actually being there is like.  Experiences may very.