Of course I’m only calling this plot evil because it’s currently eating my brain. Yes, that’s right, it’s project planning time again!
Please note that I’ve never managed to complete this step in the writing process. I usually manage a few vague character notes, way more time devoted to setting than I can afford, and then a sketchy outline before I can’t stand the suspense and just leap headfirst into writing.
Or headfirst into a brick wall. Same thing, really.
I get over-excited when writing. Overstimulated by the cool whiz-bang ideas floating around in my brain. Then comes the reality of sitting down and writing every day:
- No, you can’t play that game.
- No, you don’t have time to go out with those friends.
- Laundry is for wimps.
- Who needs clean floors?
- Surely the kids have figured out the microwave by now!
Or maybe that’s just me? Anyway, combined with the difficult-to-interpret nature of my usual outlines and a tendency to get carried away chasing shiny plot will-o-wisps (and we all know where those lead), my first drafts so far have a tendency to meander off course in small ways that eventually add up to a giant, chaotic mess.
But not this time! No matter how much it feels like I’m banging my head against a brick wall before I’ve even started, I’m going to complete this planning process. There will be notes on critical plot points, on important conflicts between characters, on the critical scenes that must occur to move the story to the desired ending.
If anything, it just makes me more eager to get to the fun part. Really, really eager.
Project: The Last Necromancer | Status: Planning and Plotting
This week I’d like to welcome Rhonda Parrish, the editor of the Magical Menageries series of anthologies. CORVIDAE released July 7th, 2015 and can be found in both paperback and ebook form. For more information about the anthology, you can jump straight to the bottom of the post. However, I recommend reading this anecdote from Rhonda about her attempts to capture a decent photograph of a ghost magpie:
“Rhonda Parrish is a shapeshifter with talents to match her every incarnation- magpie tenacity for picking the shiniest submissions, nightingale notes for crafting tales, and bright, feline eyes for seeking out her photographic subjects. She balances on the knife-edge of darkness and light, a sorceress of both realms.”
– Sara Cleto
Hunting the Ghost Magpie
My husband, Jo, rides his bike to and from work whenever weather permits and a few years ago he started mentioning an unusual magpie he would occasionally spot on his route. He knew I loved magpies so he really wanted to share this special individual with me, but every time we walked along the route he took to work it wasn’t there. I’d begun to think he was imagining things but then it happened. When I least expected we saw it — a ghost magpie.
Ghost magpies are the somewhat fanciful name for leucistic magpies. What that means is that their colouration falls somewhere between normal and albino. It makes for some very stunning birds, especially with magpies.
Edmonton, where I live, is the capital of the world for ghost magpies and I’m lucky enough to have a couple of them live in my neighbourhood–or at least visit it frequently. Alas, they never seem to come around when I have my camera in hand. It’s like they know…
That first time I saw the ghost magpie with Jo was magical. We were just walking along the path when suddenly he pulled me to a stop and pointed and there it was. A great, floofy magpie sitting on a fence post. His white feathers were white but where I expected to see black or blue they were a soft powder grey. We looked at each other, the ghostpie and I, for a very long time before he kekked and flew off. I’ve been hooked ever since, hungry to get a good photograph of a ghost magpie.
I haven’t had much success.
Oh, I’ve managed a few pictures of ghost magpies, but nothing I’m happy with. After four years of hunting them with my camera I have a slightly out of focus shot of one with a ragged tail, a shot of the same bird from a pretty terrible angle and a picture taken from half a block away–getting this one required me to run home, get my camera, run back, wait, finally re-spot the magpie and then snap the picture without time for composition or getting closer because a truck was coming toward the birds.
Weirdly enough I’m not frustrated though. Challenged, but not frustrated.
While I would very much love to get a great picture of one of these magpies I also just love seeing them. Sure, I swear a little bit when I spot one and I don’t have my camera on me–especially when they pause and pose prettily for me, taunting me–but really it’s just a privilege to see them at all so I can’t really be upset. Not really.
I sure would like to get that picture though…
Rhonda Parrish is driven by a desire to do All The Things. She has been the publisher and editor-in-chief of Niteblade Magazine since 2007 (which is like 30 years in internet time) and is the editor of several anthologies including (most recently) Corvidae.
In addition, Rhonda is a writer whose work has been in publications such as Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast, Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012) and Mythic Delirium.
Her website, updated weekly, is at http://www.rhondaparrish.com
A flock of shiny stories!
Associated with life and death, disease and luck, corvids have long captured mankind’s attention, showing up in mythology as the companions or manifestations of deities, and starring in stories from Aesop to Poe and beyond.
In Corvidae birds are born of blood and pain, trickster ravens live up to their names, magpies take human form, blue jays battle evil forces, and choughs become prisoners of war. These stories will take you to the Great War, research facilities, frozen mountaintops, steam-powered worlds, remote forest homes, and deep into fairy tales. One thing is for certain, after reading this anthology, you’ll never look the same way at the corvid outside your window.
Featuring works by Jane Yolen, Mike Allen, C.S.E. Cooney, M.L.D. Curelas, Tim Deal, Megan Engelhardt, Megan Fennell, Adria Laycraft, Kat Otis, Michael S. Pack, Sara Puls, Michael M. Rader, Mark Rapacz, Angela Slatter, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and Leslie Van Zwol.
Praise for Corvidae
“Smart and dark like the corvids themselves, this excellent collection of stories and poems will bring you a murder of chills, a tiding of intrigue, a band of the fantastic, and—most of all—an unkindness of sleepy mornings after you’ve stayed up too late reading it!”
— Karen Dudley, author of Kraken Bake
“Corvidae evokes the majesty and mischief of corvid mythologies worldwide—and beyond our world—in a collection that is fresh and thoroughly enjoyable.”
— Beth Cato, author of The Clockwork Dagger
“A creepy, crazy kaleidoscope of corvids, Corvidae is what happens when you bring together ingenious writers and sagacious subjects. It’s nothing short of a thrill ride when this anthology takes flight.”
— Susan G. Friedman, Ph. D., Utah State University; behaviorworks.org.
Oh, wait, no. Not moving. Sorry. What was I talking about? Oh! Right, we’re off to the country to visit the hubby’s family and celebrate some birthdays, including L‘s Ninth.
Nine years I’ve been somebody’s Mama. Nine years. Nine. Number nine, number nine, number–what? Sorry, got distracted again.
These trips are always a little strange for me. We sleep in, there’s generally no set schedule for any given day, and even when there is a schedule there’s not much emphasis on keeping it.
You’d think I’d get a ton of writing done, right? I thought so. I even optimistically packed my primary wordsmithing equipment, my laptop.
So far, nothing. And I’m okay with that. Rest is important. Relaxation is important. I’ve gotten a little tightly wound since having these two little humans underfoot whose very lives depended on me being all responsible. Having a little time to just ‘be’ is sort of…nice.
So I’ve been working my way through Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course. I’ve previously found that her methods mesh well with the way I think, and this big “survival school for writers” course is no different. Most importantly I’ve discovered some key issues with my past process. Wanting to stay safely in my comfort zone, or have the end product turn out perfect, for example. Both hamstring the creative process, and keep me from completing projects. Or worse, I turn out stories that I’m not proud of and no one wants to buy–or read.
I also have a habit of leaping at the first vague concept that enters my head and trying to write it out by the seat of my pants without really questioning where the idea is going or what makes it special. Surprising to perhaps no one other than myself, it’s difficult to write a story about “somebody who’s special because something and saves the world or crap, I dunno, good stuff goes here.”
Occasionally I have the related-but-not-quite-opposite problem of getting so lost in an orgy of world-building that the actual story never materializes. Or, should a story spontaneously develop, it’s so weighed down with chunks of exposition to show off the Shiny Cool Setting that no one can read it without passing out from boredom.
So I’m taking it slower, trying to refine ideas before I commit to writing them, weeding out the ones that aren’t going to go anywhere, and locking in on the necessary details that make a story extraordinary without detailing the cultural significance of what Character A ate for lunch. Honing ideas in preparation for writing is probably a much better use of my time than flailing around creating three pantheons of gods with six related languages and a plethora of weird social conventions.
Not that I’ve ever done that. I mean, come on, how much of a nerd do you have to be to actually make up verb conjugations for fun? Or write up a ten page essay on how the Great God Jahir of the Squin Empire differs from his aspect as The Highfather Johar of the Tentarin Archipelago. Ha ha, no sir, that’s not something I would do!
Striking that balance between the too loose, generalized story concept and the over-planned story bible without a plot is getting easier. At least I’m recognizing those tendencies, and locking that shit down before it gets out of control. This is a learning process, and a very necessary one.
I mean, would you like to read about a girl who happens to have some cool powers who is going to save the world because the cool Macguffin chose her?
Would you rather read about the last necromancer’s reluctant apprentice who defies the law and sacrifices her standing as a reputable mage in order to restore Nature’s balance before the wall between Life and Death crumbles forever?
Yeah, me too.
So I’ve been over at Terrible Minds
Which sounds ridiculous, since of course I have a desk and chair and computer and all. But that’s where I play games. That association is strong enough that I used to hang a sign off my monitor that read “WORKING” when I was writing. Not to keep anyone else from bothering me–most often I was the only one in the media room–but to remind myself that I was, in fact, working. Not playing an MMO. Or The Sims. Or Peggle.
That plan met with limited success. My dear loving husband’s solution was brilliant: If I couldn’t concentrate because the computer itself was a distraction, then he’d get me a different computer! Thus I was gifted a lovely Macbook with a copy of Scrivener, and released into the wild to write wherever the whim might take me.
Trouble is, mostly it only takes me as far as the kitchen table. That’s on a good day, when I’m feeling professional. The table is at least desk-like. On particularly lazy days, I get no farther than the couch. Even with a cup of a coffee, I’m more than likely to pass out after about three paragraphs.
Some part of my brain looks at solutions like the Wendig
Murder Writing Shed and says, “Hey! It would be just like going to work. That’d be a great way to keep yourself on task!”
A more practical part of my brain says, “You’d end up storing flower pots in it. Or something equally boring.”
The loudest part of my brain screams, “OMG I just had the best idea! Guys! Guys! GUYS! Seriously, it’s the awesomest! What if there was this family, and they hunt dragons, and then there’s this wizard, and and and hahahaha, squirrel!”
Maybe I just need to work on that part of my brain and stick to drinking my coffee at the table.
I’m still alive and kicking, despite being constantly sore due to a harebrained “get in shape” scheme called going to the gym. By the way, if somebody hands you a kettlebell and says “deadlift this fifty times,” hit them with it and run for your life. However, if the word “windmills” enters the conversation, you’re probably already too far gone to escape. Just accept the inevitable suffering as the price of your past sins.
Aside from the pain of healthy living, I’ve been dealing with the pain of creative drought. Not that I was lacking in ideas. I just haven’t had the time and/or energy (sometimes I have one or the other, but rarely both) to pursue any of those ideas since school started for my boys. Ironic, eh? For years I’ve been repeating the mantra, “I’ll have time to write when both boys are in school.”
Sure, right. The first month of school is a one-way ticket to Crazytown.
Surprisingly, it’s not actually twice as difficult to get two boys dressed, fed, teeth brushed, and out the door with two packed lunches, all their assorted homework, permission slips, fundraising forms, and remember special days.
It’s purple day! But you don’t have a purple shirt, so…here’s a purple sticker. Look, kid, I’m trying.
It’s actually three times as difficult. Plus the bonus extra credit difficulty of riding our bikes every morning, no matter how sore Mommy is, and perhaps it becomes clear why I’ve been lagging on the creative end.
Now that things are settling down a bit, I have a short story out on submission. So far it’s racked up four rejections. I like to tell myself that story submissions are like house hunting: You don’t always find your home on the first try. So I bundled it up with love and sent it off to a new place this morning. Godspeed, little story.
This past week I started on a joint project with my husband. He had the idea to work together on a world-building project with an eye toward creating a setting for use across multiple media: Stories, tabletop RPG modules, maybe even some form of app (an area he’s been dying to get into). It’s interesting how the creative process changes when you’re working with a partner. Especially when their process is nothing like your own.
For me, creating a setting is like lighting a string of firecrackers. I have an idea, which sparks another idea, and another, and “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if” and “Oh, I know how to explain that!” Pop-pop-pop, one loosely-related idea after another until I’m exhausted and have to put it away. His brain goes over things much more slowly, and he tends to focus on one subject at a time. Between the two of us, I have a feeling we’re going to produce something pretty cool.
Or we’ll reach the point where we can’t stand the project and throw it all away. Either way, it’s fun for now!
“Woman with kettlebell” image courtesy of Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net.
Waste Not (And Other Funny Zombie Stories) is a fun little collection of humorous and off-beat zombie stories from Rhonda Parrish. Zombies aren’t generally my thing (I don’t know why, they just creep me out) but I do love a good dose of dark humor, which Parrish definitely delivers!
The collection includes:
Waste Not – The coming of zombies forces humankind back to the land, to a simple lifestyle where ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ becomes more than a motto, it becomes the key to survival. And revenge.
Feeders – The zombie apocalypse will affect more than just humans, explore the repercussions of walking dead through the eyes of a cat in this story guaranteed to make you smile.
…Oh My! – What if the Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t killed by Dorothy’s house? What if she couldn’t be, because she was a zombie. Dun dun dun!
I’d have to say that …Oh My! had the highest traditional zombie ick factor, but it was such an interesting concept that I didn’t mind too much. I loved the cat’s eye view of the zombie apocalypse in Feeders, but my favorite has to be Waste Not. It’s the shortest of the three, but it packs a punch!
There was so much going on at Phoenix Comicon that I’m still recalling bits and pieces, and here are a few that I left out of the last post.
For example, I totally forgot to mention taking Transformers photos for my boys. They were extremely impressed that mommy got to hang out with Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. Because obviously I’m awesome like that.
I know I mentioned Taco Guild and The Holy Taco Church, but have I mentioned all the good pizza I had while I was there? I love pizza to a wholly ridiculous degree. We split a Pizza Bianca at La Piazza Locale, which was amazing, and so was their bacon and spinach salad. Yes, I put bacon first. Because bacon, that’s why. Also there were roughly equal amounts of bacon and spinach in the bowl. It’s like they knew me or something.
Beth also took me to a place called New York Pizza Department. You don’t get much New York style pizza in any of the areas I’ve lived in (for those not following along, that’s the west coast and Texas) so that was kind of fun. Also very tasty. Can someone convince them to open up a location near me? Thanks.
I met a ton of awesome people over the course of the weekend. I’ve already listed all the crazy writers, but I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention Kristin Sullivan, who cheerfully contributed a great deal of snarky wit to the weekend. Hats off to you, Govneh! She also makes one impressive Booth Bane. Seriously, don’t mess with her.
I mean it.
You will get stomped.
And More Author Batsu
So, to round out the ridiculousness, I discovered that I actually captured some video during the infamous Author Batsu Game. To put it into context, the contestants had just been asked to write the sexiest sentence they could think of. Meanwhile, Patrick Rothfuss was still chewing the napkin he decided to eat during the previous question:
So, Phoenix Comicon. Let me explain–no, there is too much to explain. Let me sum up:
It was fantastacular.
(Which is fantastic and spectacular, for those who don’t speak portmanteau.)
My dear friend, author Beth Cato, is anxiously awaiting the release of her debut novel, The Clockwork Dagger, on September 16, 2014. In the meantime, she had the brilliant idea of attending Phoenix Comicon to promote it–when she asked me to come along, how could I say no?
That’s a trick question, as obviously I couldn’t. So I packed up my comfortable shoes, my steampunk gear, and my inner glee for all things geek and flew my giddy little self out to Phoenix, AZ.
Most of the fun I had wouldn’t make sense if you weren’t there, so I’m just going to hit the highlights here. Thursday started with a trip to the local art museum to appreciate some culture (jazz hands!). The jazz hands, you see, are how we differentiate culture from the pop culture we planned to indulge in for the rest of the weekend. Or something. Just go with it.
Afterward, we picked up some passengers and headed off to an excellent meal at Taco Guild, along with many members of the Holy Taco Church: Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig, Delilah S. Dawson, Sam Sykes, Leanna Renee Hieber, Brian McLellan, Stephen Blackmoore, Jason Hough, Django Wexler, and Wesley Chu–as well as not-actually-official-members-but-happy-to-eat-tacos-anyway folks like Myke Cole, Ty Franck, Priscilla Spencer, Jamie Wyman, and Olivia Kelly. Apologies if I missed anyone! If you think that sounds like a ton of people, you’re right. And yes, we took up half the restaurant. Many tacos and drinks were consumed, inappropriate jokes were made, much fun was had by all. Sam apparently enjoys a very affectionate relationship with other men’s beards. Beth may or may not have challenged Wes to a push-up contest. There was also an incident with a daisy-wheeled Volkswagen Beetle which lead to a new driving term.
Pulling a Daisy: Turning right from the center lane regardless of cars traveling forward in the right lane.
On the way back to the hotel, Olivia taught everyone in our car the proper pronunciation of “challah” and inadvertently signed herself up for a new greeting for the rest of the weekend.
Friday Beth and I split our time between casing the joint checking out the exhibitor hall and attending literary track panels. I picked up as many books as I thought I could pack back home (only a tiny fraction of what I wanted). We escaped before shenanigans got underway that night, so I sadly have no incriminating photos to share.
Saturday kicked off with a panel on speculative poetry that was entertaining but oddly confrontational (odd audience member is odd). Then we learned about the secret passages of the Phoenix Convention Center. That was where Beth and I met up with the always-entertaining Jaye Wells, and the three of us came face to face with Adam West and Julie Newmar as we exited one of the hidden elevators.
Biggest celebrity sighting at PHXCC was when I got off an elevator and Adam West and Julie Newmar were standing there with Chewbacca.
After that we were all off to the ridiculously-named “Fantasy That Defies Description” panel, which would have made for a really short discussion had it been accurate. Thankfully the members of the panel were all hilarious and managed to point out the difference between defying description and defying the artificial construct of genre.
Now, realize that we started the day with two goals: 1) Get Beth to both her panels on time, and 2) Stalk Nathan Fillion. Not in a creepy face-wearing kind of way. I just mean that we planned to show up early for his spotlight to camp some seats and didn’t care if we missed other cool panels in the meantime.
However, we also had to eat. I get hangry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry. So, with saving time in mind, we made good use of the hidden hallways (catching a few minutes of Bruce Campbell’s spotlight from backstage) and made a quick round of author alley to invite some people out for lunch. The adorable Lela Gwenn joined us for delicious pizza at La Piazza Locale a few blocks from the convention center, which was great fun but a tactical error: By the time we returned, staff members were already turning people away from the ballroom where Nathan Fillion would be appearing an hour later. Silly us. Apparently there had been people camping the ballroom from the time the con opened on Saturday, waiting to see him.
Which brings us to Author Batsu.
Clearly, when you’ve been denied Nathan Fillion, you go watch a bunch of authors torture each other for fun. This game was a Sam Sykes brainchild, and as such, guaranteed to be weird, funny, and potentially dangerous. It exceeded everyone’s expectations. There was only one rule: No matter what kind of goofiness Sam, the audience, and the other authors get up to, Don’t Laugh. There was also only one punishment: Taking a shot of salsa.
Easier said than done. Over the course of the game we discovered that Patrick Rothfuss makes both a damn fine wizard and a decent goat; Myke Cole has no tolerance for salsa; John Scalzi is amused by everything; and Aprilynn Pike is amused by nothing, ever. Delilah S. Dawson and Leanna Renee Hieber also managed to stay stone-faced for much of the proceedings, proving that they are either inherently less humorous (not bloody likely) or that women are just generally better at this sort of thing. Which doesn’t explain how Chuck Wendig managed to escape punishment for so much of the game. I suspect that his beard may have something to do with it, though that rumor has been neither confirmed nor denied.
We finished up both the night and our Phoenix Comicon experience with the Drinks with Authors party. There were themed drinks, book giveaways, and as promised, lots of authors. Beth seemed sort of shocked when people wanted to stop and talk with her, until I pointed out that she is also an author. Good times. Now, since I really need about a week’s worth of naps and a foot massage, I’ll wrap this up. Just one last photo. No context for you!
I’m asking for some help, Ladies and Gents, but not for myself. Let me introduce you to my friend Janesta and her family:
Janesta Violette is a dear friend, a devoted wife and mother, and was pursuing a college degree in game design and software development until she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Stage IV oral cancer late last year.
At the time of diagnosis her cancer was deemed inoperable because the surgeon would need to remove her entire tongue as well as a number of the lymph nodes in her neck. Given the aggressive nature of the cancer, other alternatives were considered. Radiation and chemotherapy commenced. All seemed to be going well, and the tumors shrank. Hurray!
Unfortunately, after Janesta’s treatments ended, the tumors began to grow again. Her body can’t take any more radiation or chemo at this point, so surgery is the only answer and it must be as soon as possible. The tumors must be removed before they can spread further. Unfortunately this still means the loss of her tongue.
Right now, Janesta’s husband is stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. The nearest oncology ward with a surgeon capable of helping her is at the San Antonio Military Medical center. That’s roughly a ten to twelve hour drive. It also means that the family member accompanying Janesta needs a place to stay while she’s in the hospital.
So here’s the deal: Normally their insurance can reimburse travel costs related to medical procedures, or even advance them the estimated cost to make that trip across the state for surgery and treatment possible. Due to the recent government shutdown, the Violette family has been informed that there are no funds available, and that it’s unclear whether that funding will become available again in the future.
Let me make that clear: Due to the Congressional showdown over affordable healthcare, our active duty military personnel and their families are not receiving healthcare benefits.
The shutdown has also placed strain on the family’s already tight finances, as basic necessities like groceries and gas were no longer available on base. They just don’t have the spare money right now to make this trip.
So we turn to you, friends, family, and even complete strangers, in the hopes that we can raise enough money to cover the costs for a family member to drive Janesta to San Antonio and stay in a nearby hotel during her surgery.