a submission tracking spreadsheet!

Supercool writer Shannon Barber made a thing that I am about to go download because I have no fucking clue how to do a spreadsheet or what Microsoft Excel even is.  I am also starting to make things that I think other people might even want to read, so I have been considering my approach to submitting work for publication (which is currently not even coherent).  I think, as in all things, being more organized will likely help me succeed in getting published, or at least help me keep track of all the ways I’m NOT getting published.  Otherwise I think I would end up forgetting everything I ever did.  I am that person who loses her keys every single day.  I need a spreadsheet.

Shannon says:

Yesterday, while I was struggling to stay awake at work, I made a wee zip file. Inside this zip file you’ll find a very basic submission tracking spreadsheet along with a txt doc to tell you how to use it and give you some ideas for customization.

Go to here to get your own.

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the creation of new worlds.

I think the most intimidating thing about writing fantasy is the creation of new worlds.  Does every author need to be a Tolkien-level genius to create their own fantasy universe, complete with invented languages?  I’m constantly amazed by the level of detail in Tolkien’s universe, right down to the naming conventions of the dwarf civilization. I don’t know that I possess the focus or knowledge or desire to create several civilizations complete with distinct languages, cultures and histories.  I barely have the focus required to finish doing the dishes after dinner.  I also know that other authors tend to not put that much effort into things but still manage to be be wildly successful.  Stephen King’s Mid-World, the setting of the Dark Tower Series, was completely captivating for me and many others, but the High Speech he invented was dumb as shit.

I suppose it helps if you already have a setting in mind.  Tolkien’s Middle Earth is roughly based on Europe, while King’s Mid-World is based on North America.  And both authors based some aspects of the cultures of their created worlds on the culture of the existing continent that inspired them.  I’m not saying that it’s a great idea to try to do that for your first novel, but I totally tried to do it.  I based my story in the Great Lakes (not that anyone would ever figure it out) and decided to have my created world be a hybrid of early Canadian settlers and First Nations cultures as they would have become in an alternate history type of situation.  That is, what would Canada have looked like if certain empires had not been successful in claiming the land.

I expected to feel reassured and positive about having a sort of template to use in creating my world.  Instead, I found it massively stressful.  I was worried about historical accuracy and staying faithful to the linguistic roots of the cultures I’d be using.  My intended setting is very complex and it is SO MUCH WORK.  I tend to be a perfectionist about these things and feel like I can’t progress with my story until I’ve gotten everything exactly right and manufactured a setting that is believable and engaging.  For a while, I was paranoid that the story wouldn’t “turn out right” if I didn’t have that setting in place before I started to build on the plot.  But in reality, my story exists without any of this — it existed long before I started fooling around with settings, time periods, and goddamn naming conventions.  More and more it’s starting to feel tedious and frivolous to invent a whole world just so that this story can be told.

My newest nerdy antisocial hobby is critiquing stories.  I signed up at critique.org, which is sort of an online writing workshop.  I don’t submit any work, but I usually manage to read and critique one short story per week if life isn’t super busy.  It’s an incredibly engrossing pastime for me, but boring as fuck to everyone else, so I don’t really like to bring it up when someone at work starts the whole “so what do you DO with all of your free time?”  Since I don’t have kids, apparently my life outside of work is considered just a gaping meaningless void by those around me who have spawned.  (It obviously is a gaping meaningless void, but anyway.)  Instead of trying to explain this hobby, I just pretend I have no hobbies and then let them think whatever they want to think.  BUT ANYWAY so I do that now.  I wish I could get paid to do it.  I absolutely love editing.

Editing other folks’ work has helped my writing.  I think expanding one’s horizons and reading different kinds of fiction — good or bad — will help a writer either way.  But reading first drafts of short stories has kind of helped me relax my perfectionism.  I’ve been slowly realizing that even the best story is kind of a mess in its first draft.  I like Stephen King’s assertion that a story exists like a dinosaur skeleton in the earth, and it is just waiting to be excavated by the writer.  I see that now as I read others’ work.  In the past few weeks, I’ve read stories that maybe haven’t emerged intact and need to have all the pieces put together in a better way.  Or maybe they haven’t been uncovered all the way, or they just need a little polishing here and there to make everything shine.

I never feel like the writer is just making some shit up — that story exists as a concrete thing, just as real as you or me or this extra large wine glass I’m currently drinking out of.  No matter how poorly written, a story exists in its own right and a writer’s true talent is in uncovering it and showing it to the rest of us.  By reading and critiquing it I am helping to uncover a very small bit of it.  It makes me feel better about my own ideas for stories that have existed for years inside my head.  They are not just half-formed mutant idea, but actual things, and even if they look mangled and broken at first, they will eventually emerge as a whole creation. Every stage of editing is just another layer of excavation.

I tell myself this every time I start to despair that my shitty first draft is even shittier and less coherent than I had originally thought.  It’s just stage one.  It’s a dinosaur femur being dug out of the earth.  There are still delicate hand bones, knuckles, teeth and vertebrae to be uncovered.  It’s not till those have been pulled out of the earth and pieced together that I will finally know the nature of the creature I am exposing.

a (really really really) belated new year’s post.

I think I made New Year’s resolutions this year, but I didn’t publish them, because I have noticed that putting them out there on the internet seems to guarantee that I will never actually accomplish them.  Also, in the past I would make weight-loss-related resolutions like a moron, thinking that THIS will finally be the year that I lose weight, as if Ben and Jerry’s had  gone out of business on January 1st.  Who am I kidding?  Food is fucking delicious and I want more of it, not less.

Now that I think about it, I actually did make a resolution to read less Stephen King this year, and to expand my horizons with different authors and different genres.  Sadly, that hasn’t been happening.  I haven’t been reading much of anything, and any free time I do have is spent on mindless, passive, numbing activities.  The biggest wrench in my 2015 plans has been my actual job.  I am working a lot of extra hours and also spent nearly a month in the Maritimes for work.

As an aside, you know Charles Hays?  The president of the Grand Trunk Railway and namesake of a variety of educational institutions, streets and parks in Prince Rupert?  He died on the Titanic, and his gloves are on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.  Allegedly, he was wearing them when he died.  While in Halifax, I made a point to seek out the gloves and took a bunch of creepy pictures of them.  I then texted them to a bunch of my Rupert friends with a text reading “CORPSE GLOVES” and then giggled to myself in the shipwreck exhibit for a while, which I guess is when the museum security guards decided to start following me.

It hasn’t all been work.  I have other things to occupy my time, like my growing menagerie of pets, or my feeble attempts at physical fitness.  I’ve been trying to make a point to get more involved in community events, explore my new habitat, and make friends outside of the coworkers who hang out with me out of pity (so far, no dice).  I have read a few books, and have been trying to mix it up between brand-new (or new to me) speculative fiction writers and celebrated ‘literary’ authors.  But to be honest, most of my time has been sucked away by a far more sinister and addictive pastime.  I’ve been seduced into a dark world thanks to being the proud owner of an actual TV for the first time in a decade, and finally having internet fast enough to stream with.  This is the dark spiral known as BINGE WATCHING SHIT ON NETFLIX.

I crushed Breaking Bad and Orange Is The New Black in the last couple of months.  I watched all the TED Talks.  Never have I been so consumed by television since my obsession with Buffy The Vampire Slayer half a lifetime ago.  I fear that I have become a basic bitch whose only interests now are cats, plots and characters of TV series, and my hair (which is super fabulous today, thanks).  That, and every time the sun is actually out, my eyes shrivel, water and burn from the intensity of the sunlight.

I am excited to become more technologically and culturally up-to-date, and to have things to talk to my peers about other than hamster breeding.  Plus, I rely on my phone and a good wifi connection more than I ever thought I would.  I have apps now.  I do Instagram AND Twitter.  My e-book consumption has even started to outweigh my paper-book reading.  But I still stand by the #rotaryphones4lyfe hashtag that I totally invented.  As such, I got a membership for the Prince Rupert library — my first non-university library card in over a decade.  Libraries are SO UNDERRATED.  They have everything there.  It’s even within a short walking distance of my house, so I’ve been trying to go more often.

Recently I went to the library with my Stewart bff, ‘J’, and we spent a couple hours finding books for each other.  Then I got absorbed in a hardcover book about hamster competitions which is apparently a thing that people do.  Then I accidentally dropped a huge stack of books on the floor right when everything was dead quiet, and it was super loud, and all the old people scowled at me, so I’ve been too scared to go back.  BUT STILL.  It’s a magical place.  They even have posters of Hugh Laurie and Patrick Stewart reading books and looking happy.  It makes my heart smile.

I think my biggest goal for this year is time management.  This is probably going to be the busiest year of my life — house renovations, extra work all summer whether I like it or not, volunteering in Prince Rupert, visits from my family who live on the other side of the continent, fitness, and setting aside time to be with my spouse (because we’re STILL in a long distance relationship).  And I’m turning 30, and I still haven’t written anything I’m proud of.  I don’t even have time to take any classes this year as I have been doing for the past few years… so how will I have time to write?

I’ve decided to start following the #amwriting hashtag and use it for inspiration.  Then I am going to use one of those apps that blocks distracting websites from my internets for half an hour or so.  Then I will GET IT DONE.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  At least until Season 3 of OITNB is available on Netflix.  I can’t promise anything after that.

technology

On November 11 of this year, my husband and I were waiting in Vancouver International Airport’s domestic terminal, and I was trying to write a blog post.  My husband and I had both just bought brand-new smartphones, and I was struggling to learn how to use mine.  Since I spent the past five years living ion a place without cell phone service, there was no point in me ever owning a cell phone.  Now, I find myself struggling to catch up with today’s technology.

I had decided to write a blog post in the airport, since I had just recently downloaded the WordPress mobile app.  I was on fire with the desire to write, but I didn’t have my laptop with me, and started to wonder if I could write a novel on my phone.  Then I googled it (on my phone) and discovered that someone actually HAS written a novel on an iPhone.  Amazing!  So I started to blog about it.  The gist of it is that if some guy can write an entire novel on his iPhone, and jump through all sorts of complicated hoops to make it happen, there’s no reason why you or I can’t carve out some time every day to write our own novels.

Then, I realized I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to actually POST THE GODDAMN ESSAY I HAD JUST SPENT LIKE 75 MINUTES PAINSTAKINGLY TRYING TO WRITE.

To understand how painful that is for me, you need to understand that I haven’t yet learned to write on a phone like a normal 21st century person.  I don’t use my thumbs to text.  Instead, I squint at the screen and use my index finger to “hunt and peck”.  That’s why it takes a legit three minutes to send “lol”.

Then we had to get on the plane, so I gave up, and since then have felt a surge of petulant angst whenever I look at my phone and see that asshole WordPress icon staring me in the face.

Yet another Stephen King blog post.

I was going to post about NaNoWriMo this month, but alas, I have too much stuff to do.

Also I decided I hated my novel idea after like one day

My friend and I are going to just pick a month sometimes next year and do our own thing.  She and I are both travelling a lot this November.

IN THE MEANTIME.  You should totally check out this new Stephen King website, Stephen King Revisited.  Robert Chizmar is rereading all the Stephen King books in chronological order, AND a second blogger will also be providing historical background for each novel.  They will also have special guest bloggers to provide their own take on each story.  He JUST started a week ago, so now’s your chance to follow along with him from the beginning if you fancy doing a similar epic reading project yourself instead of jumping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon.

I personally did my great Stephen King Reread in 2013 and I didn’t get to finish it because I lost my copy of Dolores Claiborne.  That, and there’s just some books I refuse to read again, like From A Buick 8.  But I can’t wait to nerd out over someone else’s interpretation.  I know I got a lot out of reading along with Grady Hendrix at Tor — he picked up on things that I didn’t see on my second, third, or tenth time reading through some of King’s works.

On a related note, this weekend I will be getting my second Stephen King-themed tattoos.  Luckily I’ve fattened myself up this year so I can fit lots of pictures on one pudgy bicep.

A writer’s shed

In August, I bought a house.

For years, I had the goal of moving to Prince Rupert, North America’s gloomiest city.  This tiny place is full of misshapen houses on tiny, odd lots stacked in jagged lines against the sea.  The name “Charles Hays” is repeated everywhere, a nod to Prince Rupert’s most glorious era.  My dream was always to buy a grand old house around the same age as the Titanic, one with original wood floors and plenty of crown moulding.  I imagined I could restore it to its former glory.  I had a few in mind.  One was a massive four storey ex-boarding house built in 1910; it was listed for $110 000.

By the time I actually moved to Prince Rupert, house prices seemed to have exploded.  That same $110 000 can get you a mobile home or a tiny, literally rotting shack not fit for human habitation.  I saw a well-maintained 600 ft bungalow listed for around $160 000 this year.  It sold the same day it was listed.

Now, it’s very possible that the ex-boarding house I lusted after may have had some significant problems.  I’d only seen pictures, and realtor pictures can hide a lot.  Plus, I romanticized shabby old houses without actually realizing just how absolutely terrible old houses can be.  Not just old houses, but specifically Rupert houses.  In a place like Prince Rupert, slanty lots, water problems, bad foundations, mossy roofs and bizarre construction are all too common.  In fact, I visited about four dozen houses this year and the majority had massive structural issues.  There were houses listed for a quarter of a million dollars that were flooding in real time as we walked through with our realtor.  I now laugh bitterly when I watch episodes of certain reality tv shows where a couple is house hunting for a McMansion built in 2012 in Mississauga and their major gripe is that the engineered wood flooring isn’t the exact shade of white oak that’s trending right now.

Fortunately, I did NOT get the house of my dreams.  I got a sensibly-priced, sensibly-sized home with no major issues.  It’s not as charmingly old as I thought I wanted, but it is old enough to have lots of character while still being actually functional.  There’s a non-flooded basement for storage, and a spare bedroom worth sleeping in.  AND, I have an office of sorts.  A strange little room built into a slanty part of the roof with a door leading to a balcony.  Said balcony overlooks my serene and slanty (but decent sized (for Rupert)) back yard.  It’s actually the perfect size for an office, or more specifically, a writing room.

Other than the fact that the previous owners painted it acidic, glowing bright green, that is.

I am on an ongoing quest to eradicate writer’s block, and creating a designated writing space is part of the experiment.  Not everyone is so fortunate.  In his early writing days, Stephen King wrote in his laundry room.  I did find this amazing page — Five best writer’s sheds.  I didn’t realize that writer’s shed were even a thing, although I absolutely love the idea of it.  Dylan Thomas’s shed is the most visually appealing, but Roald Dahl’s is the best overall (he had HIS OWN HIPBONE on display).   My goal is to create such a shed in my very own home.  It is slanty and weird like a shed, and has a door to the outdoors.  The challenge is to create the feeling of an entirely alternate space, one that is somehow separate from the house as a whole (and thus, my regular life).

First step — white paint to cover the green.

Next step — covering the walls with the quirky art I’ve collected over the years, photos, “mood boards”, and favourite words.

And setting up shelves so my favourite books (both reference and just plain loved fiction) can be displayed within reach.

What comes after this?

old stones

I’ve been feeling so nostalgic for home lately.

I think it’s the time of year… northern BC is just wet and cold. Here on the coast, things start sucking right around the end of August.  It starts raining on Labour Day weekend — just in time for my birthday — and doesn’t let up until around Halloween… in Stewart, that’s usually the first snowfall.

This year, we were lucky. We’ve had some sunny, warm days. My husband and I were even able to get to the beach on a couple of weekends in September AND we got sunburns (but we did not swim, oh no we didn’t. He doesn’t seem to understand that I grew up swimming in shallow, warm Ontario lakes — lakes devoid of dead salmon, for that matter — and that I want nothing to do with these glacier-fed asshole lakes nestled in the mountains, no matter how beautiful they may be.)

In contrast, Ontario is excellent right now, and is excellent every year at this time.  It’s still warm enough to be outside without a jacket or even real shoes. Fall used to be my favourite season because I had the privilege of growing up in a place where fall is picture-perfect.  It’s warm and still dazzlingly bright through September, while October is crisp… but pleasantly so.  There are still warm days, and it’s certainly still sunny, and the air smells so good — the smell of jewel-bright drying leaves, shades of carnelian, topaz, bright citrine and garnet.

Today I was googling for photos of home… that’s how sad I am right now. I’m living vicariously through the internet. And I found a random blog that gave me more than I could ever hope for — it made me feel as if I actually was home.  It’s a group of photos taken in one of my favourite places — the Beamsville Cemetery in Beamsville, Ontario.  I used to love walking up the hill on humid evenings and wandering in between the stones.  I was in love with the very oldest graves, the ones where the words are almost completely eroded away, carved into some kind of white stone — these photos capture that texture perfectly.  Have a look — these photos perfectly evoke my memories.

I just realized that since I left Ontario, I stopped loving walks.  I could romance myself for hours upon hours walking around the Niagara Region.  I’ve walked since then, of course, but it’s not the same.  I’m mourning the humid, warm nights walking around a two-hundred-year old town hearing only the wind rustling fat maple trees. Or walking down St. Paul St in St. Catharines, or watching nightly fireworks over Niagara Falls, or taking yet another carousel ride in Lakeside Park… or, another childhood favourite, walking along the Superditch. Only people who grew up in Beamsville will get that last one, but it’s as lovely for me as any picturesque day at the Falls.

I really, really miss home.