Writers, writing

Summer Writers Series: an interview with Trace Yulie

This is the latest in my series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers. My questions are in bold.

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Trace?

I work in higher ed by day and write by night! It’s like a secret identity. Maybe too secret.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?

I’m solidly GryffinClaw, and I’m pretty sure my patronus would be a tiny but fierce owl.

Are you a Thing Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

Absolutely a leap-before-you-look person.

What got you into writing?

I can’t remember not writing, except for one distinct kindergarten memory of being angry about alphabet flash cards.

Why do you write now?

I write now because I believe I have stories inside me that only I can tell, and the act of creating those stories is exhilarating. And I feel like something essential about me is silent and sad if I go without writing for an extended length of time.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

I remember sitting in the back of my fifth grade classroom (the lonely, nerdy kid who switched schools midyear), and picking up a collection of Arthurian stories. Those stories completely enthralled me.

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

One sweaty Florida summer, I discovered Frank Herbert’s Dune and devoured the first three books. Something about the hot desert planet resonated with my sensibilities and my situation.

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. Novik has such a command of prose and marvelous worldbuilding. I was hooked on the first page, and I adore her compelling heroines.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

I prefer to end with a chapter, but sometimes I wake up midchapter with the book on my face when reading in bed!

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

It’s impossible for me to overstate the influence that Le Guin’s work has had on me. Her thoughtful prose style. There’s a starkness, and a lush quality and a tenderness the stories exhibit. I’m drawn to work by writers who have similar sensibilities, like Maureen McHugh, Molly Gloss and Sofia Samatar.

How do you organise your personal library?

My books are organized by some mysterious brain pattern, I think. They’re not alphabetical but intentionally thematic, and I somehow know where everything is. I have a bookcase for each: favorite fiction/nonfiction books by women writers, books about writing plus current research for a stories I’m working on, books for more spiritual pursuits, stuff I should probably read eventually and works I’ve liked by dudes plus graphic novels and anthologies.

Creative writing in primary school, can you remember any stories you wrote?

My first story memory is of the Robotech fan fiction I passed around to classmates in elementary school.

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

I get a lot of inspiration from prompts or other activities that encourage randomness and combination, like scrambling words on book spines. I also like looking at visual art.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

I think “writers write every day” is a tough standard and not right for everyone. Many writers have more than enough anxiety about creating and can do without advice like that.

I also dislike when writers talk about getting drunk as a metaphor for writing or a literal strategy, and when they talk about writing as though they hate it.

Let’s write clear-eyed and heady, joyfully and thoughtfully, even ecstatically, but not like we’re forcing or punishing ourselves.

What does your physical writing space look like?

My desk faces a wall where I’ve posted inspirational images and quotes plus a giant outline of my WIP. My bookcase of research and writing advice is next to the desk, and the desk itself is covered with notebooks, post-its and pens.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

I started a magical adventure story set in a rabbit warren, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back to that one.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Find your community. Let go of your shame/ego about sharing your words. Don’t read Writers Digest, read Locus. Don’t pay publications to look at your work.

—–

Trace is a science fiction writer, a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop class of 2010, and a contributor to The Future Fire . Trace served as an editorial assistant for Lightspeed Magazine’s special issue, Queers Destroy Fantasy.


photo by Amanda Petersen

She’s also a learning specialist for the University of California, LGBT mentor for the UCI Counseling Center and a former professor of developmental writing & Women’s Studies.

Trace is a big fan of teaching and learning as tools of empowerment. She might be obsessed with owls, drumming, utopias and dystopias and stories about time travel.

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Motivators – how to make yourself write

This motivator post is based around the things I’ve found to help me churn out words/edit pages, etc. I’ve had a few people say they’re impressed with my momentum, so… here’s a couple of things which motivate me.

First off, and one I didn’t think was that unusual until my friend saw it was my desktop background and started laughing. Idris Elba asking if I shouldn’t be writing.

I used to have this picture printed out and stuck on my wall in my last flat. He’d stare me down and get me into writing. Partly because he’s intimidating and partly because he’s Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim and I want to do what he says. So much respect for that character.

Anyway, it’s my desk top background since I moved out of that flat. When I restart my computer or when I close all my windows, Idris Elba is there to refocus me.

Another option is to motivate yourself with a reward. This is especially useful when there’s something you really want, like to go to a movie or eat a cake, or whatever. Something you’re yearning for. NB: Don’t deprive yourself of food, coffee or bathroom breaks though, negative motivators will probably damage you in time, being as they are, based in fear, and will form negative associations with writing.)

So, say I have a whole day ahead of me and I really want to go see a new movie. And there’s a good session in the early afternoon? Perfect. I’m allowed to go to the movie as long as I achieve X thing: 1000 words, 20 pages of editing, whatever needs doing. Then I want to get that stuff done so I can do the fun thing. Sounds pretty easy, right? It is, as long as you can find something you want which is enough.

Think of rewards that would work for you, proper treats and experience which will feel like a reward.

Some other motivators I’ve found really compelling:

  • Really hating my day job. This is a bit of a horrible one. It involves me being so aggressively unhappy that I’ll do anything to get out of having an office job, which is in fact very motivating to write and plan. But I can’t recommend it.
  • Giving myself a deadline. And this could be deciding to enter your work in progress into a competition, or promising it to a beta reader by X date. It’s better if you’re somehow accountable
  • NaNoWriMo – this used to be a one month a year deal, but now there’s Camps in April and June which are just as motivating. The website also allows you to set your own challenges any time of year: word counts, time frames, etc and it gives you a nice little graph of your progress.

Got another good motivator? Please share it in the comments, I’d love to hear it 🙂

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Summer Writers Series: an interview with Lee Murray Pt 2

Part two of the interview with Lee Murray Part one is here

Creative writing in primary school, what did you write about? Can you remember any stories?

This image from my autobiographical title All About Me, written, illustrated, and published by me in 1970 (aged 5). Already, it was clear I wasn’t going to be an artist.

I wrote my first dark ghostly murder mystery story when I was eleven. It was based on a clock with a secret compartment that I’d seen during a school trip to the Clapham National Clock Museum in Whangarei. Also that year, 1978, I wrote a courtroom parody entitled The Big Bad Wolf, where various witnesses were called to testify against the alleged repeat offender. Rip Van Winkle was unable to give his testimony because he kept falling asleep. I can’t remember exactly how it ended ‒ a political smear campaign by the PIG consortium, I think. So even as early as eleven, my writing was tending towards dark fiction and fabulism.

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

In school workshops, I tell the kids I get my ideas by stealing (character traits and story ideas from real life), eavesdropping, exaggerating, and lying.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

I’m sure I’ll think of something the minute I’ve sent this blogpost off.

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

No, but if you want to keep writing stories it’s especially helpful to have a sponsor. In my case, that role is played by my husband, whose support allows me to keep at this writing gig. I also have Bella, who is sitting behind me on my computer chair, warming the small of my back. It’s wonderful encouragement not to move, to keep my bottom in the chair and carry on writing.

What does your physical writing space look like?

A picture paints a thousand words: Bella and me, at my desk.

Are you more a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ Ernest Hemingway, or a ‘shut the door, eliminate all distractions and write for a set amount of hours’ Stephen King? (or another famous writer’s approach, add in your own).

Writing is my job, so I sit down in my home office and work all day. Sometimes I yell at the family to turn the TV down in the next room. In terms of process, I’m an extremely slow writer. I can’t just spew the first draft onto the page the way many other writers do. The problem is my inner editor, who never turns off. She, more than anyone, tends to interrupt while I’m writing, making suggestions, demanding that I check this or that fact, or find a better word, or vary the sentence structure. Because of her, it takes me all day to write just 1000 words. On the other hand, because of her, I don’t tend to do a lot of rewrites either. I send the piece to my trusty betas, implement their suggestions, and then fire the work out.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

There’s a button necklace, a knitted penguin (I’m a competent knitter, but believe me the instructions are impossible), and some failed short stories. I’m not even going to mention some of the disastrous meals I’ve cooked that we’ve decided not to eat.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Win the Lotto.

Favourites: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Hmm. Star Wars, original.

Hogwarts or Narnia?

Even harder. Hogwarts, just.

Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

My parents’ bach at Pukehina Beach, back when they still owned it, maybe circa 1975, and preferably for the entire summer.

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

Yellow porridge made by dad, Mum’s noodles, my brother’s vegetable kebabs, and my sister-in-law’s chocolate brownies.

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

Is there a store for lost friends, misplaced photographs, and a cure for Alzheimer’s? I’d like to stop by the returns counter too, to make the most of the opportunity to take back some mistakes, and possibly a couple of things I shouldn’t have said.

Imagine you’ve had your best ever year, what photos would you have from that year?

My family, my dog, holiday snaps, convention memories with friends, half a dozen from the top of the Mount.

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke? Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

Umm. Even I don’t want to hear myself singing.

Desert island castaway time: you get an album, a book and a luxury item, what do you choose?

An album. Eros by Eros Ramazzotti
A book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Luxury item: Cheese

What’s your favourite quote?

“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, and an elephant’s faithful, 100%”—Horton the Elephant

Pokemon: if you were a trainer, what pokemon would be in your team? (you get 6)

There’s a little yellow one, right?

Weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?

We’ve just bought a caravan and it’s taking some time to get used to it, so maybe putting the awning up and down counts as a hobby. I am also addicted to renovation shows on the telly.

Any upcoming work?

Yes! I’m thrilled to announce my newest release Into the Ashes a stand-alone sequel to award-winning military thriller Into the Mist and the latest title in my Taine McKenna adventure series.  Here’s the cover:

And here is the blurb:

No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section are tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.

Praise for Into the Ashes:

“INTO THE ASHES is a kick-ass thriller with twists you will never see coming! Lee Murray serves up a nail-biter of a weird-science action adventure. Brava!” — Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of DEEP SILENCE and V-WARS

Part disaster novel, part supernatural adventure – a suspenseful, action-packed thriller that’s entertaining as hell! —Tim Waggoner, author of TEETH OF THE SEA and BLOOD ISLAND  

“INTO THE ASHES hits the ground running and does not let up. A unique background, interesting characters, a dollop of horror, and a relentless, thriller pace.” — Charles R Rutledge, co-author of the Griffin and Price series.

“Murray’s INTO THE ASHES reads like a gauntlet – an action-packed adventure where death strikes from every side. A thrilling read!” — Ashley Knight, co-author of HERALD

____

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her works include the Taine McKenna adventure series, and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (co-written with Dan Rabarts). She is also the editor of ten dark fiction anthologies, the latest being Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenalin Press). Lee lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock.

Amazon US  
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Goodreads
Lee’s website
Lee’s Twitter

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Summer Writers Series: an interview with Lee Murray Pt 1

This is the latest in a series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers who probably deserve better. My questions are in bold. 

[This is in two parts because Lee answered everything in the long damn quiz, and she did it beautifully. ]

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Lee Murray?

The real Lee Murray is currently serving a 25-year prison term for masterminding a £53-million armed raid. I’m the other Lee Murray, the writer. I’m also a short, half-Chinese, 3rd generation New Zealander, a mother, wife, dog owner, scientist, tea drinker, anxiety-sufferer and former marathon runner. I believe in reading, vaccination, family holidays, cheesecake, tolerance, and kindness. Especially kindness. And right now, looking at this 30-question interview, I should probably add terrified to that list.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

A Diet Coke. Because my writing is dark and sugarless.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?

Ravenclaw all the way! Apparently, like Cho Chang, my patronus is a swan—I took a test. The Results: You may be quiet, but that doesn’t mean you’re antisocial. Constantly surrounded by a group of friends, you can always count on them to act as a support system in times of emotional distress. Keep your head up and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Do your best not to dwell on the past: the future is bright. [Fingers crossed]

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

The latter mostly, although not when it comes to moving house. On moving day, I have all the boxes packed and ready to go before the movers arrive.

What got you into writing?

I don’t really know. I’ve always been a scribbler, a prehistoric blogger before they were a thing. Encouraged firstly by my dad, and later by various teachers and mentors, it was always on my mind to write, but it wasn’t until my children were small, and I was at home during their naptimes, that I made a conscious effort to ‘become’ a writer. Completing some masters papers in creative writing at Northtec along with a couple of unfinished novels which had been sitting in boxes. Then, a decade ago, on the advice of a colleague, I started to call myself a writer, and even wrote ‘writer’ against my occupation on my passport, which made it more real somehow.

Why do you write now?

Right now because I have two book contracts to fulfil!

The real reason is because I’m a full-time writer and editor. It’s my job, albeit a poorly paid one. I don’t write simply because I love it. Yes, I do love it, but it annoys me when people say, ‘writers write because they love it’, or ‘we write because we have to’. While those statements are true, they also imply that loving our work should be sufficient recompense, that it makes up for earning pin money. If your lawyer enjoys his work, is it okay not to pay him? What if your plumber whistles while he fixes your sink? Does anyone ask lawyers and plumbers why they do the work they do? [Whoops! She tumbles from the soapbox.]

Reading: What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

The earliest story? Seven Little Postmen. Sam the Fireman. Angelo the Naughty One. Ferdinand the Bull. Grimm’s Fairy tales. The story from my childhood which resonates for me the most is Horton Hatches the Egg. So many fond memories of bedtimes when Dad would read this to my brother and me. He was so great at doing the voices—I can still hear them in my head, and it’s important because he suffers from Alzheimer’s and is non-verbal now. We used to chime in when he read the mantra: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, and an elephant’s faithful, 100%”. It’s a saying that sticks with you. And quite apart from the fact that it can be handy to know something about percentages when your royalty cheque comes in, it’s a mantra I’ve tried to live by.

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

Hmm. My middle grade and early teen years were a bit of a bonanza for classic texts. Here is a selected, and highly-abbreviated, bibliography: The complete CS Lewis series, Peter Pan, Call of the Wild, The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, The Hobbit, The Owl Service, Children of the Poor by John A Lee, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Lord of the Rings (12) The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Mother by Pearl Buck (13), The Diary of Anne Frank….The Illiad. Our family used to go to the library every Friday evening and each of us kids (there were four of us) were allowed to bring home twenty books. Twenty! I read everything I could get my hands on, loved everything.

What are you reading right now?

[opens kindle and checks the titles still in progress]. A non-fiction title on poetry, The Witchhunt by Lori R Lopez (an author preview copy), The Strangers by Michaelbrent Collings, Dracula’s Revenge by Charles R, Rutledge, Fountain Dead by Theresa Braun. On audiobook: Alter by Jeremy Robinson. I also have some awards reading still to do.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf that you think might surprise people?

Extremely Embarrassing Dad Jokes: Because Dads don’t know when to stop, by Ian Allen. Surprise! It was my husband’s Christmas present and somehow it has ended up in the office bookshelf.

What book would you like everyone to read?

Preferably one of mine. 😊 Or, failing that, a book by one of our fabulously talented New Zealand speculative fiction writers. Suburban Book of the Dead by Jamie Sands is an excellent read, for example. Read New Zealand works, books written by women, by LGBTQ writers… read widely, read often, read any book that you like, just please, please, if you can, leave a review because it makes a huge difference to the author.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

Stop reading? What is this thing?

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

I’m always striving to learn new things. Right now, I’m dipping into non-fiction ebooks on screenwriting, on poetry, and on creating suspense. I’m particularly enjoying It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life (Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson eds), a collection of essays and articles on writing from working writers, many of them my colleagues from the horror community.

How do you organise your personal library? (alphabetical, dewey decimal, what’s your system?)

I squeeze them into the bookcase wherever I can find a space big enough. To be honest, I was forced to cull a few books when we moved a couple of years ago. It was such a painful experience that I am trying to be more discerning about purchasing print books. Now, my rule is to only purchase books with an author’s signature. Oh look over there…. a bookshop!

Tune in soon for the second half of the interview…

___

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her works include the Taine McKenna adventure series, and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (co-written with Dan Rabarts). She is also the editor of ten dark fiction anthologies, the latest being Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenalin Press). Lee lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock.

Goodreads

Lee’s Website
Twitter


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Suburban Book of the Dead paperback out now

😀

I’m really excited that my book is now out in paperback format. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of: having my own book on my shelf. My words written and printed in a proper book.

I’ve ordered some author copies, and I’m super excited for the day they arrived. I might just roll around in them and I don’t even know. It’s gonna be a good day.

If you want my words on your shelf as well, please order a copy! I’ve seen the quality on my proofs. The actual book is lovely, matte cover and pretty paper and it smells good.

I’ve also recently been interviewed on a little facebook blog called The Terror Tree, and she gave me a really lovely review. Please go and check it out!

Writers, writing

Summer writers series: Five Stories About Stories by M. Raoulee

M. Raoulee on Inspiration

I’ve had a long day at work.  I come home to find that my roommate has trashed the living room.  I am no longer surprised by her antics, so I have a drink and from the safety of the kitchen attempt to explain that ideally, we should be able to see most of the floor, most of the time.  

We go from discussing inhospitable situations (say, this one) in the real world to inhospitable situations in fictional worlds.  I admit, I’ve always been fascinated by people who make homes in strange places. I actually think that’s one of the reasons I like science fiction.  Hell yes, I want a house on Mars.

Anyway, we hit upon building homes in corpses and, recognizing the futility reaching the couch anytime soon, I excuse myself, claiming that I am going to write a story about someone living in a dragon skull, because reasons.  I am actually kidding. However, what ensues is several hours of watching people on YouTube attempt to make cobb floors, then scribbling something resembling an outline.

Also new roommates, though that’s another story.  

#

Inspiration comes when it comes.  It’s not the biggest part of writing— that would be getting the words down —but nobody would write if we as humans didn’t have moments of inspiration and a drive to share them.  Besides, telling others about the people we imagine has helped us shape the world, spread joy, make strangers cringe.

Our inspirations don’t have to be about big things.  If a big thing that’s happening over much of the world inspires you, then by all means, write your story about it.  Enjoy it. Put your heart into it. But! You don’t have to be inspired by big things. You can be inspired by ants if that’s what works for you.  “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson was supposed to have been sparked by the author pushing a baby carriage up a hill in summer.

When you are cooking, when you are driving, when you are raking leaves— your mind can spark at any time. Images, conversations, profound concepts which deserve whole novels: there’s always something there. It might be the seeds of one of the most commented upon stories your favorite venue has ever published.

Please keep your eyes on that road if you’re driving, though. The rest of us writers would very much like you to make more stories!

#

I have been up much too late reading creepypasta, as one does.  Once I pull myself away from the screen to stretch, I am startled by streak of white at the bottom of my window.  It’s snowed and of course I didn’t even realize.

I am a bit afraid of snow, especially large amounts of snow that obscure the landscape.  Featureless, white fields are some spooky stuff. Like an adult, I climb into bed and pull the covers over my head so I don’t have to see or think about this particular snow.

Drifting off to sleep, I imagine an alien wolf stalking down the side of a mountain.  I can hear her belief that this place is hers. I hear her hunger.

I reach out from under the covers to grab my notebook, followed by a flashlight.

#

Not everyone can write things that they’re afraid of, but maybe you are that person who can and who grows from doing it, or at least trying.  Then again, maybe you write horror, you do this every day and you’re having a chuckle at my expense right now.

If you can face your fears with words, that’s a great source of story ideas, not just of plots you formulate deliberately, but of things which may or may not literally creep up on you at night.

You should never worry about telling your readers what you’re afraid of. They’re afraid of things too, just maybe different things than you.  For instance, most of your readers will never have dreaded their inbox pinging upon the arrival of a response from your dream market. This does not, however, mean that you can’t share your terror with them.

#

It’s raining.  I am sitting at my desk listening to a cassette tape of darkwave music a friend gave me.  It’s a lot different than the kind of music I prefer, but I live in a small town with a DJ who plays unusual 80’s music after midnight and I think I could get to enjoy this.  I have only been writing for a few years, but I know that I could turn out an amazing story to the one song. Now, if only I could find the words.

They aren’t there, so I wait.

Twenty years pass.

I sell my first short story.

I  find out that one of my favorite semipro venues is taking submissions for the next month.  

I sit down at my computer.  It’s raining again. I play the song.  I remember thinking I could never be published.  

But, a few weeks later I cross off my first dream venue. I’m not sure many people know I was trying to write a story that felt like listening to wailing synths.  Or that I like darkwave.

#

A lot more stories are inspired by music than people let on.  Saying you got an idea from a song is really not that unusual, though it has an ignominy to it which frankly, given our music-infused culture, seems a bit odd.

So what if we wrote bad song fic in high school? If we crank Phil Collins tracks on repeat when we think no one else is listening? Our shame when it comes to the connections between songs, between other forms of art, and our writing, is getting a bit silly at this point. The first InCryptid book by Seanan McGuire has a suggested list of dance tracks in the back, so said shame seems to be fading at least.

However, there’s no need to rush into any story.  Sparks can and do die, but sometimes they linger on for hours, weeks, months, years, decades.  It’s very OK to let an idea marinate. In fact, some ideas are much better after they mature.

If you’re concerned about forgetting your sparks, the best thing you can do is carry around some form of paper and pen.  It’s low tech, cheap, and highly effective. Have an idea, write it down. I bet it will look lonesome on the page sooner or later, and soon you’ll have a good, old-fashioned writer notebook.

Then again, if you think you’d find a playlist more inspiring sometime next week, absolutely make a playlist.

#

I am sitting at the coffee table beading.  I have come to a series of monotonous stitches.  I’m not exactly bored, but I’m not exactly engaged.  I can literally do what I’m doing right now and make eye-contact with another person.  I just happen to be alone.

I am filled with the image of a woman in a 50’s day dress holding a bloody hand scythe.  I know how she came to be in her situation, but I also have a need, intense and dreamy, to explain this to other people.  That way, we can appreciate her together.

I am also pretty sure this is not what most people think of when they’re beading.

#

There’s a reason a lot of classical authors had dull jobs.  There’s just something about zoning out doing one thing that makes the plotbunnies thrive.  What if part of the reason we have so much amazing science fiction right now is because, once again, so many people get bored at work? Hmm, actually that’s a depressing thought…

However, it’s possible to get the inspiration benefits of a mindless job and create something amazing at the same time.  Moreso than even carrying a notebook, I believe it’s important for writers to engage with the world in a way that isn’t words.  Knitting, painting, singing, dirt biking— whatever sounds like a party to you, strive to make wondrous things with something besides fiction.  By doing so, you’ll keep your brain limber, you may well stumble across a source of endless of birthday presents for your friends and the zen of monotony can be yours whenever you wish.

Besides, even the act of trying new things can be inspiring, so do that thing you’ve been thinking of doing instead of worrying about being stuck on your dream story.

#

It’s the start of another long, hot Arizona summer.  I am annoyed with having to live in a timeline where literary torture porn is considered art and Hulu is getting awards for theirs.  My sibling is on the phone, complaining about the initiative at her hospital to guilt women for declining to breastfeed.

My first thought its I’ll show you (some nebulous, hypothetical you) literary.  Well, what’s literary? Found manuscripts with lacunae are literary! Again, apparently.

I write what was originally the first line.  “You didn’t tell me she was pregnant.” I sit back and I think— that is a proper Naomi Mitchison pipe bomb opening.  This is what actual pro-woman fiction looks like. I then bang on about beading and ships for five-thousand words.

#

Personally, I find anger very inspiring.  But again, you don’t have to be angry about big things, or even the same things other people are angry about.  You don’t even have to be angry at all if that isn’t what inspires you. Every author is different. But if you are angry, even over something trivial, it’s very OK to put the energy of your anger towards your writing.  

My bookmarks are frankly embarrassing in this regard.  I imagine that another person looking at them and not knowing what they were for being utterly appalled by some of them! I know one thing about them though: whatever they are, and however they do it, they inspire me.  They are good for something, even if that’s the only thing in the whole, wide world.

You know, I don’t think that’s a big inspiration thing at the end of the day.  I know what makes my author motors run. I am only myself. I can make suggestions all day every day, but I cannot know what will or won’t tickle the fancy of someone reading this essay and hoping to sell to Uncanny someday.  

Only you can know yourself as a writer when it comes to inspiration.  So, if you’re reading this, here’s a fun exercise— why don’t you imagine sitting me down and telling me the top three things that give you story ideas.  No worries if you need to think about it some. This can be a challenging question. It is one, however, that I absolutely know you have the answer to.

You’ve probably figured out what my three main sources of inspiration are.

-Spite

-Music

-The desire to share surreal scenes with other people

But, that’s me.  Your inspiration, however you get it, is wonderful, precious and probably sometimes kind of a jerk.  It is also, first and foremost, absolutely yours.

Though incidentally, if any of you know what other people think about when they’re beading, please tell me.  I never did get an answer for that.

M. Raoulee is a queer author and artist howling with the grasshopper mice somewhere in Arizona.  She has previously appeared in Broken MetropolisLackington’s and other fine venues which accept spite.  In fact, you can go read three of the five stories above right now if that’s your jam.  Catch her on TwitterInstagram and www.mraoulee.net.  Look out for the one-eyed tortie.

Writers, writing

Summer writers series: interview with TJ Berry

This is the first in a series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers. My questions are in bold.

Who are you and what have you done with the Real TJ?

I had to laugh, because I have actually gotten rid of the real TJ… or at least tucked her away out of sight. I used to work in national politics, so I crafted a pen name to keep my fiction separate from my work. (You never want your coffee shop AUs to besmirch your candidate’s good name. Granted, this was back when appropriate behavior in politics was an actual concern. ahem)

Over time, my political work waned and writing became my day job, so TJ eclipsed my original identity. Even my family has started calling me TJ. Even though… and this is a secret… there is no “J” in my real name. Every once in a while, someone from my old life finds me and is like, “You do what now?!”

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

I am a Pepsi 1893. No one knows I exist, but when they discover me, they’re
delightfully surprised by my nuanced complexity and smoky sweetness.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?

I am so Ravenclaw that even non-Harry Potter fans have rolled their eyes at me and said, “Ugh, you’re so Ravenclaw.” My favorite phrase is, “Let me google that.” I’m currently taking five different classes and learning seven languages. I’m utterly ridiculous, but I will get that A+ if it kills me. I think, in 2019, I’m working on developing my gentler Hufflepuff side a little bit.
My patronus would be a hedgehog. Prickly at first, but cuddly and friendly if you know how to approach the right way.

Are you a Thing Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

Oh, I’m totally a think everything through before taking action person. I can never stop my brain from going a thousand miles an hour in a dozen different directions.

My only hope is to corral that energy into productive and not destructive channels. I’m also working on saying “yes” to more things. I tried it last year, and ended up in some wonderful situations that I would have declined in the past. Everyone ask me to coffee–I will show up!

What got you into writing?

I started writing when I was about ten. I read Five Go Off in a Caravan by Enid Blyton and was completely in love with the descriptions of four kids camping together alone. They would just randomly approach farmhouses and buy slabs of meat and baskets of eggs. The farmer’s wife made them cakes. It was darling. I immediately wrote Famous Five fanfiction, though back in the eighties, we didn’t call it fanfiction. I think we just called it plagarism. Anyway, I haven’t stopped writing since.

Why do you write now?

Ideas just keep showing up and I’m compelled to write them down. Whether I’m reading a nonfiction book, watching mindless televison, or grocery shopping, I keep discovering stories that tug on the edges of my consciousness. I love writing about people and the complex relationships they have. I also love writing about bizarre occurrances. In science fiction and horror, I get to do both.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?
Socks for Supper! It’s a children’s book about an old man and his wife who have only turnips to eat. The wife begins knitting socks and trading them to a neighbor for milk and cheese. She runs out of yarn and begins unraveling her husband’s sweater to get them more cheese. Eventually, she makes a new sweater for the neighbor. It’s too big for him, but he gives her the cheese anyway and hands her back the sweater, which perfectly fits her now-chilly husband. It’s so cute and warm-hearted that I bought it for my own kids to read. And as a big fan of cheese, this book spoke to me
on a visceral level.

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

I inexplicably fell in love with Jane Eyre as a teenager when it was assigned in class. I wanted nothing more than to marry a wealthy man with a mentally ill wife hidden in his attic. Now that I’m an adult, there’s just a heater in my attic and if anyone knows how to change an HVAC filter, please DM me.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple. I’m taking a class with Maria and not only is she an excellent teacher, her writing is fantastic. Something about that book just resonated with me–despite the fact that the protagonist is intentionally unlikeable. I just sailed through the story and even teared up at the end, which is unusual for me.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf that you think might surprise people?

I just finished the A-Z Guide to Black Oppression by Elexus Jionde. The cover is both shocking and beatiful–a nude black woman lying in a pool of blood and covered with hundred dollar bills. The book goes through aspects of racism and systemic oppression with both historical notes and anecdotal illustrations. It’s a rough and important read. Pay black women for their labor and buy this book.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

I have a goal of reading 25% of my current book each night. Now it doesn’t always happen, but when I reach that mark, I stop unless the chapter is really intriguing. If I finish a book in less than four sittings, I know it hooked me.

What book would you like everyone to read?

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur was a surprising read for me. I’m not usually into poetry (sorry, poet friends!) but this book just grabbed me. Her poems are visceral and affecting. As a collection, they tell a story about womanhood that many of us understand.

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

I read a lot of Stephen King as a teenager and I think that’s where my love of clean, stark prose comes from. The elegance of his stories is in the images he evokes, not the elaborateness of the word choices. I also loved Asimov and Hubbard as a kid. Oh and Piers Anthony. In some ways, what I write is in direct conversation with what those guys were doing. I see their flaws and low points and aim to riff off their work in a way that doesn’t have the same pitfalls. I can’t wait until thirty years from now when some kid is saying the same thing about me.

How do you organise your personal library? (alphabetical, dewey decimal, what’s your system?)

I moved cross-country a few years ago, so I had to get rid of most of my books. (I know, but movers charge by the pound!) I mostly read on my Kindle, but I buy physical copies of friends’ books so I can have them signed. I put them on my shelves in the order in which I buy them. Looking back through the spines, it’s a timeline of the signings I’ve been to and the friendships I’ve made.

Creative writing in primary school, what did you write about? Can you remember any stories?

I was such a secondary-world fantasy writer back then! Which is funny, because I don’t go near that genre now. I think because I associate it with my own childish writing. I still have some of those manuscripts tucked away around here. I had whole series’ written. I was quite prolific as a kid, but rarely showed anyone.

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

Inspiration filters through everything I do as I go about my day. I’ll hear a phrase that sticks in my head or see a name that would make an intriguing city name. I have a huge file in which I capture these ideas. Some get made into stories and others wait for the future. I will say that having my file was incredibly helpful when I attended the six-week Clarion West writing workshop. About week five, when inspiration had deserted me and exhaustion had set in, I was able to open my ideas file and find a couple of things to cobble together into a story.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

I’m at odds with the hardline “write every day” crowd. I tend to write on weekdays, because this is my full time job, but I’m at my best when I’m binge-writing. The longer I write for, the more I get into a state of flow and the work is better. Thirty minutes a day wouldn’t have the same effect. I aim to write 3-4 days a week for at least six hours at a time. You really have to experiment and find the process that helps you produce your best work.

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

I do belive the muse arrives, but only after you’ve put in the work. I tend to be hit with divine inspiration around two hours into a hard writing slog. Some tidbit zings me, the clouds open, and the words pour out as fast as I can get them down. But I have to be doing the work first in order to get that lightning bolt.

What does your physical writing space look like?

I’m lucky enough to have my own office at home. One wall is covered with a huge 10′ x 10′ felt pinboard where I put up story ideas, enamel pins, and memorabilia like convention badges. I have a window that looks out on a very active hummingbird feeder and the entire neighborhood. But that means when a car pulls in, I have to duck so no one sees me. I do not answer my door during work hours.

When I need a change of scenery, I head to a building in Seattle that has a hidden- but-public lobby with tables, private offices, a café, and couches. I grab breakfast, work at a table or office for a while, people-watch out the windows, then settle into the couches to read. It’s like having a free co-working space. No, I’m not telling you where it is.

Are you more a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ Ernest Hemingway, or a ‘shut the door, eliminate all distractions and write for a set amount of hours’ Stephen King?

I definitely take more of the Stephen King approach. I sit down at a set time and pound out words until quitting time. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, sometimes it sails along. This is akin to the Ditch Diggers philosophy of writing (if you haven’t listened to that podcast, you should). Writing is a job like digging ditches. Ditch diggers don’t wait around for inspiration. They do the work.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

I wrote an allegorical story meant to talk about the state of US politics and how it affects the most vulnerable people in society. It wasn’t until I got feedback from a few sensitivity readers that I realized some of the scenes evoked the pain of marginalized people to further the story. I debated whether this was my story to tell and decided to trunk it.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

You only get better by practicing, so just start writing. It’ll be terrible at first, but you’ll eventually understand how to arrange words in the way that sounds right to you. Get in the chair!

Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Trek!

Hogwarts or Narnia?
Hogwarts. The Turkish Delight is a lie.

Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

I’d live on a ship for a year. There’s a cruise liner called The World which never stops sailing. You just get on and off wherever you want. It’s my dream to live there.

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

Okay, if perfect means how I shoud be eating, here’s what I would do: Meal planning is a task I enjoy. It’s the Ravenclaw in me. We have a diabetic in our household, so we tend to avoid sugar, starches, and grains. Most days, I eat an avocado, bell peppers and vegetable dip for breakfast. I’m not hungry for lunch, so I tend to grab nuts or pepperoni as a snack. Dinner is usually some kind of protein with roasted veggies and a salad.
If the question refers to how I would like to eat, it would be hot, fresh Jersey Shore pizza sices as big as your head and cupcakes all day.

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

There is a local jewelry maker who has a shop called Angelwear Creations and I absolutely love all of her items. In five minutes, I could have one of everything.

Planet necklaces, beehive earrings, spiral galaxy jewelry… I’m flushed just thinking about it.

Imagine you’ve had your best ever year, what photos would you have from that year?

Lots of travel with family, photos of us having fun in new places. Trying new foods, meeting old and new friends. And castles.

Desert island castaway time: you get three albums, three books and a luxury item, what do you choose?

For albums I’ll pick the Pacific Rim Soundtrack, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, Levi Patel’s Affinity. Books I’ll take Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary, and Great Expectations. For a luxury item I’ll take tweezers because nothing will be more annoying than getting a splinter on a desert island without tweezers.

What’s your favourite quote?

It’s just one of those random insiprational memes, but it speaks to me: “Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll just have to do it afraid.”

Pokemon: if you were a trainer, what pokemon would be in your team? (you get 6)

Iron Man, Magneto, Frozone, Deadpool, Storm, and The Ancient One

Weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?

I take random glassblowing classes all the time. I don’t even want the glass thing you get at the end, I just want to play with the honey-like melted glass. I really want to touch it. But I won’t. Probably.

—-

TJ Berry grew up between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the Jersey shore. She has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and spent a disastrous two weeks working in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries.

She’s the author of Space Unicorn Blues. Her second novel Five Unicorn Flush arrives in May from Angry Robot Books. Find her on Twitter @TJaneBerry.
Space Unicorn Blues
Five Unicorn Flush