Sunday, September 28, 2014

My own Fool's Journey (writing edition).

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been talking about various aspects of my new book, Seasons of the Fool. And in an aside a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that at one point, I embarked on my own Fool's Journey via a series of meditations with the Major Arcana of the Tarot, and that's what convinced me to start writing seriously.

I remembered that comment earlier this week, when my IU pal Laurie Boris talked about her own journey as a writer on her blog. Her post was sparked by a couple of questions Kim Emerson posted in the MasterKoda group on Facebook: Where were you as a writer ten years ago? How about five years ago?

Those questions had made me think, as well. (They made me do math, too -- darn it, Kim!) And I realized how far I've come in the past ten years. So let's set the Wayback Machine to 2004, Sherman....

Ten years ago, I was a single mom with two kids in high school. I had the same day job I have right now -- legal secretary at a big law firm in Washington, DC -- and way more education than anyone should ever need: a journalism degree, a creative writing degree, and a paralegal certificate. And I wasn't using any of it. I'd bailed on broadcast journalism five or six years before. The business had changed a lot since I'd started in it, to the point where there was less of an emphasis on news that mattered and more on news that would boost the ratings. And neither the crazy work hours nor the every-two-years-like-clockwork layoffs were conducive to raising kids.

I wasn't writing any fiction in 2004, either. Right after grad school, I'd tried marketing some of my short stories to various magazines and literary journals, but I didn't get any takers. In hindsight, I can see that the business was in transition (and still is, come to that); mass-market magazines had pretty much stopped publishing fiction, many smaller journals were succumbing to financial pressures, and e-zines weren't a thing yet. It had gotten to the point where your best option for getting published was to show up at writing seminars and schmooze with editors and agents, so they'd recognize your name when you sent them your work. And I had neither the budget nor the time for that sort of thing (see "single mom," above).

But by 2009, things were very different. I'd had two short stories published by Calderwood Press and was putting the finishing touches on The Maidens' War, which Calderwood published later that year. What had happened in the interim?

For one thing, my kids were both away at college, which freed up a lot of my time. For another, we published the Kevinswatch anthologies in 2006-07; for the first time in years, I was writing fiction again -- and I was writing fantasy, instead of trying to shoehorn my style into realistic fiction. I met Joy Calderwood at the Watch. E-publishing was becoming a thing. And I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2008.

I was beginning to think maybe I ought to do more writing. But it wasn't until I did the Fool's Journey exercise that I committed to it. You see, I'd always been under the impression that you couldn't make a living as a fiction writer. I kept thinking I needed something else to pay the bills. And too, I wanted to "pay it forward" -- to provide some way to help others write, too. So I thought maybe I'd start a writer's retreat B&B, or some kind of office-space-with-daycare facility, or something.

But when I posed the question to the Universe, the answer that came back was that I was supposed to be writing. The Universe wanted me to be a writer. All this other stuff was just a distraction.

So I began to concentrate on writing. Now I've got ten novels published, and another one in the slot. And as for paying it forward, I'm doing that by writing for Indies Unlimited. Funny how things work out, isn't it?

Where do I see myself five years from now, in 2019? If the Universe is kind to me, I'll be making a living from my books; I'll have another 15 novels published then, at my current pace. And in any event, I'll be eligible for early retirement at the end of that year. So one way or another, I'll be on the verge of writing full-time. No fooling.

Where were you ten years ago? And where do you see yourself in five years?

This week, I'll be putting the finishing touches on a Land, Sea, Sky omnibus. And come to think of it, it's probably time for another newsletter. Stay tuned....

These moments of bloggy reflection have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

More Foolishness.

I've been a writing fool this weekend. Earlier today, I put "The End" on the first draft of Seasons of the Fool. This draft is just shy of 52,000 words -- about 14,000 of which I wrote in two marathon sessions yesterday and today. So I'm pretty tired of sitting in this chair right now. But I knew I needed to update y'all about my progress, and give you a little taste of where I'll be taking you guys when the book comes out.

People who get all excited about beach vacations tend to look at me funny when I say I can take or leave them. The reason I'm so blase about the beach is that I grew up there.

I took the photo above last summer, about five blocks from the house where I grew up. The body of water in question is not the ocean -- it's Lake Michigan. And the area in question is called, collectively, Michiana. It straddles the Michigan-Indiana state line, starting at the southern tip of the lake and extending about 35 miles east to South Bend.

The word Michiana is also part of the names of the two villages (and at least one unincorporated area) located right on the lake. I grew up in Michiana Shores, Indiana; the other village is Michiana, Michigan. Michiana Drive is the dividing line between the two villages, and it's also the state line. You can stand in the middle of Michiana Drive and have one foot in Michigan and the other one in Indiana -- which my kids and I have done on multiple occasions.

Here is a picture of my daughter Kitty demonstrating the technique. Note a few things:

1) She is in no danger of being run over. It's a quiet little neighborhood, particularly after the summer people have gone home. (More on that in a sec.)

2) We are in the woods, and wildlife abounds. See the deer on the far left of the picture? We were on our way down to the beach when Kitty stopped for her photo op. On the way back, we saw the guy who lives in this cottage feeding a deer by hand. Might have even been the same deer.

3) The villages were first developed in the 1930s as summer homes for people from Chicago. The original cottages, and many of those built later, used the same faux log cabin siding as the house in this picture. You can see more examples of the style at (The blogger is a tad confused when she says Michiana Shores is in Michigan.) To be clear, the house I grew up in was never a faux log cabin; when my father built the place, he used dark brown asbestos siding, and we've since gone to beige vinyl siding.

My point -- and I do have one -- is that I've set Seasons of the Fool in this little neighborhood where I grew up. I've been deliberately vague about which side of the state line Julia's faux log-cabin cottage is located on; clearly, it's confusing, as evidenced by the mistake the nice lady made at the link above; and it doesn't make any difference to my story. But I've included the important things: the beach, the trees, the cottages, and the view of Chicago on a clear day.

I also left out the time zone madness. Michiana Shores is on Central time, the same as Chicago; Michiana, Michigan, is on Eastern time, the same as South Bend. And in the old days, South Bend didn't change to Daylight time in the summer, whereas Michigan did. (This tripped me up the first time I had a cell phone at my mother's house; I'd set an alarm, but my phone switched from an Indiana tower to a Michigan tower at the wrong moment, so my alarm never went off.)

And I've just realized that I left out the wildlife. Ack. What was I thinking? I should add a deer.

This moment of beachy blogginess has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Journey of the Fool.

Leo Karchesky/
I mentioned last week that I had started working on the new book. I'm pleased (and fairly relieved, to be honest) to report that as of the end of my writing session today, I'm 31,000 words in -- or in NaNoWriMo terms, the first draft is more than half done.

First drafts of even the best-planned novels offer some surprises to the writer along the way, and this book did not start out as one of the best-planned novels I've ever attempted. So I was surprised when I realized my protagonist, whose name is Julia, is on a Fool's Journey. I mean, I wanted to work a labyrinth into the story, and I intended for the action to stretch over the course of a year. And I had the setting all picked out (more on that in weeks to come). But when Julia first stepped into the labyrinth and found herself at the edge of a cliff, with a little dog nipping at her heels...well, I had to sit back for a minute. Because that's the scene depicted in Card Zero -- also known as The Fool -- of the Major Arcana in a Tarot deck.

A typical Tarot deck is made up of 78 cards. Fifty-six of them are split into four suits, similar to a regular deck of playing cards, and in fact you can match up the suits in a Tarot deck with the suits in a playing card deck: Wands (Clubs), Swords (Spades), Cups (Hearts), and Pentacles (Diamonds). Each suit in a Tarot deck has 14 cards: Ace through 10, Page, Knight, Queen, and King. So that, too, is similar to a deck of playing cards, except for the addition of the Page.

Those 56 cards are collectively called the Minor Arcana. The remaining 22 cards, the Major Arcana, have no corresponding cards in a regular deck -- except for The Fool, which evolved into the Joker.

Now, sometimes people get a little nervous when you start talking about the Tarot. The first thing they think of is gypsy fortune-tellers and "Cross my palm with silver" and all that junk. Yes, you can use the Tarot for divination, if you're so inclined. But the cards can also be used as a springboard for meditation, and as a tool for self-discovery.

That's where the Journey of the Fool comes in. Many folks over the years have strung together a narrative that likens the progression of cards in the Major Arcana to a journey through life. You can take the journey yourself. One technique is to pick a day each month on which you will sit down, clear your mind, imagine yourself in the scene of one of the Major Arcana cards -- starting with The Fool and taking each card in order, all the way to Card 21, The World -- and see what your subconscious spits out at you. (Fun fact: Going through this exercise is what convinced me to start writing seriously.)

I'm not going to step Julia through every card in the Major Arcana, but I am keeping the cards in order. It's been an interesting exercise so far, and it promises to get extremely interesting shortly. She hasn't gotten to The Tower yet.

Speaking of life's journeys, I was saddened to learn this week of the passing of one of my favorite authors. Graham Joyce was a British author who wrote dark fantasy; I stumbled across his work in my local library one day and, once begun, gobbled his books as fast as I could. His work was better known in the U.K. than here in the States, and I've always thought that was a shame.

I met him at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego in 2011. The Silent Land had just come out; he signed my copy for me, and showed me a cool thing about the dust jacket design (ping me in the comments, and I'll tell you what it is). Just a nice guy.

I loved The Silent Land, but my favorite book of his is probably still The Tooth Fairy. Really, all of his work is excellent. I'm so sorry that he's gone. RIP, Graham.

These moments of Foolish blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Flashy stuff.

At Indies Unlimited this week, I talked about ways to work reading into your day. One of the things that makes me crazy about our current culture is that the marketers have plunked a TV screen in every possible place where they can catch our attention for even a few minutes: in restaurants, at the dentist's office, in line at the store. (My dentist even has TVs in each examination room. Every time I go in for a cleaning, I get a dose of some talk show along with my fluoride treatment.) And if there's no monitor convenient to where we're sitting (or standing) and waiting, we can always pull out our phones and check some app to pass the time.

All those screens are there not only to entertain us, of course, but to sell us stuff. Why give in to the marketers? Why not bring a book or an e-reader with you (on your phone, if you must) and read instead of watch?

Anyway, I got to thinking after I posted that piece that people who profess to be writers spend as much time complaining about not having time to write as they do about not having time to read.

I have a solution for that, too. It's called flash fiction.

Flash fiction usually has a word limit, and it's usually understood that the writer is to tell a complete story within that word limit. That's how we do it on Saturdays at Indies Unlimited. Every Saturday morning, our admins post a prompt written by our Evil Mastermind, Stephen Hise, and illustrated with a photograph by his able co-administrator, K.S. Brooks. (Here's this week's flash fiction prompt.) The limit is 250 words, and players have until Tuesday afternoon to post their work. Then on Wednesdays, we open it up to a popular vote. On Fridays, the winner for the week is announced, and on Saturday mornings, it all starts again.

Winners get more than just a congrats post at IU, though. All of the winning pieces are collected into an anthology and published at the end of the year. But even if you don't win, you can take all of the pieces you've written from IU's prompts and publish your own flash fiction anthology. If you play every week, you would have 52 mini-stories at 250 words each -- or 13,000 words. It's a fairly painless way to add another title to your bibliography.

I've been indulging in writing flash fiction more often lately, and I'm blaming fellow indie author J.D. (Dan) Mader. He has instituted a Friday afternoon feature on his blog called "2 Minutes. Go!" It's flash fiction with a little twist: instead of a word limit, there's a two-minute time limit.

Dan has attracted a bunch of talented writers to the Friday festivities (well, and me). Nobody's watching the clock except you, and nobody cares if you've clearly gone over the time limit. It's all very laid back and generates a lot of entertaining little stories to read.

To give you an idea of how it works, here's my story from this week. I did go over the time limit, but only by a minute or two.

"We're done here."

"Wait. What?"

"You're not paying attention. There's nothing more I can do."

She shifted in her chair. "No, really, I'm listening. You wanted me to...."

He threw up his hands, eyes rolled to the ceiling. "Just go home, Cindy. You're not concentrating. You're not even here right now. Just get out of here. Take the rest of the day off and come back in the morning."

Biting her lip, she headed for his office door. If only he knew why her head was in the clouds today.... But she couldn't tell him what was going on. If he knew she was protecting someone who was stealing him blind, he'd probably fire her. And if he knew that person was his own son, they'd both be out on the street.
It ain't deathless prose, but hey, it's a story. Right?

The point is, everybody can find two minutes -- or five, or ten -- somewhere in their day.  If you want to be a writer, think about using that downtime to read -- or to write. It all adds up.

Speaking of adding up, I've begun working on my new novel. The current title, which may change, is Seasons of the Fool. It's a stand-alone novel, not in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe. I'm still feeling my way along a little bit -- but as of tonight, I'm about 18,000 words in, and it's starting to come together. I'll post more about it next week.

Have a great week, everyone. And don't forget to bring a book with you!

These moments of deathless bloggy prose have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.