Watercolor and Fire

Sorry, I had this all ready to post yesterday, but had a long and fierce argument with the scanner instead. (And shortly thereafter gave up on my Epson scanner. I gave up on it years ago as a printer and I’m giving up on it now as a scanner. Anybody want a free doorstop- I mean scanner?)

ANYWAY. I have a writing buddy who is doing a fantastic job at NaNoWriMo this month, but finds herself a tad behind. So I painted her a victory postcard! It is two of the characters from her WIP and I am mailing it to her today.

Dragon Painting

The catch? Well it IS a victory postcard. And the victory IS in question. So if she doesn’t win, she must burn her painting with dragonfire. Or just regular fire, you know, whatever’s around.

So good luck, Anna! Tick tock!

Speaking of, I’m a tad behind as well. Ugh, I think I’ve been caught up for like three days this entire month. Time to stop painting and start writing! (Well, stop blogging and get to work, but I’ll write soon! I promise!)

Update: She won! The postcard is safe! Another victory for truth and science!

A closing note:

The above picture was taken with my phone on my table, despite me being a TERRIBLE photographer. Even with the crookedness and the darkening of my colors, I still thought it was an improvement. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the Epson scan, shall we?

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Yeah, ew.

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Prize Postcard

Sometimes, when I’m word sprinting with friends, I offer them postcards as prizes. A few months ago, my friend Mary totally spanked me and I promised her a custom postcard as her prize. Little did she know that postcard would be like two months in the making, but here it is, the postcard that was most-hard. (I don’t know what my scanner did to the colors here, but you get the idea.)

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With a Little Help from My Friends

HelpingSo, this last year I had the personal goal to earn the Writer of the Year award through the Alaska Writers Guild. To do this, I had to accumulate the most points of anyone who entered the Guild’s anonymous bimonthly writing contest for members, wherein entrants write within rotating categories, and see how close to the deadline they can turn in a piece without getting disqualified. (Oh, wait, was that last part just me?)

Now I’m not all that super at nonfiction, and I truly suck at poetry, but, hands down, the hardest one of the contests for me to write was the category of Alaska Mystery. I think I’m getting phantom chest pains just thinking about it.

Two months seems like it should be plenty of time to write a story with a maximum of 2500 words, but that can seem like a mighty tight deadline when you spend the first six weeks of it feverishly drafting and then summarily executing- I kid you not- twelve different story ideas. It was very easy to feel very discouraged very quickly. And so I did, verily. With hardly more than a week left before the deadline, I was ready to throw in the towel.

But the trouble was that I keep this pesky husband. And we sometimes talk to each other about our goals and stuff. He knew what I was working toward, and he knew how important it was for me to enter every contest, even the difficult ones.

That man gave me no rest.

Every time I sat down, he’d start pestering me. “What are you working on? Are you doing the one with the mountains? With the serial killer? With the fox? What are you doing? Why? Why not? (Have a cookie.) What are you working on?” The man was relentless. And he would hear not a word of giving up, not on my goal and not on this Alaska mystery contest.

And that was before he started telling everyone we know about it, too. *shudders*

I don’t know about you, but I have confidence problems sometimes. Sometimes too much, most times not enough. My husband, and a few close friends like him, give me the kick in the pants when I want to lie down and surrender, and the tackle of forbearance when I’m full steam ahead on a really bad idea.

The secret weapon of all successful writers is tenacity. And for some of us, a little of that tenacity can be sponged off others. I tend to break down my cheerleading squad into two broad categories: writers, and nonwriters.

Writers Your fellow writers are the monarchs of commiseration. They understand what it’s like to be blocked. They know the brain-addled madness of waiting- for beta readers, for query answers, for book reviews, for sales reports. They understand the pain of rejections. They also know when a story of yours isn’t working, and are usually able to articulate what’s wrong. They’re widely read and industry savvy. Your writer friends are ideal when you have a piece that you’re working on and could use a little guidance in making it presentable.

Nonwriters These are the people who, although maybe they enjoy reading, don’t do any writing themselves. And as well as being legion in numbers, they’re also chattier than a giggling high school clique back from spring break. Once you let one of them know (cough, cough, husband, cough), they’ll all know, and they’ll all want to know why you’re not done yet. They don’t know how long drafting takes, let alone editing and submissions. And they don’t care. Your nonwriter friends are ideal when you have a concrete goal combined with motivation issues.

So there you have it: my fail-proof formula for squeezing out a piece even when it hurts. One part cheerleader, one part drill sergeant, writers and nonwriters alike are always at the ready to help their buds with what is important to them. Of course, you still have to want to reach your writing goals yourself, and be willing to put in the work, but the endless harassment loving encouragement of your friends, family, mail carrier, and grocery clerk can be the final nudge to help you get that story out the door and into the wide world.

(And it works, too- I did win Writer of the Year at the 2017 guild conference! Yay!)

So if you find yourself struggling, whether with improving a piece, or just summing up the motivation to work at it, clue in your pals! They’ll hold your feet to the fire in a way you never could for yourself, and they’ll cheer you at every victory along the way.

Happy writing!

Writing Magic

This week’s post is by writer extraordinaire Laura Lancaster, Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild. She is fun, clever, and has excellent taste in apple juice. Behold her wisdom!magic cards

When I was 12 I learned a magic trick from my next-door neighbor. She showed me an ordinary quarter, put both her arms behind her head like a pitcher about to throw a curveball and scrunched up her face. Then she brought her arms forward and showed me her empty hands.

“See, I just pushed that quarter into my neck. In a few seconds, it will land in my mouth. It doesn’t hurt because it’s magic.” Then she reached into her mouth and tossed the quarter in a high arc. It bounced across the floor with a magical metallic ring.

If I ever see you in person, I’ll teach you the trick that turned me, a shy awkward tween into an awkward ham who did goofy magic tricks.

My favorite went like this: I placed the magic baseball cap in front of me on a table. I declared,“I can make three balloon animals in the time it takes most people to make one.”

Then I whisked a rubber glove from my ball cap, blew it up, held it on top of my head and yelled, “chicken.” I held it high and squeezed the fingers, “cow.” Then I let the air out and the glove dangled, limp. I slowed and dropped my voice. “Jelly fish.”

Even though my shows got lots of laughs, I made lots of mistakes. I once had an audience member stand next to me while I did the quarter trick. He looked behind me and learned the secret. Once I had a large audience and my mom told me I had turned away from the microphone and everyone in the back hadn’t heard a word. They applauded out of politeness.

Now I’m a beginning writer. I look back on my career as a teenage magician and I realize I had found my style, or genre, of magic, but I needed more tricks, practice and critique. Writing is no different.

magic levitationMagicians have to master stage presence, precise movement, and misdirection the way writers have to learn plotting, character creation, effective research, world building, precise prose and any number of other skills. If any of those elements are weak, the magic disappears.

Fortunately, if I, as a goofy, awkward teenager could learn magic tricks and face the nerves of performance, I can learn to write fiction.

I’ve learned from books, blogs and magazines, but one of my most helpful tools are writers groups and professional organizations. I even became the Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild Interior and I’ve found that even if you are not published, there are three reasons to get involved in the writing community.

Practice Makes Better-

Often writers organizations sponsor critique groups. If you are at a place where you can show your work to others, you ought to. Critique groups, whether online or in person, are a great place to start. You may find partners who understand what you want to do and help you do it better. Like magic coaches, they can show you where your patter is flawed, or when they saw the quarter hidden in your sleeve, so to speak.

Guidance In Going Big-

The community talent shows where I did my magic were a place to start, but to get noticed, you have to work a lot harder. Many writers groups sponsor writing classes or conferences and they’ll give you access to big-time writers who teach craft and agents who can advise you about your pitch or query letter. If you are considering hybrid, indie or self-publishing, many authors in professional organizations have done it and are willing to share what they know about publication options, promotion and sales. Magicians never reveal their secrets to the audience, but the most generous reveal their secrets to other magicians and it’s true of the writers you’ll meet at professional organizations.

Encouragement-

Communication is possibly the hardest thing we humans do. We must have a clear idea in our own heads, then convey it to someone else. Miscommunications have caused professional ventures to fail, battles to be lost and families to split. No one gets it right the first time or all the time. How can we persevere long enough to become effective writers?

I’ve found that meeting regularly with writers is my most powerful motivation. When I meet with my critique group and I didn’t make a submission, everyone one reminds me that they want to find out what happens next, and I know it’s not just politeness, they want to help me write better.magic marbles

I have solved many a plot or characterization problem with other writers over coffee, writers I met at Alaska Writers Guild meetings, and I have helped them do the same. The topics speakers bring to monthly meetings and conferences, such as how to submit to an agent, help me, even if I don’t apply the lessons…yet.

Some people have said that writing cannot be taught, but most people would not say that about stage magic. Natural performers still need to learn skills through professional guidance. Natural storytellers have weaknesses that they must recognize and overcome. Every writer has been there. Keep working. Learn from those around you. Professional writers organizations can put those people around you. So when you watch David Copperfield perform an illusion or read Dicken’s David Copperfield, remember, you too can make your writing magical.

Laura Lancaster is a foodie, sci-fi aficionado and fortune cookie baker. She has been the Vice President in charge of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild for the last four years. She is writing sci-fi novels and short stories. Find her on social media: Twitter: Phoenix40below Facebook: @Phoenixseries and blog: lalancaster.com

To find out more about the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild email awginterior@gmail.com or go to www.alaskawritersguild.com/interior-chapter

Personal Achievement Badges to which I Pay Too Much Mind

WIN_20151115_22_17_24_ProAs I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago, I managed to mess up my left hand.  So there’s been a lot of awkward one-handed/hunt-and-peck sort of nonsense going on, which has just more than chopped my daily average in half.  (We’re not gonna talk about how long it took to type this post up. *weeps*)  It’s not too bad so far.  I had a reasonable buffer by that point, so I hadn’t slipped beneath the goal bar until just today.  The doctor said to wear the splint until next Wednesday, and then I can start using my hand again in little bits.  But I’m pretty sure I’ll still pull off NaNo without too much more drama. *crosses fingers*

NaNoWriMo always has a great website.  So beautiful, so cheerful.  There’s always tons of encouragement, and I’m half in love with the daily word graph.  But they added something new this year.  Personal Achievement Badges.  Behold!

badgesI know this is normally the week in which I post a sample chapter, buuuuut… yeah, this is possibly the ugliest first draft I’ve ever pounded out, haha.  Definitely not fit for human eyes just yet.  So in lieu of burning your eyeballs out of your sockets, I’m going to give you a little tour of how I earned my PABs.

plannerPlanner.  I was pretty torn on whether to give myself the planner or the pantser badge with this project.  Normally, I come into these things with a pretty thorough outline and beefy packet of notes and sketches.  This year, I got the idea a week before NaNo started and plowed ahead with about four pages of notes.  Hardly the blank page I needed to qualify as a pantser, but a far cry from the reams of notes I usually head into this with.  So it’s a little scary, but is its own kind of fun.

tell the world

Tell the World.  This is probably definitely my most boring badge.  I made an announcement on Twitter that I would be doing NaNoWriMo this year.  Again.  Like I always do.  … Yup.  I guess I did tell a bunch of random people and bullied a few of my friends into doing it with me, which, although much smaller in scope, was probably also much more meaningful.  So I’ll take it either way.

with gratitudeWith Gratitude.  I’ve earned this one several times over, but never enough.  Nano is gloriously fun for me, but it takes me away from my family a lot, especially my kids, and my husband picks up a lot of the slack.  So I thanked my husband first and foremost for all his help.  I thanked my kids for their patience.  I also thanked my writing buddies here in Fairbanks for putting up with me all the time and being so darned encouraging.  I thanked @NaNoWordSprints for all their tireless- you guessed it- sprints on Twitter that keep me motivated and entertained.  And there are probably a gajillion others who deserve my thanks as well!  Everyone- you are fantastic!  Thank you!

wrimo spiritWrimo Spirit. This one’s kind of related to the one above, but the coin has been flipped.  This badge was earned when I helped support other writers.  So when I cheer-lead on Twitter, when I set up lunch write-ins, when I walk to my kid’s school to ask his librarian how her Nano project is going, when I keep an eye on my friend’s kid at the church activity so she can scribble in a few more words… then I get good karma and this badge.  Huzzah!

secret novelingSecret Noveling. Okay, so when I’m honest with myself, I probably write most of my novel in less than ideal places. My kids know all my hiding places by now: in the van, beside the potted avocado tree, in the bathroom, in the laundry room, in the guest room that is about forty degrees this time of year.  Heck, I’ve even hidden behind the rocking chair in the baby’s room just to sneak in those few awesome lines before I forgot them.  But I can make these things work.  We’re all used to it.  So I wasn’t sure if that really counted for this badge.  (I spend a lot of time thinking about what really counts to earn these badges.)  But then I earned it definitely-for-sure on Saturday.  I was at a kids’ birthday party at the local children’s museum, and it was a lot of fun and we had a blast.  But then my boys wanted to stay late and I thought, ‘Oo! My golden opportunity!’  So I slipped out my laptop (because who doesn’t bring their laptop to a kids’ birthday party complete with water tables, cheese puffs, and fluorescent cupcakes?) and tried to figure out where I could hide from my children, but still be able to see them without too much trouble.  After much poking around (and very nearly settling on the bathroom foyer), I ended up hiding in the craft corner, wedged between the Lego table and the animals/continents diorama on a tiny tiny stool, but if I leaned out I could see most of the main room.  And there I sat, startling every staffer trying to get back to their offices, for a solid hour. Bliss!

game onGame On. Word wars are my lifeblood.  I can write without them.  I’ll still plink out words in my one-handed turtle’s pace.  But nothing gets me going like sprints.  I haven’t been reporting in my pathetic word counts as much since I hurt my hand, but I still do them nearly every time I sit down to write for more than twenty minutes.  I even make my writing friends do them with me during our lunches.  Last time, I had prizes!  I handed out little packets of candy and you got to eat one candy for every hundred words you got down.  And then the person with the highest word total at the end went home with the giantest candy bar I could find.  (I would have gotten a lot more candy throughout the whole affair if one of the kids didn’t run up in the middle of a sprint and make off with half my candy in a grab-and-dash maneuver.  Well played, little beast. This is why I hide from these monsters while writing.)

So how about you guys?  Any fellow Wrimos out there?  What’s your favorite Personal Achievement Badge and how did you earn it?

Character Cosplay

Do you need more creativity in your life?  Then hang out with the ever amazing Madison Dusome!  She always has the best ideas.

A few weeks ago, she suggested that some of us on twitter do a character cosplay for Halloween, where we draw our characters dressing up as each other’s characters.  Having the crazy schedule that I do, I only spared myself the time to do two of them.  So, in lieu of this month’s comic, here they are!

My character:

Sylragorl (City of the Dead) He is an ice dragon, a bit stunted as far as dragons go, but still big enough to bite your average human in half.  He is a silvery pale blue, with sapphire eyes and seven headspikes.  Four legs, two wings, tail, this sort of dragon.  Sylragorl is desperate to be liked and will do stupid things for even the semblance of affection.  But if he decides he doesn’t like you, prepare to be disemboweled.  He has a self-deprecating sense of humor and can be pretty sarcastic.

Dressed as CM Schofeld‘s character:

Ruaridh Carver (Twyned Earth)  Five foot nothing, messy black hair, unhealthily thin human(ish). Always wearing very baggy black clothing, band hoodies, jeans with chains, black studded/spiky wrist accessories. Grumpy, easily scared, anti-social chain smoker.

SasR

My character:

Princess Aerinthe Darinsvale, although she prefers the nickname Snow White (Blood and Ebony)  A slender, pale girl with long dark hair and bright green eyes, Snow is fifteen years old, but with a much, much older soul.  She prefers rich/dark colors and heavy fabrics, and always wears a small glass-and-ebony bauble on a silver chain, containing a drop of blood and water. (For clothing style, think Anne Boelyn-ish, but with a tiara instead of the headgear.) As Aerinthe, she is a charming girl and a doting daughter.  As Snow White, changeling child of the Fey King, she is ruthless, manipulative, and sadistic.

Dressed as Madison Dusome‘s character:

Adrien (Half a Man)  Messy, long-ish blond hair, missing his left arm from the shoulder.  Clothes are of mixed medieval France/Morocco inspiration: fitted tunic, loose pants, beaten shoes.  His military “uniform” involves a black-and-yellow checkered sash that can basically be tied however you like; some pin it like a cape, some wear it like a scarf/hood, some wrap it across the back/around the shoulders.  There’s a “proper” way but most prefer to rebel ;D  He might be seen with (a) a longsword that’s too big for him (b) apothecary tools (c) books! (d) magical golden strings, which would be a hilarious/horrible thing to cosplay.

SWasAYou should take a minute to check out Mads’ and Cat’s blogs as well, where they will also be posting their own versions of character cosplay, as well as their thoughts on writing, the universe, and everything.  (I’ll put up links to the art itself as it gets posted.  Hopefully soon!  The suspense is killing me!)

(Madison’s first batch is up! Clicky!)

(Madison’s second batch is up! Hi-ya!)

Have a great week!  Next time you hear from me, it’ll be while I’m knee deep in another month of NaNoWriMo– see you then!

Traveling by Coach

AmyGreetings, humans! I just got back from the Alaska Writer’s Guild Fall Conference (and am exhausted out of my mind), but I haven’t gotten all my notes and thoughts together enough to form a coherent blog post. That will come later, I promise. (Spoiler alert: it was awesome!)

In the meantime, I attended another AWG monthly meeting last week and learned about a writing profession I’d never heard of: writing coach. Since I’d never heard of it, I was eager to figure out the dealio, and even to do a little sniffing around before the presentation.  To do that, I got to hassle our presenter, a local writing coach named Amy Jane Helmericks. (She also published her first book, Lindorm Kingdom, earlier this year. Congrats, Amy!)

So what is a writing coach? What do they do?

To help me figure that out, Amy was kind enough to stage a twenty minute session she might go through with a new client. We emailed beforehand to set it up, and she sent along a list of questions to think about in preparation for our session.

Amy was incredibly fun to work with, and asked super helpful questions. (In fact, her very first question completely stumped me. I’m still working out a good answer.) She raked my story idea over the coals (in the kindest, gentlest way possible) and then turned to my synopsis. I actually had given her three things: a logline, a 100 word pitch, and a half-page synopsis. She talked about what worked in each of them, and what didn’t work, and how each of those things could be tightened up even further. But above all else, she asked questions, questions, questions. And without fail, the questions that I was the worst at answering correlated to the weakest parts in my story.

But Amy never gave specific advice. As precise as her questions were, her advice was very broad. As Amy herself put it in her presentation later that week, “I didn’t tell him what to do… We stir things up and then we hand it over.” If I had a bad answer, she wasn’t going to fix it for me. That was my job. She just pointed out where the work needed to be done.

I have actually had very similar sessions in the past with writer friends of mine, where we pick apart each other’s ideas and tune them up. And I always found them hugely helpful, even vital. I never have good story ideas until I’ve chattered them to death with fellow writers. Amy was able to echo that same feeling of cozy friendliness, but to imbue it with professional quality questions, prompts, and guidance.

As Amy mentioned later in her presentation, what a writing coach does is based on what the writer needs. “It depends on what you want help with,” she said when someone asked at what point to bring in a coach. “I help with organizing ideas, editing, querying…” Likewise, her presentation ran the gamut from finding inspiration to writing and organizing, on through editing and pitching. And she knew her stuff on all those points. It was a great presentation, folding together several posts’ worth of themes and how-to’s, most of which can be found on her website. We even talked about the value of NaNoWriMo and how to prepare yourself for it so you can draft effectively!

In short, it was a great session and presentation. Amy is very thoughtful and thought-provoking, and incredibly generous with her time and expertise. If you’ve found that your writing has stalled, maybe even before you’ve had a good run at it, consider bringing on a writing coach. It could be the jumpstart that you need.

To learn more about Amy and what she does, visit her website at WritingHope.com. Happy writing!