Afterglow Blues

I finished writing a book.

And I’m still recovering.

It took about three days of solid writing to get it done. That final push is necessary for me because I get caught up and excited, and really become quite useless at life in general because the Muse is riding on me to get it done. So it moves faster and faster, and then ends in a spectacular explosion of grammatically questionable paragraphs and coffee and a great deal of nonsensical babbling at my husband and cat.

But it gets done.

Now I have a sweet little 70k draft to work on for a few weeks. The hard part is that I was so very, very excited about it, that I desperately want someone to read it and tell me that they’re excited, too. But I know that’s a bad idea. Because while I was writing, I couldn’t look back. Couldn’t revise. Couldn’t edit. The result is a little bit, um, riddled with holes, and errors, and some inconsistencies.

Therefore, this is a lament at how unfair it is that I have to sit on it until it’s decent for other people’s eyes. And the past two days my brain has been a bit like a deflated tire, so no chance to do any editing.

Ah … I shall pine away in misery … Weep for me, o cruel world.

Book Review: Academy Mystery Novellas

Title: Academy Mystery Novellas
Editors: Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini
Publisher: Academy Chicago Publishers
Genre: Mystery
Length: Short Stories

mystery

Mysteryyy!

Rating: 4 tweaks out of 5

I recently read four volumes of the Academy Mystery Novellas in preparation for beginning my own work on a series of mystery short stories intended for a young audience. Imagine my surprise when a research exercise became a truly enjoyable reading experience.

The novellas are organized into five volumes: Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, Locked Room Puzzles, Great British Detectives, and Women Write Murder. Unfortunately, I only read the first four. There are four novellas in each set, and they are all amazingly different from each other, despite falling into the same category. Some are traditional and serious while some are humourous. Some involve murder, others theft, and some kidnapping. The only common thread between them was that I could not once anticipate the ending, and every time I found myself thinking, “Of course!” when I arrived at the whodunnit.

I admit I have never been one to read mystery, so more experienced readers might find these stories quaint. But I adored them. My one big objection to the mystery genre is that the plot and the mystery is the focus, and I am a character-driven writer and reader. However, I found that in these works of the masters, such as Mignon Eberhart (The Calico Dog), Cornell Woolrich (The Book that Squealed), and Georges Simenon (Storm in the Channel) to name a few, the characters have amazing depth. They are each complex and interesting, particularly when motivations clash and murder is involved.

I recommend these anthologies to anyone new to the genre (like me) because they offer a huge variety and demonstrate that the mystery genre is more than hardboiled private detectives, shooters in shadows, and bodies surrounded by chalk outlines.

Website:

http://www.academychicago.com/acadmystnovella.html

About the Editors:

Martin Harry Greenberg (March 1, 1941 – June 25, 2011) was an American academic and speculative fiction anthologist. In total, he compiled 1,298 anthologies and commissioned over 8,200 original short stories.

Bill Pronzini (born April 13, 1943) is an American writer of detective fiction. He is also an active anthologist, having compiled more than 100 collections, most of which focus on mystery, western, and science fiction short stories.

Where do you write?

I used to imagine that writing involved cafés, dappled meadows, and heavy mahogany desks set under the window in book-walled studies. The writer locks herself away from the world, surrounding herself in oddities and curios that help ease her mind into new worlds and new paths of thought.

Perfect, I thought. Once my first mega-ultimate-bestseller is sold, I’ll find a place just like I imagined: a big stone house full of stuff, with a nice backyard and a café down the street. I’ll never be at a loss for places to work.

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My imagination tells me a lot of things.

Not surprisingly, several years went by and these plans never quite made it to fruition. One of the most striking examples of this is that the only time I can devote to the craft is tucked into the nooks and crannies that exist around other activities. And I know I’m not alone in this. I’m sure I’ve just described one of the most common conflicts that writers face (other than conflicts in their plots).

Marisa and I got together to discuss how, where, and when we find the time to write.

At home

Marisa: In bed with my cat. I kid you not. Near the end of the holidays, I woke up one morning, plunked my laptop on the bed and started typing. I didn’t want to leave the coziness of the blankets, plus my darling cat was lying down with her paw stretched out towards me. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.

Leona: Me too, though not so much because of coziness and cats. My internet connection is strongest in a corner of the bedroom, so I build a little nest and settle in, listening to oodles of atmospheric music. There are also no windows, which means that fifty percent of the time I sit in a dim, lonely place, cut off from the real world and free to play in the world inside my head. The only problem with working at home is the wealth of distractions. Cat, spouse, housework, television, games…If I’m working on a tough scene, there are plenty of ways to avoid it!

At the day job

Marisa: Don’t underestimate the power of your lunch break. Writing in the middle of the day can really invigorate you and get you excited between long work hours. More than that, I use the opportunity because evenings and weekends can get busy and I don’t want to go too long without working on my book.

Leona: Compared to Marisa, I’m a terrible employee. When I work retail I restrict my writing to break times, jotting things down on my phone. But when I was corporate I would basically take any opportunity where I didn’t have any pressing tasks and no one was looking over my shoulder…

In transit

Marisa: No one knows better than writers how the imagination can help you travel somewhere far and exciting. I once edited my novel on my phone while crammed onto a shuttle bus between subway stations (there was a power outage). I had one hand on the pole for balance and the other scrolling through the text I’d written just before leaving the house. I find that if I write something and re-read it at least an hour later, it’s almost like I’m reading it for the first time, and it gives me a truly fantastic opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t – even on the bus.

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Leona: I love writing on trains! Crushed in with other people, afraid of making eye contact, and listening to music. The mental walls come up and form a “quiet” internal space more effectively than any physical walls. Sometimes I get my best raw work done typing away on a Blackberry and praying that no one sits close enough to read what I’m writing.

In a group

Marisa: I’m still waiting for Team Tweak to get together for a writing session (kidding, guys!). I can just imagine how writerly it would feel to type away in a café with food at one’s side, knowing that your fellow writers are tapping away just as productively on their keyboards.

Leona: This is a good way to stay on task. It’s not as easy to waste time when you’re surrounded by people who know what you should be doing. Also, if you get stuck on a word or idea, they are a convenient sounding board. We’ll get together soon, I hope!

Out and about

Marisa: When I was little, I got a lot of inspiration from the creek near my house. I even wrote half a novel that took place in that lush, natural neighbourhood. I absolutely love nature and the idea of scribbling away in a notebook under the sun. I actually got a lot of my writing done while on vacation during my childhood! The only downside is having to type everything up on the computer later…Different environments always offer fresh perspectives.

Leona: Sometimes you just have to get out of the house and away from the pressures and distractions. My favourite café is a ten-minute walk, they play jazz music, they have $1 refills on coffee, and they know who I am and what I’m going to order before I even make it to the counter.

How about you? Where do you write?

2014 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

After a beautiful week off celebrating Christmas with loved ones, I am sitting down to work on my novel, which I haven’t touched since mid-November. Did you find it difficult to squeeze in writing time over the holidays?

Often we feel like we can’t work on our book unless we’re locked away in our room, with no conversations or plans to distract us or tempt us away from the task of concentrating and putting everything we have into one book.

This time, I don’t feel like it’s difficult to get back into the story. I don’t feel that dread you get the night before you know you’re going to have to trudge through the mud that is trying to re-absorb and remember the details of your story so that you can actually work on and improve it. (It’s no coincidence that sentence felt long and difficult to get through – just like that first edit.) What’s different this time? Confidence. Excitement. The last time I worked on my story, I deleted entire scenes and moved big moments closer together – and it paid off. I felt it when I re-read the first few chapters. And I felt it when Team Tweak emailed me back their enthusiastic response.

So do yourself a favour this year. Is your New Year’s resolution to publish your novel? To finish it? To start it? Let 2014 be your year. Here’s how.

2014 New Year’s resolutions for writers

  1. Write. Now. Don’t wait until 2014! That’s how you end up with that horrible dread and lack of confidence the night before your first big editing day. Take bite-sized chunks. Start with reading this post, then opening up that file and reading a few pages of your book to get back into your world. Then put it away. Or, at least, tell yourself you’ll put it away and continue another day – but maybe you’ll find you’re so into your own story that you’re ready to work on it now. You might surprise yourself with how wonderful it feels to be back.
  2. Make a plan. Is your goal right now to finish your book? Or to read over the complete draft and improve it? Or to find someone to publish it? You need to know where you’re going before you jump into this again.
  3. Write down what you’re going to have to do to get there. For instance, I’m reading over my latest draft and improving scenes that I didn’t get a chance to look over since Team Tweak sent suggestions for them. My book has matured so much and it’s just about ready to go out into the world. So my “steps” right now involve re-reading and tweaking. Your steps might be similar, or perhaps you’re at the querying stage (we can help you learn how to write a query letter). Perhaps you’re looking for some feedback (check out Team Tweak’s critiquing service). Or maybe you just want to get past writer’s block. Whatever stage you’re at, Team Tweak is here to help – and making a list of baby steps will help you get there.
  4. Hone your craft. Meet other writers. Get excited about writing again. If you live in the GTA, take advantage of Brian Henry’s workshops. Team Tweak met at one of these helpful classes and since then, all of us have found that our stories have reached new heights. We can vouch for this!
  5. Believe in yourself. KNOW that your book will be published, or finished, or whatever you want it to be. And TELL people. Since I’ve started my Christmas vacation, a couple friends have already asked me how my book editing is going. It feels great to know friends are interested and supportive, and it also helps keep you on track!

Happy New Year from all of us at Team Tweak!

Industry Q & A: Chantel Guertin, Author

Chantel taught me the basics of writing for magazines in Centennial College’s post-grad publishing program. She’s smart, savvy and sophisticated – and what better way to describe a woman who is editor-at-large at The Kit, a beauty expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, teaches publishing and writes novels? She’s also become my publishing mentor and a good friend.

That’s why I couldn’t be happier to say we’re giving away 2 copies of Chantel’s latest book, The Rule of Thirds, which came out this fall and was published by ECW Press. Following Pippa Greene’s adventures in high school, The Rule of Thirds blends the difficulty of losing a loved one with the fun of bonding with your best friend along with must-have elements of romance. To enter for a chance to win, comment below before December 27, 2013 and tell us: what is your favourite genre of book to read?

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Name: Chantel Guertin
Genres: Chicklit, YA
Astrological sign: Pisces (this is very important!)

Q:  When do you get most of your writing done?

A: When I’m not online shopping or checking my emails.

Q:  What has the querying process been like for you?

A: I queried to get an agent for my first novel, Stuck in Downward Dog. Then my publisher bought my second book, Love Struck, on a partial manuscript. When I made the switch to YA, I sent the book out to a few editors, and my publisher, ECW Press, bought The Rule of Thirds in a two-book deal, asking if I’d consider making it the first in a series. The hardest part is definitely getting rejections. Even worse? Those form rejections where they didn’t even look at your book.

Q:  Do you do writing exercises before launching into your book?

A: No. I just write.

Q:  Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

A: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Except for a brief spell where I thought I’d grow up to be a cashier, based on my love of the Fisher-Price cashier I had set up in my bedroom when I was 8.

Q:  How much time do you spend planning your story as compared to writing it?

A: It’s probably about equal! I tend to do my best planning while on a run.

Q:  When do you feel like your manuscript is submission ready?

A: When I get the first copies in the mail and know that making changes is no longer possible.

Q: Where do you do your best work?

A: Ideally, holed up in cabin in the woods with no internet or phones. It’s too cold to go outside, so I can do nothing but sit by the fire, drink wine, and write. When I can’t get that, I’ll settle for my bed, laptop on lap, headphones in.

Q: What is your favourite colour?

A: Easy. Blue. Just ask my fiancé. I just finished picking out 17 different shades of blue (that I was certain were very, very different) to repaint our new house, and every single room looks exactly the same.

Read Chantel’s blog or follow her on Twitter @chantelguertin.

Want to win a copy of Chantel’s latest book, The Rule of Thirds? To enter for a chance to win, comment below before December 20, 2013 and tell us: what is your favourite genre of book to read?

Book Review: In Our Hands, the Stars

Title: In Our Hands, the Stars
Author: Harry Harrison
Publisher: Arrow Books
Genre: Science Fiction (Hard)
Length: A comfortable 217 pages
Series: None

Rating: 5 tweaks out of 5

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One characteristic of great science fiction is to leave the reader asking questions of themselves, their societies, and human nature. The fiction aspect, whether a new planet, a new technology, or some scientific advancement, merely allows the author to provide a catalyst that prompts these questions.

In Our Hands, the Stars is an example of science fiction at its best. I should mention, though, that it is hard science fiction. There are no big adventures, fire fights, or creepy aliens. The fiction aspect of the narrative is relatively small: A physicist in Israel invents a device that can allow interstellar travel, using something like an anti-gravity field. The physicist, knowing that the device can be easily weaponized, flees his own war-torn country. He goes to Denmark, where he and a colleague perfect the device and put it into use for the benefits of the entire planet, not just their own nation. The device, called the Daleth Drive, is eventually implemented for travel to and building of a base on the Moon and Mars.

The real meat of the narrative, though, is not in the new technology, but in the way that the world’s nations react to the sudden advancement of one very small, very quiet country. The Danish people fight violent incursions by spies, hide their activity through subterfuge and bait and switch tactics, and fend off political pressures from supposed “allies.” The people who are involved in the development of the device are threatened as well. The wife of the ship’s captain is an American citizen, and is pressured by her government to obtain the secrets of the Daleth Drive. Harrison explores her relationship with the captain in how he deals with this conflict, leaving me with the sense that these were real people needing to cope with a real issue.

Harrison gives us a conclusion that some may find unsatisfactory. The original creators of the Daleth make incredible sacrifices in order to protect their technology and keep it out of the wrong hands, but the sacrifice is, in the end, ineffective. I found this ending insightful and unsettling, as Harrison points out the flaws in our current security-focused society.

I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates well-described hard science fiction, slow-building tension, and who asks difficult questions of themselves and their society. This book is not for anyone who wants a light-hearted adventure with a tidy conclusion.

Author Bio:

Harry Harrison began writing science fiction in the 1950s and is currently one of the top-selling SF authors around the world. Best known as the creator of the cosmic thief the Stainless Steel Rat, and for his Deathworld and West of Eden series, he is also the author of Make Room! Make Room! which was turned into the movie Soylent Green which starred Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. His novels have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and in 2009 he was awarded the Damon Knight SF Grand Master Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

Website:

http://www.harryharrison.com