27 February 2015

Publishing news: My poetry will be in First Class Literary Magazine!

 Photo (c) Florian Klauer

Wonderful news!

I've got another haiku that's going to be published!

I've written about my love of haiku before, and as far as poetry goes, it's my favorite form in which to write. (If you'd like to get a taste for my poetry, head over to ExFic.)

My next published haiku will find its home at First Class Literary Magazine, and I am elated. 

It's another multi-stanza haiku; this one takes inspiration from Mary Shelley and is titled "Victor Stitches." It's also going to be a bit of an art project, which will be fun. 

I will keep you updated about the publication date as soon as I learn the details. 

Thanks everyone for your support!

16 February 2015

In Which I Try to Become a Machine.

Automaton from the Centre International
de la Mécanique d'Art.
Photo Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr by Rama.
I've done a lot of self-reflection lately, in addition to wallowing in self-pity when it comes to the state of my finances, career, and daily life. The danger of being unhappy or anxious, especially for a lengthy amount of time, is that it opens a door to inaction, including creative paralysis.
I'm trying to do something different this time. And maybe this is an obvious solution, and something professional writers have always practiced, but I'm going to try and make writing (and submitting!) an automatic process. 

This is a bold concept for me. 

I've never been good with set schedules or planning things in advance. I'm a serial pantser, and I've been continually working to reform my bad habit of writing only when I feel inspired to. I need to go beyond this.

I think one of the biggest problems I've had since graduating from SHU (besides work-life balance) is that my writing projects are all ENORMOUS in their ambition and heft, and I haven't developed a way to knock them down into sizeable chunks. And because of this, I don't consider any of the work to be finished, and then I fall into a state of defeat for not getting anything accomplished. Lame, right?

It occurred to me, with some help from my friends and fellow writers, that I needed to come up with a feasible plan for writing, and writing with the goal of being published. And I needed to widen my perspective and realize that I need to publish more than just novels. Author Patrick Picciarelli shared with me that his teaching career blossomed with publication, which only happened because he kept writing. 

So I have to keep going, and keep coming at it with different approaches until I find something that works for me. 

My current plan  involves looking up various publishers with open calls for anthologies (or open calls for smaller works in general), and to write according to their specifications. In other words, I start with no plan, read the submission guidelines, then write what the publication asks for.

via Dollar Photo Club.
I'm kind of embarrassed that this idea feels so revolutionary to me! But for my entire life, I only wrote when I had an idea, and if I didn't have an idea (however undeveloped it may be), I just didn't write. And when I did write, I only worked with ideas I already had in mind. 

Since developing this strategy, I've written two new pieces and submitted them already. I feel much more accomplished than I have for a good while. I'll keep pumping out a variety of work and see where it goes!

12 February 2015

Author Online: Protecting Your Personal Data

Constant vigilance!
Knife Dream (c) fomo of iStock.
One of the most time-consuming aspects of being an author online is the monitoring of your reputation and privacy. You are promoting yourself as a product, but you also have to safeguard what kind of information gets released into the world.

You want to be discoverable, but you don't want to be discovered...right?

What I've always found to be particularly creepy are the websites that compile every piece of public information about you and assemble it into a single, easy-to-view profile. It's not just, "We found XXX," but, "here's XXX's phone numbers, their current and prior addresses, their email addresses, a photo of their house on Google Maps Street View (so you know exactly where they live), all of their social media profiles, their political affiliations, arrest records, yearly income, and every member of their family." 

As any of these websites will tell you, what they are doing is not illegal. This is all publicly available information. They're just making it unbelievably easy for you to be found. And if you're working on building a name for yourself as a public figure (artists often have to), you want to make sure there's still parts of yourself that remain private. 

Over the years since I've started blogging and actively marketed myself as a writer, I've worked with reputation management programs, which are nice, but cost money. As a cheap alternative (and for my own peace of mind), I've contacted various companies and filled out numerous opt-out requests to make sure my info can't be easily assembled into one of these "here's EVERYTHING you need to stalk this person!" types of websites. I thought I'd share how to take care of this information with all of you. 

Google Maps/Street View

When Google Maps takes photos of an area, they automatically blur people's faces and license plates of any car that pops up in the photo.

But what if you don't want your house to be seen?

Google cannot remove a photo of your house from Google Street View. The best compromise they offer is to blur the crap out of it. In the end, I'm not sure how much this really accomplishes, but I guess if you want to remove particular details, you can request them to blur it by finding the image of your house on Street View, then clicking "Report a Problem," which will direct you to the request form.

"People Locator" Websites

Here are the links that take you directly to each company's Opt-Out or "Remove Me" processes. Not every company provides a consistent way to remove your information, so read the fine print to see what's required of you. Some companies make you create a free account in order to request removal. Some require you to fax a copy of your ID with photo and license plate number omitted; some will not remove your name from the listing but remove all of your available personal info. I've had to do each of these types of opt-outs, and I know they are legitimate because I've been through the process before. 

You may have to submit more than one request to the same company if you've ever changed addresses, changed names (or have had your name misspelled), changed phone numbers, and changed or had multiple email addresses, or pop under multiple listings within the same site. There's really no such thing as "search one and done" for a lot of these types of websites.

Because these sites are aware that people want their information removed, they will have programs like "Manage my Reputation" or similar...don't be tricked into signing up for these types of programs--some will cost money while others are just a pitch to get you to maintain an active account with them. (MyLife is an example of a site that has remarketed itself as a "profile remover" engine. According to their terms, you can't actually remove your profile from My Life, even while it offers to remove your profile from other sites. I don't think this is exactly true, but I haven't found clear answers on this.)
The task is a bit daunting...
Stress While Working Late at Night (c) Alvarez of iStock

Remember, there's no such thing as a "full removal." 

Think of it more like the suppression of data. This process may feel like a battle of attrition at times, but if you have the patience, feel free to dive in.

Best of luck to you on this!


Check out other articles in the Author Online series:

07 February 2015

Fantastic Settings & Real-Life Inspirations: Rookwood Marshes

My novel, The Name and the Key, is set in a fictional universe that really is an echo of our own. I wanted the setting to be plausible and realistic for the reader in order to accomplish the suspension of disbelief integral to speculative fiction. I've taken inspiration from real-life places I've loved in order to create the world of The Name and the Key.

Rookwood Marshes

Rookwood Marshes refers to an undefined area outside of the Camomescro campsite, where Lily meets with Zurca and Andresh for the first time. After the first night at camp, Andresh convinces Lily to sneak off into the forest with him, which leads directly into a tragic scene that takes place in the actual marshes--the discovery of her mother's body.
"We arrived at a clearing well into the woods, where the trees thinned so the forest seemed brighter, but felt colder. The wind picked up when we dismounted, and shook the leaves from their branches. I eyed the path that stretched behind us while Andresh tethered the restless Ashena to the trunk of a large maple."
--From The Name and the Key

The path at Gorman Nature Center. (c) KEB.

I had a wonderful childhood where a large chunk of it was spent outside in the woods. At a very young age, my grandmother took us on hikes through the forest, and a popular haunt was Gorman Nature Center. While I walked, I actively pictured entire scenes playing out in front of me. I thought I was in Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood, or at other times, following Tecumseh on a secret trail, evading soldiers. I didn't consider the forest as a forest, but a movie set.

It was only natural that decades later, the forests of my childhood would pop up in my fiction.  I envisioned a forest like the one within Gorman Nature Center as I wrote, and it was only while I was working through a draft of The Name and the Key that I decided to take photos (and video) of the places that inspired me. Especially for moments where I needed to capture details that appealed to the five senses.

"The wind picked up again and tickled the trees, rousing limbs and shaking leaves in their branches." --The Name and the Key

That particular video helped me with thinking about how the forest sounds. And interestingly, if you're in the woods on a windy day, it almost sounds like the waves in the ocean. That in and of itself can be a beautiful image, especially in prose.

Aside from observing the scents and sounds of the forest, one of the more important missions I set on was to observe the actual marshes within the park's 150 acres. The grounds have both marshes and ponds, and I wanted to make sure I clearly understood the differences between them. To be honest, there's very few. The only substantial note I could come up with is that for marshes, the vegetation dominates the water, whereas in a pond, the water dominates the vegetation.

The marshlands at Gorman Nature Center. (c) KEB.

When I first wrote the forest scenes where the marshes play an integral role, I relied on my memory of the Gorman Nature Center pond for the initial descriptions. My mental images provided a more delicate sensibility, and I wanted to capture that when I wrote the descriptions leading up to the discovery of Lily's mother. In my mind, I was writing a fantasy with fairy-tale elements, so I thought a more romantic depiction of the death scene would be suitable.

There's a tradition of romanticism when it comes to the image of the drowned woman--it's an object of fascination for photographers and painters. As someone who's drawn to pre-Raphaelite art, the particular image of Ophelia, as painted by John Everett Millais, always drove my vision of Lily's mother Estella, lying in the water, her golden hair floating around her.

Ophelia by John Everett Millais. 1851. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
But some of the harshest critiques I received on The Name and the Key came about because of the imagery I chose for this scene.

Even when writing fantasy, there's still the burden of realism, and as much as I would like Estella to be Millais's Ophelia, reality dictates otherwise. 

People do not come out of the water like this.  And this death is not tranquil, despite how "quiet" drowning can be.

It ended up being one of the most challenging rewrites for me, to scrap the romanticism of the drowned woman and replace it with horrific reality. This did improve the manuscript and made for a more compelling story. Even so, I tried to contrast the ugliness of human decomposition with beautiful scenery, perhaps to in order to confuse Lily and compound her lack of awareness of the situation around her; perhaps I wanted to soften the blow for the character (and readers) by pairing an ugly death with descriptions of beautiful life.
"Gold and green algae surrounded me on all sides as my feet sank into the muddy floor. Several water lilies floated ahead of me while groups of tall cattail reeds hovered above them and shook in the wind. A section of the reeds thinned out, revealing clusters of rose mallow and wild angelica in a marriage of pink and white, dusted by bits of green clover; a strange and lovely contrast to the dreariness of the marsh. There was an odd familiarity to it all, as if I'd seen shades of it in a dream." --The Name and the Key 
Rose mallow and wild angelica. Images (cc) Wikimedia Commons.

That description took quite a bit of research to write! Only some of the specific flora mentioned in the passage above I found at Gorman Nature Center. Aside from cattail reeds and water lilies, there weren't a lot of flowers for me to identify; the exception being Queen Anne's Lace, which I thought was a bit too "earthly" for the book. I wanted to settle on plants that had a variety of species and subspecies and grew on various continents--things that existed in the real world, but couldn't be specifically pinned to a real-world location. And it helped that these flowers have very pretty, vivid names to work with, which made the passage sound much lovelier than I anticipated. It's one of my favorite brief setting descriptions in the entire novel.

The water lily pond at Gorman Nature Center. (c) KEB.

 That's it for Rookwood Marshes! If you would like to switch locations, feel free to stop by the coastal town of Mariner while you're touring the world of The Name and the Key. More posts and settings coming soon.

03 February 2015

My current joyous burden: novel research!

Creative research: an easy way to drown in the details?
Image (c) Vic Zast. Licensed by Bigstock.
One of the most exciting aspects of writing a novel can be the preparation that goes into it. I'm not talking about structure and plotting in this instance; rather, the steps a writer takes to ensure historical accuracy or to aid in worldbuilding: research!

The danger that comes with research for creative writing, however, is getting sucked down the rabbit hole. One amazing discovery can lead to another, and another...or, you'll find something that throws a wrench into your original plans because your initial idea was inaccurate...so you have to do more work to make sure your creative choices seem logical and pan out.

Then there's the burden of what to do with all of this fabulous new information! Because you have to consider how much detail is necessary to move the story along. And beware the dreaded infodump, where you bore your readers, or even worse, draw their attention away from the story to tell them, Look how smart I am! I know ALL THE THINGS!

I don't know about you, but I have issues with getting sucked into research, as well as determining what info is relevant for the reader to know at the present moment in the story. I don't have much in the way of advice for either one of these issues, and right now, the more pressing matter is the weird journey I'm on trying to find information for The Step and the Walk and the rewrite of The Name and the Key.

Over the past week or so, when I haven't been searching for a second job or open calls for writers, I've been trying to cull details from a variety of topics. The latest on my plate:

Phillip Astley is concerned the founder of the circus.
This is a plate depicting his ampitheatre in London in 1808.
The circus in regency England. I originally wanted to verify that circuses actually existed in the late 18th century/early 19th century, because I just didn't know. Two images of the circus existed in my mind: the Victorian era circus, and then, for some weird reason, the 1930s. I don't know if television or comics planted these time periods in my head, but given my trilogy is set in a Regency-ish world, I honestly didn't know if the circus was a real thing at that time. Good news: it is! But what I found of the circus didn't exactly match up with my preconceived notions of what constituted a show under the Big Top. As it turns out, early circuses consisted of trick riding on horses.

Which led me to...

What is trick riding? And what tricks were used in the Regency era? I was able to find out about trick riding easily, and wandered into YouTube-land to watch some excellent videos of people training for doing elegant--and simultaneously scary--tricks while working with horses. But I've hit a snag with historical trick-riding. Then the issue became, how much more time do I want to spend finding the answers to this? I decided to leave the topic alone for the moment.

The djinni that permeates the Western cultural
mind is the marid, or the blue djinni. Thanks, Disney!
From the Kitab al Bulhan, 14th c. Source: Wikimedia 
Switching gears, I started looking for information on something entirely different--Moroccan folklore, specifically involving a creature known as the Grine (similar to the qarin, but I was interested in the differences between the two). The most information I got was from Wikipedia--the multiple sites that claimed to have info on the Grine actually copied and pasted and source the same info from Wikipedia. So it's a wild goose chase. What I know of the Grine: there's two worlds that exist--our world, and then the world of the Grine. The Grine is a carbon-copy of us that exists in this parallel world, with one exception: the Grine is not human, but a djinn. Pretty cool concept, right?

But it led me to another issue...

What is this parallel world in which the Grine lives? I cannot find the name of this place. The closest detail I uncovered was Djinnestan, which I only got from one source online. I couldn't find details specifically on Djinnestan, which supposedly is the world in which all djinn dwell. Not the same as the mirrorworld in which the Grine exists, right? I feel like it's not the same, but I don't even know if my feelings are right.

Which leads me to this final issue...

When is it appropriate to stop the research, and start making things up? Again, I ask myself, how much more time do I want to spend finding the answers to this? My brain wants me to stop, and to come up with  my own solutions.

Because really, if I spend too much time on research, that's less time writing. And as I've mentioned multiple times, I seem to have a problem with time management where this is concerned.

...Where do writers draw a line when it comes to finding answers?