The Isle of Arran Writing Retreat

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Last week was my first proper week off in…a long time. Except it wasn’t really a week off–I went to the Isle of Arran with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne for a writing retreat. But it was the first week in so long where I wasn’t going to the day job, or going to a convention, or going to class or doing homework, or on holiday somewhere where you explore all day. I sat on my butt, didn’t move off of it much, and was a proper full time writer for one whole glorious week.

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On the ferry to Arran

 

It did have a bit of drama: the day after we arrived the weather worsened, to the point where we were technically trapped on the island for two days as the ferries weren’t running. Due to the microclimates on the island, it’d be sunny one minute and furiously hailing the next. Wednesday night, lightning flashed and thunder shook the Retreat Cottage of Wonder (and Whisky). Because it was cold and we had the heating up high, a few wasps came out of hibernation. Only queen wasps hibernate. They were the size of small birds (slight exaggeration) and we had to vanquish them with a hoover.

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The nearby town of Lamlash, where we went for supplies

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In search of vittles

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The view from our window. I know, right? That’s Holy Isle, which has a Tibetan monastery.

 

Aside from that, it was a lot of writing and eating a lot of cheese.

What I did:

- Finished re-reading Pantomime (to refresh myself for Masquerade‘s edits. And whoo man, it was really weird reading a book I wrote in 2010-2012. In general I still like it, but there’s also plenty I’d change, and I can tell my writing’s grown and matured)

- Re-read Shadowplay (because this was written in 2012-2013, it wasn’t as painful to read)

- Edit Masquerade into a readable draft, as that first draft was most definitely not. This was what took most of the week. It’s now out with the first round of betas.

My main task

My main task

- Edit my short story, “The Lioness,” which will be released in the Cranky Ladies of History anthology from Fablecroft Press next year. It’s about a badass lady pirate who killed a lot of people (Jeanne de Clisson).

- Read 1 book for the Bisexual Book Award I’m helping judge (in the general fiction category).

- Finish my research book on corporate espionage for Brainfreeze Book (my option book for Tor).

- I also managed some fun reading: most of The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig and some of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

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The morning we left, the rain cleared up a little, and a perfect, marvelous double rainbow bid us farewell.

This week I’ve been thrown back into day job stress, but as of next week that calms down and then there’s the Christmas break. I’ll either actually take the break off work entirely, or I’ll start drafting Brainfreeze Book again (which I’m currently 40k through).

It was a marvelous week, and I think I’m going to have to find a way to go on more writing retreats.

 

Books Read in November

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1. The Comforters – Muriel Spark. For university. Very meta, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I’m afraid.

2. Shark – Will Self. Also for uni. I actively despised this book. A 500 page book of one paragraph, post-post modernist prose with no q
uotation marks. So the opposite of my cup of tea.

isla3. Isla and the Happily Ever After – Stephanie Perkins. After reading Shark, I needed a palette cleanser of something easy to read and fun. I loved Perkins’s previous work and this helped me recharge.

4. Complete Atopia Chronicles – Matthew Mather. Book research. Mather is an IT security expert who self-published some short novellas, which were then put into one collection. I really liked how the novellas overlapped between the various characters, and found the ideas fascinating.

5. Austerlitz – W.E. Sebold. Another book without paragraphs. Though I still found it hard to get into, I enjoyed it more than Shark. I’ll enjoy every book I read this year more than Shark.

Total for this year: 67 books in 2014.

November: In which I sort of won NaNoWriMo

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SORT OF.

 

At the halfway point of last month, I had pretty much thrown in the towel on reaching 50k.

But turns out cheating worked really well for me.

I had 4k of a draft before November started, which I input into day one’s total, but as I wrote pretty much exactly 4k between guest blogs and this blog in November, that evened out. Because I was able to include my university work, as a result I wrote about 6k for uni and my final projects are not that far off from done, which is good because they’re due this Friday and I’m in London from Tuesday to Thursday. As of today, the draft of my option book, codenamed Brainfreeze Book, is 39,091 words. I’m not sure of the percentage of the draft; I feel like I’m around 40% through the story. I’m sure at least 10k of what I wrote is going to be scrapped and rewritten. But it’s a lot of progress.

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The NaNoWriMo graph

So, maybe I didn’t “technically” win. Who the heck cares? It’s an arbitrary number anyway. Back in January I planned to keep track of my word counts all year in a spreadsheet because I am a nerd. I gave up on it in mid-July, pretty much right after Tor offered on False Hearts and Brainfreeze Book. But in the first 6.5 months of the year I wrote around 155,000 words. From mid-July to the end of October, I think I wrote at least another 45k of Masquerade & the Vestigial Tales. So in as of December 1st, I’ve written at least 250k, and I’m going to edit all of Masquerade this month and finish my final projects for the first half of my MLitt. That’ll be inching pretty close to 750 words a day on average, all year long, despite working full time for almost all of it and, for a brief time, working 32 hours a week AND studying full-time (note: not recommended). Despite some shitty things happening, and then some really awesome things happening (which can be just as distracting for getting words on the page). I kept on pushing through, kept on writing, no matter what life threw at me. I’m really proud of that.

And, as I’ve said before, writing is not a race. There’s been plenty of 300 word days I’ve had that have been far more useful than other 3000 word days. A book is more than its word count. Some of the most important work you can do is stare out of a window and think really hard, or read a book, or watch a film, or get out into the world and live in it and be inspired that way.

I hereby declare 2014 a writing win.

rock-on

 

Ten Snaps: Glasgow

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I did this a long time ago for my trip to Barcelona, then stopped. But Ten Snaps is where I share 10 photos from a trip.

I went to Glasgow last weekend as a wee break before things really rev up for finals for my university and work for an upcoming audit.

For more photos, follow me on Instagram, as that’s where I’m pic spamming these days.

“Being Human” and Book Week Scotland

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Book Week Scotland

Last week the University of Aberdeen had a festival called “Being Human.” Unfortunately, I was only able to go to one event, a lecture on time, time machines, and the Victorians by one of my professors. It was good research for a book idea I’ve had for years that hasn’t quite gelled yet. The festival also had and interview with Will Self, a talk on Viking funeralscapes, an informal “Skeptics at the Pub” event, and more. I really wanted to go to a talk on the history of disability, and another on terrors, gods, and magic in the north, but between part-time day job, existing studies, and the fact that I was away in Glasgow Thursday and Friday meant that I couldn’t go.

This week is Book Week Scotland. I’m a Patron of Reading for the Aberdeen City Library, so a letter to the library I wrote will be on display within at least one branch, I think. There are some great events on both through the public library and at the University of Aberdeen library, though again, due to the semester nearing an end and the day job needing me for extra hours this week, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend any. I’d like to go to the historical crime event on Saturday, and I’m going to at least look at the miniature books on display before my lecture tomorrow at the University library! Tonight there was a bookbinding workshop I wish I could have gone to rather than toiling on my essay. One day, I’ll have free time…! But if you’re free in Aberdeen, you should definitely pop along to some of the upcoming events if you can to celebrate books an libraries.

 

Shadowplay Nominated for the ALA Rainbow List

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Yay! Shadowplay was nominated for the American Library Association Rainbow List but I didn’t notice until recently. Pantomime was on it last year and was even a Top Ten Title, so I’m super happy the sequel has followed.

The Rainbow List is “a joint project of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association.  The Rainbow Book List presents an annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content, which are recommended for people from birth through eighteen years of age.”

Whoohoo! *throws rainbow confetti*

Recent School Visits & Events

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I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages, but over the last few months I’ve done some school visits around Aberdeen.

The Aberdeen City Council / Central Library were awarded funding for visits as part of their event #WriteCity. I visited:

- Tilly Youth Centre for their LGBT youth group
– Northfield Library for an open to the public event
– Kincorth Academy
– Harlaw Academy
– St. Machar Academy (this one was part of the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature project rather than #WriteCity)
– California State University East Bay (this was a Skype visit for my mom’s class, who’s a lecturer there. She’s been teaching Pantomime in a composition class that focuses on the theme of gender and identity for the last two quarters.)

I spoke to all the groups about my writing, both the books themselves and my publishing journey. Some of them were more discussion groups, some with a heavy emphasis on Q&A, and for others I led writing workshops and had them do some exercises. As a warm up, I made them write a 6 word story, made famous by Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”). Another exercise I did that worked quite well was bringing in three or so objects and asking them to write something about them. Some of the things I brought: a crystal ball, a key, a small elephant figurine, a paper pantomime stage (technically the card Kim Curran gave me for Pantomime’s publication!), a spanner. It would be really interesting to see what was most popular (crystal ball and key) and what wasn’t particularly (the spanner). And also, even though say 10 people would write about the crystal ball, all the stories would be different. The people attending the events were anywhere from around 14 at the youngest, up to retired people at the public event.

Sometimes the group would share their results, and sometimes they wouldn’t. I never force them to read aloud as I know that could be detrimental to their writing confidence. Sharing your work with others is hard at the best of times, especially when it’s a first draft you’ve been asked to craft on the spot.

I am so glad Aberdeen City Council Libraries approached me, and that I’ve been approved for a few visits via the Scottish Book Trust. I have one school visit lined up next year, but now that I’m not working as much, I have time for more. If you know any teachers or librarians in Scotland interested in bringing in an author for a school visit, take a look at the Live Literature database. And, if you’d like me to come, here’s my page. The Scottish Book Trust pays half of the school fees and the travel, which makes it a lot easier for budget-strapped schools to bring in speakers. I’m hoping the students and people I spoke to enjoyed the events, as I sure did.

NaNoWriMo: The Halfway Point

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There is no way I’m going to win NaNoWriMo without cheating.

I thought now that I was working less I’d magically have more free time, and I do, but there’s still so much for me to do. I made really good progress in week one, but week two has been a struggle. However, I do think I can still write 50k in a month, it just won’t all be on Brainfreeze Book.

So I’ve added a little folder called “Cheating” in Screivener and I’ll copy my uni work into it. “CHEATING!” you cry. Me: “Yeah, so what?” The uni work is a lot more important to finish this month, versus rushing through a draft for a book not due until next October, and said rushing might mean a lot more work in edits down the line. I’m reaching the bit in the book where the corporate espionage kicks in. I’ve interviewed my cousin, who is basically a white hat hacker and owner of Secure DNA, which was SUPER helpful, but I still need to do more research to figure out how this next section of the plot will pan out. If I just make shit up, it’s going to stink and I’m going to have to re-write it all anyway. That’s a waste of time.

SO. I’m aiming to write at least 30k in Brainfreeze Book, which I’m well on my way to completing, and I’m also pasting in my essays and such and still updating my NaNo word count, because I’d find it disappointing to see my word count so far below the “goal”.

Every year I try NaNoWriMo, but the emphasis on word count over everything else always ends up stressing me out, and my anxiety is in overrdrive all the time anyway. I’ve tried NaNo twice before. Both books had to be thrown out completely. One is trunked forever, and the other one has a premise I love but that iteration of the book was so bad. SO VERY BAD. My best friend Erica read it and was like “…yeah, you need to throw this out and start again.” And she was so right. It was possibly one of the worst things I’d ever written, and it’s because I kept madly tapping even though I knew it was wrong. The books I write slower (first draft between 3-6 months)? Those are the ones published.

So if you struggle with NaNoWriMo, you’re far from the only one! For some people it works brilliantly. I thought this year maybe I could properly win it, since I have a detailed outline. And I probably could win it, but the draft would suck and I’d possibly fail my courses. So that’s not the way for me to go. I’m not enjoying the race, so I’m taking a different track. I’ll still probably write 50k this month, they just won’t all be on the same thing. It’s not wrong. There’s no wrong way to write, as long as you’re writing and making progress.

-Laura Lam, a three-time NaNoWriMo failure

Tales of a Hybrid Author: Month 5

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Did you know “The Card Sharp” is FREE on Kindle until 13th November, 2014?

Amazon US / Amazon UK / Amazon Canada / Amazon India / Amazon Germany / Amazon France / Amazon Spain / Amazon Italy / Amazon Japan / Amazon Brazil / Amazon Mexico /Amazon Australia

“The Snake Charm” is up for pay-what-you-want on Smashwords

Background if you’re new to my blog: I’m self-publishing some short stories/novellas set in the same world as my Micah Grey series (PantomimeShadowplay Masquerade). There’s going to be a bit of delay in getting Masquerade to market. These short stories/novellas are to help break up the wait and teach me about self-publishing.

This is the first month since I started chronicling these that I haven’t had a new release. So, how much did sales drop?

Answer: there is a drop, as expected, but it wasn’t as drastic as I thought it’d be. I also did a 5 day Kindle countdown for “The Tarot Reader,” which helped, but that was US only. The currency didn’t convert to be at the UK threshold level, so it didn’t work and I couldn’t run one before the Amazon exclusive ran out. Boo. But, that means that two of the four stories are now out of the exclusive time period and up on Smashwords! As I said at the top of the post, I’ve also listed “The Tarot Reader as pay what you want, which should be an interesting experiment.

Total Sales for October:
Paid (Amazon): 46
Borrowed (Amazon): 6
Paid (Smashwords): 0
Total: 51
Total Sales to Date: 377

Per Story in October:
“The Snake Charm”: 7 (plus one bought and refunded)
“The Fisherman’s Net”: 12
“The Tarot Reader”: 20 (15 of the sales during the Kindle Countdown deal)
“The Card Sharp”:  12 (plus one bought and refunded)

Total Sales/Borrows per Story:
“The Snake Charm”: 145 (plus 395 free ones)
“The Fisherman’s Net”: 116
“The Tarot Reader”: 76
“The Card Sharp”: 40

Total Gross Income for September: £36.97 ($58.68)
Total Gross Income to Date: £313.04 ($496.84)
Costs: £132 for 10 ISBNs
Total Net Profit: £181.04 ($287.34)

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October sales

Reviews as of today: 
“The Snake Charm” on GR: 48 ratings (22 reviews)
“The Snake Charm” on Amazon: 8 (US),  9 (UK)
“The Fisherman’s Net” on GR: 22 ratings (9 reviews)
“The Fisherman’s Net” on Amazon: 2 (US), 2 (UK)
“The Fisherman’s Net” on Smashwords: 0
“The Tarot Reader” on GR: 20 ratings (8 reviews)
“The Tarot Reader” on Amazon: 2 (US), 2 (UK)
“The Tarot Reader” on Smashwords: 0
“The Card Sharp” on GR: 15 ratings (8 reviews)
“The Card Sharp” on Amazon: 0 (US), 2 (UK)

As ever, if you’ve read any of the stories, leaving a short review on Goodreads/Amazon would be so greatly appreciated. Especially on Amazon/Smashwords, as it means more casual readers might pick them up. And if you’d consider purchasing one, it’d also be appreciated. All money is being earmarked for self-publishing Masquerade. So far it’s raised enough for the ISBNs and some of the costs for orders swag for the varying backing levels.

I’m still finding it an interesting experiment, though it’s not made me enough money that I’d consider writing more soon to generate a side income. It seems my time is better spent focusing on novels, or selling short stories/novellas to trade markets. Which is a shame, as I quite enjoy being able to see sales in real time, fiddle with prices, and generally have control. I’m hoping with Masquerade, because it’s a full-length book, sales will be more robust, but we’ll see.

Thanks for reading along.

Previous months:

Month 4

Month 3

Month 2

Month 1

The Cranky Ladies of History Table of Contents

Cranky Ladies logoI have a short story in the upcoming anthology from Fablecroft press, The Cranky Ladies of History, about a very cranky french pirate, Jeanne de Clisson, in the 1300s. Here’s the full table of contents. There’s some rather familiar names on there for me, which still tickles me: Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Juliet Marillier, Nisi Shawl, Kaaron Warren, Foz Meadows, and more. I’m looking forward to sharing the story with you all soon.

 

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