Bright lights and faerietales

I’m assured the sun is shining furiously outside though I am happier to be cloistered away in the writing cave than charring and/or melting out there. Do you know the weather people describe our forecasts with things like, “Plenty of sunshine,” and even, “Abundant sunshine,” if a quick glance out the window won’t answer the question in amazing, blinding glory? As an aside, thank you, Summer, but you’re now working overtime. Please kindly vacate the desk and allow Autumn to take over the next shift. Trust me, we’ve all earned this particular break.

Well-protected from such brightness and heat, I’m tucked away thinking about faerietales within the dark fantasy world of The Damning Moths. The legends which would inevitably shape the cultures found throughout Gantiri, not to mention the function of our own real-world grim tales. Our traditional “fairytale” form is often a veiled warning about the danger of wandering off alone in the woods; of strangers; of the dark; of waterways; of eating unknown foods. They are methods to impart knowledge, too. Stories of changelings which seem to mimic modern behavioural disorders, or tales to impress upon the listener the value of morals and proprietary.

Do fae also fear for their children exploring in nature, even when the forests are their homes? Would it be the risk of injury where no one can come to the child’s aid, or the hunting of predators, the necessity of keeping magical things secret? Do their faerietales teach the babes not to stray near a griffin’s lair, or keep far from the rival Goblin tribe? To hold back the little ones from being swept away by the playful, but ultimately immortal Elementals who will have no concept of the child dying if it falls, or drowns, or is burnt (especially when the Elementals think in terms of energy transference, rebirth, and the persistence of existence)?

What tales and superstitions and strange remedies would be passed down through generations of magical folk? Would they have even more outlandish stories to tell their children, as we speak of witches, and trolls, and werewolves? Or would the humans be the bogey? The loss of their powers? Naughty little fae can’t do magic, so be good, eat your vegetables, don’t taunt the Urisk just because he’s hairy…

~A

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Reinterpreting my own advice

My efforts to keep writing as a significant entity are coming along swimmingly. Even with time off for the “weekend”, I’m ahead of schedule and finding it easier each day to separate from whatever else fills my time and use it to get the words done at my writing desk.

I’m doing my best to celebrate that progress, though the voice of contention has to chime in. I can pick up on the novel and produce the next pages of text without too much effort, but the summer job is keeping me from percolating on the short stories I need to write. Not enough quiet thinking time. Sometimes, writing a novel feels like throwing thousands of words into a giant hole. I can’t help the ever-so-slight sense of not doing enough, all centred around how I haven’t added anything to the short story list, even when I’m successfully exceeding my daily word quota.

Part of my drive to push a few extra hundred words in here and there stems from the inevitability that my next holiday will be writing-free. Date of departure is approaching rapidly, and I’m helpless in the face of three weeks of writing lost to being away.

Not only am I making up for those days off in advance with my extra effort now, but I’m looking ahead to what my writing plans will be when I return. One of the biggest things I tell many creative friends is to forgive themselves when life gets in the way. We’re a damn critical bunch, and harshest upon ourselves for any perceived lapse.

I’d love to believe I could keep up my excellent daily word count for the duration of my holiday, but every single other vacation has proven otherwise. There’s just not enough time or mental energy to spare when I’m out of the house. I could try and fight it, but I think this is one of the instances where forgiving myself is more important than struggling against the path of least resistance. I mean, it’s supposed to be a holiday, right?

Afterwards, though, I have to be honest, and persistent, and stubborn when vacation time is over. It’s too easy to pretend like the excuses have validity and weight when it’s “just writing”. At no point would I call my manager and tell her I can’t come back to the day job because I’m recovering from holidays. I wouldn’t give up partway through my shift because I’m tired and it’s hard to rebuild the routine. Writing is no longer a just-for-me activity. I have external expectations to meet.

So that will be the thing I fight against, and not simply forgive: the tendency to let myself cruise along as if writing is just too hard when I’ve taken a break. Yes, it is difficult to get back into the groove with a three-week-hiccup in the way, but not enough to actually matter! Step one is my mental approach. I have two jobs to come back to, end of story.

It’s one thing to be forgiving, and another to let myself wallow in lingering post-vacation laziness.

~A

It’s that New Year kind of feeling

People all around the world are making goals for 2014. I’m not talking those “New Years Resolutions” deals, the ones destined to fall through once January slinks away and people return to their normal life habits, but more about how everyone takes stock, reassesses where they’re going, and reorients back toward where they thought they should be instead of the detour 2013 took them on (also known as the many varieties of, “ahaha, and you thought you were in control of your life, I’ll show you!”).

I don’t often get very new year-y, preferring to make constant little adjustments with each new moon. But lucky for me, the new moon falls on January 1st this/next year. So my thoughts are getting just a teensy bit caught up in everyone else’s planning. Not only for what I want in the following month, but what 2014 should do for me.

After the first flush of “success” with The Damning Moths – by which I mean a bundle of books have sold, and I’ve gotten real, live fan letters from people I don’t directly know (!!!) – the obvious goal is to power forward with the other books I need to finish creating. I don’t think that even counts as a new goal, except that November and December are super busy months and almost always represent a slump in my writing, so I’m feeling the internal pressure to write more, progress faster, and perceive myself as more productive and professional.

Starting on January 1st, I’ll be doing more to treat writing time like other work time. My real challenge there is in mindset. With the day jobs, I leave the house, do what needs to be done, and come home again. Writing is too personal for me to successfully take out into a public area like a coffee shop or library (what with the whole writing in a robe, not wearing pants thing – okay, more that I get distracted and start people-watching, plus don’t much like having an audience for my scribblings). I think I will start by carving out a small workspace in another room away from my main computer which is all tied up with being social and used for entertainment, to give myself the illusion that I am “going to work” when I sit down to write. I’ll schedule it in, just like my other job.

So there you have it. The goal at the top of my list is make a physical space to represent being a real writer. You’d think having a book published would cover those kind of feelings, but no. Maybe having a little separate desk won’t change my perspective much either, but it’s a good direction to start.

~A

Epitomising Storytelling

When I grow up, I want to be the written equivalent of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.

“Hold up,” you say. “That’s based on, uh, The War of the Worlds. It’s already something that’s… you know, been written.”

Yes it is, I’m aware, and thank the gods for granting us H.G. Wells. It’s not the tale in and of itself, though. Other stories have meant so much more to me as pure stories. The tension Jeff Wayne added with the aural experience is something moving. Nostalgic and magical.

The truth is, if it weren’t for Richard Burton’s narration, I would not understand exactly how I want my words to move together. His part as The Journalist gave me the clearest vision of what lilt and flow a story should have. His voice lives on as the ultimate measure of sentence structure and word choice for me. Credit in the hands of the author for penning the the script, but the performance of Mr. Burton gives it another life.

Add in the artful pauses, the rising pressure, sudden starts and stops in the music. All the emotion. The leitmotifs and sound design. That is merely flavour to the distinct narration which encompasses what I feel storytelling should be. If I can leave my readers with a sense of sincerity amidst all that otherworldliness the way this production has always left me, I will have succeeded.

When I grow up, I want my stories to be a late 1970’s concept album. It’s not the worst goal a lady can have.

~A

Of Baked Goods and Deadlines

Short stories, editing, formatting, website content. Obtaining reviews, merchandise set up, the postal service increased the cost of shipping by HOW MUCH?!

Touching base with customer service representatives to discuss options.

Pre-release interviews. Checking and double-checking files before uploading.

And still, I chip away at the next novel because I really like the story and it’s very satisfying to work on.

How will I fit everything in? My productive week away from the other job came to an end. The responsibilities of life don’t tend to wait politely while I’m running about trying to finish everything in the same moment. Despite prioritising and re-prioritising, I get into a cycle of doing a little here, some other thing there, and never really moving forward enough to justify the time I’ve spent on any given task.

Counter-intuitive as it may seem on those days, the best thing to do is drop everything and bake tasty treats. Just shove all those worries into the back of my mind and accept that an hour off will help calm me, then there will be good smells filling the house and delicious results for my effort. Strawberry cupcakes to go with sweet iced coffee. Fresh waffles where the fluffy batter soaks up maple syrup and stays crisp on the edges. Mars Bar slice, Rice Bubble/Krispy treats, Honey Joys.

The deadlines won’t go away. The work won’t even complete itself while I’m not looking. But I’ll have spent time doing something immediately rewarding. Just as long as I don’t burn anything – that would be apocalyptic right now.

~A

In the world of Ashlee

Things have been happening, despite my relative silence. Of course, that should be a given. No matter how many blog posts I do or don’t write, or how many days go in between my Facebook or Twitter updates, life goes on and the world keeps spinning. Isn’t it funny how we might measure our personal existence by our presence on social media? If you can’t see me, I’m not entirely real.

Nonetheless, there were a couple of big ups and downs in the interim. No, no, nothing so big as the release of my novel. That’s still yet to come, though I have been dispensing ARCs to some very lovely people, and hearing wonderful things back. We’re looking at another month or two before I can pin down the release date. It’s hard to have delay after delay; I am not patient, but I’m forced to acknowledge this comes in part due to what has transpired through the early months of 2013. So let’s go over some of those things.

I had an author interview over at This Is Horror. If you haven’t seen it already, you can read my Meet The Writer on their website. I’ll note, it’s both fun and weird talking about yourself in the interview format.

Family and friends have gone through a number of personal trials. As a bystander for the most part, you try to support them. Show love. Remind them each of their importance in your life. Broken bones in accidents, severe illness and ongoing aftercare, a death. Little things, big things, unavoidable throughout life. Then the worldwide tragedies which have been occurring, with heart-warming tales of heroism amidst the chaos. One of these days, I’m going to stop reading the news.

I have spent the better part of two months designing and building an updated version of The Damning Moths website. It hasn’t gone live as I am still trying to muscle my way through some of the more finicky coding. I never thought myself as an especially talented web designer, but I think this will all work out rather nicely in the end. It’s just getting to the point where I am confident the site will function as best as possible.

Surviving the End received the Australian Shadows Award for Edited Publication. So far, my favourite part of being in an award winning anthology is the celebratory atmosphere with my co-contributors and the excitement our editor shared. And another hearty congratulations to us all.

I’m writing and plotting and editing all at once, which is hardly unusual, but takes a lot of attention away from other things. For the next week, I am burying my head in these stories for as many hours as anyone will let me. I’m talking very long days. See, I recently attended a course and gained accreditation for a new job. I will be starting in late May. I don’t exactly know how that will change my writing hours and energy levels, but I want to have some of this out of the way before then. What better timing than my week off work? If I manage to push hard enough, I know exactly what I can get accomplished. So here’s to a very productive week.

Lastly, I fill the gaps in between with the occasional important email, and reading. A lot of reading. Judging for the AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition, as an early reader (both requiring actual thought, assessment, and giving feedback where appropriate), and a whole pile of books being consumed unnaturally quick for pure enjoyment.

I know I’ve said it before, but I might be able to keep up with blogging again someday soon. Or you might hear from me again in a few months time. Either way, my love to you all, you’re not far from my thoughts.

~A

The mysteries of this author’s mind

I had a great question the other day from a guy at work. He knows I’m a writer, with my first novel coming out soon, and wanted to know if I’ve got any new writing in the works at the moment. My answer was, Yes, I’m in the middle of drafting three stories.

He gave me a surprised look and confirmed, Three?

That’s right, three separate books concurrently written. A prequel, a sequel, and something completely different to keep things exciting. To that, he wanted to know how I don’t get them all tangled up and confused with one another. Therein is the interesting quality of being me, and writing the things I do.

My explanation was something to the effect of, I spend most of my time thinking about these characters and their situations. They’re like friends. Just as a normal person probably wouldn’t mistake one friend’s life with another, I can keep track of the people in three different books at the same time.

I didn’t mention that I’m actively reading two novels and a bunch of short stories by other people as well.

From the perspective of someone who doesn’t write, this concept seemed especially amazing. I know a whole lot of authors would also agree. Myself, I just don’t struggle to identify each character, and even if I need a refresher, I have a lot of notes. I’m kind of obsessive with note taking these days. Even though I can follow the lives of half a dozen main characters and twice as many minor characters doesn’t mean my memory is any good. I’m in their worlds so often that there isn’t anything terribly confusing about it, not at the drafting stage.

I might disagree when it comes time to edit.

~A