Category Archives: Writing

Writing and anything loosely related thereto.

Reading and Writing as Self-Care

It’s been a bit, dear readers. But on this blog I’ve always been pretty transparent about the fact that these posts are an occasional pursuit compared to my full time obsession with churning out other content like…I don’t know…my dissertation, my podcast, my novels and short stories (including “H&D Plumbing,” which is forthcoming from Fireside Magazine!).

Anyway, this is one of those occasional times when I feel like I have something to say that is best said here and not on Twitter or Facebook or even Instagram.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what writing means for me, and what reading means too.

I read voraciously as a child, but after my B.A. I’d read so much and so widely in my favorite genres that I started to feel like I’d read all of the good stuff and had only the slush pile to pick through for the rest of my life.

Of course, that cynical thought was really naive–I’m currently awash in amazing work by amazing writers. But it FELT true, and so I started reading a little bit less. And then I started an M.A. program, and read a bunch for school but very little at all for fun.

And that, my friends, basically destroyed me. 

Last year, at my wits end with anxiety and stress and insomnia that skyrocketed right after I graduated with my M.A. and only got worse and worse leading up to some major exams I had to take for my Ph.D program, I started seeing a therapist. She asked me what I do to relax and take care of myself, and I shot off a few rote answers like “drink tea,” “do pilates,” and “take deep breaths.” All of which are great. Really. But over the course of weeks and months, my therapist helped me realize that engaging body and mind in something you’re passionate about is also immensely beneficial to well being. My creative outlets and passions, the first things–along with exercise–I had been in the habit of letting drop when life and work got busy, help me acknowledge that my anxiety is real, but that it’s lying about what matters. They help me process this crazy world and my place in it. They help me get things out of my head and sleep at night.

So I’ve been making an effort to amp up my creativity when I’m feeling out of sorts, anxious, and exhausted.

And, guys? I think it’s working.

See, I’ve been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge for a few years and I’ve noticed something interesting this year. When life gets hectic and stressful and insane, I READ MORE and, when I’m smart, I WRITE MORE, TOO.

I’ve given myself permission to turn to a good book, even when there’s something else I need to be doing. And let’s be honest: I’m a doctoral student and instructor–there’s ALWAYS something else I need to be doing. But that impulse to bury myself in a story–be it someone else’s or my own? That’s my body telling me I need a break. And I intend to listen from now on.

My insomnia isn’t magically gone, but I am getting more sleep.

My anxiety is still there, but I can still breath and relax and think about the future without turning into a vicious tangle of stupid emotions–even when there are PLENTY of reasons turning into a vicious tangle of stupid emotions would be a perfectly legitimate response to life right now.

 

 

 

What I Learned about Writing from Seanan McGuire’s October Daye Series: Ethical Representation

It’s a well-known and much bandied about truism that writers are like magpies: we find inspiration everywhere and borrow tricks and tropes and things from one another ALL OF THE TIME. A Google search for “writers like magpies” pulls up 1,010,000 results.

Sometimes, the shiny bits we steal aren’t ideas so much as best practices. And that’s what I’m going to focus on in my new, monthly “What I Learned about Writing from” series of posts. I’m kicking the series off with Seanan McGuire’s lovely October Daye series, which I discovered just as I was starting my PhD program and have been reading loyally ever since, because the series taught me something that’s been heavy on my mind, of late.

(Speaking of magpies and Seanan McGuire, the other day I ran across this post on her Tumblr and it is amazing.)

Anyway, to return to the topic at hand. Writing. Learning about writing.

shuffles through notes

Oh, yeah. THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t yet read A Red-Rose Chain (Sept. 2015), you may want to stop reading here. And you may want to reconsider your life choices. Hie thee to a library or bookstore and read it (and the rest of the series, and everything else she’s ever written) ASAP.

Continue reading

They Called Her La Llorona in ABNA

They Called Her La Llorona in ABNA

Amazon has an annual writing contest, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and my novel, They Called Her La Llorona, is a Quarter-Finalist, which means, of the 10,000 entries the contest began with, my novel is one of 500 that are still in the running. 

It also means I’m getting a Publisher’s Weekly review (probably tomorrow–eek!) and my excerpt can be downloaded and reviewed by any Amazon customer anywhere. In June, my full manuscript will be posted for customers to download and review (or, I’ll be eliminated from the contest).

So, if you’re looking for some reading material, click through and leave a review!

My Writing Life: Penmonkey Evaluations

Over at terribleminds (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/03/03/time-again-for-your-penmonkey-evaluations/) Chuck Wendig is doing an informal survey of writer’s writerly habits. I’m posting my responses here because, why not? — it is my writing blog, after all.
a) What’s your greatest strength / skill in terms of writing/storytelling?
I’ve noticed that I’m getting pretty good at showing instead of telling, as compared to my earlier work. And I finish what I start.
b) What’s your greatest weakness in writing/storytelling? What gives you the most trouble?
Not making the time to write every single day. Other than that, finding an ending. I always have to rewrite the ending.
c) How many books or other projects have you actually finished? What did you do with them?
Four books, lots and lots of short stories. Two of the books I’ve stuffed into a drawer. I wrote them as a teenager and they’re…bleh. The third is a co-authored piece that I’m shopping around, and the fourth is a mystery that I’ve got in ABNA right now.
d) Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. really helped you)
I was lucky enough to meet the late Sci-Fi Grandmaster Jack Williamson as a teenager. He heard I was an aspiring writer and invited me to dinner after slogging through a horrible early draft of one of the novels I wrote (which is now sitting in a drawer). But he told me to keep at it, and so I have,
e) Worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. didn’t help at all, may have hurt)
If you don’t know the ending before you start, you aren’t a “real” writer.
f) One piece of advice you’d give other writers?
Write your first draft for you, write the story you want to read, and finish! Sometimes you have to push that potential future audience out of your head and just get the words on paper.

On Finishing! The Ten Stages of Finishing and Some Stats.

Yesterday, somewhere in the yawning abyss of time between 4:30 and 5:30, I finished the “first” draft of my mystery novel, They Called Her La Llorona.

This is the third or fourth novel draft that I’ve finished in my lifetime (not really counting other iterations of this particular book), and I’ve come to realize that, for me at least, finishing a draft is a very mixed experience. Here is my list of the ten stages of finishing, in no particular order.

1. Disbelief. This can’t really be the end, can it? *scroll through entire document, looking for a reason to keep writing*

2.Relief. I actually finished, dammit. I beat the odds and this won’t be another half-written tale in the pile of shame under my bed.

3.  Euphoria. I AM WRITER! HEAR ME ROAR!

4. Doubt. There is so much left to do, should I even be celebrating this minor milestone?

5. Defensiveness. OF COURSE I SHOULD BE CELEBRATING, SELF. How many people ACTUALLY write 72000 words that GO TOGETHER IN SOME CRAZED SEMBLANCE OF ORDER AND INTENT?

6. Lack of Direction. My purpose, my raison d’etre has been THIS PROJECT for the past however many months and or years. Now what?

7. A Million Possibilities. Now, one of those other projects tumbling around on my bigger-on-the-inside noggin can come out to play. Which one to choose?

8. Hope. Because, despite the amount of revision I KNOW I will soon be doing, some of my words are actually pretty dern good, if I may say so myself.

9. Overwhelmed. There are a million more things to do now, like the writing of query letters and synopses and dedications…

10. FEEL ALL THE FEELS! AT THE SAME TIME! MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE.

Ehem.

Excuse me while I stuff all of these reactions back into my pocket and give them a stern talking-to.

Okay, Righty-O then.

THEY CALLED HER LA LLORONA is currently 72,200 words long, and will probably reach 80,000 by the end of the revision process. Probably more exciting than that, to me, is the fact that I wrote this entire draft in A LITTLE OVER THREE MONTHS.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a faster draft without a co-writer.

I’m gonna go dance around my house, now. THANKYOUVERYMUCH.

Zombies and "Inaction": A Couple of Posts**

Sometime in the fairly recent past (time is a jumble to me because of the SHEER MADNESS that was graduate school), I wrote a couple of blog posts for my writing pal, A.L. Brown. They are linked below. Click them. Read them. Love them. Send me virtual lemon bars as a reward. Call off the demon assassins you summoned to attack me for not posting frequently enough. Or ignore them.

Shrug.

See it I care. (I *DO* care! Don’t abandon me!)

On That New, Undead Fad: Zombies, a brief-ish post that tries to answer the age old question: why in the name of all that is good would anyone write about such rotten people (pun very much intended)? Also, I love zombie movies, but when I state in this post that “I really like… Survival of the Dead,” the fairly recent George Romero flick, what I really mean is *coughitsuckedcough* I found the premise slightly intriguing.

When the Action Fades: What We Write About When “Nothing” Is Happening. The title is pretty much self explanatory (almost wrote examinatory, which would change the entire arc of that post). I think it’s chock full of my own slightly demented brand of dry humor, and not at all as boring as the title might make it sound. But don’t take my word for it [cue Reading Rainbow montage].

**This post goes well with ice-cream. Or wine. I suggest wine. Merlot, to be exact. Mmmm. Merlot.

Zombies and “Inaction”: A Couple of Posts**

Sometime in the fairly recent past (time is a jumble to me because of the SHEER MADNESS that was graduate school), I wrote a couple of blog posts for my writing pal, A.L. Brown. They are linked below. Click them. Read them. Love them. Send me virtual lemon bars as a reward. Call off the demon assassins you summoned to attack me for not posting frequently enough. Or ignore them.

Shrug.

See it I care. (I *DO* care! Don’t abandon me!)

On That New, Undead Fad: Zombies, a brief-ish post that tries to answer the age old question: why in the name of all that is good would anyone write about such rotten people (pun very much intended)? Also, I love zombie movies, but when I state in this post that “I really like… Survival of the Dead,” the fairly recent George Romero flick, what I really mean is *coughitsuckedcough* I found the premise slightly intriguing.

When the Action Fades: What We Write About When “Nothing” Is Happening. The title is pretty much self explanatory (almost wrote examinatory, which would change the entire arc of that post). I think it’s chock full of my own slightly demented brand of dry humor, and not at all as boring as the title might make it sound. But don’t take my word for it [cue Reading Rainbow montage].

**This post goes well with ice-cream. Or wine. I suggest wine. Merlot, to be exact. Mmmm. Merlot.

Tricksy Hobbitses: Tricks, Treats, and the Craft of Writing

When you’re a writer, a real writer who doesn’t just have delusions of grandeur but actually acts on those delusions, you are all about one thing: writing to completion. Well, you’re actually about lots of things, like reading and rainy days and coffee and, oh yeah, that crazy little thing called revision. (You though I was going to say “love,” didn’t you? Well, I’ve got news for you: most writers are sociopaths.* They are really good at mimicking emotion but it’s all fake. Fake, I tell you! Now, don’t tell my husband I said that. He already looks at me sideways a little bit too much).

But, to get back to the very nice focus I had before my little aside, writers have one important task to accomplish before they can do anything else (by which I mean bask in the glory of publication and fame). One word looms large in the writer’s vocabulary, and that word is finish.

Except it’s usually plastered is letters six foot tall in every nook and cranny of your squirrely little mind. Because you’d rather be in facebook. Or twitter. Or tumblr. Any of those blackholes of awesome procrastination.

FINISH. FINISH. FINISH. FINISH. FINISH.
Yeah, I’m a big believer in visuals. Mostly because we live in a very visual society, not because I’m much of a visual person. When I “watch” TV, I’m usually actually listening to the show and doing something else, glancing at the screen every once in a while when it sounds like something interesting is happening. But I am a writer, therefore I am a strange individual.

While we’re on that subject, let me just tell you a secret. It is hard to finish things. It is hard to finish a draft; it would be easier to pull out all of my hair and light it on fire. In front of toddlers. And then pay for their therapy for the rest of their lives, even though I would have to get twenty-five more jobs to do that.

Why? Because the voices in my head want to be creative and free-spirits and all of that hippy-dippy, happy happy joy joy crap. Which means that I end up spending hours on pinterest looking at pictures of other people’s tattoos, hours reading other people’s books and other people’s writing tips, hours scribbling notes to myself about my stories instead of actually writing, and etc.
Now, I don’t buy into the whole muse thing, mostly because my Muse is almost always on vacation (I think she’s in Hawaii this year. You might remember her trip to Greece, if you are one of my two longterm readers). If I relied on Muse, I’d never get anything done. Ever. Because when she’s around she’s really needy. She wants Ben and Jerry’s (Coffee Heath Crunch is her favorite) and Doctor Who episodes and online shopping sprees.

My Muse is expensive.

So, in lieu of throws of creativity and artistic passion, I trick myself. And then I growl at myself like Gollum, cursing my tricksiness and my treachery and the loss of my precious…

But I digress. I trick myself into finishing in a very specific way: I maintain the illusion of freedom. I don’t keep a set work station. I have two “formal” writing spots in my house and, most of the time, I end up working somewhere else. Like at my kitchen table so that I am close to the coffee. Or the living room floor, using the coffee table as a makeshift desk. Or the front porch in late afternoon, when there is shade and the roaster-oven that is the New Mexico summer is beginning to cool and I can watch the sun set and listen to the birds chirp in terror as they try to evade the ridiculous number of stray cats that seem to live in my neighborhood. Seriously. There are at least thirty.

I trick myself into thinking that I am free and unfettered by simply taking advantage of portable means of writing (it doesn’t have to be a laptop, a notebook will do in a pinch) and, for some reason, even though I know I am tricking myself, it seems to work.

Tricksy hobbitses. Filthy hobbitses. My precious. My precious draft. It’s finished.

*When I say most writers are sociopaths, I mean it because it is statistically 100% true.** And I’m good at math.***

**Writers have a tendency to lie. Especially this writer. It comes of stringing words together with all the intensity of an Obsessive Compulsive on Ritalin. 

***My lawyer (who may not actually exist) insists that I mention that I am not, in actuality, all that good at math. I shudder at the sight of numbers, especially when they come with this weird sign: %

My-Novel-Writing-Month (or My-No-Wri-Mo)

Hello dear readers, it is I, The Crazy Writer, or, you know, Courtney.

I’m writing today because I’ve made it my goal to finish my mystery novel BY THE END OF JUNE. *Cue lighting and thunder as if by celestial decree*

No, seriously, it’s thunderstorm season in New Mexico and I am not being dramatic. Those words have been heard and acknowledged by the gods.

Spooky.

Anyway, here’s the story (and the details):

About, eh, five years ago, when I was still a lowly undergraduate at my local university, it occurred to me that I should write a novel, and that I should set that novel in my lovely home state. Why, you ask? Because I stumbled onto wordharvest.com, the former web HQ for the Tony Hillerman Prize (which can now be found here: http://www.hillermanprize.com/).

Since that fateful day, I have worked through not one, not two, but THREE iterations of the novel. Refining characters, throwing out crazy/newbie-mystery-writer-plots as I went. I also finished an undergraduate and a graduate degree during this time period, which in part accounts for the ridiculous amount of time I have spent just trying to find my story. I mean, you’d think after five years I would at least have a polished draft and a half-a-dozen rejections letters from literary agents. But no, I’ve got diddly squat (by which I mean, 10,150 words as of this afternoon).

And that is okay, because mystery is a hard genre to write (for all of the scoffing people do that it is “formulaic,” it takes planning, anal attention to detail, an excellent sense of realism, and an obscene amount of research to produce a well crafted mystery novel). I view this time as my apprenticeship, which I hope does not smack of hubris, because I won’t claim I’m done learning. Ever.

But, at this point, I  have a plot that not only works but works well. I know my characters and I know which ones have the most to lose, what motivates them, and what they need to go through as the plot progresses. I have finally figured this all out *crosses fingers* and I think it is time to get this baby written and polished and sent into the world.

I started this month with a mere 3365 words on this draft. In the past two days, I have more than tripled that. My goal is to write a MINIMUM of 15,000 words a week. I will update here and/or on Twitter (@cannfloyd) as I progress.

One-liners…The Writer's Pick Up Line and More

After two weeks of the post-graduation (that’s right, I’m a Master now) watching of stupid TV shows (read: decompression), I’ve finally been feeling up to writing again. Specifically, I feel like working on my southwestern mystery, which is tentatively titled They Called Her La Llorona.

What does this mean? I’ve been rethinking my mystery plot and tweaking it to be amazing–no questions asked. It also means that I’ve been a doing bunch of  craft/plot related research as well. And this flurry of activity has reminded me of something I once knew but had forgotten (or, you know, arrogantly disregarded):

It helps to start your plotting with a one-liner (or a tagline, if you’re in showbiz).

If you don’t believe me, just keep reading. Thinking about a one-liner has forced me to rethink the beginning of my novel: the inciting incident. Turns out, I started my story in the wrong place. It also made me rethink POV. I’d been writing a third-person POV, which would have been okay if I were writing a thriller (which this could be, admittedly, if I weren’t so stubborn in my vision) but is not necessarily the best choice in a more hard-boiled, P.I. style novel.

That said, I’m way too close to the problem to unbiasedly decide which one-liner is the most intriguing and  works best for my story. That’s where you come in. I’m listing the rough one-liners I’ve come up with so far. I’d love it if you, my loyal audience, would chime in with your opinion:

  1. Confronted with a string of bizarre murders made to look like drownings, recently retired Marshal, Jesse Clacher, must track down a killer and set things right with his wife and daughter–before more women die. 
  2. When a barefoot Hispanic woman in a tattered, white dress stumbles into town wailing about the death of her children, retired Marshal Jesse Clacher is forced to seek the help of his estranged daughter in order solve the case and save the woman.
  3. When La Llorona crashes his retirement party wailing about the deaths of two young girls, Jesse Clacher sees it as an opportunity to start his P.I. business–and make peace with his estranged daughter.

 Personally, I like #2 the best, with #1 coming in a close second. But I think that #3 is interesting because of its unexpectedness (which may or may not be good, considering that I’m aiming for more of a hard-boiled feel and less of a comedic style like a cozy or a caper).

Which do you like best and why?