Archive for the ‘words’ Category

This is the final report from the local writers’ festival I attended in August. It took me a while to get through them all. The last session I attended at the festival was called Frankenstein’s Children. Acclaimed Kiwi Speculative Fiction writers, Elizabeth Knox & Lee Murray debated the influence of Frankenstein on modern literature. Knox is one of my favourite Kiwi authors. I’m a big fan of her Dreamhunter series, which I found transformative and compelling reading (reviewed long ago when I was a member of Goodreads). Knox has an ONZM, is an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate, and won the Prime Minister’s Award of Fiction in 2019. She teaches at Victoria University and lives in Wellington, New Zealand with her family.

Lee Murray is a New Zealand science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer and editor. She is a multiple winner of the Bram Stoker Award and a twelve-time winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award. She is a well-respected rising star.

It felt like a privilege to sit in on their live-streamed interview. I love hearing how other writers think and how they approach their craft.

Both authors were asked the same question about why they had chosen the spec. fiction genre. “From childhood, the things that most excited me had dragons and ghosts. My imagination went in that direction very early.” Elizabeth Knox said, “You have a reaction to the world, and you want to push against appearances and say, what if? How much do we live in the present; how much do we live in imagination? It’s a penetrating, all-time approach to the state of the human being.”
Lee Murray had done her research. “It was a term coined in the 1960s. It was called Speculative, and it’s developed over time. Ursula le Guin said, ‘It’s about possibilities.’ It’s also about myths and legends, asking what if, and looking at the human condition. It’s new perspectives. It’s changing all the time.”
What a great way of looking at it. Why did the two authors consider their work to be “Frankenstein’s Children”?

“Mary Shelley is considered the mother of spec fiction,” Murray explained. “She wrote Frankenstein at the age of 17 in the 1800s, writing about the resurrection of life with electricity before it was invented. It’s a book about othering. The monster wanted to belong. Shelley couldn’t be published because she was a woman. Spec Fiction is a place for women’s narratives. She was able to show she is intelligent.”
I found this thought-provoking.
Murray went on. “I wanted to write about what mattered to me and things that frighten me. It allowed me to write about things safely. Spec fiction is not this world. It’s not pointing at this person or thing. It gives us a little bit of distance.”
The author neatly skewered one of the reasons this genre drew me to it. I can tell my stories without having to worry about treading on any toes because it’s all make-believe. The genre is a forgiving umbrella. I’m fascinated to hear it is popular. Since the age of seventeen, I’ve been writing spec fiction, but whereas in the 80s publishers told me, ‘No one is interested in fantasy,’ now, suddenly, it’s cool. Or, as Murray said, “It’s the place to be.”

This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s interview. When asked at a previous festival, did he expect to be where he is today in terms of career, Neil said he never expected to be famous. When he started, he worked in niche areas where no one in those days ever got famous. ‘You didn’t get famous in comic books, fantasy, or children’s writing—I thought I’d be out here with the weird kids. Then it spread out, and now we’re all the weird kids.’ That’s it exactly. Our strange little frowned-upon fantasy corner of the world is becoming more mainstream. Hey, it’s nice to have company.

I am also drawn to writing middle fiction, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Knox said, “There’s a period when young people are entering the world, and they’re refusing it.” I liked that. There’s an inherent kind of rebellion that comes naturally with being young or young-at-heart and trying things out, questioning the status quo. “I think we need fiction more than ever.”

Murray said, “Spec. fiction has a role in social change. It has real value. It’s the new black. It’s the place where the young people are.”
I agree. But you have to write with a lightness of touch. “As soon as you start hitting readers over the head with your message, they don’t want to read it.” Knox said, “I’m an avid reader. But I’m resistant to being told I have to do anything. You can’t step outside reality. Spec fiction is the world outside the consensual reality.”
That’s what makes it so exhilarating.
“I love fairies and Arthurian legends. Even a tragic ending can bring joy because of the shapeliness,” said Knox. “I’m changing my mind about hope. I think it belongs to the things that console us like fiction.”

Wow!
Do you see why Elizabeth Knox is one of my current writing heroes?
I’m proud to write Speculative Fiction or Frankenstein’s Children. It’s fun! How about you? Do you read it or write it?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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Good stories are dangerous. Dangerous, anarchic, seductive. They change you, often forever…they challenge our vocabularies and our history. Sometimes they challenge our comfortable morality. And sometimes…they challenge our most basic assumptions. ~ Jane Yolen

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This is another report from the local writers’ festival I attended in August. My apologies that it’s taken me so long to report on it. The session was called Timeless Tales, with Hereaka & Jones. After this, I have one more session to review and hope to get on to writing it up soon.

I enjoy the live interviews or “conversations”. You get to see authors at the top of their games speaking about their books and answering thought-provoking questions. The theme of traditions of fable and myth drew me in to witness Timeless Tales, storytelling forms I find compelling and endeavour to utilize in my work.

Delayed leaving the house, unfortunately, I arrived at the event late. Bah humbug! It started everything off on the wrong note. I had missed the introduction and the opening questions, and I had to disturb others to find an empty seat. But, that hitch aside, I sat with my trusty pad and pen in my lap taking notes throughout.

Let me tell you, ‘contemporary writers at the height of their powers’ make fascinating conversation. Commonwealth Prize winner and Man Booker-shortlisted Lloyd Jones and 2022 Ockham NZ Book Awards Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize Fiction winner Whiti Hereaka spoke about their books, The Fish, and Kurangaituku, respectively. They were interviewed by Claire Mabey with a focus on the power of mythology and why each chose them for their stories.

Lloyd Jones put it this way. “The whole of literature is a rewrite. You can find threads in contemporary stories that go back to the beginning of time.” He was making the point that even when we don’t intend to write about mythology, we are inherently familiar with the old storytelling forms and resort to them unconsciously. “Stories are malleable from one generation to the next when they are told and told again.”
I agree with that 100%. That’s part of why I love to draw upon mythology because the stories are ours, and we’re allowed to retell them.
It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s interview at last year’s writers’ festival. Gaiman said that writers who think their prose all comes from within them are not being honest. He likened it to there being a giant pot of stew bubbling. And we all take bits out and “along the way we get to add a potato or two to the stew pot or a bit of gristle.”

Neil Gaiman said, “I don’t think it’s always dishonesty by the authors. In a lot of cases, you write what comes to you and you do not realize that you are pulling archetypes and story tropes from a treasure trove of shared ancestral memories.” That explains why legends are always the first things to hand in whenever I start a new story. Jones said when he sits to write, he never knows what he’s going to write, but these time-honoured story templates come up readily because we already have the story forms within us.
Whiti Hereaka concurred and spoke about growing up with myths. They “had always been there” so were a natural resource. In her book, Kurangaituku, she is retelling the Māori myth of Hatupatu and the bird-woman Kurangaituku. “In the original story, Hatupatu is captured and finds the strength within him to trick the bird woman and escape from the clutches of Kurangaituku.”

Hereaka found the writing of her mythological story so profound, that she even began to feel taken over by her main character, who was talking to her and telling her the story all the time. Hereaka said she learned “to say a karakia (prayer) to create the space to write and then again to close it and step away” to separate herself from the character. Even so, she was driven to right the balance of male-centric mythology and present a female voice.
Lloyd Jones added, “Fables are at their core an imaginative risk.” And, he elaborated, “You gather stories just in living, and one day you use them. It becomes lodged in you and you never know when they’re going to bubble to the surface.”
What is it about ancient stories that hold us transfixed? I know for myself, that the older the story, the more I pay attention.
“There’s truthiness in fiction because of the lies,” Hereaka said, “There’s an emotional truth that holds us. We are creatures who need a story to figure ourselves out.”

You can say that again. It was a riveting afternoon, guys. Thanks for the brain food.

It’s a fact we all use these fables instinctively. Do you? Do you notice the echoes of mythology everywhere?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“Someone said once when a person is being read to they inhale it and when they exhale it, they have made it their own.’ ~ Lloyd Jones


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My friend said she soaked up the events at this year’s writers’ festival like a sponge. I know what she means. The “conversations,” the lectures, the workshops, and the performances that took place in August filled my cup to overfloweth. It’s worth putting aside a week each year for the festival. I’ve been attending for years and have a large old paper notebook spiral-bound that I have kept notes in since the first time. As promised, I will continue to report on the events I attended whenever I get the chance. The writers’ festival is a blast. The buzz of being around other scribophiles and learning more about the craft and the business is an intoxicating mix. As a card-carrying introvert, it takes a lot to drag me out of my cave, especially in winter. But events like that can do it. Then I go out and come home jazzed every single day. However, once it’s over, I must lie inside my cave for a while to recover.

The second session I attended was the Middle Fiction workshop with Kate de Goldi. I know! I am such a fangirl and have rabbited on about this much-lauded Kiwi author and tutor for years, and I got to attend another workshop with Kate herself! As soon as I saw her name on the agenda, I signed up. I’ve done several courses with Kate over the years, and they have always enriched, enlightened, and inspired me. Though I didn’t expect Kate to recognize me, I’ll admit I was chuffed when she did. We even had a quick chat about the workshops in the past, and Kate let me get an updated photo with her. Yay!
Kate is a passionate advocate of the middle fiction genre and maintains that ‘Much of the best writing for children can be found in the middle fiction space.’ I remember the first workshop I did with Kate in 2005. I was so excited about her perspective. “I don’t think you can say suitable for 9 – 13. I resist those divisions. It should be 9 – 99. Most of the great children’s books are read by adults.” This so mirrored my feeling about children’s literature that I felt at home, in the right place. “There is no difference between writing for children and adults, and there’s no difference in the level of craft.” My sentiments exactly.

This workshop with her was about exploring ‘language, voice, and characters of the form’ and was as brilliant as expected. Kate had some terrific advice on how to write at the middle fiction level. “If we bring the same armoury of craft to children’s fiction, we need to be observing. Polishing and excavating your sensory capacity is necessary. Seeing the world from a completely different point of view is essential.” Kate recommended we get in touch with the old child self. “Interview your 9, 10, and 11-year-old self. Your job is to practice noticing and to think about the emotional territory we occupied at that time.” The reason for that was simple. “Noticing, a sense of wonder, and being new in the world IS middle fiction.” I love it when a teacher can be reductive yet, at the same time, say everything.
As Kate doesn’t believe in rules for fiction or prohibitions, she has a free approach to teaching about writing, which I also appreciate. “Being in the world and thinking about your inner child self is a good place to start.” That, I can do.

And how do you learn how to write? “A plumber knows drains. Read your genre. Go to the library and read your genre across decades and authors.” That was how Kate had learned to write. She started as a reader. She said she was too underconfident in her writing to take a writing course and had learned by reading. Similarly, I was too shy to share my work for years, therefore I connected with that point. Usually, I feel daunted by the wealth of scholastic accomplishments achieved by my writing peers. At least now I can say I’m in good company.
How do you figure out what to write about? Kate said you should not come to the page wanting to write about X. “You should come with something you feel driven to say that you don’t fully understand yet. Interrogate your 11-year-old self. What were you puzzled by, conflicted by? A character propelled by something is a good place to start. After that, I get them walking and talking.” Easy, right?

While I’m busy fangirling, who are your favourite authors? Who would you love to meet in person?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“I think of middle fiction as the body of work that has most influenced children.” ~ Kate de Goldi


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I have finished reading my thirteenth novel for 2022, Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. I bought this novel because I had read Pippi Longstocking as a child, and I remember being utterly thrilled by the feisty wild protagonist. I’ll admit I was unaware the author had written other books. Bursting with curiosity, I raced home from the bookstore and started reading it straight away.

My first take on it would be that despite being published in 1985, Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, has a timeless quality to the writing that makes it seem to come from another age. I guess this reflects the author, Astrid Lindgren, having been born in 1907 and quite literally belonging to another age. The story starts with a flourish and continues the same way. On the night that Ronia was born a thunderstorm was raging over the mountains, such a storm that all the goblinfolk in Matt’s Forest crept back in terror to their holes and hiding places.
The story is set in the past. There is no technology. The robbers milk their goats, churn their butter, and hunt for their meat. Ronia is born the only child of Matt, the robber chieftain who lives in his castle in the mountains with his band of twelve robbers and Lovis, his partner. The thieves rob the forest travellers for their goods and live a life of freedom. Ronia, the black-haired daughter, grows up to know every part of the forest so well she can find her way through it in the dark. Like Pippi, she is a free spirit who learns to dance and yell with the robbers.

Life goes on unchanged until the day Ronia meets Birk, the only son of Borka, the rival robber chieftain who lives in Borka’s Wood. Although the kids are initially wary, they also are immediately drawn to one another as children on their own are likely to do. The pair slowly fall in love, which I found a little odd considering their age. Nevertheless, fall in love they do, in utter secrecy as their fathers are arch-enemies. When Matt and Borka, the two rival chieftains, have a major clash, Ronia and Birk reveal their bond and run away into the forest to live by themselves, causing great distress to both families.
The story follows the harsh realities of life in a cave for the two youngsters, in which they grapple with growing up fast. They manage to survive through spring and summer, and finally, much to the reader’s relief, the pair are finally reunited with their families and allowed to return home before winter.

It’s a highly original tale. I had never read anything like it before and perhaps never will again. Ronia, as our protagonist, is described by her mother, Lovis, as “a storm-night child” and “a witch-night child, too.” The dialogue and the phrasing, everything about this tale is evocative of a bygone age. Ronia gasped with rage. Borka’s Keep! That was enough to choke you! What rogues they were, those Borka robbers! And that rascal grinning over there was one of them!
Perhaps the fact it is so unusual and different is why I found it so fascinating. I couldn’t stop reading because I couldn’t imagine what would happen next. And the funny thing is that nothing much does happen. Even so, the story is well told in a quaint fashion that could turn it into a classic. It was certainly enough to inspire Studio Ghibli’s series, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter!

Astrid Anna Emilia Lindgren, née Ericsson, was born in Sweden. She was a highly successful children’s book author and screenwriter whose novels have been translated into nearly eighty languages, from Arabic to Zulu. Lindgren has sold close to 165 million copies worldwide. She earned the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing in 1958. Though she published many titles in her lifetime, it is Pippi Longstocking that is her main legacy as Pippi became an international phenomenon. Lindgren is particularly beloved in her native Sweden, where she appears on the 20-kronor note.
Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award. While it is not in the same league as Pippi Longstocking in my humble opinion, it was an entertaining read.
My rating: Three stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Full of high adventure, hairbreadth escapes, droll earthy humor, and passionate, emotional energy. ~ Horn Book


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Lately, I have shared some of the information from the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author Graeme Simsion, at our local writer’s festival. Graeme based his writing advice on his latest book, The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography.
He said there were two parts to The Novel Project; the preparation and the process.

Under ” preparation” there were four parts:
Overview of the approach – which was a precis of the workshop.
Being a writer – Focus on being the best writer you can be. Don’t waste your time on social media.
Creativity – Figure out what works for you. When do you get your best ideas? Start looking for patterns. No matter how hard you work, most ideas will not come immediately. They need incubation.
Structure – Be knowledgeable about story structure. Learn the language. A three-act structure consists of setup, conflict, and resolution.

Under ” process” there were nine parts:
Concept: “What is your book about? You must be able to define it in a sentence or phrase (an elevator pitch). Keep a list of good ideas. One good idea on its own will have been done before, but two ideas mashed up against one another will be original.”
Synopsis – plot: “Beats are the things that happen in a story. I want to be able to tell the story from beginning to end in a few key beats.”
Synopsis – characters (players and decisions): Graeme gave us the inside scoop, “the Graeme Simsion method,” for getting to know our characters. He focuses on the motivations for their most important decisions. “I ask my characters three questions. What would you tell your best friend if you were asked about this decision? What would you tell your parents? and What would you tell your therapist? and follow this up by asking the therapist, What would you tell us about the character? Then this forms the framework for the entire story.”

Brainstorming the story: “Write every idea down. Write scenes in random order. I want lots of material to play with.” See the ‘bucket of scenes’ method in my first post on this subject, Step by Step.
Organizing the story: “Put the cards (from your bucket of scenes) in order. Usually, the setup is too long, the resolution too short, and there will be a lack of acceleration in the middle. A convention of story is to have acceleration throughout the body of the book.”
Reviewing the outline: “Once you have the cards in order, type them onto your computer. As you work on the scene breakdowns add everything you can think of. Flesh them out.”
First draft (manuscript): Graeme’s target is to write 1000 words a day. “Don’t get it right; get it done. I look at the beats and say to myself to trust the process.”

Rewriting (or editing): How many passes to get a better manuscript? Graeme said when he started writing fiction, it took him at least 70 passes, but these days it’s more like a dozen. His advice was that we wouldn’t improve our stories on the first passes, that it wouldn’t be 100%, but on each pass, we would make them better. And we should expect the process to take time. “At some stage, if you can leave the manuscript a few weeks, leave it then come back to it.”
Working with your editor(s): About this, Graeme said something quite beautiful, that “we need to be reflective practitioners.” We need to be willing to be flexible and change our darlings, but only to a certain extent. He told us to remember something Neil Gaiman had said once, “When the editors say something is wrong, they’re always right. When they say something is definitely wrong, they’re probably wrong. And when they tell you how to fix it, they’re always wrong.” That made us laugh.
Thanks, Graeme! And that wraps up his intensive workshop.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“A story must have a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s question:
What genre would be the worst one for you to tackle and why?

There are a few genres I would be too scared to tackle, and some I know I should never attempt. I wanted to write romantic novels at one point when I was a lot younger, and I made it to the halfway point with a contemporary romance set in the South Island of New Zealand when I ran out of steam. It felt like a case of mentally choosing a direction, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I couldn’t sustain the energy levels needed to finish the project. As Gina Cole said at the launch of her book Na Viro last Friday night at the New Zealand Society of Authors meeting, “Writing a book is tough.” Short, sweet, and to the point! All the fates have to be aligned, and your energy has to come from the inexhaustible fuel supplied by conviction. You can’t fake story writing. It needs to come from a deep source within or the well runs dry pretty quick.

I wouldn’t dare write literary fiction because I neither read the genre nor enjoy it. Throughout the recent writers’ festival, I sat in on several live interviews or “conversations,” and two of them were with authors of highly-praised literary novels. Those were the only events where I felt out of place. Truth is, I’m not as intelligent as I look. The thought that went through my head multiple times while watching those interviews was, “I think this conversation is above my pay grade.” A lot of the points they made did not compute.
Likewise, horror and all variations thereof leave me cold. It’s another personal no-go zone. I don’t have the stomach for horror. The only horror story I’ve read – apart from critiquing my friend, Maria Cisneros-Toth’s book, Spooky Tales – was Ghost Story by Stephen King (Peter Straub). The latter’s novel freaked me out big time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Ghost Story afterward. I didn’t like feeling afraid in my own time because of a book, and it put me off reading horror altogether. The only horror movie I’ve ever seen was Dawn of the Dead when I was a teenager. I lasted five minutes watching that movie, and then I stood up and walked out of the cinema. It’s the only time I’ve ever done so. And I’ve not seen a single horror film since. The genre is not my bag. I don’t want nasty images replaying in my mind long after a movie is finished. And the same goes for the darker sorts of fiction. I don’t want to read threatening material or have it cloud the bright sky of my imagination. It feels like I need to protect my good spirits and keep my environment positive. My friend would call it ‘keeping my armour polished.’

Another genre I avoid is picture books. There was an extended period in my twenties when I wrote picture books for the 0 – 5-year-old range. I spent at least a decade developing the stories and illustrating them. Looking back on this time, I learned a lot about writing through labouring under the constraints of the form. The economy of language and tightness of composition is essential, along with an ear for the rhythm of the spoken word. However, I prefer using lots of words, and I felt confined by the genre and miserable. Eventually, the limits of the form began to feel like a straightjacket, and I felt driven to escape.

Alternatively, my first ever experiment writing middle fiction was like lighting a flame. With more generous word limits, I could have fun with words and spend more time getting to know my characters. I could explore the plot, the story arc, and so on. The natural fit for me was to write fantasy because that is the genre I read as a child and still like to read now. When I think back, it wasn’t a matter of consciously choosing what I would write at that point. I picked up the pen and that’s what came out. Fantasy middle fiction fit like a glove, and I’ve been playing happily in my sandbox ever since.
What about you? What genre do you avoid? Which do you embrace?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Let it be easy. ~ Anon

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Orators are natural storytellers. We know how to tell a story. It is easy to construct speeches, the same way we tell stories, with a few concrete steps.

Preparation is the key to a successful presentation. It helps to distill the central idea into one sentence. I usually follow this with three to five statements that support the central idea and figure out the order of the points from there.

Storytelling has a shape. We grew up with stories from our earliest memories. Even a three-year-old will prick up their ears if any part of a story is missing. Because we are hardwired as to the patterns and the shape a story should take. Speeches are the same. They have a recognized, traditional form. When presented with a disorganized speech, an audience will focus on mentally creating order in the presentation instead of paying attention to the content.

A story has a Beginning, Middle, and End; a speech has an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. In Toastmasters, speech structure has described this way: Tell what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them.

Kiwi author Brian Falkner described the story structure this way:

S — SETTING
T — THE CHARACTERS
O — OBSTACLES
R — REACH
Y — YOUR GOAL

Basic speech structure can work within this structure nicely. The first part of your speech, the introduction, provides the all-important Setting. You set the stage for what is to come. Give some context. Your intro should take no more than two minutes. You want it to be compelling and wake the audience up into paying attention.

The body of your speech or the middle of your story is where you put the characters, obstacles, and reach. The “Tell them” part. The body is for your main idea or points: such as anecdotes, statistics, quotes, or other researched information. Organize the material into a natural order that makes sense. It should be logically, sequentially arranged.

After the body, prepare to sum it all up in 30 – 60 seconds. Tell them what you’ve told them. Summarize your key points, and make a call to action if applicable. Try to wrap up by alluding to points made in the introduction because people will take away the last thing they hear more than any other part of your speech.

Embrace your storytelling ability and make it work for you. Think, does your presentation have an engaging introduction, an interesting body, and a satisfying conclusion? Do I feel motivated by the content of my story? Have I communicated the central speech idea? These questions will craft a great speech. Have fun and tell your stories with gusto because a good story is something people will remember long after it was told.

Happy storytelling. Why not have a go and try public speaking?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

*This new series of blog posts is adapted from the material I’m currently presenting at my Toastmasters club.

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Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself. ~ Octavia E. Butler

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

June 1 question – When the going gets tough writing the story, how do you keep yourself writing to the end?
The main way I keep myself writing is to turn up and do the writing every day. The daily pages are part of my morning routine when I am working, as non-negotiable as the walk or the yoga. It was the wonderful writer and teacher, Kate de Goldi, who taught us to start the day with ten minutes of non-stop writing. Sit in the same place, at the same time. Write every day. No stopping until the ten minutes are up. That was in 2005, and I have done the same thing every day since. It’s a tried and true method for side-stepping the rational mind and accessing one’s creativity. The routine means that rain or shine, good day or bad, the day always starts with producing fresh copy, which acts as a mental jumpstart. It’s an injection of positivity, a feeling of having started the day right. And just as Jane Yolen said, writers need to exercise the writing muscle daily to stay limber.

Sometimes, however, for whatever reason, at various times in writing a story, things just grind to a halt. It is not necessarily writer’s block, although sometimes it is. Usually, it’s a trough in the rollercoaster of the story development. At those times, I find myself coming up with excuses not to come back to work on the story. And that’s okay. Creative people can run the well dry by thinking they can endlessly pump out copy like workhorses. It’s easy to forget that we need to refill our cups sometimes. We need holidays and retreats and time out and pampering now and again. It’s vital for me to ‘re-wild’ myself and get out of the city to breathe fresh air.

Therefore, one of the ways I keep myself writing is to spend time occasionally not writing and permit myself to take that much-needed rest. It’s vital for the soul and one’s well-being. We need to remember that we are “the talent” and treat ourselves with the appropriate respect.
There have been times with various stories when I felt as if I’d written myself into a corner and couldn’t see the way for the story to move forward. It’s important not to accept this as the last word. It’s never the last word. There is always a way out. The way I move through blockages or obstacles to the story development is to brainstorm. Over the years, I’ve developed my approach to this technique. And I find it works best to walk and talk. I pace the house with a pad and a pen on the counter, ready to catch any ideas that fall out as part of the pacing process.

I start to talk to myself. I tell myself what has happened in the story to the point where we got stuck. Then I talk about what could happen next, discussing every slight notion that comes into my head. The ideas get jotted onto the paper, which helps me keep track of the options. If I keep hashing it out with myself in this way, I have found that I always end up with viable alternatives, and the story will come unstuck.
These are the methods I use to keep the flow going. As with a lot of things, keeping the momentum going is key. The momentum itself can carry you over the hump, ahead to the next part of the story, where you feel stronger.
What methods do you use to keep yourself writing to the end? Anything new to add?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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You only fail if you stop writing. ~ Ray Bradbury

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In March, I finished writing the draft for book seven in my new series for Middle-Grade readers. I couldn’t believe it. I had started the series in January 2021. In other words, it took me about two and a half months to write the first drafts of each volume. These books are a lot shorter than my Chronicles of Aden Weaver trilogy, which averaged 250-300 pages each. The new series will likely end up being around 100 pages each. They’re compact stories aimed at the slightly younger Middle-Grade audience.
After finishing book seven, my initial reaction to completing the series was grief. I missed the daily pages terribly. It was so strange. For 14 months, my stories had been my anchor through lockdowns and all the disruptions brought on by the pandemic. Without the discipline of writing fresh copy every day, I was cut off and drifting.

Two weeks of procrastination passed, and still, I had not started editing. I realized there was real resistance to getting underway. It felt like admitting to myself that the writing stage was over. Finally, in the third week, I decided I would simply read the whole series without any heavy editing. I opened the file for book one and began reading. Over the hump, I took a walk through the content, reading the story in three days. The expectation was that I would be jumping for joy at what I read. Nope. I was not jumping for joy. The best description for my reaction would be an utter disappointment.
By the time I wrote book seven, I was familiar with the characters, the terrain, and the world-building rules. It all came naturally. To go back to book one and read it was a shock. The characters are there but not fully themselves. The setting is there but not fully fleshed out. The plot is there, the world is awesome, but the story idea is somehow cold. I was expecting more because it’s a great story. Yet, I kept feeling deflated reading it because I hadn’t captured the essence enough to satisfy my inner child reader. The story has so much promise. The problem is it needs more details, and more blood in the bones. It brought to mind the Jane Yolen quote that writers need to write every day. ‘Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.’ Yeah, they do, Jane. You’re right on the money.

I had spent so many years editing that my fiction writing muscles had seized up. Thank goodness I decided to write this whole new series first and then start editing from book one because, by the time you reach the end of writing the final tome, you get a feel for what needs to be addressed and introduced from the beginning. The bonus of the long-form perspective is familiarity with the storied terrain and the characters enough to see the gaps at a glance.
What was the solution?
Book one needed rewriting. That much was clear. Was I upset? No. Try skipping about in delight. It was a relief to avoid the hard graft of editing a while longer. The first chance I had, I began the day with my pad and pen in hand and wrote half a page. Ah! Bliss. My days are bookended once more with writing in the a.m and typing notes in the p.m. This time around, I know the plot of the story, the characters, and the setting. All I have to do is rewrite book one from memory and embellish it in all the places I felt needed work.

Whoopee! Far from seeing this detour as a burden, I feel uplifted by it, inspired, even. In the past, I have stuck to the genesis material as being untouchable and have edited the copy endlessly. This time around, I am experimenting with the idea of rewriting the story altogether. Revamping from the ground up. It’s freeing to let go of how I thought the storywriting would be and allow for another interpretation.
Thank you to the writer who left a comment on my blog recently, suggesting I try a second, even third, time writing new content. Already the opening chapters are more nuanced. It works.
Have you ever had a creative project take an unexpected detour? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“A childhood without books—that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.” —ASTRID LINDGREN

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In 2020, I released my fantasy trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver. Burned out, I took a writing hiatus that summer to recover. In January of 2021, I started writing another fantasy adventure series for middle-grade readers. For me, the rough draft has to be pen and paper. I sit and write fresh copy in the morning. And, it is a rule that I must type up each day’s copy in the evening. It was a lesson I learned the hard way. When I wrote the original manuscript for all three books in The Chronicles, I elected to leave the typing until the end and gave myself the job of typing out 300,000 words of my tiny handwriting. It was as bad as it sounds, and I made it a rule from then on to type new notes for my stories the same day I write them.

Since the beginning of last year, I have added to the copy for the stories every day and transcribed the notes each evening, including Christmas Day. It has been soothing to my creative soul to write genesis draft material again. I thought the exhaustive editing of The Chronicles for the last few years might have drained my joy in the process. But it hasn’t, thank goodness. Throughout the rollercoaster of the past year, I have cruised through each day, escaping via my writing portal. I have taken daily flights of the imagination and returned from each trip refreshed. These new stories have given me upliftment, comfort, and joy.
Creative outlets are good for us. My firm belief is that every adult needs one.

My father used to tinker away every afternoon building things in the garage. My mother used to knit or crochet her blankets. Throughout every trial and tribulation of our childhood, Ma’s needles would click and whirr most reassuringly. A sort of soft background track to our lives.
My outlet is my writing and new stories are the best. They are my happy place. Coming up with the material is the easy part, and I have loved every minute, enjoying the wild ride of “inspired thoughts,” as my grandmother used to call them. What could be more fun than writing each day to discover where your story is going next? But I write now, in the same way the dog days of summer turn into fall, with a tinge of sadness, knowing the changes to come. The picnic of penning the rough draft is nearly over. That means the unrelenting focus of the editing is about to kick in. Summer ends. Autumn begins. And so will the editing. Soon.

I can’t think about that yet. Right now, the hard graft of editing does not exist. It is just me, the pen and the empty pad of paper, out gamboling through the rosy fields of imagination, reveling in every moment.
*Good news* Drum roll. I am happy to report that my nephew and I are already conjuring up the cover art for the first book. Si was the artistic genius behind the covers for my trilogy. As a busy young working father of two, he needs a year’s grace to work on his art pieces. I told him, take as long as you need. I believe in his artistic ability and will always champion his work. Cover art from Si Kingi is worth the wait.

As a hobby illustrator myself, I have several pieces of artwork for most of the books. Some of them feature on the side panel of this blog. I have enough to put one original illustration into each book but still need to draw a second illustration for each volume. The one character I have not drawn yet is the young 8-year-old protagonist, Emily. I told Si, I look forward to seeing her!
The wait to see Si’s work is full of anticipation.
Vincent Willem van Gogh once said, “…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” Exactly. We must have all these things in times such as these to give us the strength to carry on and get through. Nature, art, and poetry are important because they bring us joy. They uplift our spirits. For me, penning new stories is bliss and to be part of the arts coming out now is exciting!
What about you. What are your creative outlets? Or are you yet to discover the right creative outlet for you?

(A pencil test piece Si created with his four-year-old daughter, my grand-niece)
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Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. – Ellen Bass


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