Dipping into the Gothic and Magical Waters

Here in the northern hemisphere, the autumn equinox fast approaches. Earlier this week, as my family was driving to my parents’ house to have dinner with them and my brother who was in town, we saw our first house of the season decorated for Hallowe’en. I saw two more this weekend, including one in our own neighborhood. We’re slated to get our first real cool front of the season in a few days. (I CANNOT WAIT. I’ve already got a sweater picked out to wear the minute one becomes even a little bit necessary, and I’m drinking pumpkin spice chai tea even now as I write this blog post.)

Partly in celebration of the season and partly because it’s going to be really fun, I’m teaching two new workshops at Writespace next month. The first is Gothic Story Elements, a three-hour generative writing class happening on Saturday, October 2nd. The second is a two-day workshop focused on Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, happening during the afternoons of two Sundays, October 3rd and 10th. You can click this link to learn more about and register for all the October and November workshops Writespace is putting on (including mine), but I’m also including the descriptions of both classes below.

I’d like to mention also a note about the formats of these classes, which are, as I said, generative. This means you will not be listening to me lecture for three hours. Far from it! I will teach you some interesting things, sure, but you will also be doing your own writing and idea work — generating, as it were. The Gothic Story Elements class will help you with writing stories in the Gothic genre, and the class about The Night Circus will include some focused literary analysis as a means to writing well. (And yes, you will be writing.) I’m SO excited about them both!

I sincerely hope you’ll join me for one or both classes. Since they’re being conducted on Zoom, there are no covid-related safety concerns, and you can join us from anywhere in the world where you have an internet connection. (My previous Writespace classes this year have included students from a variety of states in the US and even other countries. That has been awesome.) And while Writespace classes are typically an incredible bargain, the organization also offers scholarships with glee, so never feel embarrassed to ask for one.

Now without further ado, here are the course descriptions:

GOTHIC STORY ELEMENTS

photo by Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash

What do a darkly beautiful aesthetic, #WitchyGirlAutumn, and a tantalizing sense of foreboding all have in common? They can be part of the rich pageant of Gothic story elements that make so many “classic” — or “forbidden” — literary pleasures so deep. In this three-hour generative workshop, we will dip our feet into the chilling waters of Gothic literature to find out what that genre entails. Expect a multi-faceted exploration as we discuss a range of examples in visual art, film, music, and mentor texts. Our writing time will include the opportunity to use these Gothic  elements to begin a story or enhance one you’ve already started. Students will have the option of sharing what they’ve written during the workshop. Come with your favorite writing utensils (a laptop, a legal pad and sharpened pencils, a leather-bound journal and a fancy feather quill—whatever works for you). Let’s kick off the Gothic season in writing style!

All levels of writing experience welcome.

READING YOUR WAY TO WRITING WELL: THE NIGHT CIRCUS BY ERIN MORGENSTERN

In this series of workshops, Writespace instructors select a work of literature and guide participants in a deep dive into craft, style, technique, and device. In these six-hour workshops, the instructor will lead an analysis of the work, and participants will practice using the techniques and devices discussed, leading to generating ideas and techniques for their own writing. Participants will need to read the selection in advance and come prepared to discuss it. 
 
Erin Morgenstern’s highly acclaimed debut The Night Circus rocked the literary world with its lush writing, clever structure, magnetic characters, and gripping story. In this two-day course, we will explore some of the reasons why Morgenstern’s novel is so well written and use it as a mentor text to generate some innovative writing of our own. Expect to discuss various elements of the text and to write original creative work, using Morgenstern’s techniques for inspiration. Attendees will have the opportunity to share their writing in class both days. Homework involves reading The Night Circus in its entirety before the first class begins and one or two writing exercises between class sessions.

This course is open to all levels of writing and literary analysis. Reading the text before the class begins is necessary.

***

If you’ve been wanting to take a workshop from me but haven’t found the time yet, please note that these might be the last classes I offer before the new year. Jump on this bandwagon — you won’t be disappointed! You can find these classes listed under Writespace Houston’s offerings at Eventbrite, or just click on this link to register. Thank you!

A Class on Character

Great news! I’m going to be teaching my one-day course on character development for Writespace at the end of this month!

I’ve taught it once before, and it went really, really well, and so Writespace has me teaching it again on Saturday, July 31st, from 1:00-4:00 p.m. (central time). This three-hour session (with a break) focuses on creating characters who drive their own stories in smart ways. We’ll be drawing from sophisticated craft/technique, pop culture, and literary analysis in this generative workshop, at the end of which you’ll have written a good strong start to a new story — or gained a better grasp on a story you’ve already got in progress. This class is open to all skill levels.

I’ll be teaching on Zoom, so you can take this course from anywhere with an internet connection. Last time we had people joining us from Houston, the farther US, and even Mexico! Very cool stuff.

Here’s the link to register for the course.

One last note: one thing that’s so good about Writespace courses is that they tend to be far more affordable than other organizations for the same quality or better. (Writespace offers scholarships, too.) Early bird registration lasts until July 26th.

I hope to see you there!

A Rescheduled Event…

OMG the weather in Texas this week. Ordinarily I would be happy as ever about it because snow is my happy place. Unfortunately, the ironically named Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) messed up bigly here, and this week has been…challenging. We (at my house) are okay, especially now. But OMG. Maybe I’ll share the harrowing tale with you later.

So I have good news and bad news.

Bad news: today’s “How Characters Drive Stories” class I’m teaching through Writespace has been postponed because of this week’s extraordinary weather events and ensuing infrastructure issues.

Good news: It has been rescheduled for next weekend! Saturday, February 27th, in the afternoon this time (1:00-4:00), so all you not-so-early risers will have another chance to take the class now.  😉

Registration should be opening back up soon (CLICK HERE FOR IT), but if you want to sign up and find this link is closed, let me know and I’ll hook you up.  🙂

In Which I Tell You, Giddily, About A Class I’m Teaching, Which You Might Be Interested In…

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be teaching a three-hour fiction writing workshop on Saturday, February 20th through Writespace in Houston. The class will be happening on Zoom, though, so anyone can do it from anywhere with an internet connection! You can expect a generative workshop aimed at developing character as a pathway to building great stories. I hope you’ll consider taking it if you like writing, or tell someone you know who might be interested. This class is open to all levels of experience.

Here’s the course description:

“Have you ever written a story that just didn’t quite connect with its readers? Or have you ever finally found its resonance only once you were already three or four drafts in? One good way to captivate your readers from the outset is to begin with compelling characters. In this generative workshop, we’ll use tools from popular culture, narrative craft, and literary analysis to kickstart (or revamp!) your story with characters that seem so real. Come see why character drives plot, no matter the genre, far more than the other way around. Be sure to bring your preferred writing utensils (journal and pen, laptop, legal pad and box of sharpened pencils, etc.), a description of your favorite character from a book or movie, and an eagerness to look at character from a variety of angles. You can expect instruction, discussion, writing time, and the opportunity to share (if you wish) what you create in this class.”

The cost for this three-hour workshop is $45 for Writespace members and $60 for non-members before February 15th; after that date the price goes up just a bit. Class is capped at 15 students, so register for it sooner rather than later! You can do that by clicking here.

And if you want to see my faculty page at Writespace, which includes an excerpt of my fiction and some real student testimonials, click here.

Please help me spread the word about this course?

Thanks so much, and have a good weekend!

HOMECOMING Book Launch Event Tomorrow!

EDIT:  For those of you who missed the live event, click here to watch it in full. It was fun!

Hello from Authorland! I’m so excited because tomorrow is the official launch party through Blue Willow Bookshop for my newest book, Homecoming! Due to in-person events being generally unwise right now, there being a pandemic and all, this event will be held live online. I will miss seeing a bookstore full of people to help me celebrate. However, the very good news is that since the event will be livestreamed online, my friends and family who live in all kinds of other places that aren’t Houston can join us! Yay! (And I hope you all will!)

This afternoon I’ve been signing books: pre-ordered copies of Homecoming as well as some back-catalogue goodies. You can still get yours! Go to Blue Willow’s site by clicking here to order copies of my books and to find the link for their Facebook Live page where the event will be broadcast. (I don’t believe you need a Facebook account to tune in, either, since I was able to access the live feed from a computer where I wasn’t logged in at all.)

The event will be tomorrow afternoon, Saturday, October 24th, at 4:00 central time. (So that’s 5:00 eastern, 3:00 mountain, and 2:00 pacific.) After my interview, you will be able to ask questions. I hope to “see” you there! (It would be such a treat to interact with some of my blog readers in this different way as well!)

Thank you, as always, for your kind support of me and of my work.

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that in October I have a series called Witchy Weekends, and this year I’m continuing writing a fairy tale. You can read parts 1-4 here. Read on for part 5.

***

The Frog Wish (continued)

“Do you know if there’s any food here?” Eleanor asked after she’d been jogging after Reginald’s hopping form for at least fifteen minutes. At least this activity had taken the edge off the cold. He stopped and turned to look at her.

“I’ve been eating this whole time,” he said, “but my guess is you don’t like mosquitoes.”

“Clever of you.” She just barely prevented herself from snarking about frogs’ legs. “You said sometimes people come here? Humans? How long do they usually stay?”

And did they bring food with them? And did they come of their own volition? And were they trapped here? She had so many questions but didn’t think Reginald would bother answering if they come at him in a volley.

“There’s a market road about two clicks ahead.”

“Market of what? Is there a village around here somewhere?”

“All kinds of things. And maybe? I’ve never seen any settlements in these woods.”

Eleanor looked around at the silvery landscape. Trees as far as the eye could see, and only shadows between them. The trail they’d been traveling wasn’t even well established: she’d had to stop several times to extract pebbles or leafy twigs from her shoes. At least she’d put on sneakers when she started moving the bedroom furniture. Furniture she’d really love to get back to right this very minute. “How many times have you come here?”

“Ribbit.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Ribbit.

“Fine, don’t answer me. But I really need food, and so far I haven’t seen anything Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)”

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns

So for the last however-many years, I’ve been doing an October series called Witchy Weekends. Some years I reviewed books or movies, presented songs, that sort of thing. Then in 2019 I began posting consecutive scenes from a story I was writing; one of the characters is a witch. It seemed like a fun experiment, and…well…the story got some really good attention!

But I was also in the middle of finishing up my (at the time) next book — which is out now, by the way. It’s called Homecoming, Book 2 in the Animal Affinities Series. (Click on this link to find out information about the online launch event in a few weeks!) So I put this new story aside.

Well, some of my blog readers have been asking me about that story and have encouraged me to resume it. (Thank you!) So I have agreed! Today’s post is a slightly edited version of the scenes I posted last year, so you don’t have to go look them up. As for the story’s progress, I do have a rough outline of what’s coming next, but also, I am writing this story as we go along. So if you want to leave feedback or speculate on what’s coming next in the comments of each post, feel free. I make no promises about whether your ideas will make it into the future scenes — as I said, I’ve already kind of figured some of that out — but this story is also a fun exercise in plontsing, so.

That said, let us commence with…

 

THE FROG WISH

Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him. 

The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.

All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.

“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.” 

The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”

“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”

“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.

Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”

Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.

“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.

“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”

Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”

“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.

Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.

“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”

Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.

The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.

Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.

Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.

Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.

“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said. Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns”

Just A Little Video With Something Nifty And An Invitation

Self-promotion is the least wonderful part of being an author. (Actually, waiting on various aspects of the publishing industry beyond one’s control is the least wonderful part, but self-promotion is a noteworthy second.)

But I made this video, so I hope you’ll watch it and take heed of the excellent developments therein.

And here’s the link you’ll be wanting after you watch it.

An Invitation For You

EDIT:  In light of Hurricane Laura making landfall nearby this week, I’ll be postponing this reading until September. Stay tuned for more details!

 

So I’m doing a livestream toward the end of this month: I’ll be reading my work online at Facebook live and on Instagram. Here’s the official invitation. I hope you can join us! (And please do spread the word.)

Achievement Unlocked: Camp NaNoWriMo

So this month I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time. And I won!

Now, you might be wondering a couple of things: what is NaNoWriMo, and what does it mean to “win” it?

NaNoWriMo means “National Novel Writing Month,” and traditionally it is held in November. The idea is to write 50,000 words of a manuscript in 30 days. One might argue that 50,000 words is just the very barest minimum you could have for a manuscript and consider it a full novel, and in some ways one would be correct in thinking so.

There are some generally accepted word length requirements for different types of fiction forms, which can be verified in multiple places on the Internet, should you choose to do so, but for simplicity’s sake, feel free to go with these distinctions:

  • microfiction: under 100 words
  • flash fiction: under 1,000 words
  • short story: under 7,500 words (sometimes under 10,000 words)
  • novelette (which seems to pop up primarily in the various genres of speculative fiction): 7,000-17,000 words
  • novella (which sometimes encompasses novelettes as well): 10,000-50,000 words
  • novel: over 50,000 words

Obviously one will find some overlap here and there, but these are general guidelines.

And what does it mean to “win” the NaNoWriMo? Completing your goal!

You might be wondering how anyone can get that much writing done in 30 days, especially when we have day jobs and (in the US) the Thanksgiving holiday and other things going on in our lives. That’s a totally fair question. For me, as a full-time high school teacher who also has a family and who hosts Thanksgiving, the idea of writing 50,000 words on a single manuscript during the month of November is unrealistic at best (and insane at worst), and my thoughts on that craziness are well documented. And apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way, because NaNoWriMo also now hosts “camps” — such as the one which occurs in July every year.

Anyway, I have been working on a new novel and made it a goal for 2020 to reach 50,000 words on it, and my friend Christa encouraged me to do Camp NaNoWriMo with her this month, and we did, and I made it past 50,000 words! Yes!

Is my novel done? Hell no!

And there are a few important reasons for that:

  • first, this novel is probably going to be closer to 100,000 words long when I finish the first draft;
  • second, once I get to the end of the first draft, that only gives me something to then work with;
  • third, the path to publication is long and sometimes winding and definitely has a lot of repeat steps on it (see also: revision and editing).

(One thing that has unfortunately given self-publishing a rancid name is the slew of first-draft NaNoWriMo projects that turn into badly written self-published ebooks on Amazon every January. Ah well. It’s a shame, too, because there are quite a lot of self-published and independent authors who are churning out excellent work, and their marketshare is tarnished by the people who don’t quite fully participate in all parts of the writing process.)

Some brilliant novels got their start as NaNoWriMo projects: one of the more famous examples is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. If I’m not mistaken, I think I read that she worked on it three Novembers in a row. (Case in point of how really good literature often takes quite a long time to make really good.)

Anyway. I’m just pleased that I managed to unlock this achievement, and I’m going to keep working on the new novel in addition to my other projects. (More on those later.) I’ve created a new goal for this manuscript for August and will keep doing so each month until this manuscript is done.

Have you done any version of the NaNoWriMo? Drop a note in the comments here about your experience!

So, cheers to you. Stay safe by staying home when you can, wearing a mask when you can’t, washing your hands frequently, and paying attention to science over nonsense and legitimate doctors over politicians. All the best.

***

Want to read more of my writing that’s already published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books at Blue Willow Bookshop and my books and poetry art cards at Ella’s Apothecary, and I hope you will!