Category Archives: Blog

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that so much can happen in two months. Sooooo much.

My last post was in late August, and at that point, I’d made tentative writing plans for the next few months. For those who don’t feel like clicking the link, a summary: I resolved to work on short stories and flash fiction until mid-September, which I did…albeit half-assedly. From 9/16 to 10/31, the goal was Nanowrimo prep. And I also made the foolish mistake of asking my Facebook friends if any of them would be interested in buying a list of horror-themed short stories, if I made a collection available in October, so I threw that onto my ever-growing To Do list and hoped for the best.

As things stand, at midnight on Halloween, I am soooo not ready for Nanowrimo, and I don’t have a single story ready for my horror collection. But I do have excuses, explanations, and a plan to rehabilitate my less-than-productive situation.

Explanations/excuses first, yeah? Yeah.

So, back in July, I broke a tooth. It hurt, it was humiliating, and I hated it. It pretty much consumed all of my time and focus, outside of work. After a lot of back and forth with my home dentist, specialists, etc, they determined that I (possibly) needed a root canal–a procedure not covered by my insurance. I struggled with this situation for over a month and a half, until an unexpected solution presented itself: I made an appointment with a dentist in Alabama, recommended by my brother, and flew home to have the root canal done; I would have to cover the expense out of pocket, sure, but at least it would be done by someone I could trust. Luckily, when I went for my consultation, it was determined that the cavity wasn’t right on the root, and I could get away with a very (very!!!) deep filling. With that taken care of, I could finally stop stressing out and get back on track with…everything. Maybe.

Now, I also decided to multitask, since I was heading south. I put in a bunch of job applications, with mixed results. I had an interview at Michaels while I was in Tuscaloosa, and it went well enough, but the position was part-time and the manager was open about the fact that they could only offer me minimum wage…three dollars less than my current hourly wage. I was considering the offer, when something better presented itself, unexpectedly. It’s still retail, but the pay is better, they’re offering more hours and, most importantly, it’s in a town I like which gives me the opportunity to move back in with the most awesome friend/roommate in the world. It’s a welcome change, and I’m excited to move…

But.

I’m flying home on the first. Nanowrimo starts on the first. I only got back to New York on October 17th, and I got the call from HR on the 20th, which means that I’ve been trying to pack and clean and prep for the last eleven days, in addition to working. Needless to say, my novel prep time has been limited and my output has been virtually nonexistent. I considered not participating this year…but I really, really feel like Nano-ing this November. I need to redeem myself for the past few years of failure and my current lack of creative output. But with no outline and no time to come up with a solid, pants-worthy novel concept (I’d reeeeally have to have a lot of faith in an idea, to even consider pantsing), I needed a Plan B.

Enter the horror anthology.

I’m going into November as a Nano Rebel, working on short fiction instead of a novel, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun! I already have a list of story ideas that just need to be written. I even have a list of backup concepts, in case I don’t actually like some of the completed stories in the end. Short fiction will be easier to jump into sporadically, unlike a novel, which demands a more singular focus; I’ll need to be able to write in random bursts, as I settle into a new job and re-acclimate to the area. Obviously, this collection won’t be ready for Halloween this year, barring some major time travel on my part, but I’m hoping that I’ll have something I’m proud of when I’m done editing and compiling. If so, I may self-publish the collection next fall.

Sooo…that’s where I stand right now. I’m going to take a nap, finish cleaning, review my story synopses, and get ready for my flight. I’m going to write my first 1k while I’m in the air on Wednesday morning! I’m excited for what’s to come in November.

Good luck, fellow Wrimos! May your last day of writing prep be filled with coffee, candy, and a minimal amount of stress. Hope we all make it to that 50k finish line together at the end of the month.

 

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Updates, etc.

So. Yes. Updates. Because I am good at this updating thing, obviously.

(Note: I like to call this one “Update: Count the Ellipses Edition” because they are excessive, and I am too lazy to go back and restructure those sentences to make them less grammatically atrocious. sorrynotsorry.)

I decided to return the Short Stories and Flash Fiction categories to their rightful place on the menu bar, since putting virtually everything into an archive made it impossible to find anything; if you’re interested and you haven’t already read the handful of short pieces I’ve posted on here and have kinda-sorta-maybe been coasting on since *cough**mumble* 2014 *cough*, just click the links and take a peek. In the meantime…well, the blog’s still a disorganized mess, but at this point I’m really trying to survive the rest of the year and maybe (maybe) I’ll be buying my own domain in January to give this place a much-needed makeover.

The last time I posted, I talked about starting my first draft of Magic Story. “And how’s that going, Ash?” you may be asking. If so…shut up. It doesn’t go. Not at all. I keep writing and deleting and writing and deleting and abandoning and screaming and wishing I wasn’t too broke to buy vodka because drunk drafting is amazing. It feels like a cop-out, admitting this after all the prewriting work I put in, but I honestly don’t feel like the story’s ready yet. Or more accurately, the story is ready, but I am not, and sitting in front of a blank document/notebook/etc. for so many nights has started to feel even less productive or useful than doing absolutely nothing.

I can’t not write. But, y’know…I’m also not writing in my half-assed attempts to write. Something has to give. So, I’m going in a different direction for the time being.

Yes, again.
Yes, really.
Again…just shut up.

The new game plan:

  • Short stories, flash fiction, training wheel/back-to-basics sort of stuff for the rest of this month, until September 15. I want to strengthen my writing muscles and play around with style and structure without the commitment/stress of a long-form project.
  • From 9/16 to 10/31, I’m going to reacquaint myself with this novel idea and its characters, to prep for Nanowrimo.
  • Nano in November, gods help me.
  • Continued writing in December, with 12/31 as the deadline for the completion of November’s draft. Editing in January. And from there, who knows? Maybe finding betas. Maybe just stuffing the draft in a drawer of shame and lighting the desk on fire. We’ll play it by ear, yeah?

Honestly…a lot of my “process” lately is screaming at myself to get my shit together. It hasn’t happened yet because I am, first and always, a hot mess. But I keep trying, damnit, and that counts for something. I’m barely getting any hours at work, so I’m home for most of the week, and instead of working I’ve been watching a ton of Netflix and feeling guilty about doing nothing (but not guilty enough to do something about it). I need to make better use of my time.

So this is me, trying again. And again, and again, until I get this right.

We interrupt this prolonged radio silence…

To bring you an update post. Hoo…ray? Sure; let’s go with “hooray!”

How’s your summer going, lovelies? Working on any big projects? Seen any good movies? Gone on any adventures? I’ve spent most of my time trying not to melt, and eating cold foods (ice cream) in alarmingly large quantities. I’ve also gone on several shameful Netflix binges, and read a bunch of books in my desperate attempt to hide from the sun, ranging from “meh” to “amazing” on my oh-so-detailed personal book rating scale. Oh, and much to my surprise, I’ve completed a lot of work this past month!

I know, I know…I’m as shocked as you are.

Last month, I once again found myself participating in Camp Nanowrimo. I was cautiously optimistic about the whole thing, but when the month began, I realized that I was by no means prepared to begin writing my first draft for Magic Story (obviously a code name, since titles are hard and I hate picking them). Instead, I decided to work on prewriting, settling in for extensive work on developing my characters, charting my story arc/subplots, and compiling everything into a massive zero draft. The end result? Twenty-one pages of emotional beats, plot twists, rambling notes, characters with names that change on every page, characters who appear on one page and disappear completely after that, a magic house that somehow contains a labyrinth…messy, weird, ugly, fun stuff.

And now, despite the fact that the zero draft trails off into nothingness toward the end of the second act, I feel far more prepared to start the first draft. I do have notes for the ending, detailing the major points I need to hit and a general idea of how the conflicts are ultimately resolved, but I want to leave it vague for the time being; the ending may change completely, depending on the ways in which the drafting process twists and turns my original ideas into something (hopefully) more cohesive and organic.

I’m excited to see how this all turns out, and also a bit terrified to see the artless way my clumsy hands will undoubtedly mistranslate my dreamy visions into text. The end result is bound to be hideous. But it’s the sort of hideousness only a writer can love, all jagged edges and clunky phrases and stilted dialogue and walls of exposition, which (again, hopefully) can be chipped away, buffed and polished until it reveals something beautiful.

My goal for this month is 1,000 words per day, bare minimum, on the days that I have work, and a 2,000-word minimum on my off days. I have no idea how long this draft will be, but ideally I’d like to wrap things up by the end of September and start copy editing, so I can send a semi-legible copy to my writing buddy/beta reader/favorite person.

Drafting begins tonight. Let the madness begin!

Writing While Black

Author’s Note: This is an incredibly small part of a much longer dialogue I’ve been having with myself about a serious subject. I use a lot of generalizations, but this is by no means meant to be a blanket statement about all black writers. It’s speculative, and a way for me to process my feelings about who I am and what I do. Nothing more, nothing less. Now…let the shit-storm begin.

*****

If there’s one thing that’s been on my mind lately, it’s the subject of race. As a black woman in America, it’s impossible to not think about race at least some of the time—it effects so much, even if self-described “colorblind” people would try to convince you otherwise—and with the disheartening-but-not-unexpected acquittal of Philando Castile‘s killer (and the copious amount of racist bullshit appearing on the news almost nightly), the way our society trivializes the importance of black lives weighs heavily on my mind. Other people have said it already but it bears repeating: to be black in America is to walk with a target on your back, daily, and when you get taken out…well, it’s expected. That’s what happens to targets, after all. They take hits until they fall, and no one sheds a tear for them. They simply put a new target in its place and repeat the cycle anew.

There’s a lot of talk–some serious, some bitterly humorous–among black people online about the dangers of “X while Black,” where “x” can be anything from walking home at night to sleeping in your car, breaking no laws and committing no offense but somehow being labeled as a threat all the same. At this point, it feels like you can’t avoid being made a target because everything makes you a target. And one thing I’ve been thinking about on a personal level, as a writer whose greatest desire is to present my work as an open and authentic expression of my black female selfhood is this: how do I approach literature and the creative process when I’m automatically engaged in the contentious act of Writing while Black? How do I write with a target on my back?

As a writer, racial representation in literature is hugely important to me. I’m sure most of you have seen the rallying cry of “Representation Matters,” and it’s absolutely, 100% true. But too often, I think the conversation fails to fully take into account the importance of representation behind the scenes, in the publishing industry, from writers and artists to agents and editors. The literary field, like so many other things in this country, is still predominately white. Organizations like We Need Diverse Books have done so much in just a few years to give an outlet to marginalized voices and draw attention to the whitewashed field of mainstream lit, but there’s still so much to do before stories written by (and starring!) people of color are normalized and treated as something other than niche fiction for a very select demographic. Stories starring black people still aren’t seen as universal, even if they resemble the million stories with white main characters in every aspect except for the color of the characters’ skin.  The fact that many bookstores still have a “Black Fiction” section separated from the “Fiction/Literature” section is pretty damn telling.

Even in fiction, we’re perpetually othered.

When our stories are universalized, when they’re treated as the norm and not a novelty, then we’ll have made true strides toward diversifying literature. Until then, every story written and every author who steps forward with their work is fighting an uphill battle. The brave, bold few “diverse” folks who have made strides in an industry that would treat them—and all those who look like them—as little more than precious tokens, icons of their “progressive” attitudes—are fighting a war against ignorance on behalf of those who will someday become the inheritors of their literary legacies.

And sometimes, honestly, it’s hard to feel as though it’s a battle that can actually be won. For every step forward, there’s an army of people armed to the teeth and more than ready to knock us back ten paces or more. It’s tiresome, and it’s tiring, and personally it’s hard not to approach every page I write with my jaw set and shoulders squared, ready for the inevitable fight for recognition and appreciation that comes after the hard work of writing is done. It’s Writing while Black—writing despite, writing in spite of, writing to give a voice to the overlooked and overshadowed, writing to give myself a reflection in print, writing and writing and writing in hopes that I can give a sound and shape to the silent screams of frustration and anger and excitement and joy that always seem to be lodged within my chest. Black writers have all of the normal stress that all writers deal with, compounded with the anxieties that come with being hyper-visible figures in a world that would largely prefer we remain unseen…or worse, to not exist at all. It’s difficult not to bend or break beneath that weight.

Writing while Black means that every story I write, every blog entry I post, every forum I contribute to, every word on the page is an expression of defiance. It’s a way of throwing my voice, my self into the world and demanding to be heard and scene and appreciated. And…it’s scary. It’s scary enough to know what you’re fighting against, but it’s just as scary to know what you’re fighting for. Frankly, as a black woman writing fiction, I don’t have the luxury of fucking up. If I get something wrong, if I don’t perform at my absolute best, there’ll be tons of people saying “See? This is why we don’t give black stories a shot. The quality isn’t there” along with a hoard of black readers expressing their disappointment in seeing one of their own let them down. It’s impossible to be all things to all people. It’s impossible to represent “blackness” as one concrete, cohesive thing because BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT A MONOLITH…no matter how much mainstream white media would have us believe otherwise. It feels like a losing battle from the start, but it’s one that needs to be fought all the same.

I think every black author—and really, every author from a marginalized background (disabled, LGBTQIA+, POC, etc)–struggles, to some extent, with the weight placed upon us by tokenization. If you’re one of only a few black writers in your field, you’re expected to be “The Voice of Your People,” even if that’s not your intent (and really, if that is your intent, isn’t it a bit arrogant to think you can speak for us all?). It’s a mantle you’re forced to accept solely due to scarcity. And the only way to lessen that weight?

We have to double down on the fight to reshape the industry.

As readers, we have to continue to demand more from publishers and writers alike, to call out crappy representation and uplift the stories that get things right. As authors, we have to write more, push harder, fight for acceptance as we are (none of that whitewashing shit just to make a quick buck, okay? No selling out on your vision). Shrug off the targets placed on our backs and stand arm-in-arm until we become a structure so strong we’re damn near bulletproof. When one of us falls, we pick them up. We write more and keep our voices loud and firm and unapologetic. We keep speaking up until we’re heard. We tell our stories, and make ourselves immortal and unforgettable in the process.

This is what I want to do. This is the community and the world I want to immerse myself in. I want my stories to be told. I will make myself seen. I will make my voice heard. The rest is out of my hands, but I’ll do what I can and hope for the best.

It’s hard work. Scary, too. But the only thing we—I–can do is keep writing, and hope that adding more voices to a growing multitude gives strength to a deafening roar for change that can no longer be ignored.

To Summer, and Beyond

I’ve said this before, but I reeeeeally hate summer. The heat tends to make me cranky and sluggish and unmotivated—and for someone like me, who has a pretty glaring inability to sit down/focus/actually work for any length of time in the best of conditions, the last thing I need is to become even more unmotivated. My creative output has a habit of coming to a screeching halt in the summer, and in a year that’s already seen spotty work from me at best…yeah, not good. To combat the heat-induced lethargy, I’m coming up with a game plan now (on what’s likely one of the last non-sweltering days of the month) and getting a jump-start on new projects while I feel up to the task.

Before I talk about what’s coming, let’s recap the last few weeks.


Story a Day May: The Stats

Stories Written: 24
Stories Completed: 22
Days Skipped: 7

SaDM was a pretty fruitful venture, all things considered. I actually surprised myself with a few of the pieces I churned out—rough and unfinished as they are, they showed potential for growth and expansion. Keeping myself limited to one hundred words reminded me that the most interesting stories aren’t necessarily the most verbose; I can actually do a lot in a very small space, if I choose my words carefully.

That said…I’m taking the opposite word count approach for July. More on that in a bit.


BookCon 2017

Guys…BookCon was uh-MAZING. I went to as many panels as time permitted, wandered the show floor, spent more money than I should’ve (books! totes! TOO MUCH TEMPTATION!), got a surprising amount of free stuff, and met a bunch of lovely readers and writers throughout the weekend. I took a ton of notes during the panels, and came home inspired and energized.

And seriously, y’all—look at all this stuff:


Camp Nanowrimo

Don’t laugh. No, I mean it—don’t laugh. If you’ve followed my blog for awhile (and/or you know me personally) you know that I have a really bad habit of swearing that I’m going to participate in Camp Nanowrimo, deciding that I hate the story less than a week in, and giving up on the whole endeavor with a nonchalant “better luck next summer” every time. Well…this is not like those times. Really. No, really. Shut up.

My word count goal is set at the default 50K (see? told you that I was going for the exact opposite of 100 words a day), which will likely get me close to the halfway point of the draft, and my goal is to have a completed rough draft by the end of August. After that? Edits in September, and searching for beta readers for the first time ever. Second edits, etc. I want this manuscript in decent shape by January, and if I like it I’ll start shopping it around.

Hopefully.

(God help me.)

As always, I’m going to blog my way through the prep process because…eh, why not? I’m having a lot of fun developing a ridiculous concept and watching it slowly become an even more ridiculous story, and that alone is worth documenting. It’s been awhile since I’ve actually had fun while writing, and the enjoyment I’ve felt so far—even with the more difficult elements (plotting the dreaded Middle, for instance)–feels like a long-overdue return to form.


In short: more blogging, this summer. Maybe a few short stories posted, if I choose to expand on some of my drabbles from May. Definitely Camp Nanowrimo.

Let’s have some fun, yeah? It’s summer, after all.