Four Green Squares

the tiny little blog no-one will ever read

Mission Critical March 2, 2014

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 7:16 pm
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I’m very pleased to let you all know that my story “Mission Critical” is the featured story in the new issue of Luna Station Quarterly.

 

Direct link to story.

 

Let me know what you think…
Oh, and without this turning into another Clarion squee post, I have to say that this is the story where everything I’d learned at Clarion and have struggled since to integrate finally gelled. It felt different whilst writing it, like I could be both in the flow as the words fell out of my pen and at the same time see what those words were doing on the overall story level. Worth all those tossed out drafts (of the novel, not this story) over the past year and a half as I tried to figure out how to use everything I learned.
Of course, applications to the 2014 Clarion closed yesterday, so instead of encouraging people to apply, I can only say best of luck to everyone waiting to hear!

 

 

Well, this is weird… January 29, 2014

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 4:11 pm
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So. I’ve been interviewed.

Mostly about Clarion and my journey as a writer, but also some process and other craft tidbits in there.

The interview was the project of Elaine Aldred, a fellow Notts writer who interviews many writers on her blog.

If you are so inclined, you can find the interview here:

Answering the Clarion Call

Thanks again to Elaine for an interesting afternoon discussing my favourite subject. No, not me, silly! Writing. Yes, definitely writing…

 

Yet more Clarion Squee October 28, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 2:27 pm
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Sorry for the long silence. Writing, writing, travelling, editing, writing…

But finally, something spurred me back here to share some news. May I therefore present:

The Clarion Pin Up Calendar

Just in time for the holidays! 

Such a good cause! 

I’m still marveling at how much I learned. When I went, I knew I had some issues, but thought they were more mechanics, easily fixed (yeah, I’m laughing right along with you). Because what I discovered was that I had one big problem, and lots of coping mechanisms. Simply, I had no idea how to plot. How to arrive at plot, how to figure out what went in, and what stayed out. And solving that problem meant dismantling all my coping mechanisms and techniques. It was awful, let me tell you, watching all my classmates get noticeably better week by week (not that part; it was awesome to see them kick ass) while I got noticeably worse. I hit bottom week four, and by week six, had started to find my feet again.

So I left Clarion clinging to my life-raft of character arc. Now–three novel drafts, numerous short story drafts and even more critiquing later–I think I feel like the Palm Island thing in Dubai. Reclaiming land, sinking deep foundations. Not The World, one as that’s sinking in to the sea. Hopefully not, in any case (never pays to temp fate!).

In other words, Clarion has changed my writing and life for the better, at a level deeper than I ever could have anticipated. If I could, I’d buy out all the calendars and make all my relatives hate me (birthday presents for the next decade sorted!) But I can’t. So I’m spreading the word instead.

It’s definitely a worthy cause. And fun. C’mon, what writer doesn’t need a handy-dandy wall-mounted temporal management device? 

Added 3 Nov: Just got home from World Fantasy Con in Brighton, where I had the chance to meet the charming and talented artist behind the calendar. I’m even more exited for it now. Squeeeee…

 

They Are Entwined June 11, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 3:51 pm
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Join the fun!

Join the fun!

I’ve signed up for the Clarion Write-a-Thon  this year and have decided to sponsor myself for the full amount I’ve made from fiction sales this year. I could not have done it without Clarion (or at least not nearly so quickly or so well), and I’m thrilled to be able to support the Workshop.

The amount puts me over that needed to form a group. If anyone out there wants to join, or indeed sponsor me, check it out! And if you are an aspiring writer, the Write-a-Thon is a great way to get a taste of the Clarion pace–and get a head start on your submission stories for next year. Hope to see you there, or on the page!

 

Story-shaped Splotches May 20, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 8:17 am
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After finishing in two weeks a draft I’d planned to take a month, I was in a cat waxing mood so I gussied up as work the act of perusing old writing. I excavated very old drafts of a story I’ve been wanting to get back into.

 

If you’re looking for something to simultaneously please and horrify, look back at writing 2-3 years old. Ouch. So much over-written description and inconsistent characterisation. So much of the plot line drowning in needless over-complication. But also some unexpected jolts of truth in there as well. I wrote those 🙂 (yes, it calls for an emoticon).

 

I remember abandoning that novel because I couldn’t quite square the circle and looking at it now, poof, the issues jumped out at me (thankyouagainClarionohthankyousomuch).

 

I’d wanted a romance as the main narrative drive with a castaway/stranger-in-a-strange-land as the overt MacGuffin plot line. But I’d actually over-developed the society in which he found himself to the point where the female lead was too enmeshed in her culture to be free to fall in love.

 

Falling in love is, as the name slaps you in the face to point out, falling. And in order to fall, you need to be unmoored, to a certain extent at least. Strange to think I’d ended up with too much worldbuilding. Put too much of it in the main plot, where it took over.

 

I’d also known even then that structure was a personal weakness. I can come up with ideas and develop characters etc., but simple narrative drive remained elusive. In that project, I’d tried sticking to one of the plot lines in “20 master plots and how to build them“. More points for the data set that tools in novice hands can be dangerous and destructive…but that’s how you learn to use them. I think I certainly gained from using an existing story scaffold. My problem–and remember how I said I intended for this to be a romance?–was not using the bloody romance outline but “escape” as the stranded character tried to get home.

 

While certainly that narrative drive and the conflicting goals of home vs. finding happiness in an unexpected place could work as a compelling story, adding on a quest plot tends to… well, have I mentioned I have a tendency towards over-complication? (No? Hmm, check out my potato soup recipe…) Because I ended up using the escape plus overbuilt society to add in a third plot line, that darned quest, that took them over half the globe. Introduced in Act Three. Totally undermining the atmosphere of being trapped that I’d built up through the first two acts. Yikes!

 

I still like the central premise and characters. I just wrote a two page outline–much simplified–that, in the immortal words of Holly Black and which I find myself repeating more that I ever would have guessed, lets my protagonists actually protag. Digging deeper instead of piling on more stuff. Making them care more about the stakes and each other. So.much.more.fun.

 

And kind of heartening to realise that, in the home stretch of my million words of crap, I feel like I’m finally starting to understand what I’m doing instead of slinging words at the page and hoping they make sufficiently story-shaped splotches. So much still to learn, but that’s the great thing about loving what you do–I absolutely cannot wait to learn it.

 

Holes April 16, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 5:31 pm
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Writing thought of the day: holes

Writers are taught to see holes as bad: plot holes, motivation inconsistencies, and descriptive voids aka ‘white room’ syndrome, to name a few.

But since Clarion, I’ve grokked the importance of leaving holes as well.

Humans are pattern-recognition junkies: we see vast stories of gods scrawled in the stars and celebrity faces burned on bits of toast. Hell yeah, a reader can put two plot points together when implied through subtext.

So, holes: the trick then becomes leaving the right ones at the right time, as each story, each moment, will impose different demands. In one, an omission will need to be signalled as theatrically as draping a strip of gauze on the scraped knee of a sobbing toddler while other times, placed as stealthily as woven rushes over a spear-filled pit.

As in all, you have to know what holes you are leaving and why. But when well done, I think it engages the reader like no other technique because they become the storyteller, filling in those holes in a uniquely satisfying way, building a story perfect for them which you alone could never write.

So. Holes. And a realisation about writing that looks for a moment at the importance of things unwritten.

 

Don’t take my word for it, though. See for yourself… March 1, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 11:14 am

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Today is the last day to get in your application to the 2013 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop at UCSD.

 

I’ve been meaning to write a Clarion six months on post, but  keep finding new things I want to say, and now the deadline is here.

 

Ack, out of time! (which is how I felt pretty much every week at Clarion as story submission time loomed).

 

What can I say, short and sweet? Do it. Apply. If you get in, go. (Clarity and brevity; real-life application of one Clarion lesson right there).

 

Even now, months later, I am still grateful every day for the experience and still discovering just how much I learned in those far-too-short six weeks.

 

Good luck!

 

Bloodchildren January 22, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 5:34 pm

Bloodchildren. A heck of a name–perfectly fitting for one heck of a collection of stories.

Put out by recipients of the Octavia Butler Memorial Award given to a Clarionite from a minority each year, this book is a celebration of the wonderful writers who’ve benefited from the award–which makes a pretty great memorial to the incomparable Octavia Butler. Proceeds are being given to the Memorial fund for future scholarships.

You can get a copy here. Read some up-and-coming writers and support a good cause. Can’t get more win-win than that.

 

Notes from the cutting file, pt 1 in an occasional series January 12, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 3:00 pm

The crit group had their way with the new new draft of the novel this week.  As a result, this has joined the (ever growing) file of Things That Have Been Cut From the Draft:

Nothing might eventually become something but something also knew how to become nothing. Sometimes it happened whether you fucking kicked and fought the whole way down. Other times… Shit thing about those were how hard you had to work at it. 

The whole group agreed this had to go. I like it. Yes, it’s a tad overwritten but it expresses the main character’s mindset. Still, if something snags all your betas, then it’s worth scrutinizing.

As they talked, I began to see why–and not for any of the reasons they had said. They basically felt that they didn’t understand what it referred to and that it took them out of the moment.

Looking at it with my crit -goggles on, I could see that it’s a different tone and register than the rest of the chapter. It didn’t quite fit the character after all (this line had hung on from an earlier draft). Its placement at the end of the chapter disrupted the suspense and dissipated the reader’s urgency.

Needless to say, I don’t think I could have figured this out so clearly pre-Clarion.

So, a clear case of kill your darlings. As I doubt it will ever be resurrected elsewhere, I’m content to let this be it’s moment in the sun.

 

Clarion 2012: Apocalypse when? August 23, 2012

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 1:30 pm

Clarion. I still am processing (unfurling) the new knowledge in my mind. But as I can sense that this will take a while, I want to get my NOW impressions recorded.

Clarion was as amazing as previous attendees’ squee led me to believe, and I’m afraid I can only add to the din. Clariooooonnnnn squeeeeeeee…….

It wasn’t like I expected. The instructors are amazing, but you do the work. It’s you alone with that blank page, day after day after day after day. You write until you hit the wall and then you write over the wall and hey, on the other side, everything looks different and things make so much more sense and arghlllll brain melting from realisation overload….

At the same time, you are critiquing until words leak from your ears, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Superb instructors give you a vocabulary for this, stuffing your head with character arcs, establishing new normal, night logic, emotional payoffs, etc, etc until aieyyeeeeeee brain melting again…..

And through it all, you have your incredible classmates, all of you together on this strange, twisty journey, kicking ass and offering hugs as you fumble along the path of taking your stories to the next level, and their comments are so insightful and spot on that how do I have any brain left in there by now because surely it’s all meltinggggggg….

See? How do you say more than that about a process my brain is still too melty about for me to extract all the wisdom yet?

In my mind, though, I remember it thus:

Jeff: Wonderful Jeff. Got us writing and talking and not being all, OMG, it’s Clarion, I can’t say/write anything because OMG it’s Clarion. He focused on figuring out the right sized idea for the right sized shape, how to develop a story from an idea, and the most important question you can ask at this stage: “Is it fucked to the core?”

Then came amazing Delia. While Jeff had concentrated on getting words on paper, Delia focussed on what to do with those words once you’d vomited them out. She talked about hints from your subconscious and figuring out what story you really wanted to tell.

And then Ted came and blew our minds all over again. He talked about the importance of science in science fiction and rooting your stories in reality as well as fancy—-including giving a two hour evening talk on time travel that I’m sure most of us are sill recovering from. He covered ways to approach writing a draft and figuring out character arcs.

But he also stressed the importance of art. Science fiction writing isn’t just about who can think up the coolest shit. SF has a long and important tradition of informing politics, culture, science—-the future, one too important to be left to politicians and scientists alone. If we want art to inform the future, we’re the ones that have to bring it to the table, and our writings are how to do that.

Calm, organised Walter Jon packed all our melting and/or exploding brains back in our heads and gave us structure: types of stories, ways to tackle revisions, how to approach queries and synopses. He brought us perfectly and gently back down to earth, to face stories that wouldn’t write themselves.

Then came the wowza team of Cassie’n’ Holly. Holly with her unfailing sense of the larger issues and framework to inform a piece of work and Cassie with her unerring bullshit detector that forced us to confront plot- and character- holes large and microscopic. Together, they helped us begin to stitch all the lesson of the past weeks into a whole that not just made sense but addressed our individual weaknesses.

And then we got kicked out of heaven, to make our ashen-faced way home, ready to try and loose our stories on the world.

You have been forewarned.