Woman Writer Wednesday: Jennifer Trela

Today’s return of Woman Writer Wednesday is to celebrate the debut of my friend Jennifer Trela’s novella, The Legion: A Million More To Go.  Here’s what she had to say about writing:

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?

What finally pushed me into writing full-time was when I couldn’t write. Writing has just always been a part of who I am, so when I can’t do that, I feel like I’m only a portion of myself. My government job was slowly killing me, and I’m not really exaggerating here. I would get home after working a 14-hour day and couldn’t write. Not even a sentence. That was the most devastating part of it for me. Before Hell Job, I would always use my writing as a type of escapism because, most of the time, I liked my characters more than I liked the real people in my life. My parents always used to talk about how they’d watch me playing as a kid, and I’d be sitting in the middle of the room with no toys, just talking to myself. My imagination was my playground; I didn’t need outside stimulation, save for a nice piece of music or a pretty scene in front of me. That didn’t change as I got older. It’s not abnormal to find people staring at me because I’ve been having a conversation between three characters that weren’t me. Well, it’s not odd for me.

So you can just imagine what it was like having that integral aspect of yourself just cut off. It was unsettling, to say the least. Luckily, now, though, even as I’m working my way through the maze that is self-publishing, I rediscovered my voice and, oh, my God, I feel so much better.

2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?

I’m a weird fiction sort of gal, which includes sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc., so I get to make up worlds and those worlds’ rules, which kind of plays to the control freak aspect of my personality. I geek out at it, almost to the point that Tolkien took Middle Earth. Sometimes, it’s easy to create your own world’s version of The Silmarillion, which every Tolkien fan claims to have read (and might have) but almost ultimately hate it more than they hate Twilight. However, it is a blast, if not a distraction from the actual story writing process.

But I think my favorite part of being a speculative fiction writer/reader is the fan base. I have yet to meet a more rabidly dedicated community of people that absolutely just loves to gobble up whatever book/comic/movie/etc. they can. They want to see stories they like succeed. I mean, how else would you explain the Star Wars prequels setting box office records upon initial release? They were terrible, TERRIBLE movies. Then people still gave the animated series a shot (it’s actually quite good), and now a whole new trilogy, brought to you by Disney, is already getting people excited. It’s bizarre and wonderful and I love it. Even if I hate George Lucas.

3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?

The absolute best advice I was ever given was to take myself seriously as a writer. After I quit my soul-sucking job, I was having a hard time adjusting to the life of a self-employed person. I couldn’t get into a schedule and I was constantly telling people that I was flexible because I didn’t have a real job. Then a friend of mine, the lovely WT Prater, said, “You have a job. It’s writing. Stop hurting yourself with your own words.” And he was right. So I started treating it like I was at my job. I actually get dressed and don’t roam about in my pajamas. I put on minimal makeup, which is what I did at the past job. But the most important part was, I stopped trying to justify my decision to do this full-time. I was making a career move, and not just chasing after my dreams like a deluded idiot. It was incredibly freeing and I’ve had more personal successes in the past few months than I’ve had, well, ever.

4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?

One of these days, I want to write a horrible romance novel. Purposefully horrible, with all the tropes and cheesiness and hard nipples and what have you. And I’d make sure that everyone thought it was a FOR SERIOUS attempt at breaking into the genre, because I also love parody. Other than that, I’d love to try travel writing. It would give me an excuse to just go places. I did one absolutely horrendous travel article back in college (yay, journalism degree that I have not used at all), but I’d like to think that my skills have somewhat been honed and that I might not be too bad at it.

Oh, and comic book writing. And screenwriting. Well, basically, I’d like to do everything except sports writing and poetry. I’m the worst poet ever.

5. What factors went into your decision to self-publish, do your own cover art, etc.?

The most obvious reason is money. I just didn’t even have the funds to pay Lulu.com for their services, and they’re one of the cheaper of the reputable self-publishing sites I was able to find. It was fairly discouraging to see that the business of books seems to be pitted against self-publishers or small publishing houses. I mean, $125 for a single ISBN? Come on, guys. Luckily, though, there are other resources out there for someone in just my position. I may not necessarily like some of Amazon’s fees (for example, I can only get 35% of royalties if I charge under $2.99 and I’m like, “Amazon [side-eye with a head tilt]. Explain to me why you deserve 65% of my earnings when all you’re essentially doing is hosting.”), but at least they’re pretty much letting me publish what I want and how I want it. Give and take, I guess. I’ll probably eventually want to bring in some other people to work with me, but since the money issue is still a very big one, I will be doing all of the design, artwork, formatting, etc. for a while, which is okay with me. It’s probably a good thing that I enjoy doing all the little things and not just the art creation. Not good for my sleep patterns, though. Ha.

Then there’s the fact that I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to my art. I have a particular vision and I know exactly how I want something to turn out. Now, I’m flexible to a point; if someone’s idea is better than mine, I have no problem admitting it. It’s when someone comes in and tries to take and change what I’ve worked so hard on to suit their vision. And that’s where self-publishing is so freeing. I can think bigger and more crazily and be innovative and push the envelope. That, in turn, just puts me into that creative think-space that just encourages me more.

This isn’t to say that I won’t ever use a publisher. I just know that there are certain things on which I won’t compromise, and some of the horror stories I’ve heard from fellow authors involve the intrusion of editors into their work. But I’ve got a while before I get there, so for now, I’ll be poor and in control.

Unspooling Fiction: Grimm

Today I’m honored to have my guest essay, “Remember Who You Are: Identity and Free Will on Grimm”,  featured on Unspooling Fiction.  And while you’re over there checking it out, be sure to take a look at what the Chandler/Hammett team has to say, they’re sharp ladies.

The Five Stages of Spec Pilot Writing

  1. YAY! New idea! *gazes raptly at shiny new idea*
  2. SHIT! This is exactly like [series that lasted four episodes] + [movie that tanked] x [pilot a more powerful writer than you’ll ever be couldn’t get made] ÷ [webseries that parodies your serious topic]
  3. Hmmm, what if I did THIS instead of THAT?
  5. Well, shit. Guess I have to write it now, don’t I. *retreats into writing cave*

[Steps 6-infinity: Write ten pages in thirty minutes. Tear hair, gnash teeth, rend garments. Pull all-nighter to finish. Do a victory dance. Send draft out for feedback. Revise. Rinse, lather, repeat.]

2012: Year In Review

Taking a page from Patton Oswalt, I give you the past twelve months in eleven seconds.  Ready? Unemployed, writing class, short film, agency job, internship, fellowship entries, writing class, retail job, temp assignment, unemployed.  [“Wave your food over this laser beam, and put it in the bag. That’s how this works! Sad.“]

Heh. Okay.  Maybe I should use a little more detail than that.  This year, I met lots of awesome people, reconnected with other awesome people, took two excellent writing classes, finished one pilot, got most of the way through another, started my first episode spec in ages, worked on a short film, got a short story published in a beautiful anthology,  got my first industry desk job, interned for an awesome producer, learned that you should hang on to two small birds in the hand because that giant golden-egg-laying goose in the bush will croak two days after you catch it, cashed out my 401(k), and blogged on a consistent schedule for far longer than I ever have before.  Not bad, right?  Except for the part about the goose that laid the golden egg biting it in 48 hours or less.  But onward and upward.  Time to finish those scripts and step up the job hunt.

For now, I leave you with this:

The Broke-Ass Gourmet: Hot Buttered Rum

The holidays are upon us, and as with most holidays, that means lots of occasions for social drinking.  But most drinks are cold, and it’s not exactly summer out there, so here’s a tasty way to have your booze and heat it too.  It tastes exactly as I imagine Butterbeer tastes, so all my fellow over-21 Harry Potter nerds, take note.

Hot Buttered Rum

1 tbsp unsalted butter (7 cents)
2 tsp brown sugar (5 cents-ish)
1/2c. boiling water
1/4c. spiced rum ($1.25) (Captain Morgan’s Original, $15/bottle at Ralph’s)

Put butter and sugar in a cup. Microwave for 15 seconds. Pour in rum. Pour in boiling water. Stir. Do not inhale the fumes before you take a sip or you will scorch your nose hairs off. (All those italics are for much-needed emphasis because the only one of those instructions I haven’t disregarded is the “unsalted” part and… just… don’t.)  Drink up!

Book Birthday!!!

Well, that Thanksgiving blog hiatus turned out to be a bit longer than I’d planned.  But more on that soon.  Today I’m here to announce the publication of the Red Queen Press anthology Once & Now, which includes my short story “12 Princesses of Bel-Air”.

Once and Now

Gorgeous cover, isn’t it???

You can purchase Once & Now for Kindle on Amazon.com. and for the Kobo here.

Woman Writer Wednesday: Chandra Rooney

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you right up front that this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday interviewee is one of my favorite people in the world, in addition to being the book “dealer” I go to when I need a hit of awesome.  Chandra Rooney is the author of The Tarot Cafe: The Wild Hunt and all sorts of lovely things at her blog Dreaming In Red.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
Stories were always important—they’ve always been my way to process the world around me, to try to understand and cope. But I do have a distinct recollection of reading The Sandman—and I should note after several people told me I needed to read it—and going that’s it, that’s it right there. How we interact with the abstract—with ideas, with beliefs, with wishes—is the beating heart of most of what I write.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
Well, I’m going to pull a Margaret Atwood here and say I write “Speculative.” I like writing about the world I live in as seen in a warped mirror; I love how what’s reflected is filled with true things disguised as things that couldn’t possibly be real.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
I promised my friend Hillary Monahan that the next time I was asked this question I would reply she gave me the best advice when she told me “don’t kill strangers on the bus.”
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
I’d love to write comics. When I wrote The Tarot Cafe Novel for TOKYOPOP I translated something visual into straight prose, so I’d like the opportunity to take straight prose and translate it into something visual.
5. You’ve participated in the Labor Day 3-Day Novel Contest; could you share a little about your experiences?
I can’t commit to a draft without a playlist for it, so I’m going to say that music is a definite influence. Often writers will talk about listening to loud music or soundtracks while writing, but for me… the entire song has to work. Lyrics are very important, because they’re the words entering my brain while I work.
Working in social media means the internet has had a profound impact on what I write. I have pinboards, and I find it fascinating that many of these images come from other people’s collections. These people I’ve never met who may be passing along images from people they’ve never met are influencing and inspiring me to create.
Speaking of visuals: TV shows are another influences because they convey so much through gestures and dialogue. It helps me block out scenes and keep my characters moving. Plus, there are multiple character dynamics and you never know when a throwaway concept or plot point is going to spark something. Shows I know I’ve been influenced by include The Vampire DiariesChuckPushing DaisesThe MentalistFringeSherlock. I don’t watch as much TV as I used to. Doctor Who was a go-to for inspiration for a long time—week to week an entire worlds got created, used up, and left behind—but I’m noticing lately that I’m more interested in the cinematography of the show than the stories.
Although my exposure to has greatly decreased over the years, I’m still incredibly influenced by anime/manga—the tropes, the genres, the character archetypes—and when I have a chance to watch a new series, I always get something from it.
For a sample of Chandra’s work, have a listen to her reading of an excerpt from her novel The Tale of Ariake:

Woman Writer Wednesday: Beth Wodzinski

For this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday, I interviewed Beth Wodzinski, who in addition to being a writer in her own right is the editor of speculative-fiction magazine Shimmer.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to write. I remember starting a novel in kindergarten — my mom said she’d help me write down the words. So I told her all about how our neighbor went out to her chicken coop and discovered someone had killed all her chickens. Then what, my mom asked, and I had no idea, and stalled out of writing for many years. Since then, I’ve gotten a little better at figuring out what happens next.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
The suggestion that even the most mundane lives have magic and mystery in them.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
I am currently enamored with the 7-Point Story Structure, from a recent Writing Excuses podcast. There’s also a series of videos on YouTube where Dan Wells goes into more detail about it. I’m using it right now to work out the plot of my next novel, and it’s been extremely helpful.
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
Most of my writing has been done under race conditions — NaNoWriMo or timed flash challenges. I do enjoy the glee and the lowered expectations — NaNo is so much fun, and I’ve gotten so much from it — but it’s also kind of insane and full of pressure. I’d like to learn to write in a saner and more grounded way, without all the fuss and craziness. Ha, probably you were asking for a subject or genre? But really I think the next big challenge for me is steadiness of practice. One of the most useful tools for learning this steadiness has been the Dance of Shiva, which is kind of like yoga for your brain.
5. How have your experiences in being the editor of Shimmer affected your own writing?
One of the unofficial-but-true reasons I started Shimmerwas to have an excuse to procrastinate on my writing, and that strategy has been brilliantly successful.Reading thousands of slush stories has taught me a lot — not just the usual stuff like how rejections aren’t personal, but more interesting stuff about what I look for in a story, what kinds of images and structures and ideas work for me. It’s clarified my vision. But it’s also raised the stakes for me; I don’t want to write the kind of “just ok” story that makes up the bulk of slush piles everywhere. And raising the stakes just makes it harder to get started writing my own stories.

Beth and her fiction can be found at her own website.  You can find her magical magazine Shimmer here.

The Legend of Van Guy

The story I am about to tell is absolutely true.  No names have been used because I no longer remember the fellow’s name.  He is merely Van Guy, now and evermore.

Once upon a time, I had the bright idea to go to a “lock and key” party.  Which is not as kinky as it sounds.  You’re just assigned a lock [for women] or a key [for men] and you go around the room trying to find the person whose key or lock fits yours [obvious metaphor is painfully obvious] – after which you trade in your lock and key for raffle tickets.  One of my coworkers had met her significant other at one of these events, so I thought, what the hell, it’s worth a shot.

my type

My type.

At the particular event I went to, trying locks and keys wasn’t an icebreaker so much as a “doesn’t fit? okay, moving on” competitive thing.  I chatted with a couple of other women, but that was about it.  Until this one guy wanted to stop and talk.  He wasn’t my usual type at all, but what the hell, right?  He was drinking what looked like a lemon drop instead of a beer, which struck me as an unusual choice for a blond hippie-lumberjack type wearing a hand-knit toque, so my curiosity was reasonably piqued.  I figured he must be a hipster.

He was pleasant enough to talk to, as far as small talk goes anyway, and I figured there wasn’t any reason why I shouldn’t have lunch or coffee with him, so I gave him my number.  Which I regretted doing not two minutes later, when he revealed his secret.  He had said that he was visiting LA from Portland, where he ran a landscaping business, to see if he wanted to move down here — so I assumed he was staying with friends.

not my type

Not my type.

You know what happens when you assume, don’t you?  You get blindsided with the news that this fellow is not, in fact, visiting friends, but is living in a van down by the river.  Or, down by Venice Beach, but same principle, right?  He then went on to detail his dream of purchasing a larger van and installing a bed in the back of it.  Which, you know… it’s not just the whole “If this van’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin'” thing that bothered me, it’s the fact that he thought this was something worth sharing with someone he just met at a singles event.  Are there female van enthusiasts who would be like “HELL YEAH, baby, let’s go!”? Was he hoping to find a woman to take pity on him so he could crash with her instead of living in his van?  These are the great unanswered questions of the ages.

Some of you may be thinking that it couldn’t get any worse.  Sadly, you would be wrong.  He went on to detail his adventures driving from Portland to LA in his van, which included the oh-so-shocking sight of “a white man with a sign asking for money at a freeway onramp” and “a Mexican guy” and “a Chinese guy” stopping to give the man some money.  Yep.  Behold the hippie lumberjack van-driving racist.  It was around that time that I made my excuses and escaped to find the other women I had been talking to — both of whom were equally horrified and baffled as to how Van Guy would think that was an anecdote worth repeating.

Sadly, I didn’t meet anyone else at the event, and I headed home hoping that Van Guy had gotten the hint when I completely avoided him for the rest of the evening, but nope.  He called me not once but TWICE in the following days.  I deleted his voicemails unlistened-to, and fortunately he didn’t persist.  I don’t know what happened to Van Guy, but I imagine him driving all along the West Coast, seeking a Van Girl to join him on his adventures.  Godspeed, Van Guy, and thank you for giving me a truly excellent “WTF” story to add to my repertoire.