Current Thoughts On My Novel

I’ve recently started what I think of as the committed phase of writing: I’ve gotten enough of the framework in place that now I’m setting aside a little time each day to work on my current novel. I’m in it, now, and I will see it through to the end, which I couldn’t have said for certain 6 months ago. The end may not be completion/publication though – I’ve written other novels that I trunked, and absolutely should have. They were writing exercises: the epic fantasy novel I wrote in high school, the couple of zombie novels I wrote during stints of NaNoWriMo, the novel I wrote last year that is basically modern YA fanfiction of a movie I loved from childhood. I’m glad I wrote them, because I learned from everything, but aside from the last one (which, maybe) they’re the writer’s equivalent of homework. You want to be a great writer? You practice, practice, practice, and file most of it away, because it isn’t a finished product worth showing people, it’s an exercise.

If I could teach every writer in the world one thing, it would be that.

The fake working title of my current novel is An Inheritance of Footsteps, so I’ll be referring to it from here on out as FOOTSTEPS. (I always give my writing a title that I fully expect to change once the project is finished and I have a better idea of what key moment or feeling I want the title to reference.) An Inheritance of Footsteps is the second title this novel has had; the first fit my original idea which focused more on the post-apocalyptic nature of the book, but as it’s developed, it’s become more about journeys, the world we’re leaving to our children and the one their great-grandchildren will inherit. It’s about climate change and government control and societal evolution.

I’m not keeping the current title because it’s ridiculously pompous. It’s the sort of title that you can put together from Electric Lit’s “How to Name Your Big Important Novel” infographic. In fact, I used that post to help me create it. It makes me laugh a little whenever I think too much on it, and I think that’s important. I want to avoid letting my ego get into the way of what I’m writing. I don’t want to keep anything because oh my precious words none can be deleted or can’t kill that character, they’re secretly me!

For the record, none of the characters in this book are secretly (or overtly) me, but I’ve seen authors get so attached to the version of themselves, or someone else, that they wrote into their story – the better version, or the version that gets the love interest, or defeats the enemies – that they can’t see how to edit that character when they need to. I do care about my characters and I am invested in this story, right now. When I’m writing is the time to fall in love and want to tell everything about these people’s lives. Later, when I’m editing, I’ll have to step back and be ready to give up what I originally wanted for them. I’ll have to focus only on what’s the best way to tell this story… and that may mean drastically changing a character, part of the plot, or even cutting things entirely.

We’ll see.

There’s a lot of world building in this book, and that’s what’s taken up most of my brain where it comes to creating it. I’ve written hundreds of scenes in my head over the last several months, turning them around and looking at them over and over. I’ve thought about how it would look as a movie, what the ramifications of certain words or actions are for the characters. For example: I realized that I need one of the main characters to have a completely different reaction to the introduction of the MC than I’d originally jotted down. If she reacts negatively in any way, she loses control over what happens next, basically reacting to her emotions, being carried along by it, instead of choosing for herself to be involved. If she accepts the MC’s presence and more than that, makes herself a part of what’s going on, chooses to be there for what happens next, then she’s got some control over the situation, and has a much better chance of ending up where she wants to be. I want that character to be strong, even when she’s struggling, and to be the kind of gracious and generous that you learn to be when you don’t have a choice, rather than some trope of “the other woman”. So, I have to write her that way.

More later. For now, back to work!

Why I’m taking (another) Sociology class this semester

I’ve taken several classes in art history, humanities, psychology, sociology, and ethnic studies, but I managed to skip taking an actual SOC101 class. I’m doing that this semester, in a 10-week accelerated course I started last week. As part of the introductory assignment, I was asked:

Please write a few paragraphs describing what you think this class will be about.  What is sociology?  Why is it important to study sociology?

I thought you might be interested in my answer, so I copied it below for you:

Sociology is the study of the development and structure of a society, but is not limited to seeking to understand large-scale cultures or countries. Sociology can also be used to explore an organization, clique, or family, and the way those smaller units reflect and interact with the larger societies they are a part of. By applying scientific methods to these investigations, we can reduce the amount of bias inherent in the ones who gather and interpret that data. By comparing both information and methods – analyzing and critiquing past sociological studies – we can expand our understanding of societies as we evolve ourselves. This class should provide us with a basic understanding of these methods and a brief history of sociology as a study.

I’m interested in both views of the world: the macro and the micro. On a grand scale, I’m interested in the way that societies are formed, grow, and die, like a current moving through the ocean of time. I’m also interested in how to understand individual people by understanding their place in their societies, where the venn diagram of their interests and relationships overlap, and how a society exerts pressure on an individual to deviate from their own desires. No person, no group, exists in a vacuum, and by better understanding the influences we exist under, I can better project the future of those societies, whether in the real world, or in my own fiction.

I left out the part where I’m basically a squeaky fangirl whenever it comes to learning new things, and how much I love the way studying sociology feels like discovering new pieces in the puzzle of the human experience. I’m a sucker for cleverness and insight, not just labeling a new find but truly exploring it, seeing it from all sides, and beginning, a little, to understand its importance.

Submissions mean rejections, sometimes

The last few weeks, I’ve gotten back into the habit of submitting my work for consideration. For two or three years now, I’ve only submitted a couple of stories or poems a year. Mostly, they sold, and I’m grateful for that, but instead of taking that forward momentum and going with it, I retreated back into the day-to-day stress of trying to make a living. Neglecting what I love for what I need to survive.

But what kind of life is that? All along, I’ve wanted to keep working. It took a long time to convince myself that I’m in a secure enough place in my life that I can write, some, and submit, some. Get out there. Take a chance. So, I’ve been putting effort into that. I’ve been going through old work, looking at it critically, and revising it. (I take real joy in seeing that I’ve improved as a writer from where I was two years ago – and I was pretty good then.) I’ve even been submitting it to places that scare me. Big markets, pro rate markets, markets with tiny acceptance rates.

And I’ve already gotten some rejections, because that’s what happens when you share your stories. Not everyone wants to buy them. Even when they like the writing, it’s not always marketable, or it’s not the right fit for them at this time. When you aren’t writing something already bought (like a novel your publisher’s already contracted you for), you are guessing when you send your work into the world. There’s no guarantees you’ll succeed. The more you send out, the more rejections you garner, and that adds up. If you let it, it eats away at you.

It doesn’t bother me anymore, for a couple of reasons. One, I know that I’m a good writer and also a marketable one: I have a higher acceptance rate than I do rejections. Most authors can’t say that. Two, I know it’s the cost of participating in the process. All writers get rejected at some point. Often, you get rejected dozens or hundreds of times.

Third, and most important: I don’t want to sell a bad story to a bad market. That doesn’t help me. My goal isn’t quantity, it’s quality. I would rather publish two or three pieces a year, in solid, respectable markets, and eventually garner a reputation for quality, memorable writing, than be that writer who’s got 100 or a 1000 sales to low-paying or reprint markets, churning out forgettable work so similar as to be meaningless. For me, the path I’m on as a writer means being receptive when editors tell me this piece or that one needs work, or isn’t right for their market. I listen when an editor tells me to try somewhere else. I listen when an editor or my readers tell me that this line or that section doesn’t work within a story, even if I loved it. I’ll read slush for Lakeside Circus and I’ll read great authors and I’ll read everything that interests me, because I learn from it all.

I can convince myself to put my ego aside and create the best possible fiction because I know how amazing it feels to get an acceptance for a story or poem I’m truly proud of, and that’s the feeling I want more of. So I’ll take that rejection, and those notes, and that revision (or three) and I’ll get better. And try again.

College is expensive, but you can help (Plus, Free Fiction!)

Late start classes began yesterday; I’m taking a 10 week Sociology class that just began, so this also means that my final installment payment for my Spring semester tuition/fees is due. For spring, I still owe $718.00. I’m also taking one class over the summer, to hurry my education along, and the cost for that will be another $600. Together, that’s $1318.00 still due on top of what I’ve already paid, plus what I pay to take care of rent and food and that child I’m so fond of. I’m doing well, financially, compared to the last couple of years: I’m working every freelance job that comes my way, I’m carefully watching my spending, and for the most part, we’re okay each month… which hadn’t been true for a while. It’s the cost of college that’s above and beyond what I can manage on my own.

If you’d like to help, you can do so by:

Contributing directly with a one-time donation through my PayPal account.

Subscribing to my Patreon (where you’ll get sneak peeks at my writing work in progress, and other treats each month)

Hiring me to edit your project, or taking my upcoming flash fiction workshop

I even have an Amazon page, if you’ve got some extra Amazon credit and want to help out with household supplies.

So far, I’m doing well in my classes. I’ve got a 4.0 GPA, going into midterms, and I’m hoping that with enough hard work, I can carry that through the semester. I’m applying for scholarships for the fall, and I’m learning a lot. I know it will help me find a profitable and stable dayjob when this is all over, so I can stop worrying so much about money, and start spending more energy writing.

Speaking of writing, if you haven’t already, please check out this sorted list of where to start with my writing. Everything with a link – which is nearly every story and poem – is free to read online. Plus, you can get the digital editions of my short collection, Women and Other Constructs, for FREE. Download a bundle of all 3 ebook formats, here, or individually: ePubMobi, or PDF. If you don’t have it, please take it, read it, or give it to a friend. Posting so much for free online is my way of saying thank you, for your continued support.

Using Scrivener for NonFiction (with links)

I got Scrivener as a birthday present last year, and up until this week I’d been using it to work on a couple of novels. The workflow suits my note-taking style: I jot things down wherever I can, whenever I’m thinking of it, and then have to assemble the pieces when I have a bigger chunk of time to do so. As I’ve gotten used to Scrivener, gotten into the habit of collecting my various bits of writing this way, I’ve expanded how I use it. First, I started putting together a new short story collection (though I’m still writing the stories in a separate text document and copying them over). Today, I started porting my notes over from a nonfiction project I’ve been kinda sorta working on the the last two years.

I mean that in the sense that I maybe worked on it a few days a month, but enough that over time I’ve got a good idea in my head of the book’s structure, contents, and style. I know this book. I know the point of it. I know how to write it. All that’s left is the research to back up what I’m saying. Well, and a lot of writing things down.

It turns out, there’s less of that to do than I thought. Once I got everything imported into Scrivener, I discovered my disparate notes actually make up a solid framework. If I can find the time to devote to more research, I think I can have a complete draft done in a few months.

What’s great about writing nonfiction in Scrivener? In addition to the ease of simply writing out of order, as you think of whatever you’re writing that day, I like:

  • Using the split screen, or a QuickReference panel, to keep a separate file open to compile a glossary as I write.
  • References! Citations! Keeping track of every title I used for research! It’s a bit complex to set up, but this is a great explanation.

I also found some links that might help you if you’re writing any flavor of nonfiction with Scrivener:

Want More Diverse Voices in Writing? Please Support the Lao Writers Summit 2016

One way to encourage a greater range of diversity in the writers we have access to is to support spaces where they can go to develop their skills. My friend Bryan Thao Worra is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Lao Writers Summit, taking place May 27 and 28 in San Diego, CA. Bryan is a poet and genre author, as well as a leader in his community, constantly working to promote Lao American writers, genre fiction, and speculative poetry.

The focus of this year’s summit is:

finding an answer to the question of how do Lao Americans use writing to push art, creative works, and policy/grants using ingrained themes of Lao / Lao American Diaspora history to create visibility of community issues while crafting work that will be coined as Lao American for future years to come. Lao Americans are creating spaces for themselves to explore the possibilities through presentations, panels, and participatory workshops lead by emerging and established Lao American artists.

To do that, Sahtu Press is crowdfunding part of the expense, along with the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based non-profit refugee resettlement organization established since 1982.

Since 2010, LAWS has recognized and brought together over 250 writers of all genres including poets, playwrights, filmmakers, teachers and policymakers.

As of today, they’re 33% of the way toward their goal. Please take a moment to visit their fundraising page and contribute.

Thank you.

First reviews of my latest story, “That Lucky Old Sun”

In January, Apex Magazine published my short story, “That Lucky Old Sun”, to my great delight. You can read it online for free, here. (You can also buy the whole issue for Kindle here.) If you haven’t read it yet, be warned that there are minor spoilers below.

I was nervous before “That Lucky Old Sun” came out; it’s the longest short story I’ve published to date, and it plays with an old SF trope in a way that readers might either love, or hate, or not notice at all. You can never tell until a story ends up in the world and out of your hands. I was more nervous because this story is important to me. They all are, of course, though some of what I write is fun, some is dark, some is about projecting the future – I’m usually pushing at the edges of what I can do in a story, but the boundaries I’m pushing aren’t always the same.

In classic, golden age SF, we have these grand stories about building rockets, escaping doomed worlds, blasting off into space with limitless potential in front of us. I could write that again a hundred times, and who would question it? We know that tale. We’ve all read it. With this story, I wanted to talk about the people who get left behind. Not the rocket scientists or astronauts or the child looking out the porthole at a dwindling blue marble that used to be his home. Just regular, everyday people. Families. Neighbors. Small town folks, faced with things much bigger than themselves.

I am so happy with how it’s been received.

Amelia Crowly said:

This really gave me chills.
I love the way it *seems* to set the scene at once, only to become darker and more intriguing as the story progressed.

On Twitter, @robertired said:

It’s amazing. Subverting old school sci-fi is something that should be done more. Congratulations.

@ScottMBeggs said:

Beautiful short story from (via ). Uses the familiar to deliver the unexpected.

@MariaHaskins called it:

Wonderful, creeping-up-on-you #scifi

And @LaurenLykke said:

Just read and LOVED your story in !! Got me all teary-eyed!

Over at Tangent Online, Kevin P. Halett said:

Carrie’s “end of the world” science fiction story is time and world ambiguous, telling this often-told story from a new perspective. The protagonist is a small girl, innocuously spending what could be her last day with her loving mother, who knows what’s coming. The author touchingly portrays the mother’s loving patience and the girl’s innocence in this easy to read tale.

Telling the story from the little girl’s perspective made it darker and more compelling. I found the writing engaging from the very beginning and it continued to hold me even though I could guess where it might end; a pleasing new variation on an old theme.

Lastly, and with the most spoilers… At Quick Sip Reviews, Charles Payseur said:

………….okay then. Yeah, this story is a bit dark, a bit…well, a bit very dark, about a child, Melanie, and her mother as they sort-of wait for the end of the world. The setting is vaguely futuristic and also rather dystopian, a place where people are judged based on their skin but not exactly the way that they are now. Here it’s not exactly race it seems but something in the blood that changes the skin’s color and might do other things to it. Whatever the case, it means that there are vast systems in place to try and “contain” it, mostly by reporting on neighbors and living in a police state and it’s an all around not-good scene. And yet the “problem” persists and so the government decided to just bomb everything. Bomb it all and then return to reclaim the wiped slate. And that the story follows a mother and her daughter on this day is bleak as fuck, but also I rather enjoyed it. There is something to be said about this, that this is where fascism leads, that this is where intolerance and bigotry lead. That there are “understanding” people who are just part of the problem and that everything is built on hate without reason, hate because that’s all it is, and in the end it tears everything apart, tears families apart and lets the central lie of the story fester and burn like the fires of the bombs being dropped. Because a large part of the story is the absence of the father, who is “pure” and who has the chance to survive. It’s a wrenching story and a sad one, very much worth reading but maybe prepare some cat videos for the aftermath. Indeed.

A Month of Letters

2016-badge

I’ve signed up to do A Month of Letters, beginning today. This is a simple and straightforward challenge to correspond more with other members of our community. Send one thing through the mail each day, excepting Sundays, and reply to anyone who writes to you. That’s it. As an introvert with a busy schedule and a lot of stress, I don’t reach out nearly as often as I want to. I think about it, and then something else bustles into view and I have to focus on that instead. By setting a specific start and end date, I can more comfortably devote the time and energy, like when I sent holiday cards in December.

More than that – for me it’s a tiny way to connect in a tangible way to people I mostly interact with online. As Mary Robinette Kowal said in this year’s introduction post:

It’s really not about getting letters, it’s about reaching out.

I mailed 28 holiday cards this last year, mainly to people I hadn’t spent time with in person, and heard back from folks who were truly touched. I know what it’s like to only get bills in the mail, and I’m looking forward to being able to offer a little friendliness in the mailbox instead.

Want to join me? You can add me as a friend, here: http://lettermo.com/members/carriecuinn/

A little help, please.

I was certain I could finish out 2015 without having to ask for any more help from anyone, but I’ve been hit with a large and unexpected expense:

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$671 my financial aid isn’t covering – due in two weeks.

I’ll be honest – I am so tired of this. I feel like I need a vacation from email/work/everything is overdue, bills I can’t pay, the constant stress of poverty. (I don’t need to leave home tho. I like my home. I like my people, very much.) Just no matter what I do, there’s something else looming over me, and I can’t afford to let anything drop.

It’s not even the demands. It’s the roller coaster. It’s feeling buried under it all, then seeing the light, fighting to get out of it, feeling like I’m making headway: deadlines met, problems solved, bill paid, I can do this! Barely scraping by, but doing it. Then, I wake up in the morning to find another pile of stuff dropped on me out of the blue. More bills. More stress. More despair. I’m never really escaping. I suddenly feel that all my success was a trick.

Start over, try again. It’s all I can do.

If you can throw a few dollars my way, thank you.

https://www.paypal.me/CarrieCuinn