Hug them. Right now.

When I was pregnant with my first, my mom said to me “You have no idea how much you’ll love that child.” I told her I already did and that alone amazed me. She smiled and told me I still had no idea. And she was right. Having a child changes things. Having a child changes everything.

“Shattered” is as close as I can come to what I can only imagine the families of these murdered innocents are going through. I cried when I read about the tragedy, and I’m tearing up writing this. When I learned about Sandy Hook, Kid A was in school and Baby D was napping – I couldn’t hug either of them in that moment even though I really really needed to. I held Kid A a bit tighter when I picked him up today. And when he asked for two Hallowe’en candies for dessert, you’re damn right I gave them to him.

I direct you all to Mr. Rogers and the Onion tonight. They both have powerful, poignant messages.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

The Onion on Sandy Hook

And with that, I think I’m going to go lose myself in my fiction for a bit. Bad things do happen to my characters – very bad things happen to my characters: I write dark fantasy and my writing teacher has convinced me to start using horror in the description. But it’s fiction. And it’s my escape. Which I need right now.

Hug your kids. All the time. Even if it embarrasses them.

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Surviving Reading Night

Last night was the dreaded Reading Night and, as you can see by the fact that I’m posting this, I survived! (or else someone else hacked my blog, which is just creepy. Gah). I was about as freaked out about this as I’ve ever been about anything. Public speaking is, for me, up there with death and spiders on the Emily-phobia-chart – in fact, those three things make up the entire top tier of said chart. I hated speeches in school, hated seminars in university, hated having to do Toastmasters at my last job. I even freaked out at my own wedding because everyone was looking at me. And in some ways this was worse – this wasn’t me blathering about my department in a company or a bunch of already-said things parroted back for a room of dozing classmates. This was my writing. And it wasn’t even my novel – by which I mean that I’ve had lots of people read at least parts of the novel. This piece had been read by all of one person other than me and that was only to stop me from having a temporary “I can’t read this for Reading Night, this is terrible!” fit.

So when last night rolled around, I was not exactly feeling zen. I hadn’t eaten very much, but I did have a lot of unrelated errands to run yesterday which meant that I really didn’t have time to give the looming event any thought until we were pretty much leaving. My husband and a very good friend (the same one who kept me from setting fire to the story) came as my guests. I had never been to this cafe before but I was happy to see that it was smaller than I had anticipated. But then it started filling up. My class was there, but so were a lot of people from my writing group and it seemed pretty much everyone had brought guests. Which I expected, but still. My hope was that I’d get to go fairly early on and then I could sit back and enjoy everyone else’s reading. No way. I wound up being third from the end.

I had rather stupidly neglected to have a drink before I showed up, so I had to make do with coffee and cookies. Having a lot of other people before me actually worked out – listening to them shut up my inner distraction. When my turn came around, I took the VERY long walk up to the front (I was sitting near the back so had to go around the whole group). Then I sat down, gave my little intro and read.

And it was here that I remembered something very important about public readings. Yes, it is your art. Yes, you are reading something you really, truly, care about. However – and this is key: you don’t have to look at anyone. You’re reading. Your paper is in your hands and you’re looking at that. And that made a huge difference to how sick I felt up there.

I’m not for a moment saying that I wasn’t nervous. My hands were shaking for a good few minutes after I’d finished and I’m sure my face was beet red the entire time (photos were being taken throughout so if anyone did happen to take mine, I’ll know for sure soon enough). But at least I didn’t have to pretend to make eye contact or any other those other toastmaster-y things that I tried to learn during my short stint with them.

And then it was over. While I was reading I was a little startled when I realized I was at the bottom of page one (of four) and I was sure I’d only been reading for about five seconds. Despite my worries about the time limit I didn’t have the rice-filled tupperware shaken at me (my husband suggested bringing a large hook). Then I finished, got up and walked back to my chair. I assume got applause (everyone did) but I was in a bit of a daze so I didn’t hear it. I did hear my writing teacher ask when the published full version would be available though, and that made me pretty damn proud.

And then it was done. There were only three people after me so the night was over very quickly after that. And the final highlight of the night? A complete stranger wandered over to tell me how much she’d enjoyed my piece. So, in the end, a good night. Not that I’m running to sign up for doing anything like that again any time soon, and I’m sure I’ll have another complete freak-out if and when I have to do it again, but in the end I’m glad I did it and I’ll be able to look back on it as a success.

All of that being said, last night was also pretty bittersweet. This “Reading Night” was actually also our last critique class of this semester. I’ve been taking classes with the very talented Brian Henry since we moved here almost two years ago. I’d fallen away from writing a bit and I’d made a promise to myself that once we had settled into our new house, I was going to either find a writing group or create one. So, a week or so after we moved, I googled writing in my town and Brian’s class was the first to pop up. I joined and haven’t missed a semester since…including the one that started this past March when I was 9 months pregnant. These classes did provide the much-needed kick in the pants I was seeking, but they did more than that too. I suddenly found myself within a group of other writers in a town where I knew virtually no one. I’ve made some very good friends in those classes, and I’ve received excellent mentoring and encouragement from Brian (and from my classmates). In short, these classes have been a consistent – and much-loved – part of my life for the past two years.

And now that’s probably going to end.

Fact is, these classes cost money and I’m a stay at home mom now, trying to make it as a writer. While the possibility of my taking the course next semester isn’t completely off the table, it might as well be. And that makes me rather sad. I do have the Wordsmiths (and I LOVE the Wordsmiths!) so I’ll still be meeting up regularly with a group of fellow writers – in fact, many of the Wordsmiths are from Brian’s courses and they do include the friends I met there. But it still feels odd to think that I won’t have this class any more come January. I think there will definitely be a sense of something missing…it already feels that way a bit, to tell the truth.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I might be able to swing a workshop or another full course down the road.

WFC 2012 Day 2

So okay, maybe it will be (at least) a week between posts. But I do have a ton of other stuff going on right now. So much so, in fact, that I’m barely certain I’ll be able to get this post done today, but we’ll see what happens. (update, took 2 days but hey, it’s done).

Once again, a few things to get out of the way before I jump into my stories from WFC. First, have you bought J. Elizabeth Hill’s book yet? I’m going to keep posting about it until you do.

Okay, next up: The short story that I mentioned last time. There have actually been some interesting twists on that work since then. As I may have mentioned (or maybe not), my crit class is doing a “reading night” next week which I’m absolutely terrified of excited about. I had been told we had about ten minutes to read. I realized I could do slightly less than 2K in that time and picked out two sections, one of which was more than 2K and one of which was less, but would require more explanation since it came later in the piece. Then two things happened:

1. I missed a class for a sinus infection. During that class, several other people climbed on board for reading. Which is fabulous, except that it reduced our reading time to five minutes.

2. A member of my class looked up the average reading rate and it is apparently 150wpm. She reads at 180wpm so there is some leeway. My teacher emailed and told me he didn’t think there was any way I could get through over 2K in less than 10 minutes and have anyone understand me.

Basically this means that I not only have half the time I thought I did, but I have to reduce my word count even more because I must have been reading at an unreasonable rate when I timed myself. This means I have to keep it well under 1K. Probably more like 800.

Of course I got this email at midnight and proceeded to stay up for an hour panicking about it, which was NOT good for said sinus infection.

The next morning I decided on a new game plan. 9K overall was too long as far as I was concerned anyhow, and I really felt it needed tightening up. Very well. I decided I would take it a chunk at a time and see how much I could reduce my word count and still be happy with it.

This has wound up being an absolutely excellent exercise for me. I’m grabbing 500 word sections and trying to knock them down to 400. Usually I miss, though not by a lot. But it is all averaging out so far. I’ve gone through 4662 words and reduced them to 3871. I won’t have time to get through the whole thing before reading night, since I’ll want to give myself some time to edit the reduced version, but I plan to go to the end of the second section I was considering which is just before 7000 words on the original. Anyhow, what this means is that the sections themselves are now shorter, so it should be easier for me to select something that will fit into the new parameters.

Okay, onto WORLD FANTASY CONFERENCE DAY TWO:

When I left off last time, I’d made it to the correct hotel (finally) and was feeling a bit shy about not knowing anyone. Ran into someone I met last year, hit it off with one of her friends. As such, I was feeling a little bit better going into day 2. I wound up showing up a bit later than I’d originally intended because I wasn’t feeling very well. This being “autograph night” I was hauling around a bag of books (though not as many as I’d been given the night before) and in the dealer room I managed to pick up a hardcover of my favourite Charles de Lint books (I’d been unable to find my mass market of the same that morning). I attended a panel on Fantasy Gothic Noir which I planned to leave early in order to grab some lunch, but couldn’t tear myself away because the discussion was so interesting. (the moderator had a PhD in creative writing which still fascinates me). After that, I grabbed and bagel and coffee and then ran to de Lint’s reading which was, as expected, brilliant and inspiring. That man is an incredible writer.

By this point it was 3pm, when I was due to have my coffee date with the lovely Carol Berg. I met her in the lobby and was greeted with a hug worthy of a long-lost friend. Which was wonderful as I’d only met her once but we’d become pretty good friends then and have stayed in touch since. Anyhow, we grabbed some coffee and found a quieter place to chat. I figured that since there was a steampunk panel at 5pm, I’d have somewhere to go once I started wearing out my welcome.

I had a great time reconnecting with her and we talked about pretty much everything that’s happened in the eight or so years since we’d seen each other – families, writing, books, histories. Just everything. I mentioned that I’d seen her the day before but hadn’t wanted to intrude and she told me I should have come over anyhow. At 6pm she stood up and said we should probably find somewhere for dinner. And then took me back to the lobby and introduced me to all of those people I’d missed meeting the day before and then we all went out to dinner together. These people were all fabulous and I’m so grateful to have met all of them!

(slight interjection here: while in the middle of this dinner, one of my readers sent me a tweet to tell me how much she adored the ending to my novel, which she’d just finished. And so I got to show that tweet to my favourite author. At which point I started wondering if the night could possibly get better).

We returned to the Sheraton for the big autograph session. WFC had a much better layout for this than WorldCon, I thought…yes, there was a large line to get in, but once you got in it was just a free for all. I got my new book signed by de Lint, an ARC signed by Guy Gavriel Kay for my husband and, of course, Carol signed her most recent series for me. After that I wandered about for a bit, recognizing more than a few faces but without books for them to sign. That night I went home completely blissed out.

(Spoiler alert – on Day 3 I went home even further blissed out. But you’ll have to wait for the next post to hear about that one).