Writing

The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship — Horror Writers Association

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When I was in my early teens, probably fifteen or sixteen, I recorded a movie from TV called Gothic (1986), directed by Ken Russell. The film presents a fictionalized account of what may have happened on that fateful weekend during the summer of 1816.

Gothic 1986 film posterLord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) invited his fellow Romantic poet Percy Shelley (Julian Sands) to the Villa Diodati in Switzerland along with Mary Godwin* (Natasha Richardson) and her half-sister, Claire Clairmont (Myriam Cyr) as well as Byron’s personal physician, Dr. John Polidori (Timothy Spall), who later wrote and published The Vampyre (1819). During this time, Mary Shelley wrote her most famous novel, Frankenstein (1818), one of the earliest horror novels.

Even though I already had an obsession with horror fiction by this age and devoured countless books and films, this movie, Gothic, fueled a dark fire inside of me to want to write from a place of fear and stoked my love of the supernatural. The film prompted me to read the novel Frankenstein to experience it for myself, and it has stuck in my mind ever since.

Fast forward to many years later, and my path as a writer has been a bumpy ride to say the least. But, to quote the immortal Freddie Mercury–one of my all-time heroes:

“I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face. But I’ve come through.”

The past decade has had both ups and downs for me, but this is a huge “up” for which I will be eternally grateful. When I found out I was selected to be this year’s recipient of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship–one of four given by the Horror Writers Association–it blew me away. I could not believe that they chose me.

Mary Shelley

Writing is a lonely profession. There are many pitfalls, and it’s not an easy thing to undertake. From time to time, writers need something–a sign from the universe, from somewhere out there–that what we do matters–that even though believing in ourselves seems impossible at times, we can do this.

I feel so honoured to have received this prestigious scholarship, and I am proud of all my fellow scholarship recipients this year! Congratulations also to John C. Mannone (HWA Scholarship), Ashley Dioses (Dark Poetry Scholarship), Kelly Robinson (Rocky Wood Nonfiction Scholarship, one of two recipients), and Stephanie M. Wytovich (Rocky Wood Nonfiction Scholarship, one of two recipients).

Along with Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley was one of the first women to kick open the door and pave the way for other women writing genre fiction. Although the unbalanced ratio between female and male writers in horror continues to be an issue, the past fifteen years has seen an explosion in more women being published in the genre, and this trend is here to stay.

There are a plethora of women whose works spring to mind when I think of who is doing amazing work in this genre, and will continue to do so for years to come. Stephanie M. Wytovich is one. Eden Royce is another. Among my favourites include: Maria Alexander, Kristi DeMeester, Paula D. Ashe, Rebecca Jones-Howe, Chesya Burke, S.P. Miskowski, Jessica McHugh, Lucy A. Snyder, and countless others.

It is my hope to one day join the ranks of these amazingly gifted and talented women. In the meantime, excuse me while I go off and do one of these:

Love Actually movie still

* In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was still known by her maiden name, Mary Godwin, because she was Percy Shelley’s mistress at the time and not yet his wife.

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Why The Fetishization of Young Writers Continues

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Girl with fountain of youth
Credit: Pixabay | User: lightstargod

20 under 40 list

30 under 30 age

Addition: I was planning to post this a few weeks ago and thought it would be fitting timing to release my write-up now as Chuck Wendig recently posted an article emphasizing that writers can write at any age. As he states, “You gotta do the work. That’s true whether you’re 16 or 60.” Wise words that we should all take to heart.

In high school, as a budding young writer, I couldn’t escape reading article after article about Christopher Paolini (who self-published Eragon at the age of 15 then went on to publish it with Random House at 19 to millions of sales worldwide). At the time, this gave me hope to think that maybe I could be like him and publish around the same age (suffice it to say, that didn’t quite happen). His commercial success did not always equate to critical approval, but his achievements remain remarkable. Still, the narrative around him is dominated by an almost exclusive focus on his youth.

Not everyone starts writing at a young age, but for those who do, we often feed into the media sensationalism around young writers. Having worked in book publishing for a number of years, I get it. Just as a salesperson and marketer must find unique selling points about products they’re trying to move off the shelves, publicists must do the same for authors. What sets them apart? Oh–they’re super young? Great. There’s the angle. I get it. But not only does it perpetuate unrealistic expectations in the hearts of young writers everywhere, it creates an attitude of ageism, communicating to writers that unless they’ve published their magnum opus by the age of 25 or 30, that they will never do so and that they have basically run out of opportunities to be remarkable in any way.

I thought I was the only one to look at the age of young writers published in the articles that discuss them and to then think, “This person has already done X by Y age. I should be filled with shame that I have failed to do the same.” The media does a bang-up job reinforcing this in aspiring authors and hyperbolizing the youth of published authors, as if the journalist is addressing anyone over the age of 14 and taunting them, saying, “This author has published a book at 15. What have you ever done?”

paolini

Because the media is so fixated on fetishizing the age of young writers, it seldom stops to ask whether the books they write and publish are good. Are they quality novels or are they just overhyped and mediocre? This is not to say no novelist under the age of 30 is a good writer (Helen Oyememi is remarkably good). Closer to home (for me, anyway) is V.E. Schwab, a fantasy and young adult novelist who at the age of 29 (turning 30 this year) has already achieved more than most people do in a lifetime and has an infuriatingly excellent quality of writing.

New York Times article about her is what inspired me to write this post. It is called: Not Yet 30, This Fantasy Writer Is an Old Pro. As if they are trying to imply “she is better than all of you. And she’s not even 30 yet. What’s the matter with the rest of you?” As if the Times has not shamed us enough by this point, they add that Ms. Schwab decided “on a lark” to pursue a graduate degree in medieval art history as if to not-so-subtly imply that she is a genius to be exalted and praised on the level of Mozart and that the rest of us mortals are all a sorry bunch of dummies.

To be clear, I am not blaming the writers I have discussed at all. Far from it. I have great respect for many of them and think they have worked incredibly hard to achieve what they have. Paolini, for instance, worked tirelessly to sell copies of Eragon by going to schools and bookstores and toiling to move as many copies as he could. Like all authors, they and their publicists have to work hard to get them media coverage to ensure that their books sell.

amelia atwater

What I do find problematic is the way the media coverage emphasizes their youth, as if that is the only thing remarkable about them. I do think it is important to encourage young writers and give them a sense of hope rather than to crush their fragile dreams as is so often the case by cynical adults who call themselves “realistic” and tell these kids the same thing. I was one of those and can attest to how difficult it is to overcome that much continuous negativity and doubt aimed at you constantly.

The journalists and bloggers writing these pieces to promote the writers they are featuring do not sit down and say to themselves, “My goal is to make all the other writers reading this piece to feel as inadequate as possible. I want them to walk away with a sense of shame and guilt and a suffocating sense that nothing they ever do is good enough.” However, they do know that the indirect result of these types of pieces if often just that.

Many writers who start out quite young often dream big but struggle when we reach college or university and the time comes to “get serious” and “find a real job” and “be an adult.” Some of you may be thinking “Yes, but that’s life, my young friend. This is the battle we ALL undertake and you’re no exception.” Fair enough. Others may feel like pointing out that not every young writer succumbs to these pressures, or that they are well are of these demands but are just more resilient when it comes to filtering them out. I can think of several writers in my age group who started writing at pretty much the same time I did and who are prolific rising stars that are doing wonderful things. In the horror genre, Adam Cesare and Stephanie M. Wytovich come to mind.

But for those of us who aren’t as impervious to the demands I mentioned above about becoming an adult and getting established in the working world, each year that passes marks a larger barrier to carving out writing time while also finding reliable employment after graduation. One of the biggest killers of creativity for many writers is economic uncertainty–some thrive on not knowing where their next paycheque is coming from and battle to defy the odds, but a good number of young writers in this camp succumb to the pressures and struggle.

25under25

Another factor that doesn’t get discussed in the laudatory pieces that sing the praises of these extraordinarily young writers who have achieved so much is their health–both mental and physical. Both of these also influence the likelihood not only of success but also of maintaining a pace. Many writers I know suffer from chronic diseases and ailments but have not let these obstacles get in their way–else they have had to work hard for many years discovering how to make this happen. Not everyone has that kind of strength and endurance, and it can take years to develop this.

Still another factor that’s missing from the pieces about young writers is the frank discussion of their mental health. Some of them have spoken out about suffering from depression and anxiety while others have learned to circumvent them over the years. The point is: health challenges–both mental and physical–affect a writer’s ability to write. Yes, many learn how to work around these things, but that process can take a tremendous amount of time.

roth

Also? Burnout is real. After years and years of taking notes from writing craft books and attending workshops, conferences, conventions, beta reading, critiquing groups, blogging, book reviewing, and balancing that with an education about the business of writing, not to mention the constant slog of rejection after rejection after rejection, it’s not difficult to imagine that a young writer might burn out.

Something else to consider: sometimes when a person starts out at the very top, there’s nowhere to go but down. So when writers that young succeed, they can be like stars that burns very brightly at first then just fade away over time. Part of adulthood includes having to contend with a body and mind that get tired faster. Energy becomes a precious commodity. Grappling with the job market and making sure we know where our next paycheque is coming from often adds to the perils of our creative energy, which dwindles. Life happens. Marriages, births, divorces, job gains, job losses, deaths, and so on.

So, what is a writer to do in the face of constant media fetishization of youth in writers? Chuck Wendig’s piece offers some solutions to consider, most of which can be summarized as: write anyway. Write regardless of your age. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission to do so or to give you a signal telling you that you have now officially earned the right and the license to use the term “writer” to apply to yourself granted by some invisible committee that doesn’t exist. Many aspiring authors mistakenly think of the path to publication and success as being the same as what medical school students do to become licensed doctors, or passing the bar that allows law students to become barristers. It’s not the same. Do the writing. Put in the work. And to hell with the rest of it.  

Book Review: Writers on Writing Volume 4

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Writers on Writing Volume 4

Writers on Writing Volume 4
Edited by Joe Mynhardt
74 pages
Buy on Amazon Kindle
Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Every since Volume 1 of this wonderfully useful series, I have devoured each of the “Writers on Writing” books from Crystal Lake Publishing, each of which focus on different aspects of the writing life. This time around, although I was sad to learn that Volume 4 would be the last of the series, I was thrilled to see that this tome deals with a broad mixture of topics ranging from poetry to networking to description.


Blunt Force Trauma: How to Write Killer Poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Although I don’t write poetry, I am fascinated by the poet’s process and I find that there are always some useful nuggets to be gleaned that may also be applicable to prose. I have been a long-time admirer of Stephanie Wytovich’s poetry, especially her wonderfully devastating and impactful poem in “Gutted,” which you should also read, so I was interested to see her breaking down the notion that poetry is like blunt-force trauma. It is an “assault on the body.” She describes poetry as the “exploration of the wound,” which I thought was a very evocative analogy.

While she describes her early efforts as a tad melodramatic, it taught her to be honest and it gave her permission not to hold back. These are two things I still struggle with as a writer, so it was very liberating for me to read that poetry could be so cathartic. I loved her phrase “the demons that had been following me for years.”

One of the things I admire most of about Stephanie and her work is that she is not apologetic or demure about it. She is bold and brash. I have known many established writers who have tried to put down the work of younger writers or to dismiss the credibility of anything they have to say or any advice they may have to give, which I think is rubbish, but I am glad we have folks like Stephanie out there who give a brave face to younger writers who are maybe not as comfortable in our own skin yet.

Her systematic breakdown of steps to writing killer horror poetry is magnificent in its detail. As she suggests at the very end, “expose the wound, examine the fear, and close the case.”

Happy Little Trees by Michael Knost
In his piece, Michael Knost focuses on imbuing characters with depth, details, and layers to make them jump off the page and be memorable to readers. He makes analogies to forests and trees to illustrate his points, as well as painting and Photoshop, and he very much emphasizes the notion of relational influence. If you’re antsing for more tips on how to do characterization better, be sure to check out his piece.

In Lieu of Patience Bring Diversity by Kenneth W. Cain
Kenneth W. Cain talks about the virtues of patience in a writer and how it encompasses all the areas of a writer’s career from waiting to hear back on a submission to award nominations to gaining a readership. He also discusses considerations of how detailed to get when it comes to descriptions, which I thought was useful especially as he related it to the importance of creating characters that the reader will sympathize with.

Networking is Scary, but Essential by Doug Murano
The style and direct approach of Doug Murano’s entry in the volume, which is all about that scary word–networking–helped to make it seem a little less daunting. He also discussed some of the marketing innovations he came up with while doing PR for the Horror Writers Association, which is very useful for authors to note.

His section on strategies should is excellent and many authors will find it useful.

Are You In The Mood? by Sheldon Higdon

Focusing back on the writer’s craft side of things, Sheldon Higdon’s entry talks about how to establish mood in a story as well as the subtle differences between mood and how it builds into atmosphere. If you struggle with description or you’ve been told you write purple prose, check out Sheldon’s piece.

What if Every Novel is a Horror Novel? by Steve Diamond
Angling more toward a philosophical bent is Steve Diamond’s piece, which seeks to define what horror is, which is no easy task. He encourages readers to stretch their defintions of what constitutes horror and rightly so.

Description: You Can’t Win so Why Play by Patrick Freivald
Patrick Freivald tackles why writers over-write so often, particularly when it comes to description and throwing too much detail at the reader, and how even though writers want the reader to have a very specific vision in mind of what they want people to see, the results sometimes get muddled in translation onto the page. Freivald also addresses incorporating sensory descriptions into prose, so it’s a worthwile piece to check out.

Long Night’s Journey Into…This? A First-Time Novelist’s Odyssey by William Gorman
Being a novelist for the first time is usually not an experience that goes particularly easily for the writers who manage to get there. I cannot believe he had a correspondence with Clive Barker (how fortunate!), who told him to write a novel at one point, which made for a magnificent story. He discusses why the novel-writing process turned out to be so difficult for him. I think the piece is one that established pros as well as hopeful newbies can benefit from.

I Am Setting by J.S. Breukelaar
Getting back more toward the craft side of things, we have a piece devoted to setting and description. This part of the volume was a very useful breakdown of setting as well as what to do with fictional world-making and building.

Finding Your Voice by Lynda E. Rucker
To cap off the volume, we get a piece about that ever-elusive concept of authorial “voice” from Lynda E. Rucker. So often writers are told to develop their voice, that their voice isn’t strong enough, that the voice of the piece is highly derivative or a pastiche, but many writers are left scratching their heads and wondering just what the heck “voice” even means. It’s something that this piece helps to simplify into something more understandable. She also has some wonderful suggestions as to how to find one’s voice, so it’s well worth reading through.

Why is Productivity So Difficult for Writers?

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frustration stock photo pixabay
Source: Pixabay | User: PoseMuse

I had a nagging doubt that though I’ve been on a productivity kick for a while, at some point, the words would stop flowing because of my re-entry into school. And that’s exactly what happened. I finished a huge chunk of my current project, but writing has taken a backseat to school.

This isn’t surprising. Any time someone goes through a major upheaval like moving houses, getting married, starting school, etc, writing takes a while to adjust.

Unfortunately, that’s a surface interpretation for why my writing brain has shut down. The deeper reason is that I relied too much on a morning routine that was not sustainable.

The problem with productivity suggestions like the ones outlined in the course I’ve talked about in my past 2 posts is that they reinforce the idea that writers have to meet specific conditions or they won’t be able to write, period.

I’m not going to deny that I got great word count mileage out of following advice such as writing first thing in the morning, listening to binaural beats, wearing the same outfit, and similar guidelines.

The problem is that these productivity suggestions train writers to be able to write only under a specific set of circumstances. Writers can apply these routines later in the day, but when my day has already gotten going, I don’t stop to write. It doesn’t happen that way for me, plain and simple.

One of the best bits of writing advice I read many years ago was something to the effect of: “If you have to wait until you have your favourite scented candle, this brand of coffee, this specific pen, this specific computer, this specific music, etc., before you write, your won’t get your writing done and you’ll use these things as excuses.”

One of the most crucial abilities for writers is to be able to write during less-than-ideal circumstances. Some people write when they’re at the doctor’s office, over their lunch break, while at a sport or activity for their child, waiting for laundry to finish up, and so on. Going forward, my goal is going to be to write in these stolen snippets of time.

Although I thought I had found a new way to write that was working for me, I have to start from scratch again. Some writers work best with rigid rules and schedules, but I have learned that although I’m like that in other areas, I’m not like that when it comes to writing.

The advice about getting up at 5 or 6am to write isn’t new. John Grisham is one example of someone who used to do it when he was still a practicing lawyer.  That doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay. There are other ways. I’m skeptical of all the writing websites that repeat the idea that it’s been “scientifically proven” that writing first thing in the morning is the best time. I tried it, I did it, and for me, it just wasn’t sustainable. That’s okay.

I want to focus on the school of thought in the writing community that tells writers to challenge the assumption that we need hours and hours to write anything worthwhile. I’ve had periods of my life when time was not an issue and writing still didn’t get done.

When we know our time to write is limited, we get more done. The course I took uses a great example of this involving an old laptop the instructor used–she knew it only had an hour or so of battery life before the battery would die, so she would write on this device. The result? She still got plenty of writing done.

Other writers use snippets of time here and there, and I know people for whom this works very well. I am not one them, and that’s okay. A few years ago, I read a blog post talking about how one writer admitted she doesn’t write fiction every dayand that’s perfectly valid. Another author, Daniel Jose Older, wrote an impassioned plea to writers to stop beating themselves up about not writing fiction every single day. He makes a valid point.

Many writers chastise others, saying that if we don’t all write fiction every single day of our lives, that we “don’t count” or that we won’t have careers. I get where this advice comes from. And I agree that a regular writing habit is essential for any writer–but it looks different for everyone.

Lucy A. Snyder, one of my favourite horror authors, and a writer with a day job like most of us, tends to write in binges over her weekends, something she talks about in her indispensable writing how-to guide, Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit. I’m more of a binge writer myself, so I’m going to give her method a whirl even though I also have a lot going on during the weekends.

What about you? Does anyone out there have any thoughts when it comes to productivity, whether it’s a system that works for them, or other helpful tips and hints? Sound off below!