Writing Frauds


largeSince attending a writing social last Saturday night, something’s been seriously bugging me. Okay, not in the keeping me up at night kind of way. More in the what the hell is wrong with me kind of way. Why can’t I talk to other authors? I’ve brushed it off by calling myself a writerly introvert, which is true, BUT I am not an introvert in general. Actually, talking to total strangers is one of the key components I get paid for at my “real job,” and most of the time I’m pretty effing good at it.

My favorite blog post on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins is: Swagger in the Age of the Author Brand. Inspired by Kristen Lamb’s blog about bad girls becoming best sellers, Swagger talks about how important it is to market ourselves as (kick-ass) authors in today’s saturated, self-published market.

But it’s hard to do when we don’t feel like kick-ass authors.

quotescover-JPG-57It turns out that feeling like a fraud is a recurring theme among almost ALL authors, especially us newbies. In the comment section of my last post, Jonathan Giles mentioned that at writing events he often feels that someone taped a sign to his shirt that says “fake,” or “loser.” But, it’s not just the newbies that feel like phonies. DM Miller pointed out that Maya Angelou (coincidentally, one of my all time favorite authors) suffered the same affliction. After writing eleven books, she said she still felt like she could be exposed as a fraud at any time.

All of this self-doubt begs the question: What makes a writer . . . a writer? Since my catastrophic endeavor to network with local authors, I’ve given it quite a bit of thought. This is what I’ve come up with:

quotescover-JPG-41A writer is someone, anyone, who writes.

That’s it.

The problem we face with introducing ourselves as writers entirely in our minds. We see the greats: the Maya Angelous, the Agatha Christies, and the Leo Tolstoys, and we wonder how we’ll ever compare. Well, you know what? Many of us aren’t going to achieve that level of grandeur. But that’s okay. Because we’re out there in the trenches. We’re creating something from nothing: putting words on a previously blank page in the hopes of evoking a little emotion, and possibly even a change in perspective in our readers (and sometimes even in ourselves) that never would have transpired if the we, the writers, had never taken the time the sit down and type that shi# out.

Every time we show our work to other people, we’re putting our pride on the line. I’m still learning. I write weird fiction, and I’m a new author finding my way. My prose aren’t perfect, and sometimes I stare at a sentence way too long . . . just trying to figure out where the godforsaken HELL to put the bloody comma.

But I’m still a writer.

Because I’m still writing.


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After the attending the Writers’ Guild social, I did what any self-respecting writerly introvert does, and googled the local writers I recognized. Many had blogs just like this one. In no time at all, I was knee deep in short stories and novel excerpts of some of the best writers in Canada. What did I see? Dialogue tags. Adverbs. Run-on sentences. Comma splices. And confidence.

Confidence makes a writer. That, and the ambition to keep going, no matter what.

I’m a published short story author. I’m a paid freelance writer. I am almost finished my own awesomesauce 120,000 word novel.


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The only difference between them and me (is) WAS a state of mind. You don’t need a university education to be a writer. You don’t need to be published to be an author. All you need are the kahunas to keep writing, to keep learning and putting yourself out there even when you know you will never EVER be “perfect.” 

And on that note, I better get back to work.

Cassie


With a little prodding from a friend, I entered my first writing competition a few weeks ago. PEI Writers’ Guild hosted the “Battle Tales,” and announced the winner at a social in a micro-brewery near downtown Charlottetown on Saturday. I didn’t win the contest, but the social was still a great way to get out and network with local writers.


beer-2618210_960_720.jpgIF I could have forced myself to speak to anyone . . . which I couldn’t.


Although I threw back a few pints of liquid courage, my mouth managed to seal itself shut. The room filled with flourishing, successful authors remained entirely un-networked. By me, anyway.

So, now that I’m safely back behind my computer screen, I am going to do what every other writerly introvert does and follow those guild writers’ tweets, blogs, and stalk them on Goodreads. Boom. So there, sealed mouth.

The contest rules stipulated that the short story could be no longer than 2500 words. It had to feature a dog barking in the distance, a door that wouldn’t close, and a pair of shoes dangling on a power line. While my story didn’t win, it still took me a while to write. I don’t want to waste it. So here, with no further ado: my contest entry for the PEI Writers’ Guild Battle Tales.


Cassie


It was hard to spot at first.

I closed my mouth against the sand whipping at my face and squinted at the horizon. There was a boat at the end of the world, its mast leaning heavily to the side in the wind. A ghost ship, probably. Nestled deep in the Gulf of St. Laurence, it’d been years since our island had seen one. Years since we made any contact at all with the world outside our shores.

I shimmied off my kitbag to retrieve the radio. Stealing another glance at the vessel through my binoculars, I pushed the button. “Checking in from the Second Station, North Shore.”

The reply from Central was quick. “Go ahead, Jackson.”

“There’s a boat up here.” I transferred my weight from one foot to the other. My replacement had been called to a riot, lengthening my shift to twice as long as usual. “Looks like it’s gonna hit the shore.”

“Anyone on board?” The question was standard procedure. No one ever was.

The battered deck was easily visible through the binoculars now: empty beneath a torn sail whipping ruthlessly in the wind. “Doesn’t look like it.”

A surge of static followed. “We’ll send a demolition crew out. Make sure no one goes near it till they arrive.”

“Ten-four, Central.”

Wiping the sand from my eyes with the heel of my hand, I sat next to my kitbag and examined the remnants of my lunch. I’d eaten most of my rations already, except a hunk of dried ham I’d saved for the walk home. Holding the meat in my hand, I debated whether or not to finish it. There was never enough to eat anymore. My stomach let out an argumentative growl as shoved the ham in my pocket. I could handle the hunger better than others. It made some people angry. Bitter. The riots grew worse every month. Rumors were rampant. Many believed Central was hoarding food. They couldn’t have much, even if they were. The farmers had a hard year, without much rain. We had some meat, but less potatoes than usual. Hardly any corn.

Twenty years had passed since they blew up the bridge. My older brothers used to talk about the sound of it. Said the whole house shook with the explosion. I don’t remember that. What I remember is the way the color drained from my mother’s face at the table. The hard line of my dad’s mouth as he scooped another helping of salmon onto his plate. The neighbor’s dog, barking in the distance.

The bridge had been the only trucking route from the mainland. Even before authorities destroyed it, automobiles, planes, and boats had already stopped coming in. Quarantine boundaries were enforced by the military, putting an abrupt halt to the deliveries of food that had been imported from locations all over the world. The taste of foods like pistachios, rice, and tropical fruit now seemed like a memory from a life on another planet.

For about a month after isolation began, communication with the mainland was easy. Then the internet went down, then the phones. The outside world eventually fell silent. Waste systems along the coast failed, polluting the Atlantic and poisoning the fish. We had been limited to whatever sustenance we could harvest from the island ever since.

I pulled my attention back to the drifting boat. The surging tide came in fast, drawing the vessel closer to the beach with each wave. Whose boat had it been? What adventures had its sailors navigated before succumbing to the Red Death? I myself had never been on a boat. The only islanders who had since the plague began were volunteers. Every spring a few of them left the island, hoping to find that life on the mainland was safe. Their orders were to keep away if anyone of the crew showed the signs: bloodshot eyes, bleeding ears. The boats never returned.

When conspiracy theorists weren’t accusing Central of stealing food they were accusing Central dignitaries of sabotaging those expeditions. It was said the dignitaries were doing everything they could to maintain a healthy degree of fear in rest of us; making us easier to control. I never bought into that. I enjoyed the sense of order Central infused in our day-to-day lives. I trusted them. But then, my brothers often said that as the baby of the family, my trusting nature would one day get the best of me.

Instead of wasting time on patrol pondering everyone else’s half-cocked theories, I usually dwelled on the expeditions themselves. I planned to volunteer next spring, and wondered how long the others had survived out there. What sights they’d encountered beyond our shores. I imagined most of the corpses had rotted away by now, leaving a wasteland of bones behind. The buildings would likely be overrun with vegetation. Ghost cities to match the ghost ship drifting ever closer to our shore.

And then I saw it.

Movement on the deck.

Grabbing my binoculars, I rose. A woman stared back at me from just behind the rail. Her hair was long, tied in a braid hanging over her shoulder. Holding onto the guardrail, she struggled to keep her balance as waves bombarded the hull.

Raising my arm tentatively, I waved. The white fabric of her clothing whipping with the wind, the woman disappeared from view behind the cabin.

My thoughts raced. Somehow, this person had managed to live outside our shores. Could the rumors be true? Was Central sabotaging the expeditions? If they were, maybe the Red Death hadn’t been the catastrophe we’d all been led to believe. I froze. What lengths would the dignitaries go to in the hope of covering their tracks? They certainly wouldn’t want to deal with one more mouth to feed, whether they’d been sabotaging the expeditions or not. This woman would be sent away before she was even allowed to tell her story. Or worse.

I rolled up my pant legs and waded into the water, fighting the wind. The decline into the sea was gradual. The nearer to the boat I came, the more the rolling water tried to knock me down and pull me under.

When I was within earshot I stopped, yelling over the roar of the white capped waves.

“Hello?”

No answer.

“You should come down. People might see—”

“Go away!”

I glanced at the beach. No one had come. Yet. Peering back up at the boat I inspected the sail. It was badly ripped, possibly a result of the storm three nights before. If the boat had been drifting that long and the occupant had been infected, she would be dead by now. No one was immune to the Red Death. It killed everyone it touched.

The ladder bucked back with the boat when I grabbed for the rungs. They rocked forward again I caught hold of the sides. Seawater rushed up my nose and into my lungs as the boat rolled me under the water. I held on, managing to climb a few steps before my feet slipped off the metal. Clinging to the ladder, I hoisted myself to the deck. Breathless and panting, I doubled over with my hands on my knees, trying to steady myself.

The woman moved back warily, pressing herself against the guardrail on the other side of the deck.

“Why didn’t you answer me?” I asked. “I was calling you.”

“I told you to go away!” She said, her accent distinctively British.

“I can’t just leave you here.”

Arms crossed, she refused to answer, examining the shore wordlessly.

“Where did you come from?”

She paused. “Newfoundland.”

We had been moving steadily. The boat lurched as the hull met the ocean floor, and the woman fell hard on the deck. I rushed to pick her up.

“Stop!” she hissed, batting my hands away. “Don’t.”

“I’m not sick.” I took her by her thin wrists. “We broke contact with the mainland when the Red Death moved in. It never made it here. You’re safe with me, just as long as we can get you out Central’s sight.”

She peered at my hands on her wrists, a strange look crossing her face. Worried eyes, and a soft, sad smile. “I—I’m sorry.” A tear trailed down her cheek. “I just—” She swallowed. “I was so lonely.”

Releasing her wrist, I wiped the tear with my thumb. She cupped my hand to her gaunt face. Her skin felt warm, despite the wind. She dropped my hand suddenly, as if surprised by her own bold gesture.

“Are there more survivors? In Newfoundland?”

“I don’t think so.” Her mouth became a thin line. “Before Newfoundland I was in Europe.” She softened. “You’re the first person I’ve seen—alive—in a very long time.”

Europe had been among the first to fall victim to the Red Death. She’d been alone even longer than I’d thought. Had she lived all that time on her own, only to be killed by us? I rubbed the hair standing tall on my arms.

“You crossed the Atlantic . . . by yourself?”

“There were others. They died on the journey.”

“The plague?”

“No.” She blinked quickly. “We ran out of food. We were on another ship. We would have been faster if we could have used the motor, but something was wrong—”
“With the gas.” I waved back at the shore. “It all went bad here, too.”

She nodded back at the torn sail flapping uselessly in the wind. “The sail was fine till the last storm. I’ve been drifting for the last three days.” Loose strands of hair blew across her face, and she tucked them behind her ear.

“I’m Jackson.” I held out the waterlogged ham from my pocket. “You hungry?”

“Thanks.” Accepting the meat like an uncertain stray, she tore off a piece with her teeth.

“I’m Cassie.”

“There’s more food on the island. Not a lot, but some. The others—”

“How many of you are there?” Her gaze became sharp. Glancing over my shoulder, she pointed toward the beach. Someone was coming over the dune. “Who’s that?”

“Two hundred thousand islanders, at last census. And not all of us friendly.” My heart skipped a beat as I thought of Central. “We need to get out of here. Now.”

The relief patrolman walked across the sand, eyes on us. He’d spotted Cassie. The radio remained fastened to his belt. He hadn’t notified dignitaries, yet. That was something.

“Please, come down,” I asked Cassie. “I’ll tell you everything once we get back to the shore.”

She glanced over her shoulder at the deck warily. “Two hundred thousand?”

“My parents built a house nearby. It’s where I stay when I patrol up here. It’s secluded. But we have to go before that patrolman decides to call this in.”

She acquiesced, finally, following me down the ladder as the ship rocked with the waves. We gave up halfway and jumped into the surf.

The patrolman backed off as we approached, hand raised. It was Oliver. His eyes were wide. “You can’t bring her on shore, Jackson! Central protocol—”

I made my voice as stern as I could. “She was with other survivors, Oliver. They died of starvation, but it means there has to be others out there! Maybe the Red Death has run its course.”

Oliver’s hand tightened around his radio. “We need to call this in.”

“You know what Central will do. It’s why you haven’t called it in already.” Angry, I shook the cold water from my hair. “Look at her! She made it out there. She’s living proof that we could survive out there, too. I’m taking her to my parent’s place to recover, and then I’m going to find a boat to see what’s happening on the mainland for myself.”

“You’ll die if you do, Jackson. Everyone does.”

“All we know for sure is that no one comes back. They could be alive.”

Oliver’s eyes trailed over Cassie, softening. “How did you survive?”

She shrugged nervously, her eyes flitting between us. “I just did.”

Oliver bit his lip, looking past us to her boat in the water. “I must be crazy,” he said. Accepting my outstretched hand, he shook firmly.

Cassie stiffened.

“You two get to that house as fast as you can. I’ll go to town for some food.” His eyes lingered on Cassie’s thin frame as he spoke to me. “I think I remember where your parents used to live. Best not to contact me on your radio. Central might get suspicious. Leave a pair of shoes hanging from the power line in front, and I’ll come find you.”

“I can’t ask you to give up your rations,” I said. “It’s too much.”

“I’m not giving up my rations.” He smiled. “But I’ll bring you yours.”


The house was just like my parents had left it. The old wooden door wouldn’t close against the wind. I propped a chair up against the handle, jimmying it shut as best I could. Cassie watched wordlessly.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

She turned away, gazing out the window at the darkening horizon. “I never imagined finding as many people as this.” Her shoulders slumped. “Two hundred thousand.”

I wanted to reach out and touch her again. Comfort her. Having been away from others so long, I wondered whether the meeting had simply been too much, too soon. Maybe she just needed space.

I moved the chair from the door and left in search of firewood. A long-forgotten pile sat behind the shed. Old rainwater clung to the logs along the top: remnants of the same storm that ripped through Cassie’s sail. Pulling my father’s rusty axe from a nearby stump, I used it as a lever to dislodge the dry pieces tucked beneath. There was an echo of a stray dog barking somewhere further in the woods. I breathed in deeply, inhaling the green smell of spruces and rain soaked dirt. For the first time since the volunteers had set sail last spring, I felt hopeful. Carrying a small load of wood, I made my way back to the door. Cassie was watching me through a window, her silhouette just barely visible as the sunset reflected from the pane in bright pinks and dull purples. She didn’t return my smile, but even so she looked beautiful. In a few weeks, with a little more flesh on her bones, she’d be dazzling.

And then I felt it.

Dripping out my ear.

I dropped the wood. My hand flew up to touch the side of my face. Examining my fingers I found them to be tipped with blood.

Cassie ran out, slamming the door against the frame. She tried to grab my shoulders, but

I pushed her back.

“Cassie! You . . . are you carrying it?”

She stared at me saying nothing, horror widening her already large eyes.

“How are you alive?” I demanded.

“I’m immune. I wish to God I wasn’t.” She came to grab my shirt, pulling me close. “I couldn’t be alone anymore. I thought it might be safe after all these years. It was so long since the others died.”

My skin felt numb. “When you sailed across the Atlantic, the people on the boat with you didn’t starve, did they?”

She shook her head, gaze faltering. “I gave it to them.” The words were soft. Barely audible. “Please . . . I didn’t know there were so many of you when I came.”

I raked a hand through my hair, thinking of the first time I’d touched her on board the boat. The tear I’d wiped from her cheek.

My handshake with Oliver.

Cassie wiped her face with the back of her arm. “I just needed to be around people again.” She grabbed my hand. “We aren’t meant to live alone.”

I sat down on the ground and looked up at the shoes dangling from the power line at the end of the driveway. “You killed us, Cassie.”

“I’m . . . sorry.”

“You killed us all.”

The end. It was hard to spot at first.


Sometimes Writing Sucks


It’s true.

Sometimes writing sucks.

As a “new” writer (who’s been working on a book for about six years, off and on) sometimes writing REALLY sucks.

raining-money-250x250Unpublished novelists live between two worlds of thought. On certain days, we’re brilliant geniuses. We are the undiscovered J. K. Rowling, Anne Rice, and Stephen King. On those days, we feel like once our books are finished, publishers will be stepping over each other to thrust million dollar advances in our faces using words like, “merchandise royalties” and “movie rights.” On other days . . . it seems as if we’ve just wasted the last SIX YEARS of our lives writing a story no one will ever be interested in EVER, which should be printed off only to be burned in a barrel and then bombed with a nuclear warhead.

Today I am leaning toward printing off my book and calling in the warhead.

Every once and a while the stars align. I get a day off while the hellions are IN SCHOOL. These days are what it’s all about. I have *gasp* a whole SIX HOURS to write, uninterrupted, before they come back home and start scavenging the cupboards for sustenance like a pack of clumsy wildebeests.

I plan for these days all week.yvvpy

I have THREE chapters left to write, people. THREE.

At the end of the summer, in September, I had FIVE.

“So, what’s the hold up?” you may ask.

Given the proper attention each chapter should take about a week to hash out. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer, depending on the hellions and our schedule (factor in Christmas, storm days, my “real” job, a few sick days, and carry the three). So, lately, each chapter has taken . . . about two months.

Finding time to write is hard. Aspiring novelists are a breed of people who come home from work, make dinner, take care of the house (and, in my case, shovel copious amounts of snow), spend time with the hellions, or dogs . . . or . . . the shopping channel, and then flick our computers on and go to work all over again: on our awful, stupid, (and sometimes utterly brilliant) books.

But, this week, I really thought I could scratch one out. Get one more chapter out of my head and onto the screen.

12509515_221355271536260_2801088508274429890_nThis week I sat down to write and . . .

nothing happened.

I stared at a blinking cursor for six hours. Well, that’s not entirely true. I checked my email. I went to town on Twitter. I cleaned the house and did two loads of laundry. I watched a few cat videos on Facebook.

AND I deleted two thousand words from my latest draft.

So today, I made backwards progress. Today my book sucks, and it’s never going to be finished. The beginning is still pretty good, and the middle, well, the middle’s actually pretty awesome, but the ending is a pile of garbage that smells like something that smells really bad, that smells like something . . . I CAN’T THINK OF RIGHT NOW, BECAUSE I’M NOT A REAL WRITER, OKAY?!?

Today, I’m not an author. I’m not even an aspiring author.

But, I’m still going to try again tomorrow.


Weird Fiction: Why it Matters

I’m sure there are countless authors like me out there. In fact, I’ve read a lot of their work. We are the dreamers. We are the creators of weird fiction. And, when we tell people the kinds of stories we write, more often than not we are the receivers of blank stares, and comments like:

“Oh, really?” Long, uncomfortable pause. “Isn’t that interesting.”

This is the elevator pitch of my baby, *ahem* –I mean, my upcoming novel, Old Souls:

LuluWhen a woman claiming to know Lucien Navarro from a life ten-thousand years before asks him to return to their great family, he abandons his antipsychotics to uncover the truth.

His soul is immortal.

Once the leader of three hundred beings who’ve incarnated over and over through the ages, Lucien must unite his kind again to rise up against the cult set on their destruction, take a stand in a war which has raged behind the veil of human awareness for millennia, and fight for a love that tests the boundaries of time.

*Insert blank stare here*

There’s no doubt about it. It’s weird fiction. And, do you know what? That’s okay. Why? Because real life doesn’t make sense. Not even a little bit. Strangely, fiction–good fiction–does.

All day long, we tell stories. We talk about the news. We tell each other what we did the night before. We crunch numbers. But all stories are told for a reason. They are the ties that bind us to each other. They unite us in our human experience. While telling these stories, we are saying: “This is the way I see the world.” We’re asking others to see it the same way we do, if even for a just few minutes.

Weird fiction isn’t any different just because pieces of it are pretend. In fact, it’s an exceptionally effective tool in pinpointing some of the more obscure ideas we want to share.

One of the key ways human beings were able to conquer the world we live in, populating almost every nook and cranny of the planet, is through language. “And then Muckoochu rubbed the sticks together, like this,” (storyteller rubs sticks together), “and made fire.”

twilight-eye8Weird fiction is, in fact, an elevated form of storytelling, and some might argue it also an elevated form of teaching. Weird fiction usually plays off of themes. It’s a view of the world from an entirely different angle.

Take the Twilight Zone, episode 42: The Eye of the Beholder. A patient is being operated on by a gathering of surgeons. Both the faces of surgeons and the woman’s face are hidden until the very end of the show. The doctors are doing the best they can to try and make the woman appealing, as she is described by the nurses as: “not normal,” with a face that looks like “a pitful, twisted lump of flesh.” When she’s revealed at the very end of the show–after what the doctors called another wildly unsuccessful surgery–we realize that by our standards, the patient is in fact, a beautiful woman. It was the doctors and nurses who were practically monsters. The closing narration is an in your face “moral of the story”:

“Now the questions that come to mind: ‘Where is this place and when is it?’ ‘What kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm?’ You want an answer? The answer is it doesn’t make any difference, because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence. On this planet or wherever there is human life – perhaps out amongst the stars – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone.

Lessons can be learned from all types of weird fiction.

The Hunger Games series almost serves as a warning to YA readers: “Hey, wake up! This is an example of what could happen to society if we don’t keep questioning our government.”

imagesHNX92SMHAnne Rice was able to connect with millions of readers, not just by writing about vampires and witches, but by writing about mankind’s eternal quest for salvation.

Old Souls isn’t about Lucien Navarro. Well, it is–but it’s also about the movable lines between reality and perception. The theme of the entire book can be found in this one line of the elevator pitch: “he abandons his antipsychotics to uncover the truth.” And then, the question is left in the readers hands . . . What makes reality real?

Fiction writing is not much more than the sharing of a dream: an alternate reality. We write books that say, here, take a look at this, does it mean something to you? Will you see the world the way I do, if even for just the briefest flicker of time? That desire to connect with one another, to teach, to learn, to grow together is one of the puzzle pieces that ultimately make us human–the species that took over the entire planet. And when that spark between writer and reader ignites, when we are connected by ideas, well, that’s just a downright beautiful thing.