Writing in Seasons

Fall is my second-favorite season (spring wins because it’s warmer). One of the things I like about it is the sense of calm that comes after summer. Summer is typically busy — a good kind of busy, as it’s filled with trips and barbecues and movies and hours of light — but as evidenced by all those and’s, it’s still busy. As the weather cools, it’s easier to pause for a moment and sit in a chair with a cup of tea.

It’s also easier to pause and write. I write all year, but during the summer and spring, I find it more difficult to write anything long. I finished the first draft of Please Give in April, and sent it for edits in June. I thought I’d spend the time it was with my editor working on my next novel.

I thought wrong. It was a prolific stage, as I finished five short stories and started another, longer one between April and September. But it was prolific in a somewhat manic way, as I wrote in short story bursts as opposed to one long, lingering novel (though there were times when pounding out pages of Please Give felt like anything but calm and lingering).

Fall is back, and so is the book. I’ve been revising it for the past few weeks, and of course, I got ideas for my next novel once my current one was back in my inbox. And, I not only got an idea for the next one, but an idea that would turn the unfinished, longer short story into a proper novella — or maybe even a novel, once it’s done. Two novels to work on, and I’m still revising the first one. Thanks, brain, for having such a great schedule.

In all seriousness, I am starting to wonder if fall and winter have become my novel-writing seasons, while spring and summer are the seasons for short stories. Fall and winter do lend themselves beautifully to a book. It gets darker earlier, which puts me inside with my laptop. There are a flurry of activities with the holidays, but it still feels slower than the onslaught of Things To Do that comes with the excitement of the weather warming up and my winter hibernation coming to a close.

All year, there is a lot — and all year, there is a lot to write. It seems for me at least, the time of year dictates how much I’ll write until the story feels complete.

Happy Birthday, Stephen King

Today is the one, the only Stephen King’s 70th birthday!

stephen king
I maintain that horror writers have the best sense of humor.

It’s hard for me to pick a favorite story of his, though when trying to decide, I gravitate towards Pet Sematary, Hearts in Atlantis, and a short story that, for the life of me, I cannot remember the title of. I think it’s called First Date. I’m mad I can’t remember, because that story had a huge impact on me and the types of stories I both read and tell. It’s very short, and details a man as he gets ready for a date — gets dressed up, buys flowers, etc. He walks down the street and sees his date. He greets her. She stares at him, asks who he is. He gets upset that she doesn’t know, then angry as he realizes she’s not his date, then kills her. He’s a serial killer, and all those motions he goes through are his thing. It ends with him walking off innocently, like nothing brutal happened. It’s an excellent story, and if any of you can tell me the title, I’d be much obliged.

King is a big deal in my family. I still remember receiving my first book of his. I was fourteen and on summer vacation, and reading a comic book when Mom came up to me with a book. She told me if I was interested in reading Stephen King — a name I’d only heard uttered around the house and in movie trailers — that she recommend I read this one. She held out Salem’s Lot, and said she was around my age when she read it and that she loved it. I read it, and I loved it too.

I loved it so much that I got a steady stream of his books from the library. I still remember reading Stephen King on my grandmother’s porch one summer. She looked at my book, and with the blend of curiosity and judgment that she was a master at, she asked, “Stephen King?”

I nodded. I was used to these sorts of questions about my taste and interests. One needs to be when they’ve been into the weird and macabre since they were five. I also prepared myself to hear about how other relatives of mine weren’t into those things, the subtle message being that I was odd and that that needed to be noted at all times. Again, something I was used to.

She clucked her tongue, and rolled her eyes a little. “Just like your father,” she said.

I smiled.

My family and I still talk about Stephen King — I read Doctor Sleep on both Mom and Dad’s enthusiastic recommendation last summer — and I still enjoy both reading and watching his tales. Happy birthday, Stephen King. Thank you for the memories — the ones in your books, and the ones I have because I’ve read them.

Back From Canada, and Back Up Your Files

I returned from my vacation yesterday. I’m ready to get back to the grind, but I still find myself thinking of all the places we visited in Halifax and Prince Edward Island. The views were beautiful in both sun and rain. I loved the red sand beaches, green cliffs, lighthouses, and wildflower fields (yes, I’ll post pictures).

I also had a small adventure that reminded me of a credo I oft repeat, and will do so here: back up your files. Even if you’re not a writer, back them up, and back them up in multiple places. If you write in a journal, make photo copies. If you type your stories, save them to various firmware, and also the cloud if you can. Back them up every which way, because you never know when one of the pieces holding your stories could be lost.

I emphasize this point because my somewhat tedious back-up practice was the only thing that kept me from melting into panic my first day in Halifax. I rode a taxi from the airport to our hotel, and realized fifteen minutes after the taxi left that I’d left my messenger bag in the cab. It held my iPhone charger, two books, and a cross-stitched bookmark I’d made a few years ago. It also held my laptop, which has all of my stories and associated files.

I’d kept my taxi receipt (I also recommend keeping receipts whenever possible, even if it’s just for a few days), but none of the numbers on the paper were a phone number. We called the airport, but they didn’t recognize the cab company name, and had trouble locating the car I’d been in. As the hours ticked by, and one day became the next, I resigned myself to the fact that my laptop was lost. My laptop was lost, but my files weren’t — because I’d backed everything up before I left.

So, I repeat — back up your files. Save them to firmware. Save them to the cloud. Email them to yourself, or even a trusted friend. But back them up. It takes five minutes, and saves you a lot of heartache when one source of your files disappears.

I am happy to report that my messenger bag’s Nova Scotia adventure has a happy ending. Once I got in touch with the ground transportation manager at Halifax Airport, she volunteered to check the security cameras; and within fifteen minutes, she found my taxi driver. The driver had found the bag and kept it safe, thinking I’d call him — he didn’t realize that I didn’t have his phone number. So, he brought it back to the airport, and I picked it up on my way home yesterday between my connecting flight from Halifax to Montreal.

Everyone at the airport was very kind, even when I spoke to them with the intense panic I get when I’m trying to solve something (it’s a polite panic, but it’s intense all the same). They also remembered me when I called, even if I hadn’t spoken to that person previously. “Oh, are you the woman who left her bag in the taxi?” “Oh, you’re the woman who lost the Bob Marley bag!” (Another tip — travel with a unique bag that makes you readily identified by airport officials)

Both the airport officials and the hotel concierge were exceedingly kind. I only found the number of the relevant airport official because a wonderful concierge at the Prince George Hotel did an intense round of searches for the right number to call, even when the first few tries came up short. His manager remarked that he had the wrong profession — he should’ve been a detective. He went out of his way to help me, the airport officials went out of their way to help me find the bag, and the taxi driver — whose name I wish I had, so I could thank him — was nice enough to keep my bag safe for the two days he had it before the airport official located the taxi. When I got my bag back, everything was fine. I had my files, I had my books and bookmark and laptop, and I had a sense of happiness knowing there were many people who wanted to help one tourist find her lost bag.

As happy as the ending is, it’s also a lucky one. So, one last time: back up your files!

As promised above, here are some pictures from the trip. I highly recommend visiting both Halifax and Prince Edward Island. Take a drive to see the lighthouses, spend some time on the wharf, walk barefoot on the red sand beaches, and take a moment to pause and look at the fields and cliffs.

(c) Sonora Taylor
Harbor view in Charlottetown
(c) Sonora Taylor
Lighthouse in the woods at Port-la-Joye – Fort Amherst.
(c) Sonora Taylor
Lighthouse at Victoria-by-the-Sea
(c) Sonora Taylor
Red cliffs and the sea at East Point, PEI
(c) Sonora Taylor
Rainy window view from Panmure Island Lighthouse.
(c) Sonora Taylor
One of many red sand beaches in Prince Edward Island
(c) Sonora Taylor
New London Lighthouse, just off the red sand beach.
(c) Sonora Taylor
Beautiful field near Green Gables (yes, that Green Gables) in Cavendish
(c) Sonora Taylor
The Lake of Shining Waters
(c) Sonora Taylor
Field view of grass, trees, and wildflowers; outside of our cottage in Kinkora
(c) Sonora Taylor
Harbor view at sunset in Halifax
(c) Sonora Taylor
View of Halifax from Dartmouth

Summer Reading: ‘The Girls’ and ‘The Disaster Artist’

In between writing, my summer reading is moving along. I do find that reading in turn helps the writing. My sentences form more easily when I’m stuck on a passage than when I’m not reading on the side, and I get inspiration for how stories can be told — or how I can choose not to tell them.

I don’t just read so I can write, though. Reading is fun. I like moving through stories and being in another world while I ride the metro or exercise. There are so many stories to tell, and I want to read as many as I can.

Last week, I finished The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s a story of a young girl who finds solace from her troubled parents and crumbling friendships by spending time with a cult that’s reminiscent of the Manson family. Reading it was an interesting experience, because it was a book I couldn’t say was wonderful or even great, but it’s stuck with me in ways that better books have not. I find myself considering it as both a story and a piece. There were lines that when they fell flat, they fell hard; but when they struck, they struck like lightning. It was also a good story, albeit larger than I think the pages, the publisher, or perhaps Cline allowed it to be in its final draft. I recommend it, though I’d tell people reading it to be aware that they may be confused as to why they want to keep reading it. I recommend they do, though; and that they finish. I look forward to Cline’s next book.

Now, I’m rereading The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The book is a memoir about the greatest bad film ever made, The Room. The Room is one of my favorite cult films — I used to go to midnight screenings regularly, and even cosplayed as Chris-R a few times. The book tells two stories: one of filming The Room, and one of young actor Greg Sestero’s budding friendship with an odd man named Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is, of course, the writer, director, and star of The Room. It’s an excellent book, especially if you love The Room, but also if you’re a fan of cinema, cult cinema, or stories of odd yet persistent friendships. Sestero could’ve easily made the book an insulting tell-all, or treated everything like a joke. And he makes no bones about the fact that the movie was bad and that Wiseau had oddities that were neither quirky nor charming. But, he also writes as Tommy’s friend, and humanizes both the production and the man behind it, both of which are treated by the film community at large as just a bad film and just an odd character, respectively.

What are you reading? I’m always looking for recommendations to add to my always-growing list of what to read next.

All the World’s a Writing Space

Like many writers, I prefer to sequester myself in a room and write alone. It’s the best way to punch out a longer passage and really gather my thoughts. It’s also useful if I want to do the odder aspects of working through the writing process, like talking out the dialogue or acting out the motions. My one-woman performances of my stories are something to behold.

Some say that writing alone is the only way to write, or at least, the only way to write well. It’s preferred, for sure. I also think it’s unrealistic, especially when so many of us write on the side. As such, I think the emphasis on writing alone limits potential writers from getting into the craft. If we emphasize solitude and writing nooks, the fabled desk lit only by sunlight as the author hides from the world she writes about, we’re only giving her one way to write. I think that’s a disservice.

There are many times throughout the day that the story I’m working on pricks at my fingertips. I have access to my spare bedroom where I type on the bed because the desk is full writing corner during few of those times. When I was first starting to write, I’d make myself wait until I could both be alone and be alone for a solid chunk of time. I thought that’d be best for me and for the work, since that’s what others encouraged.

In waiting for the best space to write, though, I found my stress increasing. I’d try to remember things for later, along with everything else I had to think about throughout the day. I’d finally get to my writing corner, and I’d be juggling everything and trying to decide what to write down first, and how to get it down during my Designated Writing Time. This didn’t seem like the productive hour(s) of seclusion that was deemed best for writing — especially on the days where I just didn’t have that chunk of several hours.

I did, however, have minutes — pieces of time here and there that could be filled with smaller bursts of writing. So, I began to write in bursts. A free moment between work tasks, riding the train on my commute, waiting in line at Starbucks, flying on a plane surrounded by passengers — if I had a moment, and I had something to write, I’d write it. If I ran out of time to finish the passage, I’d either stop or leave myself a bracket note. It wasn’t the ideal of having a carved set of time in a carved piece of space, but then again, I think any moment where one can write is an ideal one. I think it’d be a better service to writers, especially writers today, if we emphasized that over finding the perfect time and space.

I’m not saying one should never write alone, or never try to find time to write alone. One absolutely should — and, if living with someone else, asking for that time alone is healthy and should be encouraged. But writing alone isn’t the only way, and may not necessarily be the best way. At the end of the day, the best way to write is to write. It’s about it happening at all, not where or for how long.

Outlining: A Necessary Evil

I’m an excellent planner. I remember dates, remember information, and love to be prepared for a project ahead of time. I bring that planning to my writing as well, right?

Well …

Writing is better than planning to write. However, I can’t write everything I’m thinking of at once. I usually keep stories in my head until I’m ready to write them, and at most, write a couple quick sentences and a title so I don’t forget the idea as I devote my head space to other projects. Writing down an idea is almost like giving yourself a pensieve — the idea waits for you while your thoughts tend to other things.

Still, even when my thoughts are focused on one story, I often can’t write fast enough to stop my thoughts from swimming in my head. When I have thoughts on chapters I’m not yet writing, I start to write notes. My notes are usually quick asides, but quickly become passages and dialogue, which is why I prefer to just write the story as opposed to notes.

When a story is bigger, though, those thoughts become dedicated to more than just the beginning, middle, and end. Dates get involved. There are sequences. I need to remember what order things occur in, or when it makes the most sense for something to happen.

And that’s when I realize I need to do something I can’t stand to do: outlining.

I don’t like it. It feels like I’m clamping down the story before it even has a chance to breathe. It’s too perfunctory. I think to myself, “How can an outline help me write? Only writing can do that.” And then I write. And then I stop, because I’m caught up in the details of how the story should occur.

When a story reaches a point where my swirling thoughts on what will occur, and when it will occur, preclude the writing, that’s when I know it’s time. This happened with Please Give, and today, it happened with my novel-in-progress (over 50,000 words now, yay!). I found myself juggling timelines and thinking, “Wait, should this happen here? What month is it?” — and thinking that more than thinking about what to write next. So, I forced myself to write an outline. And sure enough, I felt better afterward, like the weight of a thousand swirling thoughts had been lifted off my shoulders and into a Google doc.

Everyone outlines their own way. My personal favorite is also how I like to plan: in dates. I consult a calendar and write a quick list of what will happen, and designate it by the date. An exact day is preferred, but I’ll write Week Of or Month Of if it’s a general course of action.These dates don’t make it into the book unless relevant to bring up, and are also subject to change — one of the ways I make myself outline is writing a note at the top assuring me that these can change as the story evolves. But outlining by date helps me as a writer to envision the action. It’s how I plan my own days, after all, so it makes sense that it would help me plan the fictional days my characters go through.

How do you outline, if at all?

Summer Writing+Reading

Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the week (and possibly the season) in the D.C. area. It’s always hot here in the summer, but having grown up in the southern Mid-Atlantic, I don’t really heed my fellow locals’ complaints about the purported oppressive heat of July and August. In North Carolina, you could barely go outside between 12 and 5 PM; and don’t get me started on the 24 hours we spent in Savannah in August one summer. I do concede that it’s easy to scoff at heat complaints while I sit in an air-conditioned room in a sundress.

Though I’ve been out of school for years, I still like taking part in summer reading. My local library has a summer reading program for all ages, and you can log your books and win prizes. Adults get the grand prize when they read six books in the designated time. Last summer, I completed and exceeded that by the beginning of July. This summer … I logged my fourth book yesterday.

My reading is still slow thanks to writing, but things like the summer reading challenge keep my bookworm fed. I just finished The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which was excellent. Now I’m reading The Girls by Emily Cline.

I’m also still writing away. Most of my focus has been on what is steadily becoming my second novel. I’m at 47,000+ words — a few days’ work away from a NaNoWriMo length! It’s still scattershot, and the plot is still coming together, but I’m both pleased and surprised at how it’s formed over the past several weeks — especially when for months, I didn’t think I had enough material for this story to turn into a novel. We’ll see where it goes!

What are you reading or writing this summer?