Category Archives: The Writing Life
The first instalment of the online D&D game I recently joined with a bunch of fine writers is now live. In typical D&D fashion, we head straight for the tavern and try to get in a bar fight with a quest giver….
What happens when a bunch of writers get together to play D&D? I don’t know but I’m sure we’ll all have interesting back stories…. Watch it live Monday, April 26! (Link for livestream.)
If you want the meta back story, this whole project came out of James McCann’s Dungeons and Dragons Resource Guide and the Beholder Ranch.
It’s lovely news to hear my most recent book, Has the World Ended Yet?, made the long shortlist for the ReLit Award. Some of you may remember my first book, Please, won a ReLit Award back in… well, let’s just say Life Before the Pandemic.
I’ve been lucky enough to win a few writing prizes over the years, and they’ve all seemed to come just when I was ready to give up on writing altogether. Most writers will recognize that feeling — it’s a lonely affair at the best of times, and self-doubt and imposter syndrome comes with the territory. So it’s nice to get that validation from strangers sometimes that maybe someone out there actually does like your writing.
The ReLit is one of my favourite awards even though there’s no money involved. The prize is a ring made of moveable dials engraved with letters, so that you can spell words with it. It is a lovely little fetish object and the perfect award for a writer. Even though I won it many years ago, it’s still on my writing desk today.
Not only is the ReLit Ring a beautiful creation, it is also a frequent and much valued reminder to myself that other people do care about what I write. Sometimes you need that reminder while staring at the blank screen, wondering what to do with these obstinate characters who refuse to tell you what they want. Sometimes that reminder is enough of a writing prompt that I continue to write when I feel like giving up, and I press on and get through the day until I finish the story or book or whatever mad experiment it is I’m working upon. The ReLit Ring was a prize for a book I had already published, but it’s helped me to write many other stories, and for that I will always be grateful.
Plus, I get to write secret messages to myself with it!
Learn more about the ReLit Ring and the ReLit Awards here: http://www.relitawards.com
(I know not everyone has a spare magic ring sitting around to throw at their favourite writers, but a good review works wonders as well. Please consider making a writer’s day by writing a review for a book you’ve enjoyed. Any writer — this isn’t about me. Trust me when I say it will make a difference.)
For those who have been asking, yes, I am one of those authors affected by the ChiZine news. (ChiZine published my Cross series of supernatural thrillers under the pen name Peter Roman.)
I don’t want to speak about the situation publicly at the moment as I’m consulting with various people about my options. I’ll have more to say in the future. I’ll just say I’m heartbroken about it all and had no idea of the scale of complaints. I recently finished the fourth Cross book in the series, so this certainly isn’t the news I wanted to see.
You can find summaries of the situation at File 770. I can’t really speak to their accuracy, as I wasn’t personally involved in any of these cases.
- Authors Break Silence with Complaints About ChiZine Publications
- Writers and Staffers Share More Bad Experiences with ChiZine Publications
- As Authors Share More ChiZine Experiences, Others Part Ways with CZP
- ChiZine Publications Announces Interim Publisher
(Photo from Pixabay.)
One of the last things I do in the writing process of any new story or novel is to read my work aloud. It helps me find missing words, typos and, um, poorly worded sentences such as “He panted heavily in her rear.” I mean, technically not a typo but….
Reading my works aloud also helps me to figure out how I want to pronounce weird names and such when I read in front of live audiences as opposed to the mannequins I keep stored in my basement. With my new book, Has the World Ended Yet?, I decided to skip that with one of the stories: “We Are All Ghosts,” a sort of Lovecraftian superhero tale. It’s a bit long for readings and hard to pull sections out without over-explanation. Also, there’s a lot of strange language in it, such as “ia ia ftagn” and my own takes on Lovecraftian language: “Wgahst’nar phl’unk!” So I decided just to never read that one aloud. Pronunciation problems solved.
And then the other day I talked to the woman who will be recording the book for an audio version and she had some questions.
“On page 168, how do you pronounce….” she asked.
“Right. Urbl’phhar mypr’ttsh urbl’phhar,” I said. “Like it sounds.”
OK, I should have thought about the audio versions. Live and learn.
Anyway, we figured out an approach for pronouncing the unpronounceable. It went something like this:
“Just do your own take on it,” I said. “But make your own take sound like a fish. An angry fish – you know, deep tones, like the Deep Old Ones. Burbling and moaning. None of that high-pitched Dory fish stuff. This is the voice of a fish that has seen it all and knows everything ends in tentacles.”
So there you have it. Always read your works aloud, if for no other reason than to avoid awkward conversations about your sanity. I get enough of those at home already.
(Re the image: It’s called Into the Depths by Patrick Reilly, and it’s one of those illustrations that haunts me.)
I don’t know what to say about to say about the Terry Goodkind cover controversy, other than it seems in poor taste. I’ll just say again how happy I’ve been with all the covers of my books, and how great and respectful the publishers have been. I wouldn’t have any books without the covers!
It’s that time of year again in Canada: PLR! I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeating again, so here’s my original post once more.
I recently received a payment cheque from the Canada Council’s Public Lending Right program, which compensates Canadian authors for the free public access to their books in libraries across the country. I always love receiving this cheque, for a few reasons. One, I always forget it’s coming, so it’s an awesome surprise! Two, it comes after Christmas, when I need it the most. Three, it keeps me writing.
The third reason is perhaps the most important one. The stated goal of the PLR program is to pay authors for works they’ve already written and that other people get to read for free, courtesy of our great library system. But it’s more than just compensation: it’s also an investment. Those cheques that get sent out at the beginning of every year help writers across the country keep writing. The books we’re getting paid for? Those books are already done and published. The PLR money we get for them helps buy us time to write our next books. Every spring, I get a cheque in the mail that makes me think, “To the writing cave!”
So thanks, PLR and Canada Council! And thanks to all you readers who keep buying books and checking them out of libraries! Without you, I’d just be a crazy person locked in a room arguing with imaginary people.
I’ve been lucky enough to win a number of prizes over the years that have let me keep writing. Not prizes in terms of big money, although I’ve definitely received a few cheques when I needed them most. No, I mean prizes with little or no money attached that have nevertheless given me the mental boost to keep on writing.
Let me explain.
The life of a writer is full of doubt and uncertainty, especially when you’re starting out and you’re tying to find your voice, you’re not that good yet, etc. (Some may say I’m still not very good, but that’s a subject for their blog posts, not mine.) There are a few things that help during this time: good reviews, good sales, and prizes. The first two are hard to get when you’re an unknown and a beginner. Every writer dreams of blockbuster sales and starred reviews in their favourite publication, but the fact is most emerging writers are ignored and don’t earn back their advance, if they even get an advance. I’m still hit and miss on that myself.
But prizes? Any writer can win a prize if your writing is good and you find the right judge/jury who sees what you’re trying to say, who understands your voice.
This happened to me a number of times early in my writing career. I think the first prize I won was an award for best story from On Spec, Canada’s long-running and well-respected sci-fi and fantasy journal. It came at a time when I was struggling with a lot of life issues and I didn’t know if it made sense to keep writing. Then I got the good news from On Spec and I learned to believe in myself again, thanks to that wonderful editorial board believing in me. The prize certificate is still hanging on my office wall, and I still feel grateful whenever I look at it. And I still remember to believe in myself and get back to writing.
After that, I won more awards — a university writing prize, an Ontario Arts Council prize for best manuscript and so on. There were writing grants thrown in here and there, which every writer knows are just as important as any award in terms of believing in yourself and your writing. Perhaps my favourite has been the ReLit Award. It came in the form of a beautiful ring, not money, which is just as well. Money would have been long gone by now. But the ring is still with me, and it’s almost either always on my writing desk or on one of my fingers, where I compose secret messages to myself with it.
I’m not writing this post to talk about my trophy list and impress the handful of readers that come to this blog. That’s not what this is about. I will say that I feel incredibly lucky to have received these awards — and to have had a chance at the writing career I’ve had. I know much of that came from happenstance. As a white male who lived in the centre of Canada’s publishing scene for a while and helped run a popular reading series with Paul Vermeersch, I was somewhat within the system, if you want to call it that.
Now imagine that you long to be a writer but you’re far outside of the system, geographically and/or otherwise. Say you’re an indigenous person, or a person from some other group that has been systematically silenced over the ages. How much harder is it to believe in yourself and that your voice matters then? How incredibly important it must be to have spaces to speak and awards to validate you then — likely far more important than it has been for me.
I bring all this up because of an ongoing controversy in CanLit over cultural appropriation. I don’t want to get into all the details here because that’s not my thing — you can Google it easily enough if you’re interested. It’s an ugly situation all around, but some good may come out of it. My friend and fellow writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia has launched an effort to create an Emerging Indigenous Voices Award to “focus on Indigenous writers, on marginalized writers.” Silvia offered up $500 of her own money to start it, and so far other people have pledged more than $4,000 toward the prize.
This is a good thing.
As I think I’ve made clear, prizes are the things that can keep a writer going. They’re not about winning, about being better than other writers. They are about recognizing and validating a writer’s voice. They’re about feeling that what you do matters, that your words matter, that you matter.
I imagine there have been many writers who would not have gone on to write their stories if they hadn’t won a prize at some point or another to give them that boost. There probably have been many writers we have missed out on because of this. We’ll never know. Maybe we need more prizes to ensure all the stories that need to be told get told. After all, when we are all gone, our stories are all that will remain of us.
Help out Silvia with her award if you can, and let’s help more people tell their stories that matter.
I’ve submitted the manuscript for my new book, Has the World Ended Yet?, which is due out this fall. My sixth book! Now I’m waiting for the edits. And taking the time to be present in the world again instead of my mind. I love the writing life, but sometimes you have to close the computer and just step outside and breathe again.
(The photo is of Pitt Lake, one of my favourite places in B.C. You should visit it. There is enough clean, mountain air for all of us.)
Over at my day job, I talk to bestselling fantasy writer Sebastien de Castell about the time he met George R.R. Martin at the Hugo Awards and it didn’t go so well. Check out de Castell’s Greatcoats series if you have the chance — it’s one of my favourite reads right now, and we have all the same influences.
“He grabs this invitation for the Hugo losers party,” de Castell said, referring to the annual party that Martin hosts for those nominees who don’t win a Hugo Award. “He says, ‘I may as well give you this now because it’s safe money you’re going to lose.’”