Category Archives: Writing

Stuff about writing, publishing, editing, etc.

The Fadings

Mary Jo Egan Kilbourn

November 13, 1939 – April 5, 2017

     Our elders are the past who understood the world we were born into because they lived through it. By the time we understand the world, our elders understand it less, and usually by the time they die, it is as unrecognizable and confusing to them as the world was to us when we were born. And when they die, the past does not die with them. It fades.
     It fades in the slow, chemical decomposition of pigments in photographs. It fades in worn-out things requiring replacement. It fades in the uncountable moments we forgot of eating breakfast with them, shopping with them in grocery stores, phone messages from them we erased, papers from them we threw away and recycled, and the forgotten moments of normal conversations about making plans or just talking together about unremarkable things, because if they were remarkable we’d remember them.
     What remains is the curated distillation of them, but it isn’t really them. It’s the remaining distillations of those that came before them, which you curate further or catalog and file as museum archives, kicking the can down the generations, plus whatever you’ve saved of them because it reminded you of happiness, or comfort, or of the bond you now share with a ghost.
     You can talk to that ghost, but the ghost doesn’t really talk back. It does, but it’s what you think the ghost would say, not the ghost’s words. They’re you’re words. They’re words you tell yourself when you’re sad, or happy, or enraged, or melancholy, or joyous, or angry, or at peace, or terrified, or any of the other feelings that pass through a day like weather systems.
     Some of those words are like sunshine, warm and reassuring. Others fall like branches on your head during a windstorm, leaving you concussed because the sky is falling. Then the words fade, because they always do, and all that’s left are the emotions.
     Fear, anger, sadness, wistfulness, and million other emotions that vibrate in chords with a diminuendoing basso of grief that began as a siren’s ear-splitting wail. It fades sub-sonic and will punch you in the gut when it resonates in harmonic frequencies, boosting a resonant tone to where it bursts out of you in racking laughter or sobs, before fading into the background dirge echoing amongst the works and follies of all ghosts in chorus, indistinct.
     It’s music you chase through deserted cities, canyons, forests, beaches, mountains, fields of sunflowers, at the dentist’s, or anywhere else you find yourself suddenly alone. With the sound seeming to be always around the next corner or bend. But you never locate the source of it because the closer you come to it, the more it fades away until you stop searching for it. Then it blindsides you in the grocery, in the car, in the shower, under the covers, on the couch, while you’re out of for a run, sitting on the toilet, or preparing dinner, making you tremble as it catches you in its net and drags you under before fading and you can struggle up for air.
     Even faded, that past has weight. Each moment a grain of sand, which compresses into a slab of sandstone you carry until it, too, fades by weathering away back into sand and then dust. We carve our lives into these tablets, hoping to avoid fading, hoping some future soul will pick it up and dust it off, hoping we’ll be able to finish our lines in time.
     Over time, the shape of the land changes and what was once an ocean floor becomes a mountain and the mountain becomes the ocean floor, lifted by fire and then run down by water. And the animals and the vegetables and the minerals change and require twenty questions to identify, and one day we may join them in that game, if we’re lucky.
     But that’s okay. Uncountable stars, planets, galaxies, black holes, quasars, and other stuff we don’t know about yet have been born and then been fading away across the universe for billions of years and we don’t even know for certain if there are other creatures out there that have faded or will fade on those rocks or in those oceans. It’s just the nature of things. I have my suspicions though. Until and beyond when we know or never know, our fadings will ring the celestial spheres until none are left to hear.
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Clarion West 2015 Write-a-thon

Like last year, I’m helping to raise funds for the Clarion West 2015 Write-a-thon.

If you’re so inclined, please sponsor me and add to the $50 I’ve chucked into the pot.

In their own words,

“Clarion West Writers Workshop is a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, with a mission to improve speculative fiction by providing high quality education to writers at the start of their careers. As an extension of its primary mission, Clarion West also makes speculative fiction available to the public by presenting readings and other events that bring writers and readers together.”

As a speculative fiction writer aspiring to paid publication, I love that a world-renowned organization like this is right in my backyard and how they are supporting literature. I attended one of their one-day workshops earlier this year and found it immensely helpful in learning how to critique my own and others’ work and look forward to attending more in the future.

This year I also applied for and was not accepted to this year’s six-week program.  My writing ego bruised by rejection, I resolved to complete a new short story and submit it for publication this year as a way to work through the disappointment and as a goal for my Write-a-thon participation.

I’m happy to report that I have finished the story, that it landed at novelette length (around 9,900 words, down from 13,509 [yay, editing,]) and have completed my first-ever submission for paid publication! Now I wait for the inevitable rejection/re-submission process until someone decides to buy it and will be switching off tapping away at my novel and completing two other unfinished, shorter works.

Writing, completing, and editing that story was a hell of a slog the past four months. It was the first time I really forced myself to write even when I felt stuck and editing it seemed to take forever. I can’t wait to be able to share it with you once it’s published, whenever that happens. 🙂

The Three Principles of Writing

The burning questions

“How do you find time to write? What do you write with?”

I’ve recently been hearing these questions over and over when discussing my writing. These discussions often seem to circle back around to three principles I believe apply to everyone:

  1. Always be writing
  2. Use tools that encourage more writing
  3. Use structure to enable more writing

Let’s consider each in turn.

The first principle of writing – Always be writing

“I don’t have time to write.”

I also hear this a lot; neither do I.

My goal is to write every day and I don’t always achieve that goal, so I forgive myself when I don’t. But I do start the day out assuming I will write something, even if it’s only a sentence.

With two young children (6 & 8), working a more than full-time job at Microsoft, commuting 4-5 hours a day, and living in a house on an acre of land, I don’t have much free time. Amongst parenting and all the myriad time commitments that requires, work, household maintenance, and a mentally exhausting commute, I still make time to write.

I write because I make it a priority and use personal time to write. My aquariums aren’t nearly as clean as they used to be, the lawn and bushes are more overgrown than I would like, and watching a movie or TV show feels decadent and almost makes me feel guilty.

Having read about other writers and what they do, the common thread is that you just have to write. Like exercise and eating right, you have to make it a priority and then do it, or it won’t happen.

The second principle of writing – Use tools that encourage writing

I use software, hardware, and internet services that enable me to write anywhere. I write on the bus, the ferry, at stop lights, at the hair salon, at a desk, standing in line, at the doctor’s office, on the beach, in bed, the toilet…you get the idea.

iPad screenshot

WriteRoom on the iPad

This is possible using text editor software on my computers, tablet, and phone and backed by a file synchronization service. The key here is file synchronization. I always have my writing projects with me, and this removes a huge barrier to writing anywhere, anytime.

I am also zealous about using a text editor instead of word processor. The main reason is the .txt file format is completely portable across software, devices, and time. I have .txt files from the early 1990’s I can still open but Word documents I can’t.

WriteRoom on the iPhone

WriteRoom on the iPhone

The secondary reason is that text editing software tends to have less distractions in the composition area and less cluttered visual interfaces, which means I can focus more on my writing instead of the program.

I use BBEdit on my Macs and WriteRoom (no longer available but there are many other alternatives available) on iOS, with Dropbox. The general idea will work with and across any platforms in conjunction with any file sharing service. I also use a Zagg Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, which also works with my iPhone in a pinch.

BBEdit on the Mac

BBEdit on the Mac

This enables me to start or pick up a project when I check my phone in the morning, throw some words into my iPad during my ferry ride, switch back to my phone for my bus ride, add a few sentences over lunch on my laptop, get some more words in on the bus and the ferry back home, and then use my laptop or iPad for longer sessions in the evening.

I’m privileged to be able to afford all these gadgets and the wireless service to drive them. If you’re on a budget, low-cost wi-fi enabled tablets and slabs work just as well for mobile use.

The third principle of writing – Use structure to enable more writing

My Dropbox folders are organized into five buckets to help me keep focused on current projects, spend less time trying to figure out where to put errata that comes to me, and keep the pipeline of projects going.

I have folders for current short projects, current long projects, stale projects that I may or may not come back to, random ideas for future projects, and an already published folder.

There are also morgue, quotes, and fragment files. The morgue is for passages that I cut out of other works, quotes are random sentences that come to me that I’d like to use at some point, and quotes are heard and overheard snippets of conversation for future use.

My folder organization

My folder organization (with a few things to file)

This means that for anything I want to write down, I have a home for it, and if I’m stuck on one thing, it’s easy to shift to another, because it’s all in the same place.

For the actual act of writing, I tend to use my iPad and laptop, in that order, because I’m a touch typist and it’s the fastest way for me to get words down. The iPad provides me with a distraction-free writing environment and when I use my laptop the only programs I keep in view are BBEdit and the built-in dictionary.

I use my phone when I’m in places where my laptop and iPad are impractical or unavailable, when I’m stuck on a passage, and to write poetry. Typing on the phone is slow, and I find that lower gear helps me be more thoughtful and careful with my words.

In conclusion

These are my tools and processes and they may or may not work for you. Find your own combination that incorporates the three principles, and I hope you’ve found this useful.

If you’ve found this helpful and want to put some money in the tip jar, please consider buying a copy of my short story collection, A Cargo Cult of Memories, or  my experimental sci-fi/cyberpunk short story, SYSLOG I.

Keep writing!

No Clarion West 2015 for me

I received my rejection letter Tuesday; I will not be attending Clarion West 2015.

Unlike others who shared the same judgement, my rejection email neither included a note that the reading committee commened my work nor an encouragement to apply again.

I’d be lying if I said my ego wasn’t bruised, but I’ve always been viewing Clarion West as an accelerant, not a gate, so I write.

Next step: finish some works in progress and submit them for publication.

Goal: paid publication* (or placement for publication) before year’s end.

Right then; back to writing.

*Excluding my existing self-publishing endeavors that earn me occasional lunch money.

I applied to Clarion West 2015

My blog has been fairly quiet the past several months because I’ve been directing my creative energies elsewhere. As I mentioned on Twitter, I just did a thing, and that thing was applying to the Clarion West 2015 summer six-week workshop.

This was one of two huge things that I have planned for 2015 and it feels really good to check it off my list!

For those not familiar with Clarion West, it’s a six-week, instructor-led residential program. I’ve had my eye on this particular workshop for a couple of years now and have been using my blog as a forcing function to write short stories to build my portfolio for submission.

The past two months have found me editing like mad, (I’m sorry for all the printouts trees,) and grinding away on the personal essay, (six different takes; four drafts of the final!) that was part of the application.

Whew.

Now, I wait to find out if I’ve been accepted. I’ll know by the end of March. 🙂

Editing

Down now fell crimson pen
Unleash your wrath
Upon words misplaced
Punctuation erred
Grammar confuted

Begone! Begone with you!

38,458 of ??? #writeathon

265 words today.