Suddenly, a flood

For the longest time, things on the writing front seems to go quiet for me.

Oh sure, I still attended writing-related meetings with the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) and Simcoe County (WCSC), but even the WCDR meetings fell off in the last couple of months, as I just couldn’t get to them, and I’ve missed a ton of meetings at the York Region (WCYR) chapter as well.

And I still get requests and calls for Vanishing Hope, the little book that could.  It’s sold so much better than I ever thought it would.  And it also gave me a lot more confidence, but more on that as we go along.

I even got interviewed by Pat over at Nine Day Wonder that you can read here if you so desire.

I’m also registered for the Ontario Writers’ Conference May 5.

And of course, I’m still pounding away at my 500 words a day.

So what have I been up to and what does this have to do with the flood mentioned in the title?

First, we go back to October.  The aforementioned WCDR ran a short story contest called Whispered Words.  I’m not much of a contest guy, but I thought, what the heck?  Let’s give it a shot.  I had two ideas floating around that would both work within the confines of the contest rules (1 – no more than 1000 words; 2 – someone has to whisper).  I wrote both stories, one called Scooter’s Last Run and the other, Stealing Corey.

While I had high hopes for both of them, I found the 1000-word limit awfully restricting forScooter.

At the end of Jan this year, I found out Stealing Corey had made it to the semi-finals.  In the words of Yoda, excited I was.

But then I didn’t make it past there, still top 20-ish of more than 220 entries?  I’ll take that.  Didn’t hurt that the person that took the grand prize is my fellow board member in the WCSC, Deepam Wadds.  And good for her, it’s well-deserved.

Then, earlier this week, I found out Stealing Corey was selected to appear in the Whispered Words anthology to be released sometime in late May or early June.

So that’s Good News Number One.

Now let’s go back to January.  Just a little into 2012, I got an email out of the blue from the crazy, yet somehow lovable Ed Kurtz.  He was starting a new series of novellas featuring a character of his own making, Sam Truman, a PI working on the fringes of legality and reality in a New York-like setting circa 1960.  But Sam doesn’t get the normal cases.  A simple robbery puts him in the middle of reanimated corpses.  A missing persons case somehow involves aliens.

Anyway, Ed asked me if I’d like to create a Sam Truman Mystery for Abattoir Press.  Well duh.  That was a no-brainer.  Not telling Ed that I’d tried to write a mystery before and completely crashed and burned, not hinting that the thought of attacking another one terrified me, completely bamboozling him into thinking I was a competent writer (something made a lot more easy when he lives in Texas and I’m hiding in Ontario), I jumped in and came up with my own twisted spin on Sam.  And, incidentally, Ed’s also been the only one that asked me to tone it down a bit.  If you read his novel Bleed then imagine the guy telling me to tone it down, that’s saying something.

Okay, full disclosure, the tone down was due to the 1960s timeframe, not because I managed to gross him out.  I question whether that’s even possible with Ed.

So, what’s all this leading up to?  Well, the first novella in the series, Catch My Killer! written by Ed Kurtz himself, is available in ebook right friggin’ now!  Go here, order a copy and devour it in all it’s pulpy goodness.  Come on, can you really go wrong for a buck ninety-nine?

The second entry into the series, Brandon Zuern‘s The Last Invasion drops May 15 and it’s as goofy, pulpy and fun as Ed’s.

Then, aptly enough, on Canada Day (that’s July 1 for the rest of the world) my little entry is birthed into the world.  Called Soft Kiss, Hard Death, I’m not going to give much away about it except to say that my son, the oft-mention Boy of this blog, happened upon me as I was Google searching a particular plot point.  He looked at me, scrunched up his face, and said, “Dad, you’re friggin’ sick!”  Now, it think that was from the images he saw, but when I tried to dig myself out by explaining what I was writing and why I needed this info, his face moved from scrunch to outright horror.

It’s should also be stated that, in writing a particular scene in the story, I squirmed through the entire session.

Mission accomplished.  I think you’ll like it. Or you may never talk to me again.  One of the two.

Other entries into the Sam Truman series will proceed along every six weeks and, sometime in early 2013, I understand Ed will compile a few of the stories into hard copy books.  So, you know, I can have all that sickness sitting right on my bookshelf for all to see.

By the way, you can read a great interview with Ed Kurtz on all things Sam Truman, Abattoir and his other cool books and ventures here.

So that’s Good News Number Two.

And yes, I’m well aware of what “number two” can also be taken to mean.

Also in July–and to be honest, I’m still a little freaked out about this–I’ll be, for the first time, participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon.

Now this sucker’s interesting.  Basically, 32 writers get tossed into a room to write.

Constantly.

For 72 solid hours.

It runs from 8pm Friday, July 13 (yes, Friday the 13th) to 8pm Monday, July 16.  The challenge is to produce a novel, novella, whatever, in that time.

If I’m lucky I may get a blog post out of it.

The bigger thing however, and the one I don’t want to make light of, is that this is a fundraising event to support adult literacy and employment programs at YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, a worthy cause.

Now, take just a second, right now, and consider…what would your life be like if you could not read?  If you faced something like this blog post and couldn’t make sense of it?  Just think on that for a second.

The YMCA is looking to raise $10000 and trust me, it goes to a phenomenally good cause.  Now, no one despises the act of asking for donations more than me.  I hate it.  Every time someone puts a hand out in my direction, my first reaction is, I have my causes, I have my charities that I support.  Please don’t ask me to give any more.

I get that.  And that’s why I’ll say, if this doesn’t work for you, fine.  But if there’s any way you can spare some money, anything, even the cost of a coffee, would you consider throwing it in the pot to sponsor me?

If you want to, they’ve made it easy by creating an online donation site that you can reach here.  If you’re not comfortable with that, contact me through the comments below or at lefttowrite (at) sympatico (dot) com and we’ll work something out.

So yeah, mid-July?  Fingers worn down to nubs.

So that’s Good News Number Three…I think.

The next item occurred due to an innocuous little statement by Lydia Peever on Facebook.  She mentioned something about looking for an editor.  I happened to be in the right place at the right time reading the right post and I mentioned that I was looking for someone to edit.

One thing led to another and now I not only have the pleasure of editing Lydia’s works, I also get to read them.  Believe me, she kicks ass and deserves to see a lot of success from her writing.

And she even wrote a blog about me editing her.  You can read it here.

Good News Number Four!

Then I got more good news from WCDR.  They’ve approved one of my workshops, so in September, I’ll be talking about how to work emotion in your writing, whether it’s in dialogue, narrative, description…it’s gonna be a blast.

Of course, the WCDR have never really seen me in action…don’t be afraid, be very afraid.

So that’s Good News Number Five.

And then, of course, early in 2013, No Hope, the follow up to Vanishing Hope, and this time a full novel-length work, will be released through Burning Effigy Press.  I’m editing the heck out of it right now to make sure it stands up to, and preferably exceed, the standard set in that first story.

I’m excited as hell for this one, and also a little scared.

While you’re waiting, hit up the website and order up some of BE’s other works.  They’re all amazing.

Still, even though it’s the oldest item on this list, No Hope is still Good News Number Six.

It’s gonna be a crazy year, people.

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A quick wrap up

This will be a short one, readers.  Just cleaning up a few end of year details, getting ready for the new year and highlighting a milestone of sorts.

So this is 2011 damn near done.  For the first third of this past year, I say, good frigging riddance.  They were a rough time for me personally and professionally.  On the plus side, I changed jobs (within the same company), and I think I grew up a lot personally and learned to place blame squarely where most of it lay.  With me.  Then I learned to deal with it.  I also learned to stand up for myself a lot more.

The last two-thirds of the year are a whirlwind.  I joined the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) writing community and went to the Ontario Writers’ Conference on April 30.  Two days later, as a direct result of the conference, I started this blog.  Only 244 days ago.  Or 5856 hours.  351,360 minutes…or 21,081,600 seconds…give or take.

From a chance meeting at the OWC, I ended up a founding board member of the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County (WCSC).  From meetings at WCDR, I ended up great friends with members of the brand new Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR).

At the same time, I also taught three Creative Writing courses and met a lot of new friends and writers that way.

So I’ve met a lot of writers/editors/enthusiasts.

I got published for the first time ever in August at the Festival of Fear and the response not only at the booklaunch but also ever since, whether it was readers, fellow writers or reviewers, has been so much more positive and passionate than I ever could have hoped for.

I also got reacquainted with some old friends and family and met some new ones.

In all, though it started out as the worst time of my life, it’s turned into one of the best years, professionally and personally, that I ever could have hoped for.

In the beginning, I had modest hopes for this blog.  244 days ago, I’d originally planned to put up a new blog every day.  That turned out to be unrealistic, but I have managed an average of one every two-and-a-half days.  I’ve almost hit a hundred posts, which seemed so unattainable way back in May.

Which leads me to the milestone I was talking about.  Sometime today, I’ll cross 10,000 hits (only 26 to go as I write this).  Now, I’ve come across some blogs that have had ten or twenty times that, but for me to have an average of forty people viewing this site daily or about a 100 or so per blog post…when it didn’t even exist in April…that’s surprising to me.  It always shocks me that so many people are somehow interested in anything I have to say.  Because most of what I say is either dirty, profane or doesn’t make sense.  Ohid I actually good peanuts!

And yet, still you come.

And starting tomorrow, or next year, however you want to look at it, I’ve decided to make three resolutions.  Two are easy, the third’s going to be a challenge for me.

  1. Keep doing what I’m doing when it comes to my family and friends.  I don’t want to lose any of them because of my boneheadedness.
  2. Create a page on here to let you know what I’m reading.  As a heavy reader and a pathetically slow writer, I’m always interested in what others are reading.  When I visit someone’s house, I always look at what books they have on their shelf.  So I’m gonna let you know as well.  Could generate discussion…could suck.
  3. (And this is the hard one, folks)  Write an average of 500 words a day.  Every day.  I came across a site (thanks Jason Darrick!) that is set up like an all-year NaNoWriMo, but, at least for me, seems a little more attainable.  So I’m not going to count blog posts in the word count.  Only actual fiction writing.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress here.  Yes, in public.  Humiliation works wonders.

That’s it.  Next year at this time, we’ll see how I did.

So, thank each and every one of you who take time out of your day to stop by.  I really do appreciate it.

Have a fantastic 2012 and let’s keep doing this, shall we?

Go to that hard place

Yesterday, the Wife and I spent the day in Barrie, attending the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County (WCSC) Luncheon.  This month, the guest speaker was Sue Reynolds.  The woman has an impressive list of achievements behind her, so let me just point you to the WCDR Board of Directors page here and the WCSC Guest Speakers page here.

Sue was there to speak about the art of writing memoir, and she also graciously provided a free memoir workshop to the luncheon attendees, which I had the pleasure of attending.  While I got a lot from her talk, it’s more the workshop I want to focus on.

Before we go on, let me state for the record, I’m not someone who writes or even typically reads memoir.  I respect it, but it just ain’t my bag.

That being said, I’m always ready to learn something new about writing and everything Sue talked about can just as easily be applied to so-called “regular” writing as well as memoir.

Sue talked about the Four Essential Factors of Compelling Memoir.  They are

  1. Show up
  2. Be present
  3. Tell the truth
  4. Be unattached to the outcome

So let’s talk about them each a little bit.

Show up: This one’s easy.  Write regularly to get your brain trained to the flow.  Regular writing (that is, daily writing), will help the events flow and spur memories that may not normally surface.  Sue’s suggestion was to set a minimum time each day to write–and this sounds an awful lot like what I talk about in the first class of my own Creative Writing class–using some sort of timer to help you out.  Give yourself as little as ten minutes to write.  At the end of that time, if you’re not feeling it, well, you tried.  On the other hand, if the words are flowing, then by all means, keep going.  After doing this for some time, you should then be able to examine and answer two very important questions

  • What makes it easier for me to write?
  • What keeps me from writing?

Be present: For this one, Sue suggested paying attention to what grabs you (my words…I believe she said, “Pay attention to what has heart and passion for you.”) and then go where that energy is.  Now, here’s something interesting.  Going where that energy is means you’ll likely need to go fearward.  That’s not a misspelling.  You’ll likely be pulled toward that which you don’t necessarily want to examine or write about.  But if you’re going to write something compelling, something that stirs the emotions, you’re going to need to delve into emotional areas.  And you’ll likely re-experience those emotions.  That’s okay, go to the hard places.

It was at this point that Sue had us do an exercise.  She got us to essentially centre ourselves, shun the outside world, focus on our breathing and let everything else fall away.  Then she set a very loose scene for us.  Remember a time when we were in a moving vehicle of some sort…a car, a plane, a train, whatever.  And to feel with all our senses everything in that memory.  Then we were to start writing with the words, “I am.”

Here’s what I wrote, completely raw and unedited.

I am in my dad’s car, we’re heading south down Ritson Road toward Adelaide, though I couldn’t know that then.  The car is hot with the summer sun, but the windows are open and the breeze is wonderful as it buffets my face, snatching at my breath and ruffling my hair that my mom always wants cut shorter.

My dad is driving.  He’s just picked me up from mom’s where we live in a small apartment since the divorce.  This means it’s a Saturday.

We’re heading to downtown Oshawa, likely to a movie and then to Pollard’s where dad will buy me a model to build later while he drinks himself into unconciousness and his sister feeds me and gets me to bed.

But now, right now, he’s speeding up to the intersection.  The light is yellow, then it’s red and he’s still speeding and he goes through the intersection and it’s all noise and squealing tires and horns as I watch a car flash buy just across, but never hitting, the front of our car.

My dad drives on, oblivious, or maybe not, not slowing, speeding down Ritson.  He’s cutting between and around cars, not slowing until he finally has to.  I sit on the pale blue bench seat, no seatbelts, my hands knuckle-white gripping the leather, my heart thudding, breath coming fast and shallow as he turns his too-handsome grinning face to me.

And, asking as though I shouldn’t be, he asks, “You scared?”

Yes, before you ask, that’s a real memory.  When I got home, I told my mother I didn’t want to see my father anymore.  And I didn’t for many years.  Then next meeting, though much less life-threatening, was more traumatic to me.

My point is, this is what came out of me…a memory I hadn’t thought of in years, and yet I could pinpoint the streets, the colour of the car seats, the name of the shop where I got my model cars and planes from…and the exact look on my father’s face as he turned to me with his movie star grin and his sociopathic outlook on child-rearing.

When we stopped writing, seven minutes after starting, my heart was thudding just as I described, my breath was coming just as I described and when I moved to set my pen down, I noticed just how much my hands were shaking.  I hadn’t just written it, I’d relived it.  I’d gone to that hard place, but I’d pulled back something from it that I could look at later.

That’s a gift.

After the exercise, Sue then talked about the last two points.

Tell the truth: Not the truth as a dispassionate observer would describe it, but the truth that you feel in your gut.  Telling your own truth allows you to begin to understand how you fit into the world and helps you make sense of the past.  Besides, as Sue emphatically stated, “No one’s interested in perfection.  No one’s interested in a perfect childhood, a perfect marriage, a perfect job.  We’re interested in the broken places, the healing and the transformation.”  She’s absolutely right.  Look back at that piece I wrote above…definitely a broken place.  How compelling would it have been for me to write about my father and I going for a simple drive down a street and through a green light?  Yeah, exactly.

Be unattached to the outcome: This one is also quite simple to grasp.  Don’t get all caught up in trying to be the next bestselling author, or ebook sensation.  Just worry about the writing itself.  Just worry about telling the most honest and compelling story you can write.  Just freaking write.

Is any of this earthshakingly new?  God, no.  But is it good advice for any and all writers?  God, yes.

What made it more compelling was that it was delivered by the incomparable Sue Reynolds.  Her warmth and caring come out in every gesture, every phrase.  She’s achieved what many of us dream of (when we are momentarily attached to that outcome), but she remains humble and committed to paying it all forward.

This is the first writing workshop I’ve ever done with Sue, and based on this alone, I’d recommend her to anyone considering trying to get their writing to the next level.

Thank you, Sue.

This is Tobin Elliott – Station Identification 2

Hi.

I’m Tobin.  I’m trying to figure out how the heck a blog that’s been averaging around 30 hits a day for the past two weeks suddenly gets a monster whack of hits the last two days.  I didn’t expect to cross 6000 views for a few more weeks…

"It's but a flesh wound!"

Anyway, I’m responsible for this blog, so if you don’t like what you read, blame the face above. I published a novella called VANISHING HOPE that had gotten a lot of positive reviews.  You can check it out by clicking on the links in the box just to the right and up a bit.  Go ahead, check it out.  I’ll wait.

Back now?  Lovely.  I also have a novel, NO HOPE, which should be published around end of summer 2012.  It’s a sequel to VANISHING HOPE, but it’s also a full-length novel. 

I’m also a proud member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region and a board member for the fledgling Writers’ Community of Simcoe County.  

I’m on LinkedIn.  I’m on Twitter.  I’m on Facebook.  Ya can’t miss me…as ZZ Top says, “I’m bad, I’m nationwide.”

I also have a real job as a Communications Specialist for a large telecom firm.

I write about writing.  I write about morons.  I write about my family.  I write about stupid things that have happened to me in the past.  I write about life in general.  I write about other things too.  Sometimes I do a few of them all at the same time.

So anyway, that’s me and a little about this blog.  Let me know if you hate it/love it/are completely indifferent to it.

Thanks for coming out.