Those Crazy Creative Phases

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted a blog, but honestly this retired grandma has been on an ambitious streak. I’ve stepped up my commitment to various writing-related tasks, as well as my new critique group and volunteer work. I’ve also attended some interesting Zoom workshops lately.

I don’t know about you but my life seems to revolve around internal cycles where I have a lot of energy and ambition to get things done for a few weeks—or even months—and then it diminishes. It doesn’t necessarily involve weather and seasons, although they might contribute.

During the low energy, unambitious phase, writing projects aren’t quite as important. I’ll have little interest in monitoring book sales or networking on social media. I still edit my book every day, but not for as long a period. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the low energy phase always passes, so I don’t fret about it anymore. It’s perfectly okay to make more time for rest and reading, a lesson that has taken a long time to learn.

I’ve been in an ambitious phase since about the end of August, which means, I’ve finished a fair number of tasks, in and out of the house. Due to the terrible fires in the U.S., I did retreat indoors for several days when Vancouver’s air quality plummeted. My throat became dry, eyes stung, and I started coughing after only a couple minutes outside. My heart goes out to everyone south of the border who are suffering so much through this calamity.

The air improved enough over the weekend to go back outside and continue yardwork, but the rain has now returned big time and I don’t know when I’ll get back to the garden. Meanwhile, the photos below show some of the clearing I’ve been doing in the backyard, plus our first sunflower! We’ve also harvested a couple dozen of tomatoes.

Our first sunflower! We started late this year.
Slowly clearing the weeds. The yard was completely overgrown at one point!

Of course, there have been visits with our lovely little Ellie, who is pure joy and light. She’s adopting a wide range of expressions and sounds and is absolutely delightful.

I don’t know how long my ambitious phase will last—I never do, but that’s okay. I’ll role with it and see what happens. How about you? Does your creative life involve ambitious, or other types of cycles?

Getting Involved

A few weeks ago, when I began planning tasks and events for the remainder of 2020, I assumed this would be a slower fall than usual. After all, I retired from my Mon-Fri day job and many of the in-person events I take part in are either cancelled or going online.

So, what to do? Well, the answers came quickly. First, I was invited to do some volunteer work for Crime Writers of Canada (I accepted this short gig which ends in Oct.). Second, I learned that my casual job, which is to facilitate creative writing workshops for my local recreation center, is starting up again for five weeks, and possibly longer if these in-person sessions go well.

Third, I’ve started an online writing critique group comprised of experienced, committed writers. I’ve known all of them for years and am thrilled that I’ll be receiving weekly feedback from this diverse and terrific group of people.

Finally, I’ve joined a highly interactive online organization that offers all kinds of mini courses, support, and resources, called Creative Academy. I hope to connect with authors, readers and gain assistance in areas I need help with.

While I’ve had a productive, self-isolating six months working on my current urban fantasy (over 280 pages edited these past three months), it’s time to reach out and connect with the writing community in new ways.

Getting involved whether through critique groups, courses, or volunteering seems like a great way to stay positive and look forward to whatever the rest of this year brings.

Ellie and me, Aug. 25. I swear she was smiling 🙂

The Writer and Retrograde Mercury

djfgjf-300x218[1]For those of you who read horoscope columns, you’ll probably know that Mercury is retrograde right now. In simple terms, it means that the planet appears to be going backwards, which causes disruptions, mishaps, and communication snafus, among other things. Astrologers tell us that this is a bad time to start new undertakings and buy expensive items like cars and computers.

It also means that this is a great time to finish projects, such as manuscripts. In fact, you’re not supposed to start any new projects because there are bound to be problems and mishaps. Mercury retrograde lasts about four weeks, but the aftermath can last another two, and some say you shouldn’t start anything new about a week before the retrograde period begins.

During my post-publication hangover (see last week’s post), I’ve actually been editing a couple of manuscripts that have been works in progress for a long time. Editing always helps take my mind off of chores, tough situations, and even the small things that niggle at me.

So, after six months, I’ve just finished the 4th draft of my 135,000 word urban fantasy novel. The past four weeks have gone so well that I was able to finish the last two sections more smoothly than I had with the earlier sections.

Whether finishing this draft is due to retrograde Mercury or sheer avoidance of all the marketing and promotion tasks ahead, probably doesn’t matter. Finishing it does. A 135,000 word book with five sections and seventy chapters is not something I can whip through in a couple of months. It’s a slow marathon. I’ve now put the book away for a few weeks before the next go-around.

After completing the draft of a long work, I tend to gravitate towards shorter works to edit. So, last Friday, I started the umpteenth edit of a Casey Holland novella, which I first started five or six years ago. It’s about 25,000 words and twelve chapters, which almost feels like a short story compared to the urban fantasy.

I don’t intentionally build my writing life around astrological cycles, as there are far too many other components in the decision-making process. But I am saying is that Mercury’s retrograde, I finished a long manuscript, and that makes me happy.

Should I Use a Pen Name?

Pen and NotepadThose who’ve been following my blog a while know that I’ve been writing and editing my first urban fantasy for some time. It’s getting closer to completion, but while there’s still work to be done, I’ve started pondering about whether I should adopt a pen name.

The thing is, I’ve been writing and publishing mysteries for years. This blog is called Mystery Deb and my amateur sleuth transit mysteries are pretty much my brand. But I’ve been stretching my wings and am excited about this new creative part of my life. So the question is, do I keep my name or should I adopt a pen name for the fantasy novels?

I’ve read a few blogs over the past couple of years about the pros and cons of using a pen name when publishing in different genres. I don’t remember the details in those blogs, but I do remember some points, and both sides presented good arguments.

One of the main reasons for keeping one’s name is that the author’s platform is already there. If readers like the author’s writing style, then they might be more inclined to try the author’s work in a different genre.

The downside of this is that new readers who don’t know the author could become confused as to what it is they write exactly. They might come across one title in the mystery series, but see another title in the fantasy genre. Does this really confuse readers, though?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have any of you used pen names? If so, what are the pros and cons? As readers, do you find it challenging to follow an author if that person is using different names?

If I go ahead and choose a pen name, should I be setting up a separate platform on my blog Twitter account and Facebook page, or should I keep it all together? Decisions, decisions…

Searching For Great Urban Fantasy Novels to Read

BookshelvesGiven that I’m editing my first urban fantasy (still untitled), I’ve read a fair number of fantasy novels over the past three years. I’ve discovered great authors in Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong, Justin Cronin, Darynda Jones, Deanna Chase, Charlaine Harris, Morgan Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Terry Pratchett. I could list another fifty lesser known speculative fiction writers whose books I’ve really enjoyed, yet I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of great books I should be reading.

When I came across an article listing “The 21 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Ever”, I had to take a look (you can find it HERE). My problem with these types of lists, though, is that they are subjective and woefully incomplete. Only 21? How come? Perhaps this is a word-count issue for the piece, and the author does admit that a lot of great writers have been left off.

Many on the list are classic novelists such as Tolkien, William Gibson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Douglas Adams, and Ursula le Guin. Given that not all of the must-read authors are urban fantasy novelists, I’m not rushing out to read every book mentioned. I’m still looking for more great urban fantasies to read, so if any of you have some favorites, let me know.

This brings me to the link within the article, (HERE) which features the best books of 2019 so far (31 are listed). None of the titles are familiar to me, but the author provides descriptions of each. No matter how you cut it, I have a lot more reading ahead. It’s impossible to stay on top of even one genre, isn’t it?

So, what do you think of the list(s)? Would you agree with the author’s choices? Would urban fantasy novels would you suggest as must-reads these days? I’d really like to know.

Inspiration from Game of Thrones. Who Knew?

18679295525_f39cc1bc70_z[1]If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like our family is, Sunday, April 14th was a big day, as it launched the beginning of Season 8, the show’s final season. I wasn’t completely waiting with baited breath, as I had plenty of other things to tend to on Sunday before show time.

One of my tasks was to edit a chapter of the urban fantasy I’ve been working on for some time. I always work on it Sunday mornings before spending the afternoon with my mother. Honestly, I didn’t really think about the manuscript the rest of the day.

After the visit and a few more chores, we sat down to watch the show. If you haven’t seen this series, you should know that it has some of the most creative and entertaining opening credits I’ve ever seen. And that’s when it happened.

I’m listening to the music and watching images of heavy square floor panels open and close when an idea for a second fantasy novel bounded into my head. And then another. I grabbed a sheet of paper and pen and started scribbling down everything I was thinking while the credits went on. By the time the first scene opened (there was no dialogue for at least a couple of minutes) I was still scribbling, and managed to write a page and a half on a notepad before the first word was uttered.

Once they were, I fell into their world and forgot all about mine, which seemed perfectly logical, given that I’m writing a modern day urban fantasy set here in British Columbia. Game of Thrones is completely different. Or is it?

Aside from the main plot, the quest to sit on the throne and rule the seven kingdoms, GoT is a story about relationships, trust, betrayal, love, ambition, and battles for the right to control the world.

As it happens, the components aren’t that different from my current WIP, albeit with healing-focused themes and significantly different twists in my work. Those opening credits last Sunday, however, inspired an idea about how to take the themes and aspects in my first book to a whole new level in a second book.

You might find it strange that I’ve never read one of George R.R. Martin’s novels. But, hey, that’s okay. The TV series is amazing and clearly, the opening credits are inspiring enough for the moment.

Two Projects, Lots of Decisions

volunteer-1888823_960_720[1]This week, I’ve been immersed in two projects (until I came down with the flu yesterday), one is the third-draft edit of my urban fantasy novel. It’s been a challenge, a genre I’ve never written before, but it’s slowly coming together. There’s been positive feedback from my writers’ group, but the novel far from reaching the beta reader stage. I’m making lots of changes, page by page, deciding what to cut, what needs fleshing out, and trying to come up with a deadline for myself, given that this project could go on for years. I’ve already been at it for quite some time, and I maybe I should decide on a timeframe to complete the book.

The second project, in its own way, is also challenging, although this one has a set deadline. In the city where I live, I’m also a volunteer with the city’s Citizens Advisory Group. Our task this month is to review twenty-four grant applications and submit our top five for consideration.

Happily, we can do this online and on our own time, so I downloaded the booklet and began reading it late last week. After making notes on all twenty-four, I found it increasingly difficult to decide which organizations most deserve grant money because they all have merit. Collectively, the applications could have an important and positive impact on communities, our environment, and the physical and emotional well-being of residents of all ages.

After a lot of pondering and determining my own criteria, I came up with five and submitted them on Monday (before the flu took hold), but I wish there was more money to spare. Our small city’s budget isn’t large and the demands far outweigh the available funds. As I’m only one of over two hundred people in the advisory group, my decisions might not have any impact on the final outcome, but at least I tried and did what I thought was best.