So long, 2018

Well, that was really hard.

Not that I thought chemotherapy would be easy — every iota of evidence pointed to the contrary — but I guess I thought it would be different?
I thought it would be kind of predictable (which it wasn’t) and I thought I could keep myself entertained (which it couldn’t) and I thought I would come out of it lonely and sad and bitter.
But I didn’t.
Despite 2018 being the most difficult year of my life, I got through it. And that feels like a miracle.

2018 took a lot from me: my health, my focus, four of my five senior pets. It put a strain on my marriage and a hold on my career. It made me realize that I am both physically weaker and emotionally stronger than I’d ever imagined. It took me to damned near my breaking point.

And it’s finally over.

I had my last scheduled dose of chemotherapy on December 27th. I rang in the New Year with the hope that 2019 will be a year of healing. If 2018 broke me down, 2019 will build me back up.

I’ll get an idea of what the future has in store for me in about a month, after my next PET scan and (with any luck) a cancer-free declaration, and I’ll write more about my experience over the past six months at a later date, once I have the luxury of hindsight.

For now I’m just glad to be looking forward.

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Quarterly Goals: Spring 2017

Update on Last Quarter:

Winter was a bit of a toughie, but I did pretty well on my quarterly goals. There were a few slip ups, to be sure—I canned nothing, revised only one short story, and my blogging fell by the wayside when my mood disorder flared up—but I still ticked most of the boxes I set out to…. I had more game nights and watched more new films. I read 6 books. I learned three new recipes, one of which even earned a permanent home in my go-to collection. I wrote letters and short stories and holy hell I even finished a revision pass of my latest novel, Steep. I wrote every day, finishing the quarter with a total word count of 68,126.

2017’s theme is SIMPLIFY—and part of that means downsizing our possessions so that we (a) don’t’ have to pay to haul them across the country and (b) don’t have to pay to put them in storage once we get there and into our much-smaller home. With the big move happening next year, I’m particularly cognizant of just how much crap we have tucked into the nooks and crannies of our current home.  I ‘m a dyed-in-the-wool packrat, and getting rid of things can be painful, but I trounced my goal for getting rid of stuff. Not just 12, but 17 bags of clothing, yarn, and assorted items left my home and were donated, as well as two pieces of defunct furniture and a half dozen bags of papers to be recycled. Feels good.

This Quarter:

I’m keen to keep up my momentum on downsizing, and maybe even pick up the pace with the advent of open windows and longer days. Here’s what I want to accomplish this spring:

  • Write every day
  • Complete Camp NaNoWriMo
  • Watch 3 new films
  • Read 6 books
  • Print a new zine
  • Try 3 new recipes
  • Seed the front lawn
  • Knit a sweater
  • Giveaway or recycle 12 bags of stuff
  • Have 6 dedicated game nights with John
  • Write or revise 3 short stories

After clearing out a bunch of my yarn stash, my knitting slate is also clean. I’ve got a couple of patterns on my wishlist of things to make, and I’ve got a new Cobblestone Pullover planned for my needles this spring.

Writing every day has become easier, in part due to the Magic Spread Sheet. I’m also getting back into drawing and having fun doing it, and I’d love to take part in a couple of zine shows this summer and fall. It feels good to be stretching my creative muscles after a dull winter, and I foresee the next three months being full of new creative endeavours.

Here’s to spring, and to the fresh start it provides!

 

 

Advice for Camp NaNoWriMo

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I am participating in this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

Although I write every day throughout the year, I enjoy the sense of community and cocksureness that comes with a NaNoWriMo marathon. I go in every year for the November event and over the past couple of years I’ve tried a spring or summer challenge as well, so I thought I’d offer some advice to someone trying their hand at a Camp for the first time.

Write something other than a novel.

Novels are great, don’t get me wrong. Love reading ’em. Love writing ’em. But part of Camp NaNoWriMo’s charm lies in venturing outside of the noveling box. Try writing 30 new flash fictions. Crank out a dozen short stories. Craft haiku after haiku about pasta. Write a film or comic script. Draft a new blog post daily. You can choose any format you like, so don’t’ be afraid to go wild. Just as with IRL camp, Camp NaNoWriMo is a great time to step outside of our comfort zones and explore new territory.

Test the waters of a new genre.

NaNoWriMo is about challenging ourselves. Picking a new genre, format, style of writing, or POV is a great way to flex some muscle groups that might have atrophied in our day to day practices. I’m trying a sort of western adventure this time around (I read them, but I’ve never tried to write one) and from a first person perspective, which is another rarely-used tool in my arsenal. If not now, then when?

Raise the stakes.

50K is apparently a cake walk for some people. I’m sticking with the traditional goal this spring, but if you’re feeling frisky you could try a higher level of difficulty. See if you can’t do 60,000 (2000 words a day) or 75,000 (that’s 2500 words a day). Some people try 100K. Wild.

Lower the stakes.

If you’ve attempted the 50K challenge before but never quite managed to pull it off, then Camp NaNo is a wonderful thing.

Reaching your daily goal doesn’t need to feel like torture. You can set a total of 25K. You can try for 100 words a day. The real point of NaNoWriMo, I think, is to make the habit of writing daily, and whatever your word count goal: you’re working to build good habits that can last you throughout the year.

Join a cabin.

I’m a diehard misanthrope, but even I rush to get sorted into a cabin come Camp time. You’re not going to connect with every last one of your cabin mates, and the number of active members will have most likely dwindled by the end of the month, but those that chat back and stick around will prove to be a real source of support. You can choose whether you want to be matched with people of your same age group, or writing within the same genre or word count goals if you prefer, but whatever you choose I highly recommend settling into your digital bunk and singing songs with the rest of us. It’s fun, I promise.

All of the other advice applies.

If this is your first NaNoWriMo ever, then be sure to check out all of the resources at your disposal! There are a tonne of blog posts, videos, articles, and even a few books that will help you on your way no matter the season. I posted some tips on getting ready for the main event on my blog last year, and they most definitely apply this April.

Throw caution to the wind.

Try not to worry about whether your plot has holes or if your characters are rice-paper thin. Like most things, you can always fix it later. Right now—the first draft—is about getting the story down so that you can change it. Swat away any mosquitos of doubt. This month is about laying down a base to build future story upon. It’s about creating something that will inform your later drafts—even if all that means is letting you know what isn’t going to work. In the immortal words of my favourite fictional teacher:

“It’s time to take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”

-Valerie Frizzle

 

It’s already April, and the first few days of camp are happily underway, so slather on some sunscreen, hike up those socks, and let’s get our hands dirty. With words, I mean.

If you’re taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo this April, let me know in the comments below, and include any tips of tricks you’ve discovered in your travels.

Last one into the water’s a rotten egg.

A Writer’s Life for Me (Writer Tag)

Hi-diddle-dee-dee..

I’ve seen this kicking around on youtube and a few blogs so I thought I’d join in the fun. No one tagged me, but I’m going for it anyways because I’m a scoundrel with a complete disregard for the rules.

I’m not sure who started this tag (if you know, please let me know) but here are the questions as I’ve seen them laid out:

What kind of writer are you?

I’m still figuring this one out. I write mostly science fiction and fantasy now, but I used to be really into crafting horror and adventure stories. Short and long form both have their benefits and drawbacks, but I’m beginning to prefer the expansive playground of the novel over the microcosm of shorter fiction.

When did you start writing? What made you want to try?

I’m not sure what made me want to start writing. It’s just something I’ve always done. It makes me happy, and keeps my brain from picking itself apart, so I’ve never really questioned why. I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember. My first story (which I’m pretty sure is still kicking around in a box of keepsakes somewhere) was dictated to my Mum after I drew the illustrations in highlighter and crayon and was, if I correctly recall, the star-crossed tale of two mice trying to make it back to one another after inexplicably being abducted by humans. I was two.

In grade school I filled cahiers with adventure stories set in Aztec ruins or wildly advanced submarines, and wrote a LOT of horse fan-fiction. I really loved horses. And sea trenches. Never combined the two, surprisingly (and thankfully). Highschool and early adulthood was all about horror shorts: urban folklore with a lot of moody lighting where everybody dies in the end. I’m glad to have outgrown that phase.

I first started to try writing professionally (still trying, folks) a few years ago, and it’s been a fun, (and only slightly harrowing) adventure. I’ve kept trying because I think I’m capable of making it work as a main source of income, and I’ve continued to love it despite the intense self-doubt that doing this seems to bring—and that says something.

What inspires your stories?

Sounds trite, but… everything? Life?
Science articles, news stories, true crime, friends, family, my pets, dreams, museum exhibits, public transit, food, history, walking, mythology, music, video games… Everything has a narrative, if you look hard enough, and every person is interesting in their own way.

I guess when you boil it down, the answer is other stories.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

I don’t know that I intentionally inject themes into my writing, for better or for worse, but some common ones that seem to crop up like weeds are death, family conflict, friendship overcoming all odds, and animal intelligence.

Are you a Pantser, Plotter, or a bit of both?

I’m not a huge fan of these terms, as I find their binary limiting as a descriptor of how the creative process works. I think that any creative process requires both structural support and room for exploration in the moment to create something that is interesting and can hold an audience’s focus. I also think that there are many ways that these two tools of creation can be expressed, and the space between them is difficult to define so, short answer: a bit of both.

Where are you at in your writing journey? Querying? Agenting? Published?

As far as prose, I’m currently working on my nth revision pass of my 5th(?) novel, none of which have been published. I’m also writing short stories and sending them off to paying markets, but no acceptance letters yet. I’ve had some comics published through small presses that I wrote and illustrated, but that was years ago and I feel weird still trucking that out as an example. Looking forward to querying my current MS and would love an agent at some point.

Have you ever entered any writing contests? Finalled? Won?

No. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think that a lot of writing contests are a bit too much like a lottery? I am absolutely not down for paying to submit my work somehere, and while there are some good free-to-submits out there I would far rather send my stories out to paying markets. Contests seem like working for exposure, and that just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile pursuit to me.

Who are your writer heroes?

Oh. So many. Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, Nnedi Okorafor, Jeff VanDermeer, Margaret Lawrence, Dorthea Brande, Stephen King, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman…

Have you ever been to a writing conference?

Nope. I’d love to attend a Clarion-style workshop one day.

Top 3 tips for newbie writers?

I’m breaking the rules and posting 4 (I repeat: a scoundrel):

  1. Write short
  2. Write a lot
  3. Read widely
  4. Finish shit

 

Some of these were answers to questions that I hadn’t considered before, or at least not well enough to put into words, so it was a fun exercise. Actually, it felt a bit like doing one of those throwback “20 questions” lists from grade/high school that probably contained enough information to hack my bank account, and while you won’t get the name of my first pet or the city my father was born in out of me, I could probably be persuaded to do another tag in future.

If you have any suggestions on a fun writing/reading tags, let me know in the comments, and happy writing.

 

 

My Favourite Reads of 2016

2016 was a pretty good year for me, both with reading and general living, and while I didn’t finish as many books as I’d hoped, I did read some really good ones.

Here are 5 of my favourites, with links to their pages on Goodreads in case you want to look into them further:

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Short, original, and beautiful, Binti was a great read. Okorafor works all kinds of unexpected magic with the science fiction and fantasy genres, and I’ve yet to be disappointed with one of her stories. She builds worlds that are both believable and unreal, and writes characters that are likeable despite (and often because of) their flaws. Although Binti reads well as a solo book, I’m pumped to read Home (Binti #2) when it comes out later this month.

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler

I haven’t shut up about this novel since I read it last February. It’s a brilliant work of speculative fiction that explores American slavery in the antebellum South through the eyes of a modern black woman inexplicably sent backwards in time. The writing is breathtaking and the events are heartbreaking. I’m inclined to suggest that this would make my list of Swiss-Army recommendations, and I think about Dana and her experiences regularly – sure signs of a great book.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

Funny and bittersweet, this novella tells the story of two sisters with a sinister secret and an unconditional love for each other. I was surprised to find myself reading it for the first time this past year – and happy to experience it without having the plot spoiled for me. How I went two decades as a Jackson fan while skipping over this, I’ll never know.

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kakfa

While the Metamorphosis is open to a myriad of interpretations, I quickly saw shared aspects of my own struggles with mental health and depression in Samsa’s condition. It’s a morbid and darkly funny look at how families deal (or don’t deal) with tragedy, and considered a classic for good reason.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

I loved the setting, I loved the plot, I loved the Crakers, and I even had a curious fondness for Snowman. It read like a short story despite being 400 pages, and the ending was deliciously ambiguous. The payoffs, the technology, the bizarre dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting, were all wonderfully fun to read about and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the rest of the trilogy.

I hope you had some gems grace your shelves last year, and here’s to more great reads in 2017!

 

 

My 2016 Christmas Book Haul

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a book lover or that my Christmas wish lists are usually thick with the things. My family outdid themselves this year and got me nearly everything on my (long) list. I feel super spoiled, and I’m thrilled to tuck into this stack.

Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam, by Margaret Atwood: I read the first in the series over the summer and fell deeply in love with the universe that Atwood created. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Maddaddam world and what becomes of the Crakers. The first book was deeply satisfying, despite having an ambiguous ending, and I’m hopeful that the second and third will leave me with the same sense of satisfaction.

Summerlong, by Peter S. Beagle: This has been on my TBR list since I first learned of it. I enjoyed Beagle’s word-play and humour in The Last Unicorn so much that I’m confident I’ll enjoy this. Admittedly, sampling an author by choosing two books with nearly a 50-year publishing gap between them is perhaps an odd way to do it, but how could I resist such a beautiful cover?

The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes, by Amy Bronee: I borrowed this book from my local library in the fall and thought it was a great primer. Focusing on water-bath canning, Bronee explains the finer points of making jams, pickles, chutneys, relishes, mustard, and all things tomato. Full-colour pictures of every recipe is a must for the cookbooks in my collection, and this one has gorgeous full-colour photos of each and every preserve. There’s a beer-honey mustard in here that I can’t wait to try.

Words are my Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin: I’ve got a pretty good collection of Le Guin going, and she remains one of my favourite authors of all time, so I’m very happy to have more of her essays on my shelf. Her non-fiction is just as sharp and clever as her fiction, and I learn something new every time I read something of hers.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, and Ripley’s Game, by Patricia Highsmith: These novels will make excellent binge reading. The Price of Salt has been on my shelf and marked as TRB since the fall, and I’m grateful to have more of her work without the movie tie-in covers.

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo: This was a surprise gift from my brother, and it looks adorable. I’m a little surprised to have not read this before, as it’s so clearly in a favourite vein, and I’m glad to have been gifted it now. He knows full well that I’m a fan of talking, politicised rodents/rabbits.

Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer: I read the first two books of the Southern Reach trilogy the summer before last (has it really been that long?!) and loved it. I recommended the first book to anyone who would listen. I also made the brilliant decision horrible mistake to read them – at night – while camping in the Northern Ontario wilderness and they scared my frigging pants off. I will be reading the conclusion to the trilogy in the comfort and safety of my living room. During daylight hours only.

Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal: I learned of Ghost Talkers from an interview with Kowal on ‘Writing Excuses‘ and thought the concept sounded amazing. I don’t often read a lot of historical fiction, or war fiction, or ghost stories, but the idea of fallen soldiers transmitting front-line intelligence through mediums appeals to me greatly.

It was a book-heavy December, especially when I consider the e-reader I bought myself as an early Christmas gift (and the half-dozen ebooks I picked up during a holiday sale). I didn’t read as much or as often in 2016 as I would have liked, but 2017 is going to be a good year for reading in the More-Lucas household and frankly, that sounds terrific.

bookpron

Writing Playlists: October Edition

I like to listen to instrumental music while I write – most often something that fits the mood of the story I’m working on and gets me immersed in the scene. This autumn I’m doubly steeped in spooky as I prepare for Halloween and work on revisions for my supernatural murder mystery novel, Steep. Here are some of the 8tracks playlists I’ve got on this month:

scientists library 8tracks.jpg

The Scientist’s Library, a collection by yourfavouritechild. A chill blend of classic jazz that’s good for just about any situation.

secret

What we do is secret, a collection by boldly. Mellow and melancholy, with a touch of adventure.

thoushalt.jpg

I: Thou Shalt Hit the Books, a collection by Igniparous. A solid classically-themed instrumental collection.

librarymist-copy

A Library in the Mist, a collection by hulloemily. A little  mysterious. A little sombre. A little spooky. Good stuff for supernatural magicks.

What are you listening to this October?