Channelling my inner tree

I haven’t had a whole lot of writing news to share lately, so here’s some stuff I did last weekend. Last Friday was my son’s primary school’s annual trivia night, and our table always goes pretty hard on the dress-up theme. This year the theme of the night was the Silver Screen, and our table chose to dress up as characters from the Wizard of Oz. We won best dressed table!

So what did I decide to go as? Dorothy?

Nope. Scarecrow?

Nope.

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The Talking Tree!

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Also: my sewing machine blew up while I was making this. No, really. There were sparks and great gouts of stinky smoke and everything.

2016 Snapshot: Leife Shallcross

I got Snapshotted! As part of the 2016 Australian Spec Fic Snapshot, I got interviewed by the wonderful Helen Stubbs & you can read about it here.

Australian SF Snapshot Project

Interview by Helen Stubbs.

2015-02-28 13.39.07Leife Shallcross lives at the foot of Mount Ainslie in Canberra, with her family and a small, scruffy creature that snores. She reads fairy tales to her children at night, and then lies awake listening to trolls (or maybe possums) galloping over her tin roof. Her work has appeared in Aurealis and several Australian and international anthologies, including The End Has Come, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. She is actively involved in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild and is the current president. She also helps organise Canberra’s science fiction convention, Conflux. She can be found online at leifeshallcross.com and on Twitter @leioss.

 What are you working on at the moment, both in your writing and for the upcoming speculative fiction convention, Conflux?

I’ve spent most of the last year focussing on writing the first draft of my current novel project, a…

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On endings and how to get to them

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So, to deal with my stuckness (which hasn’t yet been dealt with), my good friend and writing buddy Robert Porteous asked me how my story ended. I kinda have an idea about that, but it’s vague. Bare bones. I have the pre-ending climax all sorted and have done for a while, but the actual key story climax? Sigh. So he suggested I work on that. It seemed sensible: if I know how it ends, I’ll know what I have to get to. So I did a bit of brainstorming and created a few seeds of ideas that if I water carefully enough will produce shoots (and maybe, hopefully grow into something interesting and fulfilling).

But it’s hard.

So, as a tried and true avoidance technique, I thought “Maybe I’ll go and do some story planning work on one of my other novel WIPs and get into the story planning mood by doing something a bit fresh and different and revitalise my imagination.”

And guess what. No ending on that one. Pre-ending climax sorted. Major story climax? Vaguety-vague-vague-vague. I did a bit of a mental riffle through my other novel projects and, yep, this is something of a pattern for me.

“I wonder why this is?” I wondered. Wonderingly.

As usual, it’s all to do with emotional peaks and troughs. All these minor climaxes are (in standard 3-Act plot terms) the Darkest Hour. It’s the moment of highest and most drawn out emotional tension in the story. Think the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi; Rapunzel thinking Eugene has chosen the looted crown over her; Henri telling Danielle she’s a fraud and publicly withdrawing his heart; Elizabeth Bennet confessing to Mr Darcy that her youngest sister has eloped with the villain that almost ruined his sister’s life.

If you think about most of these story examples, the Darkest Hour packs a whole lot more emotional punch than the final climax. It’s when the protagonist has lost everything – or the thing that means most to them – and it almost doesn’t matter what else happens to them at that point because their heart has been ripped in two and everything else is trivial.

The exception out of these four (all faves of mine) is Tangled. Much as it hurts to see poor Rapunzel watching Eugene sail off with the crown, it is nothing, nothing, to the blubbering mess I become at the actual climax of the film when he does what he does – not to save her, because he can’t do that at that point – but to stop her giving up on saving herself. *Deep shuddery breath*

And therein lies the lesson. If I’m going to get interested in this part of the story and motivate myself to write it, somehow I’ve got to find a way to make my ending deliver as much, or more, emotional punch as the Darkest Hour.

Simple. Right?

Right.

Awesome words: Nocturne

Here’s a good word for an insomniac. It’s a term for a piece of art, most often music, that evokes evening or night, or, alternatively, a dreamy, pensive mood.

I like it because it sounds musical. It sounds haunting. For me it conjures up purple twilights, glimmering stars and crickets chirping.

Artworks at top: Nocturne Landscape, Jon Molvig; Nocturne: Forest Spires, Tom Thomson; Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, James Abbot McNeill Whistler; The Falling Rocket (detail)

Stuck

I’m stuck. The WIP is sitting on about 88K and has done for the last two weeks. And now the insomnia has kicked in again. It’s 2.30 am. I’m sitting here wide awake with a glass of wine, staring out the window at the clouds drifting at breakneck speed across a winter dark sky. So far I’ve seen three shooting stars.

I think it’s because I can’t quite see the end. I feel like I should – this novel was only supposed to be about 90K. But I feel like I’m still only 2/3 of the way through the story and there is so much work still to do.

These clouds are terrifying. I feel like I’m watching a herd of fabulous beasts running hell-for-leather towards some purpose I can’t even guess at, and they’re far too vast and I’m far too insignificant for them to notice me standing here, head tipped back, wide-eyed and wondering.

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Running writing

running writing

I am not a sporty person. Never was, never will be. I will not bore you with the humiliations galore I suffered through in PE as a kid. Suffice to say that all the leisure activities I have really enjoyed throughout my life have involved cosiness and curling up somewhere with a cup of tea. However, I recognise that exercise plays an important part in keeping our bodies healthy, so I do make an effort. I ride my bike to my day job most days and in the last year or so, I’ve taken up running. Again, I’m not going to bore you with the details of this. But, for some reason, I’ve found that my attempts at improving my fitness through moderately energetic exercise have had a positive impact on my writing – both my creativity and the way I think about the challenges it poses me.

Getting the creative juices flowing

It is a very tried and tested piece of writing advice: if the Muse is stubbornly avoiding you, get away from your keyboard/notepad/dictaphone/etc. Get out of the house and get moving. Walk or run, either works. I often have great ideas or come up with great solutions to tricky plot problems while I’m running. It’s weird, coz it doesn’t happen so often when I’m on my bike. Perhaps because when I’m on my bike I’m either going to or coming from work, so my brain might be more focussed on work issues. But I run in my spare time, when my brain is almost exclusively consumed with writing stuff; maybe that’s why. But it works for me.

Oh the epiphanies I have experienced.

Never when I have a pen.

This stuff ain’t meant to be easy

A thing running has taught me is that it doesn’t get easy. Which is not to say it doesn’t get easier. But easy? Nope. It’s always hard to drag myself off the couch, to get out there into the winter chill, or the summer heat, or the still-dark, early morning streets. Guess what else doesn’t get easy? Setting aside the time and dragging my arse to the chair in the study to do the story work and pound out the wordage. In both cases I have to battle that sense of exhaustion that comes even before you start – just from contemplating the task ahead. In both cases, though, if I push myself, if I make the effort, I always find I can do the thing.

The importance of stretch goals

This is a really interesting thing running has taught me: Set stretch goals. Then (this is the important bit), don’t just sit there looking at them; give them a go.

Because I’m so unathletic, when I decided to try to get into running, I decided to get into it gradually, alternating intervals of running and walking. Going from running in 90 second stretches to a whole 3 minutes was pretty daunting. Then going from 3 minutes to 5 minutes to 8 minutes… Every time I level up, I always wonder if I can actually do it. But every time I actually can, and every time it feels awesome to have challenged myself and found myself up to it.

And I’ve found this applies to writing goals.

There’s something to be said for applying for something like a residency or a competitive grant or a selection-based professional development course even if you’re not sure you’re ready, because if you get in, someone else clearly thought you were. If you only ever apply for this sort of thing when you know you’re good and ready, you’re not pushing yourself. You might be moving forward one step at a time (and setting one-step-at-a-time goals is also very important), but you’re denying yourself the exhilaration and gratification of taking a flying leap forwards. That sense of achievement you get when you’ve really challenged yourself and risen to it. (Note: when I say “you”, feel free to imagine me giving a stern pep talk to myself.)

Measuring your progress

One thing I learned after I had my first story accepted for publication back in 2011 was that I had just stepped onto the bottom rung of a ladder that just goes up and up and up and up. Every time you climb to the next rung, you look up hoping to see the top, or at least hoping you’ve reached the point where you can poke your head through the thick layer of cloud obscuring your vision of the top. It’s hard to feel like you’re getting anywhere when there always seems to be so far to go.

With my running, I find I’m much less about “Will I ever run a marathon?” (perhaps because I can answer that question straight off: No. Zero interest.) My fantasy goal is more about being able to run for a whole half an hour without stopping for walking breaks, and being able to do it every day without feeling like I’ve broken something. But I also find myself able to stop and look back down the ladder at what I’ve achieved so far. A few months ago I thought running for a whole 3 minutes was a challenge. A few weeks ago I ran for 20 minutes without stopping for a break – probably for the first time since I finished high school.

So there’s my last lesson. Stop and look back down the ladder. Admire the view from where you’re at. Bask in the sunshine of your successes.

Here’s a picture of duckies enjoying running. You’re welcome.

duckies running

 

Never Never Land – now in ebook!

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The Never Never Land

Hooray! The Never Never Land is out today in ebook! To celebrate, there’s a Goodreads giveaway happening if you fancy winning a hardcopy version. (There’s one for Australia and one for the US, UK & Canada.)

There’s also been a series of blog posts over on the CSFG’s website interviewing some of the authors who contributed to NNL – the most recent of which is the awesomely talented Shauna O’Meara, who is not only a contributing author, but also created the cover and internal art for NNL. She’s also done a new illustration for her story, especially for the CSFG blog – have a look, it is stunning.