alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Clarion West Class of 2011: Publications, Sales, and Shiny Things 2013

It’s been more than two years since the Clarion West class of 2011 crawled despondently out of that last-night puppy pile and scattered to the four winds, pens clutched in eager hands. We have not been idle! Read on for new publications, a new magazine, grants, prizes, and new formats!

(To see what we were up to in 2012, check out Jenni Moody’s post from last year.)

Waylines

Waylines Magazine, co-founded by David Rees-Thomas (CW ’11) and Darryl Knickrehm after a successful Kickstarter in late 2012, had an auspicious first year, publishing 6 issues, 14 pieces of short fiction, 18 short films, plus reviews and author interviews.

Waylines Issue #4

Hullabaloo

In March, “Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas” by Alberto Yañez was nominated for Best PodCastle Story of 2012.  Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverseedited by Week 5 instructor L. Timmel Duchamp and published by Aqueduct Press was recommended by Analee Newitz on NPR.com: “Secrets of the Universe: 5 Great SF and Fantasy Summer Reads.”

Continuing Education

There’s no doubt that Clarion West provides a great foundation for writing. But sometimes, you just want more! More institutional living, more devastating critiques, more sleepless nights, and more sagacious advice from wizened wise pros. Jenny Moody and I attended the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop in Lawrence, KS this summer. Instructors Kij Johnson and Barbara J. Webb were amazing, and I definitely recommend this workshop for anyone thinking of tackling their first novel. Jeremy Sim attended Revenge of Clarion West Odyssey Writing Workshop, another six-week residential course.

Jeremy Sim @ Odyssey

Jeremy Sim @ Odyssey

Alisa Alering

Corinne Duyvis

  • “The Applause of Others.” FISH. Dagan Books. Edited by Carrie Cuinn & KV Taylor. January 2013 (ebook)/May 2013 (print).
  • “Lilo Is.” Clockwork Phoenix 4. Edited by Mike Allen. Mythic Delirium Books. July 2013.

CP4_mini

Erik David Even

S.L. Gilbow

  • Pirates.” Rose Red Review. Issue No. 4. Spring 2013. (as Steven L. Wilson)
  • Red Card.” Escape Pod. Episode 393. April 26, 2013.
  • Those Tests.” Swamp Biscuits and Tea. Issue Five. August 2013.

Eliza Hirsch

Cassie Krahe

Jenni Moody

Maria Romasco-Moore

  • “Fisheye.” FISH. Dagan Books. Edited by Carrie Cuinn & KV Taylor. January 2013 (ebook)/May 2013 (print).
  • Peel.” Interfictions Online. Issue 2. October 2013.

Peel

Jeremy Sim

Anne Toole

Nick Tramdack

Alberto Yañez

  • The Coffinmaker’s Love.” Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Issue 131. October 3, 2013.
  • “This ain’t my first rodeo.” Performed at Portland Poetry Slam. April 21, 2013.

Congratulations to all of you (all of us?) and here’s to bigger, brighter, and stranger horizons in 2014!
*Toasts CW chums with a hot mocha and a slice of sugar-dusted stollen*


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Ready to Move Forward with Your Novel? Start by Going Backward

Lost in a dark wood Photo by Lisbeth Salander, via Flickr, CC-BY-NC 2.0

Lost in a dark wood
Photo by Lisbeth Salander, via Flickr, CC-BY-NC 2.0

You know all those fairy tales about being lost in the forest? You start off feeling daring and intrepid and the next thing you know, the sun goes down and the path isn’t where you thought it was and there are scary noises in the trees and ah! what just grabbed my leg?

Revising a novel is kind of like that. You’ve got your main character, and she’s got a goal, and you’ve planned a couple of setbacks for her and maybe a little romantic interest off to one side and….whoa! where did that two-headed plesiosaur come from? I mean, it’s cute the way it flaps its fins and begs for dried squid chips, but your story is supposed to be set in 1950s Vienna. And since when did your heroine start tearing tissues into confetti and weeping at soap commercials? Your character sheet says she’s “strong and capable.”

As all readers of fairy tales know, there is one secret weapon against the fatal forest. The well-prepared adventurer intuits that the forest is not to be trusted and prepares accordingly:

Photo by Chris Campbell via Flickr

Breadcrumbs!
Photo by Chris Campbell via Flickr

When going into that dark wood of an early novel revision, reverse outlining is your trail of breadcrumbs. Plus, you get to play with colored paper and feel massively organized.

What is reverse outlining? For me, it meant going back over every scene I had written in the first draft and writing down the important parts of the scene on the front of the card. On the back of the card, I made notes to myself for the revision. What changes needed to be made? What was missing? (Usually transitions into the scene) What was excessive and needed to be trimmed? (pretty much everything to do with meandering around an unanchored setting) What was just plain wrong? (oops! Cousin Stella isn’t supposed to be pregnant anymore.)

Cards for the first two scenes in Act II (l, front; r, back)

Cards for the first two scenes in Act II(l, front; r, back)

When I finished my first draft I had a folder in Scrivener with about 20 new scenes (or scenelets) that weren’t in the original outline, that I had written spontaneously while thinking through the first draft. I didn’t have a place for them yet, but I knew they filled a hole in the story. The card process helped me find a place to slot in the new scenes.

Now that I’m about 40% of the way through the second draft, I cling desperately to these cards. The forest is dark and scary and haunted by plesiosaurs. But I have my trail of neon index cards shining through the poisonous smog, and I tiptoe carefully from one to the next, writing wrongs, adding settings, and erasing pregnancies, one card at a time.

My handy dandy sorting box. Just looking at its serene organization can break off a fit of muppet-armed hyperventilation.

My handy dandy sorting box. Just looking at its serene organization can break off a fit of muppet-armed hyperventilation.

The tabs on the left for P1, P2, & P3 divide the story arc into Acts (P= “Part”). Part 4 is lurking behind the cards standing on end on the right, which are homeless scenes that I’m pretty sure I know where they want to go. The blue tab on the right is my current location. When I finish a scene in the current draft, the scene card moves in front of that blue tab. I cannot tell you how good that feels.

Have you tried reverse outlining? Feel free to share what works for you. Tips on taming plesiosaurs also welcome.

Bonus reading:


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The NaNo Novel: One-Month Stand or LTR?

Tomorrow is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. Many of you will open your blank page of choice and inscribe the first words of your epic genius. It’s a heady moment; thrilling, exhilarating, and full of possibilities–like falling in love.

Photo by Epiclectic via Flickr

Photo by Epiclectic via Flickr

In those dreamy first days, it’s all chocolates and long walks on the beach (or screaming fights and great make-up sex, YMMV). But have you ever wondered what happens after? What if you and your novel want to stay together for the long haul? Can you make it work?

Just like in a human relationship, you’ll have to put in some effort to keep that author/novel flame burning. Not every day will be consumed by the fiery passion of your literary brilliance. Some days you’ll wonder why you ever returned this novel’s calls. Surely, it didn’t always have that bloated section in the middle where the protagonist runs around in circles and whines constantly? And why did you never notice that “chuckled” is used in every dialogue tag in Chapters 7,8, & 13?

Not every novel is a keeper, but if the romance is still there, there are steps you can take to keep the relationship strong.

  • “Me” Time – Yes, you love your novel, and there is a danger in only writing ‘when you feel like it’. But you don’t want to spend so much time together that you’re sick of the sight of your literary love. Taking judicious breaks–usually between drafts–clears the novel out of your conscious mind and frees you to have a fresh and generous perspective when you return.
  • Clear Goals – A novel goes through many drafts before publication (6-8 is an average number). One of the worst things you can do is try to work on too many drafts at the same time. If this is Draft #2, be clear about what you want to accomplish. If you’re fixing the plot, don’t worry about the prose. If you’re clarifying character motivations, don’t worry about the pacing. After all, you’ve got to save something for those other drafts.
  • (Semi-) Public Commitment – Stand up in front of your friends and family and proclaim your dedication to your novel. This doesn’t mean rushing out to buy a pound of gold-infused Stilton for the holiday cheese board because of course you’ll be getting a six-figure advance. For me, it meant contacting my beta-readers and asking if they’ll be ready to read by a certain date, because that’s when I intend to be done.
  • Manage Stress – The biggest challenge I faced in beginning the next draft was holding back the panic. Once I got a clear look at the problems and gaps, the job before me seemed enormous. I had to get that hysteria firmly stamped under a boot heel or I wouldn’t be making any progress. Step One was referring back to those Clear Goals: I didn’t have to fix everything with this draft; I just had to make it better than the previous one. Step Two was writing down a couple of phrases that made me feel better (“Better to fail than give up”; “You won’t know for sure until you finish”) and sticking them on the bottom of my monitor. Step Three: 10-minute guided meditations. I’m not a pan-flute kind of person, but I started listening to guided meditations to get through the stress of Clarion West, and the habit has (sporadically) stuck with me. Try the free ones from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
  • Support Network – Writing a novel takes a long time. You need people who know what you’re doing and how hard it is. Celebrate successes with friends. Turn to them if you’re having a bad day. When I was having a slump, I asked, “Tell me why I’m doing this again?” The answer: “Because its going to be awesome.” My writer friends have read early chapters, and they want me to write it. They want me to succeed. Feelings like that can carry you a long way.
  • Write – You’ve heard this one before. Writing a novel means having to write. It means butt-in-chair and fingers-on-keyboard. Whatever tricks you have to play to romance your muse or quell your rowdy two-year-old, you do it. Then you sit down, and you write. And then you do it again.
Sticky pep-talks

Sticky pep-talks


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October = Pie

IMG_20131019_174633

Colder weather makes me want to bake. This year, that urge resulted in an apple pie. But I can’t just leave it there. I need embellishments. Like cranberries. And ginger. And a classic Pennsylvania crumb topping (cribbed from the cookbook I grew up with, The Mennonite Community Cookbook)

The pie was a big hit when I took it to a dinner on Sunday night, and a couple of people have asked for the recipe. So if crisp weather also makes you break out the measuring cups, give it a try.

Apple Cranberry Ginger Crumb Pie

One 9-inch pie crust
You’re on your own with this. Use store bought, your favorite recipe, etc. Mine was half-butter, half-Crisco.

Filling:
approx. 4lbs of SweeTango apples, peeled and cored
2-4 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2-4 Tbl minced candied ginger
2 Tbl flour
2 Tbl corn starch
1/2 cup + 2 Tbl sugar
cinnamon, nutmeg, 5-spice powder
pinch salt

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Oven: Preheat to 425F

The Apples: I used “SweeTango” because they had 4-lb bags at Sam’s Club and they looked like a good idea. They’re a cross between Honeycrisp and Zestar (which I’ve also never heard of.) They worked well in the pie, and were delicious for crunching up while peeling. You can probably also use Honeycrisp, Fuji, Pink Lady, Jonagold, or any other crisp, flavorful apple. You may not need the whole bag. I had one apple left over, and probably ate another while peeling.

The Filling: Slice apples thinly and cut slices in half. Toss in a large, non-reactive bowl with the lemon juice, cranberries, and minced ginger.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cornstarch, sugar, spices, and salt. Sprinkle flour mixture over fruit and toss to combine.

Crumb Topping: Mix flour, sugar, & cinnamon in a medium bowl. Cut cold butter into flour mixture and rub together until crumbs form.

Assembly: Lightly grease pie plate and fit with crust, trimming edges and pressing down with the tines of a fork. Prick the bottom of the crust all over.

Pack apples into pie shell, mounding high. If you’re strategic and place the apples in a handful at a time, they will (almost) all fit. You may choose not to add all of the juice that has collected at the bottom of the apple bowl if it seems like too much.

Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the apples. Press lightly to firm.

Bake: Put the pie plate on a foil-covered baking sheet in the middle or lower-middle oven rack. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for 40-50 minutes. Watch the crumb topping for over-browning during the last 20-30 minutes, and cover with foil if necessary.


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The Wanderer King at Podcastle

My short story, “The Wanderer King” is now available at Podcastle for your listening pleasure.

We steer clear of the mines–that’s Fixer territory. The Wanderers are dangerous, too, ever since they came fighting back around Day 30. But there’s always been less of them–less in all, and less because they scatter through the woods on their business instead of fixing to the towns and mines.

We step along to the city, fitting the crown on all we come across. We sleep in the darkest part of the day when the sky dips to dark blue. At first, in the country, there aren’t many heads to try. But we come up on the city, and we slow. We even try it on Fixers because Pansy says the King is the King and it doesn’t matter whose body he’s in. “The King is for all,” Pansy says. “Anyone can carry the King.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 9.01.42 AMhttp://podcastle.org/2013/10/10/podcastle-281-the-wanderer-king/

For those who like to hold a book in their hand, “The Wanderer King” was originally published in Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix 4.


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8 Reasons Why Your First Novel Isn’t Working

In my previous posts, I talked about Why Novels Are More Fun Than Short Stories and lifted your spirits with How To Not Hate Your First Draft. Now that you’ve dried your tears and have begun to envision a glorious future for your deformed brainchild, it’s time to talk about exactly how you’re going to climb that gilded staircase to the stars.

In June, I spent two weeks at the Fantasy & Science Fiction Novel Writer’s Workshop in Lawrence, Kansas, learning from two sharp and insightful instructors: Kij Johnson and Barbara J. Webb. On the first day of the workshop, we eight first-time novelists sat around the table in the fishbowl and listened as Kij told us everything we had done wrong.

Like Madame Defarge, Kij knits while we cry.

Like Madame Defarge, Kij knits while we cry.

Prior to the workshop, we had all submitted the first three chapters of our novel-in-progress plus a complete synopsis. Kij read our sacrificial offerings and summed up her reaction with an inventory of our collective crimes. Use the handy-dandy checklist below and see how your first novel holds up.

Common Problems of First Novels

  1. Not Enough Plot. It can be hard to wrap your head around just how big a novel is. First-timers often try to stretch a thin little string of circumstance over 200+ pages. Other possible offenses: Too Much Plot and Poorly-Paced Plot.
  2. Rushed Scenes. When discussing my chapters, Kij pointed out places where she wanted more description and more setting, and my instinct was to resist. “But that’s boring,” I’d think, “I have to get to the action.” While struggling with short fiction, I had trained myself to mercilessly stamp out every curlicue of narrative elaboration. Now that hard-won skill was working against me. Novel readers look for different pleasures than short story readers: they need immersion, and they need time to settle in.
  3. Churning. Looking at that vast expanse of blank pages you have to fill, it’s easy to get panicky and start throwing incidents at the page. You slap on an explosion here, a gunfight there, sprinkle a one-eyed ogre army over Chapter Five, top it off with a messy break-up and call it a plot. But activity doesn’t = plot. A plot is a sequence of events in which each event causes the next, leading to the central conflict. A lot of flashy unrelated action will never get you there.
  4. Stakes Aren’t High Enough. You’re not going to convince a reader to go along for a novel-length ride if all that’s at stake is whether your protagonist is going to have a bagel or a Belgian waffle for breakfast. Your stakes don’t have to be mortal danger or the fate of the universe, but whatever you choose must feel like annihilation for your character. Extra Credit: Writing Excuses 7.47: Raising the Stakes.
  5. Lack of Agency. Related to #3. Activity also doesn’t = agency. First novels often feature characters pushed around by circumstance, or ones that don’t initiate activity. Your protagonist must go out into the world and cause things to happen. Preferably bad things that will hurt him/her and rain misery on their hapless head.
  6. Backstory & Exposition Poorly Managed. This one happens in short-story land, too. The reader gets a couple of pages of a scene with a good hook and then everything screeches to a halt while the author explains the full timeline of events since the protagonist’s birth*.
  7. Poor POV Choices. Novels typically have more characters than short fiction, and can handle multiple points-of-view. But are you choosing them wisely? Are you switching POVs at the right places? Kij suggests that more than one POV can improve your story, but if you introduce too many, you’re more likely to trip yourself up. Analyze your POV changes and ask yourself if they are the best interest of your story. Extra Credit: Writing Excuses 4.13: Juggling Multiple Viewpoints.
  8. Anemic Description. Characters need to be grounded in their environment. I did this one wrong and so did pretty much everyone else. If your story is set in the Wild West, the reader needs to know not just how it looks, but how it smells, how to saddle a horse, and how long it takes to travel by train. Useful description is what makes a world feel real to a reader. Extra Credit: Writing Excuses 6.11: Making Your Descriptions Do More Than One Thing.
Delicious, but not enough to sustain a novel.  Photo by Christine Lu, via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Delicious, but not enough to sustain a novel.
Photo by Christine Lu, via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Keep in mind that though everyone in the class was a first-time novelist, we were reasonably experienced writers with publications in professional markets like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, and Writers of the Futureand we still did it wrong.

That’s because writing a novel is hard. It’s probably not much like anything you’ve written before. So don’t freak out: now that you know what’s wrong, a second draft is the perfect place to fix it.

*If you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you’re going to get the founding of the nation in which she lives and the genealogy of her ancestors.


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Rewrite Your Way to Greatness

Today, I’m less than 10,000 words away from the end of the first* draft of my first** novel. You might think that at this point I’ve got the finishing line in sight and I’m feeling good.

You would be wrong.

Photo by Karl Baron, via Flickr

Photo by Karl Baron, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Now that I’ve written more than 50,000 words and have the overall shape of the novel in front of me, I have this lovely, panoramic vision of All The Things I’ve Done Wrong. It’s like the view of Mordor from Mount Doom. We’re talking volcanoes and wastelands: this is not the kind of stuff I can put right with another measly 10,000 words.

The last couple of days, sitting down to work has made me want to cry and yell at the cats for…having fur and stuff. I wont lie–it feels terrible. But, just as with most other things about writing novels so far, this is just another crisis of faith.

Photo by saxcubano, via Flickr

Photo by saxcubano, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Maybe (okay, probably) some of what I’ve written is terrible. Maybe it’s missing big chunks of plot and character motivation. But that doesn’t mean the book itself is going to be terrible.

I think, as novice writers, we fall into a trap. We compare our first drafts to somebody else’s completed novel. In a side-by-side comparison, that thing we just made–that we struggled with and worked so hard on–looks like crap. Because the thing we made is NOT a complete novel. It’s an early stage draft. And you never see anybody else’s early stage draft. You don’t see the mangled first pages of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or Life After Life, or Wild Seed.

You may, in fact, have the most precocious, promising, early-stage draft in the history of novel-writing. But if you compare it to that OTHER thing, the finished novel, what you have looks like utter, meaningless crap.

Would you compare a cement block to a skyscraper? Would you look at that block and scorn it because it doesn’t have a marble lobby and banks of high-speed elevators that shoot straight to the rotating rooftop restaurant?

The humble cement block. Photo by Jeremy Price, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The humble cement block. Photo by Jeremy Price, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Yet, when that skyscraper’s finished, that worthless cement block will still be a part of it***, hidden somewhere inside, doing its bit to keep the rooftop restaurant turning out platters of regionally-sourced pork belly and craft cocktails.

A first draft is a necessary step on the way to completing a novel.
A first draft is not the same thing as a novel. Not even close.

Go ahead, have a drink. You're going to need it. Photo by David Kenny, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Go ahead, have a drink. You’re going to need it.
Photo by David Kenny, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

To prove it to you, Maggie Stiefvater dissects a first draft of a chapter from her novel, The Scorpio Races, and walks you through step-by-step of what she changed and why.

And then she gets ten other novelists to do the same. Including blog hero, Margo Lanagan, talking about her latest, The Brides of Rollrock Island.

There’s also “Writing Excuses: 5.29: Rewriting,” in which guest author and Writers of the Future judge Dave Wolverton (Farland) promises that even Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning authors write terrible first drafts. This is a really good episode, with specific advice, and I highly recommend checking it out. After all, it’s only fifteen minutes long.

This is how novel-writing works:
You write a draft, you find the problems, and then you fix them.
And then you do it again.

* “Real” because this draft was preceded by a zero draft, written at breakneck (NaNo) speed last November.
** In some senses this is my third novel, but those other two have been put quietly away and we’re not going to talk about them.
***Don’t tell me that modern skyscrapers don’t include cement blocks or that’s the wrong kind. It’s an analogy, okay?


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The Superpower Every Writer Wants: An Interview with Intisar Khanani

Khanani Photo ctuIntisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five.

I met her at the Indiana University Writers’ Conference in the summer of 2012, where she repeatedly showed me how to fix my ham-handed needle work in the book-making class.

She visits today to talk about writing while parenting, when it’s okay not to write, and the importance of having a nice, private shower to escape to.

1. What’s a typical writing day like for you?

My typical day starts around 6 am when our toddler comes into our room to get me to help her in the bathroom (ah, the trials and travails of potty training). By the time we’re done, the baby is awake and so begins our day. While my husband helps out a lot with the kids, the only “quiet” times I really get tend to be if the kids go down for their nap at the same time. If I’m tired out enough, I’ll go down as well and if I don’t sleep, I spend the time lying down thinking of characters, scenes, and dialogue. Cooking is another good opportunity for developing dialogue. The shower is best, but that typically doesn’t happen till the kids are asleep anyhow. So, when I finally sit down with my laptop sometime after 8 pm, I’m ready to pound out what I’ve been thinking about through the day.

2. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace?

The trouble with my workspace is I don’t really have one. When we first moved into our condo, we had grand ideas of turning one of the two spare bedrooms into a writing room (my husband writes academic books). Now that we have two little ones and my mother-in-law staying with us, we’re a little cramped when it comes to dedicating space to anything other than toys. And diapers. I typically end up writing on my bed or on the living room couch (thank God for laptops!). I do miss the days when I had a desk and chair, both facing the wall. It helped reduce distractions—and I am easily distracted. But hey, any space is better than no space.

Any space is better than no space

Any space is better than no space

3. Besides other books/writers, where do you draw inspiration? 

I’ve realized that, when my creative well is drying up, it’s typically because I’m sleep deprived and a little tired of the day-to-day. I give myself a 2-3 day break from writing, read for fun, get out of the house and do something different with the kids, and get myself in bed as early as possible. By the end of the three days, I’m typically waking up with scenes in my head and am ready to go again.

I know some authors who swear you should write every day no matter what (my husband is one of them). I can’t do it. I’ve tried, and I’ve realized that actually empties me out. I need short breaks periodically; I need to pace myself with my story; and I need to pay attention to when I’m not writing because there’s some emotional depth or plot point I’m wary of getting into—that’s the only time I make myself write instead of allowing myself a break.

4. What do you wish you were reading but aren’t? (Because it doesn’t exist.)

Wow. That’s a hard one. I think I want more Jane Austen. And I want more YA fantasy novels about young women where the love interest doesn’t become the be-all and end-all of the heroine’s life. I know, not a request that you might expect from a Jane Austen fan, but we’re talking about YA fiction, and YA fantasy in particular, today. And what I would most want? A bestseller YA fantasy series about a girl without a love interest, or only a minor one who crops up halfway through and doesn’t rule the plot. You know, like Harriet Potter.

5. Superpower you wish you had?

The ability to write in my sleep. ‘Nuff said.

6. What should a reader do after reading this interview?

Support indie authors! With the advent of e-books, indie published novels are booming. There are some awesome new authors out there who don’t have traditional publishing houses backing them and pushing their books. Consider setting yourself a challenge to read three new indie authors in the coming months. GoodReads is a great way to get the scoop on new indie reads and up-and-coming indie authors, so go have fun!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Intisiar Khanani currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s next projects include a companion trilogy to her debut novel Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her short story The Bone Knife, and a novella series set in a fictional world of eleven kingdoms all controlled by a corrupt Council of Mages. 


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“Everything You Have Seen” – Dance Performance

I was lucky enough to have my winning story, “Everything You Have Seen,” interpreted by two marvelous dancers at the Writers of the Future Awards Ceremony in April. I like this performance more every time I see it, and if you haven’t already, you should definitely check it out. [And if you’re curious about what I look like in make-up and sequins, pretending to be glamorous, my acceptance speech follows the performance.]


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From Crocodiles to Butterflies (aka Short Stories vs Novels)

Thanks to the Indiana Arts Commission, I recently received an Individual Artist Grant for 2013-2014 to support my work-in-progress, a Young Adult fantasy novel about some very bad ponies and the end of the world. As part of that grant, I’ve agreed to write about what I learn as I shift from writing short fiction (500-6000 words) to writing novel-length fiction (60,0000 words and up).

The first thing I’ve learned:
I’m happier.

Even though I have only ever dreamed of writing novels—even though short fiction doesn’t satisfy me as a reader— somewhere along this crooked path of becoming a writer, I veered from my novel goal and detoured down short story lane. It was a crooked, treacherous lane, and I soon strayed into a mire of crocodiles, quicksand, and biting insects.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/neeravbhatt/3816605467/

Photo by Neerva Bhatt, via Flickr

I set out to write my first novel way back in 2005. It was a mystery novel about art fraud in Philadelphia. I made it to 53,000 words, and realized that I don’t have the kind of brain that does mystery plots. My consolation prize was that it had two great villains who I’m still kind of in love with, Yuri and Vassily (aka The Fur Brothers).

What that novel didn’t have was an ending. I thought I should probably get some practice at this ending stuff. I set a reasonable goal that I thought would take care of the problem: I would bang out three short stories with good endings: problem solved.

I figured it would take me 3 months, tops.

[*SOUND OF HYSTERICAL CRYING*]

Dear Reader, I may have been a bit fuzzy on how to end a novel, but I didn’t even know what a short story was for. I never read any, except the ones assigned in Lit classes. The result? I languished in the Crocodile-Quicksand Badlands trying to figure this out for THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS. Eight years when I could have been writing novels.*

A combination of circumstances and some good things happening with my short fiction last year, have set me back on the broad well-paved thoroughfare of writing novels. My little cart of words trundles smoothly along, while I enjoy the pleasant country views, good company, and the occasional butterfly drifting by.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/khoatran/214597579/

Photo by Khoa Trần via Flickr

In June, I attended Kij Johnson’s Fantasy & Science Fiction Novel Writer’s Workshop** at the CSSF in Lawrence, KS. After being told everything that was wrong with our projects and spending two weeks ripping out what we had and starting over, many of my workshop-mates were grumbling and daydreaming about returning to their comfort zone: short stories. They felt that there at least they knew what was going on.

Fishbowling at CSSF--with Brooke Wonders, Dale Ivan Smith, Rebecca Wright, and Emily Hall

Fishbowling at CSSF–with Brooke Wonders, Dale Ivan Smith, Rebecca Wright, and Emily Hall

Not me.  All I could think was: “I’m free!”

For many, writing short stories is “easy.” My Clarion West instructor Margo Lanagan recently said that “Short stories involve less angst than novels…It doesn’t require so much heavy lifting, psychologically.” I have the utmost respect for Margo, but that’s just crazy-talk.

I honestly feel like I have been let out of a cage. At last, I can leave all the aggravations (see: sharp-toothed reptiles, biting insects) of short stories behind. It’s true that writing a novel still means dealing with a full complement of the parts I don’t like about writing, but it has so much more of the parts I do like.

On the other hand, I’m still on the first draft. So what do I know?
I guess I’ll find out.

Stay tuned for next time when I’ll talk about Common Problems of First Novels.

If you’re a writer, what’s your preference? Flash? Short Story? Novella? Novel?
If you’re a reader, what would you rather read? Short stories or novels?

*The moral is: Don’t let this happen to you. You want to write novels? Write novels. Just make sure you finish them.
** This is a fantastic workshop. You should go.