alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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The Island of White Houses at Drabblecast

Cover image of Drabblecast Episode #349 by artist Susan Reagel

The audio version of my story, “The Island of White Houses” is now available from Drabblecast. I’m really pleased with the recording. Narrator Norm Sherman makes the story feel darker and spookier than I usually think of it. His version is definitely ominous. Which is what’s great about podcasts: each telling of a story creates something new. I also love the artwork by artist Susan Reagel.


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The Strangest Person In the World

Frida Kahlo, 1937. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Frida Kahlo, 1937. Courtesy Library of Congress.

I spent a lot of time as a black-wearing mopey-shouldered teenager thinking how very strange I was. And then, you know, I grew up and got over myself. For the most part. Because it turns out everyone’s really weird. It’s part of being human.

Which is why when I came across this quote attributed to Frida Kahlo–while looking for cookie recipes, no less!–it went right to my heart. It made me remember, and I felt sad and comforted all at once.

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought: There are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

And if that’s not enough, you can make the cookies, all chocolate and cinnamon.


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Calvino Prize

Very pleased to announce that my story, “The Night Farmers’ Museum” was chosen by judge Robert Coover as the runner-up for this year’s Italo Calvino prize, sponsored by the University of Louisville Creative Writing Program.

In keeping with the fabulist nature of the prize, I confess that I dreamed the title of this story earlier this year and then had to write the story to find out what it was about.

Thanks to all the judges and readers, and congratulations to 1st prize winner Micah Dean Hicks for his story, “Flight of the Crow Boys,” which I am very much looking forward to reading.


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How I Learned to Love Rejection Letters

When I first started writing short stories, the process went something like this:

  1. Finish story
  2. Send to ONE market
  3. Check mailbox obsessively & envision glorious success
  4. Receive rejection letter
  5. Pitch headfirst down stairs of mortification into basement of self-loathing
  6. Give up on story

 

The Basement of Recrimination.  (Photo: Library of Congress)

The Basement of Recrimination.
(Photo: Library of Congress)

Seriously, those rejections were like acid baths that I soaked in for weeks. I’d eventually start to recover and then, like suddenly remembering a nightmare where you’ve accidentally stabbed your mother and drowned a basket of kittens, the pain would come rushing back. I’d remember the cruel words of the rejection, and my unbelievable presumption in sending the story out—what made me think I could write, anyways?–and sink back into the pit.

Your bath is ready, madam.

Your bath is ready, madam. Photo by Iain Browne, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Fast forward a few—well, actually a lot of—years. Somewhere along the way, I hardened my carapace. Rejections became….just one of those things. Part of the business of being a writer. Submit->reject, submit->reject, submit->reject is a background rhythm that means I’m participating in the publishing world. I’ll (probably) even sell the story in the end.

But for the last twelve months, I’ve been focused on novels. Sometime around January 2014, I sold the last finished story I had in my inventory. And that’s when things got tricky. Let’s try a little quiz:

Question: What happens when you aren’t sending stories out?
Answer #1: You don’t get any acceptances.
Answer #2: You don’t get any rejections.

You might not think #2 is much of a problem. But here I am, spending hours at my writing everyday with absolutely nothing to show for it. I’m just typing away, day after day, on some project that no one has read, that maybe no one will ever see, that might not even exist. It’s like one of those quiet Sunday mornings when you go outside and there are no people and no cars and you worry just for a second that overnight everyone decamped in the flying saucer and neglected to tell you.

Where did everybody go?

Where did everybody go?

This was when it was really tempting to turn my focus back to short stories, just to try to prove that I was vital, relevant, active, that I was doing something. But that was wrong, I knew it in my gut. My writing home is in novels, that’s where my happiness lies.

My solution? A novelist’s support group. I had friends from Kij Johnson’s workshop who were also working on novels. What if we got together and cheered each other on? What if we had a place to remind each other of our goals and to complain about our problems and encourage each other?

So we did. We don’t critique. We don’t give feedback. We mostly acknowledge. About once a week, we check-in and say, “Hey, you’re out there working on a novel. I am too.” And “This shit is hard. But we can totally do it.” I swear, this is the best kind of writer’s group I have ever belonged to. Noveling is a long lonely road, and the group is a pair of flip-flops and a handful of trail mix.

The more I work on novels, the more I think that the really truly ONLY skill you must possess in order to write a novel isn’t a mastery of plot structure, brilliant prose, or intense worldbuilding. It’s just the ability to eat your heart out every day and KEEP GOING. If you can do this, you can write a novel. That’s the only single talent required.

And the support of likeminded friends can help get you there.


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90 Days of Writing Bliss

The Fountain of Love, by François Boucher [1748]

What my life is like now that I’ve discovered The 90-Day-Novel
(The Fountain of Love, François Boucher, 1748)

WARNING: This post contains little to no objectivity.

I am in love. With The 90-Day-Novel by Alan Watt.

Because The 90-Day-Novel loves me just the way I am.

After I came home from Clarion West in 2011, I have been hunched over my desk with a gimlet eye, struggling to improve my writing. I critique my peers, I read the pros, and I work hard to identify my weaknesses, correct or patch them, and produce good stories.

Structure and plot are repeat performers in the parade of Things I Do Wrong. I’m a woolly thinker, the sort of person who has to say something (two or three times, usually) in order to find out what I want to say. That makes crisp plot turns tough.

I’ve tried LOTS of writing books and instructive internet articles. I’ve read about The Snowflake MethodGMC, and 7-point Story Structure. I’ve checked out the examples from popular books and movies and noted how they match the analysis perfectly. It all makes sense. My head nods in understanding. Got it, I think. This time I won’t go down one of those weird rabbit holes my brain is always finding. I’m going to keep it simple, stick to the structure, and just do this.

Cute but dangerous

Cute but dangerous

But what seems so simple when I’m reading about it becomes so impossible, so ineffable, when I try to carry it out. I go back and forth from the examples to my story and don’t understand how I could possibly mess up something so obvious and clear. Am I really this stupid? I think.

I’m forced to conclude that I probably am. And then I don’t feel so good. Because I’m me and pigheaded, I keep writing anyways. Spend days hammering at things that made me feel sick and sinking.

A few weeks back, I started writing a new novel. I wasn’t prepared, but I needed to get started, so I jumped in without a plan. I had a genre, two characters, a setting, and a situation. I figured I would just pants my way through an 80,000 word zero draft and worry about it later. I told myself it was a learning experience–though what I would be learning was unclear.

Someone (sorry, I can’t remember who) mentioned The 90-Day-Novel to me because they liked the questions for pre-writing. I put in a request at the library, but I wasn’t too excited. By now I had learned that anything promising 5 Easy Steps or 7 Essential Rules—basically, anything with a number in the title—was bad news.

My precious

My precious

But it wasn’t. The 90-Day-Novel is the how-to book written Just For Me.

I was two weeks into my draft when I finally got my copy. I read the introduction and did the exercises. Just as, you know, an experiment. When I came out the other side, I had tons of new material. And a realization that I needed more of this. It was an incredibly hard decision to throw away the 10,000 words I had already written and start over. It put my schedule for finishing back by almost a month. And it was the best writing decision I’ve ever made.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be working from a plan that works with the way my mind already works instead of against it. Here are some of my favorite themes from the process that I find most restorative:

  • Story isn’t logical.
  • Our idea of the story is not the whole story.
  • The moment we force it, or fear that we’re getting it wrong, we’re out of our story.
  • It is not your job to figure it out. Trust that your subconscious will find a way to resolve it.
  • The story already lives fully and completely within us.

Honestly, working with the 90-Day process, I feel like I could write a novel about anything. Any topic, any structure, no matter how complex or challenging. I can’t wait to finish the current novel and get started finding out what Novel #3 is going to hold. Because with a process like this, it’s going to be good stuff!


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On Community & Coming Out of Hibernation

Reading to my rabid fans at Boxcar Books on April 6, 2014

Reading to my rabid fans at Boxcar Books on April 6, 2014

Writing is a solitary practice. The writer sits (or stands) alone at her desk, with a notebook or keyboard and a cup of stimulant beverage. The writer listens, but only to imaginary people. The writer speaks, but only to herself. Ok, also sometimes to the domestic automatons, e.g.: “&*$! cat! Plonk your furry butt somewhere other than my keyboard!”

Domestic Species  Furry Buttus Obstructivus

Domestic Species Furry Buttus Obstructivus

Earlier this month, I unzipped the cocoon a fraction of a milimmeter and poked forth a tentative feeler. Finding the environment not entirely hostile, I took myself downtown to Boxcar Books to read to the public from my novel-in-progress.

The curious writer ventures forth

The curious writer ventures forth

I shared the marquee with two other local SFF writers, Richard Durisen and Michelle Hartz. I read from an early chapter in which my protagonist interviews for a job at the Paradise Pony Park. It introduces the main character, some of the unique aspects of the plot (viz. haunted ponies), and ends on a “tell me more” note. I had considered reading a different scene from later in the book, mainly because it was a self-contained ghost story with a fair bit of drama. But when I was rehearsing, I realized I would have to voice four different teenage girl characters. That’s a stretch for even an experienced reader, and my acting talents just weren’t up to the job.

A novel takes a long time to write. And even longer to see publication. A public reading is a chance for your manuscript to stroll around town, take the air, and see the sights. If you’re lucky, it begins to make friends. In this case, audience reaction was positive, and afterwards, over instant coffee, mixed nuts, and rice krispie treats, several people asked if the book was finished. Regrettably, I had to tell them about the unexpected delay. Still, it gave me a boost, and I’m excited about revising the book into the best story it can be. If they like it this well now, just imagine how they’re going to feel when it’s complete!

There’s still a long way to go, of course. And no one is going to do those revisions but me. But being connected to a community can make the trials easier to bear. Join me next month for thoughts on using peer accountability to get your writing where you want it to be.

As for this weekend, I’m heading off to Indianapolis for even more community at Mo*Con IX.

P.S. I feel like this post should have footnotes or something with references to pertinent information. I guess it’s just the librarian in me. So here goes:

  1. The three most important things you need to know about reading aloud are: Prepare, Project, and Make Eye Contact! Those three things will improve any reading by about 70%. I’ve attended readings where the author bends over the book and speed-reads through a chapter without once looking up. This is not a good plan.
  2. If you want to work on that other 30%, delve into this helpful series by author, voice talent, and puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal. For example, she explains why it would have been a bad idea for me to try to do all of those similar voices.
  3. Public Readings: It could be worse.


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One Year Later: Writers of the Future Vol. 29

Writers of the Future 2013

Writers of the Future Vol. 29, writer and illustrator winners and judges, Los Angeles, April 2013

This time last year, 13 writers from around the country headed to Los Angeles to take part in the Writers of the Future workshop and awards ceremony. For many, this was their first professional publication. We bonded, we hung upon the wise words of workshop leaders Tim Powers and David Farland. We wrote a 24-hour story. We ate perhaps a smidge too much greasy food. But that was 12 long months ago, and the question arises: What have they been doing since then? Are these really the writers of the future?

Highlights

Several stories from Writers of the Future Vol. 29 were featured in the Tangent Online Recommended Readings List for 2013 (“Master Belladino’s Mask,” “Cop for a Day,” “The Ghost Wife of Arlington,” “Dreameater,” “Planetary Scouts,” “Twelve Seconds,” and “The Grande Complication.” Other winners had new stories singled out as reader favorites: Marina J. Lostetter took 2nd place in both the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest and the IGMS Readers’ Choice Awards. WotF Grand Prize winner Tina Gower won first place in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Futuristic category) for her unpublished novel, Identity. Brian Trent’s “A Matter of Shapespace” was voted 2013 Apex Magazine Story of the Year.

Marina J. Lostetter

Galaxy's Edge, Issue 4

Galaxy’s Edge, Issue 4

Andrea Stewart

Shannon Peavey

Alisa Alering

Kodiak Julian

wsbCoverMED-509x763

Lex Wilson (Alex Wilson)

Alex has done narration work for Lightspeed Magazine and the anthology series Apocalypse Triptych, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. He has also appeared as an actor in an episode of True Crime with Aphrodite Jones as well as several independent films.

Eric Cline

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Chrome Oxide

In the past year Chrome has been busy recording live musical performances and doing audio work on the documentary film Reverb Junkies. He has also appeared at conventions, bookstores, and musical events in the Los Angeles area, signing his books and CDs.

Christopher Reynaga

Tina Gower

Stephen Sottong

Brian Trent

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As you can see, it’s been a pretty exciting twelve months. Here’s to more stories and more sales in the next twelve. And, oh yeah, congratulations to this year’s winners!