alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


Leave a comment

Wiscon Schedule

Two days to Wiscon!

Mini-preview of Lynda Barry drawings for the Tiptree auction

Mini-preview of Lynda Barry drawings I’m donating for the Tiptree auction

Things I’m looking forward to:

My schedule:

Novel Writers’ Workshop

Mike Underwood (mod), Marianne Kirby, Aaron Micheau, Alisa Alering

Friday 9am — ?

Everyone in my workshop is working on a YA novel. I’ve been reading the chapters, and we’ve got shape-shifters and parallel worlds, and strange and dangerous beasties. I met Mike Underwood at Wiscon last year (He’s a fellow CW alum & for a while we lived in the same town.) I heard him read from his debut novel, Geekomancy, and I think his sense of humor is right on target for the project I’m working on. Should be good fun.

How To Create When Life Isn’t Slowing Down For You

Cliff Winnig, Alex Bledsoe, Rory Metcalf, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Alisa Alering

Friday, 4:00pm — 5:15pm, Room 629

Writing the perfect novel or story is difficult while juggling a job, long-term relationships (spouses, children), and the constant interruptions that happen. However, as projects like NaNoWriMo show, it is possible to manage time effectively to create while still maintaining some semblance of life. Let’s talk about time and project management, organizing ideas, and using the dead time (waiting in lines, driving) to plan out projects.

Class in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Ian K. Hagemann, Eileen Gunn, Madeleine E. Robins, Alisa Alering

Saturday, 2:30pm — 3:45pm, Wisconsin

In speculative fiction, we create entire worlds and societies. How does SF handle social and economic class? Is there room for improvement? If so, what?

Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, F.J. Bergmann, Ada Milenkovic Brown, D.L. Burnett, Kater Cheek, Anna LaForge, Julia Dvorin, Heather McDougal, Katherine Mankiller, Alisa Alering

Saturday, 9:00pm — 10:15pm, Conference 2

Come hear the members of Broad Universe read from their current projects. Not sure what I’m going to read yet…

I’m also going to be volunteering for the:

Tiptree Bake Sale

Saturday, 11:30am — 5:15pm, Room 627 

“World Domination through Bake Sales!” That’s one of the slogans at Tiptree Juggernaut Headquarters. The Tiptree Award supports gender-bending SF/F, publishes, auctions, and loves chocolate chip cookies! A wide variety of cookies, breads, cakes, pies and delectables are baked and donated by Tiptree supporters.

I’ll be dishing out goodies from 11:30 – 1pm. I’m also bringing these:

SFS_GoodyGoodyBars_276613

Advertisements


13 Comments

3 Things I Learned From Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry, June 2012

I’ve been a reader my entire life. I love books and I love stories, but I have always been jealous of my older brother because he can draw. When I was in junior high, I was so excited that we were given the option to take art classes. I thought that taking the class meant I would BE an artist. I wanted to get myself all paint-smeared and arty and make strange and beautiful things. But as some of you other daydreamers may also have learned by now, the pictures in my head didn’t much resemble the real world. Or the pictures on the page. When I drew a horse, it looked like a pig. When I drew a still life, it looked like a plate of spaghetti. My brother? His horses, people, skiers, hot rods and spaceships not only LOOKED like what they were, they had energy and style–you know, personal artistic interpretation. I kept hoping that these skills would suddenly erupt in me like a superpower, and that the next time I put pen to paper, I would blow my own socks off. We had the same genes, right?

Guess what? I’m still waiting for that art volcano.

Volcano erupting

Photograph by B. Chouet in December 1969. Courtesy USGS.

So, what was I doing signing up for a class with Lynda Barry, a cartoonist*? Well, for starters, it said right there on the application that she was teaching as part of the Indiana University Writers Conference. Not Cartoonist’s conference. Not Artist’s conference. Not People Who Can Draw a Horse That Doesn’t Look Like a Pig conference.

Lynda was teaching her ‘Writing the Unthinkable‘ class — which was incredible, and I urge you to sign up if she brings it anywhere in your vicinity. You might learn to write, you might learn to draw, and if you’re not interested in those things, Lynda will tell you stories about her Filipino granny, teach you a poem by Rumi, and sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ without opening her mouth.

Marlys gets inspired. Drawing by Lynda Barry.

So here are the best things I learned from her class:

1. Play with your food. Lynda told a story about watching a kid eat. The boy is moving his breakfast around the plate, and each time he brings a piece of bacon to his mouth, he holds it up and says, “I’m going to eat you” in a scary monster voice. Eventually, his mom notices what he’s doing, and he gets in trouble.

That’s the creative experience in a nutshell. As children, play and creativity are everyday things–you can’t separate them out from life. Playing and story-telling make stuff like eating a warmed-over hotel breakfast waaay more interesting by introducing power, fear, danger, and fun voices. You know, that conflict stuff writing teachers are always going on about. And this kid? He’s doing it naturally. But what’s his reward–a book contract? A movie deal? The praise and admiration of his peers? Nope. A nasty look and a sharp word if he’s lucky, and quick smack if he’s not.

What’s the message his mom is giving him? “Cut out that nonsense and get down to the important business of living your life without making it any more fun than it has to be.” Most of us internalize that message sooner or later (some of us a lot, lot later) and that’s what makes it hard to write. Or draw. Or make movies. Or whatever creative play that some stunted part of us is longing for.

2. Use the phone. Lynda has a great method for getting into a remembered scene and extracting the good stuff. She asks a whole set of questions like ‘What is behind you, What is under you feet, Where is the light coming from, etc.” (The exercise appears in her book ‘What It Is’ –sort of a companion to the class, but with autobiography and drawings. Or you can pretend you’re in the class and follow along with her instructions in this video on her Tumblr.**)

The questions are designed to prompt recollection of important events or “images” from your own life. But, you can use it for a story, too. You just call your characters on the phone, and ask them the questions. I mean, everybody has a mobile phone these days–it’s not like you’re not going to be able to get in touch. So, you’ve got your depressed suburban mom, your post-traumatic Afghan war vet, your streetcart vendor, your cheerleader, etc. all stuck and scared in the middle of the page, because you don’t know where they are, or where they’re going. So you call them up and say, “Where are you? What’s the temperature like?”

And my absolute favorite:

3. Pretend that you’re writing the story. “Wha?” you say, “Of course I’m writing the story. Otherwise, somebody else would be yelling at the dog for the unforgivable crime of breathing, and throwing their notebook at the wall.”

Are you sure? When we write, we listen to all kinds of voices. Ones that want to win the National Book Award, and ones that want to be published in Clarkesworld, and ones that want to write a best-selling trilogy, get a movie deal, and move to Key West. Those voices are loud, and they can lead you pretty far astray.

When you’re slogging through a story and it’s not going well, when it’s like marching neck-deep through the Cold Molasses Sea of Doubt & Obstinance, that’s the time to ask yourself, “If *I* were writing this story, what would I do?”

Lynda hanging out & drawing with us after class, May 2011. That’s my piece of brilliance in the lower left.

I had the good fortune to attend Lynda’s class twice, once in 2011, and again in 2012 (I know!). In 2011, Lynda only had a 50-minute teaching slot each day, and she generously spent the afternoons in an empty classroom, hanging out and drawing with anyone who wanted to stop by. This was about a month before I was about to head off to Seattle for Clarion West where I was going to meet 17 other aspiring spec fic writers and have to prove that I deserved to be there among them. This time spent doodling with Lynda was the best mental preparation I could have asked for.

My horse may still not look like a horse, but I had a good time drawing it.

*Besides having a complete fangirl meltdown. Ernie Pook! Fred Milton, Beat Poodle. Marlys the Greatest!
**Also don’t forget to watch the amaz-tastic time-lapse fungus videos. Fungus love–yes!!


Leave a comment

The Gentle Octopus

The octopus is a cephalopod. Wikipedia says that “Cephalodpod” means “head-feet”. It is also fun to say.

I am thinking about the octopus because it is neat. It very awesomely looks like this.

Lynda Barry uses an octopus. A lot. It is cuddly, maybe, when she draws it. In her pictures it seems to stand for the “I don’t know” that is the un-heart of creative activity. The octopus does not know, but that is okay. Is it an octopus because it changes shape, because it lives in the murky dark, because it has so many arms? I don’t know. It seems the right kind of mysterious.

In Gail Carriger’s, ‘Parasol Protectorate’, a brass octopus is the symbol of the evil scientists who want to do Wrong Things with Technology.

A real octopus is very smart. It can carry a coconut, walk on two tentacles like legs and pretend to be a coconut, pretend to be a branch of algae drifting across the ocean floor, and open a jar.

I cannot remember seeing a real octopus in real life. In the Natural History Museum in the Smithsonian, there used to be a case with the remains of a giant squid. I remember a case of water, with its white flesh arms, sort of pulpy and disintegrating. I remember thinking it was sad. Maybe I don’t remember right – if it was already dead, why would they keep it in water? Does anyone else remember this? It was in the front rotunda, somewhere near the doors, along with Henry.

A few months ago, I wanted to write a story called “The Secret Heart of the Octopus.” I don’t know what that means. Saying those words, knowing those words, makes me feel good in the way walking in the woods makes me feel, the way seeing a the disappearing tail of a salamander makes me feel, the way the Big Dipper is always there at night when I walk the dog makes me feel. It is a good feeling, and it is potent. Waiting. I am small, in a good way. The secret heart of the octopus is very big.