alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 4

Illustration for my story, "Everything You Have Seen," by the talented Karsen Slater

Illustration for my story, “Everything You Have Seen,” by the talented Karsen Slater

Thursday, April 11

This is the first sentence of my 24-hour story: The memory we were looking for had once belonged to a 13th-century nun, Maria Teresa de Geres.

After collecting coffee from downstairs, I spend the bulk of the day in the hotel room writing. Unlike with a one-week Clarion West story, I figure I have zero chance of pulling off anything coherent in the given time, and therefore I may as well entertain myself. Which is perhaps why I lose control of the narrative by the end of the first paragraph and end up with some sort of Victorian adventure pastiche amid caverns beneath the earth. And did I mention the poisonous unicorns?

3b41372r_LOC

I continue the hopeless cause until 3:30, tack on a hasty end, and head for Author Services just in time to turn in my…..collection of numerically-sequenced pages. Suddenly, I feel much brighter. From here on, there will only be fun times. Starting right now, because we Writers are going downstairs to get our first look at the pictures the Illustrator winners have done for our stories.

The illustrations are displayed on easels in a semi-circle, and we fan out like kids at an Easter egg hunt, trying to find “our” picture. I see one that might be mine, but I’m not sure. I circle the rest and come back. Yes, those stark trees are clearly the winter landscape of my story. I tell the illustrator, Karsen Slater, that I’m so impressed that she even included the sailboat pattern on the boy’s pajamas and we have a little geek out when she tells me that she looked up 1950s pajama fabrics to get the right idea—because I did the same thing, when I was writing the story.

Writers & Illustrator united!

Writers & Illustrator united!

After dinner, it’s a long night back at ASI with lots to take in: informal talks and advice from recent winners Laurie Tom, Eric James Stone, Brad Torgersen, & Jordan Ellinger. Judges Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J.Anderson & Nina Kiriki Hoffman also weigh in. Three of the 24-hour stories are distributed to the workshop and we are sent off to read & critique for the next day. I end up staying up past midnight, chatting in the hotel lobby. But I must go to bed: tomorrow it’s up early and off to the book plant.

Tomorrow–field trip to the book plant!

Catch up with what happened on: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 2

Tuesday, April 9

In what will be a dismaying trend, wake at 5:30 am. Use my phone to light my way around my suitcase, creep into my clothes, and sneak out without waking roommate. Investigate hotel’s ‘fitness center.’ Choose elliptical as least disconcerting option and settle into 45-minutes of feeling awkward and like I don’t know what I’m doing. Back to the room for a shower, hello to roomie who is awake, banana consumed and coffee obtained at the lobby bar, and now–are everyone’s pencils sharpened? It’s time for the first day of class!

Author Services library

Author Services library

Begin with a tour of the contest library, with photos from earlier contests and works by previous winners. The photo of a jubilant Sergey Poyarkov winning the Illustrators of the Future Gold Award in 1991 excites great comment and contest administrator Joni Labaqui relates an emotional Cold War story. Returning winner Jordan Ellinger AKA Jordan Lapp (Vol. 25) ceremonially places a copy of his novel, Fireborn: Ritual of Fire, on the shelves.

Tim Powers leads the herd down the block to Shelly’s Cafe for lunch. After a quick panic (greasy spoon + vegetarian = hungry vegetarian), I realize I can just eat breakfast. Order an egg and cheese muffin with a slice of tomato, and it goes down nicely.

In the afternoon, Powers and Dave Farland take the floor and talk about:
–Setting and the importance of transporting your reader to a different time and place.
–Things the author needs to know about the character even if the reader doesn’t. (e.g., When was her last meal and what was it?)
–The writer’s own embarrassment when writing emotional scenes, and how to deal with it.

My 24-hour story object. Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

My 24-hour story object.
Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

Objects for the famous 24-hour story are passed out. I receive a 3.5″ floppy disk. I’m thinking memory, obsolescence, 1990s…All of a sudden I’m in a K street apartment in Washington D.C. and somebody in the next room is playing Stereolab on repeat.

I struggle pack to the present. Class is dismissed and dinner is found…somewhere (maybe this was shared-pizza night at the snooty Italian restaurant?), followed by a tourist visit to the Willy Wonka candy store in the hotel mall. The illustrator winners have arrived, and a brave few join us for late night chat in the hotel bar.

Urinals in the 'gross' room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

Urinals in the ‘gross’ room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

You can go back and read about Day 1 here. Or move on to Day 3 and Day 4.


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 1

WotF_All

A while back, I entered the Writers of the Future contest. And then I won. Here’s what happened.

Monday, April 8

Wake up at 4:45 am. I have an early flight from the Indianapolis airport, and I don’t live in Indianapolis. At 5:30 a.m., I catch the earliest shuttle to the airport. I listen to podcasts on the dark bus and watch the sun come up through the rainy windows. Some contest winners have exchanged stories ahead of time, and I vow that I will read them during the journey. Instead, I get coffee and take advantage of the free wireless at the airport to update Facebook. Then I read my Walter Mosley novel. Because that’s easier.

First stop, Las Vegas. My connecting flight is boarding before my first flight lands. I collect my backpack from the overhead bins and book it to the next terminal. They let me on and I settle down with both my good intentions and my detective novel. I enjoy the ginger biscuits Delta hands out, and as we land chat with the business guy in the next seat, a medical technologist from Minnesota on his way to Orange County. He points out the Hollywood sign.

In LA, I collect my bags from the carousel and am picked up by a contest driver. We loop around and around the LA airport making small talk as we wait for the next winners to arrive. They shared a flight and have already bonded. I listen to them talk and feel the tiredness creeping in as I watch the landscape change from billboards and bodegas to terra-cotta tiles and tidy gardens.

Grauman's Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Grauman’s Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Arrive at hotel, deep in Hollywood. Meet Joni, the contest administrator and have the good fortune to be assigned Andrea Stewart as my roommate. We three early arrivals get lunch at the Mexican restaurant upstairs from the hotel and quietly absorb the cost of casual dining in LA. Locate nearby grocery store and lay in supply of bananas, apples, and Kind bars for breakfasts. More winners trickle in and Thai food is consumed for dinner. Official business kicks off at 7 pm, with group photos and an informal introduction with author and workshop leader Tim Powers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Continue reading about Day 2…and Day 3…and Day 4


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What’s In a Name?

Mike Moist? Randy Sexworm? Nah....Keith Crust!

Mike Moist? Randy Sexworm? Nah….Keith Crust!

My story, “Keith Crust’s Lucky Number“* is up in the March issue of Flash Fiction Online.

Keith is a special kind of guy, and he needed a special name. I wanted something punk, but gross, but a little bit silly. For inspiration, I looked up lists of words that people think are the grossest in the English language. I also looked up lists of real, actual last names that nobody in their right mind would want to have. Names like:

Cocks, Willies, Bottoms. Nutters, Dafts, Jellys, Piggs, Baggot, Goggin, Gaggin, Gag, Grave, Stranger, Slow, Crankshaw, Onion, Willy, Poor, Hustler, Glasscock, Shufflebottom, Dungworth, Clutterbuck, Hardmeat, Bonefat, Turtle, Cornfoot, Hole, Drain.

I mean, come on. Clutterbuck? Say that three times fast. I dare you not to snigger like a seventh-grader drawing penises in his algebra book.

I had a great time coming up with Keith’s name. For once, I didn’t have to rein myself in: I could go all Dickens with my godlike powers** of writerly naming.

What do you think: are character names important to the story you want to tell? Sometimes? All of the time?
Is it fun coming up with character names? Or a pain in the neck?***

*See also: my earlier post about pawn shops.
**Writers don’t get a lot of power, which is probably for the best, since when we do, it goes to our heads.
***For me, always fun. Changing my imaginary name was practically my childhood hobby. I have been (in my head) variously: Tina, Angelique, Maureen, Constanza, & Trixie. And about one zillion others.


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Clockwork Phoenix IV

I’m thrilled to announce that my story, “The Wanderer King,” will be published in Clockwork Phoenix IV, edited by Mike Allen and due out from Mythic Delirium Press in June 2013. I loved the original Clockwork Phoenix, and I am in fantastic company in this volume. I can’t wait to get my own copy and read everybody else’s stories. See the full TOC here.

CP4_mini


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Catherine Krahe Wants Your Sisters (Stories)

C_Krahe

Catherine Krahe lives in Iowa.  She plans to save the world by telling stories and planting trees. She went to Clarion West (2011). Her stories have been published in Realms of Fantasy, Nature, and Ideomancer. She works with the Alpha Young Writer’s Workshop and is a first reader for Strange Horizons.

At least, that’s what she says. I say she is my Clarion West classmate, devastating editor & critiquer, maker of deadly Oreo truffles, and possessor of the bionic nun-field.

Her short story “Walking Home” is featured today in Daily Science Fiction.

She stopped by ye olde blogular to answer important questions about where she writes, how she writes, and the chocolate powdered flavoring mix that makes her world go round.

1. Special pen? Lucky socks? Breakfast of champions? Describe your writing process. (Include necessary rituals, superstitions, or talismans.)

My writing process is stalled these days, but my writerbrain is growing back. I grew up constantly thinking about stories–walking to and from school, going to sleep at night, in the bathroom, all the time. I’ve gotten out of that habit, or at least out of the habit of having my own active stories in my head.  Still, while I’m driving or while I’m walking from one place to another, there’s something going on. Mostly fanfic-ish things or fanfic-ish things of my own. That’s where “Walking Home” came from: it’s a side bit from the novelworld I had in late high school.

At some point, the story things up, and I do a draft. I don’t have a fixed process at this point, but do whatever the story seems to need. I usually write straight into the computer, but some stories happen on paper first. After that, I edit.  That’s the fun part–I like cutting and tightening especially.

Sometimes this happens on a writing date with friends, but not often. I’m more likely to get distracted by socializing than work steadily. I sometimes ping friends to bounce ideas off them or throw a draft at them. I almost always show my roommate Angela, who understands stories from a different direction and has pretty similar taste to mine–she’s wonderful. Of course, this is all subject to change.  I haven’t been writing a lot lately, and who knows what my process will be next?

Good tools: I love my CW notebook.  I require a good fountain pen with Noodler’s ink.  I need my computer, a three-year-old Thinkpad set up so I can use it but no one else can, trackpad turned off, and Dvorak keyboard. I do some tightening on paper, so I like to have a printer.  But what I need is discipline.

Bedroom Workspace. Go to Flickr  to view annotations.

Bedroom Workspace. Go to Flickr to view annotations.

2. Biggest thing that keeps you from writing when you should be writing?

Oh dear. I haven’t written anything really new in a while. I had the stereotypical post-workshop slump and haven’t unpacked my box of stories and critiques yet. Shameful, I know! I’m not sure exactly what’s holding me back besides anxiety and exhaustion. I don’t run my own stories in my head because it’s so much easier and more satisfying to return to someone else’s, like comfort food. I always have a story going, but I’m not someone who is driven relentlessly to put words on the page.

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

I want sisters. More sisters. There are so many brothers in fantasy, especially urban fantasy, and what I want is a relationship like that between brothers but between sisters. The typical brother relationship is two brothers against the world, usually with one of them magical or otherwise vulnerable and the other one a vigilant guard. The typical sister relationship is that two sisters against the world are separated because one of them meets a man and leaves the partnership. I hate that. I want more relationships between women that don’t dissolve as part of the plot. –Why yes, I do adore Kate Elliott, why do you ask?

4. What can’t you live without?

Other than the obvious?  Chocolate milk.  Those who knew me at Clarion West know that among my first purchases in Seattle were cups and Quik.  It’s my breakfast on a normal day, and what I drink before going to bed.  I don’t need it on vacations, but it’s one of the things I do to establish ‘normal’.

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

Go read some Kate Elliott.  Write me a sister story.  Knit something.

Living Room Workspace. Flickr again for annotations.

Living Room Workspace. Flickr again for annotations.


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Blackout Poem: The Lost City

I love the idea that stories can be found lurking in unexpected places (like they’re just hanging out, nonchalantly whistling to themselves, thinking they’re getting away with it.)

Even more, I love exercises and prompts that trick me into writing. Combine the two with the formula Newspaper + Marker = Poetry and you get a blackout poem.

Poem-hunting (imagine me in a pith helmet, carrying a Sharpie-tipped spear) was supposed to be my reward for writing a first draft of a new story on Friday, but I didn’t get to it until today, sitting at the kitchen counter keeping an eye on a pot of boiling chick peas. There are worse ways to begin a new year than with the excavation of a previously undiscovered poem.

My poem was unearthed from the bottom half of page A18 of The New York Times, Friday, December 28, 2012.

New York Times, Dec. 28, 2012

The Lost City

In a city of missed connections, consider the map:
Lines stop and hop hopelessly out of view.
Clocks steal a weekday morning,
then back up the staircase to a different city.
Without music worth following, a language comes
Like two animals slinking up the steps, doubled by the wind.

To uncover your own hidden story you will need:

–1 copy of the New York Times or other pre-printed reading material
–1 fat black marker
–1 cup of hot chocolate, coffee, or other warming beverage of your choice

If you find one, send me a link in the comments, please!


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NaNo Now What? — The Great Novel Revision of 2013

Very sad statue in Paris

Photo by Toni Birrer, via Flickr (CC-BY_SA)

In November, I wrote a novel novel-length THING.

On December 1st*, I felt immense relief and deep, personal satisfaction.
On December 2nd, I entered the 6 stages of grief PTSD (Post Draft Stress Disorder):

  1. Talking about how much I hate what I wrote
  2. While secretly fantasizing about how superb (imaginative, yet readable, yet funny, yet brave, yet unexpected, yet deep and touching, yet best-selling, yet critically-acclaimed) it is
  3. But knowing even more secretly how this is completely NOT TRUE
  4. Deciding it was a good experience and I learned a lot but I will never look at this particular lopsided story aberration ever again. It would be the kindest thing to do, truly. Best just to move on.
  5. Remembering that brilliant first draft of that *other* novel I wrote 3 years ago, which would totally TOTALLY be less work to revise–only two weeks, okay a month, tops–after which it would be a best-seller, yet critically-acclaimed, yet funny, yet heart-wrenching, yet…see #2.
  6. Talking it all over with Ashley Hope Perez on a freezing cold morning run, and deciding that the wisest course is to suck it up and REVISE** what I just wrote.***

This morning, I sat down to try to make a plan for THE GREAT NOVEL REVISION OF 2013. I got out my trusty notebook, wrote today’s date at the top of the page and the word, “Plans,” which I underlined 3 times to emphasize my sincerity and determination. And then…

<<< >>>

Yeah. Exactly that. Because you know what? I’ve never revised a novel before. I have no idea what happens, or how long any of it takes. But, you know, learn by doing and all that. Thanks to Nos. 1 & 3, above, I have some ideas about where my story is lacking. And I’ve identified some resources that I think might help:

Did you write a novel for NaNo? Did you write a thing? A half-thing?
Are you going to do anything with it?
What’s YOUR plan?

*Well, actually at about 11:52 am on November 30th
**You smart people saw this one coming, didn’t you? That was always going to be the answer. The shortest distance between two points is….well, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be a writer, now would I?
***Though it’s possible I would have agreed to anything while my brain was popsicled. Seriously, it was colder than a polar bear’s breakfast out there.


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This is Your Brain On Novel Writing

The brain on NaNoWriMo.
Courtesy National Library of Medicine

As I mentioned in some previous posts, I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo this year. As of today, I’ve written 49,119 words of my apocalyptic pony novel (yay!). It also means that I have used up all of the words in my brain (boo!). To that end, I’ve decided to let somebody else do the talking. Special guest post/interview with David Rees-Thomas, fiction editor of Waylines Magazine, coming tomorrow.


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How I Became a Romance Reader

I spent last weekend at a retreat with members of the Indiana chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Being around so many different romance writers, with different backgrounds, preferences, and aspirations got me to thinking about how I ended up among them.

I concluded that I became a reader of romance novels entirely by accident.

As some readers may know, I grew up on a small farm in the Appalachian foothills of southern Pennsylvania. Once a week, my mom and I would drive into town for groceries, and to Agway for horse feed. If it was a long trip, we’d stop at the Lincoln Diner for the gyros platter and the biggest, wettest baklava I have ever encountered. But we also went to the county library.

Adams Country Prison, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1851
Courtesy Library of Congress

At that time, the library was in the county’s old prison. And it had freaking turrets!! Can you imagine a better psychic place to start a relationship with books?

As soon as we passed through the front doors, I headed for the children’s room, and my mom for the adult fiction – probably to get herself some Westerns. I was starting to outgrow children’s books, but YA wasn’t the category it is now. In my library, the ‘Teen Reads’ section, was a single 8 x 10′ area against the wall of the lobby, stocked with some sad paperback copies of things I wasn’t interested in, like Sweet Valley High.

I scrounged around in the children’s room for what I could find –after all, I had been coming there weekly for more than 10 years, and had basically read everything I wanted to, some several times. Then I’d go to the adult section to see if my mom was ready to leave. The adult section was pretty boring, since all of the books were hardback and had the shiny paper covers removed. They were just plain dark covers with plain block letters stamped up the spine. Like I said, Bor-ing.

So I’d wander back out to the front, where the romance was shelved in the first few rows. They were shiny, colorful, gloriously tawdry mass-market paperbacks. And I started picking through them. There were plenty of contemporaries, but these didn’t interest me in the least–nurses, doctors, yachts, and businessmen — bleagh. But Pirates? Runaways? Castles? Mysterious portraits? Horses? Countesses? Murder? Ghosts? — God bless the historical gothic, and the cross-dressing Regency.

These books were at the reading level for eleven-year-old me. I started with the Regencies, which were short and which had a mercifully offstage approach to sex. Later I moved on to sweeping historicals, traveling the world with Vikings, Spanish conquistadors, British privateers and French revolutionaries. I had adventures, and I learned something, usually history. I know a lot more about the succession of the British monarchy than any U.S-ian should, but I learned a few other things as well!.

I read everything ever written by Victoria Holt, and moved on to Kathleen Woodiwiss, Valerie Sherwood, and eventually, Jane Austen. Somewhere in my mid-teens, I lost my fear of those plain dark covers with the plain-lettered spines, discovered the classics, and left romances behind. But now I’m ready to acknowledge that early love that surely shaped the reader and writer I am today: I’ll be writing my own historical romance novel in 2013.

Anybody out there have a serendipitous reading experience? An accidental, but life-changing read? I’d love to hear about it.