alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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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.


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NaNoWriMo Week 1, Day 1

Where it all went wrong?
[Dirty dishes by Zac Zupancic via Flickr]

Today is the 1st day of National Novel Writing Month. I sat down at my keyboard as soon as I got up, because I’ve been bashing away at this writing thing long enough to know that I work best in the mornings. Waiting to work in the afternoon ruins my whole day–and I don’t get anything done. Because I know that I’m going to be away from my computer and unable to write for a number of days during November, I had a pretty big word goal for today: 2274. That number was auto-calculated by my dear friend Scrivener.

Truth be told, word output is not a problem for me–story coherence is. Most of my “writing” time is spent at my desk trying to hack a 9000-word tangle down into a 4000-word capsule that can be swallowed with joy. I have not yet learned to enjoy this part of the process. I call it dying and sobbing, some of you may know it as “revising.” For this reason, I normally track my writing progress by 15-minute timed sessions, a trick I learned from Ashley Pérez. 15 minutes is short enough that I can make myself do it, no matter how argumentative I’m feeling, and long enough that when the timer goes off, I’m involved enough that I’m ready to set it for another 15.

But having that little ‘Project Target’ box open today while I wrote was superb. Every keystroke mattered. Just as quick as I typed, the box tallied. Almost immediately, I had made an impact and the bar was being shaded in before my very eyes. As it grew, it changed color! It went from red to orange to yellow, heading for green as I closed in on the word count goal. So magic! That little tangible proof kept me pretty cheerful.

I met my word goal shortly after 11 am, and I felt pretty good. Before I closed out of Scrivener and backed it up, I had already realized that I wanted to make changes to the first scene. But I told myself that if I hadn’t written what was already there, I wouldn’t have known what needed to be changed. As Scott Westerfeld and Lynda Barry say, making marks on paper changes your brain. So I made a few quick notes about my new notions and promised myself that I wouldn’t come back to them until December.* I crowed my triumph to my writing buddies on NaNo, Facebook, & Twitter. Then I was free to futz around reading email, looking at catalogs of clothes I’d never wear, and wasting time until lunch.

But after lunch, something sinister happened. Maybe it was because I had to face a sink full of dishes from last night, or maybe its because–well, I was going to tell you it was something to do with the alignment of the planets, but when I checked my horoscope it was all about baseball and I couldn’t understand it. But I’m sure I can blame Jupiter if I try hard enough. Hands in the soapy water, I started to feel like what I had written was so terrible that it negated any superficial word accumulation. Sure, I could whack out 2000 words in a morning, and sure they followed the outline. Sure I learned new things about my character and walked her through her first big decision. But, gosh, was it lifeless. Rote. Plodding. Not the sort of thing anybody would ever want to READ.

But who was it that said a writer is the last person to know whether their work is any good? Tomorrow morning, I’m going to sit down at my computer, whip out that life-saving Dialog Spine, and write another 2274 words. I expect that part of the time I will feel like a rock star, and the other half like a worm.

by Leonard John Matthews, via Flickr

How about you? Did you meet your word goal for Day 1? Do you feel good about it? Is your novel rocking along and you’re really excited? Or are you, too, beset by black doubts?

*Rule #1: Never, ever go back and revise the first pages until you’re done. Ever. That way lies the rabid marmot bite of madness.