Off to Ad Astra

I’ll be at the Ad Astra fantasy/science fiction convention this weekend. You can find my panelist schedule here (search for “gard”).

If you’re interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror, I heartily recommend attending a few conventions. Conventions vary widely in emphases and in “personality”, so a particular convention may not be a good fit for your tastes. For example, some are more devoted to media (e.g. TV, movies and comic books) rather than prose fiction. Nevertheless, many conventions bring together readers, writers, editors and other people involved with the sf/f/h written word. They can be fun and very informative.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, going to a convention can really open your eyes to various aspects of writing and publishing. You can often sit down for coffee with professionals and pick their brains on any (relevant) subject. You can also listen to panels where professionals talk about how they do what they do.

You can find a partial list of conventions at Locus magazine, but there are numerous conventions not on the list. To find out about conventions in your area, just go to your favorite search engine (e.g. Google) and search for “science fiction convention city” (where city is the closest city to where you live).

Patreon Posts

I just sent out my first post to Patreon patrons. It’s taken me a while to figure out what special thing I can add to these posts, but I think I’ve finally come up with something good.

I have a great concept for a story titled Miracles & Wonders. The story is comprised of small sections, each of which is relatively self-contained. There’s just one problem: I, uhh, haven’t figured out how to end the story yet.

So I’ve decided to send out one section a month, in the hope that by the time I exhaust all the sections I’ve planned and/or written, I’ll come up with a suitable ending. If not…well, okay, my Patreon peeps will at least find out that stories don’t always work out.

So by signing up for my Patreon, you get to watch a story in progress. I hope you find the process interesting.

Sharing: June 29, 2018

More links…

Eye Candy: National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year pictures
In the spirit of my recent post about Eye Candy, the National Geographic just released a whole bunch of gorgeous photographs. Well worth clicking through them all.
Book: Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri
A police procedural thriller set in Italy. The sleuths are both suffering from serious cases of PTSD, making them flawed but sympathetic. Lots of action, but with realistic consequences—whenever there’s a fight, one or both heroes usually end up in the hospital. I’m reading the sequel now, and it’s good too.
Awards: The Aurora Awards
If you’re Canadian citizen or landed immigrant, why not sign up to vote in the Aurora awards? It costs $10 (Canadian) but if you sign up now, you get a substantial voter’s package containing lots of great stories and book excerpts. And (cough cough), you can also vote for my stuff if you feel so inclined.

Not a Spectator Sport

Writing sucks as a spectator sport, which is why I often struggle to find anything to blog about. If things go well, I produce at least 1000 words a day…but what that looks like is me sitting at my dining-room table, either writing longhand or tapping out words on my iPad. Not an engrossing sight.

However, in the interests of upping my engagement with readers, I’m going to try to report more on what I’m doing. So here we go: I’m simultaneously working on three novels which I’ll call Project MoonProject Tech-Bro, and Project Angel of Death. (Hey, if I’m going to make up names, I may as well amuse myself.)

Juggling three projects takes a fair bit of concentration. Most days I can’t handle all of them; if I manage two out of the three, I consider it a good day. Ideally, that will be 1000 words on each project I work on. Bit by bit, the word count grows, and eventually, I get to the end.

Mostly I write. But research and planning are also important. For major research, I get books from the library, but for passing tidbits, Wikipedia will do just fine. What kind of things do I look up? Occasionally on my Twitter (@jamesagard), I note topics I’ve looked at recently. Here are some for Project Tech-Bro:

  • The Haunted Mansion
  • Stepin Fetchit
  • Navajo Nation
  • Erich von Daniken
  • Photoshop

For Project Angel of Death:

  • A. J. Raffles
  • Kitty Pryde
  • Puff Adders

For Project Moon:

  • Rapier
  • Decibel
  • Frank Frazetta

And no, I’m not going to explain how any of these fit in. But I’m always amused where writing takes me.

A Regular Day

Someone recently asked me what a regular writing day looked like for me. So…here you go (or at least the highlights):

  1. Get up & eat breakfast, during which I read email and Twitter. I usually don’t answer any email immediately unless it can be done in less than 3 lines. Also I do the NY Times mini-crossword puzzle and review my to-do list.(NOTE: I keep a daily to-do list in a straight-up text file. The file contains stuff for at least a week in advance. I also use my iPad’s calendar program to keep track of dates, but I copy any appointments from the calendar into the text to-do list. The to-do list is inspired by bullet journals but more informal.)
  2. Write a few morning pages longhand, mostly reviewing things I saw or heard the previous day. I try to record tangible experiences, rather than just chatting about ideas.
  3. Transcribe any longhand writing from the day before. Basically, when I’m writing something new, I write longhand first (yes, pen on paper). The next day, I start my writing session by transcribing the longhand stuff into Scrivener. This helps remind me where I was, and also gives me a chance to do quickie rewrites on what I produced the previous day.
  4. Use the Pomodoro technique to write longhand for two hours. That means 25 minutes of nothing but writing, then five minutes of break-time (bathroom, having a snack, etc.). Repeat the 25-on/5-off for a total of four sessions, giving about two hours of new writing.
  5. Take a longer break: half an hour. I’ll do my daily Duolingo (currently learning Japanese, and keeping up on Spanish) and have a small lunch
  6. Back to another four Pomodoro sessions: either writing or editing (if I have an editing job…and by the way, if you ever need editing services, feel free to inquire).
  7. Another longer break. Usually, this is when I go for a walk to my local library. I almost always have something I want to pick up at the library, or something I have to take back. Even if I don’t have anything to get or return, going to the library is a nice break.
  8. Back for another two hours of work. This is either editing work, or business stuff. Here is when I answer email, deal with business paperwork, etc. If I’m working on a definite project (e.g. editing), I’ll do it Pomodoro style again, but often it’s just little bits and pieces that don’t fit the work-in-depth system.
  9. Thus ends my writing/editing day. Now into other stuff. Half an hour for hobby-like activity.
  10. Walk or drive for errands (shopping, etc.) in the late afternoon.
  11. Most nights, I either do kung fu or role-playing games.
  12. Read for at least 15 minutes before going to bed.

Auxiliary reading:

For bathroom reading, I (very slowly) work through something “classic”. Recently, I worked my way through Christopher Logue’s poetry version of the Iliad. Now I’m working through Ishmael Reed’s “Mumbo Jumbo”.

For kitchen reading (when I’m eating snacks or drinking coffee), I do idle research. In preparation for writing Miranda in NOBODY TOLD ME YOU COULD BREAK THE MOON, I worked through a first-year physics textbook. Now, I’m reading BLACK EDGE by Sheelah Kolhatkar, so I’ll know about sleazy financiers. (This is preparation for something secret I think I’ll call Project 3H.)

And for times when I want a break from reading, I do cryptic crossword puzzles. Right now I’m working through a book of New Statesman crosswords from the 1980s.

So there: if there is such a thing as a typical day, that’s how it goes. Any questions?

Half an Hour a Day

Many moons ago, I read an article by the writer Tom Robbins (or maybe just about Tom Robbins) in which he talked about keeping his brain alive. If I remember correctly, he said that he had a strict regimen:

  • Half an hour a day of reading poetry, since that would improve his feel for language
  • Half an hour a day of being outside, because he needed fresh air, plus the sights and sounds of nature
  • Half an hour a day of exercise, because a healthy mind needs a healthy body to sustain it
  • Half an hour of pornography…and we’ll just leave that one where it is.

I don’t have an urge to adopt that program exactly, but recently I started thinking about cultivating my brain a little more intentionally. So I decided to put in half an hour a day on activities that would expand my horizons and keep me sharp. I came up with a four-day cycle that I’ve been following for several weeks now:

  • Day One: Music. I’ve played the piano since I was a kid, and I even used to perform in coffee houses. In recent years, I’ve let that slip…but I decided to get back to playing and singing—half an hour a day, every fourth day.
  • Day Two: Math. I’ve loved math almost as long as I’ve been playing the piano. I adore working problems and finding answers. However, it’s been years since I tried to learn new stuff, or even reviewed old fields I ought to know cold. So I’ve begun swotting up on linear algebra, in preparation for bigger and better things. (I have several advanced books out from the University of Waterloo library, but haven’t decided which I’ll dive into once I’m back up to speed. Differential topology? Category theory? We’ll see.)
  • Day Three: Embroidery. I used to do a lot of embroidery while sitting in front of the television. I don’t watch TV anymore, so I’ve gotten out of the habit…but I still have plenty of cross-stitch patterns I’d love to work on, so why not start again? Embroidery is good for the brain and eye-hand coordination. I do it for half an hour every fourth day, and instead of watching TV as I stitch, I listen to podcasts. (Current faves: Writing Excuses, The Sisterhood, Hardcore History, and Revolutions.)
  • Day Four: Sculpture with Modeling Clay. I really wanted to do something involving visual art, but I’ve gradually come to realize that I’m not drawn to drawing, no matter how much I think I ought to be. So instead of picking up a pencil, I bought some modeling clay, took out some books from the library, and began messing around. The picture at the top of this post is one of the first things I made. I’ve ordered some simple tools, but they’re literally on a slow boat from China. When they arrive, I’ll start messing around in earnest.

There: my daily half-hour program of attempting more than the same-old same-old. So far it’s been fun. It gives me things to do away from the keyboard and computer screen. Of course, I still train in Kung Fu and go for walks every day…but moving in new directions and reviving old amusements has been invigorating.