Category Archives: the red eye

Permission to write: why a writing retreat offers 4 great benefits to your creativity

Time, space, community, and the sensory research benefits of travel: these are the four primary benefits of a writing retreat, and attending one can make a huge difference for your writing. If you’re stalled on a work in progress, if you need to workshop something and see if it’s working, if you want to start something new but constantly get interrupted, spending a weekend away from your regular, daily life can work wonders.

I’m fascinated by studying the creative process of female authors in particular. Women are told to “have it all,” to “lean in,” and to strive twice as hard for about half the benefits. I think female authors often feel pressure to cast their writing to the side and not give it the time and attention it needs. I think, too, there are things preventing not only publication of more female authors or more critical acclaim, but obligations preventing the work itself.

“A woman,” Virginia Woolf wrote, “must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 1 Woolf spoke of both a literal and allegorical space during a time when poetic license, publishing, access to funding and education were easier for men of all classes to obtain but were usually only possible for women with some family money permitting the undertaking of “leisure class” avocations. Writing can mean a lot of things to lots of people—an artistic undertaking, a career (or second career one hopes will become the primary one), a small business, or a hobby. Creative writers of fiction, poetry, and essays often describe writing as a need akin to an addiction, yet they also just as frequently discuss roadblocks to it—creative blocks, lack of time, lack of access to spheres for learning to better their craft, lack of publishing opportunities, lack of reliable technology…the list could go on. True, writing can be as simple and inexpensive an act as finding a pencil and piece of paper and requires only so much education as fundamental literacy, but still, to write professionally, to write often and well and unfettered from concern of “I ought to be doing something more concretely useful to my family,” you do need more. A secondhand laptop. A basic word processor program. A training ground. And, above all, permission.

Permission to write comes first from within. A writer has to allow that writing is as important a thing to creative health, mental health, career health as attending job training, seeing a therapist, sending the kids to school, or taking a yoga class. Human beings without some physical, mental, or creative outlet outside of their primary obligations lack some level of motivation to continue doing those primary obligations. For some, family and friends can fill this void, but even still, we need our arts, crafts, books, yarn, running shoes, hiking boots…something. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, or, in the immortal words of Cyndi Lauper 2:

“Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun”

When we are thus hidden “away from the rest of the world” by failing to express ourselves, we subtly acknowledge that writing is a less serious pursuit than the rest of our lives. We delegitimize it, even prioritizing it less than other pursuits, perhaps because it is so often solitary. Think of anything you do to unwind after your day—how many of those activities can be done socially? Communally? Or at least can be done with other people in the room? Writing, for many, requires an intensity of focus conducive to shut doors and noise-canceling headphones. This sort of focus certainly also “hides [us] away,” but I would argue that eschewing this sort of artistic hiding ultimately hides us more—we then have no voice on the stage, no realized works, not even a trunk of manuscripts left unpublished. Which sort of hiding is more tragic? And which is merely necessary for the creative process?

A huge segment of my friends and acquaintances are writers. Many are published. Many teach writing. Many wish they could write more and have more time for their craft. Many miss the forced deadlines of writing programs or National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or have fallen out of the habit of writing every day. I hear a lot of sorrow in the voices of people talking about lack of uninterrupted stretches of several hours, voicing the reality that some folks’ concentration styles requires a great burst of word volume to start a project. One friend and former classmate reported she occasionally checks herself into a hotel for the weekend just to get writing done, away from the distractions of her regular life. Still others participate in bootcamps—writers tapping away in a room together for hours at a time. I’ve done a few of those over the course of a day, weekend, and some as long as a week. These are all great and have their unique benefits. But of all these special approaches to writing, what I’ve come to see as a truly viable option that affords the time, space, and novelty of sensory input needed for productivity as well as the chance to network and commune collegially with other writers is a retreat weekend.

There’s something inherently different about a retreat weekend that can’t be replicated by other means. A solitary hotel stay is great for focus, but it lacks the novelty of sensory stimulation and it certainly lacks community and networking. The bootcamps I’ve done with colleagues are also great, but often we’re just holed up in an empty classroom during the 9-to-5 for a week. This model is great for focus and certainly doesn’t lack for community and networking, but it has even less novelty of sensory stimulation than a well-appointed hotel or bed and breakfast—you are literally in the most familiar of environments and go back home to your normal routine in the evenings. In some cases, the door of a windowless room is routinely locked during writing sprints, giving you literally nothing but your laptop and bare walls to inspire you. A retreat weekend is something very different, something that aligns the sensory, community, and focus, and allows for a great deal of flexibility and freedom of process.

Last spring, I attended the Bourbon Ridge Writing Retreat hosted by Raw Dog Screaming Press in the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio (some great photos are posted on RDSP’s web site). I got to see old friends, made new friends, and managed in the course of just a few days to not only make great progress on a novella but got much-needed editing work done on several projects, outlined a new YA series that had been up to that point just a flicker of an idea, and taught myself to use Scrivener—a beast of a tutorial that otherwise would eat up several evenings for over a week if done piecemeal. I read bits of other writers’ work, got to observe some of their creative processes, participated in a group reading, went hiking under crystal blue skies in the crisp, early spring air, and joined in the formation of so many ridiculous inside jokes about the limited fire starting skills of the group and a still-lingering debate about bad (or very good) supermarket beer. I’ve since read some of these fellow writers’ work and found a new community I know I could still turn to for discussion, idea inspiration, and professional contacts. From that weekend alone, I learned a new poetic form, I talked other writers out of plot knots in their own work, and the sensory experience provided setting inspiration that I’ll always be able to draw on for future projects.

It may be cliché to need a cabin in the woods to set one’s head to creative thinking, but nature, exercise, and travel can indeed shake perspective just enough to get the juices flowing. I’ve written before about the benefits of endorphins and creativity and how yoga and meditation are integral to my writing process. Hiking is seen by many as a form of walking meditation, and walking itself has enough cardiovascular benefit to encourage endorphin production. In fact, a new study recently discussed how leptin—not just endorphins—can also contribute to the sensation known as a “runner’s high.” Whatever the chemical mechanism in the body, exercise produces great results for the creative person: greater focus, a feeling of euphoria and well-being that may energize and inspire, and the benefit of sensory input during an outdoor walk, run, or hike. Observing nature (or any new setting, really) with all five senses is key to drawing on that material later—every smell of a flower, ever flick of a squirrel’s tail, every cool breeze across your cheek can be mined for the same moment in a story, book, or poem.

Travel itself is research. Even mundane moments of travel, like the Samuel Beckett-esque wait I endured picking up a rental car after a bumpy flight. As I stood in a winding, too-long line full of other weary travelers, I noticed the streaky fingerprints on the half-empty vending machine, the snatches of overheard cell phone conversations, and the grim conditions of the rental car office’s walls. The faces of the employees were haggard, unsmiling, and spoke of long hours and likely a stream of less patient customers than I. All of that input is now fair use in my writing. During the same trip, I made a simple observation of the jauntily-painted door of a brownstone I drove past. I snapped a cell phone photo of it and wrote an entire horror story about what might dwell behind that flashy rectangle of wood and brass. Travel expressly to somewhere beautiful is even more a wellspring of writing research. In high school, I spent a week at a beach house in Oak Island, North Carolina, and now over twenty years later I still write about that house, that stretch of sand, the play of the full moon on the ocean and the strange effects of seaside humidity that melted lipstick in the tube and frizzed my hair into a coppery cotton ball. If called upon to write a scene of someone lying in a hammock regarding the ocean, it would be that hammock and that ocean.

At the Bourbon Ridge retreat, I filed away moments on my drive from my urban Dayton neighborhood to the retreat site, off gravel-lined roads that wound and dove around much hillier terrain than exists in the western half of the state. I blasted Taylor Swift and gloried in sunshine and freedom. I filed away into that sensory research place the cabin’s leather couches (perfect for napping or long conversations), the feel of smooth-polished wood floors (slippery under our socked feet), the play of firelight across laughing faces, the slip of muddy terrain, sun through leaves, and the call of birds in the trees. I filed away coffee sipped on the front porch on chilly mornings and sunshine on bare shoulders in late afternoon. And I filed away the heady rush of returning safely home to a comforting and unhealthy dinner of cheeseburgers and the good night’s sleep of the exhausted. So in addition to all the friends, laughter, and intensely focused productivity, there are wellsprings of travel material I can call upon when I need it.

Because, too, cementing a place into your writing allows the memory to linger longer. I used an old apartment of mine as the basis for Sam Brody’s pad in The Red Eye, and I know doing so caused me to remember that apartment more vividly than other places I lived but didn’t similarly immortalize. Since getting serious about my fiction writing, I’ve tended to observe places with a keener eye, to listen to conversations with a more attentive ear, and to always keep one part of my brain in a sort of continuously-recording mode for this Method approach to writing. Look, smell, listen, and then write and remember.

If there were a certain place and group of people and the time needed to dive deep into a piece of your writing, if it would also provide novelty for the senses, and if it allowed you a break from your regular routine, wouldn’t you take it? Again, we go back to Woolf’s conundrum, that in some ways we’re talking about a privileged system, unavailable to all, and we must acknowledge that life and circumstances and responsibilities may not always allow a formal writing retreat. I’m excited about the Broadkill Resort as something different, though, for two reasons. First, it’s a fixed location, not just a one-and-done event, so being able to hold retreat weekends and have rentals of the property at different times of the year that might work better for some people’s schedules is key to accessibility. Secondly, they’re organizing a scholarship fund to make it possible for writers to attend for free. As their fundraising mission statement says, “a place free of distractions, designed for thought and inspiration, is the perfect thing to jumpstart a creative project,” and Broadkill’s scholarship “is a conscious investment in dreams and people.” That’s beautiful—that’s saying to the world that making art matters, that writing is indeed vital, and that its unfettered production should be available to anyone who wants to try.

Chris Baty, the creator of National Novel Writing Month, stated in his 2004 book No Plot? No Problem! that a 50,000 word novel can be written (at the draft stage, not the polished-and-edited stage) in about 40 hours. A three-day weekend spent with limited distractions, beautiful scenery, and nurturing, creative people might garner about 20 hours of active work time—or half a novel. Thus, what Broadkill is basically doing is not just a scholarship for a communal vacation; it’s patronage. It’s giving a writer the funds to sit down and get the words out—and getting the words out amongst beaches, wildlife refuges, historic villages, boardwalks, and all the scenic amenities of an eastern seaside town.

If diving in and attending an event at Broadkill seems like too much in your hectic life but you still want to start to carve out time and space for writing, I do think removing a few simple roadblocks can help:

– A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about how a $40 piece of hardware increased my writing productivity, and this idea holds true. Figure out what technological issues you’re experiencing and brainstorm ways around them. If you need a computer, look into second-hand machines or tablets. With Google docs and access to free wifi at a library or café, your investment here could be very minimal—far less than you assume. And if learning new technology is daunting, libraries can again be a good resource for free training.

– You’d be surprised what you can get done in just five to thirty minutes a day. I wrote my short story “The Storytellers” on my phone’s notepad in five-minute increments when walking to meetings. As a flash piece, it’s short, and those five-minute increments built up over a few weeks; the final version was eventually published in the October 2013 edition of Flash Fiction World (since republished in my collection Grinning Cracks). If you’re in your car a lot, you could consider dictating story ideas with either your phone or a voice recorder. If you commute via public transportation, this is a perfect time to get some writing in, even if it’s longhand. A lot of The Curiosity Killers was written in twenty minute bursts at the end of my lunch hour, and I used to scribble ideas for the first early drafts of The Red Eye on scrap paper next to my cash register when I worked a retail job. If you have enough down time to play Candy Crush while waiting in line at the grocery store, you have enough down time to get a few lines of a story written. I’ve been working on the outline for The Girl with Mechanical Wings almost exclusively longhand at a coffeehouse down the street from my house for a max of about a half an hour each time.

– Let go of your internal editor during the first draft. Don’t even call it a first draft—call it Draft Zero. Let the words flow and worry about editing them later.

– I’m a big believer in the Pomodoro Technique if you have a longer stretch of time to spend but need frequent breaks. Do your work in spurts of twenty-five minutes with five minute breaks, and you’ll be surprised at your productivity.

The luxury of the uninterrupted stretches of time is obvious and compelling, and I’m excited to support Broadkill Resort and see what’s in store there for 2016. We’re less than a week into this new year, too, so consider adding a greater dedication to your writing to your list of resolutions. If it hasn’t worked in the past to write in short chunks of time, consider a retreat. If you stare with pressure and terror at a blank page when you know you have hours to spend on a piece, start off small and build up. Whatever your process has been, try something new. Who knows? You just might have a book by the end of the year—or even sooner.

1 From A Room of One’s Own, 1929.

2 “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was originally written in 1979 by Robert Hazard, but Lauper changed the lyrics on her 1983 album She’s So Unusual, changing it into a female POV and making the feminist message more overt.

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NaNoWriMo 2015: Success in Failure

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every few years since 2002. I wrote three Sam Brody books originally as NaNoWriMo projects, including The Red Eye, as well as a paranormal romance novel (Blood Makes Noise). A lot of these hastily written first drafts were side projects at the time, thus a few of them haven’t made it much past the first or second draft stage and are things I still consider “works in progress” rather than ready to go on submission. I’ve given workshops on NaNo tips and strategies, written posts on this very blog about it, and incorporated it into my teaching. I’m also at work on a non-fiction book about how to apply the NaNo writing binge model to writing even faster, with a goal of completing a first draft in as little as three days.

If you’re not familiar with the basic rules of NaNoWriMo, it’s an international challenge to write a work of fiction of 50,000 words or more in precisely thirty days. The challenge takes place in November, partly due to its high number of American federal holidays, allowing for catch-up and breaks in routine from one’s work and school obligations. There is no reward for “winning” at this challenge, other than bragging rights, although many NaNo authors have had their November works published. In addition to my own urban fantasy novel publication in 2014, lots of other pretty neat books originally written during NaNoWriMo.

But many have not, including those composed by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. Though Baty has written a couple of great books on how to be successful at the challenge, even he himself hasn’t gotten his fiction published, which makes many folks wonder how useful the challenge really is for serious fiction authors.

Now that NNWM ’15 is officially over, and I’ve failed at it for the first time myself, I’m struggling to articulate the best and the worst of the challenge and what its grand purpose really best serves. Because, yes, I failed this year, and failed pretty spectacularly, but it matters not one whit in the grand scheme of my novel writing career.

My first attempts at NaNo were among the first times I’d ever written something longer than a short story. I did write one novel before my first NaNo, an experimental bindungsroman called Battlefield which I will likely never, ever revise or submit anywhere. And while this is currently my only “trunk novel” (a novel shoved into a proverbial trunk and never published, at least not during an author’s lifetime), it likely won’t be my last. After Battlefield failed to inspire me enough to continue working on it, I turned to short stories and essays and thought writing novels was scary. Short works were my primary public writing output until 2011, when Etopia Press released my first novella, We Shadows Have Offended, and in the background of it all, NaNoWriMo participation showed me that I was perhaps wrong to doubt my ability to write something longer.

To succeed at reaching the NaNo goal, you can go about it one of two ways: write in long stretches a few days of the week, or write a little bit every day. The latter method is better and usually requires only an hour or two daily commitment. By producing at least 1,667 words each day for thirty days, you will, indeed, have at least 50,000 words written on November 30th. You could also accomplish this solely on weekends if you had to, gluing yourself to your chair for about six hours each of a Saturday and Sunday all month and doing little else. Baty talks at length in No Plot? No Problem! about the reality that a first-draft really only takes between forty and fifty hours of work. This is also the premise of my own book discussing the three-day novel strategy.

But it sometimes isn’t the sheer perseverance required to sit and churn out likely not-very-good prose very quickly. Sometimes it’s a need to revise as you go, which is time consuming, a need to hit professional deadlines, or a need to work on something different from what you’ve been writing of late. I write because it’s my primary creative outlet, and as a creative outlet, I want to feel inspired by something before setting off on a particular new project (and only that project, eschewing all others). Still, even I have writing-based obligations, forthcoming releases to proofread, invitations to submit to anthologies, and the need to do at times high-level research or outlining before getting too far along with a very complicated work.

NaNo worked great for The Red Eye, because a) I didn’t outline it first, b) it required zero research beyond very, very minor things, and c) it has a contemporary setting and centers around a character in a career field similar to work I myself had done before (the radio show hosting, not the dragonslaying and telekinetic powers, of course). Thus, it could essentially flow freely as inspiration struck with little in the way of all the things that can stall a book. The other successful attempts I made at this endeavor were in a similar vein: sequels to The Red Eye, thus also with the easy setting and characters, and Blood Makes Noise, which (though not officially) basically takes place in the same universe and is also contemporary fantasy. With BMN, I did have to do some research, but it was travel-based; my protagonists are on the run from a baddie and basically drive around the country to avoid him. Thus, the most I did was some map searches and calculations of gas mileage and travel speed in different weather conditions, all of which was pretty painless and interesting.

So why did I fail this year? I tried to deviate from this model too much. Instead of working on a writable-out-of-the-box idea, I started working on the sequel to my admittedly complex time travel novel, The Curiosity Killers, the bulk of which I wrote over a period of about three years. I did research, both historical and scientific, and probably spent just as much time reading or actively researching as I did writing. Though I aimed to scale back the necessary amount of research required for its sequel, The Girl with Mechanical Wings, when I spent an entire day making a database of members of the Roanoke Colony and another day reading the released Project Mogul reports about the Roswell incident, I knew I was in trouble—there was no way, without leaving great swaths of the book unwritten pending research, that I could complete this undertaking in just a month. Even toward the end, I deluded myself, but upon realizing I was still lacking important research on the status of interracial marriage laws in the 1940s (yes, as you can tell, this is a book about a lot of things), I knew I had to throw in the towel. With just over 21,000 words completed mid-month, I had to rethink my strategy.

About that time, an editor I met at a convention announced an anthology call on a subject I’ve long been fascinated by. The deadline wasn’t for a few months, and the length requirement sounded feasible. I set my novel aside and decided to permit myself some leeway—if I couldn’t finish 50,000 words on one piece, I would see if I could work on multiple projects and complete the required number of words cumulatively between them. And, while I wound up the month having written a total of 29,329 words on both pieces together, this was still too short to “win.” I am, on paper, a failure.

Seriously? This isn’t what failure looks like, not by a long shot.

I’m about 25% of the way through a sequel to my first science fiction novel, and I’ve completed the first draft of an almost-novelette-length horror story close to 7,000 words long. Nearly 30,000 words in a month when I’ve worked full-time and had multiple family and extracurricular obligations is pretty darn impressive. In between all that, I did proofreading on two separate works and released both a print and ebook second editions of a short story collection. The only failure here is in the arbitrary, prize-less contest which, even if I’d “won,” would have still required massive amounts of revision. If anything, November was one of my most successful writing months in recent memory, yet I don’t get to claim bragging rights for this contest. I’m extremely proud of my friends and colleagues who did reach their goals, but I think what I accomplished isn’t too shabby, either.

I like writing quickly, don’t get me wrong, and I think practicing writing quickly at a steady clip is an important training exercise for new and aspiring novelists. But what really got The Curiosity Killers complete during its drafting was a slow and steady pace with revision and research done along the way rather than in a big, anxiety-riddled flurry at the end. With projects needing a lot of research, especially, it may not be that you have to spend three or four years on a single book, but trying to cram it into thirty days will leave it shoddy and unsupported. If you skimp on research up front, you’re likely to need to make bigger revisions once you’ve had a chance to go back and figure out if you were correct in your assumptions and placeholders. My goal is still to get The Girl with Mechanical Wings done relatively soon and definitely before 2016 is over, but I’m glad I didn’t try to dash through it so fast.

My advice for anyone else who “failed” at NaNo this year is, in sum, this: some projects fit quick writing very well, and some simply do not. Know which kind of book you want to write before you begin. If you want to have 50,000 words completed on November 30th, put your truly ambitious project aside and work on something a little simpler. Both the simple book and the harder one will thank you for understanding the differences between them, and they will both be better in the end.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 6

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I’ve posted my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events. This is the last post in the series. You can find the earlier parts all linked at the end of this set of questions.

1. Who is your favorite author?

Because he’s the first popular fiction author who really got me reading voraciously, Stephen King. It isn’t so much that individual books of his stand out among my favorites, but he definitely taught me through all his work about character and dialogue and the fact that “horror” can mean a lot of different things and be just as subtle a genre as any other.

2. What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

I have several Sam Brody/Red Eye projects I’m working on as well as working on the sequel to The Curiosity Killers, tentatively titled The Girl with Mechanical Wings. I’m also putting out a new edition of my self-published short story collection Grinning Cracks and just released an audio version of my short story “Method Writing.”

3. Where else can we find you online?

Blog: kwtaylorwriter.com, Twitter: @kwtaylorwriter, Facebook: facebook.com/kwtaylorwriter, Instagram: @kwtk, and Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/K.W.-Taylor/e/B005Y183PE

The rest of my Confessions of a Writer series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 3

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

1. How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

I don’t get to write every day, but I try to, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes. I write either on my lunch hour or for a few hours in the early evening. Weekends are tough while the weather’s still good, because I like to get outside and gather inspiration. When I do NaNoWriMo, I sometimes do a bootcamp weekend day of writing for up to eight hours with just a few breaks. When I start to get in the “zone,” I try not to stop! The last few chapters of The Curiosity Killers were written on weekend-long writing binges, and I distinctly remember working for hours on my laptop at my dining room table one fall evening, beaming with excitement when I could finally type “The End.”

2. Did you go to college for writing?

I did my undergrad in communication, focusing on radio and TV broadcasting. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a disc jockey (instead, I used that experience as inspiration for Sam Brody’s career and workplace in The Red Eye). As I took more classes in literature and writing, however, I considered changing my major to English but was too far invested in finishing within four years. I went to grad school, first getting an MA in literature with a little creative writing coursework and then in June of ’15, I finished an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. Even my com major had a lot of writing in it, however, including a course in TV screenwriting, which is something I’d like to do more of in the future.

3. What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors, or grammar errors?

None of these are awesome. Spelling errors bother me the most, because in this age of spellcheck, we should all know better. I am a comma perfectionist and realize not everyone else can be, so punctuation errors don’t bother me quite so much. Grammar errors get fuzzy once we’re talking about creative writing or style choices, and grammatical rules evolve over time. I’m becoming less of a prescriptivist the older I get.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 2

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

  1. What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

The first concrete piece I remember writing that I think would qualify as a real piece of fiction was a short story I wrote in high school called “The Conspiracy to Catch Dierdre Long.” It was a romantic comedy about two teachers set up by their students. I also remember writing a horror romance in early college—the title now escapes me—about a rock star who quits performing to lead a quite life out of the spotlight but is then found out by a stalker.

  1. What’s the best part about writing?

The best part about writing is shutting out the real world for a bit and envisioning my scene. I try to engage all five senses and truly feel as if I’m my point-of-view character, then just allow the scene to play out, seeing how it would unfold both adhering to my outline and perhaps deviating from it, and experiencing moments for their greatest emotional and thematic impact. I like being able to slow moments down and speed them up and experiment with them until I’m happy with how they look and feel in my mind’s eye as I get that first draft down on paper. Revision is somewhat painful and tedious, though necessary of course, and pre-writing activities (outlining, character creation, getting the essential elements decided) is also sometimes tedious. The idea generation stage doesn’t bother me, as I tend to have strange concepts occur to me at odd times, which I then just file away in a notepad document on my phone to comb through later when it’s time for the next project. But it’s that golden time of the actual hands on the keyboard, first draft where everything just flows out and gets filtered through my brain that is the most creative, zen-like time of my day. I can imagine and create and first draft for several hours at a time and feel like barely a second has passed. That is when I truly feel like my best self, like I’m engaged in what I was always meant to do.

  1. What’s the worst part about writing?

Even worse than revision is proofreading copy prior to going to press. By that point, I’ve read and re-read the material so much that I’m blind to the tiniest of errors. I usually read aloud, very slowly, or enlist a second reader to help so that I can actually catch any final typos that even my editor missed.

  1. What’s the name of your favorite character and why?

In everything I write, I tend to get a favorite character and enjoy working on their scenes quite a bit. In my Red Eye series, it’s Sam Brody, a damaged, snarky guy who’s flippant to a fault. With Sam, I tried to design a character around the premise “What if the ‘breakout character,’ the audience favorite, the comic relief, the ‘Fonzie,’ if you will, was the protagonist?” The thing about a comic relief character is that you don’t necessarily want them foregrounded all the time, as their attitude can often be their downfall. It definitely is with Sam, which is why he’s kind of an almost anti-hero in a way, suffering from a need to entertain himself and others even when the fate of the world is at stake. In my upcoming science fiction novel The Curiosity Killers, I’m quite fond of Eddy Vere, the “mad scientist” character, as well as Rupert Cob, the playboy adventurer. Both are complex creatures, but Vere is more damaged and full of gravitas, while Cob is more a mixture of two types of hero: comedic and tragic.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 1

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

 I first began writing in early elementary school, spending my summers on short stories that, in retrospect, were obviously terrible. By high school, I had better figured out that character and plot were vital to storytelling. I used to want to be an actor, actually, until I figured out that writers are actually actors, directors, art directors, cinematographers, and producers of their own movies in a way. Writing a book, therefore, is more creatively fulfilling than just doing one of those jobs.

What genre do you write?

I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, experimental fiction, and have lately been trying some romance, YA, and mystery, though just in the planning stages so far. I don’t want to be constrained to a specific genre but want to tell the best stories I can that continue to challenge me. With my short fiction, I tend to be more offbeat and try things out that I might not do in a full-length novel, making my short pieces much more surreal as a result.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

I have two main works-in-progress going right now: finalizing things with my forthcoming novel The Curiosity Killers, to be released in 2016 from Dog Star Books, and The Skittering, the next work in my Red Eye series (the first two volumes of which were released by Alliteration Ink in 2014). The Curiosity Killers began life as a short story back in 2011. I fleshed out the idea into a full novel and used it as my MFA thesis at Seton Hill University from 2013 to 2015. It’s my first science fiction novel—I’ve written a lot of short SF before but never anything this long or this ambitious—and it required lots of historical research due to its time travel plot. I began The Skittering in late 2014 but haven’t been able to prioritize it until the first draft of The Curiosity Killers was done. My Red Eye series as a whole has been a long time in the works—the first book was originally a NaNoWriMo project several years before its eventual release. After The Skittering, I have at least one more book planned in the series.

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