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Today I was having a chat with a web-savvy friend who consults, volunteers, and works on several creative projects simultaneously. She mentioned that she has been feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, rushed, drained, and used in the last year.

I could relate. Last autumn I think I slept an average of 4 hours a night, and last summer I think I was home maybe one weekend of four, and perhaps one weeknight in five. I’ve said yes to every convention invitation for years.

The wonderful, marvellous thing about being in a big city like Toronto with a vibrant, sparkling arts scene and amid a community of creators and makers who have so many meet ups, networking events, pub nights, and conventions. It’s fun. It’s inspirational. It’s amazing.

But it’s draining, too.

Come December of last year I was so fried I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think.

I was so busy I wasn’t actually, well, you know… writing.

Which, yeah, is sort of not good for a writer.

Marketing blogs talk a lot about being involved, about social media being a conversation instead of just ad-blasting, about the importance of being accessible and present. And I had grown up in the convention world, so I also loved the thrill of having access to creators and the opportunity for casual conversation with them.

And of course, I’d been supported by so many other artists on my journey to pro, so I was happy to pay that debt forward to other new people in the community. To get involved with the community, to support other artists of other mediums, and to celebrate creativity in general.

But what few blogs talk about is the need to find a balance. I have a full time dayjob. I also have a full time writing job : the writing, the editing, the professional communication, the admin, the marketing, the appearances. I also have an ad hoc consulting job. And an ad hoc acting job.

That’s, like… 100 hours/week.  Out of 168 hours.  Sure, that’s 9 hours per night to sleep, but when I add in all the rest of the stuff I was doing… yeah, no.

So how do you balance that?

Well, sad to say, sometimes you just have to say no.

I know! I was scared to say no, too. I thought, “If I say no to this convention, this producer, this interviewer now, I’ll never be invited again. I’ll be shunned! And when I have another big book to push, I’ll have no allies and no friends and no one who will want to help me market, no one who will invite me to be at their conventions, or on their podcasts. If I’m not there my fans will think I am snobby and inaccessible and an ass!”

I said yes to everything.

Which, I think, was a detriment.  Because if I was out at conventions and pub nights, and saying yes to everything, when was the time to write that new book, that webseries, that audio drama, those things that I was out there to promote and push?

I wasn’t making anything new. I am a creator. I was not creating.

And that’s not fair to me. Or to my readers.

At some point, I had to pull back, make my writing time sacred, and start to say no.

Only I didn’t know how.

Eventually, after many long conversations with creative folk and freelance artists, I came up with the following list. I ask myself these questions, weigh the answers, and then come to my decision about whether I say yes, or I say no thank you.

When Do I Say Yes? And When Do I Say No?

My only hard and fast rule is this: I say “yes” to nothing when there is a drink in my hand. I will consider, and chat, and talk about it, but at no point will I flat agree to anything when I’m not totally sober. Not for fear of being taken advantage of, but because I fear I will overpromise myself or forget a prior engagement. I always request a follow up email, which I can consider in the cold light of morning with my calendar and my schedule in front of me. There’s no point in agreeing to things and then becoming known as the one who talks big but can never make it out. I also ask others to consider projects, but I never ask for a hard yes/no when they have a drink in their hands, and I always allow that the answer might change when they’re sober and don’t get upset about that.

Beyond that, I consider the following:

1)  Am I getting paid? Straight up. Is there money for me?

1.a) If there is no money in it for me, will I at least be recompensed enough that I my costs will be covered? (i.e., am I being asked to “Pay to Play”? Or will I come out of the day/event/weekend with a $0 balance? Nothing spent, but nothing lost.)

1.b) If there is no money for me, where does it add value? Will it give me the chance to hang with people I like? Will it be genuinely portfolio or marketing or fanbase building?  Will it give me access to a segment of audience that I haven’t had the opportunity access before? Would it just be really damn cool and a lot of fun?

2) Is there a chance that I’m going to be asked to more than I’m agreeing to do straight up? If there is, do I want to be that involved? Do I have the time/money/emotional ability to be that involved?

3) Will it COST me anything but time and presence?  If so, is it an acceptable amount (like a bus ticket) or something I can’t swing (like a plane ticket and a weekend of meals and hotels).

4) Will it negatively impact my other projects/reputation/time to write? If it does infringe on my time to write, do I have anything that can be pushed back or can be okay if it has to be ignored for a bit?

5) Did I go last year or already do this event/podcast/interview/convention? Do I have anything new, any extra value to add, from my previous appearances or visits? Is my presence fatiguing and would it be better if I allow the hearts to grow fonder with a little absence? Would I actually gain anything new from participating this year, as opposed to waiting until next year or until I have a new project to market? Do I really enjoy the environment, the parties, and the people and if so, does it really matter if I have nothing new to sell?

6) If I can’t do it right now, can I do it later? Can I do just part of it instead of all of it? Can I offer to go next month, or to the next event, or to just one of the four days, or do a smaller role on the project? Can I still be involved without being involved to the extent that I’m unable to?

Volunteering

Of course, I don’t just wait for people to come to me. When I find out about events, classes, or projects, I also step up and volunteer. I just contacted the public library over an event I read about on Tumblr, and I’m always sending out letters and emails telling people that I’m happy to come do a free talk, do volunteering, etc.  I’m always happy to answer emails and writer questions. I do this because I find projects I think are worth supporting and I want to do so.

And in the webseries community, I always let people know that I’m free to be a PA, or do catering, or be an extra or am happy to audition for something if they want me as an actor. Why? Because I find film fun, and cool, and really really interesting. I consider each day on a set a learning experience. There’s no cost there, because I am getting a free education and fun.

When It’s My Turn To Ask The Favour

1) I pay people. Period.  We all have bills to cover and rent to keep up. I try very hard to make sure I have the grant money/budget/ savings to pay people what they and their time, product, etc. is worth.

2) If I can’t pay people, I try to find a way to make sure they come away with a $0 balance – I pay for parking, or gas, or food, or accommodation, or whatever.

3) And if I can’t afford that, then I try to do an even swapsies. I offer guest blog posts, or to connect people with other influential people in the industry, or offer to share my hotel room, or I work in their next project for free, etc.

3) I don’t ask more of people than they’ve promised, and if they have to pull out or reduce their involvement for any reason, I accept that.

4) I try to keep our communication professional, drama-free, and understanding. I try to keep our friendship and casual relationship separate from our working agreement so that if the latter crumbles, the former won’t be affected. It’s not always possible, but I try.

Lastly, I try to add value.

1) I ask if the person who approached me needs more people – another author to interview after me, or if they require vendors I can get in contact with on their behalf, or if there’s anything extra or more I can offer while I’m a guest at a convention, like being the masquerade judge or hosting a workshop, or doing a giveaway. I support the crap out of webseries I’ve been involved in. Anything that enriches the event/project/request without costing me anything extra.

2) If I have to say no, but the project is worth supporting, I try to find a replacement for myself. (Recently I had to decline an anthology due to time constraints, but I connected the editor with another academic who met the anthology requirements and who had the time to write the requested essay.)

3) I make a point of saying thank you. I make a point of having a drink and a chat with the ConCom, following up interviews with an email thanking them for inviting me, sending a follow up card or letter, etc.

TL;DR

So, sometimes it’s heartbreaking to have to say no, but in the end, your ability to do that which people are asking you to do is important. If I continued to say yes to everything, I wouldn’t actually have time to write new books. Which… is sort of the whole reason I’m being asked to these pub nights, conventions, interviews, etc. And relaxing and taking self-care time is important, too.

It seems selfish, but I do have to always keep an eye on how much sleep I can get, how much social time with my loved ones, and the state of my wallet, as well as guarding my writing/acting time so I can make good on the promises I’ve made to agents, publishers, and editors.

And the thing I learned? Nobody ever takes a “no” personally. Saying “no, thank you, I can’t right now” this time doesn’t ever mean that you won’t get invited again. Especially if you try to reschedule on the spot.

“No” is a hard word to say, but sometimes it’s the best one.

Because I owe that to my writing. And myself.

weeki_wachee_previewI SOLD A STORY!

I am very pleased to announce that my short story “The Moral of the Story” will be published in
Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods — Faith in Science Fiction & Fantasy. It will be released FALL 2014.

You can also read the PRESS RELEASE and view the Table of Contents here, and follow the hashtag #Tess18 for more info here!

About the Tesseracts Anthology series:

(From the website)

The first Tesseracts anthology was edited by Judith Merril. Since its publication in 1985, 299 authors/editors/translators and guests have contributed 502 pieces of Canadian speculative fiction, fantasy and horror for this series. Some of Canada’s best known speculative fiction writers have been published within the pages of these volumes – including Margaret Atwood, William Gibson, Robert J. Sawyer, and Spider Robinson (to name a few). Tesseracts Eighteen is the forthcoming volume in the series. The entire series includes Tesseracts One through Seventeen, plus Tesseracts Q, which features translations of works by some of Canada’s top francophone writers of science fiction and fantasy.

About Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods

Jacob wrestled with an angel in the night, earning him the name “Israel”, which means “struggles with god.” Buddha wrestled, and the hero of the Mahabarata wrestled too. Wrestling is a part of faith. Having a faith can help immensely with struggles in our lives, but we also must struggle against the rules, the boundaries, and the very doctrine at times. We all wrestle with our cultures and our gods, whether we believe in them or not. Faith is not passive. Human progress has relied on brave souls willing to challenge convention through their beliefs. And faith is not separate from Fantasy and Science Fiction. Fantastic elements are integral to all major faiths–they have their gods, fantastic creatures, miracles, blessings, power and magic. We continue that journey into space, possibly encountering worlds with their faiths. Since our cultures all began with fantasy and struggling with faith, Tesseracts 18 will continue the Science Fiction and Fantasy tradition of wrestling with Faith, without declaring all-out war.

This anthology will include as diverse a representation of both real-world religions and faiths of fictional cultures as possible. Stories should not be looking to pass historical or cultural judgment, instead they should feature character-driven plots that include faith, doubt, miracles, spiritual journeys, and diversity of opinion within a faith. Please avoid blanket stereotypes of faith-based cultures. We’d love to see faith surprise us, and surprise science fiction and fantasy readers.

Preview of my story, The Moral Of The Story

Her fingers brush the soft skin, the small smooth of bone under thin flesh behind my left ear, brushing back through wiry hair to where I’ve got it pulled back in preparation for hard work. Lake water, brackish here where it mingles with the St. Lawrence, slides down the side of my neck, summoning goose pimples in its wake. The slick, cool brush of membrane kisses the lobe of my ear and I feel my eyes slide closed, involuntary, as natural as the slight gasp that parts my lips, inflates my lungs, brushes the taste of water and breeze and sunlight across my tongue.

“You came,” the woman in the water says. Her voice is sibilant and filled with nearly inaudible clicks and hard-palate burrs, an accent never before heard in the lower plains of Quebec.

Never heard before the Melt caused all the water levels to rise. Never heard before the Great Dark came and killed all the technology. Never before the Daniel-Johnson dam stopped working, the regulating of the Manicouagan became too much and the river broke through its cement prison. Never before Baie-Comeau was overborne and drowned.

Possibly, perhaps – and maybe I flatter myself a little – never before in the whole of human history. But then, how could we have stories of things like her, if I’m the first to converse with one?

Arrogance is a sin. It’s one of the sins brought the Great Dark.

“I came,” I say, opening my eyes. Sunlight on water dazzles like diamonds. I squint. It’s a comfortable gesture. The lines beside my eyes folding into place is familiar, nearly soothing. “How could I stay away?”

“But did you come for me?” she teases, dipping her chin into the water in a gesture I’ve learned is meant to be coy, flirtatious. Dark hair slips and pools along the surface, shifting and curling like squid ink.

I sit back in the boat, take up my nets, and fling them over the side that she doesn’t occupy. She whistles and clicks, face in the water, summoning fish. This is our deal. She fills my nets, I fill her mind, and we neither of us attempts to harm the other. Actively.

#

I had more hungry mouths to feed than fear of rumours, and that is what initially drove me out onto the unnatural lake. The stories said that there was something in the water that feeds on manflesh. But I am no man, and we needed the fish.

For the first few weeks, it was subtle. An elongated shadow too far down to see clearly, too solid to be a school, but too large to be any breed of fish I had ever caught before. Sometimes, it was a splash on the surface of the otherwise calm lake. Once, my little rowboat lurched under my feet, against current, violent, wrong.

I was being hunted, I realized. Even as I harvested fish, something else sought to harvest me. The rumours were not just stories.

I stayed away for three days. On the fourth my youngest brother patted his stomach morosely and cried, unable to understand why he hungered so. Defeated by his tiny misery, I fetched my father’s harpoon from the hunting shed, and made the short walk back to the rocky shoreline.

My little boat was tied up where I had left it, undisturbed. But, no, see — there were four long scratches in the wood of the stern, naked against the dark stain of tar sealant, brackish water, and age. I bent down, breath caught in the hollow of my throat, and splayed my palm against the slashes. They were finger-width apart from each other, come from a humanish hand.

There was a Creature in the lake. And it was mad at me.

Mad because I dared to fish? Or mad because I did not come back?

I nearly turned away then, abandoned the boat, and the lake, and went to find another way to contribute to the supper table. I am old enough to go to the steam-driven factories, now, but then who would care for the littles?

I could spare a few hours each day to go onto the lake, but I cannot leave them for eight or more hours each day to work, and then shop. My parents would be furious. And I cannot hunt, I have no skill with a bow and arrow, we have no gun and ammunition is too expensive, and the Mayor Creature has not given us express permission. That is courting disaster.

No choice. I had to go back onto the lake.

I hesitated, but I could still hear the little ones’ frustrated wails ringing in my ears. So I gathered up and solidified my courage. Die of hunger, or die on the water.

Those were my only choices.

___________

Image Source: A model floating in the water at Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida. The image by fashion photographer Toni Frissell was published in Harper’s Bazaar in December 1947

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In case you missed it, March 2nd was my agencyForeword Literary’s first birthday! *confetti cannon*





They’re celebrating their paper-less anniversary with some amazing promotions.





For the entire month of March, all of the FastForeword eLights will be free on Smashwords and 99 cents on Amazon. Novel-length FFWD e-books will be 99 cents on Smashwords and $2.99 on Amazon. Other promotions will occur throughout the month. Keep an eye out.





From March 2nd – 8th, the work of FastForeword authors will also be featured in the Read an E-book Week catalog. During this week, our novel-length collections will also be available for free on Smashwords using the coupon code RW100.





Leading off all this promotion will be a new and unique FFWD offering, The Burden of Light. A pay-what-you-want, multimedia-enhanced, Smashwords exclusive with 90 authors involved, it coincides with March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by donating 100% of the
proceeds to colon cancer research.





And of course, MY FastForeword eLight
Hero Is A Four Letter Word is also FREE on Smashwords and 99c on Amazon all week!





You can follow Foreword Literary on Tumblr, on Twitter, befriend us and add our books on Goodreads, and find out about the FastForeword program and catalog of amazing ebooks here.





Happy reading!





And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FOREWORD!

This short story was originally written for inclusion in Outside In Vol. 2. However, due to size constraints, it was released from the volume and with the permission of the editor, I’m sharing it here. Enjoy!

About Outside In Vol 1: We gathered 160 writers from the Doctor Who community to say something new about the stories we know so well. It’s an unprecedented archive of passionate and vocal opinions that capture the essence of Doctor Who and its many-splendoured fandom.

Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the greatest television program ever, you’ll find in these pages mock-angry letters to the BBC, transcripts of council meetings, a menu, flow charts, maps, scripts, timelines…and much, much more.”

*
Not The Doctor I Was Expecting

Review of The Night of The Doctor

J.M. Frey


I am wrongways up, and it hurts. My swimming pool has leaked all over the cloister again, and the bottles of the library books are akimbo on their shelves. My Time Lord is not within me. I moan, wheeze futile, and then open my external scanners wide, and search for the two Hearts I cradle within my own.

He is so far away.

And He is gone such a long time.

I wait, because this is what I do. He runs. I remain.

When He returns his face is new. Younger. But etched with agony,

determination, pain and promise. He wears bandeau of bullets between His Hearts and it makes my corridors quiver with horror. I say to Him the same thing I always say to Him. The thing I’ve been trying to say out loud to Him for eight hundred years.

Hello, Doct–.

I stop.

Something has changed. I flex my telepathic circuits, a slight shiver and curl, having to work harder than I’ve ever needed to in nearly a millennia.

This is my Time Lord.

But this is not my Doctor.

There is an approaching storm in His Head, a void between His Hearts.

I cannot find Susan in Him. I cannot find Ian, or Barbra, Jamie, or Pari, Leela, Ace, Sarah Jane, or Grace. Even our most recent guests are gone: Charley, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly. They are locked away. They are the beloveds of a man who is not this man, a man whose two Hearts are greater in capacity than the sum of the universe, and they do not belong in this Head.

The last Him was the first Him to ever hold out His hand and say “Give me the gun, please.” Future Hims and Past Hims have refused, all the Hims I know have refused. This perhaps should have been my first clue. The first to be cut down by such a weapon, the first to ask for one, the first to decide to become one.

Oh, my Doctor. If we are not Healers, then what are we? What is the point of us?

When He approaches my console, He does not pet. He does not croon. He does not call me His dear, dear old Girl, his Sexy, and I wheeze in horror.

He was the first to willingly ask for a gun, to hold His hand out, palm up, fingers splayed in the San Franciscan rain.

He fights always, and instead, with words. “Please don’t,” and “Think this through!” and “I can find you a planet, I can take you far from Here where no one needs be harmed and you can start again,” and “No more!” He pleas, He whispers, He promises, He bullies, He threatens, He warns. And if that fails then, and only then, does He fight with something bigger, stronger, sharper, more terrifying. Only then does the great dark anger of Him froth and boil. Only then does He make the decisions that no one else is qualified to make; the choice to amputate to save the Universe, our eternal patient.

We have abstained from the Time War, but when lives are at stake, when the universe crumbles, again and again He lifts His palms, splays His fingers and asks, “Please. Please. Give it to me.”

What He means, what He always means is I shall be the weapon.

The truth of my Doctor is this: He will never hold a weapon. But He will always allow Himself to become one. That, always and forever that, rather than let another.

It must never be another.

He is The Doctor, and He will take responsibility for being the purgative, the tincture, the radiation, the laser, the cut, the stitch. When it comes time for a blade to be hefted and blood to run, it will be He, and He alone, will wield the scalpel.

That is the promise that is hidden in His title. The Bringer of Darkness, the Oncoming Storm, The Predator, The Valiyard, Time’s Champion, and now… the Warrior? A Time Lord, yes, my Time Lord. But The Doctor. Always and forever my Doctor.

If someone has to make the hard choices, if someone must sacrifice in order to save, my Doctor will always and forever choose Himself first.

And when that time is over, when all the genocides committed, when all our Hearts have broken and our eyes a sore with the burden of their tears, when The Moment has passed, I shall hope, I shall pray, for the return of the Doctor I know and love so well.

That when He has finished this terrible, costly surgery, He will become His own patient. That He will return to me, to my open doors, my open halls, and rest. Find joy. Find love, and laughter, and guests.

Physician, I plead. When this is over, please, please come back to me as you were and… Heal thyself.




*



About J.M. Frey


J.M. is an actor, award-winning SF/F author, fanthropologist and pop culture scholar. She is best known in Doctor Who fandom as the author of “Whose Doctor?” in Doctor Who In Time And Space (McFarland), for her appearances on the Space Channel’s “InnerSPACE” and as the designer/wearer of the cosplay Steampunk light-up TARDIS gown.



www.jmfrey.net | @scifrey

Last night was quite gratified to be included in the Brockton Writers Series reading at Full of Beans.  There were four authors as we all read for about ten minutes (I read from my new anthology HERO Is a Four Letter Word. Natch)After the reading, there was an open Q&A, and some private discussion, and something that came up more than once is if I, as a published author, thought that taking a writing course was a good idea.

Whoa nelly.

How’s that for a can of worms? The thing is, there’s no wrong or right way to answer this question. I, personally, don’t know the asker’s skill level, nor read their work, nor do I know what they’ve already taken or not.

There’s simply no blanket answer for a question like “Should I Take A Writing Course?”

Well, did I take a writing course? I did take some. I took a short story writing, and a playwriting course while in school. My undergrad major was Dramatic Literature, so there was a lot of script writing and analyzing in those classes. I also did a self-directed screenwriting course, and had a TA oversee the creation of a play from concept to public workshop reading to performance.

On top of all that, I was writing scads of fanfic, and engaging in the community there to learn more about storytelling, editing, beta reading, and characterization. I also worked with a writer’s group when I lived in Japan, and I try to be engaged with NaNoWriMo when I can.

So what are some Pros of taking writing courses?

·         Skills and Drills: Each week your teacher/seminar leader/ will probably ask you to read and write something. Just like drilling and learning new skills in a sport, doing so in writing will teach you how you prefer to engage in the physical and creative act of writing. You will learn what kind of spaces you prefer to write in, what kind of time frame you need to carve out, how quickly you can produce something if you hate the story and if you love it, how you need to approach edits for yourself, and of course, you’ll be practicing your punctuation and grammar skills with each piece.

·         Practice: They say that you have to write 10 000 crappy words before you can write any good ones. It may not be an exact science, but I firmly believe that the more you produce, the more you understand how you, personally, prefer to tell stories, and that makes each subsequent work easier to create, to bring into reality.

·         Networking: Creative Lit teachers are usually agents, writers, or publishers. It can’t hurt to know them, learn about their worlds, and get their advice or mentorship. And your classmates might one day be the very people who help guide your career.

·         Learn from others: Every person reads stories and tells stories differently. It’s amazing what you can find in a tale, or produce in your own when you really engage with people of differing genders, sexualities, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and hobbies than you. And if they recommend a book or author, it could possibly lead you down the trail to a wonderful world of books you might have otherwise ignored or never even known about.

·         Learn new skills: In working with your classmates, you might learn something you never knew before: a different storytelling technique, a structural idea, a different way to build characters or plot. And of course, if it’s a course for beginners, you ought to also be learning the foundations of punctuation, grammar, and manuscript formatting.

·         Produce some back catalogue: Maybe none of the work you create while in class will ever be published, but you’ll probably have a stack of writing that you can submit to agents, publishers, anthologies, or collections, if it’s quite polished and ready.

·         Gain confidence: There is honestly nothing more thrilling than  a classmate’s response to your writing. A great note, a scrawled smiley face or a checkmark, a gasp, a small sob, a shout or a yelp, a “No, you can’t end there! Then what?!” These are all gold, and they’ll help you feel confident about yourself and your work.

·         Learn about grants, contests, groups: Or maybe form your own writing group out of your peers.

·         Can workshop submission packages: You can learn to write and hone a query letter, log lines, synopsizes, and pitches.

·         Honesty: Hey, this is a group of strangers. If your work is crap, they’ll tell you so. Hopefully in an encouraging, constructive way, but they’ll still say so. You’ll get a lot of practice with editing, taking constructive criticism, parsing a note to see what the real problem is, working with restructuring and overhauls, and maybe even dealing with haters and trolls.

Of course, there are also cons to taking writing courses:

·         General skill level of those around you may be lower than yours: You may be above the basics, or you may find their storytelling ability less advanced.

·         Can’t tell straight off if your prof will be a good teacher. Not all professors have taken teacher’s school, or are natural pedagogues. It can sometimes be infuriating if they’re a crappy teacher, or just a self-important windbag. Worse, it’s a waste of your time and money.

·         Might kill your passion for writing: Either by boring exercises, mean teachers and classmates, or just oversaturation and too much focus on the writing.

·         Storytelling is not entirely a skill that can be taught. It’s something that you have to find within yourself and hone, and develop. You can’t just go into a class and expect to come out a master storyteller in six months. It’s something that never stops evolving, a skill you never stop honing and exploring and learning. (I’ve been writing for 20 years and I don’t think I’m a master storyteller yet. I don’t think anyone thinks they are).

·         Imagination is not entirely a skill that can be taught. You need to learn how to play, to twist, to envision and debate with yourself.

So, in the end, I think taking some courses can be great to help you get a good foundation and a set of tools to teach you how to be a good, solid, technically proficient writer. But I don’t think any piece of paper or GPA will be able to teach you how to be a good storyteller.  That is something that only practice and sharing your stories with others (both to critique and to praise) will teach you.

Do I think that you should do an entire degree in creative writing? Well… no.

I’m sure I’ll be lynched for this, but I’m not certain what merit there is in doing just creative writing for four years. You need to learn other things, experience and live other things. Writers are not just writers. Writers are biologists, like Julie Czerneda, and scientists like Erin Bow. They are mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, engineers and painters, playwrights and actors, dancers and secretaries, personal assistants and fast food cashiers, janitors and archeologists, activists and bakers.

But maybe that’s just my fear talking. I feared taking a full degree in creative writing because I feared coming out the other side hating it. I feared it would stop being fun and start becoming a chore, like all my other homework. I’ve known plenty of phenominal artists who chose not to get MFAs for the very same reason. But then there are also lots of phenominal artists and writers who did do a full degree, came out loving it and producing amazing work so…

Really, it’s your choice. You know your own opinions and habits better than I do.

So, here’s some actual advice about Writing Courses:

I think they are important. I think they need to be taught and they need to be taken to ensure that you, as a writer, as fully educated in the technical, professional, and skills-oriented foundation of being a storyteller that you can be.

I think the best way to do it is to take courses in the sorts of writing you don’t do normally. Take a class on play or screenwriting if you’re a novelist. Take a class in novels if you normally write poetry or shorts. Take a class in poetry or comics if you write for the screen. The cross pollination of your skill set will teach you many and various ways to tell stories, and perhaps help strengthen your primary story telling set.

Part of the reason The Hunger Games is such a well-received series is the pacing. You start reading the books and you just. Can’t. Stop. Suzanne Collins was a screenwriter as well as a novelist, so you can bet she knew bunches about the three act structure, dialogue, action and narrative pacing, setting up scenes, and things like Chekhov’s Gun. These are all skills that you drill and hone in a screenwriting class. And they are skills that are transferable to novels, poems, short stories, and plays. And fanfiction.

And if you can’t afford a writing course, there are many many books and online tutorials, writing groups (in person or online), communities like NaNoWriMo and AO3, and other resources that are available to you where you can get the same experience and education as you would in your writing course.

I hope this has been helpful!

You’re invited to ring in the new year with the Brockton Writers Series, on Wednesday Jan. 8, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Full of Beans Coffee House and Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., with readings by Katie Boland, J.M. Frey, Michael Mirolla and Sherwin Tjia. Author Cory Silverberg will begin the evening at 6:30 p.m. with a talk about crowd funding and how writers can put it to use. Readings begin at 7:05 p.m. This is a pay-what-you-can event (suggested $3 to $5).  There will be a question and answer period, as well as books and treats, which will be available for sale.  The venue is wheelchair accessible, however, the washroom facilities are not.

Since posting my response on why I choose not to support Orson Scott Card, I’ve recieved a few emails and comments that all ask, essentially, the same question:

If you don’t want to support Card, why not just pirate the book/film?

One commenter, who I will keep Annon out of courtesy, politely suggested this:

Have you thought of looking into pirating pdfs of books by authors you wish not to support? You may be one of those people who prefers hard copies of books, but as a last resort, pdfs are readily available on the internet in ways that let you avoid supporting the author.

Here is my reply:

Thank you very much for your suggestion. Yes, I know what pirating and torrents are. I used to use them when I was young, before I realized I could stream TV shows legally from the broadcaster’s websites, and that there were cheap, quick ways to get ahold of digital copies of media legally. (Or, in the case of many libraries, for free. I know the Toronto Public Library lends ebooks, emags, and films/TV shows for free. And using the library means that creators, at least in Canada, get Public Lending Rights cheques.)

Pirating sometimes can have a positive effect – in situations where the media text is being passed on because it’s unavailable in a certain region, it introduces a media text to audience members who would otherwise have no access or idea that the text exists. In that way, I see it as no different than handing your friend your copy of a book and saying “Read this, I know you’ll like it.” When passing around a digital copy happens like that, I think that’s fine, because it’s a personal interaction and it’s meaningful. It comes with a reccomendation, a word of mouth endorsement, and the potential for an expanded audience and readership for the creator. Often the pirated media text is later bought, or inspires the reciever to buy other texts by the same creator.

 

But more often than not, pirating happens in situations where there are many legal means of acquiring a media text, and usually for very little cost or for free. This sort of pirating is the kind that takes money out of the pockets of the Little Guys of Hollywood, or the publishing industry, or the Boots-On-The-Ground jobs in television.

 

I especially cannot condone pirating as I am a professional creator who relies on people buying my art so I can pay off my student debt, buy my medications and groceries, and keep a roof over my head. And I am friends with other professional artists who require paycheques to pay their mortgages, feed their kids, and take care of their health bills.

 

I cannot in good conscious pirate films, books, music, or other creative media. Anyone’s. Even Card’s.

(“But JM!” I hear you cry, “These corporations have millions of dollars! They can afford to get pirated!”  The answer is – yes, they have millions. And they use that millions to pay the wages of everyone who works on a film/TV show/Book. Which means their pockets are essentially empty when the media text launches. If they don’t recoup that money at the box office/in sales/in residuals and royalties, then they don’t have enough money to make the NEXT project. Which means people having no jobs, or losing the ones they have.

 

“You hypocrite!” I also hear you cry. “You complain about piracy and yet you want us to boycott Ender’s Game!”

 

It’s not hypocrisy. The failed box office of one film sends a corporate message to studios, and does not endanger anyone’s job or position except, perhaps, Card’s. Everyone else who worked on that project has been paid and moved on. It’s a bummer for the studio, but now they know that the rainbow dollar is not impressed with Card’s work, and that it might not be a worthwhile investment next time. Every film comes with failure risks and, in fact, insurance in case it fails.

 

But pirating hundreds of films, shows, albums, and books means thousands of people not getting paid, and not getting paid regularly. Which means they have to stop creating for a living, because they’re not MAKING a living, and have to take a different job to get by.

 

You love your favourite band/author/filmmaker/TV show/artist? You want more of their work? Pay for the work they have out so they can keep creating. End of.)

 

TL;DR – So, while I may not choose to buy Card’s work, I will not steal it. I don’t like the jackass’ views, but I’m also not going to break into his house and steal jewelry from his bedroom, or steal the car from his driveway. Theft is theft. I know how much effort goes into creating an artistic work and I cannot reward the creators whose work I love by robbing them of their rightfully earned dollars, viewing statistics, ratings, and sales. Especially when I want the artist to be able to afford to create more. In the case of Card: I’m perfectly content to just not read it. And, forgive me, but now I have to address what a lot of people seem to be saying without actually saying it. What they are saying is this: “But how can you possibly be okay with such a large and important gap in your reading history. You HAVE to read Ender’s Game. How can you not? How can you hate the book? The book is so good. The book is WORTH READING.”

 

And… well… no. Everyone who has commented about how I can read the book and still not support Card if I steal it is MISSING THE POINT. I don’t WANT to read it. Everyone seems to be a bit hung up on the idea that I would really like Ender’s Game if only I read it, if only I gave it a chance. Everyone seems to think that it’s a book worth reading, that one MUST read. That I, and every other person who considers themselves a geek HAS to read. And while that might be some people’s opinion, I don’t share it.

 

I don’t believe that there is a SF/F cannon of books that one ABSOLUTELY MUST READ OR ELSE.

 

There are books that are good, and have become championed classics for a reason. Books that are worth reading, worth recommending, worth passing on to younger generations. We all have those books, but there’s nothing saying that all those books will be the same for each person, nor that they SHOULD be.

 

I believe in the power of a good book to touch many people, but do I believe that there are books that you MUST read in order to become a proper geek – like articles you must understand to get your PhD? No.

 

Everyone’s personal taste is just that. Personal.

 

And I personally do not like military SF. I don’t like reading it. Even if Card wasn’t an abominable human being, I would not choose to read Ender’s Game. In fact, before I ever knew about Card’s views, I read one of his books, “Enchantment”. It was good enough that I wanted to find more of his work to try out, but when presented with Ender’s Game, I declined it.

 

The number of awards it’s won, the number of people who enjoy it and recommend it will not change the fact that it is still militaristic SF and I don’t like reading things like that.

 

I haven’t read Dune, I haven’t read Starship Troopers. I just barely like Star Trek, and my favourite episodes are the culture-based ones. I stopped watching DS9 when the war started because I lost interests. It’s just simply, and honestly, not my bag. There are many books that I feel that people MUST read (Shapechangers by Jennifer Roberson, The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley) but would I ever pester and condemn and shame people for choosing not to read these books because they just don’t match people’s taste. Not every book will appeal to every reader. As an author, yes, I hope I write a book that appeals widely to a vast swath of readers; as a professional writer whose paycheques pay my rent, yes, I hope it hits big so millions of people buy it. But as an artist I understand that all I can do is create something that speaks to me and hope that it touches at least one other person.  So yes, thank you for your suggestion but I do not want to read Ender’s Game, and I certainly will not be pirating it to do so.

(Friday November 1st, I will be reading and signing at Glad Day Books/Geeks Out’s SKIP ENDER’S GAME.)

Saturday:

10:00am - Oak Ridges –  Writers’ Workshop with J.M. Frey: World and Culture Building
3pm - Oak Ridges – Walking the Fine Line between Fan-Scholar and Scholar Fan
4pm - Gormley – Cosplay: Doctor Who Style
8pm - Grand York – Judging the Masquerade

Sunday:

10:00am - Newmarket - Love and the Doctor
12:00 -Oak Ridges - Reading from something NEW AND WONDERFUL
7pm - Newmarket - Is Doctor Who Still a Children’s Program?

On November 1st, 2013, I am proud to say that I will be participating in SKIP ENDER’S GAME.

 

Where: Glad Day Book Shop, 3rd floor event space When: November 1st, 7pm-9pm

RSVP here.

The lovely GEEKS OUT is coordinating a continent-wide series of parties, each hosted at a different venue in different cities, where LGBTQA artists of all stripes will be doing readings, screenings, musical performances, and many other fun things.  I think this is a great idea, because not only is it asking people to skip the film, but this way people will be exposed to lots of other fantastic artists whose beliefs and work support the queer community.

However, since announcing that I will be appearing at SKIP ENDER’S GAME TORONTO, I’ve had a few questions about why I’m supporting this event, and why I’ve chosen to boycott “Ender’s Game”.  To make things easy, I thought I’d answer those questions here.

If you have more questions, I’m happy to answer them, but I’d like to keep the tone respectful, please.

Also, there’s a really thorough and thoughtful set of FAQs on the official Skip Ender’s Game site, so I really encourage every .

#1 What about all those people who worked on the film? They won’t get paid if we don’t go.

They’ve already been paid.

As someone who works in film, let me clarify: Everyone who works on making a film who did not risk their own money gets a paycheque for their work. The final result of the box office does not affect the pay of the actors, the camera man, the crew, the caterer, the wardrobe department, the locations scouts, etc. They get paid their weekly allotment as they’re working on the film, just as anyone else might if they work in retail, an office, etc.
The only people who get a share any of the box office money are the people who put money into making the film – the studio, the funding agencies, the granting agencies, and the executive producers.
Sometimes, like in the case of the Sherlock Holmes films and Robert Downey, jr, an actor can sometimes also be both the actor and one of the executive producers.
In the case of “Ender’s Game”, Card was one of the executive producers. Obviously, I haven’t seen his contract, but as an executive producer, he is in all likelihood going to be getting a cut of the box office, residuals, and possibly things like DVD/Blu Ray/Digital Download sales, and merchandise sales.
And I, as a queer woman, choose not to put my money in his pocket, no matter how small that percentage will be.
But the people who worked on the film? They got their paycheques last year. They’re all working on different films now. And if “Ender’s Game” gets no sequel deal, or no other OSC books are made into films, then they’ll find other work. There’s always work in Hollywood. There’s always a hundred thousand other films in the pipeline, just waiting to be greenlit.

A failed box office for “Ender’s Game” does not affect the workers of Hollywood.

A failed box office for “Ender’s Game” it also sends a pretty clear message to any studio who was ever thinking of working with OSC again: This Man Is An Unwise Investment.

#2 Why don’t you want your money to go to OSC?

Think of it as a personal choice.

I am a queer woman. Orson Scott Card is a man who has publically stated that I am a) confused and unhappy simply because I am queer, b) not a real person and that my sexual identity is just deviant behavior and not really a part of who I am and c) that he would applaud violent action taken against any government that will grant me personhood. (See here for citations and quotes.)

If I go to see Ender’s Game, the money I pay to see the film will end up, in whatever small a percentage, in Card’s pocket. Orson Scott Card was not only paid for being the original writer of Ender’s Game, as a producer on the film he gets a take of residuals, royalties, and box office. He will then take my money and use it to continue to fund organizations that deny me my rights as a human being and citizen of a democratic country, and will further demean, bully, slander me, and spread hateful doctrine that could possibly lead to me being physically harmed, raped, or murdered.

So, no, no thanks. I don’t think I’ll be going to see “Ender’s Game”. It’s a personal choice.

#3 But what’s your issue with the movie? There’s no anti-queer stuff in the book/movie.

I’ve never read the book “Ender’s Game”, so I can’t comment on the content.  I have read OSC’s “Enchantment” and found that I really liked the cleverness, the word and world crafting, and could forgive the misplaced minor misogynistic moments. That’s why it made me all the more disappointed when I learned of OSC’s personal view of, well, me.

I had to stop purchasing his work, because I couldn’t justify my money going into the pocket of an egregiously anti-queer activist. ESPECIALLY considering that I make an effort to include characters of different orientations, races, and genders in my own novels.

I work hard to use my work to respectfully uplift and celebrate the very people that OSC personally reviles and publically condemns. I can’t comment on whether I find his work contains the same vitriol that his public articles, blog posts, and statements have, because I have, on moral grounds, refused to read and/or purchase it.

Which is a real shame, because I hear “Ender’s Game” is an excellent read.

#4 You can’t tell me what to do! You can’t tell everyone to boycott a film!

I’m not telling you what to do. I’m stating why I’ve made the choice I’ve made. I hope that you consider my points when you make your own choice, whatever it may be.