Writing

Granny Le Guin

Granny Le Guin

Image result for ursula k le guin

I know I’ve said it before, but I didn’t really grow up in a family of readers. Mom is constantly reading books passed to her by relatives and neighbors, and she passes them on after that –  mostly thrillers and dramas, though, not the sort of thing that interested me at an impressionable age.

At no point that I recall did someone hand me a book and say “Here, I want to share this with you.” Aside from some minimal librarian guidance when women manning the school counters saw me gravitating to this or that genre, I mostly found my favorite reads and authors by devouring everything on a shelf or through online fan forums.

This means I somehow utterly missed Ursula K. Le Guin. I don’t know how, or why. You’d think schools would have a thousand copies of The Left Hand of Darkness on the shelf. Or that at some point I’d be forced to read it for class. (The only sci-fi books I directly recall reading for class was The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughs for a grade seven project on worldbuilding, where I deliberately chose the one book no one else did so I wouldn’t have to be in a group.)

It wasn’t until the after-school programing block on YTV introduced me to anime (Sailor Moon! Inu Yasha! Escaflowne! Gundam Wing! Dragonball Z!) that I ever heard of Le Guin, and that was only because in 2006 Ghibli Studios announced “Tales from Earthsea.”  I was living in Japan at the time, and the English section of the local bookstore was quite slim. But they did have the Earthsea series in an omnibus volume, and I took that home and consumed it in a weekend to prepare for the release of the film.

(I was disappointed, of course. I don’t know why Ghibli has a habit of taking a great story and turning it incomprehensible. They did the same to Howl’s Moving Castle, too, another series and author I discovered because they announced the adaptation).

I can honestly tell you that the Earthsea books – aside from the multitude of Stargate: Atlantis fan fiction I was consuming at the time – was the only story to directly influence my debut novel Triptych.  I began writing the original incarnation of the novel, a novella titled (Back), in January 2006, or thereabouts.

Reading the Earthsea books made me think a lot about the standard Fantasy Narrative, Hero, & Land that I’d consumed via Piers Anthony and Anne Rice novels up until then. It was the first time I had been confronted by my own inherent racism – why was I surprised to realize that Ged wasn’t white? – and by the privileges I had enjoyed as a reader until now.

It made me think a lot about what kinds of stories weren’t being told, by which kinds of characters, from which kinds of POVs. While I didn’t go as far as retroactively would have liked in making the cast and locations more diverse, or the discussions and displays of sexuality more complicated, I certainly would not have been thinking about these things at all were it not for Earthsea.

Many people have compared Triptych to Stranger in a Strange Land, or Canticle for Leibowitz, or The Left Hand of Darkness. None of which I read before I wrote the book (the first two of which I still haven’t read since), for which I’m glad. Because I might not have dared to write Triptych if I had read The Left Hand of Darkness first.

When Dr. Mike Perschon invited me to speak at the Grant MacEwan English Student Conference in February 2017 to speak in his English course “Topics in Race and Gender” – where he was teaching my sophomore novel The Untold Tale he mentioned the names of some of the other books on the syllabus. And I realized that I was about to step in front of a classroom filled with people who were expecting me to know at least one of the other authors I was being taught alongside and panicked.

Oh crap.

I read it on the plane to Edmonton and whoa nelly was I glad I did. Those students were way more prepared for my weekend than I was. And again, I was so, so happy that I had not read Left Hand before Triptych, because there were choices that Le Guin had made in the novel that would have made me want to veer opposite in response. Because I would have wanted to explore the areas her narrative hadn’t. In being unaware, I got to explore some of the same fees, but in a different, parallel light.

I always thought Ursula Le Guin would get a kick out of that. Though, of course, I don’t think my work was as thoughtful as hers, so I would have been terrified to even consider to put it into her hands. She was, by all accounts, the kind of woman to call out cowardice and shallowness when she saw it. And in reading Left Hand, she made me wish I had been a braver storyteller when I’d put Triptych on the page.

Luckily, I had not yet finished edits on The Silenced Tale when I read Left Hand. And I think I did make the harder, bolder choices with that novel. And I know for a fact that I went back into some of my notes for future novels and changed up the ideas in there, too.

Ursula K. Le Guin made me a stronger writer, not once, but twice.  I wanted to one day thank her for that. This is the closest I’ll ever get, now.

 

*

 

On the day Anne McCaffrey passed away, her son Todd emailed a group of people, me among them, and told us that the announcement was going to go out that day and to prepare ourselves. I’d only met Todd the once, when he decided to crash the launch party for Triptych, and he’d given me a beautiful blurb for my debut novel as a result.

Todd barely knew me from Eve, but I appreciated the heads-up all the same.  Because it gave me time to excuse myself from my dayjob desk and go have a private sob in the ladies’. I took an extralong lunch that day, and went to the book store, and purchased myself a copy of the very first Dragonriders of Pern book. I’d read McCaffrey before, but never the Pern books. I don’t know what I had been waiting for.

I only knew that now was finally the time, to connect to McCaffrey through her most famous work by buy a book that I would never be able to get her to sign for me. In reading the novel  I was reminded that she was one of the great founders of not only modern fantasy and science fiction, but one of the pantheon of women who I have nicknamed “Gran” in my head, because they were the ones whose work were a direct influence on my own, the way they have directly or indirectly influenced so many writers who have come after them.

Grannie McCaffrey was gone.

In the last few years, I’ve lost another of my Grans – Diana Wynne Jones, author of the Howl’s Moving Castle books. That left Gran Lois Lowry, Gran Jennifer Roberson, and Gran Ursula K. Le Guin

And now I’ve lost another of the great beloved women of my literary genesis and the dreams of my childhood heart.

She was never mine, not really. Not in the way she was her family’s, or her publisher’s or her agents. But she was mine in my heart, in my imagination, in what she taught me as a feminist, as a storyteller, as a teacher. I looked to her and her work the way a child looks to their grandparent for advice, and a kind word, and good stories.

I hoped one day to shake her hand. To maybe even call her Gran to her face, though I would have to explain why. To thank her.

Part of the reason I started pushing my own work for Hugos and Nebulas was because I wanted to get the chance to sit beside her, to look her in the eye in the middle of the acceptance speech and say “This is yours, in part.”

 

*

 

There’s a joke, in The Accidental Turn series, that my character Elgar Reed is a literary magpie. He’s the author of  “The Tales of Kintyre Turn”, a 1980s style sword-and-sorcery epic of either novels about a lord’s son who rejects his pampered upbringing to go swing an enchanted sword on the front lines of an inter-racial magical war.  I imagined Reed as the kind of writer who figures the best way to get famous is to do exactly what everyone else before him did – his work is a Lord of the Rings knockoff, with elements he’s grabbed from everyone who came after the Professor. To the point where there are moments where

He’s the kind of self-important author who thinks that he’s cleverer than his readers, and that he can pull the wool over their eyes, instead of realizing that a reader and a writer are a team that tell the story together. See, he thinks we won’t notice.

And this sort of meta storytelling gave me the opportunity to use his selfish magpieshness to fill the my books with my own tributes to my Grans. A pub that Bevel and Kintyre frequent is called The Pern. And the land in which they venture is called Hain.

I so wanted to be able to share that little wink and nod with her. And the gratitude.

She reached through her prose and made me braver – not just as a writer, but as a feminist, as an activist, as a bi woman with a disability, as a human over all.  I’m sure I’m not the only one, too.

So I guess the only thing I can say now is:

Thanks, Gran. They’re all yours, in part.

 

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JM FreyGranny Le Guin
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Words for Writers: When Should I Get A Sensitivity Reader?

Words for Writers: When Should I Get A Sensitivity Reader?

Question: At what stage is it best to get sensitivity readers? or any time of fact checking expert readers (if you’re written a book about quantum mechanics, maybe ask someone?

I feel like at the querying stage it’s a waste, because you have no guarantee this novel will be any good, but I is there a stage where it’s too late?

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There are two places in the writing process where, I think, a sensitivity reader/someone who lives the lives of your characters would be useful.

First is in the drafting/planning stage. This is a good place to find someone to tell the story to, and to get their opinion on what you plan to do with the plot and the character growth. There’s nothing worse than writing a whole novel only to have to gut it later and change things significantly. Telling your story, in detail, to someone else will help them catch redundant or harmful stereotypes, and help direct your characterization before you ever put pen to page.

The second place is after the first draft has been written, and re-read by you, and tidied up a little. Before you send the book to any of your other beta readers, or to any query situation, it should go back to your sensitivity reader to ensure that you interpreted their advice correctly. Again, small mistakes or misunderstandings could lead to massive rewrites or rearrangements of the manuscript, so before you put in a ton of work editing and polishing and tweaking, be sure that the bones of the project are sound and respectful.

If you want to consult your sensitivity reader one more time once you’ve finished the polishing process, that wouldn’t hurt either. Just to ensure nothing new slipped in or out. Also, make certain to thank them in your acknowledgements! They deserve it AND (to be self-serving) having their name there goes a long way to shutting up people who think you’re appropriating or being insensitive. It proves that you did do your best. Put them in your query letter too, to prove the same to any agent/publisher who might be afraid that you’re storming in where you could stomp things by mistake.

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

JM FreyWords for Writers: When Should I Get A Sensitivity Reader?
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Words for Writers: At What Point Should I Start Searching for an Agent?

Question: If I do decide to go the agent route, at what point would it be recommended to start looking? Total manuscript completion? 

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Basically, yeah, wait until the book is written, polished, and has been through beta readers or critique groups. You only get one chance to impress an agent. Always, always, always ensure that what you’re sending them is the very best version of it. Also, waiting until the manuscript is totally complete also means that a) you’ve proven to yourself and to the agent that you can finish what you start and b) you won’t get caught with your pants down if they respond right away asking for the full, after you’ve sent a partial.

But more than just a totally spit-shined MS, also ensure you write a complete pitch package before you start to query. Why? Because agents invariably ask for come combination of these documents as well as the query letter and MS, and it makes sense to just sit down and do it all together once instead of scrambling to create new docs with each submission.

Pitch Package:

  • Elevator Pitch: One or two sentences to hook ’em. Imagine you have the length of one elevator ride to intrigue a publisher/agent/producer. What would you say? (Example: A girl vigilante and her mystical, semi-sentient rocketpack are shot down behind enemy lines, and now have to rely on the help of an underground rebellion to not only get home, but end a decades-long war. The only question is whether the rebellion can be trusted, or if they’re planning to turn her in for the bounty.) This is the only part of the pitch doc I recommend memorizing, because you may have the opportunity to pitch someone in person at an event, and you want to have a slick response to: “So what are you working on now?”
  • Back Cover Copy/One Paragraph Pitch: Basically, write the stuff that goes on the back of the book. Try to keep it to about 100-200 words. You will use this in your query letter, as well as turn it over to marketing when it’s time to design your cover.
  • 5 Page Synopsis: Write out the entire plot of your novel, beat-by-beat, pointing out cause and effect and character growth, INCLUDING the ending (surprise your readers, not your agent.)
  • 3 Page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 3 pager.
  • 1 page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 1 pager. (Why? Because these are the industry standards, and these get asked for a lot).
  • If the book is first of a series, DO NOT WRITE THE SERIES. Write the back cover copy/pitch paragraph & a 1 page synopsis, and included it in the package as well. (Why not write the whole series? What if the publisher only wants the first book? You’ve wasted your effort. Or what if your editor asks you what book #2 is about and the two of you come up with a MUCH BETTER idea? Wasted effort.)

Once you’ve done all that, then you can craft your Query Letter, and begin to submit to agents. (I made an Excel with each agent I wanted to submit to and their individual submission requirements.)

Best of luck!

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

JM FreyWords for Writers: At What Point Should I Start Searching for an Agent?
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Triptych is Back!

Back by popular demand, my award-winning debut science fiction novel Triptych is returning to Wattpad! Yay! I will be posting a chapter every Tuesday afternoon, until the book is done. I will then be rereleasing the novel as a paperback in the new year, with a brand new cover and some never-before seen in-print extras.

Read the full novel on Wattpad

About the Book:

In the near future, humankind has mastered the arts of peace, tolerance, and acceptance. At least, that’s what we claim. But then they arrive.  Aliens—the last of a dead race. Suffering culture shock of the worst kind, they must take refuge on a world they cannot understand; one which cannot comprehend the scope of their loss.

Taciturn Gwen Pierson and super-geek Basil Grey are Specialists for the Institute—an organization set up to help alien integration into our societies. They take in Kalp, a widower who escaped his dying world with nothing but his own life and the unfinished toy he was making for a child that will never be born.

But on the aliens’ world, family units come in threes, and when Kalp turns to them for comfort, they unintentionally, but happily, find themselves Kalp’s lovers.

And then, aliens—and the Specialists who have been most accepting of them—start dying, picked off by assassins. The people of Earth, it seems, are not quite as tolerant as they proclaim.

JM FreyTriptych is Back!
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The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Redux

 

The Geek Girls Are Back!

 

A large batch of the contributors at the launch for the original book at Page & Panel. (Me on the far left with)

Contributor Margaret Atwood.

Hope Nicholson, publisher over at Bedside Press and overall fabulous activist and editor, has launched a new Kickstarter Gold project. This follow up book brings back your favourite writer and artists from The Secret Loves of Geek Girls with more true stories of love, sex, and dating from the worlds of fandom!

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls was a collection of comics, prose, and illustrations all on the themes of dating as a geek. The collection was full of stories from comic creators, sci-fi writers, videogame designers, cosplayers, and fans! The stories were a diverse range on different topics from first dates to discovering your sexuality and they’ve touched the hearts of people the world over. And this redux project will be the same!

The Returning Cast

Cover by Jenn Woodall

Each of the creators was featured in the first book, and our returning cast list is:

Cover art:

by Jenn Woodall

Comics by:

Margaret Atwood, Katie West (w/Jamie McKelvie), Trina Robbins (w/Megan Kearney), Janet Hetherington, Meags Fitzgerald, Jenn Woodall, Megan Kearney, ALB, Annie Mok, Erin Cossar, Jazmyn & Jessica Paoli, Sarah Searle, Jen Vaughn

Prose stories by:
J.M. Frey, Stephanie Cooke, Megan Lavey-Heaton, Loretta Jean, Emma Woolley, Adrienne Kress, Hope Nicholson, Cherelle Higgins

Art by:
Deena Pagliarello, Leslie Doyle, Gillian G, Rachael Wells

Excerpt from my tale “Time To Move”

How Do I Get My Copy?

Head over to the Kickstarter page to donate today, or watch Bedside Press for information on purchasing a copy for yourself once the Kickstarter has concluded.

JM FreyThe Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Redux
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