Speculative fiction author Su Sokol guest blogs, sharing about the benefits of being a member of a writing group.
Speculative fiction author Su Sokol guest blogs, sharing about the benefits of being a member of a writing group.
A new challenge! This time I’ve been nominated by Vashti Quiroz-Vega and Jon Simmonds to participate in the ‘Work-In-Progress Blog Challenge’, and since it’s a challenge … well, I just had to do it. For this challenge, I must post the first line from each of the first three chapters in my work-in-process (WIP). Then I must select four other writers to do the same.
But before I get there, a few words about the people who tagged me…
Vashti is a long-time writer friend, blogger and all around great support so it was with pleasure that I received her nomination. She writes Suspense, Thriller, Fantasy and Horror novels and stories. Her book The Basement is available for purchase on Amazon and she is currently working on a new book called ‘The Fall of Lilith’ ,which is also the book she cited for this challenge.
Jon is a newer friend whom I met through my blog (Yay for the power of media!). Jon’s very smart and I like his blog posts—in fact, it was through his About page that I discovered that he authored Alice in Wonderland at the age of 7. Check it out and see what I mean. The WIP he chose to use for this challenge is Dark Energies which he describes as ‘a contemporary urban mystery spiced with a healthy dose of romance and quantum physics’. Nice.
So, for this challenge I decided to feature this beast of a WIP that has had me on the ropes for years, but which I am determined to tame: Wolf’s Bane, the sequel to my published fantasy novel, The Purple Morrow.
Wolf’s Bane continues Jeru’s tale as he struggles to grapple with the knowledge of who he is while Kelen contends with a new evil dogging his every move. The story takes the reader deeper into the conflict developing across Marathana, introduces new people groups and cultures and raises the overall stakes.
The (working) blurb:
The Purple Morrow is destroyed. Guided by a dark ally, the Northmen push harder to conquer the Southernlands. Jeru, newly wed and desiring only to settle into a simple life, is forced to accept that his trials have just begun.
Revenge on his mind, Kelen must battle forces of good and evil as he tries to discern truth from lies while trying to save his skin.
Myth and Legend come to the fore and destiny reveals its hand. Jeru and Kelen, the Butterfly and the Wolf, will meet again. And when they do, no one is prepared for the aftermath.
And without further ado, here are the opening lines from the first three chapters. I took the liberty of including the line from the Prologue so there will be four sentences in all, but no worries. I tend to open with short lines, so it’ll be over before you know it. I’ve also added some visuals to whet your appetite. Enjoy!
And there you have them! To keep the ball rolling, I am tagging the following writers.
Please check out their blogs, drop them a line, and find out more about what they are working on. You never know. Your thoughtful words and support might be just what they need to finish their labor of love.
Two days ago, I got to attend something called a SCHMOOZER, a networking get-together hosted by the Quebec Writer’s Federation at a pier-side bistro in the gorgeous Old Port of Montreal.
Now, I’m not big on showing up to these things on my own, you know, sauntering through the doors and not giving two flying forks that no one knows me from Eve. So, in order to go, I had to latch myself to another writer. Luckily, new friend and fellow writer, Su Sokol, was happy to oblige. Thanks, Su!
We strolled up to the gathering of writers, editors, budding lit agents, translators, QWF staff, etc. in the sweltering heat and humidity (Montreal has lovely summers but I swear its humidity was concocted by demons in the deepest, darkest pit in hell and consequently unleashed on our poor, unsuspecting island) and promptly had a swell time. Everyone was nice and chatty and, because it was a networking activity, it wasn’t weird to talk about myself or my book or my blog, and even less so when I whipped out my new business card–Wham!–and tucked it into the hand of whoever I was speaking with. It was invigorating!
Thanks to my husband who did a fab job!
I’ve written a lot about my writing experiences and projects on this blog and in guest blogs, messaged and emailed friends on the subject, and participated in interviews and blog hops and author features, all of which are great. Doing this kind of stuff is a great way to connect with a broad audience. Also, thinking about writing and then organizing those thoughts in order to compose an article, for example, are great ways to improve. In fact, I believe doing these things have gone a long way in terms of helping me produce pieces that are easy to read and, hopefully, well-thought out. If nothing else, it’s given me the confidence to believe I can write other things besides stories—something I wasn’t sure about when I started blogging.
That said, having to look someone in the face and talk about my book was tough. Not because I didn’t know what I was talking about but because knowing how to do it in a way that avoided causing my listener’s eyes from glazing over stressed me out.
Case in point: The first person who asked about my book…well, it didn’t go so good. In fact, it was one big fat, FAIL. I felt so much pressure to present my book in a unique and interesting way, in other words different from the 6 billion other books on the market, that I could barely string a sentence together, let alone anything that sounded convincing. Did I mention that I was surrounded by people who had published with well-known publishing houses and others who had won awards or had some amount of recognition for their books?
But as the evening wound down and with a Smirnoff Ice mellowing in my stomach, I began to relax. I chatted, smiled, and learned about the people around me and about their writing experiences and challenges. I discovered that, in a lot of ways, we were in the same boat. Hate marketing? Yep. Frustrated by how much time the business side takes away from writing. Oh, yeah. Wish you could write full-time but stuck having to work a day job? Oh, yeah! Finally, long after the event was done, a few of us stuck around to chat and a writer (Hi Veena, if you’re reading!) asked me about my book. I didn’t stress about any of the stuff I had before. Instead, I talked about what The Purple Morrow meant to me and that’s when the words started to roll. There aren’t many unique stories out there, but talking about Morrow’s essence and its themes and how they became the story worked. I felt like my listener actually listened.
Anyway, I’m glad I attended. It was a great opportunity to meet some great people while practicing becoming comfortable talking about myself and my work. I’d been looking for a place in the Montreal writing scene for a while and, after four years or so, it looks like I might have got my toe in the door. In September the main activities like workshops and mentorships will start up and I hope to explore those too. So stay tuned as I venture deeper into the realm of the Montreal writing scene since I will most definitely be blogging about it. 🙂
Welcome back! It’s been ages since I’ve posted but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle. A lot has happened these last few months but whether or not they’re worth writing about…eh, I’ll let you decide.
So, for a while I wrote about the writer’s life, noting its ups and downs and the lessons learned along the way. You can read about them in the Essays menu but some of the most popular are: My Real Writing Life and The Real, REAL Writer’s Life and Final Thoughts on a Writer’s Life. During my time away from blogging I continued to learn writing’s tough lessons, ultimately surviving what I now refer to as the Writer’s Black Hole.
In the posts mentioned above, I was very honest about my struggles. I had thrown myself into writing, trying to learn the craft and the business aspect at the same time. Like most, I sacrificed a lot–money, family time, energy and sanity to move the mountains necessary to succeed at this thing. The more I pushed to ‘make it’, running around like a possessed chicken without its head, two things were happening: 1) I was burning out, and 2) I was beginning to accept that success doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how hard I wished it to. Notice I said accept. See, I’d already realized that truth on a brain level but not at an emotional one, and the latter is where the magic happened this time around. Both points were excruciating to swallow.
But that’s the great thing about life experience. You can learn from it and grow stronger…if you allow it. I hated being in that Black Hole. It happened during a rough personal time (I was recovering from surgery which kept me off work for 3 months) and when I felt I needed support and encouragement the most, nothing happened. My blog seemed to lose steam, some good writer friends had gone in different directions, and I just didn’t have the energy to actively pursue promoting my book and maintaining social media, are some examples. After going so hard for so long, it felt like I’d been cruising along in a manual transmission car that had suddenly broken down and was now stuck in idle.
It sucked. I hated every minute of it. But as the walk through the Black Hole continued, I started to see the benefits. With the frenetic pace slowed to a crawl, I had time to think. I had time to assess my journey. I was able to make choices about what was really important to me and what wasn’t. And best of all, I finally felt free of social media’s yoke. Don’t get me wrong. I love using it to stay in touch and it’s a great resource, but for a long time I felt like it was mastering me rather than the other way around. I almost did a happy dance once its reign of terror was over.
So, how did I spend those quiet months? I got busy in other, more effective ways. I revised Wolf’s Bane, the sequel to The Purple Morrow, twice—once before sending it to beta-readers and then again afterwards; I beta-read my friend’s manuscript; worked on the final book in the Papilion trilogy and finally named it (Berserker); launched my writer’s website, and a whole lot more. I did all that on my time and because I wanted to.
Last thing: when I used to watch Dr. Phil, something he often said stood out in my mind and it relates to how we define success. Before I descended into the Black Hole, I thought the only way to feel I’d ‘made it’ was to have sold tons of books, to be featured here and there, or to have the words, “best-selling” after my name. The Black Hole experience caused me to confront the biggest demon of all, answering the one question I’d been trying to avoid: “What happens if I fail?” After all the work I’d put in over the years failure simply wasn’t an option.
The beauty is that facing that question is what led to making it out of the Black Hole. Once I was able to say, “So what if I fail?” the anxiety drained away and I was able to see and appreciate the things that were working. Like, there are certain online friends who just seem to know when I need a boost because that’s when I’ll get an encouraging email, or a Like on FB or a Share on Google or a surprise mention on some other social media platform. Or, I’d remember the people who told me how much they were moved by one of my stories. Last night, my aunt left me a FB message thanking me for pursuing my dreams. It’s not the first time someone has said that to me, which reminded me how privileged I am to do what I love to do. Last week, I posted an interview featuring local writer Su Sokol, and later that same week we met for coffee and talked for two hours about writing.
And last Friday, I visited my daughter’s class to talk about writing. It was fantastic! For the activity, they broke into groups and wrote a story based on writing prompts they came up with (I will be blogging about this soon). I’ve written it before and I’ll do it again: something magical happens when we take writing out of cyberspace and into the real world. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
Success? We define it for ourselves, not the world. And if we keep looking ‘out there’ for it, we’ll miss the ways we are successful close to home, which, in most cases, are the most important. My daughter was proud that I came to her class. How do I know? Because she confirmed that I hadn’t embarrassed her. For anyone who has an 8 year old, you know how much that speaks!
Anyway, more on this line of thought to come as it has totally changed my outlook on what I write and why, as well as what I hope to achieve. But in the end, I just hope that anyone who is wandering through their own Black Hole will take heart and see that it’s not all bad. In fact, in can launch you to places you never could have gotten to otherwise.
How about you? Have you walked through a similar journey through the Black Hole? Share your story below!
This is a first! An author interview with Su Sokol, an author hailing from my very own city of Montreal. It’s always great to meet new authors, but I have to say connecting with a local writer carries a little something special. I quite enjoyed discovering today’s guest–an activist, lawyer and writer with a warm personality and gift for communicating–I’m sure you will enjoying meeting her as well.
So without further delay, please pull up a seat and make yourself comfortable. It’s time to welcome our guest!
Hello, Su! Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I am originally from Brooklyn, and like the family in my novel, my own family immigrated to Montréal largely for political reasons. Happily though, unlike that fictional family, it was not because our lives were in danger. In New York, I worked as a tenants’ rights lawyer. I do similar work now in Montréal as a social rights advocate, only I don’t have to go to court and I get to speak French as well as English. I love cycling, cooking, books, red wine and dark chocolate.
Oh, you had me at red wine and chocolate!
Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? Why are you drawn to writing?
I also love music and have sung in a number of choral groups. I’ve played piano, cello, and most recently, I learned to play the glockenspiel for an anarchist marching band. I also enjoy visual art, theatre and dance, cooking, and gardening. Yet, aside from music, there is no artistic expression that has come close to moving me as much as writing. With words and stories, new worlds can be imagined, populated by characters, events, places, and emotions, and all this can grab hold of your heart and mind and refuse to let go.
Wonderfully put. Such is the magic of storytelling.
What draws you to novel writing? Do you write in other formats? What can you never see yourself writing?
What draws me to novel writing is that you can take your characters the furthest, exploring their depths and complexities, as well as their relations with others. It is not impossible to do this in shorter fiction, but it is more difficult. I love to imagine my characters in a variety of situations, watch them react, and especially, I love to listen to them talk to each other. With a novel, you have more time and space to do this.
I have also written short fiction, but prefer writing (and reading) longer short stories where the characters can be fully developed and there can be more of a plot. I have written four short stories: two have been published, one is on submission, and the other I am in the process of turning into a new novel. I have also written a little creative non-fiction. There is really nothing that I couldn’t see myself writing, but poetry is probably the least natural for me. Of course, I have only been doing serious creative writing for a relatively short amount of time. I wrote a great deal as a lawyer, but although my adversaries might insist otherwise, none of that was fiction.
Oho! That was clever!
As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What’s one thing a ‘bad’ book taught you to not do in your own writing?
For me, what makes a good story are characters that are compelling. If I don’t care what happens to the characters, it is hard for me to get into the story. Another important element is that the story say something new or in a new way. I can’t think of a particular bad book that taught me what not to do, but in general, the things that I don’t like are stories where I don’t care how they end, stories where I am constantly reminded that there is an author because the author is trying to impress me or convince me of something, and stories that I find offensive, boring, or trite.
What elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I think my strengths are character development and dialogue. I have also been told that my writing is smooth and rhythmic and tends to read well and easily. In addition, I find I have something to say and can sometimes manage to say it with a satisfying intensity. My weaknesses include a tendency to say too much, to use too many words, to “overwrite.” That last sentence is a good example. I also have a weakness for heroic characters and sentimentality, and I can’t resist a good wrap-up where leaving a few loose ends might be more true to life.
In my view, the grand purpose of writing is to communicate something, so I find it critical that my story contain at least one important message or idea, but usually it contains a number of them. I don’t mean that writing should be preachy, but rather, that it should demonstrate an interesting idea in all its moral and human complexity.
What draws you to your preferred genre?
Genre is the bane of my existence as a writer. I refer to my writing as “interstitial,” which some would claim is just another way of saying that I cross genres or defy traditional genre borders. This leads to challenges in describing my writing, in finding appropriate markets for my work, and in being secure in identifying my community of readers. For example, science fiction markets consider my writing to be literary rather than SF whereas literary markets often consider it to be too genre. I find that human beings have a tendency to oversimplify, to fit everything into a binary. This is understandable because it is an easier way to organize information about the world, but it is less accurate, and I would also argue, less interesting. On the other hand, I think people are beginning to move away from this and one consequence is that “interstitial” art, including writing, is becoming more and more popular.
Cycling to Asylum is a story about a family living in the near-future who are forced to flee a New York City which is somewhat dystopic. They cross the border into Québec by bicycle and apply for political asylum. One interesting thing about the book is that it is written from the first person, present tense perspective of four main characters, two of whom are children, so the reader gets to hear different voices and perspectives. The story itself also has many different elements: it’s a story about activism, it’s a family drama, it’s a cycling adventure, it’s speculative fiction with dystopic and utopic elements, it’s a story about friendship, and it’s an outside-of-the-box love story. At its base, Cycling to Asylum is about crossing borders on many different levels.
Sounds fascinating! The story elements cross so many interesting points, and I think it’s wonderful that our Belle Province (Québec) features as the story’s backdrop.
I am currently writing a new novel about mental illness and whether it is possible to reject the categories and limits placed on love (so another exploration of boundaries.) I will keep the genre a secret for now.
Did you choose a traditional publisher or self-publish? Do you have advice for anyone taking that route?
I managed to do neither of the above. I am being published by a non-traditional publisher called Deux Voiliers Publishers. Their aim is to find and promote first-time Canadian authors with promise. They are moving towards a collective model, but have a competitive submissions process.
My advice for others is to find a good fit. For me, DVP was a good fit in a number of ways. They are a local (Québec) publisher focused on Canadian first-time novelists, they publish a diversity of styles and genres but have a particular interest in international stories, and their non-profit, semi-collective model is appealing to someone with my values. Whether someone finds a big publisher, a small publisher, a non-traditional publisher, or self-publishers, it is important to be comfortable with that decision and understand what it entails. Each decision comes with its limitations and its opportunities.
What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing and how do you cope with it?
There are a number of difficult aspects. One is finding enough time to write while leaving enough time and focus for the rest of my life. Another is figuring out the proper balance between caring what others think and doing what I think is right. This is a tough one because I want so much for others to appreciate my writing but of course not everyone will. Another thing that is hard for me is patience. The ways that I cope with these difficulties is by trusting in the process, by trying to be disciplined, and by having the wonderful, solid support of my family and my writer and non-writer friends. Also, when things are difficult, I try to focus on how much I love writing and how lucky I am to be able to engage this love.
I think most writers struggle with these issues. Your methods of coping are encouraging in that they are simple and things everyone can put into practice.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
My favourite writer for many years has been Ursula K. LeGuin. Her books are at home on the science fiction shelves as well as with the literary fiction selections. Her writing is infused with her values and this enhances rather than gets in the way of an engaging story, realistic characters, and beautiful prose. She is a SF writer with a social as well as a technological imagination. Reading her books is a pure pleasure. I like a lot of authors and read a variety of genres (and non-genres). Other long-time favourites include William Gibson, Marge Piercy, Octavia Butler, and Cory Doctorow.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre?
Don’t write unless you love it and do it because you love it, not to get published. Find yourself a community—a writers’ organization, writers’ groups, workshops, friends who like to write, whatever works. Then try to give as much as you get, be open to feedback and change, don’t ever stop learning, and keep trying new things, even if they are scary.
Great reminders that, more than any other reason, we should write because we love to. And, because of that love, we should commit ourselves to constantly improving.
How can readers get into contact with you?
Visit my website at sujsokol.com.
Follow me on twitter @sujsokol.
Find me on my publisher’s website at http://www.deuxvoilierspublishing.com.
Readers can also buy my book in paper or e-book versions. Click here to see all of the options: http://www.deuxvoilierspublishing.com/#!cycling-to-asylum/c1lsc
You can also find my short fiction here: http://futurefire.net/2012.24/fiction/jemesouviens.html and here: http://store.sparkanthology.org/products/volume-iv
Or on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Spark-Creative-Anthology-Volume-IV/dp/0988807297
I would love to hear from readers! And thanks for this opportunity to talk about writing!
Su, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. I found your advice on writing and its process very helpful, and your books sound intriguing. Thanks so much for spending time with us today. Readers, I hope you also enjoyed meeting our guest. I encourage you to leave a message below and to connect with Su via the links provided. Thanks so much for stopping by!