Alpha Writer’s Workshop

Applications open!

The Alpha Writer’s Workshop is a summer workshop for young sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers ages 14-19. You get a couple weeks to work with some of the best writers in the genre business and spend all of your extra time reading, writing, and hanging out with other young writers.

Sounds great, right?

This year’s details:

Where: University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg Campus

When: July 22, 2020 – August 2, 2020

What: Study everything from how to come up with new ideas to building characters to revisions!

How…much?: $1200, including room, meals, and pickup to/from the airport. There are also scholarships!

Ready to apply? You’ll need to fill out their form and submit one ORIGINAL (i.e. not fanfiction, sorry) short story of 2000-6000 words.

Good luck!

Reading List: Crier’s War

This week on the Reading List is Crier’s War by Nina Varela. I just tore through this book a couple of weeks ago. If you want to learn how to do two points of view pretty well, here’s a great example. It’s got two enemies who might become *cough* not so much enemies later. A story about “an impossible love between two girls, one human, one Made.” Check it out.

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

Crier’s War by Nina Varela – Shop your local indie bookstore!

Boom. Talk about your conflicts of interest. And it’s got another gorgeous cover.

so shiny. so chrome.

Already read it? Gonna read it? Drop a line in the comments, and/or even better–leave reviews for the book at places like Goodreads and Amazon! Even if you don’t buy the book from a place, leaving reviews helps the authors get the books in front of more readers.

Until the next reading list addition…

So. You…have writer’s block.

How do you deal with writer’s block when you know you want to write but you don’t know what you want to write?

Well, first, I usually get cranky and think about how terrible a writer I am. With all of my expert experience, I’m here to tell you that this is a crap way to start. You should skip this part. It’s Bad Brain Weasels trying to take over. Kick ’em out.

Next step: I get in touch with what I love about writing. Sometimes, this means thinking about my favorite stories–short fiction, novels, movies, even stories from the real world. Anything I liked reading or hearing about. This ISN’T the time for comparisons; none of that “but I’ll never write anything as good as [INSERT MASTERPIECE HERE]” stuff. Your job isn’t to do that right now, even if you want to one day. Right now, your job is just to find some fun again. Personally, I like to think about what kinds of things I like reading.

Ask yourself: what are my favorite AO3 tags to search? What keywords make me insta-buy or insta-click a book? I’ll buy almost anything that has a cranky swordswoman.

After that: I think about how I can do Cranky Swordswoman my own way. At this point, maybe I’ll go for a walk or–gasp!–do some mindless chores and daydream a little. I might think of Cranky Swordswomen from books I like but what I wish had been different about those books. Did I want a happier ending? A sad one? A romance? A circle of desolation where she’s destroyed everyone she ever loved? A different kind of magic? I let myself spin on that for a while, and maybe slam it together with some other old ideas I haven’t done much with yet. Sometimes these secondary ideas come from writing prompts or contests. Sometimes they come from people around you.

This post is brought to you guys by my own recent fight with writer’s block. I had a story I needed to write by a deadline (a great motivator, btw). I knew I wanted it to be about a teacher with some students. The submission theme for the magazine was “survival after an apocalypse.” Cool, cool, a teacher and some students after the apocalypse. But I also like fantasy, and I’ve been craving flight–like wings, out of my back. So I threw some of that in the mix. Still, the page was pretty blank. It wasn’t until I heard a poem that reminded me of a different short story I read a long time ago–that I realized I could write in the same style as that short story, but make it fantasy. Really random inspiration story, I know. Fighting writer’s block means being open to the random connections that the world smashes together in your brain and being okay with the possibilities.

Last but not least…it means trusting yourself with imperfection. Imperfection is cool. It’s perfect, actually. It’s just what you need to learn a story because…once you’ve got words on the page, it’s not blank anymore.

Good luck with your blank pages!

Did this help? Got anymore writer’s block tips and suggestions? Leave ’em in the comments!

Rest in Power: Toni Morrison

Today, the world mourns the death of the great writer, Toni Morrison. Some of you might be too young to have read her yet. That’s okay. Most people don’t usually find her until the end of high school, or when they get to college.

She was a powerhouse member of the Black community and was very explicit in interviews about why she wrote for black people. She was also one of the first black woman editors, and went on to when the Nobel Prize in literature.

She also taught, officially and through her interviews and the way she lived her life. She had no time for racists or misogynists and was sharp with ignorance, too. Her work as a creative writing teacher inspires me as much as her stories do.

When I was a junior in high school, the college guidance counselor gave me Beloved. I know I didn’t understand it fully, and I’m due for a re-read. That’s okay. That’s allowed, too.

Back in April, I picked up the audiobook of The Source of Self-Regard: Essays, Speeches, Meditations. She’s the kind of woman you learn from, no matter what format, and in April, I was looking for just that. I’m going to start listening to it soon.

Toni Morrison may not be a comfortable read for you right now, or maybe even ever, but she’s got something for you to learn, no matter how old you are.

I hope you read her one day. Let me know if you do.

So. You…: Got Negative Feedback

Negative feedback is one of those hard things to deal with. You wrote a story. It’s your baby. No one likes to be told their baby is ugly–not at first anyway. So how do you get to the point where you can say, “Yeah, my baby’s not cute, but it’s my baby and I’m gonna make it better”? Well, that takes time. And practice. And even when you’ve been writing it a while, the sting may not always go away.

For me, the stages of grief go like this:

Outrage–how could you not see my brilliance??
Defensiveness–well, I’m obviously trying to do that here, hello!
Excuses–well, yeah, I know that’s not great but I’m saving it for later.
Acceptance–okay, yeah, that’s not working.
Bonus step:
IDEA–Of course that’s not working! THIS is what I need to do.

First, you have to pick good readers whose opinions you trust. Pick people who have similar tastes, so that you know they understand the genre you work in. (If you can pick someone who you think is a little better than you, that’s great, too; they can help you level up!) You also want people who have the best interests of the book at heart. That means no…*

  • Grammar Weasels: they nitpick your sentences for grammar and punctuation problems that you can fix later with easy spellchecks
  • Smile Fish: they only like happy things in fiction and will try to take out all of life’s unpleasantness
  • Me-Mirrors: they only want fiction that reflects their lived experiences and will try to make your fiction more like what they know
  • Gloom Squids: they try to interpret everything in melancholy and have a bleak outlook–kinda the opposite of Smile Fish
  • Longipus: they’re longwinded and like the sound of their wisdom so much that it’s hard to find the actual useful critique

Second, you also have to be honest with yourself about the feedback you want–and THEN you have to ask for that feedback.

  • If you really just need someone to reassure you that your story is interesting enough to hook a reader, ask a friend to read and only tell you if/where they ever wanted to put it down.
  • If you finished a story and you aren’t sure about how real the characters feel, ask you readers to report back on that. Or any other specific element questions–does my magic system seem unbelievable? Is the story moving too fast? etc., etc.
  • If your reader gives you feedback that’s not useful, whether you asked for it or not, it’s okay to ignore it. Completely, 100% okay to say thanks a lot for your time, and then leave it alone.

Finally…in the immortal words of a rapper guy: Be humble. It’s okay not to write a perfect draft. Even if it’s the tenth one. Or 100th.

Remember, your friends can do their best for you if you know what you want from them–and communicate it to them. And you only know what you need if you’re honest with yourself.

(This is about writing. And it’s not about writing.)

Here’s a list of questions you can ask your beta readers.

Alright, that’s all for now. Happy writing! Have more questions for the “So. You…” column? Drop ’em in the comments below.

*These monsters come from Jeff Vandermeer’s amazing book on writing, Wonderbook.

Reading List: The Good Luck Girls

So, one of the perks of being a writer and taking writing classes in school is that you meet other writers. Then, when they write awesome books, you get to cheer them on, read the books, throw the books at people so that they read them, and tell everyone “I know them! I know them!” And it’s actually cool, because you do know them. (Hopefully, they remember you. Otherwise, it’s just weird. So be careful.)

Someone I DO know and who DOES admit she knows me:

Charlotte Nicole Davis, author of The Good Luck Girls:

Aster, the protector
Violet, the favorite
Tansy, the medic
Mallow, the fighter
Clementine, the catalyst

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls—they know their luck is anything but.

Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings.

Trapped in a life they would never have chosen.

When Clementine accidentally kills a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive.

– Charlotte Nicole Davis

Sounds pretty cool, right? And this cover is amazing.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t come out until October 1.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as pre-ordering, and that’s actually something that’s really good for your favorite authors. It tells bookstores and publishers that you want more of the author’s stuff, so they’ll keep paying the author to make more.

Hey! Hi.

My name is Cherae. I teach. I write. And I travel. Right now, that means I live on the road. For the next few days, I live in Texas. Last month, I lived in North Carolina. Before that, London, Kansas, and even Morocco.

I started writing when I was a real young kid, horror–which will surprise any of you who know me now. Now, I’m a scaredy-cat. I used to love R.L. Stine and Scary Stories (they have a movie coming out! I’m not even gonna see it for old times sake!).

Even though I read all sorts of fantasy, I really started wanting to write it after I picked up Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. An illustrated version of the first book, The Eye of the World, was in my Scholastic book fair, and I never looked back.

The first novel I ever tried to write was…almost exactly that book. (Don’t do that, guys. That’s called plagiarism.)

The second novel I started was a little bit better, but I never finished it…and probably never will. I’m okay with that. As I like to say,

You can’t polish a turd, but it might fertilize something new.

I haven’t been writing as much lately–teaching full time is hard work, in case you were wondering–but I’ll tell you about my own projects and how I got to them some time.

In the mean time, write on.

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