The Spark Blogfest: Sparkfest

First things first – I know, I know. Today’s post was supposed to be about monsters. The sort of monsters that Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes would have a dialogue with under his bed. Am I breaking promises already?

Well, yes. I’m still working on this post, and I’m still excited about it, but it’s been postponed until Monday.

Why? Let’s just say that when I see the opportunity to talk more about myself and possibly win free stuff? The sort of opportunity provided by the the Spark Blogfest?

My response can only be –

HECK YEAH!

Here are the Sparkfest blog challenge questions in all their sparkly glory.

  • What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer?

See this book? This book was my first science fiction book ever. My mother gave it to me during a camping trip, and I devoured it.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about this book now. I remember there was a smarmy space captain and a lady with attitude and they bickered a lot and without knowing this was hot, I knew it was hot.

Then there were those aliens on the cover, and even though they were supposed to look like that, I always imagined that they looked like adorable teddy bears. The smarmy space captain and the lady with attitude and a bunch of other space travelers befriended these adorable teddy bear aliens, and the teddy bear aliens responded by being adorable for a while, and then they started *SPOILER ALERT* killing people, and so 8/9 year-old Annalise learned an important life lesson about not trusting alien teddy bears no matter how adorable they are.

I have no idea whether the book holds up or not. I mean, in terms of stories that have been really really influential on me as a writer and shiznit, I would have to go with things like His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote and The Stone Boy by Gina Berriault and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

But Mote in God’s Eye was the book that started it all. I became a speculative fiction addict, and I never looked back.

Thank you so much, mother, for traumatizing me with this book.

  • What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?

Um, the truth? Well, right now I have 2 major WIP, and I don’t think books and/or authors inspired either of them.

I’m particularly neurotic about my story KILL THE LAST ONE sounding like a Hunger Games knockoff, but the truth is that KILL THE LAST ONE was inspired by an anime. An anime that was more or less a knockoff of Lord of the Flies.

Infinite Ryvius is a late 90s anime about teenage space cadets who, through a series of extenuating circumstances, are forced to pilot a huge space ship all by their lonesome. They do a predictably good job at building a society, by which I mean they’re constantly on the brink of complete and utter anarchy.

I just saw this anime recently and I LOVED it. Highly recommended to anyone interested in such things. Actually, I would recommend it to anyone who needs some examples of good storytelling pacing, because the first 20 or so episodes? Gold star pacing, hooks and cliffhangers. The only downside to this anime is that parts of the dub are mind-numbingly awful.

It made me really really want to write a story about a bunch of kids and teenagers doing a predictably good job at building a society, by which I mean…

…well, I think you get the idea.

My other story, SPIDER AND BRIAR, doesn’t have any specific inspiration that I can think of. Maybe just fairy tales in general? But not any particular fairy tale.

It’s more like a weird conglomeration of every dark fantasy I’ve ever been exposed to, through various mediums. Probably owes a debt or two to Pan’s Labyrinth. 

  • Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

Yes. His Dark Materials, unquestionably.

If all books were about tomboys riding polar bears in dystopian steampunk worlds, then I think I could die happy. (Please don’t take me up on this.)

Pullman taught me that fantasy isn’t all about elves and dragons. I learned this lesson well, and then I decided to write a story about dragons. BECAUSE, OKAY.

I like dragons.

This is a dragon.

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How I Got My Groove Back

This is the super special sparkly awesome 1st content post of my blog! The actual 1st post is here, full of introduction stuff and at least one wondrous Tina Fey gif. Obviously, you want to go there. 

WARNING: This is a writerly post about finding your voice. All sentimental tropes apply. Cheesy metaphors WILL happen. 

When I first started taking writing workshops in college, I decided that I was going to be Serious Annalise who wrote about Serious Things and Like Life and Stuff.

Serious Annalise wore black turtlenecks and smoked in Paris cafes. Serious Annalise did not write about androids or aliens or old ladies living in shoes.

That was cigarettes in Paris, not milk on white linen tables

Give me a break, I was 18.

Okay, that’s not much of an excuse. There are tons of 18 year olds who do not think such silly things. Apologies to all 18 year olds in the crowd.

Let me rephrase: give me a break, I was 18 year old Serious Annalise, and I looked around at my workshops, and people were writing about pot and sex and horrible parents. Don’t misunderstand, these are not bad things to write about. I still write about these things. Come on – pot and sex and horrible parents! Sounds like a party.

But I was afraid that I would get laughed or at least politely coughed out of class if I submitted my talking dragon, so I tucked said dragon somewhere in a corner where the poor thing choked on dust and cobwebs and did not speak anymore.

There is a conversation here about why I thought that. A very old conversation, but a conversation that still remains relevant when great writers insist that they do not write science fiction, they just use science fiction in their fiction. Um, okay? By the way, I don’t write fiction, I just make things up. Lol hey over there!

Let’s table that conversation for now. For whatever reason, for multiple reasons, for reasons largely created in my own head, I was embarrassed of my talking dragon. Probably I could have submitted anything and it would have been fine, because honestly, people in fiction workshops are so paranoid about their own work that they’re not going to have a fainting spell just because you have, well, spells in your story.

So for two years of writing workshops, I wrote some horrible fiction. Learned a lot. Don’t get me wrong. But my stories were just…eh, meh?

In my third year of college, I actually didn’t take any writing workshops. Enjoyed the classes I did take, they were practical and all, but writing was not a priority anymore.

Come my senior year, I decided that I better take some writing workshops again. After all, my graduate school plans had nothing to do with writing, so this was my last chance, really. And I decided to do something a little different. Since this was possibly my last opportunity, I decided to write and submit a story about two robots – a story that had been banging around in my brain for years, but that I had never had the courage to actually write or submit to workshop.

So I wrote my little robot story. Polished it up. Submitted it to class with my stomach churning and my fingers still sticky with ink.

Then a funny thing happened.

Okay, no, people did not fall wildly in love with the story. They did not throw me a parade or vote me as Most Awesome Writer to Ever Write About Robots. (Hello, Asimov.) In fact, my recollection is that there was a lot of polite befuddlement, some critiques, some “Oh, but I liked this part. Do this more.” Pretty par for the course for anyone who’s ever been in a critique group before. My writing professor was very encouraging and supportive, because that is what good writing professors do, and I have been blessed with an abundance of good writing teachers in my life.

But here’s the thing.

I CARED more about that story than all of the previous stories I had submitted in my college career COMBINED, and the feedback electrified me, and I went back and worked on that story and I made it better. And then for my 2nd story, I submitted something about an alien and people liked it even MORE and I cared about it even MORE and I went back and made that better, too. And after years of feeling ‘Eh’ or ‘Where did I go wrong?’ about writing, THIS is how I felt about writing for the first time in a freaking long time:

In my mind, the winning streak continued for the rest of my senior year. I wrote about time travel and ghosts and some of it sucked but even the stuff that sucked MATTERED. Like, to me. Personally.

Here’s the thing. Stories that matter to you personally tend to be of a higher ilk than stories that don’t. Readers notice. They’re smart cookies.

Smart cookies

And I had an epiphany that Serious Annalise was ALSO Robot Alien Time-Traveling Ghost Annalise. That I was never more serious about writing about humans than when I was writing about robots or aliens or time travel or ghosts.

But that’s not even the point – had I only wanted to a write a story about three generations of women living in the same house (which was my living situation growing up, and this IS a story I want to write once I get a few dragons out of my system) but felt constrained for whatever reason, then I would have been doing an equal disservice to myself by stifling my own voice.

I just wish it hadn’t taken me 3 years to learn this lesson – a lesson that I believe most people learn in junior high.

But enough about me.

I want to hear about YOU.

Have you ever tried to hide your authentic self? In writing, or otherwise?

If so, how did that turn out? How did you handle it?

Have you ever been embarrassed to send out a story for feedback because you thought people might think the subject matter was silly? How did you handle that?

And finally, have you made any profound realizations about your writing style or thematic choices?

How would you characterize your own voice?