The Creativity Corner: Spring 2017

Can you believe that summer is here? 😮 It still feels like I was in Iceland last week. How on Earth has time zipped by so quickly??

Since a new season has begun, it’s time for an update on the past season’s creative happenings. And after a winter where I struggled with anxiety for a few weeks and my confidence in my writing hit rock-bottom, I’m happy to say that spring was a more productive, inspiring, and emotionally healthy season. It wasn’t free of bumps, but I’m moving forward and focused on new projects.

New projects?? What about The Keeper’s Curse? Or the novella? Yeah… I’ll explain what’s happening with them, too. But first…

The 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat

Two-and-a-half months have passed since IWR, and I’m still dazzled from it. Every expression of joy for being there doesn’t do the experience justice. IWR changed me as a person and as a writer, even if in subtle ways; and given how stressed out and anxious I was in the month leading up to the retreat, the timing couldn’t have been better. So if you’re reading this and you were one of the GoFundMe donors who helped me finance my trip… thank you so, so much. ❤

I’ve written three articles about my IWR experience since then. Each post was for a different publication and covered its own angle on the trip. If you missed them before, here’s your change to catch up:

What I’ve Been Writing

After coming home from Iceland, I was clear-headed enough to make a decision about The Keeper’s Curse. The reality is, Draft #4 will require a major rewrite to fix several plotting and worldbuilding issues… and I still don’t feel confident that I can do it without making the story or its world a bigger mess. Parts of it do work, and most of my beta-readers liked the story. But after realizing I’ve been blind to some significant problems for 4 years and three drafts, I’d rather take what I’ve learned from this experience and do my best to apply to a new story.

So, yes, TKC (as well as its prequel novella) is on hold. I’m not pitching it at Writer’s Digest Conference this summer (more on that shortly), and I’m not setting a timetable for returning to it. So what have I been working on all spring long? Let me break it down by project type:

The New WIP: I’m almost 20,000 words into Draft #1 of Stormthe story I mentioned during the previous Creativity Corner. It’s very different from TKC, from the type of fantasy (YA / New Adult magical realism instead of YA epic fantasy) to the protagonist’s personality and struggles. I’m also picturing a diverse cast of supporting characters, so part of my research will be talking to people and doing my due diligence to avoid writing an unintentionally insensitive story. It’s been intimidating, since I’m not always comfortable approaching people (even close friends) with such questions. But it’s more important for me to educate myself so that I can portray these characters (and the people they represent) with the accuracy and respect they deserve, and I know I’ll learn a great deal from the interviewees and from the process itself.

Until I finish said research on those characters, I’m working on other scenes or chapters that I’m more prepared to write. And so far, it’s been therapeutic to write. I could list the reasons why, but in short I feel more at home with this story (especially with the writing style, even though I’m trying not to place too much emphasis on it during Draft #1) than I did with TKC. But this draft is still in its infancy, and there’s a long way to go, so we’ll see what happens over the summer.

Research for Other Stories: Part of why I’d gone to the Iceland Writers Retreat was to visit the country that had inspired the northern latitudes for TKC’s story world. And though TKC is on hold now, I’m still enchanted with the idea of a fictional setting that’s similar to Iceland. So, on a casual basis, I’m dabbling in research on the island’s geography, geology, and climate. I’m not sure where this will lead, and I’ve yet to figure out the world’s fantastical elements. But with Storm as my priority, I’m in no hurry to make those decisions. All I know for certain is I’m already enjoying the research immensely. (Then again, why wouldn’t I enjoy reading about Iceland? *wink*)

Poetry: On top of all that, I’ve started writing poetry again. Somehow the faucet turned off when I started working on TKC 4 years ago. Now it’s back on, and no doubt it was influenced by my sharing one of my published poems during a “Music & Literature” class at the Iceland Writers Retreat, and also by my new poem-reading habit at bedtime. I’ve also picked several previously unpublished poems to edit and, along with the newer pieces, possibly send to journals for publication. This will take some time, but now that the tap is running again, it’s impossible to ignore it. As I often say, we’ll see what happens.

What I’ve Been Listening To While Writing

Like with my past stories, music has already become an integral part of the writing process for Storm. And if there’s truth to the saying “Variety is the spice of life,” then this is going to be one “flavorful” playlist. (*lol*) Here are some of the songs I’ve listened to so far during Draft #1:

What I’ve Been Reading

I read 13 books over the spring, which brings my current 2017 total to 23. The big reading accomplishment of the season was finishing Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet, which follows a young girl masquerading as a boy in order to pursue knighthood and then her ensuing adventures as a young woman. It’s a fantasy classic that has influenced much of today’s YA fantasy market. So if you like the “girl-disguised-as-boy” trope, swordfights, magic, and a little romance, definitely check out this series, starting with Alanna: The First Adventure. (FYI: My favorite Song of the Lioness book is the finale, Lioness Rampant.)

As for my favorite reads of the spring, here are my top five, along with links to my Goodreads reviews:

  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb: My first Robin Hobb novel, and boy did I need a hug when I finished it. This “coming-of-age” epic fantasy follows the young orphan Fitz as he discovers his royal parentage and is trained as a spy and assassin as well as with the telepathic Skill. It’s a more character-driven story than most fantasies I’ve read; and everyone is so layered and realistic that by the time I reached the final chapter, I was sad to leave them.
  • A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, Book #3) by V.E. Schwab: A seriously epic finale to a seriously inventive and entertaining fantasy series. It’s chock-full of action, humor, magic, and blood; and while my favorite characters overall in the series are the “red traveler” Kell and cross-dressing pickpocket Lila, I was wickedly pleased with Prince Rhy’s growth and Holland’s development as a more sympathetic antagonist.
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: What might our world be like if 99% of our population died from an epidemic? This tour de force of post-apocalyptic literary fiction explores that very topic, while offering glimpses on fame, love, satisfaction with one’s life, and the awareness of building one’s legacy. It’s thought-provoking, elegantly written, and – because what happens in Station Eleven really could happen – terrifyingly believable.
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: A whimsical, heartrending YA magical realism about three generations of Ava Lavender’s family, including Ava herself. It’s as much a tale of love, family, and heartache as it is about the mysterious and the inexplicable, and it reminded me of how much I love magical realism – and made me wonder why I don’t read that genre more often.
  • Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky: NYC murder mystery meets modern-day incarnations of Greek mythology again in this sequel to last year’s The Immortals. Apart from some issues I had with the relationship between the two main characters, this was every bit as suspenseful, intelligent, and funny as its predecessor.

Looking for Book Recommendations

Speaking of books, would you be able to help me with some book recommendations? I have two types of stories I’m looking for. So I’ll share them below, along with links to my recommendation requests on Goodreads. If you have any suggestions, feel free to share them either in your comment to this post or by responding to either Goodreads request.

  1. Nature-Oriented FantasyIn other words, fantasy novels with worldbuilding that involves or includes nature spirits, or where nature plays a big role in the story. Adult is preferred, but YA is welcome. Books in this vein that I’ve already read include Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Katharine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingaleand Sarah Beth Durst’s The Queen of Blood.
  2. First Year of College: I’m also looking for stories about a protagonist’s first year of college, especially the transitions and challenges he/she faces during that time. YA and New Adult novels are great; adult novels are welcome, too. I’m open to fantasy, magical realism, or literary / contemporary / regular fiction, and I’d prefer any New Adult suggestions to not be too racy. The only “fitting” book I’ve read so far is Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, but I’m planning to read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Sara Zarr’s Roomies soon. 

Last But Not Least: I’m Going Back to NYC in August – and Not Just for the Writer’s Digest Conference

As much as I’d wanted to go back to Writer’s Digest Conference this summer, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. But yes, I’m definitely going now, and WDC isn’t the only reason why.

Anathema, one of my favorite bands, is touring the US in August! They don’t play on this side of the Atlantic very often (they’re from the UK, and this will be their first US tour in 4 years, I think). So their tour schedule left me with a decision: Do I skip WDC to see Anathema play in Boston? Or, do I go to NYC and not only attend WDC, but Anathema’s show at Gramercy Theater the night before WDC begins?

Let’s just say the decision was a no-brainer. 😉

How are your writing projects going? What books have you read lately? Got any trips (writing-related or just for fun) or concerts planned for the summer? Share what you’ve been up to in your comments. And if you have any books to recommend for either request, I’d greatly appreciate it!

34 thoughts on “The Creativity Corner: Spring 2017

  1. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean is a college story with some light fantasy, obviously based on the Celtic fairy story of Tam Lin. If I remember right, it covers the whole of college but leans heavily on the first year. It wasn’t my favorite book, but it’s kind of a cult classic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aww **hugs**. I felt the same after completing Assassin’s Apprentice and later the Farseer series. It helped that I was buddy reading it with someone so I could gush and gripe about it with her.
    Gosh, Station Eleven was such a good read and I appreciate it for showing how far we’ve come and how magical technology seems. I mean electricity and the amorphous internet do seem like magic sometimes (especially when I think about “the Cloud.” WTF is the Cloud?).
    Nature-oriented fantasy…maybe try The Waking Land by Callie Bates. It’s a new book and I haven’t read it but I believe the protagonist’s magic is connected to nature.
    Sometimes it’s good to take breaks from projects to gain larger perspective on it. Maybe your work on Storm will help with TKC. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh dear. If every book in the Farseer Trilogy is going to be like that, then I’ll be a mess before the end. *lol* But I can see how this series would make for a great buddy read.

      That was my reaction with Station Eleven, too. And what made it an even more surreal experience for me was that I read the second half of that book on the flight home from Iceland – and airports / planes have a symbolic role in the story. I actually shivered a little when I made that connection.

      On a related note: I don’t trust The Cloud, to be perfectly honest. XD

      Funny you should mention The Waking Land. I won that book in a recent Goodreads giveaway, and I’m starting it tonight. 🙂 And yes, that was my understanding, too; that the protagonist has a magical connection with the nature of her homeland.

      “Sometimes it’s good to take breaks from projects to gain larger perspective on it. Maybe your work on Storm will help with TKC.”

      Thanks. That’s what I’m hoping will happen, or that I can do a better job at crafting the worldbuilding and magical elements of a new story more thoughtfully than I did last time.


      • Yep, it gets worse in the Farseer books, lol. After the last book in the trilogy, I had to take a break before starting the next.

        Oh wow! I had a somewhat similar experience because I read it while there was a snow storm outside n listening to reports on the radio. Made me feel as if I too was living through a pandemic.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sometimes a break is best when you get a hitch that big in a story. I’ve had to do that. I’m excited about your new story though! I hope it goes well. ^ ^ I’ve heard lots of good things about Station Eleven. I makes me want to read it haha. Nature-oriented fantasy … Hmm … I’d have to think about that. Best wishes reading and writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tori. That’s what I’m hoping for by switching to a new WIP. I’d say it’s something I need to be patient with… but I’m so absorbed in bringing Storm to life that patience hasn’t been a problem at all. 🙂

      Station Eleven is such an amazing book. I know you typically read YA novels, but if you’re looking for something different and well-written / -imagined, then Station Eleven is a great choice.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so happy to hear that you are feeling better and more productive this spring! That must be such a relief, Sara. I’m so glad to hear that you have found a new story to pursue. I think stepping away from TKC was the right decision. It seemed to really weigh you down, and I think everything you learned from the project will make this next one even better. Hopefully, if it feels right, you’ll one day return to TKC and know just what to do and feel confident in making the changes it needs.
    I recently went to a writing conference that was wonderful and inspiring. I am currently on a mission to bring the writers in my town together to support each other. In the process I’ve gathered some people who are helping try to pull together a monthly literary open mic where people can come and read their poetry, short stories, or book excerpts. And finally, we’re trying to put together a quarterly event where we gather the writers in our community to write together, network, encourage, and support each other. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while so the writing community can more easily be notified of local writing events, find a place to connect with other writers, find a writing group to join if they’re not part of one, find beta readers, and find the encouragement and support they need to keep writing.
    The conference and concert you’ll be attending sound amazing too, Sara! I’m so excited for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mandie. 🙂 That’s what I’m hoping for with the change in writing projects, too. And I don’t think “excited” quite covers how I feel about my upcoming NYC trip. I’m already counting down the days and weeks! 🙂

      That’s fantastic that you came home from the writing conference not just inspired and motivated to bring together your local writing community, but with practical action steps on doing exactly that. Have the other writers you’ve contacted been receptive and eager to help bring those ideas to fruition? (It sounds like you’ve had some luck so far.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, absolutely. I’m fortunate enough to have a group of people who are excited to get these projects up off the ground. The downside is that I started the work right before I went on a two week vacation, so now that I’m back I really have a lot of catching up to do on the progress of these projects and seeing what we need to do next.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah. It must have been a bit disorienting to come back from your vacation and resume your planning. (Hope you had a nice vacation, btw.) But I hope everything goes smoothly from here on out and turns out well!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. As for the new WIP – it sounds very exciting, but I am rather concerned that you have effectively mothballed The Keeper’s Curse. Do bear in mind, everyone has blind spots about their own work – of course they do. But I still think the fundimentals were in place and I do hope that you will complete the fourth draft in due course. It is your first effort – you are still picking your way through your own creative process as well as getting your story down on the page and despite the fact it isn’t my go-to genre, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it – and so did HImself…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’d like the Olympus Bound series, actually. Knowing your tastes in reading, you might find the mix of fantasy / Greek mythology and crime drama interesting.

      As for the Farseer Trilogy: I might get to Books 2 and 3 sooner than I first thought. Long story made short – I was recently gushing about Asassin’s Apprentice with another blogging friend who also loves Robin Hobb’s books, and she gifted the next two Farseer novels to me. 🙂

      Thanks for your encouragement about TKC. I wish I could say something more positive or definitive in response… But the truth is, I still can’t see straight when I think about its fourth draft. I know what changes need to be made and how the story can benefit from them. But when I try to envision how scenes should play out with those changes, I keep drawing blanks. :/ I also think I did a haphazard job with the worldbuilding, and I don’t feel confident in my ability to fix a story’s worldbuilding when I know I need to focus on how to build one properly in the first place.

      Another thing that I didn’t mention in the post is that I’ve been very frustrated with YA epic fantasy (that’s the genre where TKC fits best). I’ve been reading a number of novels in that genre to see what I could use as possible comp titles for pitching / querying… and not only have I not liked many of them, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish several for various reasons. A few people have recommended that I should set aside my feelings when it comes to choosing comp titles… and I probably should… But to me, a comp title also implies that you like the story or author, in addition to saying that people who enjoy that story might also like yours. So I’ve been at a loss about that as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That does make it really difficult… I don’t think your worldbuilding is haphazard – I think it’s one of your strengths, as it happens. There are a few flaws, but they are fixable as your overarching vision is secure.
        As for the issue regarding YA epic fantasy – Toni Morrison says that if you can’t find the book you enjoy reading, then you write it… I certainly am not bothering with comparable titles for pitching – for the very good reason that I simply cannot find anything out there quite like my books. That doesn’t mean I think I’m better – it just means nothing else quite lines up with the way I write. And my publisher (and the agent I’m really interested in) are FINE with that. They are specifically looking for quirky and unusual.
        But that the end of the day, you need to go with your gut. You’ve been working on TKC for a long time now – I think it’s probably a very good idea to put it to one side while you work on your new idea. I just hope the time will come when you’ll pull it out, dust it off and realise how you can rejig it. In the meantime, all the very best of luck with your new project:)).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Sarah. 🙂

        I wish I could have your mindset regarding comp titles. But they seem to be essential – even required – to pitching and querying in that market (and in other genre markets, too). Regardless, it’s been a struggle, since the YA epic fantasy titles I seem to like most aren’t recent ones… and yet agents / publishers want more recent comp titles. :/

        I do agree with the Toni Morrison quote, though. Any story I’ve ever written is one I wanted to read, and that’s what makes it so fulfilling.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes… I think the US market requires more of this type of comparison than the UK market – and I have been recently submitting more to UK agents and publishers. Best of luck – if I think of any books that would line up well alongside TKC, I’ll let you know.

        Liked by 1 person

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  7. Wish I could give you some good book recommendations! But alas, I’m at a loss for the subject matter you’re looking for. But I will say that you can always feel free to get in touch if you’re looking for an interviewee! I don’t think it’s possible for you to write something insensitive, but I suppose it’s exactly like you said: unintentional. Just remember that it’s impossible to please all the people all the time.

    It’s good to hear that you’re getting back into poetry! Great exercise for the mind!

    And that’s so awesome that you’re going to the WDC — and a concert! You’ll be sort of down my neck of the woods, I wish I could join you! I’ve been feeling so antsy as of late, like I want to travel or do something different… and I swear it’s not hormonal!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Just remember that it’s impossible to please all the people all the time.”

      Of course. Just because one person doesn’t object to something doesn’t mean that the next person will share the same opinion. But I’ve seen from several controversies that authorial intent alone doesn’t help. A writer needs to inform themselves as best as they can so that they try to avoid harmful stereotypes or language. That’s the most we can do in the end, I think.

      The interviews are going well, actually! The four people I approached for my first subject all agreed; and two of them have already answered my questions (still waiting on a third, and the fourth is my yoga teacher, so I’m asking her a few questions from my list after each class.) I’ll definitely keep you in mind if/when I’m looking for more interviewees, though!

      “It’s good to hear that you’re getting back into poetry! Great exercise for the mind!”

      It is. 🙂 The hardest part has been making time for it in between everything else, but I’m managing.

      “And that’s so awesome that you’re going to the WDC — and a concert! You’ll be sort of down my neck of the woods, I wish I could join you!”

      I wouldn’t object to that. 😀 But I completely understand, too. How far are you from NYC, btw?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phew, I can only imagine the controversies you’ve seen! Art is such a hard topic, and open to so many different interpretations. Like you said, we just try our best to be aware. As long as lines aren’t crossed (eg the recent Griffin and Trump “art”), I think it should be okay. Someone somewhere will always find something to nitpick though, sometimes it’s just best to just brush it off the shoulder because there’s just no getting through!

        I’m roughly 40 minutes outside the city. I just perused the WDC schedule and looks like there will be some pretty cool topics they’ll be going over. And I see some familiar authors, too! Which topics will you be focusing on?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know if I’ve seen a *lot* of controversies, but I’ve definitely seen a few. There was a controversy earlier this year where a book written by a popular YA science fiction author featured a protagonist whose chronic pain is utilized in a “magical” way. That’s not an example I want to follow, unintentionally or otherwise.

        Oh, gosh, I don’t remember. *lol* I know I’m attending the worldbuilding panel on Day 1, and one of Gabriela’s DIY MFA related sessions. But I’d have to double-check my schedule to see what I signed up for.

        Liked by 1 person

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  9. First of all, I want to say that I consider it a move of a very mature writer to put one of your WIPs on hold. Especially one that you’ve been working on for so long.
    I also think that it’s good that you’re working on something else in the meantime: no matter how much you love TKC, you’re more than a one-book-writer, so it’s ok to write other things. You’ll clear your head and also learn new things. I’m sure that when you come back to TKC in a while, all solutions will be at your hand’s reach. I was meant to write about on shelving projects (I’ve put several on hold in the past), and your post somewhat inspires me to finally get back to it.
    I don’t have precise book recommendations for you, but I’d mention “Primeval and Other Times” by Olga Tokarczuk again. It’s magical realism, and nature is a big part of it.
    Since it’s mid-August already, I’m late to wishing you to have fun at the conference and the concert. I hope you did enjoy them :).

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re not too late. 😉 Both the concert and the conference are happening later this week! I’m actually going on another blogging hiatus starting tomorrow, since I won’t be online much while I’m in NYC.

      I really appreciate what you said at the beginning of your comment. There was a period over the spring when I questioned whether I was doing the right thing by taking a break from TKC and working on something else. Now, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. I’m almost at 32K of the new WIP, and I’ve been interviewing people on certain aspects of the story. I’ll explain that a little more in the next Creativity Corner post (mid-to-late September, I think?).

      I think the “shelving projects” post idea is a good one. I’d definitely be interested in reading it, if you choose to finish it in the future.

      Primeval has been on my list of magical realism books to read ever since you first recommended it. 😉 Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: New Post at Writers Helping Writers (Plus, I’m on Hiatus Until August 29th) | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

  11. Pingback: The Creativity Corner: Summer 2017 | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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