A Necessary Detour

This week I had to take a short break from working on my novel. I didn’t want to, necessarily, it just worked out that way. Something I hadn’t seen much of in a while wandered across my path and drew my attention.

Ideas for stories come to me – to most writers, I suspect – in the oddest ways, unannounced and when least expected. In this case I was taking my dog, Daphne, for a late-night stroll around the property. I often talk to her as we walk, and on this occasion something I said sparked a little idea in my head. Just an innocent little phrase, but my mind took it and ran with it into darker places. By the time we came up the stairs and back inside for the night, the basis for a short story had been born.

I came inside, and once everyone else in the house was bedded down for the night I sat down at the computer and decided I needed to get the basic idea down before it got away. I sent a message to a friend that outlined the story in a few lines. I wanted an outside opinion – sometimes ideas that sound cool at first, in my head, make less sense once they go from concept to execution. In this case I got the thumbs up and forged ahead.

It isn’t finished yet, but it’s outlined. In my own vernacular, the skeleton has been assembled, now it just needs meat on the bones. I’ll pick and putter with it for a while until I’m happy with it, put it through my usual routine, and call it done. It’s nice, because after hammering away at novels almost exclusively for the last three-plus years, writing a short story is a recent rarity for me.

So, why was it a “necessary detour”, as the title implies? While I often stress the need to finish projects and not leave them lying around in various stages of disarray and disassembly, sometimes when something you’re working on feels like a struggle a step back can be a blessing. It’s not a long term thing – I’ll go back to the grindstone soon enough. I feel I may have needed a little pause, without pausing. In this case it came in the form of a new project. Just a brief side road to renew my enthusiasm, and maybe a little reminder that I’m still capable of pulling out a short story once in a while.

On a related note, Crafting the Short Story  kicked off this week. I always look forward to working with a new group, and so far this one has a fun dynamic. It should be a good run.

Time to get back to it. Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Friday Tidbits

As another week winds down I wanted to send out another reminder that the next session of Crafting the Short Story kicks off this Monday, May 4th. For me, it’s the first online edition of the class – although I have done online sessions with individuals in the past. So it should be an interesting experience.

I was pleased to learn the platform we’ll be using is Zoom, as opposed to the far inferior option that was initially floated. This allows for everyone to appear on screen simultaneously instead of just a few at a time. My classes tend to be interactive with a lot of class participation so it’s important for everyone to be as involved as possible.

I’m looking forward to the experience, though I’d be lying if I said I’m not eager to get back into the actual classroom. However, until such time as that’s an option it’s great to have an alternative such as this.

In other writing news, my novel is slowly but surely approaching completion. I had initially planned to wrap it up by the end of April, which obviously didn’t happen, but I’m optimistic I’ll be finished a draft that satisfies me sometime in May. I’ll discuss it further in a later post, this is just a little note to let everyone know I’m still plugging away at producing the finished product. Until then, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

The Launch of the Virtual Classroom

At various times over the last few posts I’ve alluded to the imminent switch to online learning. As of today everything has begun to fall into place and the inaugural online classes will begin next month.

It’s exciting new territory for all of us at the CEL, a whole different approach from the classroom experience. As I understand it we’ll be going with the Zoom platform, a free download that costs attendees nothing to use. Obviously a microphone and speakers are needed, and a headset is ideal.

The coolest part of this is that it opens the door, for the first time, to those who don’t live close to the campus. As an added bonus, given the circumstances surrounding this entire process the spring sessions are being offered at discounted prices.

Here are the links to my two classes:

Crafting the Short Story

An Introduction to Publishing

The new session of Crafting the Short Story is a six week course that begins on May 4th. An Introduction to Publishing is a one day workshop that runs on Saturday, June 20th.

Of course, mine are not the only courses running this spring. There are a number of other excellent classes on a variety of topics. Here’s the link to the complete list so far. Have a look, maybe there’s something here that might pique your interest. Let me know if you have any questions, or you can contact the CEL office directly. I hope to see some of you joining me (from a safe distance!) in a couple of weeks.

-JP

The Distance Learning Experiment

Just a quick couple of notes from the comfort of my couch on this dreary, rainy April evening. First, a novel update: thanks to a small but dedicated burst of activity this past weekend the word count is hovering in the 40,000 range. I don’t know just yet how much more will be added, but as I roll along it’s become apparent just how rough the rough draft really was. It clearly needed more, and the more I do with it the more complete it feels.

I don’t recall whether or not I’ve actually given any specific information about this project beyond referring to it as “the novel”. The working title (which will probably also be the title that eventually graces the cover) is Putting Down Roots. As you would expect from me, it’s a horror novel – a creature feature of sorts this time around. It’s gone through a few incarnations already, from its humble beginnings as a short story to a longer, more developed novella, and now a full-length novel. It’s an awkward approach to writing, and not something I would normally do, except in this case the story lent itself to a longer format.

In other news, I just got out of a meeting via Microsoft Teams with the folks at the university regarding distance learning. As I’ve alluded to previously, in the face of virus-related isolation we’re forced to explore alternative approaches to classroom teaching. The online route might not be ideal – personally, I much prefer the in-person group approach – but for the time being it’s the lone option at our disposal. So this coming week they’ll release the specifics on dates and times and such, with an eye toward getting up and running by sometime next month. I, of course, will pass the info on to you here as soon as the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed.

I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about this approach. I’m not a fan of the platform we’re supposed to use, so I may go rogue and use a different method. The meeting wasn’t a total loss by any means, though. It was nice putting faces to the names of many of my fellow instructors, and a lot of good info and advice was shared. On the plus side, the online classroom is open to more than just those who live within driving distance. So, silver lining there.

One final note: the increased number of people staying at home in recent weeks may be partly responsible for the uptick in traffic this site has seen lately, which is cool. The bump in readers, that is, not the fact that so many are stuck at home (although for some of the folks I know, being stuck at home and isolated from society isn’t exactly a punishment). In any event, whatever brought you to my little corner of the internet, you have my appreciation and thanks. Feel free to drop by any time.

As always, be well and stay safe!

-JP

Listen to Your Characters

Even though my life hasn’t been altered to the degree that many others have experienced over the past month, I’m certainly not immune to the effects. As a result I’ve tried to make it a priority to spend more time working on writing projects.

At the top of my to-do list is the draft of my current novel, a project that sat on the shelf for some time but which I’ve decided to revisit. I took a little break from working on it, during which time I mulled it over in my head looking for what was missing. I’d been fighting it for a while and growing frustrated at my inability to get past the point at which I was hung up, until I finally decided to take some of my own advice.

In my writing classes I talk a lot about characters – specifically, how they drive a story. A good character can drive a weak story much easier than the other way around. The key is to listen to them. If they’re well developed, they’ll lead you wherever they want to go. Often we try to force them into the narratives we create, and sometimes they’ll go along with it for a while. But you can’t force them into places they don’t want to be, not for long. I realized I was asking for something that my main character just wasn’t interested in giving me. It’s not my story, after all. It’s his.

With that in mind I handed over the reins and let him run with things. Without going into the specifics of the story I have to say, so far he’s doing a much better job of figuring things out than I was. Ultimately I still have the final say on what goes on. But I’ll be paying attention to what he (and some of the other characters) want from here on out.

You could say the moral of this little tale is to practice what you preach. All I needed to do was to take a bit of my own advice. When you’ve painted yourself into a corner in your story, don’t be afraid to rely on the characters you’ve developed. They oughta know what’s best – it’s their story, after all.

-JP

Making Adjustments

To put it mildly, a few things have changed around the world since my last blog post. Let me just say that there is ample reading material, information, misinformation, statistics, and memes concerning the COVID-19 virus across all social media platforms. Since I don’t really have much of anything to add to the discussion, I’m not going to talk about it here.

…well, except as it pertains to my writing classes.

Naturally, when everything else began to shut down, the university followed suit (they were actually ahead of the curve on that front). So as a result, we had to shut down the final session of Crafting the Short Story, and cancel An Introduction to Publishing. If you’re reading this, ladies, as promised we WILL do that final class, whether in person or via Skype or some such.

Further to that: as of this morning I’ve been in discussions with the powers that be regarding classes, and how to handle them moving forward. It looks like we’re going to launch online classes in place of classroom gatherings. I’ll discuss more details as they unfold, but for now it looks like what would have been the April session will begin sometime in May.

What does this mean? Well, it’s an adjustment, no question. I’ve done online lessons via Skype before, so it’s not entirely new for me, although I’m told we’ll be using a different platform here. It also means that suddenly my classes are available to people who don’t happen to live in the immediate area.

Just a short post today, to let you know I’m still plugging away over here. I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. Talk soon!

-JP

 

Mid-Winter Notes

We’ve got January behind us, which for the optimistic among us means the worst of winter is now behind us. It’s not gone of course, not by any means. But now that we’re half way through February I for one am starting to let myself feel a bit optimistic.

 

We’re back into the swing of things with the winter 202 0 edition of Crafting the Short Story. It’s a fun and creative group that I’m enjoying as we pass the halfway point of our session together. I’ll be following this up with another round of Introduction to Publishing on March 21st, then a short break before diving right back into Crafting the Short Story on April 20th.

 

In case you missed it, here’s the link to my interview with Allan Hudson of the South Branch Scribbler from earlier this month. Allan does a lot to promote the industry and those of us that toil within it. I know he’d appreciate it if you dropped in at the Scribbler’s website and had a look around. Odds are good you’ll discover something there that catches your eye – maybe even a new author to add to your list of favorites.

 

Elsewhere, last summer I cobbled together a collection of my short stories which I submitted to an open call for consideration. Still awaiting word on that. I think it’s a solid collection, so we’ll see how that goes. Additionally my second novel, Seventeen Skulls, has been sent to my publisher. I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on with that as things progress.

 

Speaking of updates and news, if you click here and enter your name and email address you”ll get updates right to your inbox hot off the presses. Feel free to invite your friends to sign up, too. The more the merrier, I say! And who knows, maybe you know someone who would find my stuff is right up their alley.

 

One final note for the day: my usual plea for reviews. I appreciate all the support for Terror in High Water. Lots of you have written or spoken to me about how much you enjoyed it, for which I’m very pleased and grateful. It would really make my day if those of you who did read and enjoy the book could take a few minutes to pop over to Amazon or Goodreads (or both, if you’re feeling motivated) and leave a short review to let others know what you thought of it. It can be as long or as short as you want – they all help increase exposure and get it in front of a wider audience.

 

As always, thanks for reading. Until next time!

-JP

The Year That Was

The year is winding down rapidly – time for one last post before we roll over into the 2020s. As a sort of recap I thought I’d take a look back at 2019 as it unfolded from my perspective. As it turns out there’s quite a lot to review!

The biggest news, for me at least, was the release of Terror in High Water. I can’t say enough how pleased I am with how it turned out, and the kind words and support I’ve received. It’s widely available on numerous platforms in paperback and ebook.

My story, The Grand Finale, appeared in the Deadly Bargain anthology. It too was well received, and I’m proud of my inclusion in its pages.

The Canadian Dreadful anthology was next. This was a learning experience that contains a version of my story, The Sound of Passing Traffic.

Speaking of learning experiences, this fall saw the debut of my new course, An Introduction to Publishing. It’s a one-day seminar that’s a sort of companion piece to my Crafting the Short Story course. Both are offered through UNB’s College of Extended Learning and will continue into 2020 and beyond.

High Water has drawn interest locally in a few ways. A signed copy was included as part of a prize package offered by Fred-E-Scene, which is a showcase of local news, business, arts and leisure, and more. It’s a great resource that I highly recommend for anyone in or around the area.

I recently did an interview with Allan Hudson, founder and driving force behind the South Branch Scribbler. It was a cool experience in which we discussed a variety of topics. You’ll be able to check out in the coming weeks – I’ll keep you posted there.

Another “I’ll keep you posted” item is my first foray into children’s horror. Mother Ghost’s Grimm is a multi-part series focused on horror (age appropriate, obviously) for young children. Volume One, which includes a number of my friends, released earlier this month. I’ve got a story called The Little Ones in the forthcoming Volume Two, in which I’ll share pages with many other friends and my better half, Sheryl. She’s got a new release as well, an all-Canadian anthology called Creatures in Canada. It’s got a great author list and lots of cool stories. Worth a look!

Lastly, even though it won’t see the light of day until well into the new year: I’ve sent my second novel, Seventeen Skulls, to my publisher just before Christmas. It’s far too early in the process to divulge any more than that, but as with everything else on the horizon, I’ll keep you posted.

Have a safe and Happy New Year. Thank you for your support and all the cool experiences. See you on the other side!

-JP

All the New Things

It’s been a very good couple of days here, and I wanted to share some of what’s been going on with you.

A quick update, hot on the heels of the excitement of my novel’s debut: Terror in High Water is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Only in Kindle for now, but it will be available in paperback.

In the spirit of back to school week, the fall session of Crafting the Short Story kicks off on September 23rd – coincidentally, launch day for Terror in High Water. A busy day ahead!

In addition, beginning this fall we’re test-driving a new course. It’s sort of a companion piece to the short story class but can also stand alone. It’s called An Introduction to Publishing, and the name says it all – this is a crash course on some of the basics involved with the publishing industry. This is largely being offered due to feedback and suggestions from those who have taken the short story classes. It’s a single session course where we’ll get together on a Saturday afternoon and have a discussion about publishing.

Last but not least, this week I spread my wings a little bit and expanded into… children’s books? Yes, as unlikely as it sounds, I’ve written a story that will appear in an anthology for kids. Details to follow, but for now (and for the second time this week) here’s a sneak peek at the cover art:

 

Mother Ghost's Grimm

Fun stuff! I’m pretty happy about the idea of writing for kids, even if it turns out to be just a one-off event. The coolest part, at least for me, is the fact that I will be joined in this collection by my wife, Sheryl. For those who don’t know, Sheryl is my de facto in-house editor, and quite a talented writer to boot. Sharing pages with her is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. This winter (hopefully in time for Christmas!), we’ll get to do that.

I know, a lot to process and take in for one day. I’ll leave it there for now, and bombard you with more interesting tidbits as they unfold.

– JP

Reviews, Interviews, and a New Course

This week I learned that Canadian Dreadful will be reviewed by the excellent Kendall Reviews. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about this. For those who aren’t familiar with the site, it’s a great resource for horror writers and readers alike. Books are reviewed, authors are interviewed, and horror is promoted and advanced to the delight and general betterment of all. I’ll post links to the review and my interview here when they go live.

In other news, I’ll be adding another course to the repertoire. Beginning this fall, “An Introduction to Publishing” will be offered once per semester (or more, if the demand is high). What’s this all about, you may ask. Well, in “Crafting the Short Story” we cover a lot of the basics of actual writing – character development, scene writing, plot, good writing habits, and so on. All the tools you need to start (or continue) writing in one convenient stop.

But over the years many have expressed a desire to learn more about the publishing side of things. “You’ve taught us to write,” they’ve said, “but now what? What do we do with the things we’ve written?” An excellent question. I attempt to touch on some of the basics in my course, but time constraints don’t allow for much more than a quick overview that doesn’t really do it justice. I feel like there are a lot of pitfalls to navigate along the way, many of which are avoidable. I took these concerns to the powers that be, and we agreed that such a course could be beneficial.

I’m no expert, and there are plenty of things I don’t know. What I can offer are the things I do know: all the little tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way, from speaking with other authors to having gone through the publishing process myself. How to locate and identify potential markets for your work. What red flags to watch for in a publishing contract. Whether a given publisher is a good fit for you. The scams that pervade our industry. These are things that are far less pleasant to learn the hard way, and I’m happy to share what insights I have into these and other topics.

This course can be viewed as a companion to Crafting the Short Story, a sort of extension. It can also, however, stand alone as a very informative session even for those who haven’t taken the first course.

I’ll update and share links when all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted. Speaking of which, the next session of Crafting the Short Story kicks off on September 23rd. I realize that’s over a month away but fear not, I will post ample reminders between now and then!

– JP