(Even More) Online Learning

The unseasonable weather continues here in my little corner of the world, which I find delightful. I’ve heard it said we’re in for a mild winter this year. I freely admit this doesn’t upset me.

Weather-related happiness aside, I wanted to take a minute to let you know about another course I’ll be offering starting this winter. At the request of the college, I’m pleased to announce that “Writing Horror: The Dark Side” will debut in January. It will run simultaneously with Crafting the Short Story, and there will be a few overlapping topics since a big part of the focus is on structure and developing good writing practices. But we’ll also delve deeper into the horror genre specifically. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to offer this class, which along with An Introduction to Publishing brings us to three in total. I’ll fill you in on all the details in the near future.

You know, this writing thing has a lot of ups and downs. But despite the highlights that always end too soon, and the lulls that always seem to go on forever, on the whole there’s never a dull moment. It’s a rewarding experience that continually teaches me as much as I, hopefully, pass on to my students.

Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Scary Snippets, Mother Ghost, and More

It’s been far too long since I checked in with everyone. I hope you’re all doing well! Summer has come and gone – it’s been unseasonably warm here for this late in the year, but you won’t hear me complaining. A nighttime dog walk in a tee shirt in October? Yes, please. Meanwhile, I see WordPress has changed a lot since I was here last. It may take me a while to get used to how things work again here, so bear with me.

Unlike most years, I kept going with Crafting the Short Story throughout the summer. Normally everyone’s too busy or otherwise occupied to bother taking courses in the summer, but for obvious reasons people were hanging a little closer to home this year. So we decided to offer online classes to help break up the time and give folks something to do during a stressful time when travel and vacations were all but impossible. The latest session started last week, and so far it’s been great. It’s a fun and insightful group, which for me makes it that much more enjoyable.

On top of that, I have been asked to offer a new course beginning this winter. It isn’t listed on the website yet but for those interested, this one will focus specifically on horror writing. Stay tuned for more info as it becomes available.

In other news, the long-awaited and highly-anticipated Mother Ghost’s Grimm Volume 2 is now available in Kindle and paperback. It’s horror for kids, something I hadn’t really done much of before but had fun experimenting with. It’s also something else I’d never done before: the first time sharing a table of contents with my better half, Sheryl. Of the forty two authors who contributed, some are friends, some I hadn’t heard of before, all brought their own unique voice to a very diverse collection of kid-friendly stories.

Finally, I have two stories in the upcoming anthology Scary Snippets: Campfire Edition. They’re shorter pieces, based on real-life experiences, included in what will surely be a very spooky and fun read!

I’ll provide a link when it’s available for sale. For now, here’s a sneak peek at the cover:

I know it’s just a quick note, but for now that brings us more or less up to date. For my Canadian friends, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next weekend. Be safe, see you soon!

-JP

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 End of a Long Week

My writing output this week, I’m sorry to say, was curtailed by a nasty dose of food poisoning. It was unfortunate (aside from the obvious reason) because of my recent novel progress, which is thanks in part to my recent posts here in this space. What does one have to do with the other? Well, it’s no secret that writers will occasionally procrastinate, and I’m not exempt from this. I’ve found, however, that discussing my progress in this space pushes me along to keep my nose to the grindstone. And so earlier today, despite my less than peak condition, I did manage to hammer out roughly a thousand words toward the cause.

Today, however, I wanted to take a brief detour from this little online diary of sorts in favor of a friendly mention of my previous novel, Terror in High Water. Another trait I share with many writers is reluctance to self-promote. I’m always hesitant to push my own work too hard or too often, even though it’s in my best interests to do so. With that said, I’m very proud of High Water and want to see it enjoyed by as many readers as possible. It’s been just under seven months since its release, and so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, some of which can be seen in my dedicated page.

I’m thrilled with the response it’s received, so like I said, I thought I’d take this chance to give it another quick mention. I’ve gotten quite a lot of attention from new folks recently – which is awesome – some of whom may only know of me through other outlets or “friend of a friend” connections. All good – the more the merrier around here, I always say. And if someone stumbles upon this space and is curious, either about High Water or some of my earlier work, I’m happy to point you in the right direction.

I know I throw this into the conversation frequently, but as a final note, let me repeat the mantra: book reviews are a wonderful and inexpensive way to really brighten a writer’s day. Word of mouth means so much in terms of a writer’s credibility, more so than virtually any form of marketing. Reviews have such an impact in terms of exposure and future sales, and are invaluable to those of us who haven’t quite gotten the attention of the masses yet.

Again, thanks for your interest in me and my contributions to the world of fiction writing. Feel free to spread the word and mention me to any of your friends or acquaintances who might also enjoy what I do. If you’ve read this far and I’ve piqued your interest, there’s an option to sign up to receive updates directly via email. Whatever the method of delivery, however you may have learned of me and choose to spend your time here in this space with me, thank you. It’s all very much appreciated.

Stay safe, talk soon!

-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

The Process… or Lack Thereof

As I’ve alluded to in recent posts, I’ve been working on a new novel. I mentioned the characters last time around, and today I thought I’d touch on the creative process a little bit.

Over the years I’ve heard and read a ton of tips and advice on the writing process. Everyone has an opinion on the best approach, many of which differ greatly, though I’ve found there’s a nugget of wisdom in nearly all of them. At the end of the day, it’s my opinion that any approach that leads to creativity is the correct one.

I’ve written three novels (or will have once this one is finished) and each has come together in a totally different way. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the current project, which actually first came to life as a short story. As with so many of the things I write, it began with a “what if?” that occurred to me. I mulled it over, and the more I thought about it the cooler it sounded. I wrote the story and was pleased with it. Normally when I write a story that’s the end of it. But this one just kept coming back to torment me.

Something about it bothered me. The premise, the plot line, all of that was cool. But the more I thought about it the more I realized I wasn’t entirely happy with how it came out. I decided it needed more – these characters had stories that deserved to be told. The “villain”, so to speak, needed time and space to marinate. In other words, I had hit the highlights, but the story still hadn’t been told.

So, I pulled out the story, read it over, and made notes to myself as I went. I added scenes, filled out existing ones, drew out the descriptions. The characters began to leap off the page, as they so often do when given free rein. Before I knew it, this six thousand word short story was over 30k and still growing. Points of interest that hadn’t been fully explored due to space constraints now had room to grow and flourish. Chapters got shuffled and reordered, new issues presented and then resolved themselves.

All in all it was anything but a traditional approach to writing a book. But then again, a great deal of what I do is anything but traditional or “normal”. Why should this novel be any different? There have been times when I’ve been tempted to call it quits and just say “this isn’t worth it, does anyone even want to read a short story that I stretched into a novel?” My hope is the answer to that is yes. But ultimately, it’s interesting enough to me to make me keep going with it, so keep going I shall.

I don’t know that I’d recommend tackling a novel in this way. It sounds more haphazard and chaotic than it really has been, but it’s still probably far from the most efficient way to go about it. Hell, I’m still not finished, so I can’t say for sure how successful an approach it’s been. But like I said before, anything that brings out the creative muse and makes some magic appear on the page is the correct way to go about it. Or maybe, the complete lack of a recognizable process IS a process unto itself.

I don’t know. But finding out has been quite an interesting experience. I’ll post here from time to time and let you know how it works out.

-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