(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

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

Back to Class, and Other Tidbits

It’s been snowing most of the day here. I guess I got a little bit spoiled with all the unseasonably warm weather over the holidays, to the point where I’m mildly offended when it dares to turn cold and snow in January. On the other hand, it’s hard to be too upset about such things while our Australian friends are going through such a terrible, terrifying experience. Perspective.

In any event, it’s a brand new year, the start of the 2020s, and what better way to start the year off than to plunge into writing?

For some, getting started is the toughest road block to overcome. But fear not, I’m here to help. The next installment of Crafting the Short Story launches on January 27th, and it’s a great way to get inspired and get writing. Or for those who already have something written and are looking for the next steps, there’s An Introduction to Publishing on March 21st (one day workshop). Follow the links for more information, or drop me a line with any questions.

There are lots of other great courses offered at the College of Extended Learning. Even if writing isn’t your thing – and perish the thought! – have a look at some of the other stuff they have to offer. Odds are good you’ll find something interesting and informative.

In other news, James Fisher at the Miramichi Reader did a review of Terror in High Water this past week. You can check that out here. Many thanks for the exposure and kind words. Incidentally, if you’re thinking of buying a copy you can click the Amazon link at the bottom of his review, for which he receives a small commission at no cost to you.

In the coming weeks, look for an interview I did with Allan Hudson at the South Branch Scribbler. Allan’s a great interviewer who likes to dig below the surface a little bit, and it was a fun and thought-provoking process that I really enjoyed. I’ll let you know when it goes live.

I try not to ramble on about High Water too often, so the regular reader doesn’t tune out. I did want to say that it has gotten a few more reviews lately, which is awesome. If you’ve read it and wouldn’t mind taking a few minutes to leave a review, just know that it’s greatly appreciated. Just follow these links to Amazon, Goodreads or both. Every little bit helps spread the word and get more copies into the eager hands of new readers.

Want to receive updates and all the latest musings directly to your inbox? Go to my contact page here, enter your name and email, and add something to the comment box so the system knows you’re not a robot, and bada-boom, you’re the first to know when a new blog post is published.

More news and notes as they unfold. As always, thanks for reading.

-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