Tag Archives: writing about writing

Research Road Trip: Queen Whilamena State Park

(I’ve edited and re-published this post from last year because I wanted to add more pictures and remember a fun road trip while I am sheltering in place. I hope all of you who read this are safe and healthy and I wish nothing but the best for you during these difficult times. I love you all!)

Last Summer (as I write this) I drove down to Mena, Arkansas with the intention of hiking in the morning at Queen Whilamena State Park and driving around in the afternoon exploring the teeny-tiny towns surrounding the state park.

The drive down was really pleasant. But then it started raining. Thankfully, by the time I got to the Queen Whilamena Lodge and Restaurant the rain had stopped BUT there was fog EVERYWHERE!

I had not checked the weather on my phone. I didn’t even think about the possibility of anything but clear skies and humid air (Summer in Arkansas, y’all). But that is not what I got.

There was a fleeting moment where my heart sank and I thought, “I drove all this way and now I have to go home…”

But then I took another look at the fog, which was literally getting thicker by the minute and I thought, “HOLY SHIT THIS IS PERFECT WEATHER FOR A HORROR NOVEL!”

I mean look at that! That’s amazing!

If I’d gone on a “normal” day I’d have hiked, got some nice pictures of trees and buildings, and gone home with nice things to think about but this–the fog, the rain–gave my setting character. Or my setting looked at me and said, “Acknowledge that I am a force of nature!” while slapping me in the face.

And there was this really nifty fungus on the trail that was all glistening and fleshy. I almost walked face first into a MASSIVE spider webs trying to photograph it.

A new beginning to Havoc’s Moon bloomed in my mind. I got to make rough stage blocking for an action scene and took pictures of this one specific outcropping from multiple angles for reference later. I was so inspired IT WASN’T EVEN FUNNY!

So the moral of this story here is think about what your setting is like in bad weather. You never know what will happen. But also, it’s important to visit, if you can, where your book is set because you’ll get to think about concrete details you may not have considered from your chair at your writing desk.

And I learned that my main character’s favorite food is not pizza like I thought it was, but fried green beans.

You never know what’s going to happen when you go out on location.

Good luck and happy writing!

How I Edit As I Draft

I write fiction one of two ways:

1. I write without editing and go, go, go until I stop or feel stupid (I’m working on that last part).

2. I write a few pages and then when I get stuck/confused/forget my train of thought I re-read and edit what I just wrote.

Sometimes I’ll set something aside and look at it again the next day. Sometimes I’ll delete and re-write a sentence 10 times before I feel comfortable enough to move on.

My ideal way to write is to just sit down and have the ideas flow out of my brain like a magical river.

This rarely happens. And it never comes out perfect.

Pulling ideas out of the air is more fun for poetry. But my fiction likes fermentation more than spontaneity.

What on earth does that mean?

I use the word fermentation because (like my academic writing) I need to think for a long time and brainstorm (aka daydream) about my story before I actually write it. Because that’s how my brain likes to structure stories.*

Now, when I write poetry I’m a complete “pantser” or discovery writer. I love the unknown of the blank page. Not so much when I write fiction. I’m not a complete “plotter” and if I write an outline I end up spending more time on that than actually writing. But I need some sort of structure to jump off of.

I am a huge fan of free writing. I love hearing other writers talk about it, I love witnessing it. I even love doing it but for the last 2 years I’ve been hopping between 3-4 established drafts of different projects so the opportunities to actually create prose have been few and far between.

I have added new paragraphs or expanded chapters here and there, I call this filling the p(L)ot holes. But not actually writing what I would consider “new” material. Now, here’s the thing. There is one big place in Work In Progress 1 where I need to write at least 2 brand new chapters. There are three places in Work In Progress 2 that need at least 20,000 words of new material. And I need to write a new ending for Work in Progress 3.

But even though I have set up deadlines for myself (again) this year and am DETERMINED to finish these particular projects THIS FUCKING YEAR I am having serious trouble getting into a creative groove and writing this new material because, I feel like, I’ve been editing and considering (too much) where my decisions have taken me and the parts of the storyline that I’ve already locked in place. I’ve closed myself off to just pulling random shit out of the air and running with it.

Editing while I write isn’t bad, sometimes I need it to remind myself where I left off or revisit the tone I was going for, or I found a better tone and I need to change it. But then I either

1. Get distracted and forget the image or feeling I was trying to insert into that section.

2. I get bogged down by all the grammar fixes and structure changes I needed to make along the way and by the time I get to the end of the edit I’ve lost the momentum/motivation to write the new things.

Does this happen to you too?

And then I get upset at myself because how can I ever not want to write?

The problem I have with brainstorming is I sometimes (okay, I a lot of the time, I’m working on it) I feel like I have to get everything perfect in my head before I can write it down. And then I get frustrated or overwhelmed.

I don’t really have a solution to this problem other than I have to REMEMBER to remind myself, whenever I feel that way, that writing is fun and I want to tell my story. Be as stubborn and persistent as you need to be to get the words out.

One thing that has been helping me is a kind of trick or game I’ve started playing with myself. When I’m stuck I challenge myself to write as SHITTILY as I can. To write the worst draft ever. On purpose. Because I can go back and change it later. (Now this might be the start of a vicious cycle because the worse it is the more I have to edit later while I’m trying to write new material and then I tell myself to write that badly and I do and on, and on, and on).

Another thing that I do is if I find I need to cut a big chunk of text or an entire paragraph out but I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do, I copy it over into another document and save it for later. If I never use it again I can always delete it or turn it into a “deleted scene” that I might post on my blog later. I hate having a digital folder filled with loads and loads of files but if that’s what I need to do to keep writing, that’s what I need to do.

I hope this little ramble has been helpful. Camp NaNoWrimo starts tomorrow and I wanted to send something out that, maybe if you write like this too, will make you feel less alone.

My Camp project this year will be Book 2 of my paranormal horror series, The Slaughter Chronicles. I’m hoping to finish all the things with Book 1 over the summer and publish it this winter. If you’re interested, you can check out the series’s prequel novella right here 🙂

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*I keep saying my brain like I’m compartmentalizing. Is that part of the problem?

Photo by Tamara Gore on Unsplash

How I Wrote My Author Bio…

And kept updating it through the years…

I have had real trouble over the years figuring out how to present myself as a writer in a professional capacity. Having an author bio is a necessity in both traditional publishing and the independent writing community. But do I know how to write one? Maybe? Kinda?

Not really. Just like I have trouble writing a book synopsis, when I have to look at and summarize my writing self in 3 or 4 sentences my brain does the buzz buzz buzz flatline.

(Side note: I drew a comic strip in high school and one of the characters was a cat named Flatline. I need to bring back Flatline.)

All I know is when I re-read my author bio it felt stale. And cluttered with useless anecdotes about me as a person that didn’t really tell you anything about what I do or my writing.

At this moment, I’m re-organizing and “re-branding” my blog and my author bio along with it. So I thought I’d share my process and research with you.

Freelance Writing has a crisp, concise list of 6 rules that will help focus the content of your bio.

Scribe Writing focuses on the importance of the author bio in relation to marketing and also has 6 steps/rules for writing the bio. Also, a fancy template.

reedsyblog also has an author bio template and an approachable, conversational tone.

All three authors of these posts say pretty much the same things (use 3rd person, list your “credentials,” add a memorable personal detail) but the best advice I’ve heard for writing an author bio—and writing in general—is to look at your favorite authors and see how they do things.*

Two of my favorite authors are Janet Fitch and Chuck Wendig. Fitch’s bio is short and sweet; the first sentence talks about her most successful book, the second sentence talks about her 2nd most successful book, and the third sentence tells you where she lives. Wendig’s bio is a slightly longer paragraph. It mentions his blog and a laundry list of awards and publications, as well as where he lives and who his agent is.

Fitch’s bio does not employ the “personal touch” that Freelance Writing, Scribe Writing, and reedsyblog recommend. Wendig’s does a little bit at the end but it is more of an afterthought and a nod to his personality, and does not interfere with the informative content.

Back in the early 2010s my author bio also included a looooong laundry list of awards and magazine names that unfortunately no longer exist. Basically a long string of italicized letters that tried their best to put you to sleep. I also included “interesting” personal details like:

Daydreams about deepsea fishing.

Only writes when the cats let her.

Likes to (do something) and (something else) while sounding clever and esoteric.

Is surprised when she uses the word “esoteric” correctly.

I also included my day jobs in my author bio because I thought it was important that you knew that I was a STRUGGLING writer who had to SACRIFICE her writing time to feed herself (and her cats).

All of which is not relevant to my actual writing. You can get me as a PERSON by reading my blog or scrolling through my instagram.

It feels like the advice out there today gives you the option to include extra bells and whistles on your bio to be as punchy and fetching as possible while conveying ALL THE INFORMATION in a small, tidy package.

I want to do things differently this time. I want to include details that are writing-supportive and stand the test of time. Because I really don’t want to write another bio next year. So here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Jessica Halsey was born in Arkansas.

She writes poetry and contemporary fantasy and horror fiction.

Is there really anything else you need to know?

She wrote The Echo of Something Hitting for her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College.

Is the phrase “horror fiction” redundant?

She will self-publish the first book in her paranormal werewolf series, The Slaughter Chronicles, sooner rather than later.

Too much?

Okay, here’s the “final” draft:

Jessica Halsey writes poetry and genre fiction. She is the author of three chapbooks and The Slaughter Chronicles, a contemporary fantasy/horror series about werewolves. She wrote The Echo of Something Hitting for her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She was born in Arkansas, USA.

*Please don’t copy someone else’s bio and paste your name in it.

Writing The Echo of Something Hitting

I was waking up at 4:30 a.m., cursing my alarm clock. Awake before dawn, cold, sick/hungover, I’d trudge to the bus stop with frost crunching beneath my boots to get to work. It was an hour long bus ride if the traffic was good. I used that time on the bus to read and write poetry. I earned my MFA, start to finish, on that bus. Crossing the lines, riding over the river, circling the familiar pathways.

But before the bus was the dead kitten. My anchor.

See, while I was thinking about my graduating thesis, my “masterwork” of poems I was walking to the bus stop. A rooster crowed. There was fog, there was sleet, there was ice and the wet cold soaked into my marrow. My bag was too heavy with books and not heavy enough with food. I didn’t have enough alcohol/I had too much.

There was this image in my head of this ghost-woman under the foggy streetlight but that wasn’t reality. She was orange and I thought she was my speaker, the thread that would connect everything in my collection, but she wasn’t. I don’t know where she’s gone now. Maybe she wasn’t real to begin with.

I know she wasn’t real because the poems didn’t feel real. They weren’t working. I was stuck.

And then I was walking to the bus stop and there, in the grey concrete gutter at the edge of the dark, early morning road, was the dead kitten. Nothing ate it and its body was frozen. I walked by that little broken body for a MONTH and watched it get flatter and flatter, the fur and skin seemed to be dissolving into the road, the bones were sinking, slowly, into the concrete.

It was like the road was eating the body since none of the carrion feeders would touch it. It was too cold for the insects. Most insects.

And that made me think about borders and barriers and bodies dying on the road. Animal bodies, human bodies. There are borders between countries, borders between places within countries, borders between roads and rivers, roads and houses, roads and bodies.

I began to explore those places.

And then in the spring a flash flood killed my car. My most loyal, bestest friend in the world. We’d been on so many adventures together and I cried when I had to turn him (yes, him) in to the dealership. More debt, more stress. More mistakes made with the man who is now my ex-husband. I wrote the Echo of Something Hitting because I needed to tell myself specific things about the way I was living that I could not see. Rather, my sub-conscious/my reptilian brain needed to tell me. Go look back at your old poems and see if there’s something you might have realized sooner than you thought.

I began to explore those places too. The flood and transformation. Transformation from catastrophe. (As far as catastrophes go it was a small one but the water sloshing over my boots and then the firemen pushing my car out of the road, all of them wearing grey shirts and water up to their thighs, frolicking in the water like otters. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to put them into the book. If any of you are reading this now, all these years later, thank you.)

There’s lots of bird imagery, lots of water imagery, lots of grey. The kitten was grey.

(I tell people my favorite color is green but I think, secretly, it is grey. Grey and the weird pink/periwinkle/grey of some ballet slippers. Is it okay to have more than one favorite color? I don’t mean to imply in any way that green is inferior. I really like green.)

I’m running out of things to say about the book. It began as a collection of poems but as I wrote about the kitten and the road and the river the borders of the poems dissolved and it became what I like to think of as a “lyric essay.”

I got my degree in Cross-Genre and Hybrid Poetry. Hybrid is where prose and lines blend and mutate like sick proteins but they’re not sick. Things unfold and knot up. Things flow freely but they also flicker and disappear. Think deep sea fish and you’re good. The Cross-Genre is not merging “romance” and “fantasy.” Where I went to school, genres were prose and poetics. Genres were how you actually wrote, not what you wrote about.

So a lyric essay, to me, is formatted like an epic poem but has zero meter, too many long pauses, random chunks of prose that float like globules of crude oil in the ocean–they’re soft, not like plastic–

Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Review of Books about lyric essays…and how they can be…banal…(awesome selling point).

The Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville says, “Writing the lyric essay offers the author a frolic in the pool of memoir, biography, poetry and personal essay mixed with a sprinkling of experimental.

What is interesting?

What is over-the-top batshit crazy?

What is self-important pontification?

Maybe it’s all those things. But I feel that poetry is WAY more than just verse and form. Poetry is more than lines and stanzas, more than meter, rhyme, and syllable counts. I guess you could say that lyric essay is the ultimate free verse but free verse is already free verse so…I’m rambling now. I should end this post.

I wanted to say all that because I want to get back into poetry. I want to start working on another poetry collection, one that’s been hanging out in my head since 2007, like dust piling up in the corners.

The Echo of Something Hitting is a hybrid, cross-genre, lyric essay that explores the transformative journey from disaster into survival; an imagined life after death. Becoming something new within the language of roads, rivers, and storms, the text decomposes and reforms to escape the boundaries of words.

Fans of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Labyrinth and Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters will enjoy this handful of words.

Read it for FREE here 🙂

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Photo by Imthaz Ahamed on Unsplash

In the Voice of My Poetry

My poetry is about finding lost things.

If drinking makes you sick, don’t drink.

Find a clean puddle and dip your cup in that; drink the moon on the water.

My grandmother never wanted my grandfather to leave (he was an alcoholic). She had one sister who thought she was prettier than everyone else. Her grave has dead plants on it. And pink marble.

My poetry is about falling across the road as a bloody smear and making a new boundary, a new border.

My poetry is about an imaginary map.

I was born alone.

Wild roses are my favorite.

My poetry is about rotting and returning to the earth.

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This post is inspired by Bhanu Kapil’s Blog

Photo by Felipe Santana on Unsplash