New Cool Things :)

publishedabout 2 months ago
6 min read

It’s August already, so apologies for getting the newsletter out a bit late! It’s been a “wild and woolly” July here in New Zealand, with some big storms and lots of rain coming through. We’re truly in the thick of winter, and it’s been so strange watching the northern hemisphere going through heat waves and other associated summer-weather extremes. (You’d think that I’d be used to that by now, even after living in New Zealand for over 20 years, but it would seem the months and seasonal correspondences are pretty hard-coded in my brain.)

hideous weather!

(Yep, hideous! This was at the bottom of our driveway)

new cool things

I was expecting July would be a bit of a “hibernation” month, but there have been quite a few new starts, which is a pleasant surprise…

Utopia

I was accepted as a volunteer assistant editor for Utopia Science Fiction magazine! Some of my responsibilities include reading fiction submissions and making recommendations to the editors, and sending out rejection letters. It’s VERY strange to be on this side of the fence, but I’m really enjoying the process and also the discussion about different stories that come in, and reasons why things might (or might not) be a good fit for an upcoming issue.

The process of reading through a certain number of stories each week, and honing my skills in identifying what works and what doesn’t work, is really great; I’m hoping to be useful to the editors of course, but I want to get better at turning that “impartial eye” towards my own writing. Whether that’s possible when you’re emotionally invested is another story, but we’ll see…

New Tools & Books

A few new books and tools also came my way in July, which I’ve found really interesting and useful. (As an aside, next month I’ll tell you a bit more about some of the tools I use that I really enjoy.)

Several Short Sentences About Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg, is a book I got out from the library a while ago. I was immediately taken with its simplicity and insightfulness. It reminded me of some of the other books on writing I often “lean” on; books I turn to when I’m stuck and just need a jolt of reassurance. It’s not a how-to in any sense, but at the same time Klinkenborg is a sharp observer of how writing “works.” For example:

"But genres are merely outlines by another name. Better to be discovering what’s worth discovering, Noticing what you notice, And putting it into sentences that, from the very beginning, Open the reader’s trust and curiosity, Creating a willingness in the reader to see what you’ve discovered, No matter what genre you call it. Or, better yet, make the reader forget about genre completely.”

On the other side of the spectrum is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. Swain wrote this back in 1965, and while there are some, ah, “cultural relics” in here, I’ve found his writing advice to be solid and practical. He’s definitely more of a “pantser” than a “plotter”, but I found a lot of things in here that I’ll be using.

I liked this:

”Planning, you’re one person. But by the time you sit down to write, you’ve become another. You probably can see this most clearly if you’re one of those methodical souls who goes in for journals, sketches of stories you hope some day to write, file cards listing plot ideas, and the like. These efforts are laudable. But by now, if you’ve carried on such projects for any length of time, you’ve discovered that only on rare occasions do the notes develop into finished copy. The reason is precisely as stated above: You yourself change, in the interim between the time when inspiration first becomes apparent and the later date when you attempt to reclaim the concept from your file.
In consequence, yesterday’s idea strikes no spark today. Fervor has dulled to disenchantment. Multiply this response by ten, and you get some small picture of what happens when you outline a story in too great detail. For when you plan rigidly, in effect you nail down the road a story must take. You commit yourself to a mood and state of mind that no longer exist when you and your typewriter finally get together. In so doing, you deny yourself the pleasure and privilege of following the impulse and inspiration of the moment.
Result: Writing flips from fun to drudgery. The idea lies dead as a skinned and gutted rabbit in a freezer, its only pulse that which you pump into it with sweat and dogged perseverance.”

And the other thing I can recommend is a cool app called Highlighted. Take a photo of the page you’re reading, and the app identifies sentences (and even page numbers). Select the ones you want to extract, and it saves them as a text file for you to do something with.

It’s for iOS, and as someone who up till recently was a mostly-Linux user, I apologise for promoting yet another app that looks cool but is only available on an Apple product. But I’ve got to the point where struggling with Linux is taking up so much of my time. I just want things to work. So I’ve gone back to the dark side. (No, the other dark side!) And got a MacBook Air. It’s amazing. I love it. Sorry.

Karate!

And last of all, the Mooster (Leila’s nickname) and I recently signed up for “parent and child Karate” at our local dojo. We’ve been twice so far but we both really love it. There’s a real family feeling there, the instructors seem to be kind and patient people, and I love that we’re doing an activity together that will help us both become more physically confident.

(Plus we sing to really loud music in the car on the way there and back!)

Reviews (or, a favour please?)

It’s been really lovely having people come up to me and tell me that they liked my stories in The Dark Offering. Again, thanks so much to everyone who got it and read it! But just as a tiny favour, if you did read it and enjoy it, I’d really appreciate if you could leave a wee review. I know it’s a faff, and I’m just as bad at doing it about books I’ve enjoyed as well. But in the hopes of making it easy for you, here’s a link that should take you straight to a new review page.

It’s probably worth noting that Amazon does have a lot of rules around this sort of thing. They don’t like authors to ask friends and family to leave them reviews willy-nilly (and I suppose that’s really fair enough). There’s certain criteria around having bought a certain amount from Amazon in the past year, and I suspect you probably have to have bought the book as well. So if the above doesn’t fit your description, no worries. I appreciate you subscribing to the newsletter in any case :)

Oh right, here’s that link: review for the Dark Offering.

(My writing assistant)

Reading

In addition to the above (the Klinkenborg and the Swain), I grabbed a stack of books from the library recently, and what’s really floating my boat right now is China Miéville’s Railsea. I’ve had a bit of a hit-and-miss history with Miéville; I loved Perdido Street Station but bounced off Kracken (even though I really liked the start of it). Railsea pushes a lot of buttons for me (good ones, I mean). The weird. The play on Moby Dick (which I also love). The setting (I adore the poisonous skies where alien creatures live). The main character, so lumpen and awkward. And yet the weird (so far) isn’t completely alienating. It’s accessible-weird. Heh. Check it out.

Links and things

A few interesting things I came across over the month on the ‘net:

  • Your hidden work has value - a lovely little pondering on the “hidden work” you do and how it can be just as important as the “actual” work.
  • Lawrence of Arabia & Dune - probably something Dune fans have known about since forever, but I hadn’t put two and two together and associated Lawrence of Arabia with Paul Atreides. Some interesting insights here too into the whole “white saviour” trope and how that manifests in the book.
  • How to gain more from your reading - this one was a good reminder for me. I tend to gulp, binge, slurp, hoover-up, when I read. I’m a bit of a glutton. This was a good reminder that slowing it down can result in a greater understanding and (probably, maybe) a better experience of a piece of writing.
  • Words - this is an old one, but good. A reminder about how communication can be simple and yet powerful.
  • I remember - a lovely video about random memories over the course of a man’s life.

The blog

And from the blog, mostly stressing over school holidays - hehe!

Anyhoo, thanks again for subscribing! I’d love to hear from you about anything. Just hit reply, or email hello@jessicanickelsen.com. (Please note, the email address has changed!)

Until next time,

Jess


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