Marshmallow Walls

MarshmallowsI’m very excited to announce that after a few long months of anticipation, one of my stories is finally live.

If you don’t like flash fiction, and you don’t like horror, I would not recommend this story. If you do, please have a read and leave a review!

You can find my story, Marshmallow Walls, here.

You can find other stories from the first and second issues of Fantasy Scroll Magazine here. I’ve been through almost all of them and there’s a lot of quality writing.

I wrote this story a long time ago, and it was sitting in a file on my computer for quite a few years. It was one of those stories that had been brewing for a long time and then one day it just sort of appeared. It has gone through a few edits, but nothing major. This is one of those lucky stories that didn’t need much after it was on the page. I started submitting things earlier this year and this was the first accepted story on my first submission.

I’ve had an excellent experience with Fantasy Scroll and its publisher, Iulian Ionescu. I was able to veto and/or approve any changes, ask questions (I’ve probably asked too many), and see one of my stories come to life all while being treated with patience and kindness.

This will be a short post because I hope that you’ll get your fill by taking a look at Marshmallow Walls.

Thanks, all! And best of luck to anyone currently going through the submission process!

Freelancing—Will You Have to Work For Free?

Erika_9_typewriterIn short, and in my experience, yes. Because we are in a society where you need experience to get experience, an education is often not enough to get you a job straight out of school. Publishers, marketing firms, and other writer-hiring businesses want you to know what you are doing and to prove that you know. That’s hard when you are just starting out and cannot, for the life of you, find a paying job for whatever you took in school.

It’s disappointing to think that after you accrued a large amount of debt for being trained by professionals, you still don’t qualify for your dream job. It’s even more disappointing to take a job that you could have done before you ever went to school. Let’s note here that I am taking about writing professions here specifically.

Sometimes, the only answer is to start freelancing on your own. But potential clients almost always want to see a portfolio, or at the very least, examples of your work for other clients. How can you show them that you can do what you say if you haven’t worked on any projects yet? You can’t. Unless you work for free.

It’s a devastating blow sometimes to take clients who are willing to accept your skills for free, but who won’t pay you for them. It stings and it gnaws. But if you don’t do some volunteer work, how else are you going to get started? I’ve done my share of free/volunteer work and now I even do some just to be nice. If you find the right people to volunteer for, they’ll likely let you use the work for a portfolio as well as give you a great endorsement. Keep track of everything so that you can use it for a website later on.

I started out by doing an internship with a local magazine. It wasn’t paid, but it was simple. At the end of it, I had a couple of articles published in their national magazine, a recommendation letter, and a valuable reference. Aside from them, I have volunteered for an independent publisher, a clothing business, an RMT, a food business, and now I volunteer for a brilliant little organization called Leaf2Wing (they are trying to save Monarch butterflies by reestablishing milkweed growth in North America). I don’t really need the experience from volunteer work anymore, but it sure feels good to do it anyway.

My advice to any aspiring writers is to start finding volunteer work while you are in school.

  • Post free ads online, talk to friends and family, post flyers, and do whatever else you can think of. Do it while you are in high school and university. Start contacting newspapers, newsletters, publishers, book stores, author groups, and anything else related to your concentration. Make sure that you outline that you will use this work in a portfolio and ask them for a written endorsement after the work is done. Keep their contact info just in case you need to use them for a reference or if you want to check in later on.
  • Be wary of those who ask for too much for free. Set your limits and outline them clearly. I’d suggest using a contract for anything that you do, but sometimes that isn’t practical. At least have a saved email message with the terms outlined and a response back from the business or person acknowledging those terms.
  • Understand that although most of your experiences should be positive if handled properly, not everyone is a “good egg”. Some clients will disappear, get work to you late, or dislike your work for whatever reason. It happens. Suck it up, let it go, and move on.
  • Branch out a bit from your area of expertise. I took publishing in school, but now I work full-time as a writer, and I offer social media marketing, editing, small business planning, and even some design on the side. I haven’t been out of school for that long, but the more that you learn the more likely you are to find people to work for.
  • Don’t be afraid of other industries. I’ve worked with clients in real estate, dentistry, food, publishing, marketing, law, massage, and tons of other industries. Just because you are trained in a specific area doesn’t mean that other industries won’t need your skills. It’s all about gaining positive experience.

All in all, it takes a lot of guts to be a freelancer of any kind. The income is unstable most of the time, if not all of the time, managing multiple clients can make you feel as if you are being pulled in a million directions, time management is difficult in the beginning, and it’s hard to just go out and “find a mentor”, which is what I was told to do many times and never did, though I tried.

Remember that if you keep at it, you’ll get there. It might not always be fun, and it might not always be as magical as you’d hoped, but if you’re doing what you really want to do, and you find some happiness in it, you’re going down the right road.

Do you freelance? Are you hoping to freelance one day? Have you worked for free, or did you start out differently?


What Makes a Good Book Good

heartIt’s hard to figure that out, since every person will experience a book differently. We all have different tastes and preferences, and those things are influenced by a million factors. Some of us like fiction, others prefer non-fiction. Some of us like to read articles online and others like to read big clunky hardcovers. That’s why it’s so important to remember that no matter what you write, someone out there will want to read it.

When I read a book, there are a few key things that either make my experience a good one or a bad one. I can be difficult to please, and although I try to keep myself from despising a book because of a small thing in the story, it happens anyway. Here’s what I look for when reading, and what will make or break my love of the story:

1) Believability. I want the story to feel real, whether it’s fantasy or a NatGeo article. Even if the author has created a fictional world with magical beasts and magic and dragons, I still want events to feel like they could be possible. I feel like this is where a lot of books fail. Some writers feel that their stories have gone stagnant, so they will add something unexpected and ridiculously awkward to the story to revive it. As an experienced reader, I can generally recognize when this happens.

2) Emotions. Sometimes characters do things that you don’t expect and it’s wonderful. They show you that they are braver and more honourable than you had thought. Perhaps they are less selfish than you had expected, or they have a dark side that you respect. These are all wonderful things and they are part of character building. But what happens when a character behaves in a way that the reader just can’t understand? They question the writer. Take a lot of these teen dramas as an example. Many of them have teen characters that do really stupid things for their boyfriends/girlfriends. There’s a difference between romance and reality, and sometimes they shoot just a little too far.

3) World/scene building. It’s important for me to be able to form a visual based on what the writer describes. I want to know the tastes, smells, and textures of everything. I want to know what shade of red the carpet is, or how bright the green. But, I don’t want it to be told to me in list format or thrown at me haphazardly. I want it to be subtle and quiet, but loud enough for me to paint behind m eyelids.

4) Romance. I love romance in stories, but I don’t want every page to be about some kind of emotional turmoil between two characters. I suppose I prefer when the love story is wrapped up inside the story, not the other way around. For a love story to be intriguing, to me it has to be something that you hope for in the background.

There are a number of other things that can tell me if I enjoy a book or not. I’m quite picky, so if I don’t enjoy even one of those aspects I may put a book down. It’s harsh, I know, but I have read so much that I know my tastes well, and I would rather not drag myself through something that I know I won’t enjoy. That being said, I do like a variety of genres, styles, and writers. I may love one book from an author, but not their next.

The role of the publisher can be felt in some of the things that I don’t like. Perhaps the love story was rewritten and added to prior to publishing so that it would appeal to a certain group. Maybe the editor felt as if the story was falling flat and suggested an addition. Or perhaps the author wanted to try something new.

Although it’s impossible that every book suit our personal preferences, it’s still good to remember that there are a number of reasons why a book may not be of interest to you. It can also teach you many things as a writer. Take what you find irritating and avoid doing it yourself. Make notes of the aspects in stories that don’t work for you and think about how you would do better. It’s hard to learn from your own mistakes as a writer if you’ve never done it professionally, so learn from the mistakes of others instead. Your writing will be stronger and you will have a better understanding of the art.

What really turns you off of a story? What is the most important to you when reading? Have you learned to rework your writing from any specific books?

Like Peas and Maple Syrup

The Egg and ISounds like a nasty combination, doesn’t it? Unless you like that sort of thing, I suppose. As many of you know, I am slowly, and I mean slowly, working my way through The Stand. It’s long, and sometimes a bit bland (in my opinion, of course), but it’s not the only thing that I am reading. I am also reading The Egg and I, an absolutely wonderful, short book full of truth, humour, nostalgia, and life lessons. It’s a book that my grandfather gave me many years ago, and I have read it more than once.

It’s a tale about a woman who is taught to follow her husband’s dreams, and this particular woman’s husband dreams of raising chickens in the middle of nowhere. Her wit and intelligence cause me to chuckle to myself. Sometimes I even have to put the book down to let out a nice “guffaw”. I couldn’t recommend this book enough, but I’m guessing it’s not easy to find. If you can’t find that, try Dove. That one’s not about chickens, or doves for that matter, but it’s still a favourite of mine.

On my night table, I also have a book of Gary Larson comics, some fantasy book that I can’t remember the name of, and a book by Mary Stewart from her Crystal Cave series. I generally have more than one book on the go, and I pick which one I want to read based on my mood. But once in awhile, I will have a few books going that just do not mesh well together. This is the case with Stephen King and Betty MacDonald. Instead of peas and carrots, it’s more like peas and maple syrup. A mess of slops that leaves your brain yelling insults at your mouth.

Both books are good. In fact, both books are extremely enjoyable. One is about a religion-themed apocalypse, and the other is about a woman who hates chickens. The two books do not complement each other. They do not have the same style, tone, or even genre. It’s my fault for reading too many books at once, but usually I find ways to enjoy them both. If I am busy with other things, the lighter read will do. If I am at home and the rain is pounding its fists against my windows, the heavier read is appropriate. I can sink into either one like a warm bath if the timing is right.

But not with these two. I am finding it extremely difficult to stay focused on one and not the other. It probably doesn’t help that I have read one of them multiple times, and the other never before. I’ve never had this much trouble with reading two books at once and I find it strange. It makes reading a bit daunting. I’ve crossed-over between genres and styles and so on a million times before. I suppose I will just have to focus on one and finish it before continuing the other. Unless anyone else has a better suggestion.

Have you ever read two (or more) books at once that just didn’t work together at all? What were they, and how did you fix it?