Hello New Zealand, Hello The Wangapeka

I arrived in New Zealand on December 29th, 2016, summer in the southern hemisphere.  The air was fragrant with all sorts of floral aromatics, the warm breeze was fresh from the ocean, and I was excited to be in such a new and different place.  Just some of the things I noticed right away:

  • Cars drive on the other side of the road.
  • The plugs are all different and have individual switches.
  • The light switches are tiny and reversed (up is off!).
  • You hang clothes up to dry outside (no one has clothes dryers) because it doesn’t rain for months on end.
  • Everyone makes their own yoghurt.
  • The licence plates are just a number, no country/province necessary when you’re an island nation.

Nelson, NZ

Having lived in Canada my whole life, there are some things ingrained into me that I hadn’t realised until I came to NZ.  That shadow in the bushes?  Not a raccoon.  That rustling on the path at night?  Nothing to worry about, certainly not a bear.  There are no predators here.  There are no naturally occurring mammals here.  Mice, rats, stoats, and possums have made it over, but no large predators.  No snakes even.  It feels a lot like BC, but the ever-present feeling that there are hungry beasties hidden about is a vibe I still, 6 months in paradise, cannot quite shake.  There something deep and old about the fear of predators; I see fields of sheep everywhere and just cannot wrap my head around there being nothing for them to worry about.

Coming from the worst winter in my life (in all aspects; the weather was just terrible!) into a tropical wonderland was the most perfect thing.

I stayed with a wonderful woman, Rona Spencer, for a week.  She showed me all around town to orient me, and took me on a walk up to the Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.  The birdsong here is incredible; Tui and Bellbird have the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and Canada’s no slouch when it comes to bird life!

In the shuttle on the way to the Wangapeka

After my week in Nelson, I headed up to The Wangapeka.  I now know it by many names: The Centre, The Wanga, officially The Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre.  I and another retreatant took the shuttle up a day early (Colin is great if you ever need to get anywhere in the Nelson area, or book him up to the Centre, he really knows the drive!).  My early-companion had been to Wangapeka before and showed me all around to get me oriented.  I’ve had many kind and wonderful guides since coming here; they always seem to show up right when I need them most.

I walked up to the whare (pronounced “far-ay”- the “wh”s here are pronounced as “f”s), the beautiful teaching house.  I saw NZ’s first Stupa.  I heard and saw many things for the first time that made me feel like I was in a magical place.

If you don’t know what a retreat is, it’s basically taking intentional time away from life to do personal work.  The retreat I went on was a 2 week Chenrezig retreat.  It’s a form of meditation that helps explore many aspects of self, with the ultimate goal of cultivating compassion.  It was my first time using a mala, which are beads on a string to help count mantra.  I remain an atheist; there are many aspects of Buddhism I cannot get behind, but many that I can.  I have found it incredibly useful to explore the mind using some of the tools it offers, Chenrezig being one of them.

So many people have been doing work of various kinds at the Centre for so long that it feels… anything I say will sound like mystical hoo-hah.  It just feels special.  Knowing that people have faced their inner demons, have explored dark and deep crevices of their minds, have had the guts to delve into themselves and root around, gave the place a feeling of gravitas, of solemn importance.  It made me feel comforted; I am not the first person to be going through a great loss, nor will I be the last.

I think I fell in love with The Wangapeka when I arrived.  It could be that a drowning person will love any lifeboat, but as time has gone on, I don’t think I love it just because it helped me so much in a time of great need.  I see the work being done there, see that just having a place for serious retreat work is a gift.  The care and attention put into that place over the many years has made it a special place.

I did a solo retreat for a few days after Chenrezig ended.  I went to the highest hut, Omahu, and had uninterrupted time all to myself.  I has one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen, for what it represented to me as much as the actual sight.  I cried for joy when I got up there; how lucky I am to have landed here and get to be in such a place.

The view from Omahu

Since that first retreat I’ve been back several times; I did a week long “intro retreat” to further understand retreat work in general.  Then, I was back in Nelson and prepared to send my roommates and many friends off for a month-long retreat.  Many pieces fell into place: my roommate Chani was the retreat organiser, I had been cooking a ton and sending delicious food to Wangapeka-related meetings, I made it known that I loved the Wangapeka and wanted to help in any way I could, I was completely at loose ends (I cancelled my flight back to Canada) and I was looking for work.  This perfect storm was bubbling away when, three days before their retreat was due to start, they found themselves without a cook.

Badda bing badda boom, chef Heidi to the rescue!

I learned how to use the ordering system, how to portion, what the dietary requirements were, made meal plans, and got oriented with the kitchen in three days.  Then I cooked for a big group for a month!

It was some of the happiest time of my life.  Waking up every morning with a purpose, knowing I was helping support the work people were doing, making delicious and nutritious food, being around wonderful people in that place, and going to teachings in the morning and group meditations in the evening- it was exactly what I needed.

I even got a couple of breaks, and got to go on a hiking trip into the Nelson Lakes.

After the month, I stayed to cook for a work week, where amazing woofers helped with whatever needed doing.  Then I was asked to cook for a “harp meditation” weekend, and I spent my final days in one of the higher up huts, Skydancer.

It snowed a bit, heralding the start of winter.

It’s been nearly two months since I was last there, and I can’t wait to go back.  I’ll be cooking for a 4-day Chenrezig retreat soon, then for the AGM, then staying on to cook for a six-week retreat and all the ones that happen on the weekends concurrently.  I feel so lucky to have the opportunities that I do.  If you spend enough time setting up bowling pins, you can stand back and have a go at knocking them down.  I have been bowling a pretty terrific game since I arrived in NZ, that’s for sure.

Oh and during that month long retreat, my publisher sent me the final MS to proof.  I did some intensive editing in the caretaker’s office between lunch and dinner.  They also asked for the acknowledgements and my bio.  What hilarious timing to have to write a paragraph about who I am.

Because really, who am I?

…I’m Heidi.

Thanks for reading.  ❤

Heidi out.

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Hello and Welcome to the New HG!

Hello Dear Readers.  Personal post ahead!

Thanks so much for still sticking around with me.  It’s been a doozy of a time, a real top-notch shitshow for me personally.  The past 2 years have been awful.  But things are great now.  The Coles’ Notes: I was with my husband for 14 years, and now we’re getting divorced.  I had a home and two cats, now I no longer have a home or cats.  I was in Canada, now I’m in New Zealand.  I was awesome, now I am EVEN MORE FRICKIN’ AWESOME.

(Here’s me at my own private “Polar Bear Swim” at Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, January 1st, 2017!)

I love life.  I have had the best time of my life the past few months.  It’s hard to go through something as disruptive as a divorce, but I’m doing well, and have a new improved outlook on life, the universe, and everything.

I wanted to share some things about me and keep you in the loop.  As this blog is primarily about my writing career, you’ll be pleased to hear that my novel, Sleep Over, is coming out soon!  I am beyond excited that I’ve come this far and will finally get to see one of my books in print, from an amazing publisher.  (More updates to follow of course!)

(Here’s me in the shuttle being driven further into New Zealand to the Wangapeka.)

As you can see, I have opted for a new name.  H.G. Bells reporting for duty!  I picked a new name that I think will be easy to 1) pronounce 2) spell and 3) remember.  I hope to hit the ground running when Sleep Over comes out, and my new name will hopefully at least not completely hobble me when it comes to being the new kid on the block.

And it has the added benefit of being similar to one of the ‘fathers of sci-fi’, H.G. Wells.  I hope to follow in his footsteps and contribute to sci-fi as he did (ambitious much Heidi?  Baby you know it!).

So my next few posts will be about me in New Zealand.  It’s so beautiful here, and it’s been an incredible place to begin healing my poor broken heart, meet amazing people, and generally expand my horizons.

(Me up at Omahu at the Wangapeka… the most beautiful place.)

Writing-wise, I will say that going through a divorce was incredibly disruptive, surprising no one.  What did surprise me, was my ability to complete a major set of revisions for my publisher during the worst time of my life.  I have to tell you, when I got the email that my draft had been accepted it was such a huge weight off my back.  It made me realise that I have spent so much time and effort honing my craft that it was still functional while my whole world was being burnt to the ground around me.  I can still perform as a writer while my world is on fire.  I honestly didn’t think I could do it, and, while I was struggling to get the final draft done during those dark times, I thought for sure it was the end of my writing life.  But I have emerged from that process with a deeper appreciation and confidence in my work, my process, and in myself.  I built the foundation of my craft strong, and I built it to last.  Thanks Past Heidi, you did a real good job there.  (Future Heidi if you’re reading this: hi!  I love you!)

Also, I am strong as fuck.  If there’s a thing on this earth that can break me, I sure as hell don’t know what it is.  (ATTN gods of fate: this is not a challenge, pls leave Heidi alone for a while k thanks bye.)

But, while I am strong, I am tired as hell.  I would love it if Sleep Over could come out and do well so I can breathe a little easier.  I know it’s not easy establishing oneself on the world stage of authordom (and realistically I expect to need several published books before I can count myself as successful), but hopefully Sleep Over will be a good start.  And then I can really shine.  Because, while I can keep up with the process while going through hell, my best work has been while I’ve had a stable and happy life.  I hope to get back to something approximating that some day, and can continue on with a vague life trajectory.

We make all these plans, and then life happens.  We assume we will be the same, but we’re all changing all the time.  Things change, we change, and here I am surfing a big change.  Yeehaa!!!

So that’s me.  Thanks for reading my most personal update yet.  I truly cannot express how grateful I am to still have you with me, for your kind words, your support, your love.  As I’m rising from the ashes of my former life I can see so much to be grateful for, so much to love, so much to feel.  And through it all, be it from the sidelines or holding my hand, is you.

Much love,

Continually Yours,

Heidi Grace Bells

 

P.S. You can email me at my snazzy new email address:  heidi {at} hgbells {dot} com  And as you may notice, my website has changed to match!  hgbells {dot} com is the new me!

BEST NEWS EVERYONE!

It is with great pleasure that I announce I have a publisher for my novel Sleep Over!

My first published novel will be with Skyhorse Publishing.  They have placed 33 books on the New York Times bestseller list; I hope to add one more to that tally.

I am working closely with one of their editors to get the manuscript where they want it (for a larger audience, more commercial fiction than literary fiction) and I am 10000% on board with getting it to be the best that I possibly can, to reach as large and audience that I can!

I have about 1.5 tons of work to do.  How much writing is that?  Many.  Many writing to do.  Notes on just about every chapter.  Many new chapters to write.

I am so excited!

I have been waiting to tell everything this news for… let’s see, I submitted my first novel to a publisher in 2002, then wrote 5 more books, then, carry the 1… yes, ten thousand years.  But more specifically I had to keep this news about this publisher and this book under wraps for so long!  I am so glad to get to tell you finally.

Hurray for me!  I have a publisher!

I will keep you posted on things to come.

Expect to hear such exciting news like:

  • crumbling under the stress of revisions 
  • tackling tough revisions with gusto
  • getting the final draft approved by my editor
  • getting an author photo
  • getting a back blurb
  • getting cover quotes
  • getting a cover!
  • the book going to print
  • a release date
  • and much much more!

This process takes a crazy long time; don’t expect to see my book until 2017 (I think a January release was being tossed around- maybe I will get the best birthday present ever).

I will be sure to keep you posted.

Here’s a link to Skyhorse’s site.  Sleep Over will be under the Talos imprint, with their other great sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.  (For those that don’t know, publishing houses have “imprints” that handle the various genres they work with.)

I’d like to thank everyone who has checked in to see how things are going.  It’s a long process, and having your support has really made a difference to me.

Thanks for reading.  ❤

Heidi out.

You Will Never Know as Little About _____ as You Do Now.

Hello dear readers!  It’s been a while, mostly because I can’t really talk about things in the exciting phase.  I can say that my agent has begun the first round of submissions with my novel, and that it’s going extremely well.  I just need to wait on editors to get back to us about… things.

Hurray!

Mean time, I volunteered at SiWC again this year, and I gotta say it felt different.  Being there knowing an agent is hard at work for me was such a different feeling than being there searching for representation.  It was much nicer.

I got to time appointments with authors, called Blue Pencil Appointments.  It’s where writers sit down with published authors and get the first few pages of their work critiqued.  It was neat to be a part of from a distance; I like to think I’m familiarizing myself with stuff like that now because hopefully soon I’ll be in the author’s seat at conventions like SiWC!

Many writers got tons of good advice over the weekend.

I’m starting a new project, a comedy western.  Need to do something fun.  But you know how much I know about westerns?  Near 0%.  So I had an interesting idea; record everything I think I know about westerns.  Like, before I start my research.  Because I have a perspective that I will never have again (and it goes for just about anything):

I will never know as little about as I do right now.

From here on, I will only know more about westerns.  But I’d love to know what someone who knows nothing about westerns knows about westerns.  So I might as well write it down.  All the archetypes I know, all the plot devices, all the tropes etc.  And then as I do my research I’ll get a better idea of the genre, but still have a record of what “no-knowledge-Heidi” knew.

So, when you begin learning about a thing, take note of what you know before you begin learning, so you can look back and see what a layman knew about the thing!  A highly useful perspective that you won’t be able to have once you begin your quest.

That’s all for now!  I’m working on a list of common mistakes writers make when they’re starting out, and I’ll have that set to auto-update once I get the first entries few finished.

Thanks for stopping by!

Heidi out.

I’ll take “Weeks Of Hard Work” for a thousand, Alex.

Well, revisions went swimingly.  It was two weeks of solid, hard work.  I went through each story (Sleep Over consists of 32 stories told from 32 different people; together, they tell a cohesive narrative) and figured out what I needed to do to make each one better.

Mostly this involved amping up the emotional stakes, making people’s reactions become more insane as they lose their sanity (obvious, right?), and further accentuating character’s awareness of the jeopardy they are in.

That last one was what was missing from a majority of the stories.  Jeopardy.  Without jeopardy, things just happen, and there’s no feeling of tension or peril.

Jeopardy is anticipated pain or loss.  The pain or loss must be apparent, as well as plausible; that whole era of villains tying women to railroad tracks was short lived, because the sensibilities of the time didn’t allow for the possibility of that threat could ever be realized.  Since it was obvious that the train would never be allowed to run over the captive, the peril was implausible and thus ineffective.

The character must believe that the jeopardy is real, that the pain or loss being anticipated could actually come to fruition.

As for the other part of that equation, the pain or loss must be anticipated.  Characters must be aware of the stakes at hand, they must fully realize the pain and loss in their future.  That’s not to say that some of the jeopardy can be unknown to them (nothing like a bad situation getting worse to amp up the jeopardy) but the character must have a base level of awareness of just how screwed they might be.

This was the main thing missing from my narrative.  I injected some of the earlier stories with known timelines of symptoms, and various terrible things which might happen, and then did callbacks to them in subsequent stories.

Basically, I just spent two weeks doing terrible things to my characters and making them fully aware of just how awful things will get.  Even with some large cuts being made, I ended up with 10k more words than before.  That’s 10,000 words of jeopardy.

I am taking a few days off to get some distance from it, and then doing a full read through to make sure I got it right.

I tinkered a lot with tempo, and it’s hard to judge the flow when you’re zoomed way in and working on edits like that.  Taking a few steps back and coming at it fresh should give me a better idea of the time flow as well.

So that’s writing for today.  Going splendidly.

In other news, my new kitten, Lemon, is a brat!  She throws little meowing fits if she doesn’t get her way (which is often- silly kitty, NO you cannot make a nest in those cables, NO you cannot eat that tinfoil, NO you cannot climb up there and knock everything off of our bookshelves) but she is learning.  Constancy is key, and we’re getting there, slowly.

Our other cat, Echo, is finally into having a friend.  She groomed Lemon the other day for the first time and I just about died of how cute it was.

Here is a neat video I found of an interesting filming technique:

So that’s all for now folks!  Thanks for stopping by.  Good times ahead for the S.S. HGBleackley ReaderSHIP!

Cheers.

Heidi out.

Stay On Target

Sorry for the long time between updates!  I have a draft of something I was working on, but I won’t post that yet.  For now, news on the novel.

Things have been smoking along at quite the clip.

I have another day of read-through and editing to do, and then my manuscript will be ready for the beta readers!  I am so excited.  I’m already feeling relief; I have written so many challenging things these past few weeks, and I really will be glad to be done.

I have to make a tough call tomorrow about cutting a piece.  The fact that it’s on the chopping block means it’s probably already been chopped, but for some reason my current self hasn’t accepted it yet, so I’m still “considering” it.  I am being careful not to say the same thing twice in this book… so I need to really look at what I said and see if I come at this part of the event at two different enough angles.

Of all the segments I had to write, the pregnancy miscarriages and deaths of infants was one of the hardest.  In the insomnia apocalypse I’m writing, children get a pretty shitty deal.  I wanted to cover it but not dwell on it- because it might come off as shock-value- but damn.  It really took it out of me.  And I fricking wrote the damn thing twice.  One from a paediatric nurse working the neonatal unit, and one from a medical hypnotist.

Guess which perspective is more interesting?

See, it’s obvious.  But my stupid writer brain is clinging to the nurse.  It took so much time to pull that off, it was haaard, it thinks.  Cram it brain, the Hypnotist is better.  But the nurse shows it better.  The Hypnotist is all about The Hypnotist.  

Ugh.  Cutting is hard sometimes.

Sorry, this is all abstract.  Here’s a bat.

This is the most challenging thing I have ever written, and keeping it held together in my mind, dozens of stories, vignettes, characters, locations, research- it’s messing with my brain.  …And my life a little.  Like missing appointments, shifts at work… my brain is just about at its limit with this one.

I got four hours of sleep last night, then went to the cafe, and spent five hours fervently writing (one segment completed) and editing (perhaps 45,000 words read-through/edited.

Once I get this book done I can go back to the methodical agent researching.  I already have notes on several whom I’d love to work with- I hope one of them loves my project enough to work with me on it.

A new apocalypse scenario, who would have thought, right?

Onwards.  Oh god I just devoured The Handmaiden’s Tale.  Man alive, that one will stick with you.

Banished is an amazing medieval city building game.  If you like resource management and seeing your villagers die of starvation, this game is for you!  T_T

It is hard as butts.  But addictive, and also fun.

And also we’re getting another kitty, a kitten.  Will post pictures, of course.  It’s going to be a toss up between news about this book and a kitten.  …I will try and mash them together, maybe like a cute kitten photo with a caption that’s all business.

*

Today I got a full manuscript request from the most amazing agent ever!**

*not my kitten

**is only a caption example, has not happened (for this particular manuscript, yet, as it is not finished).

Ta ta for now, beautiful readers.  I will have a tidbit of good news to share with you soon.  😉

And then, hopefully soon, the best news.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

What Makes Agents Stop Reading (SiWC), and We Have a Winner!

First off, congrats to Phillipa, the winner of my first ever book giveaway!

Thanks to everyone who entered.  I will be doing another one soon, and you’ll have another chance to win then, by commenting here, on Reddit, and my Facebook page.  🙂

And now, more notes from SiWC!  This time I’ll be taking a look at their wonderful “Surrey International Writers’ Conference IDOL”.  Basically, it’s four people skilled in the art of rejecting authors, and one person who reads.  What do they read?

Everyone is invited to submit the first page- ONLY the first page- of their manuscript.  It’s blind and it’s stark and brutal and beautiful; the words have to do the work, there’s no preamble, no explanation, no baggage of any kind to go along with them.

Here are the rules: if one of the four judges raise their hand, the reader keeps reading.  But if a second judge raises their hand, the reading stops, and the judges explain why they stopped it.

If they get to the end with one or zero hands raised, they also talk about it.

It’s absolutely fabulous.  Riveting.  There were some amazing first pages mixed in with the mediocre and the just plain bad.

To give you some context, the judges were:

Michelle Johnson, founding agent of Inklings Lit.

Nephele Tempest, an agent at The Knight Agency.

Patricia Ocampo, an agent at Transatlantic.

Bree Ogden, agent with D4OE Lit.

And the reader was the illustrious Jack Whyte, author of such novels as The Camulod Chronicles, The Knights Templar Trilogy, and The Bravehearts Chronicle, and owner of one of the most magnificent voices I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.  I would have listened to him read a phone book.  But instead, he kept me captivated with stories of every kind, his sonorous Scottish accent lulling me into that wonderful state of “I’m listening, please, never stop.”

So that’s our setup.  Four amazing women in the industry waiting to blind judge the first words, sentences, and, if the writer was lucky, the first paragraphs of as many first pages as they could get through.

Here’s why they stopped readings, peppered with reasons why Jack Whyte made it to the end of a page without the hammer coming down.

Please note- the first pages spanned every genre and tone, and going into the specifics of what they contained would not add to this; the reasons for stopping reading are universal.  I hope my notes are enough to give you an overall sense of why agents put work down in the first few sentences.  And as usual, this is a mix of the agents’ words and my own interpretations and additions.

x= complete stop, 1/2= one hand up, but made it to the end, and ✓= no hands raised.

x  too much happening- what is going on, we the reader cannot make heads or tales.

x  too boring, there’s no hook.

x  who is talking?  And why do we care about them?  (Not identifying your narrator or having a clear main character was a much-repeated reason to get the agents to stop the reading).

✓  pacing was great, and there was a good balance between setting and character.

✓  the voice was clear and captivating, there was an excellent balance of setting, character, all aspects; drew us in.

x  too much description, going nowhere.

x  there’s more to a story than beautiful imagery.  Wonderful writing, but flowery descriptions are not what draws people into the beginning of a story.

x  to local- super specific small town setting was a turnoff (so we need to set our stories in Anytown, USA?  Dang.).

1/2  (one hand raised, this first page barely squeaked past)  not much happening, nothing at stake, no conflict.  No reason to put it down, but also no reason to keep going either.

x  too much exposition- thinking about thinking, telling not showing, no action, the age of the narrator is inconsistent (the voice was inconsistent, giving the reader mixed impressions of the narrator), what is the conflict, and there were 2 typos ._.

x  cliché and lame, plus the implausibility of a 14 year old being in handcuffs, AND being able to pick them.

1/2  we’re lost; it’s interesting, but *what* is going on.  Confusing your reader is not the same as hooking them.

x  waking up (don’t start your story with your character waking up.)  (Seriously, don’t.)

1/2  good description but confusing- who is the protagonist, who is the narrator; beautiful, but what is the story?  Sometimes it’s useful to flip the first chapter, putting the end at the beginning, to draw the reader into the story (the setup comes after drawing them in).  Telling not showing…

1/2  all backstory and repetitive writing.  Varying sentence structure was great and switching up what the sentence is about (switching between character, description etc).  Cliché opening line was a turnoff.

x  descriptions galore, choppy, unrealistic depiction of emotion, unrealistic reactions.

x   waking up (don’t start your story with your character waking up) (seriously, don’t).

x  word usage- “lovers” and other sex specific words (this was an agent preference).  Trying to be clever- the writer getting in the way of the tone (see my previous post on how the author intrudes on the story).  The description doesn’t match the tone and content; huge disconnect between content and the voice.

x  a lot of telling, no showing

x  description of how someone travelled- who cares, and now we’re in another location.  We don’t need to know what airline they flew.  Rule of thumb for backstory: a little at the beginning, some in the middle, none at the end.

1/2  saying the same thing in several ways, get on with it.  Beautiful sentences, but telling not showing.  Whose story is it.

1/2  great voice but too many adjectives, cliché and poor word choice.

SO!  That is the list of commentary I took down as the judges meted out their sentences on those authors lucky enough to have their first pages drawn for the reading (it was random, and no, mine was not one of the lucky to be eviscerated evaluated, which is a shame, because none of the others started off the way mine did, and it would have been lovely to hear what they thought!).

Hope others find this helpful.  I surely did, and it I was glad to have had the opportunity to hear this raw and unfiltered look into what gets an agent hooked enough to want more.

Several of those writers whose work made it to the end were asked to approach the agents afterwards.  One of them was Russel, a young man whose story of a jester on stage absolutely captivated the room.  When Jack Whyte looked up at his audience and found us spellbound, and we realized there was no more to the story, there was an audible reaction from the crowd.  We wanted more.  And so did two of the agents.  I went up to Russel afterwards and offered my congratulations; he hadn’t finished the manuscript, but he had talent enough to hold a room full of his peers.

What an opportunity!  This is one event at SiWC that I will attend every time.

Cheers.

Heidi out.

P.S. It’s the last day of Aaron’s (well funded) Kickstarter campaign for a superior Spirograph!  Check it out and join the fun!

MATHEMATICAL!