How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, er, Genre

Actually, it did start with the bomb.

Novel #1 (the homeless wonder) left my brain as a literary work, in which characters are guided by their prophetic dreams, sometimes to do things like build nuclear bombs out of smoke detectors and car parts and commit a little terrorism. Perhaps oddly, none of this struck me as fantastic or science-fictional. I do believe that dreams can show us things, and I do believe in the ingenuity of properly motivated and educated people. But the novel was widely seen as SF by literary folks (perhaps explaining its unsold status, but that is another story). This irked me, because I didn’t want my book shelved alongside sword-toting elves.

Sometime lately I realized that although I was once a literary snob, sneering over my spectacles into the genre ghetto, concerned with “respectability,” now I tend toward snobbery of another flavor. Or at least I have been seeing the (permeable, imprecise) distinction between literary and genre more clearly, and I have been seeing it in a way that makes me proud to live, for the most part, on the SF side of the wall.

Because I just read it, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake will be unfairly singled out in this post as an example of what I mean. It is certainly not the only book to suffer from an uncomfortable blend of genre and literary sensibilities, nor is it even a bad book. I kind of recommend it. Read it if (as I was) you’re traveling standby and end up waiting in an airport for six hours. But the book left me with an odd taste in my mouth, and it wasn’t sadness or lemon cake.

The book focuses on Rose, who as a child develops the ability to taste the emotions of food preparers, starting with her mother’s sadness. The SF element is presented matter-of-factly. It is a Real Thing, and the solidness of that aspect plants a foot in the fantasy realm.

And yet. The book’s real focus is Rose’s unbelievably distant family: her adulterous mother, withdrawn father, and even more withdrawn–to the point of barely speaking to Rose–brother. Rose’s emotional balance as she grows up is far more important than her superpower. (Which, incidentally, is almost totally negative for her. Why, I wonder, did she so rarely taste happiness?) And so the other foot stands in a literary place.

Two things make this work feel literary rather than genre. One <SPOILER> is the way Rose’s brother turning into a chair is handled. Even though it is a Real Thing, to me it feels like a metaphor. He was reclusive; he retreated; he disappeared into the furniture. </SPOILER>

The other is the scope of the story, the stakes. Reading through the book I kept collecting clues that ratcheted up my expectations. For example, Rose’s father avoids hospitals. Even when his kids are born, even when they’re sick. His avoidance is so huge that it ratcheted up the stakes and my expectations. I just knew that something AWESOME was coming. But it didn’t come. All I got was a sense of his character.

I realize that this sounds pretty negative toward literary fiction, so let me add that, of course, there are a great many masterpieces of literary literature, in which Things Happen and stakes-raising promises are fulfilled and the reader is left satisfied. But in literary fiction I think the other kind of story is more allowed. Things don’t have to happen. Characters don’t even have to change. And I feel like stories that straddle the border often retreat into that literary area where resolution is not required, rather than do the hard work of living up to the expectations they create and firing the guns they set on mantelpieces.

Which is disappointing. And so I will stay awhile in the genre ghetto, where the parties are louder, and the stories are bigger than the magic fish that got away, and the squids on the mantelpieces always squirt their ink by tale’s end.

I’d like to think that my writing does these things. I’d like to think that’s why my literary readers decided my novel was SF: that they were blown away by Things happening and promises fulfilled. If that puts my work on a genre shelf, then there it will sit.

Hopefully without any dragons on the cover.

Attic Toys

My story, “Down in the Woods Today,” is in this collection:

I’m an “and many more!” Just like the Professor & Mary Ann.

You can buy it for kindle today, for the low low price of only $2.99. If you get the sample first, or “look inside” the text, you’ll get tantalizingly close to the end of my story, hopefully to the point that you won’t be able to resist buying the book just to find out how it ends. Or something like that.

If you don’t have a kindle (or kindle app), you can’t buy the book yet, but I’m told there will be a paper version too. I don’t know when or where, but I’ll let you know.

Villains & Cool Kids

In high school, there were two girls who I called friends for a time. Until one day I pulled up with my lunch tray and they said, “We don’t really want you to sit with us anymore.”

It was pretty much like that.

Why am I telling you this? Aside from the fact that apparently I enjoy sharing my embarrassing pain, I’ve been thinking about character, about bitterness and villainy. Because it hurt me when they said that, and I’ve clutched that pain to my chest for these years, crushed it into angry diamonds. How could they do such a thing? I asked myself.

And just the other day my paradigm shifted. The thing about people–and characters–is that no one is the villain of her own story.

Maybe those girls weren’t trying to be mean. Maybe I was really annoying. Maybe I was obtuse, ignorant to the many gentle signals they tried to give me, pushing me away. Maybe my clumsy, desperate attempts to be loved made me repulsive. Should they have been forced to suffer through my presence every day for the rest of high school? Of course not. It seems to me now that they were only being honest with me, respectfully direct.

And yeah, my mind is blown. But this is exactly the kind of character insight that makes for well-rounded characters, flawed “heroes” and sympathetic “villains.”

Speaking of cool kids (which we weren’t, really–the girls I aspired to be friends with weren’t cheerleaders or even star theatre nerds; they were quirky potheads, themselves pretty far down the social pyramid). But speaking of cool kids, I am a lucky writer-girl now. I’ve sidled up to a new lunchroom table, and no one has yet asked me to leave. We have a blog, over at, and from time to time I will be posting content there, if my talented new friends will keep tolerating me.

Practicing for extinction: learning to e-read

This x-mas, an iPad came into our home. It was invited, like any good vampire, and now I fear it’s too late.

It turns out there are these things called e-books, which are like books except that they don’t actually exist in meatspace. And I’ve started to read them. It makes me feel kind of dirty, offending my finely hewn luddite sensibilities. It also makes me feel disembodied.

One of these things is not like the others.

I have the sense that we, humans, are practicing for our extinction. Bear with me. The other night I was reading a collection of short stories and I became irritated by not knowing how close to the end of the story I was, and how long the one after that was. Were this a real book, I thought, I could just flip through the damn pages.

And then I realized I was an idiot, and by tapping in the middle of the screen the little numbers and dots would show up at the bottom and it would tell me how many pages remained. Duh. And it occurred to me that I didn’t know how to read an e-book, not really. I’m not used to the feel of a hard electronic device in my hands. I’m not used to carefully avoiding touching the “pages” of the “book” in my hand. I can’t seem to figure out a comfortable way to “turn” said pages. I miss the tactile sense of progress as real slices of tree flip from right to left; numbers at the bottom of a screen are no substitute.

We are told that the content is the same and that’s all that matters. I almost believe it. Maybe I’m even trying to believe it. But an e-book isn’t a real thing. I can’t touch it or put it on a shelf (not a real shelf, anyway). Even though there’s still a physicality to e-reading–you still have to hold the stupid thing–it feels like practice for not having a body. When content is all that matters, we won’t need the containers. Whether we’re cyborgs or pure energy transhuman consciousness, our silly, needful, individual human bodies will be as obsolete as liner notes and book jackets. *sniff*

Yep, I’m overthinking. Like software-in-training.

Things to read

I’ve been terribly remiss, letting published works by my brilliant friends sit and sit without my pimpage. So here’s the backlog, things you should read (in other words, things I have finally read):

“Double Dutch,” by Lauren Dixon is at Scapezine. This is a sick story if ever I read one, but a haunting, beautiful tale too. Reading it made my belly hurt. In a good way.

“Surviving the eBookalypse,” by Randy Henderson can be read/heard at Escape Pod. It’s a silly story of what the future might hold for writers and readers. Eek.

• Speaking of Escape Pod, read or listen to “The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived,” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli there. Sad and moving.

• And on its sister site, Pseudopod, “A Study in Flesh and Mind” by Liz Argall will drain you from the inside out. Again, in a good way.

“So Glad We Had this Time Together,” by Cat Rambo is at Apex Magazine. Funny and spooky, this chronicles the danger of reality TV. Or something like that. You can also read excerpts from her WIP novel, The Easter Bunny Must Die at her blog. Read them now, before she gets a novel contract and has to take this down!

Dang! Seeing all that talent in one place makes me feel lazy. I’m gonna go write something.

On guilt

This book brought to 
you by guilt.

My long-time writing mentor Tim Powers is the first to admit that he’s no role model. And yet, whenever I’m looking for inspiration I find him there with his quirky and often contradictory take on the writing life.

One refreshing thing is that he doesn’t claim to write every day, like most other authors. It’s the accepted rule that to be a writer one must write. That one must write every day, optimally at the same time every day, maybe at the same desk. That one should struggle through the hard days, sitting there without writing a word if that’s what it takes. People like Stephen King claim to write 365 days a year, and the rest of us feel a little less worthy of calling ourselves writers when we let a day or even (gasp!) a week slip by between writing sessions. Now, I’m not saying that King and the others are lying. But it is an awfully high bar to try to vault over. I mean, how many other professions insist that you take no holidays?

What I am saying is that guilt is an inherent part of being a writer. Powers says this too: when you’re a writer you’ll do anything to avoid actually sitting down to write; but you’re also sort of honor-bound to feel bad about it when you succeed in avoiding the work.

1074 pages? There’s
not enough guilt in
the world.

This is where I find myself now. Having drafted the novel, I know, deep down in that place of Truth, that I’m not ready to start revising it yet. It needs to sit, to steep, for the memory of the words I’ve written to drain away from my fingertips and my neurons. This too is part of the accepted rules. But the guilt is strong. Get back to work, it says.

I’ve written a short story, and I should write some more of them. If I were a “real” author I could do that, switching between projects like a channel-surfer with a cramping finger. But it’s hard: the brain-space of the novel bleeds into any new work, suggesting ideas for revision and getting in the way of alternate narratives.

What is the answer? I wish I knew. I’d write a story about it.

The obligatory year-end post

Happy Arbitrary Marking of the Passage of Time day! It seems only fitting that I’m a day or two late with this post.

2011 in writing was an uneven year. At the beginning of the year Clarion West classmate Nate Parkes dubbed 2011 “the year of 2009” in hopes that it would be a banner year for us CW survivors. And so it seemed, at the outset. For me the year began with the sale, to Ideomancer, of my favorite story, “Apology for Fish-Dude.” I got the news on January 2.

And then . . . a stall. 2011 for me was the year of the black hole, as stories just sat and sat at markets. A couple of them have been “under consideration” for over a year! I didn’t score again until Rudy Rucker accepted “The Curse of the Were-Penis” for FLURB.

I spent most of the year working on novels. During the summer it was novel #2, which is kind of the bane of my existence. What I have now is close to a first draft–let’s call it a .75th draft, and I know I ought to try to beat it into shape. Experience tells me that even though I hate it, others might not. And yet . . .

Novel #3 has been captivating my mind. It came to me mostly formed in a dream, a radical departure from the kind of thing I usually write. I started it during NaNoWriMo and finished the draft today. Seriously, like twenty minutes ago I typed the last words of draft one. It came in much lower on word count than I expected, and that whole 1,000 words a day thing that I said I’d do didn’t so much happen, and it needs a lot of work. But it’s work I’m excited to do. I think this could be the one. Surely I’ve written my million words by now, right?

But wait, there’s more! As it turns out, I also wrote some short fiction in 2011. I discovered the joy of flash fiction and the glow that comes from starting and finishing a draft in one setting, and wrote three of those. I also wrote a story of traditional length, and revised one 10,000 word monster, sending it rampaging into the unwelcoming world, knocking over buildings and trampling frightened pedestrians.

Here’s another thing that I just want to share. I’m not on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List, but a number of my friends are. Congratulations to Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Joy Fowler, Von Carr/Siobhan Carroll, Liz Argall, Andrew Penn Romine, Rudy Rucker, and Cory Skerry.

Looking forward, I have ambitions both large and small. Like a birthday candle wish, I am keeping my grand hopes a secret lest they fail to come true. So I’ll end this post with a modest wish for 2012. This goes for all of you writer friends: may our acceptances be numerous and our rejections swift.

So, that happened

Hard to believe it’s halfway through December already. Happy Holidays, y’all! November was a wordy, wordy month, as I raged against the arbitrary and unyielding demands of NaNoWriMo. I won! Weird, huh?

But “winning” came at a price, a slump that I’ve been trying these two weeks to recover from. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days was a major challenge and accomplishment for me, and it felt great for about a day or two. After that I started to feel twitchy; it was hard to realize that I didn’t have to spend all day struggling with words, and I wasn’t sure what I should be doing with my time.

Even if I’d wanted to, I couldn’t keep writing for words. Because of NaNoWriMo’s frenzied pace I’d already written a lot of things that probably have to get cut in revision. When word count is the ultimate goal, writing can suffer. In my case, I’d only outlined half (maybe less) of the novel before the month began. When I should have taken the time to do more outlining, I felt like I would get behind. So instead I rushed ahead blindly, down what may have been a dead end. I’m trying not to think about that now (just finish!).

Then came the saddest realization of all: the novel, the thing I’d been killing myself all month to make, was only about halfway done being drafted. Yes, I’d written 50K words, but the novel needed that much again in order to be done, and I knew it would take me much longer to write the second half–by definition it would, since the first half was the fastest writing I’ve ever done in my life. I felt like I’d just run a marathon and still had 26 miles to go. After all that work, looking at the long road ahead made me want to lie down and sleep.

In other words, I am a dope who apparently needs external motivation in order to work productively. So here goes: now that I’ve finished a rough outline, I’m going to commit myself to writing 1,000 words per day until the novel is drafted.

Starting tomorrow.

Hold in the pee, let out the words

Today is day 11 of NaNoWriMo (as well as the eleveniest day of our lives!) and all those upright ones have got me thinking about productivity. Actually, productivity has got me thinking about productivity. You see, after getting a little bit behind in the first week, I am now on track to actually “win” NaNoWriMo.

Take that, naysayers! By which, of course, I mean myself. I was my own biggest doubter, and now I am surprised.

Here’s what happened: on NaNoWriMo’s site there is a graph showing my progress compared to the goal. When my word count dropped below the line, it made me sad. Now that it’s above the line, it makes me happy. Which is to say that I have learned a really elementary lesson about getting shit done: setting goals is an excellent way of achieving them.

Sounds pretty basic, right? I should have known it before. I have even engaged in write-as-much-as-I-can events before (Write-a-Thon, I’m looking at you), which should have given me this insight. But it didn’t. It took looking at the very specific, very challenging (for me) goals on a silly little graph to kick me in the butt to actually DO IT.

So I kind of feel like a moron. But also proud.

And while I’m sharing my moronitude, here’s another trick I learned to boost my productivity: writing in bed. It’s a little silly, but for me it’s brilliant. It combines laziness with accomplishment, rewarding my work with the awesome benefit of getting to put off the day a little longer. As long as I keep writing (and don’t have to pee) I get to stay in my warm, comfy bed. I am writing on average 500 words a day this way, words that I suspect would otherwise be lost in the urgent needs of morning.

Also, my cat gets to help

On trying not to self-defeat (NaNoWriMo)

Here I go!

In the past, I have avoided National Novel Writing Month (in which one tries to write 50K of a novel in thirty days) with the unimpeachable excuse that I had classes to teach and couldn’t possibly have the time. This year I have no such excuse, and therefore I have guilted myself into signing up.

And yet. It’s hard for me to believe that I will write fifty thousand words this month. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because (unfortunately) I was gifted with the ability to do math. If you followed my write-a-thon progress this summer, you know how proud I was of my output over the first five weeks. It was more than I’d ever written before. It was a little over 25K. In other words, it was half as many words as I will try to write this month, in four days more than I will have. Furthermore, on zero of those days did I manage to write 1666 words, the daily number required in order to meet NaNoWriMo’s goal.

But on the other hand . . . something about the unhelpfulness of negativity. So I will try this challenge, and I will try to stop telling myself that I will probably fail at it.

World Fantasy Convention & Me

This is me daring you to come.
You know you want to.

I’m starting to get excited about World Fantasy Convention next week. This is my first major Con, my first time staying at the convention hotel, and another big first:

I will be doing a reading!

If you’re going to WFC, please come by Pacific 6/7 on 8:00 pm Thursday to hear yours truly read something. And after that, follow me to BarCon.

In related news, I’m taking requests/suggestions/votes on what to read. Have you read anything of mine that you think would be fun to hear? Would you like to hear something new? Something with carnivorous teddy bears? Or water-breathing girls? Zombies?

Feel free to comment even if you won’t be there. Feel free to tell your WFC-attending friends. Feel free to share a drink with me in person or in spirit.

Other friends in crime (by which I mean SF writing) who will be doing readings:
Nalo Hopkinson, 12:30 pm Friday, Pacific 4/5
Cat Rambo, 1:00 pm Friday, Pacific 6/7
Siobhan Carroll (AKA Von Carr), 11:00 am, Saturday, Pacific 6/7
Liz Argall, 3:00 pm, Pacific 6/7

It Was Only a Dream

One of the awesome things about being a writer is that we are licensed to pay more attention to our dreams than the average person. In general, talking about one’s dreams is boorish–no one cares–but sometimes we writers get to use those incoherent narratives to make stories out of.

I have done this many times, with very mixed results. It’s dangerous, because the thing that makes a dream so intense is sometimes the thing that drifted away with unconsciousness. You cannot make stories out of this type of dream any more than you can make an omelette out of eggshells. But I’ve been lucky enough to keep a few dream eggs and hatch them into stories. Maybe even a novel idea.

Dreams also figure into stories often. Character dreams, used to scoot a plot along while everyone is sleeping. I use these, maybe more than I should.

Lately, though, I’ve been dreaming about writing, and especially about the business of writing. To be even more specific, twice this week I’ve dreamed about having stories rejected from markets. Not for the first time, I am thankful not to be one of my characters. Because that means that when I wake up from the dream in which I was reading my rejection email (from a market that I actually have a submission at currently), I don’t have to roll over and read the real rejection email on my iPhone. The good news is that dream rejections don’t count. The bad news is that neither do dream acceptances or dream awards.

Emily woke, finding herself in her own bed. Oh good, she thought, it was only a dream.

It’s a lousy ending for a story. But this is not a story. Or is it?

New Story

FLURB #12 is up today. In addition to being generally awesome, my story, “The Curse of the Were-Penis,” is in it!

I wanted to say something about the story here, but I think I’ll let the title speak for itself. As Rudy Rucker says in his editor’s note, “Only in Flurb do you find stories like this!”

CW Write-a-thon: Week 6

The write-a-thon ends with a whimper. I mostly failed at writing this week, though I did heroic work accomplishing a non-writing-related project. Sorry, novel! Sorry, sponsors! I’ll make it up to all of you . . . in a couple weeks when life begins to re-stabilize.

Until then, here’s a partial list of places I’ve squeezed writing into this summer:
• on an airplane
• in a car
• outside a car dealership while waiting for an oil change
• on the floor of my bathroom while waiting for my cat to poop (long story)
• in my empty house.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 5 & 5.5

Timing is everything. Urgent non-writing commitments refuse to go away, and are in fact reaching their most critical time this week.

So in the second half of week five I wrote another 1800 words, for a weekly total of 3800. It’s the lowest one so far, but it has yet to be outdone by week six, which so far totals zero words. In my semi-defense, though, this year’s week five would still rank as last year’s second-highest week. Take that, last year’s me!

I did also reach two pretty cool milestones–at the same time!

It’s official: by anyone’s count it’s long enough to be a novel. Is it good enough? Not yet. But that’s a problem for Future Emily.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 4.5

So far this week I’ve managed 2000 words on the novel project.

But I woke this morning from a strange dream, and while I can’t now remember what the dream was about, it may have given me a new novel idea. So today instead of writing on the current project, I wrote a quick, dirty plot synopsis for a potential next idea. The funniest thing: the idea is kind of “Romeo and Juliet in Space,” which I have said is exactly the sort of thing I don’t write. So maybe I do. Deal with it.

No excerpt this time. I know you’re heartbroken about it.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 4

Zoinks. This was a hard week, but I managed another 900, 1000, and 700 words, for a week four total of 5200. The four-week total is 22,100, which is 3600 more than I wrote in all of last year’s WAT, and 1000 more words than I had written by this point in my Clarion West experience.

It’s too bad that what I’m writing is such a mess.

It’s fun, in a way, to just throw words up on the page like spaghetti against a wall. This isn’t the way I normally work, and we’ll see if it succeeds in the end.

Over the rise, her doppelganger was talking to Gabriel. “Wait here a minute,” she said, breaking away from him. She wore a puzzled look on her face, and Ari thought it made her look dumb. Then she laughed, noticing the distance she was trying to put between herself and the woman now walking toward her—her very own self, only about a half hour younger but a good deal more innocent.
After a moment, the other Ari crept around a tombstone. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
Ari laughed. “I’ve come from the future,” she said in a mock-spooky voice.

You can still sponsor me or a writer similar to me here. Every little bit helps!

CW Write-a-thon: Week 3.5

Slow going this week, as life gets in the way. Curse you, life! Additionally, now that I’m so close to the end of the novel I can see how much is wrong with it. Revision will be tricky. But I’m trying to tell myself that that’s a problem for Future Emily, and not worry about it right now.

Saturday: 600
Sunday: 1500
Monday: eaten by urgent life
Tuesday: 500

The graveyard was exactly as Ari remembered it, to an uncanny degree. Of course, it was not only the same graveyard, but the same moment in that graveyard. Every leaf on every plant bent in precisely the same direction as they had when she and Gabriel left.
They walked quickly and silently across the neatly trimmed grass. Ari didn’t check for footprints, or bloodstains. Her own clothes were clean, stolen from a secondhand shop. She told herself that the things she’d seen and done that night never really happened. For the most part, they hadn’t.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 3

Just the facts:

I wrote every day this week, for a total of 6400 words. This brings my three-week total to 16,900. That’s almost as much as I managed to write in all six of last year’s weeks!

I also learned that one very generous sponsor donated $100 in my name. Thank you, generous sponsor! Your donation inspires me to keep writing.

His knees felt weak, transparent. He sank to the grass. He wanted to stand tall in front of her, touch the side of her face with his knuckles. But he couldn’t summon up the strength. He managed a smile full of pain. “I want to say, ‘we’ll always have Paris,’ but I guess I won’t.”
Ari looked at him, face unreadable. It looked scrubbed, lines smoothed away.
“Remember me,” Gabriel said.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 2.5

I am dangerously pleased with myself. Saturday I wrote 1300 words, Sunday 700 (in an airport!), Monday a measly 300, and today 1200 and counting. I admit to writing a lot of words for words’ sake–a hazard of challenging oneself to a quantity output without specifying quality–but the plot seems to be moving forward.

Even more encouragingly, the total word count for the project is around 49,600. I had thought that 50K was the threshold of noveldom, making this an exciting time for me (it WILL be a novel!). But then I looked up SFWA’s definitions and saw that they call anything over 40K a novel. So, it’s a novel. Or at least it will be when it’s finished. AND, I think that will happen this summer, despite a lot of offstage life chaos.

All of this optimism is dangerous, though. Tim Powers is always telling me that guilt is a powerful motivator, and it’s hard to feel guilty and proud at the same time. The writing equivalent of this fantastic blog post might happen. Go on, read it; I’ll wait.

In fact, read that instead of an excerpt this time. There’s too much plot in the last few days of writing, and I don’t want to spoil it. Maybe next time.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 2

The second half of this week got off to a rocky start. I fought to write 700 words on Tuesday, then on Wednesday those words seemed to have disappeared. Husband saved my sanity by finding them, but there was a long enough space in between that I was starting to feel like this project was cursed. Wednesday ended up being a day off, then I squeezed out 600 words on Thursday and 1400 on Friday.

For a Week Two total of 5400.

The real news is that, as of today, I’m starting to think I can draft this novel by the end of the summer. It won’t be good. But it might exist. Finally.

Ari and Gabriel landed in a thick stand of trees some distance from the main house of White Falls, on the wide surface of a fallen tree. Ari, pre-crouched and balanced for the surface, set down as softly as a cat. Gabriel, on the other hand, landed like a kitten—all limbs that he didn’t seem in full control of. He slipped off the side and landed with a twiggy crunch on the forest floor a few feet below.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 1.5

Okay, so this post is late. Like a first-year college student, I’m filled with excuses, but no dog can eat the Internet (or can it? story idea?), so I’ve no real defense. This is late. What of it?

In the first three days of week two I wrote 600, then 800, then 1300 words of the novel project. Will this pattern of increase hold into days 4-7? I’m not telling.

In sponsorship news, I learned today that I’ve raised $15 so far. Yay! If you feel like donating even a tiny amount in my name, go here.

Ari struggled, pulling her hands from the not-blind woman’ bony grip. It only took her a second, but that was much too long. When she looked up, they stood face to face in a desert landscape of dirt and trembling skinny trees. A breeze ruffled the loose hairs behind Ari’s ears and spread goose pimples up her bare arms, and she marveled at how easily her mind and her eyes accepted the fact of teleportation, yet how her body rebelled.
She staggered, head pounding. The name Catherine sung like a plucked string in her mind.

CW Write-a-thon: Week 1

The first week of Clarion West 2011 is over, and that must mean that week one of the write-a-thon is over too. After a day off from writing on Wednesday I rallied, despite frantically attending to other things, and wrote another 2000 words on last year’s novel project, which I suppose I should admit is now this summer’s novel project. That brings this week’s total to 5100 words. But who’s counting?

(Me. I am.)

I expect to do better from here on out, other commitments notwithstanding. Yesterday the part of me that says, “I’m not inspired to write right now” had a duel with the part that says, “Who cares? Just write something,” and the former was seriously wounded.

It was a struggle for Ari to keep her atoms together. She was bombarded with lives in pain, stories begging her to follow them, clamoring like puppies in a pet store window. The stories were all different, but they all ended here. No one, she thought, was getting out alive.

CW Write-a-thon Update: Week 0.5

Three days of write-a-thon (WAT) have passed, and I’m off to a schizophrenic start. I envisioned this summer’s goal as drafting a new novel, but in the run-up to WAT I tried on three or four novel ideas, none of which seem to fit. Most are too small, one is too big, and none of their colors are flattering on me.

So then a strange thing happened: I re-read the abandoned novel from last summer and said, “This isn’t so bad.” At this point, there’s nothing I can say concretely about what I will write this summer (which, when I think about it, is generally the case). But, I promise to write.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:
Day 1: wrote 1600 words on theoretical current novel project. At the end of the day, I felt very “meh” about it, and not excited to keep writing (always a good sign). So . . .
Day 2: wrote a 900-word zombie story called “10 Things to Do in Los Angeles After You Die.”
Day 3: wrote 600 words on last year’s novel project, while on a plane. It may not seem like a lot to some, but I am very proud.

Due to life happening, output may fluctuate. But in the meantime, here’s an excerpt. Guess which one it’s from!

1) Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills

Breaking out of your grave will be the hardest part. Remember not to panic; you’re already dead. Once you punch and kick and claw your way to the surface, take a moment to enjoy the serenity of Forest Lawn’s rolling hills. Visit some of your famous neighbors—Lucille Ball, Liberace, and Buster Keaton among them—if they’re home. You’re more likely to meet Lucy and the others shambling over the hills to feast on the brains of star-struck tourists. Though small, these brains are highly prized by Los Angeles area living dead.

Clarion West Write-a-thon 2011

Two years ago I packed up my laptop and my trusty stuffed shark and drove up to Seattle for SF summer camp, otherwise known as Clarion West. The experience definitely ranks among the best times of my life, and I can honestly say that it was more helpful to me as a writer than my MFA (sorry, formal education!). In a nutshell, Clarion West puts eighteen emerging/aspiring SF writers in a sorority house for six weeks, gives them one well-known writer or editor to learn from each week, and asks them to write a story per week, which will be workshopped by the entire group. It is an intense and wonderful thing.

Nom nom laptop

Here comes the sales pitch.

In order to do the great work that they do, they need money. One of the ways they raise money is through the write-a-thon, which I am participating in again this year. Basically, from June 19 to July 29 I’m going to write fiction, as much of it as I can. I’ll be posting updates and excerpts on this blog (you’ve been warned). Then, you sponsor me for any amount you like–even $1 a week.

In other words, the write-a-thon, like my life and the lives of underwear gnomes, follows this pattern:
step 1: write (or steal all the underwear)
step 2: ???
step 3: profit
The only difference is that for the CW write-a-thon it actually works!

You can sponsor me here.
Or, if you’re a writer, go here to sign up to participate. You don’t have to be a CW veteran to do the write-a-thon, and it’s useful for actually getting writing done.

End of sales pitch.


A few things have happened so far this year that leave me feeling a little bit disjointed:
1) I finally, really realized that my agent was not going to sell the novel I wrote as my thesis for my MFA.
1B) I therefore realized (for about the fifth time) that it’s critical that I write another novel. Now, if not sooner.
2) I became an Editorial Assistant at Every Day Fiction, an online magazine that publishes one very short (under 1,000 words) story per day.
3) I was inundated with ideas for short stories.
It’s perverse, but the more I want to write a novel, the more I end up writing short stories. In fact, lately they’ve been getting shorter. I’ve written two flash pieces this year, which is at least one more than I’ve written in any other years . . . combined.
There are a lot of reasons for this. The primary one, I suspect, is the abusive relationship I had with my last attempted novel, which culminated in the loss of a couple weeks’ work in the Great Data Blight of 2010. Even before that tragedy I had felt at odds with the novel; while working on it I compared the project to a bowel obstruction–something painful, but something that needed to be cleared out before anything else could get by. A disgusting metaphor, I know. But a telling one too.
Having failed to complete that novel, I am shy about starting another one. When you work for months (maybe years) writing 40,000 words of a novel that doesn’t get finished, you are left with nothing. If I had written the same number of words in short stories, I’d have (on average) ten stories, and maybe a few of those would eventually find homes.
I have been blaming my inability to get back into long fiction on a short attention span, and I’m sure this is also a factor. But if I’m honest with myself, I think I’ve become stingy with my attention (as my father-in-law says, nobody pays attention because attention is so expensive these days), afraid of throwing so much of my effort away on a project that might not go anywhere.
The good news is that I have a secret weapon. I stole it from Kevin Brockmeier, author of the memorable novel The Brief History of the Dead. He said, in an interview which I cannot now find, that he likes to write the first chapter of a novel as a short story, to test the waters before jumping in headlong. His short story of the same title (which became chapter one) was published in The New Yorker, and then again in the O. Henry Prize Stories. So, it’s an approach with at least some proven success. Of course, I’m no Kevin Brockmeier, but I do have hope that using his method I can trick myself into writing a novel.
That’s what I’m supposed to be doing now, while I sit here procrastinating. Tell me to go.

Here, Statement Statement!

I have been musing lately about the phrase “released a statement.” This is something said of famous (or infamous) people, as in: “Harold Camping released a statement on May 22 saying, ‘Whoops. My bad.'” (disclaimer: this quote is fake).

Artists, of course, try to make statements. For them (us?) it is an act of creation, something active and intentional. This is not the way of celebrity statements. In order to be heard they need only be “released,” like a cat bolting through an open door. The statements long to get out, and once they do, they are heard. No agent, seemingly, is responsible for them.

As a writer, I “release” statements all the time. I shove them, kick them, hurl them with force and aim into the world, but they rarely get very far. They take a few steps outside, lick themselves, and turn around to scratch at the door.

Sometimes it feels like we’re all shouting to be heard over the whispers of a few. Oh well. I suppose I’ll plug my ears and keep yelling.  One day, like teased and ridiculed zoo tigers, the statements will escape.

Writers of the Future XXVII

Despite being friends with writing judge Tim Powers for years, entering the contest I’m-not-sure-how-many times, and going to Clarion West with contest winner Jordan Lapp, last week marked my first time attending the Writers of the Future awards. For some reason I always thought it wouldn’t be worthwhile. But here are a few things I hadn’t realized:

1) Free book! I hope this doesn’t make me seem greedy or materialistic, but I will do a lot of things for a free book, including driving into Hollywood at 6:00pm. As an added bonus, the book is actually good. It would have to be, right?

2) This event is a big deal. For those of you who might not know, Writers (and Illustrators) of the Future is a contest that was founded by L. Ron Hubbard for emerging writers (and illustrators) of speculative fiction. It’s one of the only contests that is free to enter and judged purely off of merit (submissions are blind). Winning this award comes with publication in the book and a cash prize. That is all stuff I knew. What I didn’t know is that the ceremony is like the Academy Awards, down to the seat-fillers. In fact, the room in the Roosevelt hotel where it’s held was the site of the first Academy Awards. Or so I’m told. The winners are all treated like stars, and being writers and artists they’re all pretty much blown away by the attention, in an adorable way.

3) Everyone involved in the contest is the nicest person ever.

4) The writer’s contest is a sausage-fest. I don’t know if this is always the case, but this year there was only one female winner. I also don’t know if this has any relevance at all; it was just something I noticed.

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, but especially to the ones I knew prior to last Sunday, Keffy R.M. Kehrli and Ryan Harvey!

_____ is the hardest part.

I write something. I am proud, if not of the work itself, than at least of my own productivity. I send the little miracle toddling into the world, to seek shelter in the hands of an editor.

I wait. And while I wait, I tell myself that this is the hardest part.

I have nine stories making the rounds right now, which for me is a lot. With so many of them, I feel like every day I should be hearing from one market or another. I am not arrogant enough to expect them all to find homes, but I crave responses nonetheless. Go ahead, reject me, but don’t leave me in suspense. Oh, the waiting is the hardest part.

When I started writing more speculative and less “literary” fiction, I was excited by the short response times in genre markets. I thought my days of six-month waits for form rejections were over, and I was happy to trade the shotgun approach of simultaneous submissions for a quick bullet to the head.

But so far this year my average response time is 30 days. Pending submissions average 54 days out as of today. Yikes!

Then, inevitably, a response comes in. It says thanks but no thanks. I am sad. Surely this rejection must be the hardest part?

What is hardest for me, it seems, is actually getting to work. I get into a pattern of waiting, and waiting is a holding pattern: inactive. NOT waiting is the hardest part. So, I’d better go get to work.

Here I go.

No, really.

Note to self: other people exist

My story, “Apology for Fish-Dude,” is still up at Ideomancer if you’d like to read it. But that is not the point of this post. It shares the issue with other great fiction, including a quiet, summery piece by Sandra Odell (Clarion West survivor from 2010) and a gorgeous bit of urban fantasy by Su-Yee Lin. My story is in good company. But this is not the point either.

The point is that while I worry about my own writing and work and blah blah blah, other people are publishing wonderful things. I’ve already missed posting about many such stories, but the solipsism stops now! Or at least it takes a break.

• Jordan Ellington, A.K.A. Jordan Lapp, has a story up at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. Yes, he’s Canadian, but I try not to hold it against him. The story takes you inside the head of a living statue, which is a surprisingly interesting place to be. It’s called “Don’t Move a Muscle, Mr. Liberty,” and it’s free (which is why I’ve read it). 

• J.M. Sidorova’s story, “Watching the Rubber Band,” is in M-Brane #26, which came out today. I just read it, and the rubber band in my mind is still expanding and contracting in response. In a good way.

• Fellow Clarionistas Von Carr and Randy Henderson both have stories in the April issue of Realms of Fantasy. I know nothing about either story, but I expect big things. Probably weird things.


My story, “Apology for Fish-Dude,” is live today at Ideomancer!

This is–to date–my favorite of my stories. A product of sleep-deprivation and Clarion West (two things that go hand in hand), it features flying tigers, talking fish, and meat trees. As fellow Clarionite Lucas Johnson said, “the steaks are high.”

Illustration by Lucas Johnson

On the Great Data Blight of 2010

Last August, my trusty Lappy was stolen, after seven years of faithful service. To put it mildly, this is not an experience I recommend.

The robbers who broke into my mother’s house probably didn’t know how little my elderly PowerBook G4 was worth to them, or how infinitely much it was worth to me. Though–of course–I had backups, they stole a great deal from me. Compounding this experience was the almost simultaneous failure of my husband’s computer, taking with it some of my backed-up files.

I am still remembering things that were lost in the Great Data Blight of 2010. Some recent discoveries include every poem I ever wrote (this is probably a net win for humanity), and the 200-page travelogue I wrote about living in my car.

One of the things that I knew right away I’d lost was last summer’s revision of a story I wrote at Clarion West. That revision was horrible, but it was extensive, and had taken me weeks to accomplish. I changed the POV from first to third, I added scenes from another character’s perspective, and I completely changed the ending. What I ended up with was a bloated (nearly 12,000 words!) mess that I didn’t even want to look at. Which, of course, is how it ended up not getting backed up.

Things like that are hard to replace. Rewriting lost fiction is like buying a new copy of a DVD that won’t play any more. You’ve already spent money on it once (or more, if you owned it on VHS first), and you feel like you shouldn’t have to again. Once that revision was lost it was hard for me to want to get back to that story. I felt like I’d already done the work.

But of course I hadn’t.

Months later, I have finally taken another crack at revising that piece. And while I did occasionally have the frustrating sensation of knowing I’d already written and lost the perfect new scene, overall I’m glad I didn’t have access to that miserable draft.

This week’s revision is by no means brilliant, but it’s better that what I wrote last year, and it’s better than what I would have written from that lost draft. However, the real accomplishment is that I feel better now about the theft of Lappy, and the data he contained. I wonder if this is the feeling they call “closure.”

I know now that I can rebuild the lost fiction. Better. Faster. Stronger.

Holy crap! I have a blog!

Welcome to my Internet home.

For a writer of speculative fiction, I am quite the luddite. I drive a car that was built in 1967. I read books made out of paper. Every time my husband’s Roomba starts cleaning my floor I get a little spooked, certain that the inevitable robot rebellion that will be the end of humankind is that much closer. To me, the blinking light on the top doesn’t say, “CLEAN . . . CLEAN . . . CLEAN,” it says “KILL . . . KILL . . . KILL.”

But this “Internet” thing seems like it’s here to stay. So here I am.