On day six we got back into the car for the “golden circle.” The first stop was Þingvellir, which is apparently the continental divide between North America and Europe. A big crack in the earth. Many trolls watching from the rocks. Very cold and slippery.
Day four was our all-day Lake Mývatn “Game of Thrones” tour. Our guide, Sandra, was terrific. We didn’t see any of the GOT sites advertised on the tour’s site–not the wall (which is of course not a real thing, though we’d imagined sections of it used for filming), not the “love cave”–and that was a little disappointing, but the day could not have been any better. We had fabulous weather, and the light was unbelievable pretty much all day. I took many shots with the borrowed fancy camera I had, boring shots of fabulous clouds, none of which capture the reality of it.
The first stop was back to Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods. Much prettier in the daylight, and with the sun rising behind it…
On day two we got up early for the hotel’s fairly epic breakfast, then fought a crowd of other people who had purchased the same cheap deal as us for cabs to the Reykjavík airport (a view of which I had from my window). I really feel this transportation should have been included, since it was a bit of a logistical issue getting so many people there. The airport is tiny, with zero security. It took about a minute to get us checked in, and Darin’s lack of a passport was no issue.
Oddly, it was my idea to visit this northern country in the dead of winter. A special popped up somewhere: airfare, hotel, etc. for a reasonable rate. I sent it to Bunny and Crow, who are as crazy as we are. “Who’s up for Iceland in January?” They were. So were their friends, Chris and Mer, and since we’d all traveled before, if only as far as Las Vegas, it seemed a perfect plan: three couples, all of whom had been to Iceland before. Never in the winter.
How’s that for a sensational headline? But according to some, Ragnarok, the “Viking apocalypse” is due on Feb. 22. The countdown began when the horn of Heimdallr was blown on Nov. 14th in York. According to legend the god himself would have blown the horn to warn that the end was a mere 100 days away. At which point, theoretically, the Vikings would have thrown the biggest party the world had ever seen.
Putting aside the question of who decided it was a good idea to blow Gjallarhorn, I have a few problems with this.
November 16, 2013
It was our last day in Cuba, and thanks to Air Cubana’s multi-hour delay, we had some time. We set out with no real plan. We walked toward the capitol, which is the same as ours but a little bigger, with palm trees and classic cars surrounding it. It looks like a bizarro world set piece–it could be the US capitol after some serious climate change, or in an alternate reality.
The capitol building as seen from taxi #2.
We also saw the whole building or two that constitute Chinatown, and the bar where Hemingway drank. The most famous one anyway–Husband and I have a theory that any bar of a certain age can make the claim that Hemingway drank there. I was also told that there’s a bar down the street advertising the fact that Hemingway didn’t drink there, but we didn’t pass that one. At any rate, this is purportedly the bar where Hemingway invented the daiquiri, though the idea of him sipping a daiquiri doesn’t compute in my head any more than does his bidet.
Today was our visit to Trinidad, a town that apparently was the highlight of the trip for many. I feel like we failed at seeing the town properly. Husband was ill again and stayed behind. The rest of us went and wandered the
town, but we had no agenda or plan or even map and so just wandered around buying things. Trinidad is famous for its weaving. We thought we had less time than we really did, so we aborted a mission to climb a tower, and just sort of hung around. Another of Trinidad’s claims to fame is its stone streets (not cobblestone, stone), which are definitely a throwback.
I feel I must take a brief break from my navel-gazing travel blogging to say something about Nelson Mandela. I am no student of history, especially recent history. I can’t claim to know much more about Mandela than what I’ve read in the last day or so since learning of his death. But even that is enough to give me pause.
History is, as we all know, written from the winners’ perspective. This places Mandela’s legacy into an odd category. He lived long enough to become one of the “winners,” universally acclaimed as a force for good and a moral person. But as many have pointed out, the US didn’t remove him from our terrorist list until 2008. Why? Among other things, Mandela refused to renounce violence as a method of seeking justice. Therefore, from certain perspectives, he was a terrorist.
The definition of a terrorist is, of course, completely dependent on perspective. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. The British thought of our founding fathers as terrorists, and with good reason! But no one is the villain of his or her own story. So who else might we be erroneously demonizing? It’s a tough question.
I saw some of this while in Cuba. Growing up in the US, I was of course taught that Fidel Castro was an evil man. In Cuba, he’s a revolutionary. Here he’s a rebel, and a tyrant. Now, a week in Cuba doesn’t make me an expert, but while people there do seem to prefer Raul, I didn’t get the sense that anyone felt crushed under Fidel’s iron fist (as my American education led me to expect). It is possible that there’s so little freedom there that no one felt safe enough to criticize the regime, er, government. But it is also possible that people really do support the country birthed by his revolution. Perspective.
In order to accept Mandela into the pantheon of winners, the other winners are already trying to shape his legacy, erasing the violence and claiming that they were behind him all the way. Let us not forget that the truth is more complex than that.
Today was another long bus drive out to our all-inclusive resort on the beach. A little break to enjoy the fact that we’re in the Caribbean! Have I mentioned the weather? It’s so nice to be too hot in November.
On the way we stopped at a nature preserve–the Cienfuegos Zapata–where we were supposed to take a bird-watching boat ride. Some of us had prevailed upon Michael to keep the crocodile visit on the schedule, so we started at the breeding center for the endemic Cuban crocodile. They have adorable young ones, and amazing grown ones. They are as still as statues, just waiting, I guess, for something edible to wander past their mouths. Michael and Danilo tried to rush us out of the place in order to catch our
boat, but us bad kids went back in and I’m thankful we did, because that’s when Husband spotted the man with a little crocodile we could touch. He asked us if we wanted pictures holding it, and we said Hell Yes. The little crocodile felt so soft and warm, and I’m so glad we didn’t miss out on that chance. We still rushed out after three of us had held it, only to wait around. It turns out that the boat driver wouldn’t take us on the kind of slow bird-watching ride we apparently wanted, so instead of taking a speedier trip we decided to forego it.
November 12, 2013
Today was my birthday, but it wasn’t my all-time favorite. Husband was sick (with what we are calling Fidel’s Revenge) and didn’t go on the day’s adventure. I admit I was pretty worried about him, especially since if he got worse and had to go see someone we would have no way of communicating. Even if we hadn’t minded the probably astronomical cost, US phones simply do not work in Cuba. And I didn’t really trust the hotel staff, because someone had already taken one of Husband’s inhalers and pretended they didn’t have it, when they did. Husband had to sneak behind the reception desk and steal back his own medically necessary property.
November 11, 2013
Today we visited an organic farm in the outskirts of Havana. It was pretty with bright red soil, and they served us a delicious lunch. During the food shortages post revolution, Castro set up a series of small urban farms to meet local demand. The one we visited is one of these, though it’s now run collectively by the workers. They are mandated to sell a certain percentage of their food to the government, but the rest is theirs, and the profits likewise.
“What do they do with the bunnies?”
“Um . . . What do you think?”
November 9, 2013
On a plane to Cuba. It’s late, and we’re missing half a day in Havana as a result, but at least we knew about it days ahead of time so we knew we could take most of the day to meander back to Cancun.
November 8, 2013
Day three was mucho mas bueno. We left semi-early and hit the cenote at Ik Kil, which was amazing. When we first looked down into that seemingly bottomless sinkhole, we almost didn’t know what it was. We were the first ones there, and we got to see it pristine, vines and roots trailing down into the water, dark but for a few sunbeams. My first thought was, “I don’t want to swim in that.”
November 7, 2013:
Yesterday our trip began, far too early, with Bunny and Crow picking us up for the airport before dawn. Our first flight was after theirs, and yet we got here ahead of them. Husband and I spent a boring couple of hours on the floor of the Cancun aeropuerto, not going outside for (legitimate) fear of not being allowed back in. When they did arrive–their flight late, of course–the man from Fox car rental bundled us all out of the airport before we could change money, look for maps, anything. I’d thought to take care of money-changing while I waited, but it seemed silly since I’d just have to wait for Bunny and Crow to do the same thing. I wish that I had at least checked the exchange rate. Then I would have known that the ATM in the 7-11 ripped us off by at least half, giving me only 500 MXN for my $100 USD [update: the ATM only charged me around $40 in the end, so all kinds of WTF]. Instead we erroneously used this as the exchange rate, and spent about a day
thinking things in Mexico were incredibly expensive, instead of just very
expensive. Who would have thought that Mexico was such an expensive place to travel? Not I. Continue reading ““Live” blog of Yucatan/Cuba trip, days 1 & 2: Getting there is less than half the fun.”→
While I was away another story came out, in Daily Science Fiction. It’s called “The Taking Tree,” and it’s sort of an evil sequel to The Giving Tree.
But enough about me. I want to tell you about some books I’ve read in the last few months. Writing reviews always makes me feel a little unsure of myself, because sometimes when I think I’ve uncovered (or stumbled upon, or been shown) a hidden gem, it turns out that everyone else in the world has already read it.
But anyway, here are some books that I liked. You should read them.
Having recently written two stories about yard gnomes, I’m in danger of becoming The Gnome Writer. Thankfully, my birthday isn’t until November, so hopefully my writing group will forget about it by then and I won’t end up with a collection.
No, I really don’t want a gnome collection,
even if I did buy this beer for the picture.
Bear with me, if you will, for a moment. I have something to say about women and publishing and society, but I don’t know what it is yet. As you may or may not be aware, VIDA’s 2012 count once again showed us that women are underrepresented in most book reviews and literary magazines. There are, of course, a lot of reasons and excuses about why this is so, one of which is that women don’t submit as often as men. I really like this unpacking of that particular excuse, which strikes fairly close to home. I also love this explanation of how two magazines made their numbers more equal.
Here is your installment of The Next Big Thing, that chain-letter blog post for writers that’s been making the rounds. Like all parties, I find myself late to it. But better late than never!
What are you kids doing in there?
1) What is the working title of your next book?
I despise titles. After many deranged ideas, mostly cribbed from the text of Romeo and Juliet, I’m now calling it STARS CROSSING IN THE NIGHT. While I was drafting it, I simply called it Romeo and Juliet in Space.
Yesterday my cousin posted a picture of his son dressed in an Indian vest and feathered headdress of construction paper, and I thought, “What a cutie.” But I immediately worried that what I should have thought was, “Cultural appropriation is wrong at any age.”
And then I thought about the other kids, dressed as Pilgrims with big paper buckles on shoes and hats. And this is even more problematic, almost like dressing as a Klan member or a Nazi. I wonder how cute those kids look.
I generally try to keep politics off this page–I have very strong opinions about political issues, and the leanings of these opinions would probably not surprise anyone who knows which broad demographic slot I fit into, but I don’t think they are particularly relevant to my life as a writer, which is what this site is about. All of which is to preface this post about last night’s election. This will be an exception to that rule. You’ve been warned. Continue reading “Peaceful Transitions”→
I’ve met a lot of authors now, at conventions, readings, or in a classroom setting. For the most part I can avoid gushing like a teenage fangirl. After all, authors are just people. Even famous ones.
But for some reason, Sherman Alexie is different. He makes me nervous, and when I get around him–say, at one of the two recent Seattle readings I attended–I say silly, embarrassing things. What can I say? I just want him to like me.
I have always hated audience participation. When a performer on stage asks me to clap, or to sing a portion of the song, or to raise a finger to the sky and twirl around and pretend to get drunk, my immediate reaction is to balk like a horse asked to cross a shallow puddle. Continue reading “Everybody clap now!”→
It’s campaign season again (still?), which has me thinking about Truthiness. I’m for it, especially in politics, but that is another post entirely. The following is excerpted and adapted from an application essay I wrote for a PhD program some years ago. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get in.
I know I’m a bit late here (as usual). The Olympics are over, and we here in the U.S. will now go back to arguing about politics. But the stories from the Games are far from over. I wish I could hear them. Continue reading “Narrative and the Olympics”→
So, I’m weirdly obsessed with the Olympics this year. I’ve never watched so much of it before (or so much of what NBC deigns to show me, but that is another story), and a few things have struck me so far.
1) Some Olympic sports are weird. I mean, synchronized diving? Why is that a thing?
2) A picture really is worth 1,000 words. Most of my mini-stories are meaningless without the postcard image that inspired them. This is fun, leaning on those images and letting them fill in the gaps between the lines.
3) Sometimes fewer words are better. At first I tried to cram a whole story into these little spaces (hence the tiny writing), but as I go on I see that sometimes the suggestion of a story is far more interesting. One of my favorites is only 43 words. Again, I’m not sure this works without the images to do the heavy lifting. Maybe in some cases?
4) I’m not really sure at what point something becomes a story. Am I deluding myself that these qualify? Probably.
Anyway, more to come. I am home now and recovering from a month of travel. Next on the priority list is revising the novel. But I promise to keep postcarding, too. This silly idea, born of the Clarion West Write-a-thon and sleep deprivation, has the feel of a lasting obsession.
Here’s the low-down: 1) Clarion West is an amazing thing, a six-week education for SF writers. I went there. It changed me . . . y’know, in good ways. 2) Clarion West is having a Write-a-thon to raise money for itself, so it can keep being an amazing thing, and changing people . . . for the better. 3) If you give them money through my Write-a-thon page a) they get money and b) you get a postcard. An AWESOME postcard. It might not be one of these. It might be better!
What could be better? And yet, after two weeks I have few sponsors. I feel lonely. I am writing postcards to the void.
Maybe it’s the economy. $20 is a lot, right? I know. (Boy, do I know. You think things are expensive in the States? Try Norway!) So, okay. Forget $20. I have a lot of these postcard things, and they just keep coming. I’ll send them to sponsors until I run out. And then I’ll feel guilty and write more of them, and send those out.
Got it? Sponsor me; get postcard. Any amount will do (but maybe more than the cost of a postcard stamp, yeah? Just for karma?).
If you don’t sponsor me, I might throw a tantrum. And then I might turn into a statue. And then how will you feel?
I haven’t always loved postcards. In fact I’ve downright hated them, for reasons that I now see are unfair. So, I’ve written a conciliatory postcard . . . to Postcards.
And now I’ve got the Beatles’ song, “Dear Prudence,” in my head. And the Internet here is so slow that I fear uploading any more photos will take approximately the time it took some glacier to form this fjord we’re in. So look for more postcards soon!
As part of the beautiful blending of travel and Clarion West Write-a-thon, my 100-word postcard story project continues. I must be quick, as internet access is fleeting here in the scary world of my imagination. Remember, it’s not too late to get one of these one-of-a-kind storylets. Just sponsor me in the Write-a-thon for $20 or more!
Ah, the postcard. “We saw this. It was nice. Wish you were here.” Boring, right?
Because 1) I am on holiday in Europe, and 2) it is Clarion West Write-a-thon, and 3) I’m feeling guilty about not being able to focus on my more lengthy commitments, for the next three weeks I’ll be composing a series of micro-stories in postcard form.
Here are the first two (apologies to Gordon and sis-in-law if you see yours here before you get them (which seems pretty likely)):
Want one? Sponsor me in the Write-a-thon! For a mere twenty dollars I’ll send you a story of about 100 words, on a genuine European postcard (probably to be posted from Seattle).
I am notoriously late to most conversations, living as I do under a rock. So it was only a few days ago that I saw The Avengers (and that was because I had to catch up by renting Thor and The Incredible Hulk, and I needed to do that because I have never been a comics reader–yes, my geek credentials are quite thin, actually).
But since I have finally seen it, I can finally comment on the apparently controversial line about Loki being adopted. In case you missed the controversy, start here.
Obviously, they’re brothers.
Before I saw the film I was aware of the line, which was summed up to me as, “They use adoption as an explanation for Loki killing a bunch of people.” Perhaps awkwardly, my first response to that was, “You mean I get to kill people because I’m adopted? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
Of course, the summary I heard was a little flawed. The lines go:
Thor: He is of Asgard and he is my brother!
Black Widow: He killed 80 people in 2 days.
Thor [deadpan]: He’s adopted.
When this happened in the theatre, I laughed as loud as anyone. Because it’s funny, and because it’s familiar. For adopted children, that distance is always there between us and our families. I don’t read Thor’s line as indicating that Loki killed people because he’s adopted. I read it as a funny, instinctual distancing by Thor, who’s not always the sharpest or wittiest or most thoughtful, when confronted with his brother’s horrible deeds.
But it is a real thing. I used it all the way through my adopted childhood. If one of my (adoptive) parents asked me why I was so _________ [insert negative thing], I would say, “environment.” If they asked about something positive, my answer was, “genetics.” Har-har. Nobody’s feelings are hurt.
I know that feelings can easily be hurt in these situations. This has also happened to me, when a relative lets something slip indicating that he or she thinks of me as something less than family. What’s relevant to me in the Avengers dialogue is Thor’s initial defense of Loki. They’re family.
If they weren’t, Thor wouldn’t feel the need for distance. After all, our family are the ones who annoy us the most.
On that note, off I go with the family. To Norway, of all places! I guess Loki is my brother.
I booted another story out the door today, into the cold world of submissions. *sniff* They grow up so . . . slowly, actually.
Sure, some stories arrive like Athena, fully formed and holding a sword (at least in my imagination). These little blessings toddle precociously out of the nest, and sometimes even find new homes. But some live long spinster lives, waiting for a market matchup that seems never to come. Some live in their parents’ basements well past middle age.
This latest one is one of the latter. It was born in my MFA program, under literary conditions. But it never quite fit in. It had a speculative element (or did it?) that turned out to be nothing, a big giant squid on the mantelpiece. So after a few sorties to literary markets I shelved “Day 40” (as it was then called).
Post-Clarion West, I dug the poor thing out and tried to reinvent it as a genre story. I gave it a dark new ending. I made the SF element real, but it still didn’t start until halfway through the story, and my first readers said it felt like a literary story with an SF element grafted onto it. Which, of course, it was. Back on the shelf it went (now with the title “Hearts, Minds, and Plastic Bristles”).
Then just this month, in a desperate attempt to avoid editing my novel, I tortured this story one more time. I cut it to the bone and gave it yet another new ending, one that feels right. In critique group, of course, all the struggle was laid bare–the uneasy history of this transmogrified work is still there, and it still rankles a bit. But not so much that it isn’t time to let it fly again. Time will tell if this Frankenstein-esque revision will be a victory, or if villagers will hunt it down with pitchforks and flaming torches.
Oh, and my readers all hated the story’s title. I’m not going to say what it’s called now; I’m just keeping fingers crossed that it doesn’t come home this time. Not chased by an angry mob, and not to do its laundry.
Summer is coming, and that means Clarion West Write-a-thon. I will, once again, be writing for dollars. Or maybe editing for dollars. Frankly, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, but I still want people to donate money to support Clarion West. Even though the write-a-thon doesn’t officially begin until June 17th, you can already donate! If you end up being my highest donor, you can force me to write about your pet ‘possum, hippogriff, or sentient tomato (or something you decide).
If, like me, you have more time than money, but you still want to support Clarion West, you can sign up to be a write-a-thoner. If we get 200 people participating, something awesome happens. I think it involves money.
So yeah, I’ll probably be electronically panhandling a bit more as summer approaches and the write-a-thon gets underway. You’ve been warned. Boring status updates and exciting(?) excerpts will also probably follow.
<Announcer Voice> But wait, there’s more!
This summer my Norwegian family is having a reunion, which means that for three weeks I’ll be in Iceland and Norway. Whee! This introduces a measure of uncertainty to the summer. It means that: 1) you may have to read accounts of my travel and look at photos of fjords; 2) I may not be able to post at all, as Internet availability comes and goes; 3) the midnight sun might drive me over the edge; 4) my write-a-thon output might be lower than anticipated; and 5) my next story might be about Vikings.
Once again, the Internet’s lamentation over a celebrity death has me feeling like I might really be an alien. Actually, it happened twice in the last week, but this post is not about that musician guy from that band. You know the one.
It’s Maurice Sendak, beloved children’s author and illustrator who I can’t ever remember reading. Oh sure, I’m aware of Where the Wild Things Are; I was actually raised on this planet. But I don’t remember reading it as a child. This isn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, it’s rare that I share any childhood literary experiences with the majority of Americans.
Sometimes, like now, this makes me feel out of place. But it also makes me wonder. I know that I was read to as a small child, and I developed early on into a voracious reader and re-reader, albeit primarily of garbage. But I have no idea what those first books were that must have hooked me. I can’t remember reading Dr. Seuss (not as a kid, anyway). I remember Shel Silverstein’s kids’ poetry, but mostly from being a bit older, or from being scarred by certain poems about eating whales. I’m really glad that these folks had such an impact on everyone else’s lives. But where was I?
I do remember reading the Bearenstain Bears, but all that remains of those memories is the vague sense that I was having moral lessens crammed into my young skull. The same goes, actually, for the one individual kids’ book I can remember, “Could Be Worse!” by James Stevenson. I liked that one a lot, even though it was clearly just telling me not to whine and complain.
I must confess: the first books I clearly remember reading are The Baby Sitters Club novels. I read and re-read them for so long that my mother asked my second-grade teacher what she should do about it. My teacher wisely responded that there was no problem–I was, after all, reading thousands of pages of words, even if they were literary junk food. After that I moved on to Christopher Pike’s YA horror novels, some of which I still consider good books. Those were a bridge to Anne Rice’s vampires, which somehow led me to science fiction writers like Michael Crichton and David Brin.
Which, perhaps, is why I suspect myself of being an alien. In the context of my favorite fiction, it makes perfect sense. And you know what? It could be worse.
What books do you remember–or not remember–from childhood? Tell me about them in comments, and teach me to be human.
Rejection is a part of the life of a writer. A big part. I’ve heard that this gets better as one improves as a writer. This makes sense, right? The better the writing, the more likely it is to be accepted. Win.
But there’s a horrible place in between the hell nos of beginning writing and the hell yeses of awesome writing, and I’m stuck in it. This is an especially frustrating place to inhabit, because what it means is that response times go way up–behind the scenes there is an editor who just can’t make up his or her mind about my story. So it sits and sits. And I stew and stew, and notice that my story has been out longer than average for the market. And then the rejection comes. Blast!
Lazy damn monkeys
For example, I sent a story to a notoriously slow but awesome market who shall remain nameless sixteen months ago. Even for this molasses-like market this is a long time. Are my hopes up? You bet. Will I be disappointed? Probably.
For another example, last week I sent a story to an anthology with a close date at the end of June. I knew that that likely meant not hearing anything until August when all decisions would be sent. And then, to my surprise, the editor emailed me almost right away to say that he’d enjoyed the story, but no promises. That was sweet and all (who doesn’t like to hear their work was enjoyed?) but hopes? up? Ugh.
I heard back on one of my overdue pieces last night. A crisp form letter. Not even the encouraging version hoping to read more of my work. Oh well, I tell myself. The person associated with the magazine (who shall of course remain nameless) recently wrote repugnant things about a political matter, allowing me to not be sad about not appearing in the magazine. Or so I tell myself.
Yet another market owing me a response is frightening me today, because its website seems to be malfunctioning. I hope it hasn’t gone to the magazine rack in the sky, and that’s why I haven’t heard back.
All of which is to say that today it’s hard for me to be a writer. But I combatted the long-wait blues by making six more submissions. Fly, my pretties!
Here are a couple of books I read recently (both from Night Shade Books):
The first is Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht. It’s the story of Liam, a young Catholic who finds himself in the middle of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Only he’s also half-fairy, and a shapeshifter. Oh, and that world is at war too, with demons. I picked this book up because the crankiest reader I know raved about it, and he was right. The novel is nothing like what I might have expected, eyes rolling, from a book about the fey. It’s gritty and violent and pulls no punches. If Tinkerbell were to show up in this world, someone would be sure to beat her to death. Maybe a Catholic priest.
The second one is Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh. It’s a story about a group of people trying to survive a slow, frighteningly plausible apocalypse. Jasper is one of the unfortunate people–like me–who followed their hearts in college. He finds himself among the 40% of people who are unemployed, homeless and wandering with a a”tribe” of similarly unlucky folk. We get to watch the world fall down around these people. Sometimes things get better–Jasper gets a job! And an apartment! And sometimes a girlfriend!–but overall things go steadily down the tubes. Throughout it all, Jasper looks for love. This focus in unusual in an apocalyptic work, but that’s part of what makes this book different: the tribe doesn’t know what we know–that the world they knew isn’t coming back–and they struggle to remain themselves without knowing what the rules of their world are. The Soft Apocalypse has ways of changing a person, sometimes through violence, sometimes through viruses, and these characters care about keeping their humanity. This is one of the most real feeling books about the end of the world that I’ve read (and yeah, that’s not a small sample). The characters could easily be us.
The outstanding thing about my reading Soft Apocalypse isn’t that I loved it (although I did). The awesome thing is that I read the book on the recommendation insistence of Jeremy Lassen, publisher of Night Shade Books, having just met him, because he knew I’d love it. It’s obvious that he knows and loves his books the way parents are supposed to love their children.
And in the conversation I stuck my foot in my mouth, saying, “That’s why I love small presses.”
Lassen set me straight right away. Night Shade Books isn’t a small press; it’s an independent publisher. But I think my comment still stands. I love publishing that cares. Regardless of size.
The life of an “emerging” writer (imagine a sleepy bear coming out of a cave, skinny from hibernation and hungry and cranky–or a butterfly, whatever) is a cycle of 1) write something, 2) send it to a market, 3) get rejected, and 4) repeat steps 2-3 until either it gets accepted or you get so sick of it that you stop trying.
See? This bear is so desperate it’s eating grass.
This is the pattern I’m used to, and though it has (many!) downsides, there is one upside: if you’re like me and you don’t know much about markets or editors’ preferences in the first place, you’re free to pretty much write whatever you’re compelled to write, and worry about finding it a happy home later.
There’s another pattern, which until lately was purely theoretical to me. In this version, 1) an editor approaches the writer and asks for a story, 2) the writer writes the story, and 3) if it’s acceptable, the editor buys it. The thing I’m procrastinating on right now is writing one of these stories.
This is awesome for a number of reasons. For one, even though the editor is a friend and I can’t totally shake the feeling that this gig is charity, it does make me feel less like something that’s emerging, all covered in cocoon juice or dried leaves, and more like a “real” writer. Also, it’s refreshing not to worry about placing a story. In theory, this should be freeing up my mind to write it.
But my mind is a frustrating thing, and apparently not well-suited to looking on the bright side. Now that I have a specific audience to write for–a specific editor, and one whose tastes I’m fairly familiar with–my mind gets to obsess about what that editor will think. Every writer has an inner editor who lives in our heads, right? And in order to get any real work done we have to get that jerk to shut up. Well, now my inner editor has a friend. And getting them both to shut up is a challenge.
This morning when I looked outside it was gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky. Trees everywhere are making mad love everywhere, blooming extravagantly in white and pink. Green things are poking through the earth and looking at each other like expectant groundhogs. It’s spring!
By noon dark grey clouds filled the sky. It rained a few drops. The thin coat I’d worn to the coffee shop was insufficient to keep the wintry wind from chilling me.
This is spring in Seattle. You know it’s spring because the calendar and the Internet say so. In theory, it’s just over two months to summer. But you know in your heart that the calendar lies. Summer isn’t just around the corner; it won’t show up until at least July. Hell, it might not come at all.
Okay, so here’s my analogy. Warm weather is like publishing a story. And knowing it’s supposed to be spring is like watching Duotrope.com. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a wonderful resource for writers, a wonderfully up-to-date database of markets complete with submission guidelines, response times, and lists of recent responses. If you’re a writer and you haven’t been there yet, go now!
But as fantastic as Duotrope is, it’s also horrible. You can go in there (as I did today) and obsess over late responses. You can look at recent responses and theorize that you’ll get a rejection soon, or worse, you can theorize that since your response is taking longer than average, surely an acceptance is just around the corner.
I did this today, and literally as I was looking at a late market and mentally spending my semi-pro payment, the rejection arrived in my inbox. Like clouds and cold rain.
After all these years believing that I am a person despite sensibly keeping my gonads on the inside, the sexism is getting to me.
There are the obvious laws: various attempts to figuratively and literally get inside women’s reproductive systems, Wisconsin’s regressive non-equal pay shocker, and other legislation that baffles the mind. There’s the mud-slinging and conversation that goes along with these things: Limbaugh and other horrible trolls, that cracked.com article about misogyny, Amanda Marcotte’s lovely response. In the SF genre, there’s this thought-provoking take on the Christopher Priest rant. And many, many more.
I can almost handle most of these things, filing them under “discourse about important topics.” In fact, many of the responses do an amazing job of delineating oft-invisible things. But lately I feel like that kid in The Sixth Sense. Except instead of seeing dead people I see sexism. All the time. Some of them don’t even know they’re sexist.
“So, I should judge her by her attractiveness?”
But really, a lot of them do.
Like the beer commercial that just came on, which ended by saying: “Why are we focusing so much on our brewmaster’s hands? Because she’s not an attractive woman.” Facepalm. I can almost see the makers of this commercial thinking they were subverting expectations by having the brewer be a woman. Maybe they were so shocked by their own daring that they retreated into the comfortable zone of judging women by their appearance.
Or the diet soda commercial, rife with stereotypes about “male” movies, that says explicitly that the product is not for women. I mean, really?
Now that I’m seeing sexism, I see it everywhere. It’s on my bookshelf, both in the authors I’ve read and, as it turns out, in the covers. It’s in superhero poses, and embedded in our language. It’s in my friends’ casual comments–without intent, I’d like to believe. It’s in the television.
Finally, a realistic portrayal of male sexuality.
Mad Men is back on the air, and I like the show as much as the next person, which is to say rather a lot. The fascination we collectively seem to have with bygone years has puzzled me since I started raiding my mom’s vinyl collection in high school. But now it’s downright upsetting me. I don’t think I need to explain that the show is rife with casual sexism. It’s so overt that it’s easy to look at it from our evolved modern perspective and dismiss it, congratulating ourselves on having come so far. Or it was easy, until we started RUNNING backwards. Until I’m living in a world in which senators say things like, “money is more important for men,” or compare women to livestock.
And this is the part of the blog post in which I try to clumsily bring it back to fiction. Because TV shows like Mad Men are fiction, are entertainment, are escape. For these things to be popular, they must be giving people something that they crave.
“Tee-hee! I’m just an object.”
Retro clothing? Sure.
Unlimited boozing and smoking and extramarital sex? Why not?
Sexism? Please, please no.
I don’t know what to do. I can’t just help the ghosts avenge their deaths (or whatever) and make them go away. Help me, Bruce Willis! . . . Wait, that didn’t sound very empowering, did it?
Seeing humanity’s worst on teh interwebs is nothing new.
So I guess I wasn’t surprised by the small but heinous outcry against Rue’s casting in the movie version of The Hunger Games. If you’re unaware, start with this Jezebel article.
This has got me thinking (harder than usual) about character descriptions and reader expectations. In a workshop in graduate school Mary Anne Mohanraj once called me out on something called the “default white.” See, I had written a story in which none of the characters’ ethnicities or skin colors were mentioned except for one person of color. I hadn’t even realized I’d done it.
And just in case you were wondering, I am white. (I’m not sure if there’s a default for authors with other skin colors).
And yeah, I do–and especially did, as a younger writer–tend to write characters who are like me. Apparently I did not feel the need to define these characters as white, whereas if a character was unwhite I did. Shame on me. Seriously.
But here’s the thing. One of the pleasures of reading is imagining one’s self in the story. We find characters that we like and that we identify with, and we root for those people. One of the wonderful and frustrating things about writing is that no matter what we write, readers are going to bring their own interpretations to it. This means that if writers want readers to imagine a character a certain way, they have to be very very clear about it.
Suzanne Collins was clear about many of her characters. Rue, for example. For a partial list, see this other Jezebel article. As you can see, some of them are unclear. But on the whole the movie’s actors are much paler than the book characters. And that’s . . . whatever. I don’t want to guess at the filmmakers’ motives.
In fact, I don’t want to guess at anyone’s motives. I am taking this kerfuffle as a cue to look at my own writing and work on clarity of description of all the things that are important. I am looking to my own habits as a reader, and reminding myself to always read closely.
Is race one of those important things? That is a much bigger question than I can handle.
But to white Hunger Games viewers who are upset by seeing dark-skinned characters: STFU. Guess what? Human skin comes in lots of shades, and kids who don’t look like you should get to see themselves reflected on screen too.
I promise not to be a pain on this subject, but today the kindle version of Attic Toys, with my creepy teddy bear story in it, is FREE on Amazon. That’s right, zero dollars and zero cents. If you won’t buy it for that price, you’re sillier than a chicken in a chicken suit.
And that’s sillier
I’m also pleased as punch to be mentioned in two of the three reviews on Amazon. I’m someone’s favourite! With a “U”!