What postcards have taught me (so far)

1) I can write really small when I need to.

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.

Dear humans, You think I’m pretty cute, huh? You think my fur is soft? Yeah, I’ve got cousins in the zoo, & they tell me about your squeals. But guess what? I lost a brother the other day to one of you squealing bipeds. Dude took a club & just beat him like Rodney King. We don’t have video cameras up here, but don’t think you’re getting off without a riot. We may look cuddly, but it’s only skin deep, & we won’t be your shoes anymore. I am a baby seal. And I will f*ck you up. You’ve been warned, Snuggles

Return to sender?

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!

Dear Mom, I’ll be home a bit later than planned. Another two months, maybe, with good behavior. Prison is pretty nice here, though. I can sum up Oslo in a few words: Opera House, Bowling ball, WORTH IT. See you (relatively) soon, Jeremy
What could be better? And yet, after two weeks I have few sponsors. I feel lonely. I am writing postcards to the void.

Dear Yahweh, I’ve been meaning to write for eternity. I’m well established now in my new home. Things get more interesting with each trainload of new residents. I confess I’m surprised by the variety of souls who end up here—musicians, dancers, & writers keep the place lively (why don’t you want them?). People seem basically good. Mostly they’re sorry for their mistakes.  How are things with you? Forgive me for saying it sounds awfully dull there, with only bible-thumpers around. If you get bored you can come visit me. I can barely remember what we used to fight about. Surely it no longer matters. Say “hi” to the other angels for me, Lucifer
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.
Dear Professor, At first we thought it was just a rock. It glowed a little, but in the midnight sun no one noticed. The rock was odd, pointy & rough. So we studied it, & that’s when the suicides began. First Jones, who dug the thing out of the ice. He sliced his own throat. Then the doctor ODed. Then Caldwell. You don’t want to know. I know they’ll send you to investigate when we’re all gone, but don’t come! I have the thing now & I am finding my pistol hard to resist. I want to get rid of the rock, bu-- All is well. This is funny joke, HA HA. From your friend

Got it? Sponsor me; get postcard. Any amount will do (but maybe more than the cost of a postcard stamp, yeah? Just for karma?).

Dear sis, I told you sending Sammy on vacation with us was a bad idea. He basically wouldn’t stop screaming & throwing temper tantrums unless he was eating candy. So despite misgivings about feeding your son an all-sugar diet, we sent a steady stream of chocolate & lollypops his way. In a strange little shop we bought lollipops that sparkled. Actually, they were almost luminescent. Sammy sucked on one for a while, then threw it down & launched into another fit. Exasperated, I said, “If you don’t stop that, you’ll freeze that way.”  And damned if he didn’t.  We think Sammy looks good like this, & he’s certainly a lot quieter. We’re getting quotes today on shipping him home. Love, me

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? 

Dear Postcards . . .

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.

Dear Postcards, This bad blood between us has gone on for too long. It’s not your fault that you rarely say anything meaningful; it’s just the nature of the form. You can’t help it if you arrive three weeks late, usually after the sender has returned home, & that your trivial information is thus always woefully out of date. You’re a faded image, a piece of the past. Furthermore, it’s not your fault that—once upon a time—I received banal cards crammed with tiny, insignificant writing. Nor are you to blame for my pathetic analysis of those cards; the sender did not love me as I wished, & that is that.  It’s in the past now. Let’s forget it & move forward. Together, we can be interesting. Yours, Emily

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!

And remember, if you want to look for them in the meatspace mail, sponsor me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

Postcards from . . .

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)):

Dear Gordon, My name is Clyde, & I’m an arctic fox. I came from a faraway land, but one day a foxy lady fox swished her tail & I chased it across the frozen sea. Thick snow came & I soon lost her. Sometimes I wonder if she ever was real.  The ice made my paws cold, so when I saw some land I stepped off onto it. And then—wouldn’t you know—the ice retreated, & I was stuck here. I am the only mammal on this entire island.  I am lonely.  Will you be my friend?  I’ll share some of this tasty puffin with you.  Love,  Clyde the Arctic Fox

Dear Emily, I’m an Icelandic horse. Or “horsey,” if you prefer. They call me Dreamer because I have a dream. They call me lots of things, actually, & some of them are not very nice. But that’s another story. You see, I need your help to fulfill my dream. Oh, but I haven’t told you what it is yet. Promise you won’t laugh?  I want to be a unicorn.  As you know, all horsies can turn into unicorns if only girls love them enough. But you have to really, really love me. I promise if I turn into a unicorn I’ll fly to California & you can ride me &—WHAT!? Unicorns can’t fly?  Well, shit. Yours truly, Dreamer p.s. don’t I look cuddly? love me!

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, Frost Giant

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.

Warning: Summer Ahead

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.

This is where I’ll be. (photo: Hurtigruten)

A day or so late and some amount short

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.

Adventures in Rejection

Subtitle: Don’t make me get my flying monkeys

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!

There are no small presses

Only small readers.

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.

Do Not Feed the Inner Editor

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.

Inner Editor does not approve this post.

Spring: Season of False Hopes

Subtitle: How a Seattle Spring is like Duotrope

This blue sky? It’s a lie.

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.

Casual Sexism for the . . . Win?

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?

The Hunger Games, race, and the “default white”

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.

Free toys!

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
than this.

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”!

Also free today are these other titles from Evil Jester Press: Evil Jester Digest Volume One, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, and HELP! WANTED: Tales of On-the-Job Terror. I know nothing about these other books. Let me know if they’re awesome.

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 horrificmiscueseattle.wordpress.com, 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 post-Amazon.com 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