Clarion


Am I back? Not sure. I’ve been meaning to hop on here forever, but don’t I always? Maybe I can work myself back up to semi-regular posting, little by little. Although I’m in the throes of tax season at work, and at home, kept so completely busy by an almost 8-month-old, which doesn’t even make sense to me. Wasn’t I just pregnant? How is she this old?

happy

photo-5 (2)

Anyway, everything seems to be a blur. Amazing, but a blur none the less. I’m trying to take as many pictures and videos as I can, because she’s probably going to be in college before I realize it.

My first Clarion short story to be published (not the one I expected, either) appears in Innsmouth Free Press Issue 12! The issue can be purchased here, and will be out on the website in a few days. This story is, well, let’s call it strongly PG-13 rated, so not one I’m likely to be talking about much on Facebook. I’m very glad it found a home, and a good one.

What else? It’s sunny outside, this Valentine’s Day, and I’d love more than anything to go for a run. Instead, I’ll bill some tax returns! Whoo!

Title brought to you by one of my favorite Nine Inch Nails songs from the album The Fragile. I listened to this song on repeat after Mom died. Well, the whole album, really.

My little sister had her first kickboxing match on Saturday. I’m so proud of her, and holy shit does she have a strong right hook. Even if the other girl plays a little dirty about a minute into this first round. Way to go, Krista! (She’s in the pink and black shorts.)

Story idea of the day? Singularity. When it’s not explained. I’ve had that on the brain for a few weeks now after reading this very clever story that danced around the idea without tapping too much into the science of it, and I loved it. Maybe something will come of that in my own writing.

Story to read for the day? “Substitution,” by my terrific friend Brooke Wonders, possibly one of the most ridiculously brainy people I’ve ever met. (The ONLY thing I can possibly out-knowledge her in is short story markets and maybe classical music, if I’m lucky.) This gorgeous tale came out in Daily Science Fiction this month, and is mixed with equal parts lyricism, intelligence, and that uncomfortable emotive note at the end that left me still thinking about it two weeks after my first read. I cannot wait for the day when I can get my hands on Brooke’s first short story collection; the creepy and surreal resonance of her writing is exactly the sort of thing I look for.

I finally finished the beast of a revision of “North like a Star,” my first-week story at Clarion. Cleaned up the drama, but it still needs a good hack and slash, says my first non-Clarion reader, of which I agree. Too many conflicts have overtaken the main inciting incident, so if I can narrow out 3 or so of those and figure out a new reason for why Bellis gets to the factory, the problem might be solved. And, keep the draft under 5k – right now its pushing 6,500 words. The downside is that I despise the story (after two months of trying to get through this revision), so maybe if I put it away for awhile, some of that will take care of itself? Which means its time to pull out Harvester the novel (again – it seems to fluctuate) or write something new; I think I’ve burnt out my revision momentum for awhile.

What I’d really like is to write a flash. Something brief and sweet or sharp, and clever. A palette-wetting read. A palette-wetting write, so I’m up to tackle longer things again, instead if feeling burnt out.

Article of the day? I avoid politics on Facebook and Twitter as much as I can, simply because while I believe as strongly as the next person, there’s no way to convince anyone to change their point of view in a medium like that, especially when I grew up in a state like South Dakota and now live in Oklahoma – I am the minority amidst my peers in both states. But here’s a link to the article more than worth reading; not to pit one political party above another (which the author gets a little dramatic about – I think his point is made without needing to be so excessive?) but because of the truth in it, not the least being our troops are out of Iraq, health care reform has begun (I haven’t yet met one person opposing this who has been personally affected by it or lack of it – of which now John and I can relate), gay rights in the military, and a push to fix the economy, all done against opposition and hate, despite proclaiming to have the same religious beliefs (which honestly baffles me). Anyway, I found the article very encouraging, and lately, I’ve felt hopeful about the state of our country.

What I’d really like for Christmas is a Caribbean vacation. Instead, we’re staying home, and John’s family is coming over for mimosas and brunch. Then, we’ll likely join the rest of the city at the movie theater? We’ll see – happy Holidays to all!

I’ve been trying to catch up on crits I either owe or have promised that have slipped by, because of my sudden lack of available time: I’ve begun to get up at 5am simply to get in an hour + on Harvester the novel. It’s not nearly as much time as I need, nor does it allow me to rewrite and revise the stories waiting for attention – 5 Clarion stories, plus 2 written previously that need editing before submission.

However, I’ve got 22k of the first Harvester book written, 40k of the second (as I’d initially planned those to be a single book), and the 3rd just revealed itself to me the other day. I’ve been wanting a new book for a long time now, and now, diving into it, despite the vast overwhelmingness of the project and my fear of another novel (and trilogy) and all the what-if-this-doesn’t-succeed-again fears, I’m happy to have it, and even happy to get up an hour early for it.

I still need to find the right music for it, too, to listen to while writing. None of my previous soundtracks work, nor does anything new. I need a science fantasy soundtrack, since that’s what this book is. Alternate reality, where serious dark magic exists, as does alchemy that cures cancer.

The real reason for this post is what Elizabeth Bear called “the reader backpack,” which she brought up one day at Clarion and I’m guessing no one in my class has forgotten yet. I consistently see this as in issue in Lightspeed slush – even with some of the really, really impressive stories that we don’t end up taking for whatever reason. And I just read a story from a talented fellow in my writing group that had the same issue, so I thought I would ramble on about it a bit.

So, Bear’s concept in my words: every story comes along with a backpack that the reader puts on when they read. A nice, empty backpack. First line, (with new characters/setting/conflict) a rock gets added. Next unusual revelation/question asked, a second rock. Now here’s where things either get better or worse. The author can lighten the backpack by removing rocks (answer questions), or make it worse by adding – which happens too often. Give the reader a rock with every question introduced, and they’re so bogged down without answers that they’ll stop reading because they cannot stagger down the path of the story any longer.

Bear’s suggestion was 1st question/rock, 2nd question/rock, then answer 1st. Hand out 3rd question/rock, answer 2nd. Move along like that so the reader is constantly intrigued, but you’ve got to remove enough rocks that they won’t get annoyed and throw down the backpack altogether.

While I’m on the bandwagon…

I also see things that don’t work for the story. Too much going on, too many unusual structural choices (which in an of itself are awesome) alongside intense content and you’ve got an indecipherable blob of genius that no reader like me (I’m slow-witted when it comes to stories) can decipher. Every element in the story works to serve the greater purpose of the story, but if you’ve got too many elements doing the same thing, or doing too many things, your gorgeous tech-happy alien story has turned incomprehensible. (And I am so guilty of this, too.)

Just like everything else in life, it’s all about the balance.

Oh, and while I’m here – reading. I’m almost done with Embassytown by Mieville, of which I have mixed reactions. Just some absolutely brilliant things going on there, including his very thought-out alien race. But wow did it get sloggish in the middle; I put it down for almost 4 months, and only picked it back up again because I had bought the hardback and decided I need to at least try and finish it. I slogged through a few more chapters until holy shit the apocalypse and it FLOORED ME for 3 more chapters of breathless reading until I hit expositional apocalyptic summary, to which I’ve slowed up again, although I think its very important I watch what he does because of my own apocalyptic novel. So…yes. So many amazing things, but I prefer a book I inhale consistently.

Also finished Valente’s Deathless. Some absolutely stunning prose, and I found the first half of the book captivating in a way I rarely come across these days, (the Baba Yaga scenes are absolutely priceless). Because of that, truly a must-read. On the technical side, I like books that push forward, driving to the end (even in a subtle fashion), and this one doesn’t do that. While consistently gorgeous and evocative, the motivations dwindled in favor of consistent, evocative imagery, which wasn’t enough to keep me intrigued. As a result, the last third of the book was hard for me to finish as I wasn’t invested in the protag’s journey anymore (which was also my reaction to her Palimpsest). Despite that, I’m certain I’ll go back to this book one day; it’s simply too lovely and original not to.

And I will add again that this James Tiptree, Jr. collection is the most amazing thing I’ve read all year, still (with Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Sirenia Digests‘ second). A must read for every SF reader/writer.

Happy Friday! A movie is in order this weekend, I think.

A quick post before I decide there’s too many other things to do, which has been my state of mind for the last week. I sit here smelling of sunscreen and the outdoors, having just come in from a run with the puppy. She loved every bit of it (with the exception of storm drains, which frighten her), while I cannot say the same for myself , as there’s been too many cookies and not enough runs lately. But hopefully that will change with the cooler weather.

One of my first short stories, “The Bringing Moon,” was just published in the new magazine “The Colored Lens,” and the first e-book is available here. I’m so happy it found a home – that story was always special to me, inspired by my relationship with my little sister when we were much, much younger.

I have about four critiques to give, and my own words for today, so this will be short. Somehow, it’s been more do-able to tackle Harvester the book rather than the eight stories I have to revise/rewrite, both from Clarion and earlier. Usually I have such a hard time writing new stuff – it’s the revision process I love. But not right now, when I struggle to find motivation and encouragement amidst the slim statistics of markets and the knowledge that I still have so unbelievably far to go.

Clarion 2012 instructors have been announced: Jeffrey Ford, Marjorie Liu, Ted Chiang, Walter Jon Williams, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. No reason not to apply – it’s so worth it. There’s so much I’ve intended to blog about regarding Clarion – the 4 hours of critting and class in the mornings, the 4-6 hours of writing the story for the week in the afternoon (solitary, for me – I cannot write with other people in the same room), the evenings of more critting/writing/socializing, the pros, the cons, the inbetweens, and everything I learned, but I’m still letting it all sink in. Regular life is again taking over, although I spent most of August and September feeling sad that I no longer had the communion of my Clarion class, nor those long, beautiful uninterrupted hours to write. Now I have to get up at 5 am or earlier if I’m going to get a good chunk of writing in, which is as hard as it sounds. But how much I have learned, which is invaluable, and I wouldn’t trade that even for the disappointment of it all ending.

And now for the next step, and the next.

I’m sitting in a hotel room of the Crowne Plaza in Times Square, drinking some kind of not-too-bad hotel coffee made in a Keurig maker and waiting for my sister Shannon to get ready so we can go get our first martinis before dinner and then meet up with my dear Chicago friend Amy who moved here to NYC about six weeks ago. A spur of the moment trip, including the Broadway production of “Chicago” tonight, and I jumped at the chance, even if the whole weekend will only last about 36 hours. I also promised myself I’d blog, so this won’t be the long Clarion post I needed to write, but … soon!

Let’s see. I’m still in Clarion withdrawal. It’s hard to get up and go to my (mostly terrific) dayjob knowing that I won’t get the eight hours of writing like I did for six weeks in San Diego, nor that communion every night with people who want the same things I do. My friend Christie, another Assistant Editor at Lightspeed, did Taos Toolbox this summer and she said it took her almost a month to get back into real life. So with six weeks of Clarion, I’m looking at…another 6 weeks of accepting the fact that I’ve got to get up at 5 am if I want a good 1.5 hours of writing time a day, at least until my job settles down.

I’ve also been baking like a crazy person. Fall! Which means amazing foods like Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread! Absolutely amazing, although I sent the second loaf home with John’s sister Becky so I didn’t eat it all. I even messed up on the directions because I was trying to do too much at once, including running to the store at 8 am for baking soda since I threw the old one out in the move.

And then there were chocolate biscuits and gravy. Yes.

Chocolate Biscuits & Gravy

Lasagnas, too, and pizzas, and amazing foods from Appetite for Reduction which we devoured before I could take pictures of.

I submitted my first Clarion story. I’m really happy with it, no matter what happens, which is good to know. I’ve gotten some really good crits on it from both Clarionauts and Fragments, my writing group here, so that’s encouraging. But I really need to work on something new, and maybe that’s where Harvester the novel comes in; hopefully it can write itself in these early morning sessions.

More soon! Off to amazing food and martinis and an exciting night!

The longer I procrastinate, the more a here’s-how-Clarion-was blog entry feels intimidating. Or maybe it’s that we’ve been running about nonstop since John picked me up at the airport, and all the house things have gone wrong since Sunday. ALL the things. Well, except for the fridge delivery today, which is so far so good. Hopefully the movers will show up (unlike the ones yesterday) this evening, and hopefully no one will pass out in the heat.

The dogs LOVE the yard (as do I, and I have so many plans for it.) And Kitty has adjusted already by rubbing his face on every door frame. I am swamped swamped swamped with work at the day job, which I expected and tried to plan for, mentally, but was not successful. And then there’s the lengthy amount of downtime I really wish I had after the intensity of Clarion. (PS: start saving, writer people, so you can go next year. Not a thing to missed if you can hep it. And look at the instructor line-up: Jeffrey Ford, Marjorie Liu, Ted Chiang, Walter Jon Williams, Holly Black and Cassie Clare! Let me just repeat something. JEFFREY FORD!)

But I managed 334 words today, although I barely made it through the first section of my Week 3 Clarion story. Pulling teeth, but I did it. Kij Johnson says 250 words, daily. Writers write, so words must be put on the page. If you feel like you’re cheating, you probably are. And 250 shitty words count, too, and I’d say only 1/2 of my 334 were shitty. That equals win!

I’ve read three stories in Ellen Datlow’s new Supernatural Noir the last few days. My favorite opening stories of an antho yet this year, which is so exciting! Maybe I’ll do a full review of it. Who knows, I could end up pimping it the way I do Eclipse 3, which is still my favorite anthology of all time, given the volume of awesome in it. I tried to force it upon all my Clarion buddies when we were at the Mysterious Galaxy book readings, although I’m not certain I was successful…

Link for the day: a wise blog entry from Amanda Palmer about knowing your audience, playing to your audience, and ultimately, knowing yourself. I 100% agree. Know your work, know what you like to read and write, and write for yourself. Then, know where that kind of thing is published (i.e. read the markets!) and understand (if rejected) that it may not be your writing but your aesthetic that isn’t the editor’s.

More, soon!

The beginning of the 4th week! I’ve meant to blog far more than this, but the weekdays are packed and the weekends have been spent recovering, either from the stress of the week or too much stress relief on Friday nights? Ah, yes. But here I am, more mentally tired than physical, and longing to sit in front of the television and turn my brain off just for an evening.  Or actually eat some different and amazing, food – I have never had such dreadful food in my entire life, and being only 7 months into the vegetarian thing, its somewhat distressing. (And I know I should not complain, but…yes.)

There are four ways (that I know of) to walk the fifteen minutes to class. Here is my favorite:

Walk to Class

I’ve also made it to the beach, which was simply gorgeous.

Sea

I miss John dreadfully, which in a way has helped me to work harder, just to keep from focusing on that. But then he sends me pictures like this:

This week marks the 4th story I’ve written (which makes me very happy – 2 more to go!), but I’ve warned my classmates it might veer more towards torture porn than they are likely comfortable with (myself included). Because I had hit a wall with inspiration after Bear week, I had figured I could write something Kiernan/Lee-esque (of course), since that’s what I enjoy so much. However, then the story veered into a social commentary on class with a main character who clearly has psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies. (And there goes the wider range of market possibilities!) But I have also tried to do this immersion thing within the wider scope of intrusion – as if the other elements weren’t enough of a challenge.

So that will be critiqued tomorrow (and turned in this afternoon, as soon as I find the courage to do so), with all my fingers crossed.

Also, here’s a summary of what I’ve learned so far…at least the things I’ve managed to scribble down. What I’ve actually learned is likely too broad to write down, but here is a taste (and the initials of the instructor it came from):

_____ is a story about ______ who must _____. We will know _____ has succeeded when ______. (EB)

Each character is an aspect of the same person (a common literary structure, insert inner curling shape, like the shell of a snail curling around its core). (EB)

What the character wants is in direct opposition to what the character needs. (EB)

Internal conflict is then driven into crisis, reinforced by external conflict. (EB)

Give antagonist try/fail cycle! (EB)

Only use exclamation points when: The! Galaxy! Is! On! Fire! (EB)

To keep a reader from getting ansty about not enough information: Set up first mystery, set up second mystery, answer first. Set up 3rd mystery, answer second, etc. (EB)

Right person right place wrong time? Wrong person right place right time? Right person wrong place right time? (NKH)

Option: The reader changes throughout the story rather then the main character! (NKH)

David Anthony Durham, our instructor this week, has already said some fantastic things regarding world-building, but I couldn’t find my pen quickly enough to write them down – hopefully that will change in the next few days.

Also, I have learned that reading about unicorns in stories doesn’t work for me, unless the unicorns are Diana Peterfreund’s, and/or have killer tendencies. Or, something else very creative that doesn’t result in Lisa Frank resemblances. Perhaps I just need to admit I’m on Team Zombie and that is that.

Also, in pimp-my-friends, The lovely Brooke Wonders reads for form and theme, and has been teaching me to do so, too – already I feel it’s improved my stories dramatically. Bonus, the equally as lovely Peta Freestone is teaching me how to grow citrus trees and what best I can buy and plant in our new house, upon the end of Clarion.

Tonight, David Anthony Durham’s Mysterious Galaxy reading. This weekend: SD Comic-Con

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