stuff to read


And it’s here! The latest Coeur de Lion anthology, Anywhere but Earth, is now available in your preferred format. The reason why you should buy it? Because this is the same publisher that brought the specfic community a little novella anthology called X6 (some of my ranting about X6 here), and AbE is bound to bring the quality. Plus, some terrific authors in it, with twenty-nine brand-new science fiction stories, including my “Lisse.” Win, all the way around. I think I may need to buy an e-book for my iPad, too, although I’ll eventually get the snail-mail one when its shipped from the other side of the world. But I’m delighted and honored to be part of such good company.

As for current wips – work is still crazy busy, but I’ve managed to break 30k on the first of the Harvester novels. Or perhaps they should be called The Resplendent City novels? I’m not that far along for a decision like that, and my progress feels slow enough as it is. But with an additional pov added to Heloise’s, I’ve got a lot to work with, including politics, which overwhelms me, but one step at a time, right?

I’ve also cleaned up another story written right before Clarion, and I’m very happy with it. It may not find a market due to its horror-y aspects combined with the fantastical, but we’ll see. And I’ve started revisions on the first week Clarion story, but for some reason that’s turned out to be tedious.

The  real news here, aside from AbE, is that this house is finally ours! Closing was on Friday, Saturday we purchased a dining room table, and next week we start painting. I’m so very, very relieved its over, and that we can really settle in. Eventually, I’ll be able to say it was worth the wait, I’m sure. Pictures to come, once these walls are painted!

Happy Monday!

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Saying it like it is, this fine Monday morning.

John and I went to see the movie Real Steel on Saturday, and for me, it was the best movie I’ve seen yet this year. The robots just left me speechless – perhaps because I’ve been waiting to write a really good robot story. I planned to at Clarion, but never got to it, and its been burning in the back of my brain since…well, any time I glance at my bookshelf and see Tanith Lee’s Silver Metal Lover and Metallic Love, both of which I adore like nothing else. Oh, and let’s not forget Electric Forest. Just wow. The way Lee paints obsession, and the non-human humanity of metal flesh (and affinity for).

Soon. I’ve got to write that one soon.

Anyway, the movie was just fantastic. I know, another father-son redemption story, but the son was just so spunky (although the female lead drove me nuts – how many times did she REALLY need to say the main character’s name when talking to him? Writer’s fault, there. But … she just seemed to try too hard. Her character, anyway, and the romance felt contrived. Although by the end she seemed to feel more organic to the story – in a typical woman sidekick way.) And I was very, very glad they didn’t push the “this robot is different because he’s real! cliche.” That would have been so disappointing.

So yes, go see.

Next up: Breaking Bad.

Apparently, this show started in 2008, but I haven’t really heard of it (or anyone raving about it, for that matter) until my friend Brooke started tweeting her love for it. Needless to say, John and I are hooked. Fantastic writing, fantastic acting, and the drama is actually a little too much for me at times – I’m in a constant state of tension watching it, so I may need a little break from it soon. As soon as I find out what happens next. But there’s not another show on right now that’s grabbed me in the same way – Walking Dead season 2 premieres next week, and while I loved the first 3 or so episodes of season 1, it petered out fast, so I have my doubts with that (despite the fantastic preview, which makes me want to sit and write a zombie story NOW. Still appealing, despite the over-and-done-with of the craze). And no Game of Thrones until….next year? So that leaves us with … Family Guy. Not really the same thing.

Let’s see – Embassytown, by Mievelle. I couldn’t even get through the last thirty pages, and so I finally put it down. Not enough character for me – I need a seriously zoomed-in-on protagonist, and Avice (best name EVER) was never accessible. And now that I think about it, nor was the physical world. Too much…technical detail. I think I’m just not the best reader for it, although I did see its genius.

So I’ve brought with me today Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and VanderMeer’s Finch, the latter a reread, because I’m craving dystopia/post-apocolyptia, per the usual. And because I need novels right now, as I work through Harvester the book, and to soak in as much as I can in terms of chapter to chapter motion, larger themes, and drawing all of that together in a seamless (and coherent) fashion.

Yesterday, I outlined the entirety of the first book including the male protag – it felt good to get that done. A 90k book, give or take, which is a little overwhelming (despite the fact that my first 2 were over 120k, 120k disasters) given the content I want to make sure comes through. How does one (e.g. a person like me) actually, successfully, depict the end of civilization as Heloise knows it? Especially a civilization like the Resplendent City of Free Living?

Probably a paragraph at a time. An image at a time. A thread at a time. Patiently. (Which is not something I carry around in abundance.)

Anything I didn’t cover? Oh, I’ve started a blood elf mage in WoW – their ability to one-shot others is just too brutal/impressive not to. And since I have leveling gear, it should go fast. And, I’ve been wanting to play some Bioshock and Borderlands again. Perhaps because I have been thinking about my first Clarion short, “North like a Star,” and wanting desperately to revise it – the Borderlands world, the raw violence of it, bears comparison to Bellis’ world.

Pumpkin. Pumpkin everything. I also have that on the brain. There’s a fantastic new grocery store here, with beautiful organic produce, so I bought quite a bit of it and hope to cook it all this week – lovely chards & greens & mushrooms & leeks and so much more…perhaps tonight the Veggie Potpie Stew from Appetite for Reduction, after a run. It’s 70 degrees today! Maybe we’ll get a real fall here.

Happy Monday!

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.

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!

I’m too keyed up to write much of anything. I’ve been pretty much useless at work, and useless at home, pacing about and counting out every…moment…that…ticks…by. Plus, there’s the acquisition of our first house, and all the tedious little details that must be taken care of before it’s OURS. Soon, hopefully. As soon as I come back to real life in August.

This is what my next six weeks will look like:

8:00am – 9:00am Breakfast
9:00am – 1:00pm Class (typically 3-4 stories are discussed)
1:00pm – 2:00pm Lunch
3:00pm – 5:00pm Individual Instructor/Author conferences
6:00pm  – deadline to distribute following day stories
6:00pm – 7:00pm Dinner
Evening: Reading and critiquing following day’s stories / writing / additional activities organized by Instructors or Students

Perfect.

I’ve made myself a list of topics I eventually want to write stories about, as well as happening to find this week 4k words of a post-apocalypse/alien tale that I hadn’t been expecting. We’ll see what happens with that.

In the meantime, I came across an old blogpost of Neil Gaiman’s on free speech, specifically addressing a topic that most people shrink away from. Eloquent and something worth thinking about, especially if you want to be challenged on what you think and why.

And I’m off!

DEADLINE

I finally finished DEADLINE by Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire last night, after forcing myself to put it down multiple times so I could spread out the experience, especially since it’s a terrific book to read at the gym. And after the gym last night, book in hand, I walked out honestly afraid that the world had changed on me between that moment and the moment I’d gone inside; now it was full of Kellis-Amberlee victims, of which I’d be one any moment now, too.  I haven’t felt like that since I read my first Dean Koontz novel at my grandma’s house when I was seventeen years old and had to sleep the next three nights with my Bible.

What works in this book are several things that didn’t quite work for me in the first of the trilogy, FEED (as much as I enjoyed it regardless). The characters’ relationships evolve (not all, but enough to keep me happy; also, they’re not sexless! Hurray! I was thrilled by how those particular events unfolded). The logistics of getting from one place to another, of security details, have a point; they seamlessly tie into the drama. Best of all, that drama is sustained – not only sustained, but kicked in the head and thrown out the window. There were a few places where my eyes crossed a little when the repetition kicked in, but not much in comparison to its predecessor, and I can handle a few.

A few gripes: the reader is constantly being reminded that Shaun is crazy, which I not only disagreed with, as loss causes people to develop unusual coping methods, I got excruciatingly tired of hearing about it, repeatedly. Shaun’s voice is a little too similar to George’s. And coming up on the climax, Shaun and his gang made a decision to go somewhere that made me think, “really?” I believe Grant was trying to make the point that they had no other options, which is great, but what they were going to do when they got there wasn’t clear enough for me. But those are tiny nits compared to the larger scope of the work, which is tremendously effective, and not only a thrilling ride, but a lesson in how to abuse your main character: you throw every single curve ball at them there is, and the reader will love you forever.

It’s the scope of the work, too, that impressed me. Grant has organically written in each stage, and as one thing is uncovered, another crisis emerges; it’s masterfully handled, and I didn’t see the end coming (although a more intuitive person might; I’m a little slow when it comes to predicting things). And while I may not ever write a book like this one, in an action/thriller/horror/near future genre, this is a valuable lesson for me.

I can’t wait for BLACKOUT.

For the first time, with “Sarscon 8,” I’ve written something that was easier upon the first draft – the act of putting raw thoughts and ideas to paper  – rather than the maneuvering of events and motivations to form something more cohesive as a whole. Usually, revisions delight me. But this story, and my struggling to find its core, has genuinely made me want to stop writing. Dramatic, yes, but the truth, and after six hours a day for weeks on this, trying to force it to work, I’m ready to be done with it.

However, I’ve gotten several excellent critiques on it, with a few more to come. Perhaps that will whip it into submittable shape. At least it has some shape already, a shape I believe can eventually work.

There was a disappointing article on young adult books by the Wall Street Journal, which has raised quite a fuss (you can find a good deal of it on Twitter with the hash tag #YASaves). Now, I understand the author’s point. I really do. And then when you add to the question, the age of your child, and how old is too young/old for YA, it grows even more complicated. But the Hunger Games books aren’t for a nine-year-old, unless your nine-year-old happens to be one that would understand the larger picture. I’ve met nine-year-olds that could read those books. But they’re the exception, as is the Hunger Games trilogy. The same is true for ten-year-olds, eleven-year-olds, and so on.

The real problem, in this case, is the ignorance of the parent in this article. You can’t just walk into a bookstore and expect to find something “good and wholesome and perfect for your child” on the shelf. You have to educate yourself on both your child and what’s out there. This woman walked in blindly, and what does she see? Lurid covers, in the Twilight era. Yes, because lurid sells. Is all the content lurid? Not all. Very little, in my reading experience (which is significant), although lurid in that much of it is poorly written, ludicrous and not worth reading. Just like ANY genre, for ANY age. Plus, factor in personal preferences, and you’ve got a situation you can’t just “walk into.”

Also, the direction the article takes is just ridiculous – Meghan Cox Gurdon simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  Not that I was around forty years ago to know what YA books were like, but eighteen years ago, hiding the V.C. Andrews & Danielle Steele books at the bottom of my 12-stack pile from the library, I checked out books like Madeleine Polland’s “To Kill a King,” where the main character’s family had been brutally massacred by a king, and so she set out to kill him herself, for revenge.  (Polland wrote several other intense books with violent events happening to the main character’s family.) Elizabeth Marie Pope’s “The Perilous Gard” was so powerful for me that I not only grew obsessed with the Tam Lin folk tale (who arguably, depending on your version, rapes and impregnates an innocent girl), but by the time I’d turned 28, I’d written an entire YA novel inspired by Pope’s vision of Tam Lin, which for me, is still the best retelling out there. (The Queen made people lose their MINDS.) Let’s not even get started on authors like Jane Yolen, who has written stories with violence and women and power that I will never forget. And there’s Elizabeth George Speare and hell, what about Lloyd Alexander, who invented zombies? (I know, loose interpretation…)

All that to say, Kyle Cassidey offers a rebuttal more factual than my personal experience. Also another on Npr.org, full of truth: kids are smart, and intuitive, and the world isn’t getting any brighter. And when I’m a parent and the world has changed even more, hopefully I’ll be able to teach my kid how to navigate through it.

Oh, and Mira Grant’s DEADLINE: holy shit. Seanan McGuire brings it. That is all I can say. I’m about half-through, and have been floored about 95% of the time (which is damn good). If you’ve read (and liked) FEED, go buy DEADLINE asap, especially if you’re a writer. It’s the most amazing lesson in how to send the reader into a tailspin, repeatedly.

I’m hoping above hope that the tension doesn’t let up, because I’ll be so sad.

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