writing


And we’re back!

The quick excuse for my absence? Some seriously ugly nausea and exhaustion for the last four months has bumped this blog to a back burner, as much the rest of my life. But in nineteen more weeks John and I should have a baby girl. Everybody’s telling me the puking is worth it, and that I might even forget about it once Baby Josie’s here, so there you go. At least now I want to drink coffee again.

As if tax season and pregnancy weren’t enough, I’ve given myself nineteen weeks to get the first draft of the first Harvester book finished. I’m at 43k right now, so it’s not entirely unthinkable, although since I’ve yet to hit that momentum stride, most mornings it seems a lofty, ridiculous goal. But I am able to get up at 5 am these days, when I couldn’t a month ago, and I consider that a terrific step forward. I’m intending to use this blog as a check-in for wordcount and momentum, at least weekly, and hopefully that will help me get back in the swing of things. Plus, it’s a place to complain about the issues I’m having.

For example, blocking. That’s been on my mind a lot, given the mistakes I made with the three books before this. All were YA, so not only am I having to do a lot of revising as I actually go in order to keep this from being too Harry Potter, but there where there was previously (in the last books) a lot of waking up in the morning, getting from one place to another, going to sleep, etc…now there’s just me staring at the page, wanting to avoid that issue completely. Problem is, in a lot of places I just don’t know how, especially when Heloise’s City is every bit as much a character as her. So that might be an issue I grow with, or I let it be ugly and wrong as I write, and then go back and fix upon revisions – which is easier said than done.

In the meantime, some worthwhile links:

  • This Lev Grossman article, which vastly encouraged me. I have such strong opinions when it comes to books (and short stories, for that matter) and this was written so eloquently that I found a good deal of encouragement in it, both for the state of the market and the eternal why-do-people-like-the-shit-they-like question.

And because this is Valentine’s Day, some four-legged love.

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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!

Oh, I do have a blog.

In the last month (and in no particular order), I’ve had two coworkers quit, another replacement hired only to quit three days later, job responsibilities increase, my father get remarried, multiple people in my life diagnosed with ugly things like cancer, and more news that will eventually get shared, time permitting. It’s not been an easy nor pleasant November, but now its December, and I love the cold(er) weather and hope we get snow this afternoon. And that things eventually become sunny and lovely again, even in winter.

But the real reason for this update – some excellent fiction.

Chris Stabback, a fellow Clarionaut from this last year, published a story in Clarkesworld which is up today. Gave me chills when I first read it, and inspired me. Nothing is better than a story that inspires you to write one of your own.

Caitlyn R. Kiernan’s collection Two Worlds and In Between has as few remaining collections left on Amazon (I’d bought mine directly from Subterranean Press). This is hands down the best collection I’ve ever read – and considering that I own nearly as many anthologies as books, that’s a pretty lofty statement. And, it’s her early work. But it’s a must-have, in addition to being a stunning hardback book.

I’d also be amiss not to mention the Lightspeed Year One book, also available, which is also quite gorgeous, and full of excellent reads – both originals from Lightspeed and reprints from our first year. I’m very pleased with it, as it well represents all the work we’ve done there and the great words that have been shared!

More soon – happy holidays!

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!

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!

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