Spokaning It

Last minute items are getting packed up for my trip to Spokane, host of this year’s WorldCon Sasquan. Always that last minute juggle of clothing, hygiene products, assuring the cat that I will return, and deciding what books to read and notebooks to bring. (Because, you know, I’ll have time for these things. Not really.)

Normally I plan conventions out to the nth degree. Morning until night, everything is scheduled. I come home with a brain that’s been turned into a turducken, happy but exhausted and wrung out. As an introvert, especially. ESPECIALLY.

Not so this year. I am not going to give into the urge to mindlessly schedule every minute of my time. I’m going to wander, I’m going to say yes to social events, I’m going to leave gaps in my days to just wing it and I’ll scurry off to find some quiet time if I need it. No guilt.

And I’m not going to back out of the reading — 12:30 pm on Saturday! I’ll be sharing a five-minute teaser from the novel I’m shopping around thanks to the graciousness of Steven Gould, SF writer extraordinaire! He’s offering to share his reading slot with Viable Paradise alum including myself, Sarah and Camille. This is awesome and terrifying and I hope there will be drinks after.

But I’m most excited to see people I have not seen in several years, and meet people I’ve only known through the blessing (and sometimes curse) of Twitter. I suspect I will be tweeting up a storm when I am there. Particularly Saturday. I have blue hair (on the bottom), an owl backpack, and I’ll have my name on a card dangling around my neck. Come say hello!

Summer’s Kitchen Sink

Two months is a longer break than normal for me. I’ve been focusing on novel edits to the exclusion of nearly all else as work has picked up and is taking up more brain space. Blog got the short straw. Not that I haven’t wanted to talk about stuff!

So here is a brief update, and ramble. Back in my home town there’s a pizza joint called Cortina’s that’s been around forever and that my parents would sometimes order when I was really little. The building was completely distinctive, red metal, white trim, a monstrous circle meant to look like a stylized pizza and there was a mural on the sloping roof a dark haired woman eating a messy, oozing slice of pizza. Their bestseller? Something they called the Kitchen Sink — a little bit of everything.

And that’s what this blog post will be, too. Links ahoy!

Stuff I am excited about!

So close to finishing this final edit! I’ve given myself a hard deadline of August 18 (soft deadline end-of-July, but I’m counting this Canadian long weekend, shh).  Then that full goes out to the second agent. When I get back from my trip I will ping some new agents but will be moving on to other stuff.

That trip? It’s World Con! I’ll be flying down to Spokane to take in Sasquan from August 19-23. It’s my first since Anticipation 2009 in Montreal and this time I will know people! And me and my roomie and fellow VPer Sarah will be throwing a party! And when I was slightly drunk I agreed to read something in a spot during Stephen Gould’s reading! (That last bit might need it’s own subheading of things that terrify me. Hahaha.)

Syllabus-Cover_525I’ve become obsessed with everything Lynda Barry. Barry is a cartoonist and teacher who has been publishing for years. It all started when (and I don’t know how) I saw reference to her book Syllabus. I borrowed it from the library, ordered a copy before I’d finished reading it, and have since been buying and reading whatever I can and generally singing her praises. It’s also got me drawing again. My thanks, Barry.

Stuff I am loving!dccomics_ad_SU_v5

Two shows will become forever entwined for me with 2015. They are great, soaring examples of television that expand what’s possible and transform the medium.

I caught up on the entirety of Steven Universe right before Steven Bomb 3.0 dropped and immersed myself completely in the wonder that is Sense8. Both of these shows bring us stories that we’ve just never seen on television.

sense8They give us great characters across all spectrums of race, class, ethnicity and they ask big questions without pat answers. One does it in the frame of a kids show with musical numbers, yet is frank about sexuality, colonialism and PTSD. The other uses the old science fiction trope of linked minds to intense heights as the characters struggles with state surveillance, identity and empathy. I haven’t cried/laughed/cheered at a show that hard, that completely, in a very long time. I haven’t been this joy-flaily about television in a very long time. After Doctor Who and Sherlock, I was afraid I couldn’t.

Stuff I’m not loving as much!

I also spent time going through seasons one and two of Twin Peaks, and tweeted the crap about it. Good times! Also, narratively, broken times, but it’s given me a lot of food for thought. It’s always been on my “gotta see” list even though I missed the first time around for reasons I can’t remember and now it’s coming back next year. It may get it’s own blog post. We’ll see. I’m much more excited about the new X-Files that’s filming in Vancouver right now.

Stuff that can just stop right now!

THIS HEAT.Go watch Steven Universe to find out who this is. Vancouver has been suffering with an abnormally long and hot summer. We’ve basically had unrelenting sunshine for four months straight. Grass has been dead for weeks. Trees are already giving up their leaves. It’s rained twice, not nearly enough, and reservoirs are at 69%. It’s meant forest fires everywhere, including some so close to the city that it turned the sky yellow-orange and it smelled like the campfires for days.

(And speaking of setting things on fire, the Federal election that won’t happen until October but has been called early because the Conservative Party believe themselves to be unaccountable, spendy ass-hats. ARGH!)

Stuff it — back to happy!

Okay, let’s bring it back around to good stuff: I’m super excited that my friend and writing buddy Andy was accepted to this years Viable Paradise class! I’ve only been bugging him, literally, for years. The fun part right now is all the teasing (though this year’s bunch are very quiet on the message list), but the good stuff comes after once they’ve all come back from the island. I had a post on that topic I was noodling back in June that I’d like to revisit and post.

But for now, I have to stop procrastinating. I have managed to edit about 7,600 words today, and I still have about 20K left on the novel. Can I do it by the end of this long weekend? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I am very close and finishing it before my August 18 deadline is absolutely happening and that feels pretty good.

I will have taken The Star Door as far as I can on my own with the help of beta readers. It’s time to do this last bit, and let it go. I will spend parts of August revisiting my short fiction to see what state it’s in and start back up on the novel I was working on during Rainforest. I should have a completed draft on that by end-of-year.

And then we’ll see what happens next. 😉

Our Strange Bookish Ways

Everyone’s got a post about the Hugo Awards, so here’s mine. I’m glad I’ve chewed on it some, as my original thoughts just before the nominations were announced and those days immediately after were, to be blunt, furious.

flames-on-the-side-of-my-face

People have written great and exhaustive posts the subject. HereHereHereHere. And hereAmong many, many other thoughtful people. Settle in — reading it will take a while. Bring whisky. You’ll want it. It continues on, the commentary, though the frequency is thinning. Sasquan attendees have their Hugo packets and folks are reading, or not reading, as they deem fit. Supporting and attending memberships have surged since the slate and the announcement of the nominees. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out this August.

Why so many posts? Because the Hugos matter.

But at the same time, they aren’t the only game in town. Never were. The Nebulas are upcoming, there’s the Tiptree Award, and of course, the World Fantasy Awards. Beyond best-of lists and official recognition, there are so many great podcasts and blogs that talk about books critically and with unabashed love that I’m not suffering the loss – if you could even call it that.

I’ve never agreed with every nominee and winner before, but that was never the point of the Hugos. The discussion, before and after, is way more interesting. This was the first year where I was able to nominate, having read enough current fiction to be excited to vote. And what the Puppies did, while juvenile and ultimately proving there was no great conspiracy, doesn’t take away the experience I had reading those books and talking about them with others.

Have you read The Mirror Empire? The Goblin Emperor? We Have Always Fought? Women Destroy SFWhat Makes This Book So Great? Indistinguishable From Magic? My Real Children? The Girls of the Kingfisher Club?

‘Cause hot damn, it was a good year of reading for me.

Maybe instead of doubling down for 2016 as some are threatening, they should just, I dunno, do what you’re supposed to when it comes to the Hugos? Read books, talk about them, and then everyone nominates the stories that really move them. It’s not hard.

Sure, you can game the system, but what does that really prove in the end?

Unless you like the taste of ash.

noneofmybusiness

Copious Amounts of Words, Salmon – On Rainforest

It’s called the Rainforest Writers Village, but everyone just calls it Rainforest. I’ve heard about it through friends, but only in the last two years has it changed from something on my radar to something I wanted to do, then finally something I set out to do. When I bought my ticket last year, I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to go. Being able to plan and do things hasn’t been within my grasp until the last few years (and it’s something I naturally mistrust for the stranger that it is to me).

That said, after getting back I understand why Patrick Swenson, the all around spectacular human being that runs this crazy/quiet show, has added a third week due to the overwhelming popularity. Seems fitting to be writing and posting this on the last day of the (inaugural) third session.

Going to Rainforest was like taking a hi-res photograph of my life as it is, and running it through every filter the program has and then ‘shopping the hell out of it. Keep the colors, the trees, the water, and the sky. Remove the buildings, unless they are small and their bones are polished hardwood. This extraction opens up more grey, more blue, more green, and moss-covered limbs and grass and mist raking through the teeth of the forest on the other side of the lake fill in the space. Subtract the traffic, the horns, wheels rolling on asphalt, but leave the birdsong, the water against the shore as they are so that the sound of fingers on keyboard, pens scratching on paper, voices hushed in creative conspiracy, take their rightful places.

Take away the Internet, too. As the elusive elk were to the ubiquitous geese, so was the internet to the writer. Odds were good that if you looked up in the Lounge during one of the silent writing periods, you would see a writer with their hand pressed against the building frame to try can catch the wifi, while in the small parking lot a lone writer would hold their cellphone up to the sky in mute desperation.

Take away all the things in your life that you need to fit your writing around and flip it — now all the rest has to fit in around your writing.

The insecurities that had front-row seats with me when I went to Viable Paradise were still there this time, but their tickets were way in the back, their barbed heckling reduced to formless grumbling. I could worry less about fitting in because I knew people there. I was there to write, not have material critiqued.

But I was still worried — would I work? Would I get as much done as I hoped? And what did I really hope to get done?

That was a legit concern. Right before I abandoned writing for about four years, I had asked for a weekend away for my birthday: no boyfriend, no pets, no making dinner, no laundry. I planned to spend the weekend at a remote bed and breakfast and write my novel. All of it, most of it, I couldn’t tell you now what I thought that goal would actually mean. It was an impossible goal, that’s the takeaway. My crushing lack of words, lack of even one damn word, made me feel like such a fool, and sent me scurrying home to bury all my notebooks for a long time.

Rainforest was different in a lot of ways. I am not the same person as that young woman who stared out the window watching snow melt off the rooftop, her insides twisting tighter and tighter. A lot has, thankfully, changed in thirteen years. (I suppose it was my pupa state.)

We arrived Wednesday in rain, and I picked at the Scrivener file that night after our meal. I started early on the Thursday by editing the remaining 18,000 words of a novel I had started and set aside a year ago. Once that was done, I slotted it all into a couple of spreadsheets, listing characters and locations, major plot events, information revealed, and that took the entire morning of the Friday.

But would I write? Really? I set aside all my expectations — do something — and started. And they came. Nearly 2,000 words on the half Friday, 3,300 words on the full Saturday, and another 2,000 on the Sunday morning. 7,300 words all day. Not bad.

stillbuds

And besides the writing, there was everything else. From Viable Paradise, my year and others, there was Kelly and Janice and Fran and Nicole and Tucker and Casey, and I met other writers, too, some I knew from Twitter like Tracie and Amy, and new people altogether. I walked the road with Deborah, she of soups, and Janka, she of yarn hats, to see the elk that would not be seen. I watched a rainbow appear out of the morning mist, one color at a time, and watched the heron watching us from a trio of logs that floated together just off shore. I ate a lot of salmon, until I discovered the hidden menu. I tasted whisky that was smokey and smooth and wonderful. I saw a man don a set of horns, sing and kill on the Ukulele, the whole group joining in. I did my least squeaky fan-girling ever to Nancy Kress, whose work I love, to tell her how much it meant to me to see her, and other women who wrote science fiction, on the old TVOntario show Prisoners of Gravity.

If you see it, you can imagine it and then, if you work at it, can be it.

I even managed to read a little from books I brought for research, watched half a documentary on James Randi (also research), and journaled. Rainforest was profoundly restful and helped retune my antenna. Life should fit in around the writing, that’s the natural order. Now it’s a matter of pushing the blocks around to make it happen.

At Viable Paradise, Jim MacDonald lead off the lectures explaining that novels are a liminal experience. The workshop, too, was a liminal experience — we were all passing through a door from one place into another. It was worth marking, that boundary, because all stories occur within boundaries. Lives, too.

And yet when I left Viable Paradise, I feared it would not be liminal for me the way it would be for the others. I felt like someone had opened the door to the wardrobe, showed a glimpse of Narnia and then returned me back to my tiny room, the wardrobe forever locked. A lifetime of looking in will do that to you.

Leaving Rainforest, saying my goodbyes, I looked around and for the first time felt — knew — that this wasn’t a one-off, it wasn’t an ending. I even said to Nicole in passing that Rainforest felt like part of a continuum this time, part of a discussion, a calling, a community — a life’s work. It wouldn’t end when I got in the car, or later the train. It only ends when I stop.

I don’t know if I will go to Rainforest next year, and not for lack of wanting to go. It’s wonderful, and I will go again I am sure, but there are lessons of living that I can take and put into practice in my life right now, every day.

While Clarion sounds amazing, six weeks writing short stories wouldn’t suit me. I’m a novel writer. Taos Toolbox changed from being on my radar for years to something I wanted to do about two years ago. I think it’s about time that I make Taos Toolbox something I set out to do.

Despite February

The second month of the year, historically, has never been a good month for me.

Winters in my home town were invariably longest and dreariest in February, regardless of its scant twenty-eight days. Maybe because in February spring was still, practically, months away, even if the calendar was a bit more hopeful. By February, everyone is just so damned tired of the snow and the cold, the shoveling and the layers. Even the happiest (read: insane) winter-lovers out there are ready to get over it by the time mid-February hits.

Bad news and accidents came in on February’s coat tails, too, a double-down on the misery of the month. Fender benders, money shortage, illness. If it was anything from inconvenient to catastrophic, odds were good it arrived in February. It became a running gag for a while. “Oh, it’s February,” I’d say, trying to bounce back. “Of course.”

I hoped to escape my February curse when I left northern Ontario. Living in Vancouver now, where the chance of snow is almost non-existant and I discovered snow drops were an actual flower and not mere myth, I thought the ruse successful. “I made it. February will never find me here!”

Last February, my first here, I managed to dislodge something in my spine and was basically confined to bed for two weeks, the pain worse than anything I’ve every experienced in my life. Any movement was, without exaggeration, agony. I wept trying to manage the smallest tasks. I hadn’t been in Vancouver for even half a year yet, and my misery was complete.

“Found you,” February said.

But before the end of the month, my spine unlocked itself, got better and spring did come. When the calendar said it would, no less.

The calendar, however, also promised me another February, and here it is.

Mid-week I wiped out spectacularly on the way back to work after a lunch out, rolling my ankle pretty bad. Because I walk everywhere, it’s a bit of a concern. But I will be damned if I let this February take me down. I sent off my first agent submission package (ever) on the first of the month. I’m making steady progress on revisions, even though I’ve had to keep my ankle on ice for a few days. There are snow drops growing like mad in this warm weather, more prolific than dandelions on summer lawns back east.

And in two short weeks I head off to the Rainforest Writers Village, a retreat in Lake Quinalt, Washington.

kermitflail

It will be my first trip States-side since I moved here. I will ride in a real train for the first time, visit Seattle. I’ll get to reconnect with my Viable Paradise classmates and meet new people. I will walk in the rainforest of the Northwest. I will eat salmon and look out across the lake. I will listen to the rain and the clacking of thirty keyboards, mine included, and know it to be wonderful and exactly what I need right now.

So, suck it, February. You will be awesome whether or not you want to be.

About Those Books

I read 35 books last year — a dip (as discussed in my prior post) but no less satisfying. It doesn’t take into account any piecemeal reading for research or the one re-read I did, but even if I were to take them into account I wouldn’t have met my target of 50 books for the year. Anthologies of any kind always take me forever and I have no idea why.

Besides setting a benchmark of 50 books, I hoped to read more women in general but didn’t make a point of seeking them out over male authors.

How did the numbers break down? 18 of all the books were written by women, 17 by men. One anthology included both genders. A fifty-fifty split generally works for me.

But what about the kind of books? 19 books were non-fiction, 16 were fiction. That was unexpected; I honestly thought I’d read more fiction. I’m guessing that it felt like I’d read more fiction because they were so good, and so took up more mental headspace. Anyway, onward! Of the non-fiction, it ran the gamut from writing how-tos, a couple of essay collections, and a few specialty topics.

Back to fiction: 13 of the 16 novels were written by women. And considering I didn’t make a systematic effort to do so, that bit of math pleases me greatly. More so, they were amongst my favorite books of the entire year. As for the genre breakdowns of all novels, regardless of gender, there were 7 fantasy, 4 science fiction, 2 historical novels, and 1 contemporary thriller. The anthology and the single-author collection were both mixed genre books.

(Of the unfinished books that will carry over to this year, two are novels, one is a short fiction anthology that’s mostly done, and two are non-fiction. Shame they won’t be included here, as they will always feel like 2014 books even if GoodReads says otherwise. Sad face.)

I had a glut of great books all at once in the second half of the year and waxed poetic about several of them in September. I was blissfully right in my anticipation for Walton’s My Real Children and Hurley’s The Mirror Empire. And if I thought those were great, I was unprepared for Katherine Addison (the pen name of Sarah Monette) and her latest book The Goblin Emperor — sweet and thoughtful and wonderful. Like, seriously, go read it. Right now. And the rest.

Looking back, I can say that Kameron Hurley’s work, as both novelist and essayist, made the biggest impact on me as both a reader and a writer. I’ve started into her Bel Dame Apocrypha series while I wait for Empire Ascendant (SQUEE), with a slight detour into Watt’s Echopraxia, along with all the non-fiction I’m still knee-deep in.

As I said, I didn’t plan to read X number of women this past year, but I did make a point to keep my eyes open. The places I go to online were talking about women writers more than ever before, and about the books they were releasing that year. Reading new releases is something I did work hard on, so doing one informed the other.

Also of note: after a healthy diet of balanced and, better yet, nuanced gender representation in books, I have even less tolerance for novels where that balance doesn’t exist — where female characters are either watery tropes, sexy lamps, or not even present at all.

Did I say less tolerance? That should read zero tolerance.

Needless to say, I am completely ecstatic about the books coming out in 2015. See these grubby little hands? Gimme whatcha got!

2014, You Weird, Wonky and Wonderful Year.

2014 was an interesting year, much in the same vein as that Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times.”

It felt like a very reactive year. I felt reactive. I spent the first half waiting, for what I couldn’t tell you, then snapped sometime mid-spring and aggressively made changes that paid off. I landed a new job, one with actual benefits and vacation time. In the months following, I moved house and I’m living alone for the first time in a long time (if perhaps ever, if I wanted to be pedantic about it and I suppose I do.) Adjusting to a job that takes more out of me, brain-wise and socially, has been challenging but now I can come home to administer uninterrupted solitude as needed. And I do.

And that’s really okay.

slowweirdtime

What came next (and is still being developed, fine-tuned) was the slow rebuilding of my creative practice.

‘Cause that took a hit this year, let me tell you. Overall quantifiable output for writing, revision and editing were down compared to prior years. I chalked that up partly to the adjustment of moving across country in late 2013 – adjusting financially, socially, and physically. Not being able to quantify revision progress, which the was biggest focus of my efforts, meant that I’d lost the benefit of the gamification of my habits which had been such a successful strategy before. Combined with being too invested in having the novel be perfect kept my creative hands tightly bound. It was only at the very end of the year did I realize that no matter how poor my production was, there have been years where I literally wrote nothing at all. And while I try not to think about those wasted years (teeth-grinding a natural by-product of doing so), it means that as long as I do something I’m already doing better than my worst.

But while production stalled on novel writing and revision, there were other victories.

Despite everything, I still wrote 30,000 words of fiction (some fresh, some for the WIPs), critiqued over 800 pages (of fiction, all lengths) and matched my lifetime submission rate for short stories this year alone (a few close calls but alas no sales.)

A working writer of any stage in their career gets rejections. But this year, due to uncertainty in other parts of my life, those rejections kicked my self-esteem around and dampened productivity. I decided to shutter all short fiction submissions beginning in the last third of the year. The lack of an intense, focused writing group continues to be a problem and my efforts to build one have hit numerous road blocks. Tabled trying to strike out on my own for now, and instead keeping my ears open to a regular, Clarion-style critique group. Fingers crossed.

If I had downs I had some great ups, too. I went to my first local convention, VCON, and my first professional conference, the Surrey International Writers Conference. I delivered my first (inelegant) in-person agent pitches and landed submission requests. What a rush. Seriously. And the first external, impartial validation and encouragement I’d had in years. The first 50 pages are ready to go, and my query and synopsis are in the revision stages. My goal was to get them out for the end of the year, but if it takes until the first or second week of January to get right, I’m okay with that. (Besides, publishing pretty much shuts down for the holidays anyways!)

The year ahead looks real promising. I can wholly commit to my writing and development in ways I have never been able to do before. One novel will be out the door and I’ll be working on a brand new one this spring. After that draft is under my belt, it’ll trade places in the chill-out drawer with a different WIP entirely, one I have enough distance from to assess impartially. The Rainforest Writing Retreat is less than two months away, the launch of Creative Ink comes soon after in April and World Con is just south of the border in August. I won’t be able to go SIWC as an attendee so soon on the heels of World Con, but I want to volunteer. SIWC was the highlight of 2014 by a good margin and I want to help in some way to say thank you.

I feel more centered, secure and hopeful than I have in a long time. Bravery got me this far — pushed me far outside of what I thought I could do — but I think kindness, self-care, and saying yes will be the words and ways that will guide me in 2015.

(All about the parentheticals, baby.)

Edited to edit, because typos!