Award Eligibility Thingawhahoosit

Well this is a fun blog post to write! Also terrifying.

I have two stories that came out this year that I love and are awards-eligible.

Hmm, I suppose I love all my stories, but these two, these babies, yeah. One I waited years to write, the other felt like it wrote itself in a mad rush to be made. There are pieces of me lodged like shrapnel in both of them, though I suppose that’s the goal when writing to begin with.

Okay, so . . . (links in the headings!)

My Heart The Bullet in the Chamber

This was my first pro sale. Code-named Mother’s Gun while writing, this story came from an image I’d had for years that really excited me (it’s the one that opens the story) but never wrote. Then the the writing group I was in decided to do a three-month, short story writing intensive based on genre, and the Western was one of them. Alice’s voice is like a klaxon call; I have to write about her and her world again. The story appears in Podcastle’s Artemis Rising 4 special event this past March. You can read it or you can listen to it!. (Do try the audio! My editor, Setsu Uzume, in awesomeness, landed Robin McLeavy, from the television show Hell On Wheels to narrative. Listening to it gives me chills. (When I’m not freaking out that someone is reading my work out loud, that is!) 

By The Hand That Casts It

This story, which was code-named Florist Assassin while I was writing it (because titles are hard), was the first piece I wrote whole-cloth after Taos Toolbox. It appears in the penultimate issue of Shimmer, issue #45, in September. I wrote it literally as a way to destress about my writing, and pulled in bits and bobs of things that had been on my mind — customer service work, career paths not taken, and the very idea of floriography, a Victorian way of communicating secret messages through flowers. (A real thing!) I worried it was too silly, too fluffy, but there’s some steel under it all, just like Briar herself, and the world is too fun to just let go with one story.. Thanks muchly to Elise Tobler, my fantastic editor, who told me in gentle yet in no uncertain terms that we had to have a duel. It’s a fuller story because of her. 

If you liked these stories, maybe nominate them? 2018 was a pretty spectacular year for fiction, short and long and everything in between, so there’s tons of great stuff out there to choose from. Nominate! For me or whoever. It’s all good. 😃

Okay, now where is a paper bag I can breathe into?

New Fiction & Novel Rewrites

Hey hey! I’ve got a new story out, one I love to pieces — By The Hand That Casts It (more details in the pull down) came out this month in Shimmer magazine! It was the first thing I wrote after Taos, when I came home completely overwhelmed and wanted to work on something with zero stress. It worked! How much murder, snark and regret can you get into 5,000 words?  A lot, turns out. I hope you like it.

What have I been up to since last I blogged?

July was irritatingly stop and go. I’d hit that 25,000-30,000 word “wall” on the book — and I was doing just about everything I could except try to scale the wall. Forgetting, more importantly, that there was even a wall I could hit. Wall? What’s a wall? I don’t see any wall. Clearly, clearly, this is just me being a total sham and incompetent. (I also applied to the SFWA Mentorship program during this time and did revisions and copy edits on the Shimmer story.)

By the end of July, I was annoyed with myself and hiding from the book. I decided a challenge was the thing I needed. Alongside a couple of well-timed pep-talks from writer-friend T.S. Bazelli, I committed to writing 500 words a day for 30 days. And did it, too! Got over the wall, got a good chunk of words under me, and got my confidence back.

And what did I decide to cap it off with? A banana-gonzo writing intensive where I would shoot for 5,000-6,000 words a day for three days straight in a tweaked version of the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest.

giphy

Leading up the  weekend, during the last week of August I knew I was hitting the end of the material I had had pre-thought out/sorta-planned for the novel. I needed to sit down and consult/construct the map, not keep driving. So when the time came to write even more? Yeah, car went straight off the road. Boom.

But instead of bringing out the hair shirt, I just took the long weekend off. Called it early, no regrets, no punishment. I fiddled with the scene I was working on, watched some scary movies, and then finally started mine-mapping the next scene. It’s working. I can see the road ahead and I’ve started up the car.

Current status: I’m 50% through the novel rewrite and even with my ups and downs, this book feels so much more together, the characters deeper, and spookier (I hope!) than my first version. I would love to get this rewrite done by the end of November (and can if I can follow the 500 words per day system) but right now, I need to be planning and not just cranking. Not going to worry about the numbers just yet. Am I working on it every day? That’s the goal. And if I do that, the work will take care of itself.

(Though I may revise a few flash pieces. Just because. Just for kicks.)

 

Some Background Noise

I feel like I’ve gotten really bad at blogging lately, but so has the rest of the Internet? Everything’s all locked under Patreons, paywalled behind Medium, or sent out like dandelion seeds onto Twitter never to be seen again. My own RSS feed is dustbowl-dry these days. Alas.

You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio (Radio)
Queen – RADIO GA GA (listen here)

But everything can’t be a constant stream; there’s still purpose in the static, the stationary.  Streams flow minnow-quick, there and gone. All that movement washes away your banks, eroding you. You need a rock, sometimes, where you can get out of the river to dry off. Even for just a moment.

Been writing around my life and around the cat. (Like, right now around the cat. I’m not even kidding. You try writing around seventeen pounds of angry, weaponized marmalade and see how far you get.)

Writing, and writing news! (Which, you know, if you follow my Twitter, in between all the cat pictures, political retweets and weirdness, you may have already read about.)

I sold a story to Shimmer Magazine! It’s due out this fall in the September issue and to say I am chuffed/pleased/excited/squeaky about it would be a disservice to my emotions. Is “over the moon” too over the top? Probably, yet here we are. It was the first thing new thing I wrote after coming back from Taos Toolbox (which is starting this week, today, as I am writing this). I wrote it for fun, and I love it to pieces. It’s much lighter than my Artemis 4 story yet there’s still murder, sooooooo, that’s something for me to think about.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I made a list! Check it out: On Gardner Dozois, Short Fiction, and 150 “New” Writers For Your Consideration over on Tor.com. Me and my Artemis Rising 4 TOC mates made the list! And through that article I discovered I have my very own entry in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database! Isn’t that wild? That’s wild!

I also have some of the best buds around. Look what they got me to celebrate my first professional sale:


Thank you Kathy, Julianne and Emily. ❤

Meanwhile, what I’ve been focusing on is the book. The rewrite of the book. The spooky book that turns out not so spooky but has a lot to say about grief, death, time, and the afterlife of those still here. I had grand designs of getting it all done in a three-month stretch. Then I strapped on all the bad habits and unreasonable expectations, forgetting all the strides I’d made since coming back from Taos and wondering why I was so miserable and unproductive.

It’s been sobering, it’s been humbling, and it’s been hard. I resent not being able to treat the process like a process — one that can be controlled with buttons and levers, that can be measured by the inch or mile. I resent, I suppose, that I am not a process, controlled and measured.

I’m trying to keep that in mind, and keep coming to the page day after day. It’s slow going right now, but it’s going and that’s nothing to turn my nose up at.

So that’s me here on this shimmery little rock in the river. Just for a moment. Just to dry off.

Hey, that thing I wrote — it’s here!

pc514

I just can’t really tell you how excited I am about this story and about this market. Articulate my thoughts? PSHAW. I have no idea what you’re talking about. You can read it or listen to it here. Robin McLeavy is fantastic; there’s no better voice for the narrator. It’s spooky and wonderful. I hope you like it. ❤ (Thanks, Matt Dovey, for sending a high-res version of this title graphic!)

This story came to me with the image in that first paragraph, a baby for a gun. Then Alice, so angry, so hungry for revenge, and then bits and pieces of Founding, where the story kicks off. The first paragraph was written during an online writing workshop I was taken and then tucked away for at least a year or two.

At the beginning of 2017, I was part of a writing group that was going through a Short Story Intensive. Designed for everyone to stretch their creative muscles and get writing outside of our favorite genres. It was a brutal four months, where we wrote one story in a week, critiqued it, revised and re-critiqued it, and then did again until we had six short stories. (Won’t lie — I was hella burnt out after.)

The second week, the assigned genre was the Western.

Alice was waiting, and she had things to say.

This story dovetails with a book I want to write. It only has a code name so far (which I won’t share, because it’s dumb), three characters and one antagonist, a whole heck of a lot of mood and a lot more weird than appeared in the story. We’ll see, but it’s down the road a while yet.

Because after making some final revisions on a piece and turning it in (cross your fingers for me), the next three months is going to be my own personal intensive: novel revisions!

I’ve been afraid of this book, and the revisions. It’s been too long. But I’m done being disappointed with myself and I’ve gained some much-needed confidence in the last six months.

So I’m going deep! Immersing myself in all things charlatans and parapsychology, pseudoscience and horror tropes, angst and moody English estates. I reworked the beginning, rewriting several chapters, and gotten feedback on that first 10K that’s super encouraging. I know that three months of solid, single-focus work, I can make some serious progress. I’m excited again, and that counts for a lot.

Best run with it while I can!

 

 

Boop.

So hey, look at this blog thing. *poke poke*

giphy (3)

Definitely it’s taken a back seat to, well, everything lately, and since I’m no great essayist, I’ve long felt that I shouldn’t be posting unless I’ve got something to say. News to share. That kind of thing.

And I guess I do! (Which, if you follow me on teh Twitters, you’ve likely heard about  already but this post makes it extra official-like.)

I sold a story last fall, my first pro story, to PodcastleMy Heart the Bullet in the Chamber, a weird western, will appear in this month’s Artemis Rising 4 issue, with my story available on March 20. You can read the story on their website or listen to the audio recording. (Listen to audio by an actress from the show Hell On Wheels, Robin McLeavy! How cool is that???)  Immediately after getting the contract, I applied to be an Associate Member of SFWA. This is a milestone for me, something I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve also joined a new online critique group and while it’s early days I’m feeling really good about it.

I’m still submitting (Anyone want a historical horror novelette? Anyone? Beuller?), and I’m nearly finished an R&R for a flirty short story about assassins that I wrote after coming back from Taos.  But once that’s done, the next three months I’m doing a novel revision deep dive. Full emersion. Live and breathe it, and then after that get some betas on it. It’s been sitting too damn long, and that’s down to me being afraid of it. No longer.

I may also upload a deluge-post about a recent read, Amatka by Karin Tidbeck. Loved this book. I’m trying not to blog-splat it like I did with my Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ramblings, but we’ll see.

I’ll be back next Tuesday with direct links, more thoughts, and probably a lot of feels. I love this story, and I hope you will too.

(But seriously, go read Amatka. And then The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theadora Goss, while you’re at it. Spoilers: they will both be on my Best Books for 2018 post.)

My Favorite Reads of 2017

Long and rambling post ahead — you’ve been warned!

Boy, that 2017. Amirite? 

/me pours a drink from her fanciest liquor bottle because why the hell not. 

If you want my politics, you can find them on Twitter. I want to talk about this year not in terms of the Orange in Chief, or the increasingly tremulous global-political Faberge egg we’re living inside, but in terms of the books that I read.

Books, after all and if nothing else naturally does so (family, school, friends), can teach empathy as well as broaden the mind and console the weary.

Because in 2017, I think all of us are weary. Amirite?

/me takes another swig, dispensing with the glass entirely.

I wasn’t sure I was going to make my 50 Book Challenge on GoodReads. A squeaker, to be sure, but I made it. That goal wasn’t helped by a few monster-length books, or those I started and abandoned after getting about 50 pages in. You can only argue with a book so much before you realize you have better things to do and better books to read. All in all, I think I powered through too many books that I didn’t connect with and DNF three books, including the third book in a series I had started reading in the mid-2000s. (God, REMEMBER THE MID-2000s? #wistfulsigh) Read and loved, talked about, shared, and then bought the third book and held on for the right time only to discover that its time had passed me by. Alas.

There was also one additional conceptual hurdle I had to jump over right at the beginning of 2017: the Christmas Gift Book Trap.

Books, for me, are personal. I don’t like giving them, and I don’t like getting them, unless. (There’s always an unless, and I play it by ear.) In particular, novels can be a total crap shoot for the receiver. And while personally I am comfortable (sort of, the hives are completely under control) letting a book I pick up doesn’t work for me, it’s different with a gift. There’s an obligation, even if unintended. One gift was in a genre I don’t read, and the other was non-fiction, and one that had special significance to the giver. I wasn’t in the mood for non-fiction at the beginning of the year, but the gift giver asked what I thought about it and so I felt pressured to read. (I liked it well enough, it was just bad timing.)

Never mind the towering, tippy, leaning tower of books that will crush me to death if I so much as sneeze in my tiny apartment. They will come for me, sooner or later.

/me takes another drink from the nearly empty bottle, and sighs.

So fifty-two weeks and fifty books. Normally I clear that goal earlier than the week before and usually with a nice cushion. Counting six issues of Yona of the Dawn mangas didn’t hurt, as well as the the nearly 1,000-page Revolutionary Girl Utena manga omnibus. I wouldn’t normally count manga, but I love these series deeply.

The one book I didn’t get to, and that I normally reserve for my holiday reading, is the next volume in the collected short fiction and essays of Roger Zelazny. I’m on book four of the set, and I think I will make that my pet project for January. Add to that, the Holy Grail of quests — TO CLEAR OUT MY TBR PILE. Which has only just entered triple digits.

Stop looking at me like that.

too-many-books-so-little-time

Anyway, while in the middle of 2017, it felt like a lousy year for books but I think that had more to do with the overwhelming mood of the year than the books themselves. Because when I look back at last year’s list, I read some amazing books, ones that sucked me in or moved me deeply — and I want to talk about those books here.

So in the order that I read them (more or less), here are my favorite books of 2017!

Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: Home was a terrific second installment in her refreshing space opera series. Binti really works for me as a series of novellas. I’ve read a good number of the Tor novella offerings and I find that usually there is a pacing issue — the story skips over major sections, or doesn’t deliver enough world building, and I am left frustrated even if there’s a lot to enjoy. Binti, both the first book and the second, don’t have this problem. I could see all three being a single book, but they stand on their own beautifully.  The complex relationship between Binti and her alien enemy-turned-friend Okwu is fascinating to watch, as well as how Binti herself must navigate between the two worlds of her home culture and the University, part of both and yet not.  Binti: The Night Masquerade, the finale, is already pre-ordered.

A few other novellas that really worked for me this year:

  • Passing Strange by Ellen Klages was my first introduction to her work after hearing a lot of praise. It’s sweet, romantic, and just shimmers with the teensiest bit of magic around the edges. Good stuff.
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson, second in his science-fictional fantasy series and which should have won all the awards. I enjoyed the first in this series, but this one I adored and wept over.
  • Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw is a tightly packed, creepy story with Lovecraftian edges. I devoured this on the train ride to Seattle, and need to dive into its sequel.
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson was wow from start to finish, a feminist Lovecraftian travelogue. Her style is so welcoming and assured. I would follow Vellitt, and Kij, anywhere.
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells was one that I felt could have used a tiny bit more meat to it, but on the whole I really liked. A great protagonist. Will check out the sequel.

Okay, back to books.

Goth by Otsuichi (translated Andrew Cunningham and Jocelyne Allen) was a book I’d picked up years ago at a convention (possibly at Sasquan in 2016). My first exposure to Japanese horror came from the Fatal Frame franchise for the Playstation way back in 2001. (REMEMBER THE 2000s???) What works for me in Japanese horror is that I don’t have the visual and storytelling framework to be able to know what’s coming next. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, slasher flicks, supernatural thrillers — I’m familiar with the North American form. I know what to expect, I know what the rules are. With Japanese horror, I don’t know the ending or how we’ll get there, so watching, reading or playing something that has those elements both creeps me the fuck out and keeps me hooked, even if I am squirming the whole way. Goth is a series of novelettes about the same protagonist encountering and stopping other psychopathic people all while saving his best friend for himself to kill later. It’s creepy and quiet and compelling.

Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia was very different from her first book, Signal To Noise, which I loved, but it’s just as strong and comes with an entirely original spin on the allegedly tired vampire mythos. There’s no such thing as a dead trope — only people not paying attention when someone gives it a real, genre-defying twist. This would make a fabulous movie, do you hear me Hollywood? Moreno-Garcia feels like one of those old-school writers — not in terms of her style or her stories but that she’s writing whatever the fuck she wants. I don’t know from book to book what I am going to get but  I know I will keep buying her books.

I fell hard down the rabbit hole of The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey, having discovered mid-year that this 2014 release was actually about (spoilers) zombies! I love zombies in both fiction and film, so being able to read the book and then watch the adaptation, penned by Carey themselves, was a treat. Neither was perfect, but it was fascinating to watch how the stories unfolded in slightly different ways. I would strongly recommend that anyone who has read the book hunt down the secret final chapter.

And in a further late to the party style, I finally got my hands on The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, published in 2013. It was perfection page to page. I couldn’t stop reading. It’s been optioned for adaptation, but Google tells me that was years ago and the latest news is that the director of recent SF film (and highly criticized) Passengers may be the one to do it. Here’s hoping they pull it off.

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer was a book I came to both excited and trepidatious. I loved the Southern Reach trilogy. (The adaptation of the first book, Annihilation, comes out soon!) We’re talking fangirl, muppet-flailing, inarticulate joy. But would that mean his next book would, too? Reader, it was. I love this kind of sideways universe, a style that manages the realistic yet lives and breathes the utterly fantastical.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Cat Valente is quite different from her recent stuff and I enjoyed the change. Lyrical, highly wrought language makes way here for a sharp skewering of the traditional fate of female comic book characters, be they love interests or heroines in their own right. Figuring out which character mapped to which mainstream superhero was half the fun, but Valente ends up with a composite universe that’s just as interesting as the originals. I hope we see more of it.

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin completes her Broken Earth trilogy with such skill, such emotion, such pure and perfect craft, that it has to be among my favorite series of all time. Jemisin does amazing world-building, no question — a science fictional fantasy with armageddon at its core and exploring the effects of colonialism, conquest, and survival. It’s big sweeping stuff, but her characters that take the abstract and make it deeply personal. I am looking forward to whatever she does next.

Lastly, and one of my favorite books of 2017, was Hild by Nicola Griffith. It took me a while to finish, because this isn’t a book you can barrel through. You have to take it one page at a time, slowly, as each sentence unwinds in your mind and ensorcels you to Griffith’s version of Hild’s world. I’ve seen criticism about the book being overly detailed, laboriously slow, but this is entirely a function of point of view. Hild is a seer by trade, yet it’s not magic she wields but a keen understanding of the patterns of the world. Every scene, besides being beautiful, weaves Hild’s world for us and for her as we follow her from about the age of three to eighteen. The patterns must be shown before they can be understood. And all the way there is this line of tension, even in the quiet scenes. It’s a beautiful, brilliant book.

Ah, to a good year after all!

/me takes the final sip and sets the empty bottle down.

But wait! Runner up, Miss Congeniality, or whatever you want to call it, I need to plug my ongoing favorite manga series (again): Yona of the Dawn. I feel in love with the anime adaptation in 2016. It’s a reverse harem story set in a fantasy Japan and I love everything about it. The world-building, the political struggles, the heroism, the humor, the romance. *swoon* While the anime is only 24 episodes (and likely won’t be continued) of a much bigger story, the manga has been translated for the North American market. This year, we hit territory the anime hasn’t covered, so the swooning continues! Where is my swooning couch?

So that’s it, my year in books and the best of the 50 books I read. Are you still with me?

My god, why? I’ve given you a list of terrific books, so what are you still doing here?

Go read something. 

After Taos

I should have expected this. It’s happened before.

I came home from Taos Toolbox and my first instinct was, and continues to be, to not talk about it. This happened with Viable Paradise; took months to discuss it with any real depth. Until I could, it was all surface details.

Conversation-safe details, like, “I was on time for my appointment with the Doctor. I love that she has after-work patient hours. If you’re searching for a new nurse practitioner, she’s great.” Unless the person you’re speaking with is someone already deeply trusted, you aren’t likely going to talk about the particulars of your breast exam, your pap smear, or your bloodwork.

Not that Taos was bodily invasive, but if we’re talking about the state of my writing craft the metaphor doesn’t break down.

If Viable Paradise gave me blocks of artist-grade clay, Taos gave me the stainless steel sculpting tools to transform that clay. I’m still getting used to the heft of them in my hand.

What I can tell you is that I woke every day before a dawn crawling slow and golden over the mountains. I watched prairie dogs chase, yip and dig in a garden plot their coterie took over years ago and transformed into a red-holed burrow. Deer with half-grown antlers fuzzy with sunlight moved noiselessly across the field, the parking lot, as untouchable and alien as anything I’ve ever seen. Storms rolled in, shattered parched ground with bullet raindrops. Mornings turned perfectly cold. A heat that was never hard, hills to climb no matter which route you walked. Pencils scribbled, keys clacked, and day after day of the finer points of the craft were laid out, explained and examined. And the people, who were of course amazing. Smart, witty, and trying hard to get it all down.

Like I said, surface details.

Pictured above: my little writing owl, made for me by my Sudbury writing group before I went to Viable Paradise. I couldn’t not bring the little fella along for Taos.