Unexpected Gifts: Art for ‘By The Hand That Casts It’ by Mimi Simon

Back in the fall I got an email from an art student in Pennsylvania, asking permission to create illustrations for my story, By The Hand That Casts It.

Though incredulous tears, I read the email again. And again.

Mimi Simon is an artist pursuing illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (holy cats!). As part of her BFA, she wanted to use my story as inspiration for work that would count as credit towards her degree (holy cats!) Of course I said yes — because omg, holy cats! You can see her work on her Instagram account at @elwainen_art and on her website at mimisimon.com. Check out her galleries, they are fantastic, full stop.

Mimi sent me preliminary sketches after our first email exchange — which I loved and squeed about in private, just dying to tell the world. She’s just finished the paintings, four illustrations that are gorgeous and perfect. I can’t stop looking at them.

You guys … someone loved my work enough to make art from it. Art. I’m nearly crying now.

So, ta-da! Here they are! I’ve put them in chronological order as they happen in the story, except one.

This, below, is my favorite. Her sketch of this beat took my breath away when I first saw it, and the painting is even better. This is Briar’s pivotal moment in the story. That look in her eye, right now? She’s tired of you not paying attention and she’s ready to remind you that this rose still has its thorns.

Thank you, thank you, Mimi. This is such a gift, you have no idea. ❤️

Lovely Surprises

January’s been a bit of a month.

Had to contend with the post-novel blues, having successfully finished the from-scratch, page one rewrite during a fantastic blitz that were my winter holidays. I dived into the yearly Codex board “Weekend Warrior” contest (where you write five flash pieces over the course of the first five weekends of the year). My goal was to keep up my writing streak with the context, as well as adding some “for fun” free-writing to keep the pen and words flowing between contest entries.

But I hit a point in the second half of the month where I realized I hadn’t actually sat down and planned out the year ahead except in the most vague of terms. “Write every day.” “Revise the book.” I had about four things that I identified as goals for the year, but no steps breaking them down, no actions I could schedule and complete. And the Codex contest, instead of being the utter joy it was for me last year, started to feel like I was adding more work to an already towering pile of raw draft short stories in need of revision so I can start subbing them. Never mind the novel’s revision that are coming up next — which is the clear priority. If I close 2019 with that book not revised, not being sent out to agents, I will be mightily pissed at myself.

So I wasn’t in the best of places when, upon waking on a Friday morning and checking my Slack notifications that I found out some great news: I was on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2018. Further proof that I was obliviously deep in Rewrite Landia, I missed entirely that the story had been positively reviewed in the December 2018 issue of Locus. Stephanie, you goose! What are you even doing??

(There was a lot of me asking, “What are you even doing?” this January.)

So there I was, still in bed, face smooshed into a pillow, replying with a “wut” on the Slack. Then I scrolled through the Locus list and found my name on it for my Shimmer story, By The Hand That Casts It.

(Action shot of the writer’s mental state at time of receiving the news.)

So, that happened! I’m super flattered. I love that little story.

But it’s was important reminder: I wrote that story after Taos, when my head was so full of shoulds and musts, when I was afraid that maybe I couldn’t do it at all, this writing thing. That it was too hard for me.

I wrote this story entirely for me, for fun, to play with an idea that had started to gleam. When finished, I was pleased with it in an unquestioning way. And thanks — mighty, vast thanks — to managing editor, E. Catherine Tobler, who liked the story I sent her but wanted more. In the end, I doubled the word count, creating a story I can’t believe is mine.

(Vital aside: have you see the A Hugo for Elise article by Matt Dovey? I direct you there forthwith, because Elise has been the guiding hand for one of the industry’s most compelling editorial visions. To be Shimmery is something so many of us aspired to, and the term will be with us for a very long time, I think. We need more Shimmery things.)

Anyway, the lesson I learned writing that story is the lesson I needed to be reminded of right now — that I must not just do for the sake of doing, for saying a thing was done. What is the purpose behind the thing? Why am I doing it?

Does it please me? Does it challenge me? Does it say something I feel is true? Entwining play with craft, leaving space to breathe and rest, making something I love and feel excited about sharing. That’s the goal. That’s it.

I forget these things, sometimes, when I’m low, or when I’m focused on the pellet dispenser of filling in a spreadsheet instead of the thing I am trying to make. Don’t get me wrong. You have to show up, regularly, commit to the process, but it’s not one or the other. It can’t be. Carrie Vaughn has said, “the habits will save you,” and they will. But don’t let them shackle you, either. Be thoughtful about what you want to do, and then do it.

And find joy in that.

My Fave Reads of 2018!

It’s that time of year again when I get out my virtual bullhorn and sandwich board to tell you what were my favorite books of the past year. I challenged myself to read 50 books and nailed that handedly (sitting pretty at 66) with a mixture of novels, short fiction for the Hugos, manga, and non-fiction. I’m not going to provide links to the books in this list — Google is your friend, and so is your local bookseller.

Without further ado, these are the books I think you shouldn’t have missed!

The Beautiful Ones

Written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Beautiful Ones came out in the fall of 2017 and was a terrific way to start 2018. What I love about Moreno-Garcia’s fiction is her absolute skill with voice, and how different each book is from the next. Every book she puts out is an absolute diamond. This secondary world historical romance with magical elements is perfect and not to be missed. There was so much squeeing.

Amatka

Karin Tidbeck is a writer whose voice I fell in love with the moment I sat down and started reading her short fiction collection, Jagannath, given to be me by my writing friend Andy Taylor who was sure I would love it. He was right. Amatka takes all that weird, that allegory, and her haunting, deeply natural rhythm and turns it into a fine book. The kind that crawls into your brain. Had I read it the year before when it was released, I would have banged on my two kitchen pots for months to get it on awards nomination lists.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is an absolute, glorious romp. The Athena Club is one of those rare series I start where I just want the whole thing, all of it, right now, because these characters are fabulous. Watching them argue and support each other is a blast. The only reason I haven’t read the sequel was that I had purchased the trade paperback and want the sequel to match. (It comes to my grabby hands in April!)

Spinning Silver

I loved Naomi Novak’s first entry into her standalone fairytale reimagining series, and I loved Spinner Silver no less. Novak takes the story of Rumpelstiltskin and completely transforms and deepens it, giving us a compelling trio of heroines in the process, including a Fem!Rumplestiltskin. Bending or inverting tropes? I am here for that. I don’t as a rule buy hardcovers — long live the ebook or trade paperback! — but these books are exceptions.

The Power

Holy hell. This was my first introduction to Naomi Alderman’s work. After more than a year of hearing everyone talk about The Power, I grabbed a copy from the library to see what the fuss was about. A deft hand with voices, Alderman gives you several narrators that are too compelling to put down and a world setting itself on fire. A gripping, thought-provoking read, and my own copy (in trade paperback!) will be arriving next week.

Trail of Lightning

Another book who’s sequel I have preordered. What is happening to me? I don’t like series! But Rebecca Roanhorse’s first book in her Sixth World series is an absolute stunner. Trail of Lightning is a post-apocalyptic fantasy that does everything right, and that last scene left me in big, gulping tears. Maggie is my favorite kind of heroine. Fresh, vivid, and snarky. *chef’s kiss* Don’t miss this one.

The Poppy War

This book by R. F. Kuang is one you can’t put down. You might, every so often, have to, because any fantasy novel that’s based on the Nanjing Massacre will be a hard thing to read. But keep reading The Poppy War. There is some incredible worldbuilding here, and a cast of characters you rant at, pray for, and champion. Rin is a stellar heroine and I cannot wait for the sequel, due out in 2019, even though the story is only going to get harder from here on out.

Moon of the Crusted Snow

Have I mentioned how much I like post-apocalyptic fiction? I do, and this is a stunning, stark entry into the field. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice was a title I randomly came across on Twitter. The book tells the story of an isolated Anishinaabe community who must survive in the aftermath of a (province-wide? nation-wide? world-wide?) infrastructure collapse during a harsh winter, as well as fending off southern invaders. Pick this one up, and CBC, if you are listening, this is exactly the kind of Canadian content you should be bringing to the screen.

How Long ’til Black Future Month

I’m nearly halfway through this collection, having saved N. K. Jemisin’s 2018 release for my holiday break. Jemisin’s books have become auto-buys for me and have never disappointed. How Long ’til Black Future Month collects twenty-two of her short stories and shows off her undisputed skill. I’m not likely to finish the collection before 2019, but I will be damned if I don’t tell you to go out and buy it now! Jemisin’s books are hug-to-your-chest reads, and this collection is no exception.


And that’s it from me! Nine books for 2018 … well, dang it all if that doesn’t bork a perfectly fine bit of symmetry. Let’s throw in one more to make it an even ten: find Ways of Seeing, a non-fiction book by John Beger. A short, but paradigm-kicking read.

Hope to see you reading in 2019! What was your favorite book this year?

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!