Monday, January 12, 2015

Last Days to Sign Up for My Writing Class!

With only two weeks to go, my science fiction/fantasy writing class at Portland Community College is filling up fast! Here's the link, if you are so inclined. This is a four-week, eight-hour class devoted to writing speculative fiction, mostly of the flash variety. Extra details:

Title: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy
Dates: January 24 through February 14, 2015 (Saturday)
Time: 10:00 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Cascade Campus in North Portland, 705 N. Killingsworth St.
Cost: $55

The class is going to be repeated, so if you can't make it this time, check back for new class dates in the next few weeks!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Best Books I Read in 2014

Yeah, we're well into 2015 and I'm just now making my list of my favorite books from last year. Well, what do you expect, this is free content. Suckers.

Anyway, I read a lot of books last year, but very few of them were actually released last year. But that won't stop me from making a list! No rereads, because otherwise The Lathe of Heaven would be on my list every other year. Oh, and it's an alphabetical list, but the first entry is probably my #1 anyway.

On to the list!

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory (2014): Long review here. Oh come on, of course this was going to be on my list. This book follows a former scientist who accidentally created a "God drug," and now has an angel tagging her every move. The research team (who have all overdosed on the drug, and have their own personal gods) decides never to release the drug, but it gets out anyhow, and the thrillerish plot involves Lyda's quest to reach the drug's source and wipe it out. There's also fun stuff like a gentle rancher of miniature bison who takes a drug to become a contract killer, frat boys who take pills to turn "gay for a day," and a CIA operative who overdoses on a drug to promote mental clarity and now sees people as amorphous blobs when not jacked up. There are a LOT of drugs in this book, okay? And a lot of examinations of the nature of faith, mental illness, addiction, etc. It's like the author took everything I like to read about and put it in a blender. I'm hella nominating it for the Nebula and Hugo, and not only because it was the only SF novel I read that was released last year (though I should have the Southern Reach books soonish).

Emissaries from the Dead/The Third Claw of God by Adam-Troy Castro (2008/2009): Yes, this is two books, but it's a series, so whatever. These are mysteries set in an SFnal world that Castro has visited in several of his stories. What I liked about these books were how good they were as mysteries. Often in books that blend speculative tropes with other genres, the other genre takes a back seat. Whereas here, while Castro's universe is well-sketched and immersive, they are at heart more mystery than SF and the books are written like traditional mysteries: interrogations, logical deduction, a final reveal scene, and kooky sidekicks. Claw is in fact a locked-room mystery, and his sleuth (a six-year-old war criminal all grown up) uses brains more than tech to get to the truth. I absolutely love Castro's short fiction ("During the Pause" is one of the most perfect stories I've ever read, and "The Thing About Shapes to Come" is a recent favorite... you know, just go read all his stories right now), and his style holds up just as well in a longer form. I wish there were more of these books. I wish I could read a new Andrea Cort book every year, and you all know I am not a fan of series books by and large. But these exist, anyway, and you should read them.

Empty Space by M. John Harrison (2012): Seeing as how I've reread the other Light books several times over the years, I should have read this when it first came out, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. It follows the adventures of humans living near the cosmic event known as the Kefahuchi Tract, except for the strand that follows serial killer/astrophysicist's Michael Kearney's ex-wife. There's weird shit happening on every single page, from data infecting human flesh to people turned into spaceships to a rain of baby shoes on an alien beach to a summerhouse that burns intermittently but is never consumed. Anyway, if you're already a fan of the Lightverse you'll like this. If you're looking for a more traditional space opera, go elsewhere.

Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will (2013): Long review here. Graphic novel, not genre. A fictionalized autobiography (according to the author) of a teenager with bipolar disorder, drawn in a multitude of styles to portray the protagonist's spiral into madness and the struggle out of it. Jeremy (the protagonist) is an artist, and while that should annoy me in the way I won't read books where the characters are writers, it works here as Will expertly shows Jeremy's fear of losing his creative capacity with treatment. I've sort of fallen away from reading comics, because a lot of what I was reading wasn't really inspiring me. One weird quirk I have is that for as much as I love SF prose, I pretty much only like "mundane" comics. Maybe that's because so many SF comics are about superheroes, which I find kind of boring and insular for people who aren't in the know. And while I read very few graphic novels this year, I'm so glad I read this.

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (1988): Somehow I managed to avoid reading the Culture series until last year, despite the fact that it's about a far-future anarcho-socialist utopia. How the hell did that happen?! Jernau Gurgeh, a "man of the Culture," is invited to an alien world to play an extremely complicated game which forms the foundation of the backwards capitalistic Azadian Empire. The plot is really just an excuse to explore aspects of the Culture and compare them to a society based on our own, but I totally don't mind that when the ideas are so interesting. I also loved the fact that the Culture is an unabashed utopia, so refreshing in these days where you have your pick of outwardly dreary dystopia or a bright happy future that's a dystopia in disguise (and my own work isn't helping matters). I can tell there will be many visits to the Culture in my future.

(NOTE: All but one of these books are from the 21st century and most of them are series novels. Either my reading tastes are changing or I've just run out of all the good books from the last century.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Finally Got Around to Typing Out My Idea File

First up, the Kickstarter for How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens is up! With an initial goal of $100, it's really more of a pre-order than a crowd-funding effort, but that's how pre-orders are done these days. It contains my vintage story "Sea Changes," plus stories from Ken Liu, Tina Connolly, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Sarah Pinsker, and many more. Check it out!

Second of all, I finally did something I've been meaning to do for over a year now and typed out my idea file. While my short story ideas are numerous, somehow I always found myself reaching for them when it came time to sit down and write a story. My mind would go blank. I also had a hard time keeping all the different stories in my head and would find myself forgetting what story I was working on halfway through it and stalling out on the end. Or adding another end that belonged to a different story. Everything just kinda mashed together in my head, and while that idea soup can sometimes lead to a great story, more often it just leads to... soup. Undelicious, confusing soup.

I have a deep-seated aversion to outlining. Because where you have outlining you have things like character sheets and timelines and world maps and pretty soon, you've written an encyclopedia about your book or story before you've even written the story. Nobody has time for that! Never mind that it would probably make my job a lot easier to meticulously outline everything, it would take away a lot of the fun of writing for me.

The "idea clips" are not outlines. They are capsule descriptions similar to a Locus review but with endings and without Lois Tilton's awesome, scathing commentary. (I add that part myself, in my head, when the story's done.) They are approximately 400 words each, and so far I have eleven of them. I hope to be up to twenty by the time I attend Rainforest Writers Village in February.

To be honest, the physical (well, electronic) idea file still makes me feel a little dirty. I'm used to stories just kind of coming out, and of all the stories I've sold, almost all of them were spur-of-the-moment things (and all of the good ones were written like that). But hopefully this ameliorates some of the "geez, I was gonna write this story... what was it about?" problem.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2014 Year in Review

So! I see that many of my fellow writer-types have put up these types of posts recently to document the stuff they wrote or published this year, and since I'm not going to have anything else published in 2014, I might as well do it too.

Surprisingly, 2014 was a less productive year writing-wise than 2013... or was it?? I certainly wrote fewer short stories this year: eight stories, most of them flash, compared to ten stories last year. (This does not count stories I've finished but that Rob hasn't looked at yet. I only count them when they get their first ride on the submission train. So I may have one or two stories still to go this year!)

HOWEVER, I also "finished" (because it's never done until it sees print, and sometimes not even then) my novel, a.k.a. Stupid Novel, a.k.a. that thing I'm always whining about at 1 a.m. PST on Twitter. I am tentatively querying agents, although I still have to finish my Kindle read-through.

And come on, I moved across the freaking country. Cut me some slack.

Publishing-wise, I really can't complain. I had eight stories published this year, which almost but not quite equals the number of stories I had published in all previous years combined. Did I mention I've been getting stories published since 2005? Yeah, quitting stole a few years from the middle there and I didn't know what I was doing for a lot of that time. But now I do, so here we are. I like all of my published stories (or at least I don't hate them, once they are published I don't really have strong feelings about my stories one way or another) but I might be proudest of "We Take the Long View" and "Useful Objects." The former because it's fucking weird as hell but Shimmer bought it anyway, the latter because Nick Mamatas called it "slacker SF" and that's as good a descriptor as any for the kind of thing I do.

Other metrics:

Total words written: I need to get better at tracking this next year, but if you count the entire novel since it was essentially a rewrite and you also count the part of the novel I rewrote and threw out and rewrote again, plus short stories, a bit over 100k words total.

Total cons attended: One. OryCon. Next year will be two for sure, maybe three if I do Norwescon. I miss doing a lot of cons but I like living in Portland more.

Total submitted stories including reprints: 94 and counting.

Total accepted stories including reprints: 11 (and counting?).

Next up: my 2014 non-writing year in review! It is a much more interesting story.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Return of the Return of Numbered List Posts

1. My PCC Community Education class Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is now open for enrollment! If you're in Portland and looking for an introductory writing course geared to genre fiction, I hope you'll check it out.

2. This is a very good post on class and writing that I want to say more about, but in a separate post. While I'm completely on board with pushes for diversity in SF (or any other genre), you can't deny that economic class is the forgotten (or purposely skipped over) component of that intersectionality everyone likes to talk about. There's no "Poors Destroy Science Fiction!" Even Scalzi doesn't factor class into one's "difficulty setting" because it's not immutable, which isn't something I really agree with, but I don't want to get into SJ territory just about now. But yeah. That post. Read it.

Yes, I AM wearing cat socks and a cat-head hoodie.
3. Last weekend was OryCon and I had a lot of fun! I had a reading where I read to people I didn't even know and I was on a ton of panels. Maybe too many panels? It's also awesome to have a con that I can bike and take public transportation to. While I'm usually far more into the lit-only cons, and OryCon is a more general lit + media + costuming + filk con, it's still my local con now so I'm going to it for as long as Portland will have me.

4. While at OryCon I went to a number of great panels (that I wasn't on). One of the best was a panel about how to write faster. I am not a fast writer, at all. I mean, I've written a ton of short stories, but when it comes to long-form stuff I work at a snail's pace, probably because I don't like writing novels all that much. But I want to write them! Which means I need to write faster. I picked up a copy of Rachel Aaron's ebook 2k to 10k on a panel recommendation. It's really short, so I finished it in about an hour. A lot of the advice is geared toward plotters instead of pantsers (definition: a plotter is someone who charts out their novel in advance, a pantser is someone who just starts writing and lets stuff happen) and I am most definitely a pantser.

But if I want to write novels and especially series of novels (which isn't necessarily something I want to do... but I may anyway), I think I'm going to have to learn to plot. Just a little. Nothing super detailed, because honestly, that would take a LOT of the fun out of writing for me. However, while going through my final final yes it's final this time maybe novel revision, I did notice inconsistencies. A lot of inconsistencies. Some my beta readers (I love you both!) noticed, but some only I did. And you know, it would have been much better to figure all that out in advance before wasting a ton of words on it. Even just writing a sentence per chapter indicating the month and where I was in the plot would have kept certain things straight. So... I'm plotting my next long-form project (a novella) and seeing how that goes.

Aaron also gives the advice to put your book onto a Kindle so you can read it like a reader would. It's the simplest idea that I've never even considered doing. I've read through the novel several times of course, but on Word, where I can make changes (and did). On a Kindle you can't make changes to the text, just jot things down on a pad. Brilliant! This is something I will do for sure after completing the final-really-maybe version of the book. (Well, I'm going to sit on it for a few months first, because of The Clarity of Distance.)

5. Speaking of ebooks, here's one you can buy. See how smooth that was? I am a marketing genius.

6. If you're into flash fiction, there's a new site called QuarterReads where you can buy forty hand-selected short stories for only $10! I have a page on there, and a few of those stories aren't available anywhere on the Web (and won't be), so QR is your best bet for reading them if you don't want to pick up their respective anthologies. Or you can read other people's stories too! It's only the price of two hypothetical fancy lattes that people who are not me drink every single day.