Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Publications, Also an Ocean

First of all, my story "Five Days to a Better You with Parallel Worlds (Executive Edition)" went live at Daily Science Fiction last week. A sample:

Mandy the receptionist will press the alarm when you burst into the room, but that doesn't mean you should be alarmed. In the real universe, the one you come from, her name is Sandy. She loves cats. Flash those pearly white teeth of yours.

Second of all, the newest issue of Shimmer is out and it contains my story! "We Take the Long View" is a story of telepathy, colonization, body horror, and evil forests. The story will be online in mid-October but you should really buy the issue now.

In non-writing news, I finally put my feet into the Pacific Ocean:

Picture taken by Rob. Doesn't this look like it could illustrate some self-help article about following your dreams?

Rob's parents came to visit and they wanted to go to the beach, which I was very excited about since I have never seen the Pacific Ocean and one of my friends said the Oregon Coast is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We didn't get to see the sunset, but even so, I can see the appeal. The first beach we stopped at was pretty wild, with rocks jutting up from the coast and mountains in the distance. It was cold, and there was an old shipwreck on the beach. We spent the night in the very cute town of Astoria where I somehow managed to crash a loaner beach cruiser. On the second day, we went to the town of Seaside, OR, which reminded me more of the beach towns on the Atlantic. The beach there was also much more "tame," though there was some grass and of course the mountains over the horizon. There was also a swingset. There aren't many things in life more relaxing than swinging on a swingset while facing the Pacific Ocean on a hot (but not too hot) day.

Clatsop County is also the ancestral home of Bigfoot:

Sup?

We also went to Lewis and Clark's winter fort. Man, Oregon is just lousy with Lewis and Clark stuff. It's like that's the most important thing that's ever happened here. (I can't judge. The only historical thing that happened where I grew up was a battle from a war nobody cares about anymore.) We ate some really good vegetarian burgers at the Coast, drank some excellent microbrews, and fed seals at a small aquarium that has its own Wikipedia page. After getting back, we took Rob's parents to Powell's and I failed to convince them to eat at a food cart. Then on Sunday we went to Mount Hood, which was very impressive. I've never seen a real mountain up close before, and it was actually a little terrifying. There's a sign at the hiking station that basically says "if you get stuck up there, you're on your own." (Fine, Mount Hood. Be that way. I guess I'll never find out if you're filled with candy.) I have pictures of this stuff too, but there are already too many pictures in this post.

And finally, a picture that proves once and for all that Portland truly is Etsy's brick and mortar storefront:



Goddamn, I love it here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

100!

It only took me four years to hit the 100th post on this blog. Pretty sure I had a hundred posts on LiveJournal within the first six months.

Anyway, plug first: My short story "The Silent Ones" is in the new issue of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet! You can get it here. It's a story of interplanary travel, alien invasion, dudes in robes, and... okay, it's kind of a hard story to summarize. This was the only story I wrote between 2009 and late 2011. Here's a sample:

Not everything happens all the time, everywhere. 
That’s the first line on every bit of literature dealing with the alternate worlds. Want to visit a world where the triple World Wars never happened? You can. Want to see a place where computers run on steam power and even the horses wear corsets? Go for it.
Or you can just muck about in a world full of beautiful hillbillies or debauched Atlanteans. That’s more your personal speed, anyway. 
Most of the planes open for travel aren’t that different from your world. The atmosphere has to be breathable, at least, and it’s helpful if the inhabitants are roughly human, and mostly your size. Nothing will destroy a plane’s Yelp rating quite like a tourist crushed by forty-foot-tall giants.

LCRW has published so many amazing stories over the years, and I'm ecstatic to have a piece in it.

In other news, you've all been keeping track of #Ferguson on Twitter, right? One of my zine friends summed it up perfectly on Facebook: "Using McDonald's milk as an antidote for cop-fired teargas at a protest that was supposed to be peaceful but turned violent. If that's not an image of our century, I don't know what is." This is your science fiction future, people. And if you think it can't happen to you because of where you live or the color of your skin, you are sorely mistaken. (Not that race isn't an important part of what's going on in Ferguson, because it absolutely is. But it's not all of the story. Even your lily-white town or city police department has tanks and canisters of tear gas, you know.)

Last but not least, if you're going to Worldcon next year, better sign up now before the rates increase on September 1st. This will be my first Worldcon, and I'm excited! It's in Spokane, only a medium-sized bus ride away, so I'm pleased that I'll be able to attend my first one without shelling out hundreds of dollars for plane tickets. Come help me keep Doctor Who from winning another Hugo.

Friday, July 4, 2014

New Story, New (Paper) Anthology, and a Controversy

First of all, I have a new story! Celebrate Independence Day with a story about a one-percenter trapped in a virtual suburban prison in "Days Like These," published at Daily Science Fiction. An excerpt:

Park's mother adjusted to life in the neighborhood the way eyes adjust to the dark. One day Park came home to find her lovingly subsumed in the subroutines, a mom.exe with no arms to hold him.
But a man of eighteen plus whatever doesn't need hugs as much as a grown man, and his father had never recovered. Dad couldn't leave Home Sweet Home now, not with his wife's ghost haunting every mailbox, gutter, and microwave oven in the cul-de-sac. Dad's refusal to leave affects Park in a very personal way. 
Because you have to be put back into a body when you leave Home Sweet Home. And Park's dad won't give up the keys.

Depressing, right? This story is inspired by my old neighborhood of Hampden, Baltimore. Every night around nine an unmarked ice cream truck would tear around the neighborhood, attracting anyone but children, distributing anything but ice cream. Even Superstorm Sandy couldn't stop this ice cream truck. It was like living in my very own episode of Breaking Bad. Enjoy!

An anthology I was published in, Whispers from the Abyss, is printing a physical copy of the book and running a Kickstarter to fund it! More info here. Also includes stories by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, A.C. Wise, Greg Van Eekhout, and the best Lovecraftian story ever, Nick Mamatas' "Hideous Interview with Brief Man." My story, "You Will Never Be the Same," is a mashup of Lovecraft and before-his-time SF writer Cordwainer Smith. Only $15 for the book, cheap!

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you're aware of the controversy between mega-corporation Amazon and mega-publisher Hachette (which owns the SF imprint Orbit Books). Right now there are two competing surveys going on, one by a famous traditionally-published writer pleading with Amazon to give Hachette what it wants because it's "holding books hostage," and the other by bestselling self-published writer Hugh Howey, which asks people... to give Amazon a hug? Okay, I'm not really sure what Howey's message is here. But I'm not signing either of them, and that's because I don't owe any loyalty to corporations.

I understand that Hachette's refusal to budge is hurting its authors. And I also understand that a widespread Amazon boycott (which is not going to happen) could potentially hurt self-published authors somewhere down the line. I'm more concerned about the fact that this is being held up as a test of allegiance. Hachette or Amazon? Coke or Pepsi? Crest or Colgate? Gosh, it's like Amazon is the only store in the whole entire world that sells books! I mean, it's practically censorship for them not to carry those books, amirite? Or if you're on the self-publishers' "side," because Amazon has been very good to a few dozen people it's clearly always the best way to publish one's book, and people who hang on to traditional publishing are just robots idiots robotic idiots who haven't seen the light. Can't you just feel the love toward authors here?

Basically I agree with John Scalzi on this: "These businesses and corporations are not your friends... If you’re treating these businesses as friends, you’re likely to get screwed." Hachette isn't an underdog here, they're a multi-billion dollar corporation that would drop a writer in a second if they thought it would buy them one more silver oyster fork. (Can you ever have enough silver oyster forks, though?) Likewise, Amazon isn't the great benefactor that self-published writers think it is, and I hate, hate, HATE that it seems to be held up as the only market for self-published books when that's not true at all*. At Amazon you're going to get a bigger piece of the revenue pie, but not all writers are meant to go self-published, either because their writing style doesn't fit what sells in that marketplace or they don't have the time and/or money to produce a good self-published book. Basically, there are pros and cons to both approaches, which is why so many writers are now becoming "hybrid" and mixing the two, selling novels through the Big Five and releasing short stories in e-form, or e-publishing their novels but placing short stories in magazines.

(I also wonder why the people all het up that Amazon is "holding books hostage OMG" aren't equally outraged that Barnes & Noble is refusing to carry paper books published by 47North and other Amazon imprints. Maybe these are the same people who look down on Walmart when half their apartment is decorated with shit they bought at Target.)

This is all kind of a long-winded way of saying "yeah, I think Hugh Howey is mostly right but not for the reasons he thinks and also can indie writers please stop co-opting a term that used to be used for actual independently-minded writers not people who want to crank out a lot of commercial fiction fast which is totally fine but not what indie used to mean?" In the meantime, here's a list of independent bookstores (all of which carry Hachette titles) that ship books right to your doorstep or e-reader if you want to put your money where your mouth is**:

Powell's Books (Portland, OR): The biggest little bookstore in the world. I've ordered from them in the past (although obviously won't be doing so anymore!) and they ship fast and well. You can also buy used books through the online store.

Atomic Books (Baltimore, MD): They have a smaller selection but they also carry zines. Excellent brick-and-mortar location. I've never ordered from them but I'm sure their mailorder is rad. John Waters' mailbox is in here.

Weightless Books (The Internet): Amazing selection of e-books in all formats. They carry subscriptions for magazines you can't subscribe to on Amazon.

Borderlands Books (San Francisco, CA): Specializing in SF/F/H, carries a lot of rare stuff, ships worldwide.

And yes, this list is America-centric but hey, that's where I live. If you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments and I'll add them to this list! You can also buy e-books and p-books directly from most small press publishers like Small Beer Press and ChiZine Publications. Really, most small press books are better than the stuff you get from the Big Five anyway.


*I'm not just talking about zines here... but seriously if you count zines I've been self-publishing for years. I admit that self-publishing genre fiction (at places that are not Amazon, but yes, also including Amazon) does hold some appeal to me, but my stuff is not the kind of thing that would do well in the current self-publishing world. I reserve the right to reconsider this in the future.

**In addition, Kobo also has a program where you can tell them your favorite independent bookstore and that bookstore will get a cut from every book you buy from Kobo. Neat, huh? Although I've never used it, because I, uh... have a Kindle.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"My Writing Process" Blog Hop

I was tagged for this post by writer pal Joe Iriarte. Joe's writing has appeared in Strange Horizons and Stupefying Stories, and he is currently working on a magical realism YA novel. Check out his blog, and his stories! Now, my answers:

1) What are you working on?

Any time prior to the past couple months, my answer would have been "short stories, always, forever." But after I moved to Portland, I got an intense itch (I should probably see a doctor about this) to polish up my novel, which right now is called Entity, but I'm totally changing it because that title sucks. It's an SF novel set in the present day about a schizophrenic stock girl at a Walmart analogue in southwestern Pennsylvania who fights in a proxy war between two alien forces... or does she? It's weird, but also rather familiar, since it's anchored in the real world. Some of it is very familiar to me! (Well, the Walmart part, and the southwestern PA part. Everything else is fiction. Or is it???)

I first wrote Entity in 2006-07 in an avalanche of productivity. I wrote it in something like two months, and didn't really edit it afterwards, because I hate editing. No seriously, I hate editing. It's why I'm such a slow writer, I like to get things right the first time. But that wasn't going to happen with this novel (I don't think it can happen with any novel), and because I believe in the story so much, I'm making the sacrifice of spending a few months editing so it can truly shine. At least I know that if it fails to get published this time around, it's not because of weak writing.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

As far as Entity goes, I'm not sure what genre it fits neatly into, and I'm not exactly stoked about that. Is it YA (or dare I say "New Adult") lit with a side of science fiction? Soft SF? I don't know, guys, I just wrote the thing, figuring out the genre is for publishers. I will say that there aren't many books quite like it, though Daryl Gregory has mined some similar ground recently. I also take pride in having written a novel about a mentally ill working-class Appalachian heroine. Not enough of those in the world.

Short story-wise, my stuff tends to be more generally of the standard SF type, although I still do write quite a few short stories essentially based in reality. Reality with a twist. Hey, maybe that's my genre!

3) Why do you write what you do?

Kicks, man, kicks! No but seriously, I write the books/stories that I want to read, which tend to be stories about people similar to people I know, dealing with circumstances that real people never would. I really enjoy blending speculative fiction and the present-day world. The idea of strange forces lurking right under the surface of reality is very appealing to me. Even for all his faults, Philip K. Dick is still my favorite writer, and I think that's because even though his novels were set in "the future," they were really about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. There were no chosen ones, just workaday schlubs trying to get by who get caught up in crazy stories involving telepathic slime molds or whatnot. I don't think there are enough truly ordinary protagonists in speculative fiction. Bring on the mundanes!

Also, while I don't think my writing is explicitly political, I'm basically a giant lefty and I have to think that comes out somewhere. Not in every story, but in enough of them. A lot of my stories involve working-class protagonists, and resistance is an ongoing theme, whether resistance to mega-corporations or invading alien forces or even just resistance to being stuck in a small town with no clear way out.

4) How does your writing process work?

For short stories: I get an idea. I turn that idea around slowly, step by step, inch by inch. Go on a lot of long walks or bike rides. Then write the whole thing basically in one sitting after mind-plotting it out to almost the very letter. I don't outline on paper. Ever. I also can't start a story without a perfect first line. I get most of those in the shower. Don't ask me why.

For novels: Well, I only have the one so it's hard to tell what my "novel writing process" is. I will say that Em's character and the idea for an alien proxy war fought at a big-box store came to me totally separate. (The second part arrived, naturally enough, when I was working at Walmart after college.) I think at one point I believed the concept could have fit into the short form but after I made the choice to hitch the story to a complex character, that was all over. The process of turning over the story multiple times still held, I just mind-plotted it in chunks instead of as a solid unit. Virtually all of it was written between the hours of ten p.m. and one a.m., as this time of day is my creative apex. After I finished I sent it to a few agents but didn't edit it, and finally it went into a trunk for like five years (during most of which I wasn't writing at all) until I became re-obsessed with the story and dusted off the mothballs. And here we are.

I'm turning over the idea for my next novel and unfortunately it looks like it will be a multi-POV affair so I may have to do something that scares the hell out of me. I may have to outline.

Tag, you're it!

M. Darusha Wehm is a three-time Parsec Award finalist and author of the SF novels Beautiful Red, Self Made, Act of Will and The Beauty of Our Weapons. She is also the founder and editor of Plan B Magazine which focusses on short mystery and crime fiction.

Her short fiction has appeared in many venues, including Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Toasted Cake and Escape Pod. Her novelette Fire. Escape. was shortlisted for a 2012 Sir Julius Vogel Award.

Born and raised in Canada, she currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand after sailing down the west coast of the Americas and across the Pacific Ocean with her partner, Steven, on their sailboat, Scream.

Read her blog here!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Clarity of Distance

I'm taking a break between two temp assignments to work on my novel. I started this process back in Baltimore, but didn't get very far before retreating into the warm safety of short storydom. The answer to why I gave up then was simple: when I have a permanent full-time day job, I have less time to write. I'm also someone who absolutely needs to feel some sense of accomplishment at the end of a writing session. Revising a novel doesn't give me the same completion high that writing or even revising a short story does for several reasons. For one thing, I don't know if I'll be able to sell it, whereas I have faith that most of my short stories will eventually be placed and read by readers (okay, most of my readers are probably other writers, but still). So time spent working on a novel could be wasted time. I also get very, very bored writing about the same characters and their world for months on end. You all know (or maybe you are) writers who sketch out detailed worlds for their characters to inhabit and type reams of background material before they even really set pen to paper. I am the exact opposite of this person. Therefore I choose to spend my limited writing time on short stories, the form that gives me both the most immediate satisfaction and the greatest chance of publication.

But now, baby, I have time. Two weeks of it, in fact (well, one is already over). So it's back to Ye Olde Novel. I don't think I was prepared for the amount of work this would be! And how tedious it is! For background: I originally wrote this novel in 2006, almost a decade ago. I did revise it, but not very well. It got a few complimentary rejections that said in the nicest possible terms that "your plot is original, but your writing sucks."

And it's true! It does suck! Some people say that the best thing to do with your writing is to put it in a drawer for six months before even thinking about revision. Well, I've had this thing in an effective drawer for something like six years and all I can say is... they're right. Even though I remember writing it, and recall most of the plot, it doesn't feel like something I personally wrote. Which means I have no compunctions about ripping the thing to shreds. I've already blasted my way through a third of the thing, rewriting some sections completely but mostly just leveling up the writing. As I said on Twitter, it's like I'm writing a completely new novel using the old one as a blueprint.

As for my method of rewriting/editing, it's line by friggin' line, all the way. One screen with the original novel in Scrivener*, where I make edits, and a Word screen where I paste my edited words and make any changes that only reveal themselves post-transfer. When I finish, I will scan over the "completed" manuscript before sending it to readers. And then I'll have to make even more edits! It never ends.

I do worry that my fierce cutting will damage the novel's marketability. How could I not be worried about that? The original draft was around 72k long, but I'm cutting out much more than I'm adding and I doubt the final draft will come in at much more than 65k words, which for non-YA science fiction published in 201X is super short. Some books can deal with padding or multiple subplots, but this one really can't. It's just a lean little slip of a self-contained book. I guess I'll worry about that problem when I get to the "finding an agent/publisher" phase of the game.

When/if I write a second novel that counts, I probably won't sit on it for six years again. But there's a hell of a case for waiting six months.


*I do find it kind of hilarious that I bought this not-cheap program and use it essentially as another Word screen. As a pure "pantser," I basically don't use any of the special features that you're supposed to use Scrivener for. But whatever works, right?