Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year in Review

So, 2013. Kind of a year. Recap time!

Writing: I wrote ten short stories this year, which includes three flash-length pieces and one novelette. (This only counts stories that I sent out for submission.) This is three times as many stories as I've written in any other single year dating back to 2005 when I made my first sale, and comes very close to equaling the amount of stories that I have written in all years combined since that time, counting the two or so years I was all "fuck writing" and didn't type a word of fiction. I didn't track word count, I only care about individual stories.

I sold five of these stories, plus two written in previous years. Three are currently out:

...and the remainder will be out sometime next year. I sold a story to a dream market and three to print anthologies. I joined SFWA as an associate member, and then became active a month later. I went to four conventions, and paneled at two of them (although one was a "stealth" paneling, ha!). I did not work on any novels.

But though sales and publications are certainly nice, the most important thing is that I was writing. Even though certain things in my life are less than ideal right now, I kept writing, and I didn't stop. It's like a switch has been flipped, and while I wish this switch-flipping would have happened in the mid-aughts, better it happened now than not at all.

What is this thing?
Non-Writing: Okay, here's the part where I get to talk about Portland. We went to Portland, and it was amazing. We also visited Boston, which was similarly amazing. I've made no bones about the fact that I haven't enjoyed living in Baltimore, where we relocated in 2010 for Rob's Teach for America job. We went to both Portland and Boston partly for a vacation (and in the case of Boston, an excuse to go to Readercon), but also to "audition" these cities as possible places of habitation. Boston, I love you but you're expensive as hell. Portland, however, lives squarely in the center of an imaginary Venn diagram with "affordable" on one side and "spectacular" on the other, and in that space is a one-bedroom apartment for less than a thousand dollars a month with our name on it.

Everyone, or at least a lot of people, love Portland and I didn't expect it to live up to the hype. But it totally did! It reminded me of the best parts of Pittsburgh (which never gets any hype). The weather is beautiful, even the rain. Bike lanes, cheap food carts, and Powell's Books, yay! Also, we already have a lot of friends there, as opposed to Baltimore where we knew nobody before moving here and had to build everything from the ground up. And even though we did manage to do that, it was very hard going there for awhile.

So yep, we're shipping out, hopefully in April. I will dearly miss the friends I've made here in Baltimore, but this is something we have to do (also there's this thing called "the Internet" now, which makes distance easier to take).

What's up for 2014? Well, moving to Portland and acquiring at least one of their notoriously scarce jobs will take up a lot of our time. I still plan to write at least one more short story in 2014 than I did in 2013, and keep on submitting them. I plan to finally, finally, FINALLY get my novel (yes, that one) ready for submission to agents and/or small presses. I want to put out a zine and keep my hand in the zine community, since my fiction writing has essentially put zining on hiatus. That won't be hard in Portland (will you be at the Portland Zine Symposium? I will, for the first time!), but my priority going forward will still likely be fiction. I feel grateful to have my creative life on track

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December Randomness

First, a sale: my flash fiction piece "Real Plastic Trees" will be appearing in the upcoming speculative fiction issue of Spark: A Creative Anthology, alongside such writers as Alex Shvartsman, Annie Bellet, Brad R. Torgerson, and more! You can pre-order it here at a discounted price, if you'd like.

I just finished writing a novella, my first stab at long-form writing in over six years. And you guys, I... kinda hate long-form writing. I wrote no short stories while I was in the process of writing the novella, and I really miss the instant (or maybe not so instant) gratification of doing that. Yesterday I had a large chunk of time blocked out to finish two short stories, but I just couldn't work on them. My brain felt completely fried, everything felt hopeless, everything I put down felt stupid and wrong. This is not unlike the problems I had after finishing my novel. Hopefully I don't quit writing for as long this time! I'm not going to unilaterally say that I'm never going to write a piece of long-form fiction again, but it will be awhile before I try it.

Plans for the great Baltimore-to-Portland move continue apace. Nothing new to report, but I have decided to start a new tag, "movelandia," which might give some of yinz a glimpse into the coast-to-coast moving process. I may also then compile the posts into a zine because there is nothing more Portland than writing a zine about moving to Portland and that will help me acculturate into my future home*.

In topical news, Crossed Genres magazine is in need of your help! They need to get 300 more subscriptions before the end of the year or they'll have to close. It's a great magazine that publishes a ton of new writers (at professional rates) and subscriptions are only $15/year for the digital version. In the common exchange rate of the times, that's only four visits to Starbucks, or one semi-fancy dinner out, or one-thousandth of the cost of a new car! (Seriously, don't do this.)

Also, as this is my first year as a SFWA member, I will be voting for the Nebula Awards for the first time ever. If you have a short story or novelette you'd like me to consider, feel free to link it in the comment section, or email a copy to satifka at gmail dot com if it's not available online.

*Real talk: when we were talking about what city to move to, I wondered if I'd fit into Portland because I'm not nearly as involved with zines as I used to be. "Do any fiction writers live in Portland?" Ha-ha. Hahahaha. Ha!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My DarkoverCon Schedule

Next weekend (November 29 - December 1) I'll be attending my first (and likely only, what with that whole upcoming West Coast dealie) DarkoverCon at the Crowne Plaza Baltimore hotel in Timonium, MD! Below are the panels I'll be speaking on:

5:00 – 6:00PM: Comics & Graphic Novels vs. "Literary" F&SF - Compare and contrast F&SF comics and graphic novels with short stories and novels. Do they approach F&SF differently? Are there different strategies or goals? Whiteley (M), Sarah Pinsker, Timothy Liebe, Erica Satifka, Rob McMonigal (yes, the very same).
1:00 – 2:00PM: Different Medium - Different Message? - Artists discuss how working in different media affects their craft. For example: two-dimensional art vs. ceramics or woodwork, hand-drawn art vs. computer-generated art, fiber arts vs. costuming, etc. Different design strategies for different media, different representational goals, etc. Vonnie Winslow Crist (M),  Erica Satifka, Alexander, Pyracantha, Halla.
3:00 – 4:00PM: Writing Workshop – Held in Steampunk (Greenspring Ballroom 1) -- I will be assisting with Meriah Crawford on this.
5:00 PM – Broad Universe Reading (Held inside Programming 2: Chesapeake 3-5): Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Margaret Carter, Meriah Crawford, Elektra Hammond, Kelly A. Harmon, Erica Satifka, Vonnie Winslow Crist, Leona Wisoker, Sarah Pinsker (M)

2:00 – 3:00PM: Q&A for Authors - Is there something you've really wanted to ask one of the attending authors but haven't had a chance to ask yet? Well, here's your chance to ask! Heise (M), Rosemary Edghill, Don Sakers, Warren Rochelle, Melissa Scott, Leona Wisoker, D.H. Aire, Scott MacMillan, Stephanie Dray, Morland, Satifka, Tamora Pierce, Katherine Kurtz, C.S. Friedman, Meriah Crawford, Heather Rose Jones, Sarah Pinsker.

It's easily accessible to Baltimore folks via light rail, so you have no excuse!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Erica's Infrequent Book Reviews Presents: LOVE IS THE LAW by Nick Mamatas

Love Is the Law by Nick Mamatas
Dark Horse
Buy at Powell's or Amazon.

"Golden" Dawn Seliger is the only genius on Long Island. A punk, a Communist, and a follower of the occult works of Aleister Crowley, Dawn's world is overturned with the death of her mentor Bernstein, an apparent suicide. But Dawn knows better, and in Nick Mamatas' first crime novel, she intends to get to the bottom of it like a counter-cultural Harriet the Spy.

I first heard about this novel on Twitter, when Nick was having some fun with the Nanowrimo folks by throwing together random motley elements as his "Nano novel." I remember reading the tweet, laughing because it sounded so awesome but also really ridiculous, then forgot about it. A few months later he started blogging about how he was writing the thing. Whoa, really? I looked forward to reading it because I tend to like Nick's writing a lot, but of course part of me was wondering if a book generated from a throwaway comment on Twitter would work, even in a good writer's hands.

Well, it definitely works! This is a confident genre-fuck of a book, equal parts mystery and magickal fantasy. As Dawn seeks j______ for Bernstein, she finds herself caught up in conspiracy after conspiracy, aided by (not that it's their choice) a rich Marxist lawyer and a burnout from her former high school, among others. There are some of the usual mystery/noir tropes: the search for clues, interrogations, chasing down leads, the final reveal. But this is in no way a standard mystery, as the conclusion Dawn is inexorably drawn to comes from a definite otherworldly place, and Dawn is certainly no ordinary detective. In another writer's hands, there might have been a point where Dawn lost her tough exterior and learned to cooperate with her male companions and tie up all the loose ends with a ribbon and a moral, perhaps falling in love with one of them along the way. No. Love Is the Law never once loses its brutal edge, down to the haunting final sentence.

A book this short (and oh, rare is the modern writer who can tell us a story in exactly as many words as needed and no more) would be "spoiled" by saying too much about the plot but I can tell you that the Marxism and the Thelema totally come together. In one of his blog posts, Nick says that he considers Salinger one of his literary models, and I definitely saw that in the dialogue: true to life, a little bit "off," hyper-realistic. Everything is filtered so well through Dawn's cynical perspective that you don't realize that while you're going along with the mystery aspect of the plot, you're also learning things: about magick, yes, but also about the system that keeps us all chained down, even people as iconoclastic as Dawn. I guess in parts it's a bit of a polemic, but I like that kind of thing (and do that kind of thing), so it totally worked for me.

My favorite aspect of the book, though, might be its setting. While I've never been to Long Island and probably never will be, it comes alive in Love Is the Law. Nick perfectly captures what it's like to feel trapped in a small, class-divided town that's so close yet so far from a major city (yeah, that hits close to home... though Pittsburgh isn't quite NYC). It is indeed a Looooong Island, and the varied cast of supporting characters paints a picture of barely concealed class strife and cultural diversity without ever once "telling" (I think the whole tell/show dichotomy is over-simplified but go with it) you a thing. He also has a strong sense of time, as the book is set at the end of the Cold War and the characters, with their disparate Marxist views, act and react accordingly.

I can guarantee you that this is the best novel about a Marxist Thelemite punk rock girl detective that you'll ever read. If this is what Nick's interpretation of a crime novel is, then keep them coming!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's Hard to Hold a Candle in the Cold November Rain

This is a picture of a cheeseburger between two grilled cheeses. Your argument is invalid.

So I was going to post a lot more about our Portland trip but then I realized that probably nobody cares and also it's been over a month since we got back so not topical anymore, you know? I have to be honest, I've been pretty upset since we returned. Anyone who knows me even a little (which is probably most of the people who read this journal?) knows that I haven't been fond of this Baltimore place since approximately two weeks after I got here. Going to a city like Portland, where everyone is so friendly and the streets mostly don't smell of pee and despair, just reminded me that even though in some ways I've "made it" here, that I have friends and a job and my writing, I am really not happy. Yeah, I know, most people aren't happy, suck it up. But it's getting to the point where I'm emotionally wrecked whenever I leave Baltimore, because I have to come back, and this is something that can't continue indefinitely. So yeah, changes are coming even if they're not coming as fast as I would like.

Anyway, in writing news, my #fullcommunism story "The Afternoon Revolution" was accepted for the Bundoran Press political SF anthology Strange Bedfellows, along with original stories by Eugie Foster, Ian Creasey, Craig DeLancey, Alter Reiss, and many more. So look for that in April 2014, yay!

Rob and I attended Capclave in October, go read his exhaustive recap on The Book Stew. This was the con that killed our car, but good riddance. It was great to see all my east coast SF writer friends, and I hope we can meet up with everyone at least one last time before going wherever it is we're going.

Lastly, although I am not doing Nanowrimo, I am currently in the process of turning out a long-form November-centric writing project. After spending the past few years exclusively focused on short stories, writing something with more word length is weird. You mean I can add elements, not subtract them? You mean I can/should put in character moments and world-building that has nothing to do with the central idea? It's really weird to me, and I'm not sure I like working long like this, but it's an experiment to say the least. But don't worry, short fiction, you'll always be first in my heart.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Anything Can Happen on Halloween

Happy Halloween, hon!
"Thirty-Six Interrogatories Propounded by the Human-Powered Plasma Bomb in the Moments Before Her Imminent Detonation," my flash story with the title that's too hot for Twitter, is now up at Daily Science Fiction! It's not all that spooooooky, but it's pretty depressing.

Also pleased to announce that my story "The Silent Ones" will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. A bit of backstory: in 2008 I essentially quit writing for a host of reasons. Mostly because I wasn't interested in writing anymore, but also because some folks had let me know that I was just too crazy to be a writer. I was also too wiped out from my day job to write (something that continues to this day although I've found ways to imperfectly power through). Yet, this story's concept nagged at me, so I took two days off work to write it. I submitted it off and on but I was well and fully done with writing by then so I didn't care much if it was published. When I un-quit in mid-2011, I took a good look at this one and realized that while it had some pretty words, it didn't make a whole lot of sense. So, a coherent plot or something close enough was added. I am thrilled to be in a publication that's featured so many awesome writers over the years, and I hope you'll check it out!

Non-spammy posts will be coming soon, I swear....

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Spammers Live in Vain

Hey guys, the Lovecraft anthology I'm in is out! Whispers from the Abyss (.01 Publishing) includes stories by Nick Mamatas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Greg Van Eekhout, Tim Pratt, and many more. My story "You Will Never Be the Same" is a mash-up of Lovecraft and the seriously weird SF of Cordwainer Smith. It was a real departure for me, trying to ape someone else's style while using yet another someone's plot elements, but I think it works. (Besides, Nick already got dibs on DFW.) I'm thrilled to be sharing a line-up with these folks, and I hope you check it out!

In fund-raising news, the speculative fiction podcasts PodCastle, Escape Pod, and Pseudopod (collectively known as the Escape Artists) are in financial trouble and can use your support! My story "Hand of God" appeared in PodCastle last September, and while I don't listen to very much audio fiction myself (most people seem to listen on their commutes, and I ride a bicycle to work on the most dangerous streets in North America), these three magazines are a great resource. They podcast everything from new fiction to classics. If you like audio fiction, do yourself a favor and chip in a few bucks. Specific links to each magazine are here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Capclave 2013: Be There AND Be Square!

Portland posts are on hold while I wait for Rob to upload some more pictures to break up the massive text blocks of gushing appreciation for America's Hipster Heartland. Meanwhile, I'll be at Capclave this weekend (October 11-13), so come say hi if you are nice and cool and want to talk about crazy 1970s SF writing, bicycle rights, or fancy European board games. Not on any panels or doing a reading because you apparently need to register for panel gigs at SF cons five years in advance. I'm stoked about it since it's a con centered on short fiction (despite the fact that this year's GOH is George R.R. Martin), and that's kind of my thing. Getting in these East Coast cons while I can, I guess?

However, I was actually on my first (authorized) panels this year at the Baltimore Book Festival, talking about diversity and also about short fiction. It's weird, for someone who doesn't really enjoy speaking publicly, I loved being on panels, perhaps because you're not the center of attention, and also there's a lot more structure. Not doing a write up since Rob already did an excellent one which you can find here.

In writing news, finally dusting off the novel. Parts of it are much worse than I remembered. Parts of it are way better. They say the best thing you can do when you finish a novel is to put it in a drawer for at least six months before editing. Well, it's now been four years since I looked at it. For once I am following standard writing advice, if only accidentally.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Portland Trip (Part 1 of ?)

Normally if it rains most of the days you're on vacation you'd call it a bad vacation, but Rob (who took all the pictures in this post) and I knew what we were getting into when we decided to travel to the creative mecca of Portland, Oregon last week, so he could attend the Rose City Comic-Con and so we could both explore a city that was high on our shortlist of potential future homes. There's far too much awesome for one little post to contain, so on his advice I'm going to be splitting up this series of posts topics-wise, so you can read or ignore at your leisure.

First of all, let's get this out of the way: Portland is fucking beautiful. Look at these fucking mountains:

Nature in your face.

The first area of the city we stumbled into was the Pearl District, where we saw one Portland landmark right off the bat.

Words to live by.

A few days later we went to Powell's World of Books, which really deserves its own post that I might write at some point, but just so you know it contains over four million books both used and new, takes up an entire city block, and is the largest independent bookstore in the world. There were also a lot of smaller independent bookstores and even though we didn't go in any of them I'm certain that if we lived there I'd never step foot in a Barnes & Noble again. (Not that I do that now.)

Four million books!!
Portland bears a lot of similarities to Pittsburgh, with its rivers, bridges, and mountains (although according to westerners, the Appalachians are just big hills... they're right). It doesn't rain a lot in Pittsburgh, but it's the third cloudiest city in the country, and I quite appreciated the blanket of haze between me and that big glowy thing in the sky. Pittsburgh is kind of a "weird" city, too. They're both pretty cheap. But unlike Pittsburgh, Portland is almost totally flat which makes it excellent for cycling and walking. They're also a little less clannish in Portland, maybe? Probably because most Portlanders weren't born there, and Pittsburgh has a large native-born contingent. I mean, I love Pittsburgh, I think it's a vastly underrated city, and I was happy to see that the elements that make Pittsburgh great exist somewhere else. I'm totally a city girl, but I'm coming to realize that what I really love are small, easily-traversable cities that are not part of a megalopolis. Baltimore/DC is just too big for me.

Just one of Portland's eight bridges. Pittsburgh has more, but it's not a pissing contest (or is it??).

The public transportation in Portland is amazing, especially for such a small city. I never waited more than twenty minutes for a train or bus, and that was at night. Every stop was announced both over the loudspeaker and visually (in Baltimore they usually skip a few, especially at night when I can't always see where I am, and the trains don't have a visual display). It's also super easy to roll your bike onto the train and they have bike hangers for them. They actually want you to ride your bike in Portland! Bike lanes were fucking everywhere and weren't full of cracks and debris. Drivers are not insane and they will stop for pedestrians. Since I have given up trying to get a driver's license, it's very important to me that wherever I live permanently is a good place for non-drivers.

Happy little streetcars.
Everyone in Portland, or at least everyone I talked to, was super nice. Almost Canadian, really. I've never been west of Ohio so while I'd heard about how different the "vibe" is out west, it has to be seen to be believed. On the East Coast, and even in Pittsburgh to some extent, life is all about maximizing your time for ultimate productivity and making sure you look super busy. Portlanders work as hard as everyone else (especially the self-employed ones) but there's not that rushing around "get out of my way, I'm an important person!" feeling. Even the people who were obviously going to work were playing it much cooler than their East Coast counterparts. A question you will never get asked in Portland, at least not by strangers, is "what do you do?" That could be because the unemployment rate is so high, but I'll take it anyway.

We went to all four quadrants of the city, though all of our neighborhood walking was on the east side (the side with the cheaper rent). It rained more days than it didn't but when it wasn't raining there was zero humidity. I thought the weather was awesome, actually. And while Portlandia is more fiction than fact there are certain "trapped in the nineties" details like free-standing record stores and even a Suncoast in the mall. I was really excited about the Suncoast.

Up next: beer and food of Portland, or, why I may turn into a foodie after all!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Writing Progress, Stories That Aren't Mine, PDX Trip!

Apparently I continue to crank out work to make up for the time I wasn't writing. I'm currently finishing up revisions on a novelette, which is the longest thing I've ever written that isn't a novel. Also have two short stories and several pieces of flash in the revision pile. So if you've been missing my posts here (which have never been very frequent to begin with), that is why.

If you like opera and/or Hungarian mythology, check out my friend Samantha Kymmell-Harvey's new story "Cadence" in Waylines Magazine! I'm sure this is only the first of many stories for Sam.

In non-writing news, I am thrilled beyond words to be traveling to the adultlescent dreamscape of Portland, Oregon next month. September 20-26, right after my birthday. Rob will be attending the Rose City Comic Con, and we will both be conducting more exploration of residential neighborhoods than one normally does on a vacation. Any tips on can't-miss sights? We already know about the Tardis Bar, the Lovecraft Bar, the Japanese Garden, Voodoo Donuts, and of course Powell's World of Books, surely one of the few destination book stores in the country. And I will of course be visiting a handful of zinester hubs, which I hope is okay considering I don't necessarily consider myself a zinester anymore. (But I don't NOT consider myself a zinester. It's complicated! I still love you, zine world, I just have so many hours in a day and I prefer to spend most of the free ones writing speculative fiction right now.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Stories, New Sales, and the Baltimore Book Festival!

1. My short story "Super-Parents Last All Childhood Long" has just been posted at Daily Science Fiction for your non-subscriber reading pleasure. It's a tale of refrigerator parenting by actual appliances, and breaks my six and a half year streak between professional publications. (Although to be fair, there's an intentional hiatus in there.)

2. My experimental flash fiction piece "Thirty-Six Interrogatories Propounded by the Human-Powered Plasma Bomb in the Moments Before Her Imminent Detonation" was also just picked up by Daily Science Fiction, so look for that in the coming months.

3. Speaking of DSF yet again, they are currently holding a Kickstarter to fund the magazine through spring 2014 and keep it free to subscribers. I know a lot of people are Kickstartered out, but if you like the magazine and want to see more speculative flash fiction out there, consider donating or buying one of the books. DSF is a great magazine that publishes everyone from new writers to Nebula winners, and it's not just a flash magazine: longer stories are published every Friday. They publish everything from straight-ahead sci-fi to more literary/slipstream pieces to experimental stuff. So if you're not subscribed, go ahead and do that first, then consider donating to the Kickstarter. Thank you.

4. I will be at the Baltimore Book Festival, and will be speaking on several panels! Come to the SFWA tent in Mount Vernon, Baltimore City to hear me bloviate on:

Diversity in SF: The Protagonist Looks Like Me (Friday 9/27, 5:00 PM)

Come hear our authors discuss the portrayal of race, sexuality, gender, disability, and age in science fiction and fantasy. Is everyone represented? Whose stories are we telling? Whose are we missing? Join in the discussion and get recommendations of stories to read.

Other panelists: Don Sakers, Julie Czerneda, Cat Rambo, Peggy Rae Sapinoza (moderator)

The State of Short Fiction: From Pulps to Anthologies to Ezines (Sunday 9/29, 5:30 PM)

Join us to talk about the state of short fiction in fantasy and science fiction. Our panelists will discuss how it has changed over the years, what are the latest developments, and what stories they recommend. This is also a great panel for newcomers to the genre. If you haven't read science fiction or fantasy, short fiction is a good place to start. Come hear what's good, what's hot, and what's out there.

Other panelists: Rahul Kanakia, Don Sakers, Robin Sloan, Lawrence Connolly, Catherine Asaro (moderator)

And if those topics, and the rest of the programming, isn't enough to make you want to attend, can I remind you that one of the featured guests happens to be Brian Boitano?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sexism in Cover Images

I've never read anything J.K. Rowling has written, and I don't consider myself a fan of hers. But I still think this is bullshit.

So, Rowling released a gritty crime thriller (level of grit undetermined) under the name Robert Galbraith. It got decent reviews, but flopped, until she came forth as the author. Here is the cover released when nobody had reason to think Galbraith was female:

Kind of a typical crime cover, showing the shadowy male protagonist quite grittily walking away down a fog-filled London street. Fences to symbolize the fences we put up around ourselves, blah blah. I don't love the cover, it looks a little bland to me, but it clearly marks the book as a crime novel.

Here's the second printing after the big reveal. Name's still Robert Galbraith, but oh, the differences:

You can almost see a little phantom Oprah sticker in the upper corner. While I haven't read the book, and don't plan to, I have no idea WTF this cover has to do with the contents of the book. A lady's back? There's some kind of camera thing on the right, but this doesn't at all say "crime novel" or "gritty" or even "slightly gritty" to me. And of course, flowery cursive writing, the kind of thing women love. Women, am I right?

Yeah, it's possible that given Rowling's stature she had input on every stage of the cover design process, or at least veto power. Maybe this doesn't bother anyone else. But I haven't seen a side-by-side comparison of these covers yet, so hey, I've got this one.

It sucks that books with women on the cover, with flowery cursive writing, aren't taken more seriously. But they just aren't. As it looks now, this cover is heavily coded female, and if it were a crime book by an unknown female writer, I would fully expect it to tank due to its insides not matching up with its outsides (probably?) and looking like the kind of book many people would be embarrassed to pick up. I have zero interest in self-publishing, but this kind of explains why some female writers choose to do it.

Short Fiction Round-Up: Whenever Edition

It's been a long time since I did this, but that's not for lack of good short stories, it's because I suck at updating my blog. So here's some stories I read recently and liked, maybe you will too, you know the drill.

Division of Labor by Benjamin Roy Lambert (Lightspeed): If you don't use it, you lose it, literally. In a world where overspecialization leads to a society of grotesqueries, our protagonist tries to keep as much of his true self as he can. Resist psychic death!

On Murder Island by Matt Williamson (Nightmare): You know how whenever people talk about prisons there's always some libertarian yahoo who says we should just put all the murderers on an island and let them sort each other out? That's what happens in "On Murder Island," and Williamson perfectly captures the psyche of a man born on the island, who grew up under relentless, routine violence. Also check out Williamson's short story "Sacrament" in the Brave New Worlds anthology, it's the first thing I read by him and it blew me the hell away.

You Are Watching by Ann Sterzinger (The Big Click): Dystopic SF story? Crime story? Does it matter? This story ruled. When all the world's a prison, you can always think back to the simple days of the twentieth century, where we only watched one television at a time. So help me job.

The Pelican Bar by Karen Joy Fowler (Eclipse Three, classic story): I was watching a panel at Readercon about genre definitions and someone brought up this story as an example of what you might call "slipstream" (it probably has another name by now, you know how it is). I was a little bored by the panel, and this story sounded interesting, so I looked it up on my phone and read it right there, because I'm the kind of asshole I am. What makes this story genius to me is the way it changes depending on whether or not you accept it as a science fiction story. It's a kind of technique I've been exploring in my own writing (P.S. sign up for Daily Science Fiction now to read my upcoming story! /self-promotion), and this story, with its overriding sense of strangeness, is just perfect slipstream/whatever. So yeah, reading all the Fowler now.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pre-Post "Boston Is Awesome" Filler Post; Also Readercon

So for the past 10-ish days Rob and I have been hanging out in New England generally, Boston specifically, and I have already decided that Boston is the greatest place in the world and I want to live there right now. Unfortunately, we won't be able to move there until 2014 at the earliest, but I am super stoked to see there is a place where people can talk about things other than traffic and parking. While I gear up to write the giant BOSTON RULES post, let's talk about Readercon, which is where I spent the last three days of our trip. It was awesome! This is only the fourth sci-fi (yes, I do call it sci-fi) con I've ever been to, and without a doubt it was the best due to its focus on books to the general exclusion of other forms of media. (Context also has more of a book focus as I recall, but I don't remember all that much about it overall. My memory for things that happened prior to around 2011 is seriously spotty as hell.)

Rob and I brought attention to ourselves by livetweeting several panels. I definitely found the panels much more in-depth and useful than previous panels I've witnessed; again, the focus on books helped, as well as the fact that the panels were quite diverse and/or evenly split by sex. (There WAS an incident with men passing over women in the audience early on, but it only happened once and after that I avoided dude-only panels.) What's funny is that it seemed nobody was really livetweeting at first, but after an hour or two more people started joining in. Thus begins and ends my entry into Internet trends. If you want to read some of the livetweets (by now that word has lost all meaning), go to my feed and scroll down. I don't tweet much. You can't miss them!

I also went to the Broad Universe reading and read part of my upcoming Daily Science Fiction story. Both exciting and nerve-wracking, as readings tend to be. (Psst, story email-drops on July 30th, pass it on.)

And on the last night there was hot tub and swimming pool aplenty. My one regret at Readercon is going to late night panels on the other two nights instead of going to the pool because I friggin' NEVER get to go to pools.

In addition to hanging out with some people from Secret Online Writing Club, I also met several authors and editors who I've known of or vaguely communicated with for years. If I try to list names it will come off sounding smarmy or I'll forget someone important, so I'll just say that if I spoke with you (yes, YOU!) this past weekend, it was a delight. I will absolutely be going to Readercon every year it's feasible.

(Crossposted from LiveJournal.)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hartford/Boston/Readercon Trip, Day 1

We just stopped at the first hotel of the giant, ten-day-long New England Adventure, after a drive that wasn't nearly as terrible as long drives usually are. Our last semi-long trip, to Richmond, was practically unbearable. Then I realized that the reason why it didn't suck could be because we're heading north. That tells you all you need to know, really.

The ultimate destination of this trip is Readercon in Burlington, MA, which is like any other science fiction convention except that instead of a person dressed as the Fourth Doctor having a heated conversation about anime with someone dressed as the Seventh Doctor, it's actually about writing and authors and junk. Which means that this is a con made for me!

Tomorrow we go to Hartford, CT. And then to Boston, a city I expect to love. No updates every day, just when I feel like it.

(Crossposted from LiveJournal.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

That SFWA Thing

So it seems that less than a month after joining SFWA, it has managed to disappoint. If you're involved with writing SF at all then you already know the details, but I figured I'd put up another post about it anyway, because it's always good to have another voice in the room. So, the details:

1. SFWA publishes a trade journal called The Bulletin, a subscription to which is included with SFWA membership. The Winter 2013 issue had a cover featuring a lady in a chainmail bikini, laughingly juxtaposed next to a headline asking "Where Do the Dues Go?"

2. The next issue featured an editorial about career longevity that included an extended metaphor about Barbie, how she doesn't dress like a tramp the way those Bratz girls do, instead maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should. I read the article while over at a SFWA member's house, and thought it was more bizarre than anything. The metaphor didn't even make sense in the context of the article; Barbie changes "her" style all the time! "She" can't remain true to "herself," because Barbie is a plastic toy licensed by a corporation.

I already knew about the chainmail bikini cover and the Barbie article when I joined, and while I was annoyed by those things, I wasn't actively offended. I rolled my eyes, yeah, sure. Because it's a trade journal, not the cover of a pulp magazine (and SF magazines haven't carried those types of covers for a very long time). This would be kinda like the AMA journal putting a sexy nurse on the cover, or the American Bar Association trotting out its hottest new lawyers on the front page of an issue otherwise devoted to tax policy. I'm all for sexy nurses, hot tax attorneys, and yes even chainmail bikini babes (although I didn't find the image on The Bulletin all that sexy, I felt the composition was poor and the coloring muddied). But on the cover of what's supposed to be your organization's flagship publication, the professional face you put out to the world? I've railed against the expectation of professionalism in writing before (of course, that was when I was told that "professional writers" shouldn't ever mention politics or personal problems to anyone, because nobody will publish your stories/novels if you don't present an absolutely blank-slate face to the world), but when it comes to something like The Bulletin, I think that professionalism is something that is required.

And that leads us to...

3. The latest issue, the first I received in the mail and which was worse than the other two fails combined. Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, two writers I have never read but who have been in the SF game for a very long time, engaged in a "conversation" where, over six pages of fairly small type, they railed against anyone who was offended by the bikini cover, said that nobody would complain if they called male writers or editors "beautiful" (yeah, but you didn't do that, did you?), and closed out the article by stating that "If they [feminists] can get away with censoring that, can you imagine what comes next? I'm pretty sure Joe Stalin could imagine it. Even Chairman Mao could imagine it." Because truly, thinking that a pulpy image isn't necessarily the best cover for a trade journal = killing ten million people. The editor, Jean Rabe, seemed to think this was a counterpoint to a very good article by another male writer, Jim C. Hines, about ChainmailFail and sexualization of cover images in general. (It's also worth noting that the length of the Malznick piece was twice the length of the Hines article.)

Where do the dues go, indeed!

It seems that the editor (who has since resigned) seemed to think she was offering a different view by placing the Malznick piece alongside the Hines piece. But the thing is, the Hines piece didn't need a counterpoint. Equal rights and respect for all don't need a differing view to "further the dialogue." Also, invoking "fascism" is a lot like bringing up Hitler. You don't automatically lose the debate, but you've set up a hell of a job for yourself.

I'm not going to quit writing SF. You don't need to be in SFWA to write SF, and let's be honest, all my attempts at straight fiction come out SF anyway (there was one story that I wrote in college that came so close to being just a normal lit piece about relationship dynamics but then I had to go and make the metaphor literal). And I'm not going to stop interacting with the SF community, at least now that I've found a corner of it that doesn't suck. I also know there are some amazing people in SFWA (largely women) who are currently scrambling to make things better.

But I gotta say, it DOES piss me off that I paid $80 of my money to pay for two old dudes to talk about what a fascist people like me are. I guess I'll spend this year deciding if it's worth it to me to continue. I think a lot of people in SFWA are going to spend this year deciding that.

(Crossposted from LiveJournal.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Story Sale!

Quite pleased to announce that I have sold my Cordwainer Smith/H.P. Lovecraft mash-up story "You Will Never Be the Same" to the anthology Whispers from the Abyss, due out this summer by new publisher .01 Publishing. This is my first time working in any other author's universe, so of course I had to go the hard route and draw elements from TWO other writers, not just Lovecraft. But I think it turned out pretty well. More details on this blog as the release date approaches!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Publication Announcement, SFWA Announcement, etc.

I am very pleased to announce that my short story "Super-Parents Last All Childhood Long" will be published in the email and online magazine Daily Science Fiction. This is the last thing I wrote in 2012 (a.k.a. "the year I started writing again, for real this time, I mean it") and I am thrilled that it has found a home. Not sure yet when it will appear, but sign up for the free mailing list to read it a week early, or check back here when it's published on the site.

Also, as of just a few days ago, I am a member of Science Fiction Writers of America. Joining SFWA is one of those things I really should have done when I got my first pro sale, but then I didn't and then I forgot about it and stopped writing. I'm still only an associate member, but I'm 2/3 of the way to a full membership, so you can start campaigning for the Nebula Awards at me any day now (but seriously, don't).

Lastly, have you heard about Balticon? I'll be there on May 24th and 25th, might possibly be on panels, and will definitely be doing a reading on Friday night with some other panelists. More details when I have them. Hope to see one of my three readers there!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Short Fiction Round Up: March-ish 2013

When Nick Mamatas announced on his LJ that he was working on a David Foster Wallace/Lovecraft mash-up, I knew immediately that it would be my kind of story. So I'm not surprised that Hideous Interview with Brief Man (published in Fiddleblack) was the best short story I read last month (or in February, whatever). It's obviously more relevant to your interests if you're a fan of DFW and/or Lovecraft, but for people who enjoy the former's work, the care taken to replicate his style is well appreciated. The format is of course familiar, and takes the conceit of an interview between the abyss and "an ugly half-orc who sweats excessively and whom nobody could ever ever love." This is supposedly the last SF story that Mamatas plans to write, which bums me out, though I look forward to reading his foray into crime fiction.

Liz Argall's Shadow Play (published in Daily Science Fiction) uses beautiful language to tell the story of a past-their-prime shapeshifter who haunts a low-rent puppet house on the bad side of town. The shifter may no longer have a story of their own, but they can still tell stories, for the cost of a token. This flash piece paints a vivid picture of people and memories that are almost all used up. I look forward to reading a lot more of Argall's work.

The first thing you'll notice about Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince by Jake Kerr (Lightspeed) is its structure, but it is far from a gimmick story. Through false Wikipedia entries mixed with secondary source materials, Kerr builds an entire near-future world, one devastated by an asteroid impact. This structure tells a story in a way straight narrative never could, and focuses more on the titular author's reactions to the Meyer Impact, and how his philosophy and work was shaped by the event and how it goes on to influence the world. The false interviews, novel excerpts, and speeches play off the Wikipedia entries very nicely, each informing and supporting the other. My only real complaint about this story is that I couldn't click on the hyperlinks.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Erica's Infrequent Book Reviews Presents: MIXTAPE FOR THE APOCALYPSE by Jemiah Jefferson

Mixtape for the Apocalypse by Jemiah Jefferson
Self-published (but why??)
Available for Kindle, Nook, and in paperback

Mid-90s Portland twentysomething Michael Bronwynn Squire's been having some problems. His roommate moves in her lunk of a boyfriend against his will. He's failing at both his jobs. His underground comix career is going nowhere. He's just started a romantic relationship with his best friend Lise. And then he starts receiving covert messages from Echo & the Bunnymen songs, and things start going from "kooky 90s romantic comedy wacky" to Walter Bishop-level insanity.

So you know how a lot of people say that it feels like books are written just for them? I find that annoying and self-centered. And yet, that's the feeling I had when reading Mixtape for the Apocalypse. These are characters I know, these are situations eerily similar to ones I lived when I was myself a twentysomething living with friends in another city that begins with a P. I've been, at different times, both Squire and Lise. So I guess I'll just have to be one of those losers whose reaction to a book is based largely on personal history. At least Mixtape is a better book than Generic YA Fantasy Dreck. (Aside: when I looked for reviews of this on Goodreads, to see what other people thought before I wrote my own review -- this book is criminally under-reviewed -- it recommended a bunch of YA dystopia novels. This is why I don't use Goodreads, people.)

After a framing chapter, Mixtape is split between Squire's increasingly madness-driven journal entries and straight narrative, with the latter subsiding once he makes the move into Lise's spacious walk-in closet and doesn't interact with anything outside of his own head. (Aside Part Two: this is probably a side effect of reading on a Kindle, but I sometimes found it hard to tell where the "journal" part of the story ended and the "past reminiscences as told by present-day Squire" began. Not sure if the paper-book version has different fonts or italics or anything; I don't think you can mix fonts in Kindle editions. This isn't anything that hurt the experience of reading the book for me, more of a "I wish there was a better way to show this on Kindle" whine.) While I hate the idea of calling something a "breezy read" because it makes me think of popcorn fiction -- which Mixtape definitely isn't -- it reads fast and compelling. Jefferson's prose flows smooth as crazy butter. I read it in less than two days, stopping all other in-progress books to finish it.

Though the characters and place descriptions give a grounding of realism to the book (oh Portland, someday I will live in you!), what really takes this book from good to awesome is Squire's breakdown, the way it goes from being something just hinted at around the edges to full-on batshit, yet it never feels like a left turn, never feels like something thrust on the character from the outside. There are few books that come close to realistically depicting what it's like to have a nervous breakdown, because it's only one of those things that you can write if you've lived it, and most readers who have not had nervous breakdowns don't know the difference between a good depiction and a bad one. Voices from the Street by Philip K. Dick is one that I can recommend even though it's one of his more misogynist works (it's not genre fiction, either). I don't know whether Jefferson has lived through these experiences herself, but to my trained eye, Squire's breakdown feels legit. What really nails it are the touches of humor, like this line: "They don't show TV, which is good, but they do show static, which is good." Classic. Also the kind of inspired lines you really do come up with when you've been up for over a day, high on caffeine.

In closing, Mixtape for the Apocalypse is one of the best books I've read in months and well worth your $2.99. I also hope Jefferson writes, if not a sequel, at least more books in this vein. My highest possible recommendation!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Short Fiction Round Up: January 2013 (more or less)

It's a few days late, but here's the list of the best short stories I read in January and the first few days of February.

"The Golden Age of Story" by Robert Reed: I've been aware of Reed for almost a decade now, since he was published all over F&SF and Asimov's (where this story appeared, February 2013 issue) when I started reading those magazines on and off back in the early aughts, and also saw his name occasionally in the online magazines. But for some reason, I always ignored his stories when I encountered them. Maybe I read a "bad" one and just instinctively stayed away. But I doubt I'll ignore his name after reading this, a masterfully woven series of vignettes about an experimental nootropic that turns its users into geniuses and pathological liars, and the ramification on society when a significant percentage of its members are reporting from a reality vastly different from the one we inhabit. In some ways "The Golden Age of Story" reminded me of the "neuro-SF" of Daryl Gregory, a.k.a. the best writer I discovered in 2012.

"The Wanderers" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Our broadcast transmissions got out to deep space, and attracted alien visitors who love ultraviolence just as much as humans. The group of aliens named for our cultural heroes come to rule us, but when they arrive, we're already gone. A tromp through "city and suburb" reveals no humans to conquer, but plenty of sights to interpret through the lens of creatures that have only known humanity through our broadcasts, yet perhaps understand us better than we do ourselves. The humor in this story is also not to be glossed over, as the alien warlords pay homage to our "goddess Herbal Essence" or describe the post-apocalyptic wasteland as "no explosion marks... more like The Road." I'd never heard of Stufflebeam before this, but definitely looking forward to watching her career.

For the past few months, I've really been enjoying plowing through a few collections of Robert Silverberg's short fiction that are cheaply available on Kindle. Silverberg is not the first name one thinks of when thinking of New Wave science fiction, and I wonder why. Maybe because he started as a pulp writer, which is more an accident of timing than of any lack of quality on Silverberg's part. Some aspects of his stories are outdated, but they're from the sixties and seventies, so what do you expect? The stories in Volumes 2, 3, and 4 are all quite good, but some representative stories that I thought were especially good were "Schwartz Between the Galaxies" (an anthropologist struggles to continue his work on an Earth with one homogenous, globalized culture), "Hawksbill Station" (what Terra Nova could have been if it wasn't fucking awful), "When We Went to See the End of the World" (darkly ironic story about apocalypses both futuristic and present day), and "The Wind and the Rain" (in which we're reminded that conservation shouldn't be about saving the planet, it should be about saving humans) Seriously, I could have listed about a dozen stories here. It always does seem silly to review things this old on a blog but if you like New Wave SF or are just interested in reading some then buy these, especially if you have a Kindle.

"During the Pause" by Adam-Troy Castro: Of course I'd like this story, it's just one long damn hypothetical argument. An alien transmission describes a "phenomenon" that will soon (and you will eventually find out just how soon!) overtake the Earth. There is nothing we can do to stop it. The horrific phenomenon is described in ghastly detail, even as the alien message laments that much of it is untranslatable. There is something we can do, doomed as we are, to make our existence meaningful. But it comes at a cost. Anything more would ruin the story, which you should just go read. I thought about this story for like two weeks after I read it, and it's still in my head.

That's all for now. As per usual, if you know of any short stories that I should have already read, link them in the comments.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Experimentation and Productivity

After a talk with my husband Rob this evening, I came to two conclusions:

1. I need to experiment more with my writing.
2. I need to start writing a lot more.

The first one might seem strange if you've read a cross-section of my writing. I prefer present tense. I enjoy strange POVs. Almost all of my narrators are unreliable, and my favorite of my own stories (most of which have yet to see publication) have ambiguous endings. It's obviously not on the level of a truly avant-garde writer, but for SF/F, my writing is clearly on the experimental side.

And yet... I've never written anything like a physical fight scene. I've never written a story with magic or myth as a plot device. I've never written a narrator that wasn't on some level paranoid or neurotic, I've written exactly one functional romantic relationship. My stories are formulaic; it's not a formula that might be used very often (at least by published writers), but it's a formula nonetheless. As Rob put it, if I were given a prompt to write a story involving a gun, it would probably be a story about how the gun turned out to be a hallucination and the narrator would spend the rest of the story trying to uncover the machinations behind it. This is what I read, this is what I love. But couldn't I be doing something else?

I'm not going to start writing high fantasy or lovey-dovey heterosexual relationships or anything like that. My heart couldn't be in it. But that doesn't mean I couldn't maybe try to break out of the "paranoid near-future psychological soft-SF story in present tense POV" niche/rut I've got going. I think at this point I'm pretty good at cranking out what Rob lovingly refers to as an "Erica story." It's time to see if my "talents" for lack of a better term can reach beyond that.

As for the second conclusion, I had a goal to write one short story a month, which is more productive than I have been at any other point in my writing life. 2012 was my most productive year of writing ever, with five stories in the can. Five! Sorry if that doesn't sound amazing, but I don't think I've written more than three stories a year at any other time in my life, not even the big writing year of 2006, although I was also working on a novel at that time. So in those terms, twelve stories makes me a friggin' speed demon (no actual speed involved). But Rob says, why not shoot for two a month, i.e. 24 stories?

And that's kind of hilarious to me, because I don't think I've even written 24 stories I'm happy with in my entire life. So that goal is not going to happen. But still... maybe? Will shooting for quantity help me maybe get more stories of higher quality? Is it okay to write a story that's only 80% as "good" as something I've spent over a month on, if it means I can write two of those quality-level stories in the same amount of time? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do think I can maybe write two short stories a month for at least part of 2013 if I make more of an effort to write during the week, and also let go of the idea that my writing has to be perfect on the first go-around. Since that is something that's a major stumbling block when it comes to writing more (although it obviates much of the need for intense revision, and revising is my absolute least favorite thing to do).

Basically: 2013, you were shaping up to be a pretty good year for writing, but maybe now, you'll be a little more amazing. Not by much, though.