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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Take My Class!

Do you live in Portland? Do you want to learn more about the craft of speculative fiction: how to work from a prompt, how to bring together ideas and characters and plot into a cohesive whole, how to critique both published and peer work, how to submit your own stories for publication? And do you want to take this class with... me?? Well, now you can! This coming semester I'll be teaching a four-week workshop at Portland Community College. Here are the 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 will be largely focused on flash due to the short time frame, but it's truly open to any speculative genre. There will be lots of in-class writing and critique time. For more information, go to the PCC Community Education site (the class will be listed on November 10), email me, or reply to this post.

In other news, this weekend is OryCon, i.e. the only convention I'll be going to this year. I'm really looking forward to it! Come join all the people on the West Coast who couldn't afford to travel to the World Fantasy Convention this year. We have food carts, that's all I'm sayin'.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anachronisms Aren't Just for Historicals

So as I've mentioned a time or thirty-seven, I'm working on a novel. I've been intermittently (usually very intermittently) working on this novel since 2005. And I've run into a curious problem: for a novel set in the present day, which isn't even really about technology, it's absolutely littered with anachronisms.

I'm an old Millennial (or perhaps Xennial... nah, that's dumb). DVDs didn't hit the scene until I was in high school. While the Internet certainly existed prior to 1997, I didn't know about it, and I didn't actually "buckle my seat belt and take a wild trip on the Information Superhighway" until the following year. I grew up in a small town in the Rust Belt which put me about three years behind the coastal elites when it came to cutting-edge technology.

My novel, likewise, takes place in a small town in the Rust Belt, present day. My character is only a few years younger than I was when I wrote the book. A lot of it is based on real life, okay? And even in 2005, there were still a lot of college students who didn't own cell phones. Most nineteen-year-olds still knew what a VHS tape was. The Internet was certainly more of a thing than it was when I was nineteen, but we didn't carry it in our pockets. Not in the Pittsburgh area, anyway. Social media was, uh, LiveJournal and Friendster. Texts cost a quarter to send so nobody did. It was a simpler time.

No Millennial can parse this image.

The novel is still set in the present day, except it's the present day of 2014, not the present day of 2005. Nine years shouldn't make that much of a difference, right? WRONG. It changes everything! I had to rewrite several sections of the book to allow for a cell phone, because even in a crappy Rust Belt small town, even a working-class nineteen-year-old will always have one, and it's going to have a data plan. The character has likely used the Internet her entire life, instead of it being introduced to her around age thirteen or so. Due to other factors, the main character cannot be aged up. Solution: many more references to cell phones (up from zero), some indication of the existence of social media, and a global find-and-replace on every instance of the word "tape." (It's been replaced with "synergy." People connect pieces of paper together with Scotch synergy.)

But even when I modernized a lot of the technology, there were still some anachronistic idioms that needed excising, which I didn't even see because again, I'm too goddamn old. Like describing the main character's vision as being like a videocassette that's been taped over too many times. Someone born in 1981 (or even 1986, which could roughly be construed as her original birth year) knows exactly what this means. Someone born in 1995? Not so much. And I actually had to research what bands "the kids" consider cool now, instead of allowing her to listen to the same music I did/do listen to.

Even though I updated the tech, I'm still not so sure I did a bang-up job of modernizing this novel. As an example, the main character is rather withdrawn and sullen for much of the book, but she never loses herself in the black hole of the Internet*, which is totally something I would have done as a withdrawn sullen older teen. She goes on walks or bike rides instead. Do teens do this now? I'm not sure they do, but she still does, because it's more interesting to take a character on a stroll than to say "well, she was depressed so she just read Tumblr for four hours." There isn't a sense of "constant connection" and most of the conversations still take place face-to-face. I did briefly consider setting the novel in the early aughts or even backtracking to the nineties, but that seemed like even more work and there was no good reason to set it in what is now the past.

So glad this rewrite is almost behind me. I'm also pretty sure that I don't want to write any more novels set in the current era whose characters are so much younger than me. But that's okay. The world still needs books with characters in their thirties, or books that take place in completely fabricated worlds, right?

*Speaking of black holes, there's a TV Tropes page for this phenomenon: Unintentional Period Piece. You have been warned!

Monday, October 27, 2014

My OryCon Schedule

I have an interview up at the Weightless Books blog, talking about Portland, the Codex Writers Group, how boring novels are to write, and more. Check it out!

Also, I'll be at OryCon two weekends from now, November 7-9 and will be on a mess of panels. Here's my schedule:


1:00 - 1:30PM:  Erica Satifka Reading - Erica Satifka reads from her own works. (Eek!)

2:00 - 3:00PM: Woman in the Fridge - You need to give your hero a reason to do something. Quick! Kill his girlfriend and have him discover her stuffed in the fridge! Come have a respectful discussion on avoiding misogynist tropes in your fiction. MeiLin Miranda, Erik Wecks, Sheila Simonson, Diana Francis (M), Erica L. Satifka

3:00 - 4:00PM: Green Tree, Blue Tree, Purple Tree - What are some exotic ideas that could actually work based on current knowledge? Erica L. Satifka, Richard A. Lovett, Jessica F. Hebert, Daniel H. Wilson (M)

4:00 - 5:00PM: Workshop: Story Outline in an Hour - Bring something to write on and write with. You'll have an outline (or a good start) to a story by the end of this panel. Bonus--this would be a great head start to that creative writing class homework you're ignoring over the weekend. Erica L. Satifka, Frog Jones (M), Jason Andrew

5:00 - 6:00PM: Getting Your First Professional Sale - An author can struggle for months or years before achieving their first success, but even after writing their opus, they can be tripped up by a process which is both entirely new to them and yet critical to their success. This panel describes what an author may experience as they revel in their first success. Shawna Reppert (M), Annie Bellet, Erica L. Satifka, Kristin Landon, Devon Monk


10:00 - 11:00AM: What I Wish I Would Have Known: Pitfalls for New Writers - All the things writers should know going in, from craft to scams, and what our panelists wish they'd known. Erica L. Satifka, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Dean Wells, John Hedtke, Mike Moscoe

1:00 - 2:00PM: Backstory: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right - What to use, what to lose. Writing the details without having to explain every last one. G. David Nordley, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, John C. Bunnell (M), Erica L. Satifka, Matthew Hughes

3:00 - 4:00PM: Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading - Join members of Broad Universe--an organization dedicated to women in genre fiction--for a whole bunch of really short readings crammed into one hour. MeiLin Miranda, Shawna Reppert, Erica L. Satifka, Susan R. Matthews


10:00 - 11:00AM: Organizing a Successful Critique Group - A good critique group can make or break a writer. Different types of critique groups, the lifespan of a group, ground rules, ideal numbers, etc. Clayton Callahan, Erica L. Satifka (M), Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Edd Vick

1:00 - 2:00PM: Fiction in a Flash - Short fiction for a world of compressed time--flash and tweetable micro-fiction. Common pitfalls, quirks, problems and teh awesome inherent in the very short form. Jennifer Linnaea, Jason Andrew, Esther Jones, Erica L. Satifka (M)

Whew! Anyway, it's at the DoubleTree Hotel right next to the Lloyd Center in beautiful Portland, Oregon. Come check it out, and make sure to stop in the mall to visit the Suncoast Video.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two Stories and a Cake

Words to live by, awesome cake.
I have two new stories out! The first is my flash fiction story "Useful Objects," which came out in Nature last week (and on the site as well). Nine years intermittently getting my stories published and this is my first appearance in a print magazine. There is also a rad illustration, though it's not as rad as the cake in this post!

Also, my creepy telepathy-in-space-with-pronoun-shenanigans story "We Take the Long View" is free to read at Shimmer now. An excerpt:

Us-in-Devora is the first of us to stumble into the clearing to the landing site covered with a fine layer of snow. She-that-is-us paces around it, careful not to step on the pieces of us that were broken off at the Wrong. Our nose wrinkles. 
Smelly, she says, her mind-speak betraying her disgust. 
It's... Mel grasps for a word, but can't come up with a better one. Smelly. Yes. 
We pick up a stick, a stray dead part of us, and poke the thing in the clearing. It stirs.

Novel revisions continue. Is it November 6th yet?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Compulsory Blog Post

Things have been, in general, pretty great. So great that I don't want to destroy the good mood I'm in by writing up a blog post! Regardless, I feel like I should post in this at least a few times a month to prove that I'm still alive or whatever, so anyway, here's a blog post.

One thing new that happened is that I got a part-time job. I'm not going to talk much about this because I'm not going to jeopardize my job by talking about it to randos on the Internet, but I can say that it was exactly the kind of position I hoped to get when I moved to Portland. Seriously, things on that front could not have worked out better.

For the first time in a while, I am actually reading some current long-form fiction. I don't tend to do reviews, and most of the stuff I'm reading is popular enough that it seems pointless to review it. I will say that although Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie isn't the mind-bending book many other people seem to think it is (seriously, were people really confused by the pronoun thing?), it was still a first-rate space opera and nearly justified its length. Yes, I do rate novels based on how much extraneous material they have. The novel I'm reading now, which I will not name, at least half of those pages don't need to be there. Anyway, I'm the last person to actually read Ancillary Justice but I'll be getting the sequel when it comes out for sure! I love you, Multnomah County Library.

This is a beach picture I didn't put in my last post but this post needed more pictures.

I'm thinking about taking up knitting again, only for the fact that when I don't knit, I don't watch movies, and consequently I haven't seen a movie since we got to Portland basically. It feels like ever since I started writing science fiction again, every other single interest of mine has fallen by the wayside: knitting, zines, bicycling not for transportation. The weird thing about this is that I don't feel upset about this state of affairs at all, I don't feel like I'm becoming more one-dimensional even though that's the exact definition of one-dimensional. Curious.

In writing news, I'm still plugging away at the novel so it can be ready for submission in time for OryCon and consequently my short fiction progress has fallen way behind. I had set a goal for myself of writing a short story every two weeks, but novels have a way of destroying all your best intentions. Regardless, I am already planning to write another one next year. What is wrong with me?? However, I did complete a short story last week, my first "done done" non-flash story in three months.

Some thoughts on our half-Portlandiversary: It's been six months since we did this crazy, monumental move, and right now all I can say is that every day, Portland feels a little more like home. It feels like home in a completely different way than Pittsburgh did. Pittsburgh felt like home because I was basically from there, I fit into the culture and the history of the city as much as any other local (even though I never set foot in Pittsburgh-the-city until I was seventeen years old).

But almost nobody in Portland is from Portland. I'm sure some people move here for jobs or family, but in general, you move to Portland because you really want to live here. Only people of a certain temperament are actually going to like this place, meaning that it's a city that's as close to an intentional community as you're going to get. I can't explain Portland culture without resorting to stereotypes, but in general the atmosphere is more collaborative, less steeped in tradition, and much more laid back. In a sense, Portland lacks a certain burden of history, leaving people more free to chart the course of their own lives without the feeling that you have to do things in a certain way because "that's the way it's done." See, stereotypes! But true!

Ever since I was a kid I had dreams of moving "out west." I don't even know where that idea came from. Until we moved here, I'd never been west of Columbus. While at my rural college, I'd research cities I wanted to move to: Denver, the East Bay, and yes, Portland. When the time came when I had to move to a city, though, I took the safe option and moved to Pittsburgh. And I don't regret it, at all! But I think I always knew deep down that I'd wind up out here eventually, given enough time. Now I have. It was so worth it to make that leap of faith.

It's after midnight here, so I'll close for now. I don't like writing blog posts anyway.

Just another day in Portland.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Buy My Book!

Well, it happened: I finally became curious enough about self-publishing to throw a story of mine up on the Kindles and see how it plays. "Some Kinds of Life" is a rewrite/expansion of a story I had published in a print anthology way back in 2005, a simpler time of LiveJournals and palm-sized cell phones. Here's the description:

Sam sells children. Or close enough. After biological warfare ravages the planet, an organ dealer rebrands its product line by creating artificial offspring. But Sam's faltering career in sales stirs up unpleasant memories of the children he mothered and had to leave behind. "Some Kinds of Life" is a 4500-word short story about what's real, what isn't, and the things that really matter. An earlier version of this story appeared in the anthology Triangulation 2005 under the title "Wave of the Future."

This e-book includes the bonus story "Super-Parents Last All Childhood Long." When Caleb's girlfriend tells him that her parents were robots, is she lying? Or is the truth stranger than it seems? Originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction.

It's only on Amazon right now, and it will likely stay that way because I am far too lazy to port this to other e-book retailers. On the plus side, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free and I still get paid in some kind of wacky Internet money. Either way, if you're looking for something weird and kinda depressing then this is something you can download for all your "weird and kinda depressing" fiction needs. I am a marketing genius, clearly.

(The title of this post is of course a reference to this. Semi-coincidentally, Rob and I are re-watching The Critic right now. If you remember the nineties, it totally holds up.)

P.S. Thanks to Annie Bellet for sourcing the cover image for me, since unlike zines, if you use a cover image you haven't paid for on an e-book, you're likely to be caught and sued. Isn't that crazy? No, wait, it's completely sane.

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:


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


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?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Erica's Infrequent Book Reviews Presents: AFTERPARTY by Daryl Gregory

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory
Tor Books
Buy at Powell's or Amazon

Neuroscientist Lyda Rose has just learned that the experimental drug which drove her crazy and caused her wife to be murdered is loose in North America. The drug, codenamed "Numinous," causes users to experience a hallucination of God, and to believe in it. Lyda breaks out of the mental health facility where she's being detained to find out the source of Numinous and stop it from spreading. Part near-future science fiction, part murder mystery, Afterparty is a novel for anyone who likes smart fiction.

I first discovered Daryl Gregory's writing in 2012. Searching for novels recommendations, I went to the list of Philip K. Dick Award nominees and checked out some of the synopses. The one for The Devil's Alphabet stood out to me, and I fell in love with the novel. I went on to read the rest of Gregory's output very quickly (always a marathoner) and was just as impressed, particularly with Pandemonium, which was hands down the best novel I read in 2012, holding my attention despite a general preference for short stories. So when I read that Gregory was working on a novel that combined my two favorite subjects, recreational pharmaceuticals and spiritual inquiry, I was immediately intrigued. And then I had to wait a year and a half! Such is publishing, I guess.

Like his previous novels, Afterparty delivers healthy doses (so to speak) of philosophy, well-rounded characters, and not a small amount of dark humor. That's especially true when describing the many pharmaceuticals in use in his near-future setting, like the sexual orientation-altering drug "Flip," which straight frat boys use to have a night of raunchy sex with their buddies. Another example is the apartment rancher/hired killer Vincent, who uses a designer drug to strip away his moral code. I get the feeling that Gregory is using these drugs less to make commentary on (prescription) drug culture than he is to investigate the mechanisms that make us what we are, and how easily biology can override what we believe to be true about ourselves.

Gregory's damaged characters are painted with great detail, from the driver Bobby (who wears his consciousness in a plastic aquarium toy around his neck), to Lyda's girlfriend/co-conspirator Ollie, whose paranoid tendencies were solidified with a drug that causes her to see patterns in everything. Lyda and Ollie sneak across the Canada-America border to investigate the spread of Numinous, but the conspiracy goes deeper than they think--all the way back to the five scientists involved in the creation of the drug and the fateful afterparty that left one of them dead and the rest of them locked into a permanent relationship with their unwanted spiritual guides.

The book is structured like a thriller, but the real meat is in the philosophical questions Gregory brings to the table. Is God only a chemical reaction, and if so, does that make the spiritual experience any less valid? (We are our minds, after all.) How do you regulate drugs in a world where everyone can be an amateur neuroscientist? While it doesn't have the same kind of world-shaking conclusion that Pandemonium did, I was still blown away by the ending, which features a crucial and surprising choice by the atheistic Lyda about the nature of drug-induced faith. It's also a diverse novel, with a lesbian protagonist and a rainbow of characters much like one would expect to populate Toronto a generation from now.

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory gets my highest possible recommendation, but then, I have a severe soft spot for philosophical writing and drug novels. (Like I told Rob when reading him the synopsis, "it's like it's written for me!") This is kind of like a novel Philip K. Dick himself would have written if he'd been allowed to edit and hadn't had hang-ups about women. Thanks to Gregory for writing it, and to NetGalley for the advance copy.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

2,833 Miles

So, we're in Portland now.

There was a more impressive welcome sign a few hundred feet from here, but I missed it.

I'm not going to get much into the trip itself, because I'm saving that for the split zine I'm making with Rob, but suffice it to say that it came out much, much better than we expected it to. All three cats are still alive, though Oxford managed to destroy his own carrier. The most beautiful state we went through (including Oregon, which is half desert) was Utah. The worst state was Idaho, with the caveat that we only traveled through the south of it, and the panhandle is supposed to be way better, and we were also getting very tired of traveling by that point. Everyone we met was friendly as hell. Seriously, the Midwest has the most ho-hum topography but the best people. We went through twelve states, eight of which were new to me, and somewhere in Wyoming the terrifying visage of Abraham Lincoln passed judgment upon me and found me lacking.

Rob pulled a U-ie to see this. It was worth it.

Our apartment is fantastic, a very short walk from the bus stop and a longer walk to the Alberta district, home of a fancy waffle shop I imagine I'll be frequenting quite a bit. Surprisingly, I haven't been doing much biking since I got here, since our apartment's one downside is that there is no way to lock up your bike in the front. We have a tiny back yard, but it has a fence around it and is only accessible through the apartment, and my bikes are both 35+ pound behemoths with wide handlebars. I'm thinking about selling one or both of them and getting this contraption, which I'll actually be able to carry easily through the door/apartment. What biking I have done, however, has been glorious. People aren't actively trying to kill me anymore!

It's very peaceful here. We're still mostly in the setting-up phase, and haven't started jobs yet, so that could be part of the reason for the calm. But there's also such a sense of friendliness here, of community, which is strange considering that three-fourths of Portlanders are transplants, but there you go. While I hate to be one of those people who constantly compares Portland to the place they come from, I do think that the friendliness reminds me a lot of Pittsburgh. You know how people in Pittsburgh kind of smile and do a little wave at each other, even if they're complete strangers? Sort of like that, only minus the wave, because come on, that's creepy. It's very flat here and you can walk for miles without getting tired, and Rob's health is improving so much.

This terrible statue in Nebraska is supposed to represent the Oregon Trail. Isn't it ugly?

So yeah: Portland. It's a thing that's happening, right now. I've already met a few writers here, and I'm looking forward to meeting more people in both the science fiction and zine communities, as well as putting together some paying work! Oh, and it's barely rained at all, although it is spring. I like rain anyway.

In writing news, I've sold my short story "We Take the Long View" to Shimmer, one of my favorite magazines! I've been a reader of Shimmer since my friend K.M. Szpara had a short story in one of their previous issues. I'm very excited to share this bit of shimmery science fiction with you all.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Coast to Coast

Rob and I are almost exactly halfway across the country, spending the night in a Motel 6 in the tiny town of Big Springs, Nebraska. It's been a smooth move so far, maybe the smoothest move we've ever made, largely because this is the one big move (aside from the original move to Pittsburgh) I've really wanted to make. Some random observations:

  • If you're moving any distance at all, I strongly recommend using professional movers to pack your stuff for you. We used family for the last two moves (PA > Baltimore suburbs > Baltimore) and it took three times as long and they didn't do half as well. Best use of approximately $200 ever.

  • There is a distinct smell line where Corn Country becomes Beef Country. Kinda not looking forward to going through Wyoming tomorrow.

  • Moving with cats kind of sucks because you can't get out of the truck and see anything, or anyone. There are things and people we would have visited, but alas, cats.

  • We are almost exactly following the real Oregon Trail.

  • I have eaten far too much fast food on this trip, especially McDonald's, which are right next to almost every gas station we stop at. I guess I can consider it a last hurrah, since there is never any reason to eat fast food in Portland.

Tomorrow we cross the Rockies. I think the stress of crossing a major mountain range is dwarfed by the excitement we'll feel at seeing scenery that doesn't look like Desert Bus.

Oh, and in writing news, my flash story "36 Interrogatories...," originally published at Daily Science Fiction, is up at Toasted Cake! My second podcast. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Links, with Occasional Exclamation Points

1. I have a new short story out! "The Speaking Ground," published in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, is a flash fiction tale of madness on an alien world. Enjoy!

2. You can now order a copy of the Bundoran Press anthology Strange Bedfellows, including my story "The Afternoon Revolution," from Powell's Books and the Bundoran web site. Black Gate calls my story "a grim and relentless look at humanity and inhumanitand how the US is really f&*king it all up with the economic misdistribution of resources driving the decay of America, wrapped in an exciting kidnapping tale." Seems legit!

3. Hate Star Wars? I know I do! Over on SF Signal Mind Meld I bloviate about my least favorite epic science fiction movie. Okay, I don't like any epic anything, but Star Wars holds a special spot of hatred in my pitch-black heart.

4. I will only be on the East Coast for seven more days. Unreal.

5. Saturday's night State of Short Fiction roundtable at BSFS was a success. We discussed the differences between print pubs and online pubs, crowdfunding, podcasting, rising short fiction stars, diversity in the slush pile, and the current popularity (or possible lack thereof) of the short form. Couldn't make it out? Watch the link!

The BSFS State of Short Fiction crew.

6. Are you using Habit RPG? You should be!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Publications, Moving, and a One-Eyed Cat

The political SF anthology Strange Bedfellows, which includes my fullcommunism short story "The Afternoon Revolution," is available now from Amazon, with availability on the Bundoran Press website and Powell's Books soon to follow I'm sure. I've read a few of the stories already, and the Eugie Foster and Ian Creasey stories in particular are outstanding.

In moving news, we've decided to ditch the movers and drive a U-Haul ourselves* across the country, a decision that will save us around $2500 between not having to rent a car and not having to replace much of our stuff. There's no chance that our stuff will get lost in transit. We won't have to live without our stuff for potentially weeks in both Baltimore and Portland. It's just a better plan all around, even if it does mean slightly more discomfort on what is already going to be an uncomfortable five-day journey.

I've also got some upcoming stories coming down the pike, but I'll hold off announcing them. I'm still not writing much new, but I've got a reason, and for once that reason isn't "because I'm being stupid." But I sure will be happy when this is all over and I can write again!

* More like "Robself." I don't have a driver's license.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

BSFS State of Short Fiction Roundtable, Saturday March 22, 2014

Taking a quick break from moving agony to post about the Short Fiction Roundtable at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society! Join me, editors Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld), Norm Sherman (Escape Pod), Bill Campbell (Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond), Jonathan Laden (Daily Science Fiction), Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), and moderator/fellow writer Sarah Pinsker for a night of discussion about short fiction markets, magazine funding, podcasting issues, and the future of the speculative short form. An exciting night for writers and fans alike, on Saturday March 22, 2014 at 8:00 PM at the BSFS clubhouse at 3310 E. Baltimore St. in Highlandtown.

RSVP at the Facebook link here. This will likely be my last genre-related event on the East Coast for quite awhile, so please come on out!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Going to Portland

After a long and harrowing search, we have secured an apartment in Portland, Oregon. NE Killingsworth to be exact, a short walk from Alberta.


The journey begins.

We haven't seen the apartment yet, which is of course a bit of a gamble. But in a city with a 2% vacancy rate, if you find something you like, you have to be quick. We also have three cats, which makes the search a lot more difficult. The location couldn't be better, and it has two bedrooms, and there's nowhere in Portland that is really "bad." I feel very confident about this place. The fact that we've cut down our worldly possessions significantly also helps, and I don't think this will be nearly as bad as the move from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, despite the massively expanded distance. (We are also hiring movers. It will be the best $3,000 we ever spend.)

My mom said "you must be scared," and that's kind of true. We won't have jobs there waiting for us like we did when we moved to Baltimore. Of course that's scary. But life is about taking risks, about throwing caution to the wind to carve out the kind of life you want for yourself. When I moved from my small hometown to Pittsburgh in 2005 I took those same kinds of risks. I had savings, but no job. I didn't have any pre-existing friends in the city. (Something that is not true now, we know dozens of people in Portland.) Even though Pittsburgh was the closest big city to where I grew up, I knew virtually nothing about it, except that I somehow knew in my heart that my life would be better there than it was in Fayette County, and I was willing to risk my carefully hoarded savings and all of my security to make a big change for myself. And even though it wasn't sunshine and roses all the time (because what is, really?) I can definitely say that moving to Pittsburgh was the best decision I'd made up to that point.

Rob said he'd never have made this move without me. I asked if that meant I'm his manic pixie dream girl (although I've always thought of myself as more of a depressive sluagh nightmare woman, credit to Nick Mamatas). Although the truth is just the opposite. I'm tired of moving. I want to stay in one place for years and years, ideally the rest of our lives. We didn't want to do that in Baltimore, and Pittsburgh is kind of "been there, done that." We felt more at home in Portland in a week than we did in three years of living in Baltimore, despite all our friends here. It's just such a relaxed, calm place, so far from the rat race of the East Coast. We have savings, and freelance streams of income to shore them up. It's a risk, but a calculated one, and just like in 2005, I know in my heart we'll be okay.

And so, like the pioneers of yore, we set out in early April with our rented covered motorized wagon. My only regret in this is that we won't be able to see very much of the country, since we'll be taking the fastest route and traveling nonstop. (Cats. It's always cats.) If we were traveling alone we'd probably take a couple weeks to get out there and see a bunch of stuff along the way. But the destination is the important thing, and I am thrilled to be finally settling in the city I've wanted to live in for over a decade with my favorite person in the whole wide world.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Apartment Hunter

Rob is away in Portland looking at apartments, which means I am home alone for the next week at least (since he has to find the apartment, then arrange for a flight back). Should be a perfect time to work on writing, right? But as it turns out, an upcoming cross-country move is one of those things that is so brain-destroying that it eclipses anything else you might want/need to work on. This includes not just writing but also reading, sleeping well, basic hygiene, and ironically enough, packing for the move. It's just this omnipresent thing hanging over you all the time. If moving anxiety was this bad when we moved from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, I surely do not remember it. But then, that's only 400 miles. (And I also wasn't writing then, so I can't gauge if it affected my writing or not.)

Somehow we missed this statue in September.

The thing about moving to Portland that makes it tough is that a LOT of people want to move there, and there aren't enough apartments for everyone. Supply and demand. We heard from multiple sources that the best way to get an apartment in Portland is to fly out here and walk the streets. Unfortunately, the For Rent signs weren't exactly thick on the ground in our preferred area (North Portland), and even though I knew it wouldn't work out this way, we did not secure an apartment on his first day out there. It's almost enough to make someone utter the b-word, although I'm not certain we're at that point yet.

Anyway, in publishing-if-not-writing news, the Strange Bedfellows anthology (which includes my story "The Afternoon Revolution") is available for pre-order at Amazon and elsewhere. Check it out!

P.S. Props to our friend Alex Wrekk for hosting his stay in Portland! Go buy some buttons and zines from her.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

On Not Writing

Confession: aside from a few pieces of flash for a contest, I haven't been able to write or revise anything for the past few weeks.

This is moderately concerning, because in the past when I haven't written consistently I wind up basically quitting for years. While I don't think that will happen this time, because I'm not as much of a moron anymore, it still feels dangerous not to write. It's so easy to fall into the "not writing" trap, and quite difficult to climb your way out of it once you're in.

Comic books awaiting their epic journey.
A lot of the reason I can't write, maybe even all of it, is due to the upcoming move to Portland, which is now precipitously close. Less than two months away close. And while I am totally committed to this move and can't wait for it to happen, even good things cause a ton of stress and anxiety. Moving is right up there with divorce and job loss as a stressor, and this move will come packaged with job loss (with nothing waiting for me) and is clear across the friggin' country. We are literally moving as far away as one can from our current location without leaving the continental US. It's not a coincidence that this "writer's block" coincided almost perfectly with the finalizing of our timetable. There's just so much to do, and I feel like I can't carve out some writing time since I should be packing boxes or sorting out stuff to give away. Although I'm falling down on those tasks as well, truth be told.

People, including Rob, say to be kind to myself, to let the writing flow at its own pace and give myself some breathing space, but honestly? Fuck that. I need to be harder on myself, because when it comes right down to it, the only person hurt if I don't write is me (and maybe Rob, a little). There's nobody out there salivating for my precious words. Sure, it's "only" two months, but that's a hell of a lot of writing time to waste, and I was going at a pretty serious pace up until two weeks ago. (And there's always the possibility that it's not because of the move. I'd rather not think about that possibility.)

I'm sure it will come back in time. I signed myself up for another crazy challenge to write several full-length short stories at the pace of one per week over the next several weeks, and I'm still sticking to my deadline of having my novel reader-ready (if not agent-ready) by April 1, although I probably won't be able to deliver it to beta readers on that date since we'll probably be driving through Montana or some shit.

There's just nothing worse than having a huge block of writing time and not being able to do anything but stare at a blank screen because you're filled with existential dread. Well, maybe those big-ass spiders they have in the Pacific Northwest. I'd rather not think about those either.


To pull a total 180, my contributor copy of Spark: A Creative Anthology (which includes my story "Real Plastic Trees") came in the mail a few days ago. It's an astonishing 400+ pages long, and includes speculative fiction pieces from both established and new writers. The paperback book is gorgeous, but there's also an e-version if you prefer that. Pick it up!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Revision Blues

I'm mostly a short story writer. I'm mostly a short story reader. I fucking hate revision, I like getting a story there 95% of the way the first time out even if it takes a lot longer. And yet, here I find myself revising a novel. What have I become?

I'm also using Scrivener. I might as well go all in and write in a coffee shop.

Writing and/or revising a novel is a lot different from short storying. A LOT different. For one thing, you can't write them in one shot, unless you're mainlining Red Bull laced with trucker speed. The fact that they can't be written in one session means there's the possibility of inconsistencies, both in plot details and also in the writing itself. There are parts of this thing that need almost no revision at all! Those were written on "good days." Other parts (most parts) need drastic rewriting. I can tell if a short story is going to fail or succeed (in my estimation, not talking about the marketplace) almost as soon as I've finished writing it. With a novel, I have to hope that the revision will yield something of value, that I'm not just throwing time and effort down a giant sewer.

I know people who love writing novels, which is great for them! I hope to be one of those people someday! But right now, it feels like the worst thing ever. Can you imagine writing a series of these things? Well, you probably can, because most SF/F writers love series. I know people who say writing a series is easier than writing a short story, which is absolutely insane. So much to keep track of! So much text to keep in your head at once!

This is my short fiction writing process: I basically have the entire thing plotted out in my head (not on paper, never on paper) before I touch fingertip to keyboard. First line and last line are set. If the stars are right, the story just comes out. Boom! We're done here. Then it goes to my in-house editor for a pass, and after some revision, it's sent to magazines who will either publish it or they won't. Super easy, super fast, with built-in validation in the form of occasional sales.

Novels though, man. First you have to write a first draft, which is probably not even going to be close to your real draft. You have to find beta readers, because a novel is much too much work for an unpaid in-house editor to take on alone, or maybe you don't have an in-house editor. Then you have to revise a manuscript that is of inconsistent quality. It could take years before you're given that yea/nay by a wise and all-knowing publisher. (Around eight years and counting for me, although I was retired for most of that time.)

I do know that I need to find a way to up my writing speed if I'm going to write novels. When I'm actually writing, I'm extremely fast. But with short storying, I basically don't write until I'm ready to write. Write every day? Fuck no I don't write every day, that way lies mediocrity in the short story game. But now that I'm really knuckling down on this revision, I see the wisdom in writing or at least revising or at least opening up the document every day. Because writing short stories is about inspiration, but writing novels is about persistence. I have the one, but not the other.

So yeah, the slog continues. I hope to be finished with this draft (which is probably not even the real and final draft, fuuuuck) by the time we move to Portland, at which time I can send it off to others and get started on another. Fucking. Novel. I guess. Maybe I should take a break to write a flash fiction piece, that will make me feel better about life.