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.