Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, Writing

…Please Pause…

That kind of feels like what my brain is saying in regards to “the new normal” of living life alongside/with a pandemic. I am healthy. So far, my family and close friends are all healthy (or at least not suffering from COVID-19 symptoms). But my brain is “noping out” of serious stuff right now, apparently filled to overflowing with dread and malaise from keeping up with the news.

In practical terms, this means my brain refuses to let me work on my novel. Working on novel edits requires a massive amount of “holding stuff in my head” in order to keep moving forward: each character’s arc, the plot arc, the overall scene goal, the chapter goal, the corrections currently necessary to each of the previous, the finer points of wordsmithing, AND the ability to mark something for later attention.

And I just…can’t. It’s too much right now, too overwhelming.

And while that’s okay, it’s not okay for me to stop writing altogether. I don’t want to do that, or to let even these circumstances control me so much. Instead, I’ve returned to short fiction. I’ve had several dozen short stories languishing in various stages of (in)completion, and added more to that number in January, when I participated in another Weekend Warrior flash fiction contest over on Codex. These stories, along with previous years’ stories, have been begging for revision, for editing and refining and rewriting before they can achieve a story’s ultimate goal: submission to market. And that’s what I’m doing.

This is the exact type of challenge I need. Each story is short, far smaller in scope than a novel, and thus easier for me to hold all the parts in my head. Also, each story can be completely reworked in a matter of days, so I get a rush of much-needed endorphins to propel me into the next story. And I can work different stories on different days, changing tone or genre or sub-genre depending on my ever-shifting mood and the mood of the world happening around me.

It’s been a great change for me, and has re-invigorated my writing practice. I’ve sent out more stories in 3 weeks than in the previous seven months, when I’d been exclusively noveling. In fact, right now I’m sitting on some really good news–but until contracts are signed, it’s got to remain my little secret. Just know that I’m holding something shiny and new against my heart, waiting to share it all with you as soon as I can.

Be safe, everyone. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Stay at home to protect yourself, your loved ones, and the health and safety of healthcare workers and first responders who are unceasing in their efforts to save as many lives as they can. Be good to each other, and to yourself. To quote from The Red Green Show, “We’re all in this together.”

Writing

Halfway Through November’s NaNoWriMo; How’s It Going?

I know, I can’t quite believe it either, but here we are at November 15. Halfway through the month, and for those doing NaNoWriMo, panic may be setting in.

I’m not exactly doing NaNo–it doesn’t fit with my way of writing, and would just frustrate the crap outta me. Combine that with some serious home stresses right now, and well. Recipe for disaster, anyone?

Still, I have a goal for this month. I’m doing deep revision on this novel, and the goal is to get through the “giant swampy middle,” otherwise known as Act 2, by the end of the month. I’m a tad behind, but only a little bit, so I’m not really concerned. Instead, I’m kind of surprised I’m not more behind than I am–which means I’m actually quite pleased! So … wow. I’m making this happen after all! Go me. ūüôā

And if you’re doing NaNo, good luck. Don’t panic. Not “winning” NaNo doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or not a writer. It just means that, like me, NaNo isn’t for you. Just keep writing, at your own pace. Good luck.

conventions, WorldCon

Returned from Dublin WorldCon 77; a report

My WorldCon Badge, with my joyous “First Worldcon” ribbon.

TL;DR — My first ever WorldCon was so great!

A slightly longer version:
It was just what I needed, when I needed it. Saw lots of people, met some for the first time, played Werewolf and talked shop and watched the Hugo Awards ceremony and thoroughly enjoyed being in Dublin, Ireland. 12/10 Will do again.

The full version:
OMG. melts in a puddle of goo  You guys! It was sooooo awesome. My first WorldCon just rocked it! I even got to be a werewolf for the first time while playing Werewolf, and we destroyed that village! Ha!

Even with the bad stuff, some of which I’m sure you’ve heard if you’ve read anyone else’s WorldCon accounts–the incredibly long and frustrating lines for panels and for kaffeeklatsch sign-ups, the distance between the main convention site and the art/science/costuming site, the overloaded escalators, etc–I had a great time! In addition to meeting up with many friends and acquaintances, I met new people and made new friends! And again, I have to just shout with joy over the fine people over at Codex. Most of these new friends are Codexian that I’d only ever interacted with online. Now, thanks to Dublin WorldCon, I’m thrilled to consider them ReaLife‚ĄĘ friends.

One of the things I was worried about was that my hotel, due to my not registering until rather late, was some distance away from the convention center. Still walkable, but not just down the block. I thought this would limit my interactions during the day, maybe limit my participation in the evenings. Nothing like that happened. If anything, I relished my hotel’s distance, and thoroughly enjoyed my quiet walk to and from the convention as a way to destress and decompress. Just what my introvert self needed to compensate for the go-Go-GO! of the convention itself. And it got me out of “convention mode” and into “admire this great city” mode. Honestly, Dublin made me think “I could live here” time and again. I’d love to go back just to sightsee.

Because of the crowding, the queueing, and the waits, I didn’t attend many panels, but those I did attend really impressed me. And better, the panels–and the con and the entire atmosphere of WorldCon–filled me with joy, and rekindled my enthusiasm for writing, and the writing world that I’m part of today. It reminded me¬†why I write, and lit the fire within me to finish my novel; it showed me that there is a market for such odd things, and that I shouldn’t despair that my novel is just too different.

WorldCon made me feel bold again. And strong, and confident. And all of that is going to help me going forward from here.

Taos Toolbox, Viable Paradise, Writing Workshops

It’s That Time of Year Again.

If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. December 1st (or January 1st) is when many writing workshops open their application period for the following year. I’ve been to two workshops: Viable Paradise in 2013, and Taos Toolbox this past summer of 2016. Both have been wonderful experiences, and I’ve met wonderful people–classmates as well as instructors–at both. If you’re looking for a workshop experience, I highly recommend either one of them. So, how do you decide?

Viable Paradise is open for applications Jan 1 – June 15, and the workshop this year is Oct 16-21. It’s held in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, and lasts one week. Both short story writers and novelists are welcome. At VP,¬†a whole bunch of instructors are there the whole time, and a couple special guests, as well. You may think, “Well, what can anyone learn in one week? That’s just not enough time.” And you’d be wrong. That week is intense. It’s filled to the brim with lectures and laughter and bonding and critiquing and reading and writing and food and fun and the Horror That is Thursday. You will arrive one person, and leave someone else. Maybe not obviously different, not at first. But fast or slow, you will be changed by your journey across the sea and back again.

Recap: one week; lots of instructors the whole time; no before-hand reading prep.

Taos Toolbox opens for applications on Dec 1, and has a sliding payment scale based upon when you applied (so it helps to apply early if you can). This workshop lasts two weeks, and is located near Taos, NM. It’s mostly novel-focused, but short story writers are welcome, too. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress are the co-instructors the entire two weeks, and guest lecturers came in for an evening of extra instruction. This year’s three guests are George R. R. Martin and Steven Gould and E. M. Tippets, so you’ll certainly find something to your tastes there! Two weeks is twice one week, but the pace here is a bit slower, since there is more time . Also, we got reading packets before the workshop, so we¬†read and critted one another’s novel excerpts before arrival (mostly, at least!). There was a free weekend inside the workshop, too, when many of us explored and did fun things¬†(I hiked down Angel Fire Mountain with two other classmates–how often do you go hiking¬†above 10,000 feet, after all?–and most of us went on¬†a group tour of Taos Pueblo). We wrote, we read, we critiqued and learned the joys of “plot breaking” and talked writing until bats swooped into the skies, distracting us. We learned and learned and learned more. The desert skies changed us, and our words.

Recap: two weeks; two co-instructors and a few 1-day guests; lots of pre-workshop prep.

Of course, these are not the only workshops available. The big six-week workshops are Clarion, Clarion West, and Odyssey. While I’ve heard good things from those who’ve attended them, I haven’t gone to these, so I’m¬†only¬†linking to them for your convenience.

Of course, no one has to attend a workshop in order to become a writer. No one will look down on you, and your career as a writer won’t suffer if you never attend one. But if you can and want to attend, it’s a fun way to learn, to make friends at your own level, who’ll¬†go on to crit and hang out afterwards, both online and in real life. And those friends can see you through a world of ups and downs relating to writing and the writing life. They can make you feel less alone in the isolation of writing from your desk, wherever it may be. And that is never a bad thing.

If you can, I recommend you apply.

Personal Life, RIP, Writing

The Passing of a Great Influence

Sheri S. Tepper passed away over a week ago, at age 87. Many people came out immediately with eulogies and remarks on the influence she had on science fiction, and personally, but it’s taken me this long while to reconcile my thoughts on the matter. For your perusal, here they are.

Sheri Tepper was one of a handful of authors for whom simply seeing their name on a book’s cover made me buy/read it. She could have written the¬†account of a day in the life of a common slug, and I’ve read it, and probably have been mesmerized by the accounting. By modern terms, that makes me “a true fan.”

But as a burgeoning writer myself, Ms Tepper was so much more. Her slim novel, The Gate to Women’s Country, was my formal introduction to hiding the key information in plain sight. Literally, I got to the end, read the big reveal, and thought to myself–no! you never did! You only implied that. So I skipped back to that section, and right there, plain as day, were the exact words spelled out so simply that a middle schooler could understand them. And my little brain exploded. Just a little, like a mini-nova in my synapses. Those echoes still linger, today.

(This isn’t to say that I can mimic such things. No, indeed not. It’s a skill I’m still trying to hone and accomplish¬†even half as well as that early Tepper novel did. I’m a work in progress, at all times.)

After Gate, I found Grass. This novel was another revelation to me. While Gate could be conceived of–in my mind, at least–as a fantasy (yes, now we have the category of “post-apocalyptic” all too handy, but when I read it, I didn’t. So I filed it into my own mental bookshelf of “possible future Earth with a cool, fantasy vibe.” I wasn’t so much into SF at the time, so this made it “okay”), Grass made no bones about it: this was science fiction. And I’d thought I didn’t care much for science fiction.

But Grass revealed that I actually loved SF, even if I¬†didn’t love¬†most of the stuff I’d been finding before that. I loved the “soft SF” aspect, dealing with not just tech whiz-bangs, but how people and culture reacted to their environments, and all that tech stuff. And it had female protagonists who were smart, and accomplished, not simply window dressing, or leaning on the guys to save her.

Then the follow-up novel came along. Raising the Stones upped the ante even further, and cemented in my mind that Hey, that science fictions stuff sure is good, and Where can I get more like this? This led me to Joan D. Vinge, and to Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer series. And about that time as well, McCaffrey’s Pern novels showed their SF roots, wowing me completely all over again. And–yes, Tepper showed me that I loved not just a couple SF books here and there, but the whole thing. Science Fiction was all shades of awesome! That’s a debt that one can simply never repay. I can only hope that one day, I’ll pay it forward by encouraging and empowering someone else who reads my work.

In the wake of her death, Sheri Tepper has once again become a role model, in that I learned only now that her first novel was published when she was 54. That didn’t hold her back though, because at the time of her death, she had 40 novels to her name! These two facts are helping me counter the persistent, insistent brain weasel that’s constantly telling me that it’s too late, I’m too old, and I’ll never manage a decent body of work before I’m dead. Take that, brain weasel! Ha!

I never met Ms Tepper. That makes me a little sad¬†(but not too much because I’m a terrible introvert and I’m sure I’d have said something utterly ridiculous and sounded embarrassingly¬†feeble-minded). There is much you can tell about a writer from their works, though, and in my mind, we had much in common. We could, conceivably, have been friends–or at least friendly acquaintances–had we met. But her words?¬†They were my friends and companions, and they still are. Her persistence will guide me, and her success encourage me, even though she herself is no longer with us. Thank you, Ms Tepper, for lighting that fire inside me, and so many others. May you rest in peace.

goals, publication, Rejection, Writing

Believable…

And I’m a Finalist in Writers of the Future Q2, but not a Winner. Which is sad, but not heart-wrenching. I mean, I never expected to make it to Finalist (Woo-hoo!), but somehow my story¬†did.

And yet, it would’ve been nice…

There is still a glimmering of hope, however. I’ve agreed to hold my story for possible inclusion as a “Published Finalist.” Which means that if they need more words to fill the anthology, my story can still be considered for it. So, actually, it’s not quite all over for me.

Good luck to the three Winners from this quarter! And to all the other Winners from the other quarters of Volume #33, as well as to the others vying for Published Finalist. It’s been an awesome ride with you all to this point.

Taos Toolbox, Writing Workshops

Workshop Round-Up

I returned home from 2 weeks at Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop on Sunday, dragging and tired. My dog hasn’t left my side or my lap since. (It’s nice to be loved, but really? Still, he’s on my lap sleeping now, as I type this, so I guess I missed him just as much.) Fortunately for both the dog and me, husband-dearest caught me out of my freefall and helped me settle¬†my feet firmly onto home ground again.

How was it? Amazing. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress each know more about publishing and writing than any five other folks, and their advice was wonderful and specific. The guest lecturers–James S.A. Corey and Emily Mah Tippetts–also had great insights for us, which we ate up like tasty petit fours. Daniel Abraham’s talk on success vs failure was¬†a perfect fit;¬†while some of my classmates found it depressing, I found it liberating and uplifting.

My classmates were wonderful and extremely talented, kind and funny, critical and yet supportive. I’m sure you’ll be seeing them in print and publication soon! Some are self-publishing already! (You can see our class photo at Walter’s website, and soon in Locus magazine.) My roommates were a joy to be around. (*waves hi!* ¬†Miss you guys already!) Conversations about writing took place in the classroom, in the resort lobby, in our rooms, in the hot tub and pool, in cars, on the mountainside, on the roads, and are probably still echoing in the halls we’ve left behind.

Speaking of which, their new location at Angel Fire Resort was beautiful! Three of us took the chairlift to the summit of Angel Fire and hiked down during our¬†Sunday off, and found it gorgeous and exhilarating. But why hike down, you ask? Well…I found out that altitude sickness was a real and actual thing that can whoop your butt. And it did whoop mine. Be forewarned, and if you’ve lived your whole life near sea level, arrive early! Your body and brain will thank you for it.

For two weeks, we students got to live, breathe, eat, and sleep words. We read and critiqued, we wrote. We discussed ideas. And I got to write down snippets of funny things said, especially out of context, as I’m going to present them here:

“We didn’t have a day before yesterday.”

“There are actually things in the first chapter I like.”

On the Oxford comma:
Student: But what about editors who tell you to take it out?”
Instructor: “That’s what ‘STET’ is for.”

“I’m enjoying it, but possibly I’m enjoying what’s going on in my head and not what you’ve written down.”

“Oh, you’re the one with the writing.”

“Most manuscripts aren’t smelly enough.”

“So you’re saying ‘horror’ is undead?”

“I hate words.”

“OK.¬†That’s hard to follow.”

“You need to build the world more before you destroy it.”

“It just seemed like there should be more paragraphs?”

“I like it when Science Fiction novels encourage the metric system.”

“Yeah, what they all said.”

“I have a high tolerance for things that don’t make sense.”

“You want a light spice here, not Sriracha.”

“It had all the excitement of trying to remember where your car was parked.”

“Ditto everything, but with some ‘buts.'”

 

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, Reading, Writing

Helping to Destroy Brain Weasels, One by One

There’s been an interesting discussion going on in an online group I belong to. Normal discussion threads run hot and heavy with Impostor Syndrome, Brain Weasels, and the like. But this one¬†started being about short fiction goals and migrated into how shockingly cool and inspiring and awesome it is to receive reader feedback on a story you wrote. That it feels validating in some deep way.

One participant,¬†Shane Halbach,¬† took the next step and connected the two ideas into one amazing gestalt, and he’s allowed me to quote him here:

Sometimes it feels silly, like “well of course this author knows this is a good story — it is amazing and published in this pro zine after all — so it’s stupid of me to tell them so!” or “oh this author is an old pro who’s been doing this forever, so they’re probably totally over it.”

And then I come over to Codex and we all talk about our brain weasels. There’s some kind of break between me in author mode and me in reader mode. I mean, I know how it feels on the receiving end and can you imagine someone messaging you to tell you they liked your story and being annoyed by that?? Never.

So now I make an effort to drop a note to someone whenever I really enjoyed a story. Not every story, but anything that I truly enjoyed.

After reading this, I sat there stunned, waiting for the reverberations within me to fade so that I could process this. I mean, it sounds so simple, so obvious: I’ve had more than my fair share of brain weasels–those nasty, vicious thoughts that tell you how bad this story you’ve written is, how bad a writer you are–and I know they are devastating. I’ve also read stories that have made me think “OMG, that is soooooo beautiful and amazing.” And I’ve read threads on this writers’ site¬†where¬†some writers talk about how nervous they are at the reception of a forthcoming¬†story, or how they fear that it’s garbage¬†and¬†they just got lucky–whatever. I’ve even felt that way myself.

And yet it never dawned on me to send a note to a writer, telling them how wonderful I found that story or book.¬†I can tell you one thing: I will be doing that more often now. In this interconnected age of ours, it’s easier and faster than ever to say something nice to someone, but so often the only messages relayed are¬†anger or annoyance. I’m hoping to change that, to brighten someone’s day who has brightened mine by their written words. I hope you’ll join me.

Just to be clear, this is not a plea for all of you to tell me how awesome my stories are. If something I wrote (or write in the future) really affects you, sure, by all means, let me know. Of course I’d love to hear it. But I’d love just as much for you to tell other writers, other authors, that something they wrote meant a lot to you. Leave a comment on a blog or Facebook page, Tweet them, email them. Even a nice comment on the publication’s “comment” section is good.