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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
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|Thursday, November 27th, 2014|
|Mommy's Second Annual Thanksgiving Concussion
My kid landed on me, forehead to forehead, while falling on me from a nice high climb. He, thank goodness, is totally fine. I, however, get to do another Thanksgiving with a concussion. No black eye this time — last year, when C was three years old, he threw a rubber mallet at my head and gave me a shiner that lasted nearly until Christmas. The 2014 new improved concussion features whiplash and, if my doctors’ predictions are right, an even longer recovery time.
Just when I’m applying for an alumnae grant from my alma mater that would make self-publishing the Big Book way easier and faster, I’m supposed to limit screen use, writing-related activities, and thinking in pictures. But but but I owe a book review, and that grant application deadline isn’t going to meet itself, and…
And now my head hurts.
It’s tempting to go into Thanksgiving grumpy, but here’s the thing: I’m profoundly grateful that, if somebody had to take the damage in our little Newtonian physics experiment, it’s me and not my son. As tired as I am of having spent the past four days mostly in a dark room trying to discipline myself not to think, I know my four-year-old could not have marshaled the self-restraint to spend four quiet days in the dark, nor tolerated that restraint imposed by anyone else. I get to peer out of the room, blinking like a mole at the world where I get to spend a few more hours a day, living a larger fraction of my life, and there are my boys, running and laughing like they always do.
|Monday, November 24th, 2014|
Three days bedrest, no screen time – alas. Full recovery anticipated – yay.
|Saturday, November 15th, 2014|
Now when people ask about my experience with Dark Quest Books, I can say definitively that they have paid me. In the first two months Tales from Rugosa Coven
was out, it earned me more than the two novellas I did with Drollerie Press earned during their entire two year run. The payment passes my two tests for a significant amount of money, on the scale appropriate to fiction in small press.
The first is the Nice Sushi Dinner Test. I could afford to take my family of four out for a nice sushi dinner at the local family-friendly place, and my boys could finally order as much octopus as they want. (Yes, even though my palate for Japanese food is still stuck as it was at age ten, my children gleefully eat raw tentacles.)
The second is the Henry James Wheelbarrow Test. As I described it
the first time I ever got a royalty check:
Long, long ago I read some of the correspondence between Edith Wharton and Henry James. Wharton tells James how pleased she is with the sales for her latest book, and that she’s made some enormous purchase with the proceeds–I think it was a piece of French real estate. James writes back to congratulate her and say that the proceeds from his last book allowed him to buy a wheelbarrow to trundle his firewood around in, and maybe if the next book does well, he’ll be able to afford to paint the wheelbarrow. Wharton gets so sick of his complaining, she sends his publisher a huge chunk of money with instructions to send it to him and claim it’s his royalties. It’s fraud, yeah, but back then it was gentlemanly fraud.
(What I really should have learned from Henry James was that wheelbarrows need regular repainting. Plenty of writers of comparably canonical stature can show you how to write long sentences gracefully, but I don’t recall getting that particular tip on maintaining my garden tools from Faulkner. And if I’d thought to follow Henry James’s example, rather than just comment on it semi-wittily back in 2008, I wouldn’t have had to leave my rusted-out wheelbarrow behind in New Jersey when I moved. Man, I’m tempted to make some kind of William Carlos Williams
joke, but it feels like such a cheap shot.)
The day a publisher sends me a big enough check for a wheelbarrowful of sushi, I’ll have to invite you all over.
|Friday, November 14th, 2014|
|How Could This Happen To A Nice Book Like You?
That’s what I wanted to ask The Godless by Ben Peek every time I stumbled over another copyediting blunder. When a book is self-published, the author’s alone on the hook for that kind of thing, but when a major imprint of a major publishing house sends a book into the world in that condition, something weirder has happened. The Godless is the best book I’ve seen with such a bad copyedit, or maybe it’s the worst copyedit I’ve ever seen on a good book. While I puzzle over how big the distinction between those two descriptions really is, I invite you to entertain yourself with my review over here at Black Gate.
|Wednesday, November 5th, 2014|
|Where To Find Me At The World Fantasy Convention
When the invitation came in to be on program at World Fantasy, I hyperventilated and panicked for a bit. That’s the kind of thing I usually keep on my old livejournal blog, so the post about it is over here
. Somebody asked me if I was a god. After making a million phone calls to arrange babysitting so I could go play at godhood, I got to say yes. It looks like I’ll be stepping into that empty spot on the 1914 panel after all.
Here’s the description from the program.How World War I Changed Fantasy Literature Time:
Thursday, November 6, 2pm-3pm, Nov. 6
, Regency FPanelists:
J. T. Glover, Gary K. Wolfe, Sarah AveryDescription:
A discussion of how World War I influenced writers from William Hope Hodgson–who died during the war, and seemed to preview some of its horrors in The Night Land–to Tolkien, who served in the war and whose Lord of the Rings bears resemblances to both The Night Land and his experiences during the war. Scholarly works have been published on the effect the war had on C. S. Lewis and the impact on the Narnia series. As well, the shock of the war may have been responsible for pushing both H.G. Wells and the nascent genre of science fiction out of the literary mainstream and forcing it to create its own subculture.
In other World Fantasy news, the Broad Universe group reading reclassified itself as a party, so it’s not part of the official program. If you’d like to hear five-minute tastes of fiction by 17 different writers, plus bonus chocolate, you’ll be able to find us Broads and our fellow travelers here:Broad Universe Rapid Fire ReadingTime:
Saturday, November 8, 2pm-4pmLocation:
Regency Suite 1, Room 1850Featuring:
Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Sarah Avery, Carol Berg, C.D. Covington, Randee Dawn, Julia Dvorin, Sally Wiener Grotta, Elektra Hammond, Laurel Anne Hill, Elaine Isaak/E.C. Ambrose, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Gail Z. Martin, Heather McDougal, Sherry Peters, Sarah Pinsker, Kathy Sullivan, and Jean Marie Ward
|Monday, November 3rd, 2014|
|What I Think I've Figured Out About Author Chats, Twitter, And Genre Communities
Fantasy-reader culture and romance-reader culture are really different. Romance-reader culture, at least online, seems to be driven by giveaways of cash and stuff to a much greater extent, and less driven by, well, conversation. Am I missing something, O friends who read and write romance? It wouldn’t be the first time I’d misunderstood romance readers and their world.
The interview/chat (which you can find here
) did have many lovely moments of real conversation, and goodness knows I enjoy holding forth. The weird thing was that many of the people who piped up seemed to be asking questions that had nothing to do with books, the sorts of things my book is about, writing, or any of the things the community at Bitten by Books usually talks about. But then, commenting in the chat was a way of entering a drawing for a giveaway. One of the participants came out and said one of her main motivations was the giveaway of an Amazon gift card. That almost certainly explains the people who chimed in with questions before midnight Pacific Time, long after I’d said my goodnights at 1am East Coast Time. People were still retweeting the invitation to the chat the day after it ended, though the tweet they were retweeting had the date and time in it.
And checking out those Twitter feeds was the most culture-shocky part, for me. I think the romance community uses Twitter very differently from the way the fantasy and science fiction community does. I was grateful for the signal boost — that’s something you can never take for granted — but I wondered how effective that promotional technique was for Twitter feeds that consist entirely of giveaway announcements. The folks I hear mentioned most often as exemplars of effective use of Twitter are people like John Scalzi, whose comments are packed haiku-dense with opinion, information, and humor. The model that’s admired in SF/F is promotion as a sort of opposite of advertising.
Honestly, I have no way of knowing whether either model gets results. I just know I have to fight so hard to protect my writing time at this point in my family’s life cycle, I don’t have a lot of writing time to spare for Twitter.
Anyhow, when I was deciding how big a gift card to offer for the giveaway, I did this calculation: If I get about $2 per copy sold, how big a gift card should I offer if I’m hoping to attract enough people to buy the book for me to break even? Can I hope, based on this book blog site’s traffic numbers, to sell 20 copies as a result of the chat? It’ll be another week before Amazon crunches last week’s sales numbers, but I’m guessing the figures will be lower than that. If the audience shows up primarily in hope of being given free money, how many of them will seriously consider purchasing a book?
Does anyone out there have experience that speaks to this question?
|Wednesday, October 29th, 2014|
|Author Chat Will Run Until Midnight
We had a lively first round that seems to be in a tacit dinner break at the moment. If you haven’t dropped by yet, you’re still very welcome. The party is in the comments after the interview on this page.
|Amazon Discounts Trafficking in Magic Under $5!
That’s cheaper than wholesale, for a trade paperback. My publisher has no idea why Amazon’s doing this or how long it’ll last, but all of us who made the book will get paid just as much as for full price copies. So rush out and buy them up, guilt free, and spread the word!Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic
is, right now, priced at $4.35 here
|Tuesday, October 28th, 2014|
|If Someone Asks Me If I'm A God, I'm Supposed To Say Yes, Right?
Once I understood what the World Fantasy Convention actually was -- all professional conference of industry insiders, no speck of fan-convention-ness -- I realized I'd better attend in a state of beginner's mind. It's very nice when my Vortex of Schmooze powers manifest, but this looked like a good time to deploy my Shutting-Up-And-Listening powers. (Hey, not everybody has those, and they've served me very well.) I offered to be a moderator, but never expected to be a panelist.
Only now I've been asked to fill an unexpected gap in the program, take a spot on a panel about fantasy literature in 1914 in its wider cultural and political context. Back in 2003, when I left academia, I still remembered enough about 1914 to be tenure-worthy as a scholar of modernist poetry. It's been a while since I thought about that stuff. Plus, my 1914 is the 1914 of the high canon. I'm shamefully ignorant about literature in my own actual genre from that period. And...
Can you tell I'm hyperventilating?
...just to make things more intimidating, the two other people who are already on this panel are a Very Important Reviewer Who Knows Everything and a Guy I'd Never Heard Of But Should Have. I'm way out of my league.
It would be true and kind of a relief to say I can't make it on the first day of the convention, I have family obligations and hadn't planned to arrive until Friday. There's just no way to get out from under my child care commitments, right? I said I'd be home for the boys until mid-afternoon Friday, and there's just no way I can be presentable and on a panel in Pentagon City Thursday at 2pm.
But if someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes.
I haven't quite said yes yet. No running off and playing at godhood until there are babysitting arrangements.
So, um, if you're someone I know in real life, in Maryland, to whom I would in the normal course of life already have entrusted with my children, and you're available on November 6th and/or 7th...
I should practice asking for things more often. This part is probably harder than the panel would be.
|Monday, October 27th, 2014|
|New Details On Wednesday's Author Chat
It will start at noon Pacific time (not Eastern Standard!) on Wednesday the 29th. Somehow I’d missed that detail, so I hadn’t passed it along. Three time zones makes a world of difference for my logistics. For my fellow East Coast dwellers who have conventional jobs, that means you can check in after work and the party should still be going on.
Gift drawings are apparently customary at these things, so we’re offering a $40 Amazon gift card. Everybody who participates in the chat will be entered in the drawing.
If you RSVP for the chat in advance, as well as participating, you’ll get 25 extra entries for the drawing. I can see why the folks at Bitten by Books do this: The RSVP post
just went live today, and there are already 28 people I don’t know who have responded. If you think you might drop by the chat anyway, why not go over and improve your odds for the drawing?
Watch this space on Wednesday for a link to the chat.
|Friday, October 24th, 2014|
|So We Got My Mom Re-Cyborged
This week I got to see my mother stand up from her wheelchair and walk five steps across a room. Then she turned around — this process breaks down into more difficult parts than you might imagine — walked back, and settled into her chair without flinching, gasping, or needing help. My boys and I jumped and danced and hollered in celebration.
It turns out knee replacements are like tires. They wear out and need to be replaced in turn every decade or so. Everybody thought that was the problem, right until the surgeons opened her up to take out the old titanium, and they found the massive infection.
Through months of intravenous antibiotics and white blood cell counts and having a temporary rod where a hinge ought to be, Mom was the only patient without dementia in the nursing center where she waited until her new hardware could be installed. For neighbors she had the wailing woman next door, the man who yelled for help all day in the common room, and the lady who called the police and demanded they take her home…wherever that was. Mom still had her usual nutty brilliance, made perhaps slightly more nutty than usual by a steady regimen of oxycontin and her fellow inmates’ karaoke nights.
Let’s set aside that some of her nurses wanted to save my mother’s soul and brought her books about Jesus. If I spent my workdays surrounded by the tragic effects of dementia… well, there’s no sense speculating, because I know I couldn’t hack the job those ladies do with such grace and compassion. My imagined salvations are different from theirs, but goodness knows I imagined them as hard as I could when I passed through the common room on my visits.
Someone fire up a 3D printer and run off a batch of neurons, quick! Somebody needs to come up with cyborg parts to do for all those people what the lovely new titanium-and-concrete hinge does for my mother.
She’s got her passport ready for world travel, and medical documentation to show every time her cyborg parts set off an airport’s metal detector. The new knee, and all its adjacent original material, are certified as stairs-worthy by the physical therapists.
Everything’s suddenly possible again.
|Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014|
|Five Star Review for Rugosa Book
I promise my next post will have nothing whatsoever to do with Bitten by Books, or chats, or even books I’ve written. Anyone who’s beginning to think the word flogging when they see my posts will get a break for something completely different, soon.
That said, BBB’s book review for Tales from Rugosa Coven is live here. I’m especially impressed with the way the reviewer conveys enough for an undecided book browser, while dodging all possible spoilers. She carefully protects details I would not have thought to conceal. I found it to be a really refreshing way of looking at my own work.
|E-Books At Last!
Tales from Rugosa Coven is finally available as an e-book! You can find it for Kindle here at Amazon. Other formats and booksellers will come in time. Meanwhile, I’m glad that I finally have something definitive to say to all the people who have asked when an e-book edition would be available.
Thanks to Danielle Ackley-McPhail for making this happen, and in time for the Bitten by Books chat on the 29th, too. (More about that momentarily.)
|Sunday, September 28th, 2014|
|Places To Go, People To See
I’ll be on the program at Capclave
, October 10-12. Capclave is my neighborhood convention now, full of familiar faces.
I’m participating in the Broad Universe reading at the World Fantasy Convention
, November 6-9. World Fantasy is the proverbial big leagues, a professional conference rather than a fan event, full of editors and agents whose names I read in Locus
, people who have no reason ever to have heard of me. I am a little daunted. If I am very lucky, my Vortex of Schmooze powers will manifest for the occasion.
I’ll be the main attraction at a virtual event on Bitten by Books
, October 29th. The website folks, my publisher, and I are still working out the details. As soon as there’s more news, I’ll post it. What I do know is that there will be some sort of author chat, interview, and giveaway of books and/or Amazon gift cards. They’ve got a good-sized audience over there, and it’s one I haven’t connected with before. I’m looking forward to it.
At the moment, it looks like I will not be at Philcon the weekend before Thanksgiving. I live far enough away now that I’d need a hotel room, and I haven’t heard back from the program folks. If the plan changes, I’ll announce it in all the announceable places.
Meanwhile, here’s what the hardworking volunteers who run programming at Capclave have told me about my schedule for October 10-12:( Read more...Collapse )
|Thursday, September 25th, 2014|
|Fingers Crossed (Again)
Every unsold manuscript I’ve got that’s fit for print is out there in somebody’s slush pile right now. Every one — including, through lucky accident, the Big Book. Maybe that’ll be the same old story (We love your book, we dream about your characters at night, but market conditions…). Maybe something new will happen this time. I like imagining that the Grail story getting accepted twice in one month, as an acknowledged reprint for goodness sake, is a sign of things to come. Isn’t it pretty to think so?
One of my best mentors said this was her secret to shrugging off the rejections: when a rejection comes in, turn the manuscript around within 24 hours and send it to the next market. If your entire inventory is in constant circulation, then no single rejection defines your chances at any given moment. That was my standard procedure before we moved, and now I’m settled into my workspace enough that it can be again.
The problem with being a long-form writer is, you don’t rack up a lot of items in your inventory. The items may be large, but usually each manuscript can only be in one slush pile at a time. Right now, my total output in salable form is: The Pillar Story, The Battle at Sea Novella, The Street Brawl Story, The Faerie IRS Run Amok Story, “The War of the Wheat Berry Year” (a reprint, my first short story sale to Black Gate), “The Imlen Bastard” (which was forthcoming from Black Gate, but BG’s getting out of the original fiction business before this novella was to reach the front of the queue), and the Big Book. Seven chances for the next reply to be yes. And if the next reply is no, only six floating potentials to fortify me enough to send the rejected manuscript back out.
Researching fiction markets endlessly, while submitting to none of them, is emotionally much safer than actually submitting stories. Sometimes it feels safer than writing, too. The beauty of researching fiction markets is, you can drag it out forever. By the time you’ve looked into everything on Ralan.com, it’s possible that some of the markets that were closed to submissions now have open reading periods, or that a new editor at this magazine or that press might have changed the submissions guidelines.
I needed to drive a stake through the heart of that habit. Bang. There. Done.
See, my younger kid starts preschool in just over a week, and that means two hours a day, four days a week, of fresh-brained morning time on task that I didn’t have before, to add to the hours I’ve been cobbling together late at night. Eight fresh, solitary hours a week is a novel a year, if the novel’s not too long. Or perhaps another trio of Rugosa Coven novellas. Or the Little Book, if I can give my evenings to research. Or revising the Big Book to a publisher’s specifications. I’m trying to maintain flexibility of plan. Right now, Sebastian’s at the front of the queue.
Whatever I do, I will have the freedom to DO it.
Clear the decks. Reread Rachel Aaron’s essay
on process. Assemble the office supplies, and stock up on coffee pods. Here comes.
|Monday, September 22nd, 2014|
|That's One Hardworking Little Story
Fresh from its fundraising stint alongside stories by Jane Yolen and Michael Swanwick, the Grail story found a spot in Fantasy Scroll, a new online magazine. It’s scheduled to appear there in 2015, and I’ll be yawping cheerfully from the rooftops about that when it happens. The modest proceeds will go the Free Spirit Alliance‘s college scholarship program. The Grail story came to me as a prayer and a gift, so any money it raises goes to charities, foundations, and so forth. As nutty old Ezra Pound put it, “The temple is holy because it is not for sale.” Most of what I write is to further writing as my livelihood, but this one story, well, it’s the temple.
|Sunday, September 14th, 2014|
|Grail Story To Share A Table Of Contents With Jane Yolen
“Jane Yolen? Jane Yolen!” said Dan as we looked over the table of contents for the Interfictions fundraiser chapbook
. “Okay, now I believe it’s really going to happen for you. If you’re in that list of names, you’re on the way to an actual career.”
I was still spluttering with delight seeing Michael Swanwick down at the bottom of the list and hadn’t quite absorbed the fact of Jane Yolen. Really, every name in the TOC is a wonder, and I’m stunned to be in that company.
So, the Grail story
I wrote as an episodic prayer on my blog back in 2006 when my friend George was in his last days is going to reach a new audience, do a new job. I still plan to self-pub it in paper as a fundraising project for George’s scholarship fund, but that’s taking longer than expected. Meanwhile, it’s going to work with a lot of other people’s stories to help the Interstitial Arts Foundation publish its magazine Interfictions Online.
Here’s the hitch: I only just found out they’d accepted my story, and the crowdfunding campaign is already closed. So unless you happened to donate already and selected the chapbook as your perk, it’s too late to get a copy. The acceptance email didn’t reach me. If there hadn’t been a major formatting issue they needed to ask me about, they might have gone on assuming I knew I was in, and I might have gone on assuming my story had been turned down. Hooray for formatting glitches!
I do wish, though, that I had known in time for, say, my parents to get a copy of the e-chapbook. For that matter, I wish I’d known in time for me to help promote the foundation’s fundraiser. They overshot their goal as it was — yay! — but my various friends, relations, and stray readers might have helped them overshoot it by a little more. Ah, well. We take our good news where we can get it. And this is good news by any measure.
|Sunday, August 24th, 2014|
|The Plucky Maiden, The Mercurial Matriarch, And The Precious Ming Vase
They’re trying so hard to do as much justice to their female characters as their male ones. It almost works. I want to give them medals for how hard they tried, and how close they came to getting it right. No, seriously, I do, in part because I wonder whether I’m as close to getting it right with male characters in my own work.
David Walton’s Quintessence
and M.C. Planck’s Sword of the Bright Lady
are fun, fast-paced books that do some fresh things with some classic tropes of both fantasy and science fiction. Quintessence
starts with a lovely what-if: How would the Age of Exploration have been different if the world had, in fact, been flat, and if all those places where the maps said “Here there be monsters” actually had monsters in them? There’s a lot of spectacle, and the bestiary is delightful. Sword of the Bright Lady
follows the adventures of a mild-mannered mechanical engineer who’s abducted from our world by the war god of another, a god who needs modern help to save a nation of mostly innocent people in a world where feudalism has supernatural underpinnings.
I liked both books, yet both had problems I could not ignore.
Walton chose speedy pacing over deep characterization, so most of his characters are from central casting — all but a middle-aged mother, precisely the kind of character who would, a generation ago, have been either conveniently dead and off-stage or a target of ridicule. Instead, she turns out to be the surprising heart of the book. A divided heart, whose struggle drives the action even when she’s absent for chapters at a stretch. Because she has fewer precedents, she’s fresh. If only Walton’s plucky maiden character had been one tenth as vivid and individual as her mother! But we’ve seen plucky maidens before, and Walton’s in a hurry to show you pyrotechnics and sea serpents, so he cuts corners with the character he seems to have intended to be the main protagonist. You can find my full review here
Planck’s characterization is much more psychological and varied. His cast of thousands soon comes to feel like a neighborhood the reader lives in, and most of the secondary characters who inhabit it are drawn with clarity and sympathy that increases steadily as the protagonist gets to know them. The women of the alternate universe are all different from each other, with their own respective contributions and preoccupations and stories to tell. Alas, the one woman who drives the hero’s actions most — the wife he left behind in our world, whom he’ll do anything to see again — remains a nonentity. She never appears onstage, but for all the time Christopher spends thinking about her, it’s a problem that we never find out anything about her but the color of her hair. She is functionally indistinguishable from a precious Ming vase. What’s weird about this is that the precious Ming vase problem is common among books and films that don’t come close to Sword of the Bright Lady in quality. How did M.C. Planck, who manifestly knows how to write women well, get stuck in this Hollywood trope? I talk more about this book, and the precious Ming vase phenomenon, in my review here
Meanwhile, the books I can’t put down, the ones I won’t be reviewing because the series started too long ago and is already barreling along toward the ranks of the classics, are the first two volumes of Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive
. Like many fantasy readers, I was initially put off by the sheer bulk of the first volume, and if I’d known that Sanderson intends to make this a ten-volume series, I might never have picked it up. And that would have been my loss. Fortunately for me, the goodie bags at Balticon included free copies of The Way of Kings
, and now Dan and I are both hooked. We keep ourselves up until all hours, racing each other through the second volume and gossiping about the characters. I like a book I can wallow in, one that gives the characters hundreds of pages in which to breathe. And though Sanderson shows us plenty of priceless, exotic artifacts, there’s not a precious Ming vase in sight.
|Tuesday, July 29th, 2014|
|A World Without Margot Adler
There are still the books, of course. And among them THE book. For a few more days, we’ll hear her voice on NPR in her colleagues’ obituaries of her. Many of us will include her likeness on our ancestor altars this Samhain. If you were to count all the people who read and loved Drawing Down the Moon
early in their lives as Pagans as descending from her lineage, the people in her downline would number tens of thousands, maybe a hundred thousand. If you counted that way, I’d be one of them.
Nonetheless, our world is now a world without Margot Adler in it. I only really met her once, yet it’s hard to convey just how disorienting her absence is.I am so grateful to the universe that I got
to meet her
this past March. I suspected at the time that she’d had cancer — when a person whose signature look for decades has been long, straight, black hair suddenly has a funky, spiky, all-gray pixie cut, I suspect chemo, and she mentioned obliquely that she’d had a health struggle of some kind in the previous year. She was so vital, so funny and smart and real, I speculated that she was already out of danger. Hoped fervently, for reasons large and small. I had some crazy daydream about asking her to blurb my book, but that would have felt like asking the Buddhas of Bamiyan to endorse a breakfast cereal.
Maybe this is what people feel who got to see the Buddhas of Bamiyan in the last year before they were demolished. Adler was beyond larger than life, into the realms of the monumental. And now she’s a memory.