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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
Sarah Avery's LiveJournal:
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|Tuesday, June 30th, 2015|
|Mythopoeia With A Twist Of Lyme
I'm definitely going to Mythcon
, which means I need to learn how to write an award acceptance speech, just in case I win this thing
. The odds that I'll need to use the speech are not overwhelmingly high, which makes me a little less nervous about writing badly in an unfamiliar form. I did more research, and it turns out one of the finalists whose name I didn't recognize is the person who wrote Chocolat
. Could my presence on the shortlist possibly be any more anomalous? On the other hand, as far as I can figure out the Mythopoeic Society's rules, the award is juried, rather than voted on by the society's membership or the conference's attendees. If I'm right about that, I can at least be sure that the people voting will have read my book.
Meanwhile, I'm the lead story on today's Wild Hunt
It's hard to explain the importance of that site in the Pagan community. I considered whether to liken it to the Daily Beast, and then I got stuck on imagining the Wild Hunt tracking and capturing the Daily Beast, and I still haven't quite made it back from being easily amused.
Even meanerwhile (because it should be linguistically possible to have two concurrent situations in the background while a third is in the foreground), the Lyme is definitely somewhat abated. Taking an antibiotic that makes you photosensitive is especially irksome in the week of the summer solstice, just when your kids are out of school, craving outdoor time and joining the swim team. No sunblock is enough. But offered a choice between the burns and the combination of crushing fatigue and brain fog I had before the Lyme test, I'd take the burns any day. I seem to have full use of my brain back, and I have enough energy now that I no longer lie glassy-eyed in the living room while the television parents my children. Until I started getting better, I had no idea how sick I was.
There's even enough energy now that I've picked up a couple of new students, ones who want to make the most of the summer by meeting twice or three times a week. I haven't had a tutoring schedule this full since we moved out of New Jersey. It turns out I've really missed explaining the five dimensions of the English verb to teenage boys. Have I mentioned that I'm anomalous?
|Friday, June 12th, 2015|
|Maybe NOW I'll Get My Superpowers Back
Remember that concussion I had in November, and how I lost my reading speed? It got better for a while, until it started getting worse. And the post-concussion fatigue got better, too, until it became utterly crushing.
And then it occurred to me that fatigue and brain fog were also symptoms of Lyme disease. Which a blood test just confirmed I have. I've probably had it for months.
Rejoice! For there is nothing like a diagnosis that can be acted on.
So now I take a bunch of antibiotics (and carry around an Epi-Pen, and after this morning's little incident get way more vigilant
about keeping the kids away from the damn Epi-Pen), and with any luck, I'll get my nervous system fully online again. It's such a lovely nervous system. Comes in handy for writing with, you know.
|Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015|
|My Fellow Award Finalists Have Been Announced
My brain is trying so hard to process this list
. It tried stammering, then it tried Jersey-style profanity (Holy #%&*!), and now it's playing the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime." Here comes the voice of David Byrne again: You may say to yourself, Well, how did I get here?
Here's the ballot in my award category:Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature
Sarah Avery, Tales from Rugosa Coven
Stephanie Feldman, The Angel of Losses
Theodora Goss, Songs for Ophelia
Joanne M. Harris, The Gospel of Loki
Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke & Key
series, consisting of Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft; Vol. 2: Head Games; Vol. 3: Crown of Shadow; Vol.4: Keys to the Kingdom; Vol. 5: Clockworks; and Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega
Okay, to break it down for anybody who doesn't read fantasy (and if you don't, you're in good company, along with my mom, so that's totally fine), here's why these other finalists are blowing my mind:
Joe Hill is massively famous, with multiple New York Times bestsellers to his name. (People usually also mention that his father is Stephen King, which is why he publishes under a pen name and kept his other identity secret for as long as he could.)
Theodora Goss is the perfect author for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. When I saw her name on the announcement, my first thought was, This can't be her first nomination. Surely she won for In the Forest of Forgetting?
She didn't win in 2008, but only because that was the year Catherynne Valente won for Orphan's Tales
I'm not familiar with Stephanie Feldman or Joanne M. Harris, but their publishers are Ecco and Gollancz. I've been assuming all these years that my manuscripts were not worthy to lick the crumbs from under the tables of Ecco and Gollancz -- that despite the fancy doctorate and whatever other fancy stuff can be ascribed to me, I'm not fancy enough for presses that prestigious. Once I decided I'd rather be entertaining than academic, I figured prestige was not something I should aim at anymore. Maybe that was the typical writerly impostor-syndrome voice talking.
mutters the impostor-syndrome voice, maybe you really don't deserve the nomination. Maybe you were right to be shocked, and you don't belong on this list after all.
Nasty little imp, that voice is. Hey, imp, find something helpful to do, or prepare to be ignored.)
Oh, and I have a partial answer to the Talking Heads' question -- I know a little more this hour about how I got here. Thanks are due to Pauline Alama
, who's part of my old critique group, the Writers of the Weird. She's a longtime member of the Mythopoeic Society and nominated my book for the initial longlist. An award committee culled the longlist down to five finalists. Maybe I'll get to find out more later about their process. Presumably it involved reading my book and finding it somehow preferable to a bunch of other books. Books that also had advocates (other than their authors and publishers) who liked them enough to nominate them for the longlist.
This is the point at which my mind starts boggling again. Somehow I got preferred
for something over an unknown number of authors that probably included at least a few major names who were publishing with major presses. (The imp tries to prepare me for the possibility that this is all a clerical error and I'll have to post a retraction. Bleeping imp.) Looks like it'll be a bogglesome week.
|Monday, June 1st, 2015|
|Rugosa Coven Book Is A Finalist For Mythopoeic Fantasy Award!
Here's something I had daydreamed might happen about ten or twenty years from now. Seriously, look at the list of authors who have won this thing in past years. I've dreamed of being in that company -- of course
I have, for most of my life -- but it never occurred to me that the first book I saw go into print would get me on a list like, oh, this one
. There you can find the ballots with each year's finalists, back to 1971, with the winning works marked by asterisk. Mature works from major presses, almost all. (A little voice in my head points out that I started writing the Rugosa novellas in my late thirties, but that's so early in my career as a professional writer of fiction that I'm not sure whether it counts as authorial maturity.) The idea that next year my name, with my little book title and my small press publisher, will appear on that list shocks me.
The Mythopoeic Society has not yet announced the 2015 ballot publicly, so I don't know who the other finalists are. Looking at the history, I will be Very Surprised if I win, at least this year. You may have heard of the toast they raise every year at the Hugo Award Losers Party -- It's an honor just to be nominated.
Yes, that. I wish I knew who had nominated me. I owe that person heartfelt thanks.
Now I have to figure out how I'm going to afford airfare to Colorado Springs for Mythcon
, which is more academic conference and author/publishing industry professional retreat than fan convention. The event and its award are, by outside world and other-genre standards, obscure, but in my little corner of the cosmos, they're A Very Big Deal, and I'd be a fool to miss them.
I guess it's time to drum up some tutoring business. It'll take a bunch of SAT prep gigs to buy that plane ticket.
Of all the problems I have today, here's my favorite: What on earth do I wear to the award ceremony?
For a problem like that, the Gods be thanked.
|Friday, May 22nd, 2015|
|Where To Find Me At Balticon
Judging an Editor's Work (Panel) (Moderator), Sat 10:00 - 10:50, Salon D
With Martin Berman-Gorvine, Ally Bishop, and Trisha J Wooldridge
What qualities do a good editor bring to the writing process? How can a reader working with a Hugo ballot or an aspiring author looking for a publisher determine an editor's strengths and weaknesses based on the work they've helped produce?
Writing Diverse Characters: Archetypes vs. Stereotypes (Panel) (Participant), Sat 11:00 - 11:50, Derby
Jennifer R Povey (M), Day Al-Mohamed, Stephanie Burke, Sunny Moraine, Don Sakers, Melissa Scott
[It's not clear whether I'm still scheduled for this panel. In the draft schedule grid I was emailed, I'm on it. In the version posted on the Balticon website, I'm not.]
A panel on handling diversity in fiction for less experienced writers, dealing with things like avoiding tokenism, learning confidence in presenting 'different' characters.
Reading as a Writer (Panel) (Participant), Sat 14:00 - 14:50, Pimlico
With Bugsy Bryant (M), Tim Dodge, Hugh J O'Donnell, Mark L Van Name
How do writers interact with the fiction they're reading? How do you read not only for pleasure but to improve your craft?
What Can We Learn From Bad Writing? (Panel) (Participant), Sat 21:00 - 21:50, Tack
With Tim Dodge (M), Meriah Crawford, Judi Fleming, Alessia Brio
We all like to make fun of it, but what makes bad writing bad? How can we use this to improve our own work?
Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading I and II - Sunday 12:00-13:50, Concierge Lounge
(A sampler of short readings from many members of a writers' organization dedicated to promoting fantasy, science fiction, and horror literature by women. We've got two hours' worth of readers, at 8 minutes each.)
Autograph - Sunday 14:00 (Autographs) (Participant), Sun 14:00 - 14:50, Autograph Table (HVI)
(I'll be sharing the autograph table with Darrell Schweitzer and Martin Berman-Gorvinne. I'm really looking forward to it. Schweitzer is one of the old guard, who has known everyone and worked the field in every capacity. He actually does know as much as he thinks he does, and he's very generous with younger writers and editors who want to pick his brain. Martin is an old friend from writing summer camp, and here we still are, writing approximately the kinds of things we said we wanted to when we were in our early teens. Oh, and if anyone shows up looking to get their books autographed, that'll be cool, too.)
Reading - Sunday 16:00-16:50, Chesapeake
With Katie Bryskie and Sarah Pinsker
(Sarah Pinsker's work is always a wonder to hear. Last year at Balticon, I got to hear her read all of "The Low Hum of Her," and it was my best short fiction experience of 2014. I'm not familiar with Katie Bryskie yet, but I'm looking forward to finding out why the programming volunteers put us together. From what I've seen on the schedule so far, they seem to have put some real thought into their groupings.)
Dark Quest Launch Party - Sunday 19:00-18:50, Frankie and Vinnie's
With Danielle Ackley-McPhail (M), Mike McPhail, Neal Levin, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christine Norris
(I'll be here to help out, as the usual suspects at Dark Quest helped out when I had a book to launch. Also, Danielle always arranges impressive amounts of free food. This year I'm not actually launching any titles, and there probably won't be readings if it's the same room I think it is -- we tried readings in that space last year, and the acoustics were impossible. So this is a good time to find me if you just want to hang out and converse.)
|Sunday, May 10th, 2015|
|What A Month That Was
Hello, Internet. I missed you guys. I had a family emergency to deal with. The center of it isn't my story to tell, so I'll just say it took up all my time and attention, and ended with everyone safe and well at home.
I seem to remember that, back in April, it felt very important to write some kind of post about the Hugo controversy. Doesn't look terribly important after this month. I had a draft blog post that went on and on, but which now has been swallowed by livejournal. And that may be for the best.
Meanwhile, Operation Happy Puppy
continues quietly in the background. I'm making lists of things that need to be set in order for a pre-pet-adoption home visit. Many times while I tended my share of the family emergency, I ratcheted my stress level back down by trawling the web for puppy photos. So many happy puppies. I highly recommend this strategy. For pure novelty, I favor the Lagotto Romagnolo, a rare dog breed that specializes in hunting by scent for wild mushrooms. I could watch those little guys
dig for truffles all day. In fact, there was a day this past month when that was basically all I could do.
Now something different will happen, about which I am a very happy primate.
|Wednesday, April 8th, 2015|
|Okay, How About THESE Puppies?
"The Sad What?"
For benefit of readers who don't follow science fiction and fantasy news, the Sad Puppies are the perplexing self-declared villains of the day. This is the kind of story that moves people who don't write fiction to say things like, "You couldn't make this stuff up." Actually, I could, and stuff even weirder, but I will concede, the parts that nobody had to make up are remarkable enough.
Here's a short version: Two smallish factions of politically and socially conservative readers calling themselves the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies gamed the nomination process for the most prestigious awards in SF/F because -- I am not making this up, and some of their other reasons are even further out there -- they were angry at seeing too many awards go to works by women and people of color.
There are other descriptions of the controversy, but suffice it to say, it's an acrimonious mess. One of the most reasoned, open-minded discussions has been hosted by John O'Neill, who's in the awkward position of seeing his magazine Black Gate
nominated for a Hugo Award for the first time, through a process he regards as so tainted that he would vote for No Award against the site that's been his labor of love for over a decade. That's where I first found out about the Sad Puppies controversy, because I've been a columnist at Black Gate for ages. The comment threads there have been surprisingly civil for their participants' range of political views. If this is an issue you're curious about, or already care about, here
posts well worth reading
, with links leading to lots of other places where other parts of the wider conversation are going on.
But let's back up for a moment to the names. What's up with the puppies, anyway? Why puppies?
Apparently the first year one of these conservative guys tried to game the nomination process with a slate of candidates, "The original idea was to call it the 'Sad Puppies Think of the Children Campaign' – a dig at those who take their social crusades too seriously."
(Yes, that's a link to Breitbart. The awards controversy has been covered by Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post,
and the Guardian
, too. The world beyond geekdom seems suddenly to care about an award decided by a total of under 6,000 voting members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Weird.) I haven't yet managed to dig up the original post in which the Puppies named themselves, but I'm curious about whether they were experiencing a moment of self-awareness about their own crusade, or mocking that tendency in the people they regarded as their enemies.
Regardless of whether they have a sense of humor about themselves, I've been blessed with a sense of humor about myself, and I've decided on my course of action.
I'll adopt a dog about it.
Well, not about it
, of course. I'd been telling the kids we would do that soon, soon, but now I'll commit to having the house ready by Labor Day Weekend. The Capital-S Capital-P Sad Puppies will go win or lose in the Hugo voting that weekend, and there will be drama that lots of other people feel like yelling about online. Meanwhile, my life will go happily on, and I'll spend the day playing fetch with someone far more important to me than any of the folks with a nomination in the Best Short Story category.
Who has been harmed by this year's Hugo Awards conflict? Well, some writers, editors, and artists who had worthy work eligible for nomination this year got locked out of contention, and that hurts their long-term career chances. People like John O'Neill and Matthew David Surridge, who did not ask to be nominated on the slate and did not see any of this coming, have had to do a lot of explaining about their principles and positions in a controversy they did nothing to stir up. The long-term integrity of the Hugo Awards has been compromised, and that's something a lot of people care about for a wide variety of different reasons. I'm not in a position to help any of those people.But what about the literal, actual puppies?
Because now every time I hear the words "sad puppies," I'm not going to have warm, fuzzy thoughts about rescued dogs who need homes, like maybe mine. I'm going to think about Theo Beale, a.k.a. Vox Day, the most hated man in science fiction, who has argued in earnest that African-Americans are subhuman and that women should not be allowed to vote.
Seriously, when I read some of the things the people writing out of the Rabid Puppies faction say when they try to explain their reasoning, my first thought is, This is an insult to actual rabid puppies everywhere.
These guys have every right to call themselves Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Super Puppies, Blue Ribbon Puppies, or whatever they like. Fine.
Meanwhile, I commend to your attention Petfinder.com
, in case there's room in your life for an actual sad puppy, one who would rather take a walk with you and then spend half an hour gnawing on his squeaky toy than, say, hijack your community's efforts to recognize excellence and then spend eternity bashing an imaginary conspiracy of so-called Social Justice Warriors.
You could name your puppy Hugo, or perhaps Norton or Campbell in recognition of the other luminaries whose names have been given to the major awards in our field. You could name your puppy after a worthy work or author whose work got closed out by the nomination shenanigans -- or by the last few years of alleged "affirmative action awards," if you believe that's what happened. Hey, one area of common ground I'm willing to credit the Sad Puppies with is that affection for real flesh-and-blood dogs is probably equally distributed across the political spectrum.
Fortunately, dogs don't care whom you vote for on your Hugo ballot, or whether your name appears on said ballot. As Aldous Huxley said, "To his dog, every man is Napoleon, hence the constant popularity of dogs." My hypothetical dog will care far less than I do about the number of rejections my trunk manuscript has racked up.
So maybe sad puppies are the ultimate solution to the problem of Sad Puppies. As John Scalzi put it in his list of possible responses to the Hugo voter's predicament
, "I also think it’s okay to penalize graceless award grasping by people who clearly despise the Hugo and what they believe it represents, and yet so very desperately crave the legitimacy they believe the award will confer to them. Therapy is the answer there, not a literary award."
Not up for therapy? Petfinder.com is still right here
|Tuesday, March 24th, 2015|
|And The Wild Voice Of C.S.E. Cooney
When I woke up this morning, I realized exactly who I wanted to narrate the audiobook for the novella. And no sooner did I go to Facebook to see what she'd been up to lately than I found she was in the endgame of her own crowdfunding campaign
As I write this, you have 29 hours left to get in on it. Claire is an amazing writer with a particular gift for voices. Her own writing voice, with its unabashed enthusiasm and theatricality, is as unmistakable as it is welcoming -- which makes all the varied character voices in her stories, songs, and poems the more remarkable.
And then there's her literal voice, the one you can hear narrating podcast stories or singing or performing poetry. I mean, really performing it, because she's got theater training and a bunch of legitimate stage acting experience. I give a pretty good reading, but man, I admire people who go to readings and truly perform
For years, I'd been reading her stuff online in the places where it's appeared for free. Every time she released a book, I put it on my list of things to buy in person from the traveling booksellers on the convention circuit, looked forward to reading it avidly...and then lost track of it. So the opportunity to load up on several(!) of Claire's books in one go, for less than I'd have paid retail to the traveling booksellers, while supporting her in making something entirely new was an opportunity I jumped at.
I'd supported other people's crowdfunding campaigns before with signal boost, a book review quote, a story for a benefit anthology, but this was the first campaign that ever moved me to take a credit card out of my wallet.
If her kind of thing -- mythic, slinky, funny, jubilant, occasionally dark, deeply kind -- is your kind of thing, now's a good time to go get it.
And, Dear Reader, I now have an audiobook narrator lined up for one of my stretch goals. If my book goes into the world with the bones I gave it, a face by Kate Baylay
, and C.S.E. Cooney's voice, it will be a gorgeous thing indeed.
|Monday, March 23rd, 2015|
|The Astonishing Art Of Kate Baylay
After weeks of trawling through the internet for cover artists, I found her on Pinterest. A friend who usually pins images from century-old books pinned a few in a style that felt perfectly at home in that company, but at the same time completely fresh and unfamiliar. Kate Baylay
, said the caption.
Her style charmed like Edmund Dulac
's, mythicized like Howard Pyle
's, and ornamented like Arthur Rackham
's. Looking at Baylay's Russian fairy tale illustrations threw me right back into the hours I spent sprawled on the carpet in my good grandmother's house with a heap of dusty books rescued from the library sale -- books with dozens of glorious color plates barely held together by mouse-nibbled cloth covers and high-acid endpapers. I had other hours as happy, but none happier. There was something in this artist's style, too, that had not come from the world of children's books. The more satirical figures swirled mockery together with beauty like something out of Aubrey Beardsley
, or menaced and contorted like the monstrous beings in Djuna Barnes
's Book of Repulsive Women
. Baylay knows well the wolf who lurks under the surface of all the old stories.
"I should have heard of you," I said to my computer screen. "How have I not heard of you?" Because I was sure I was looking at something out of that particular golden age of illustration, and surely this was the work of a master practitioner. I actually tried to look Kate Baylay up in my copy of Women of the Left Bank
, just in case she'd been among the supremely networked women artists and writers in Paris from 1900 to 1940.
Actually, she only finished her art degree four years ago. She's just that good, that young.
You see why I can barely believe my good fortune that she's agreed to do the cover art for my novella, "The Imlen Bastard." If the Kickstarter campaign goes well and we beat the minimum fundraising goal that makes it possible to get cover art and some basic book design, we can start aiming for stretch goals like interior illustrations. The kid I was when I sprawled in that sunbeam with a stack of classic illustrated fairy tale editions has been spinning pirouettes for joy in my head all week. It seems possible that I might pull together a book that produces that effect for my readers, too.
I wrote "The Imlen Bastard" from the viewpoint of a seven-year old, but it is not a story for children. (My boys hadn't been born yet when I finished writing it, so I have no idea how I did so well at capturing that age. The story knew what it needed, and it ran miles ahead of me.) Young Stisele has no idea how close she is to the wolf under the surface of the story. She can name the tragedies in her bejeweled world, but not really grasp them.
The moment I discovered Kate Baylay was alive and open to commissions, she zoomed ahead of every other illustrator on my lists. The tension she keeps between wonder and menace was exactly what I wanted for Stisele's story, and I hadn't known it until just then.
|Sunday, March 22nd, 2015|
|Proto-Science Run Amok (Or, Where Is The Dead Bird Now?)
"What beautiful feathers!" I say when I open the gift from my seven-year-old.
"They're from a dead bird Theo killed in the yard," Gareth says, with great pride in the predatory prowess of our cat. I kind of figured that was where the feathers came from. I make a mental note to put an extra jingly bell on Theo's collar. The birds need more warning.
"I'm glad you told me. I should give these lovely feathers a once-over with a disinfecting wipe. Please tell me you washed your hands after touching them?"
"I did. And after I brought the dead bird into my bedroom."
::Long, stunned silence.::
"Okay. I'm glad you told me that, too. Let's go clean up your room a bit."
"Oh, it's not in my room anymore."
::Long, stunned silence, with a prayer for patience.::
"Where is the dead bird now?"
"When we were getting my clothes off the floor so you could run the laundry, I got worried you might find it before I was done with my project.""Where is the dead bird now?"
"On Daddy's work table in the basement. I needed his needle-nose pliers to get the really long feathers off. Only the first thing I thought was the needle-nose pliers turned out to be the wire cutters. So I tried opening the bird to see what it was like inside. And then I used the...""Dan? Could you come discuss the state of your tools with your son? Now, please?"
So, that was last week. This week, he wanted to see what else he could get commercial Easter egg dyes to stick to. When we told him he had to help us scrub the green out of the walls, he said, "But it's my chemistry!
I've taken care not to introduce my children to Admiral Hopper's aphorism
about how it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. The older one seems to have arrived at that conclusion independently. I'm not sure what I'll do when my more easygoing younger child follows suit. Right now, Conrad spends every moment he can on storyboarding his imagined sequels to a couple of favorite videos. If he ever looks up from his little art table long enough to become his brother's lab partner, we're all doomed.
|Thursday, March 19th, 2015|
|The Cover Artist Said Yes! And Together, We'll Even Be Able To Afford Her Awesome Work!
I'm bouncing with delight. Before I can tell you who she is and link to her amazing online portfolio, we have a few more details to work out, but I have a cover artist for the little novella that will be my first self-published project. If the crowdfunding side of things goes well, there could be interior illustrations, too. (I'm still waiting to hear about the grant that might, just possibly, make the Big Book possible. This is the smaller project I've been talking about.)
I went out on a limb and asked the music crowdfunding gurus at Launch + Release
to let me take their online course at discount, in exchange for which I would give them more feedback than they could ever need about how their process applied to fiction writers. It looks like most of the actions, sequences, and thought processes they propose will transfer from music to fiction pretty seamlessly. I'm hoping that next year, I'll be in a position to say with some certainty whether authors should rush out and take their course or not. Anyhow, assuming their estimate of the amount I can be virtually certain of raising through Kickstarter is correct, I should be able to afford The Cover Artist of My Dreams.
Two weeks ago, I had no idea how to commission cover art. Fortunately for me, artist Randy Gallegos wrote up everything he wished indie authors and small press publishers knew about commissioning art, put it in a clearly written, friendly pdf, and released it into the world, encouraging people to share it. In case you ever need to commission art, here's how
. (Oh, and Gallegos's own work is pretty amazing
, too.) Thanks to the advice in his document, I was able to find an artist early enough in her career, and offer her favorable enough terms, that the relatively modest amount I was certain I would be able to offer her would still be workable for her.
It probably also helped that the story I hoped she would illustrate really was a good fit for what she does, and that over the years I'd worked with everything I had to make that manuscript the best version of itself I could. There were a couple of nailbiting days while I waited to hear back from her about whether she liked the piece. It all feels that much closer to real.
|Tuesday, March 10th, 2015|
|Plato's Symposium, Meet Terry Border's Peanut Butter And Cupcake
My kids are in love with a new book -- a charming, hilarious, clever book
--- in which the new kid in the neighborhood is a slice of bread slathered with peanut butter, endowed with expressive wire-sculpture arms and legs. Lonely young Peanut Butter tries to introduce himself to all the playful foodstuffs on his block without much success until, of course, he finds Jelly.
We hadn't made it out of the Barnes & Noble parking lot before I realized the image of the final embrace was right out of Plato's myth of the Androgynes
, or perhaps right out of the Symposium
's smarter descendant, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
How long do you reckon I have to wait before I use these three examples to explain allusion and intertextuality to my four-year-old and my seven-year-old? Yeah, I thought so, too. Maybe I need more students.
|Tuesday, February 17th, 2015|
|Why Measles Matters To Me
When that doctor in Texas went on the record
saying measles is "really just a fever and a rash," the barking laugh that's grief in disguise barked its way out of me.
My family's measles story is old, older than I am. I've told it to my friends among the local homeschooling moms, many of whom don't vaccinate their children. I've told it gently, because I know exactly how it feels to be on the receiving end of other people's concern about my parenting decisions. As far as I know, none of those homeschooling families have had to contend with measles in person. Long may their luck hold. But when I imagine those moms, and their descendents unto the fourth generation, struggling in the way we still struggle, I feel that maybe it's time to tell the story more completely.
I care about measles for the same reason I write ghost stories. I've written before about our family's principal ghost
. She died long before I was born -- before there was a measles vaccine -- but here is one thing I know firsthand: after 63 years, there's still a hole in the universe where she should be.
My older son is just the age Carolyn was when she died of measles complications, and I understand haunting better all the time. My kids, who sometimes ask why they have to get vaccinations, know a tiny bit about haunting, too. My mother spent the seventh year of my life expecting death to come for me any second, because that's how her
mother tried (and failed) to forgive herself for losing Carolyn: Every mother loses her first child at seven.
That my maternal grandmother said this often is an indication of how deep into the bottle she crawled in the immediate aftermath of losing a child. She never made it back out. When we lost Carolyn, we lost my grandmother, too. She kept her brilliance and her drive, but lost her humanity. It was not a mercy, to anyone, that she lived two more decades without it. It was especially not a mercy to her other children.
Perhaps you've read Roald Dahl's recollections of his daughter Olivia
, and what he urged parents to do to spare themselves the grief his family suffered. Measles encephalitis is rare, but it is real. It's not just a thing that happens on the other side of an ocean. It's not just a thing that happens to famous-and-therefore-semi-mythical people. Worst of all, from where I sit, it's not just a thing that happened in the bedroom my mother shared with her big sister in 1952. It's a thing that happens in our world right now, and it's a thing that will probably happen in my own country this year.
Is it selfish of me if I pray that when it happens, it doesn't happen to anyone I know personally? Is it invasive of my homeschooling friends' karma if I pray that they vaccinate their kids while there's still time? If so, at least my ancestral spirits have reason to be patient with the shortcomings in my prayers.
Carolyn came to me when I was out taking my evening walk a few nights ago. She hadn't visited me like that, present almost to the point of visibility, since the big measles outbreak on campus when I was a grad student. (Of course, suggestible creature that I am, I get visits from the family ghost when her malady is in the news. That's one of many hazards of cultivating a mind that's maximally porous for the absorption of story.) She wanted what any seven-year-old wants who has been lost too long. She wanted to hold my hand.
|Tuesday, February 10th, 2015|
|Grail Story And Author Interview Now Up At Fantasy Scroll Magazine
It'll be new to some of you, and an old friend to others. How the Grail Came to the Fisher King
looks lovely and polished in its new home at Fantasy Scroll Magazine
The new issue of the magazine also includes a nice long interview with me here
. Thanks to editor Iulian Ionescu
, a fellow Writer of the Weird
, for asking questions that gave me a lot to work with, and for making the whole process of getting the Grail story back out there pleasant and easy.
|Sunday, January 25th, 2015|
|The Wide World's Enge
just went live at Black Gate for James Enge's The Wide World's End
, a book I spent the last five months dying to get my hands on and the last week swimming in. It is every bit as good as I'd hoped it would be, and far more surprising than I thought an origin story for a long-established signature character could
|The Website's Down, The Reading's Off; It Must Be Time To Double Down On Actual Writing
My website has needed updating for a long time. Now that it's been inexplicably down for a week, it's probably broken enough to move up the priority list and get done. Yay? Well, yes, yay, because maintaining my website is one of the many kindnesses Dan does for me, and he's excited about trying some new things. His explanations of the things get very technical very quickly, so I just say thank you a lot and try not to get in the way.
What are the most important things to change about it? It needs to be faster, so some of the lovely design elements that Deena Fisher put in for me back in the days of Drollerie Press will have to get swapped out for something else. It needs some free reads and exerpts. Dan has some ideas about calendars that sound complicated and time consuming, but we'll see. From my side of things, the highest priorities are to build a mailing list, and to come up with a newsletter people will be delighted to receive. If you're on any authors' mailing lists and like what you get, or check in regularly with any authors' websites, please tell me what works for you as a reader.
The timing for my website's temporary collapse is lucky. I was just about to start spreading the word about a reading for the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic
anthology that was supposed to happen in NYC next month. I'd been kicking myself for not publicizing the reading more, but first there was the concussion, and then we all got sick (like, 104.4 degree fever sick), and by the time I emerged from my cave again
, blinking like a mole again
, the reading was cancelled.
(My winter is some kind of Groundhog Day joke waiting to coalesce. On February 2nd, I'm going to step out of my front door, and if I see my shadow and scurry back inside, we'll have six more weeks of revision. If I bumble out into the sun, we can forecast six weeks of gregarious Kickstarter preparations.)
On the one hand, I'm disappointed, because readings at the KGB Bar
are a big deal. On the other hand, it was going to cost a small fortune in babysitting money to cover my absence from home for an entire weekday, to say nothing of gas and tolls from DC to Manhattan. Our odds of selling enough books for it to be a break-even proposition in financial terms were not great. In non-monetary terms, well, sometimes you don't know until years later what was important. Maybe something wonderful would have come of it. Now some different wonderful thing will happen instead.
If the different wonderful thing has a word count of its own, so much the better. And now, back to work on it.
|Wednesday, January 14th, 2015|
|Maybe Arithmetic Is Not My Friend After All (And What About Author Email Lists?)
The good news: Exactly the editor I would want to work with to self-publish the Big Book wants to work with me. We’re at the point of discussing prices and schedules. She thinks the manuscript is in good enough shape, the number she’s quoting me is lower than the figure I’d budgeted for the developmental edit in my grant proposal. If
the grant comes through, I’ll be able to do more in the production phase than I originally thought.
The bad news: I also worked on figuring out what kind of goal amount I should set for a Kickstarter campaign in case the grant doesn’t come through. For a first-timer, the number of people who know me in real life is a bigger determining factor than the merits of the project are for how much I can plan to raise. Note the distinction between hope
here. It’s not unusual for people to exceed their goals on Kickstarter, but if you don’t at least meet your goal, you get nothing. (That may sound nutty, but there are good reasons for doing things that way.)
All the old hands at crowdfunding agree: Figure out what is the most scaled-down version of your project that you can still bring yourself to do. What it costs to do that should be your starting goal.
The upshot: The lowest number that works for the editor is higher than the highest number I can be really sure of raising through crowdfunding. Even if I could raise money for the editor, the entirety of the production process would be a stretch goal
. Under these parameters, this project really is out of reach, at least for a year or two and possibly longer, without the grant. I said so in the application, but for a moment I hoped I’d been mistaken.
So I go on playing the long game — I’ve been playing the long game for 11 years, it’s nothing new — and I work on changing the parameters. At the risk of buzzwording myself into unreadability, I need to expand my circle of influence (more readers = more potential backers). I need to connect with my readers in more ways. Just possibly, I might need to try the crowdfunding/self-publishing process with a smaller project before I try a bigger one.
First order of business: I need to set up a proper email list. It’s kind of shocking that I’ve gone on this long without one. My website
has a link for joining my email list, but nearly all my blog readers prefer to find me at Livejournal, so the people most likely to join an email list have no idea there’s one to join. Not that I’m entirely sure what authors do with their email lists, or what readers get out of joining one. I should always be able to come up with at least one good answer to the question, “What’s in it for the reader?”
|Tuesday, January 13th, 2015|
|You're Invited To Holly Lisle's Cool Project: Readers Meet Writers
I’ve been watching Holly Lisle
transition from a conventionally published mid-list science fiction and fantasy writer to a sustainably independent self-publisher over the past several years. All along, she’s also been running an impressive collection of online writing courses. I’ve sampled a couple of her short ones, enough to wish the big courses for beginners had been around when I was a beginner. She’s a cool human being, she knows her stuff, and she’s generous with what she knows. She also has a knack for building communities.
So when she announced that she was looking for founding members to help her brainstorm for a new community, Readers Meet Writers, that would help ardent readers and new writers find each other, I knew she would come up with something that would really work and be fun and be win-win for everybody. The brainstorming stage began right before I got my concussion, so you won’t see a lot of my fingerprints on it, but I’m excited about contributing now that the project is moving out of brainstorming and into beta.
You’re invited. Here’s a link
that’s an invitation specifically from me. If you’re a writer hoping to earn the regard of some True Fans or a reader looking for the Next Big Thing, you can help shape Readers Meet Writers into what you’re looking for.
|Sunday, January 11th, 2015|
|In Which I Plan A Kickstarter Campaign
When I self-publish the Big Book, I'm going to do it right: hire an A-list team of professionals to do all the same tasks a major imprint would do (developmental editing, copyediting, book design), commission kickass cover art from the same short list of people all the big sf/f imprints use for their covers, engage a PR firm to assist with the book launch.
For this self-publishing project, I have to be prepared to go big or go home. A book unedited, undesigned, and unpromoted is, for most practical purposes, unpublished even after you've published it, and might as well be buried in the backyard.
Fortunately, I have some options about how to go big.
And since you guys are my core reading constituency, your input is very welcome.
The big publishing houses are trying a new model for really long books. Fantasy readers love long books and buy long books, especially in a series, but they don’t like waiting between volumes, sometimes for years, while the author finishes the next one. Readers want something more like the experience of binge-watching an entire series on Netflix, so some publishers are experimenting with breaking long books down into serials. The wave of books that will, theoretically, be released in this way has not hit yet. Nobody knows how it will go.
It’s an obvious fit for the manuscript I happen to have. I’m going to strike while the iron’s hot. With luck, Spires of Beltresa
will start coming out around when that wave of books does.
Right now, Spires of Beltresa
has four sections. I’ll roll my sleeves up with my developmental editor basically the second I have money to pay that person — probably late summer or fall. As soon as I can get the first movement of the book through editing and production, I’ll start releasing one section every three months in e-book format (and print-on-demand trade paperback if the funding comes together for that), and then an omnibus edition at the end of the year (definitely in print-on-demand paperback and possibly also in limited-edition hardcover with maps and stuff if the crowdfunding goes overwhelmingly well).
(And now most of my relatives are wondering what Kickstarter is and what crowdfunding is. Kickstarter
allows people to raise money for creative projects sort of the way PBS raises funds to keep broadcasting: by asking for support, mostly in small amounts, from viewers like you. Like PBS, people who are trying to crowdfund their projects offer thank-you gifts of their products, their time, their public recognition of your support, and so on. Here
‘s more information about it.)
If I’m very lucky, I’ll get to start out with some seed money, which would allow me to go big faster. The college I went to has an annual alumni grant
that allows one person to take a year off from her day job and pursue a much desired project. If my proposal wins the grant, I’ll find out in late April, pay my pros for the first part of the book, and send that part out into the world to show what I can do. In the lucky-like-a-lottery-winner scenario, that’s the point at which I’d turn to crowdfunding, to get the other three sections of the book out.
If my luck takes quieter forms, I’ll find out in April that somebody else with an awesome project deserves my congratulations on the grant, and I’ll run a smaller preliminary Kickstarter campaign to get the first part of the book out. Universe willing, the first part will do well enough to allow me to come back with a bigger campaign to get subsequent parts of the book out there, too.
It’s a little intimidating to think that I could be taking a Kickstarter campaign live around, say, mid-July. Considering that one of the early questions that went into the Big Book was what an epic fantasy would look like if it was set in a time period like 1789, a Bastille Day
launch seems potentially auspicious.
Some of you are Kickstarter veterans — what would you urge me to do or not do? If you’ve never really known what Kickstarter is, what questions would you want answered? If you’ve supported other Kickstarter campaigns, what should a first time crowdfunder know about the backer’s-eye view? What makes an awesome pitch video, or an awesome backer reward?
What do you guys think?
|Wednesday, December 31st, 2014|
|E-book Edition Of The Anthology, And Other Newsy Things
Some of you have been champing at the bit, asking when it would happen. You can now find the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic
anthology at Amazon here
, at B&N here
, and at Smashwords here
. (Smashwords apparently doesn’t know how to list multiple names as authors or editors for fiction, so you’ll only see my illustrious coeditor credited there.) And, just in case any of you have experienced a news blackout like the one I’ve been in for the past month, you may have missed October’s announcement that Tales from Rugosa Coven
is now available as an e-book, too, in all the places you’d go to buy one.
Last month’s concussion
continues to mess with me. The docs told me to expect a long recovery, weeks for certain and months probably. The work-related problems are bad enough — my reading speed isn’t back yet, and I get too tired to write about an hour earlier in the evening than I’m accustomed to — but the human problems are worse. My temper’s shorter, I’m more impulsive. In those ways, it’s as if I’ve reverted to the person I was in my 20’s; she had her good points, but I wouldn’t want to be her again. I have cursed like a Jersey girl in front of my kids, and a couple of times at
them, because the customs inspection station between my mind and my mouth is closed until further notice.
The whole experience is giving me a bad case of compassion for football players. I never really wanted to feel compassion for football players. Is this how it feels to get over a long-held bias? If so, no wonder progress toward social justice takes so long. This is kind of awful. Some days I don’t know whether I’m more embarrassed about my former contempt for the football-playing demographic, or about watching that comfortable contempt fade away.
So it’s hard to tell whether the concussion has, on balance, made me a better person or a worse one so far. The docs say I’ll get all my impulse control, patience, and multitasking ability back eventually. Eventually.
Despite all that, I’ve written a couple of book reviews for Black Gate
Garth Nix’s new novel of the Old Kingdom, Clariel
, tries to be a stand-alone story. I think it succeeds as a novel, but not so well as a stand-alone. It’s still worth any fantasy reader’s while to go back to the beginning and start with Sabriel
. (Here’s why
Tom Doyle’s debut novel, American Craftsmen
, knocked my socks off
. It’s a delightfully multilayered book. It hits a lot of the same sweet spots that early Tom Clancy novels hit, yet it’s also a family saga about rival magical lineages struggling to direct America’s national occult defense. And then there are the little metalevel in-jokes Doyle has nestled into the details of his fast-paced plot, waiting for readers who remember enough of American history and American literature to spot them.
Weirdest accomplishment of my immediately post-concussion period: During the early days, when I was not only supposed to refrain from reading, but in fact had been advised to avert my eyes if I happened to glance accidentally at text (!), I knitted a cowl
almost entirely by touch in full darkness. Admittedly, for casting on and binding off, I had to cheat on the full darkness part and work in low light, but otherwise I knitted like a blind person. Never dropped a single stitch.
Most striking change in my writing voice, post-concussion: Adverbs seem more essential than they used to. I try to cut them, but they cling to their sentences, and, ineluctably, I put them right back in. I really look forward to recovering from that part. Really. Intensely. Avidly.