April 18, 2014
I’m still nose deep in cleaning and working, so this is another random post. I’m contemplating some posts next week on some of the oddities I’ve uncovered — like a stack of Wired magazines from the mid-90′s. I’m desperate to go through them and see how some of their projections/predictions about the internet and tech and life in general have played out some 20 years later.
I discovered: the mass market pb of Low Midnight is available for preorder on Amazon, with a revised release date of December 30, 2014. Still a long way off, I know, but we’re inching closer. My tagline: Cormac. Amelia. 100 years of trouble.
While I’m off working, I leave you with this, one of my favorite segments of South Park of all time:
April 16, 2014
I’m definitely a pack rat, but I try to be careful, keeping things in boxes and on shelves, all clean and neat. What this means is I have a lot of boxes, and a lot of things packed away, and it’s hard finding time to go through them all to see if I really need that stuff. So the stuff accumulates, and it’s easy to ignore it because it’s in boxes. I make sure that things that really are trash go into the trash — I read accounts of real clinical hoarders with a vague anxiety that without vigilance, that could be me. This means I’m happy when trash day comes around, because I take out the trash and it’s a battle won in the war against entropy.
One of my projects for this year is going through a bunch of those boxes, many of which are full of manuscripts, schoolwork, magazines, and so on, from my college days on forward. I’m taking it in bits and pieces, and trying to be calm about it. There are people who say, “If you haven’t looked in that box in ten years, you obviously don’t need it and should just throw the whole thing out,” but I don’t hold with that at all. I should be allowed to keep some things. And really, you never know. (Pack rat’s mantra, right there.) With all the random costuming and crafting I do, I really have gone into my closet or various boxes and pulled out odds and ends that I haven’t used in ten years and found a use for them. So I’m going through these boxes and finding things like my acceptance letter to grad school, my acceptance letter to Odyssey, marked-up manuscripts of my trunk novels, and I’m really glad those didn’t get thrown out. Even though some militant organizers would say I probably should. I’m trying to land in happy medium territory, here.
All this is complicated by being a writer. I write things down, and I save them. I have folders full of magazine articles and pictures I saved because they might give me story ideas. All these notes and folders and manuscripts are evidence of my progress — they’re concrete representations of my work. This is all complicated further by a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a library archivist who said I, as a professional working writer, need to save everything and bequeath it to a collection because it might be important to researchers later. I remember looking at her with suppressed horror thinking, But I’m trying to get rid of things… Again, I’m compromising. I’ve invested in bankers boxes and my real, actual writing work goes in there, now, where it can by easily stored and accessed. I’m trying to split the difference, tossing things like schoolwork and twenty year old magazines, saving my idea notebooks and marked up manuscripts. I’m not torturing myself — if I’m not sure about something, I save it, at least for now.
What’s interesting to me is what the passage of time has done to my packrat tendencies. In my twenties, when I was an undergrad and all the way through grad school, I saved absolutely everything — ticket stubs from castle tours in England, programs from plays I went to in college, flyers for events I organized. It’s astonishing what I saved, because I thought it was important, because I thought I might need it. Twenty years on, it’s very clear I really didn’t need all that stuff, and I clearly didn’t use it in all that time. So now, I have a much better idea of what I really need to save, and what I really will use. I don’t save everything anymore, and that’s a bit encouraging.
April 14, 2014
Almost forgot to post today. I confess, I had rough week last week. For no particular reason, just one of those mood swing things. I started writing three different novels because I couldn’t decide what to work on, but I wanted to work on something. I’m looking at it as priming the pump to see what catches fire. It was a mixed metaphors kind of week.
You know what? I blame the weather. Springtime in the Rockies. 70 on Saturday and snowing on Sunday. It’s enough to give anyone a headache.
I’ve also been thinking about GI Joe (because when am I not?) and the idea that because the entire thing is based on a ridiculous premise, it makes possible any number of ridiculous storylines because the audience has already bought in to the bedrock ridiculousness. And how that whole structure fell apart with that bizarre Cobra-la storyline. Not because it was patently absurd, but because it screwed with the fundamental premise of the show. The audience had already accepted that Cobra is a terrorist organization determined to rule the world, and GI Joe is the elite special missions force, etc. etc. Then the movie and Cobra-la comes along, and it basically said, “Oh wait, Cobra Commander is actually a snake-dude from this prehistoric snake people civilization, and they’re going to take over the world with spores.” It changed the rules of the universe that the stories had existed in up until then, and the audience was left scratching their heads.
Anyway, it seems to me to be a good lesson in making bargains with your audience, and how far you can expect your audience to follow you.
And I really need to go through and label all my GI Joe posts. This is getting out of hand.
March 31, 2014
Thanks to all who came out for Anomaly Con! I enjoy this one because of all the spectacular costumes, and the lovely dealer’s room with so many pretty, pretty sparkly things. All I bought this year was some tea and some decorated bobby pins, but I think I was already wearing gear from half the other venders there.
I’m not trusting myself to post much more than this about the weekend. I came home utterly exhausted. (I stayed long enough to hear Pandora Celtica’s Sunday concert, and I’m really glad I did, but they almost had me in tears, which told me it was definitely time to go home.) Over all, including the couple of program items I volunteered/got recruited for, I was on 11 items of programming, and I’ve decided that’s too much. I’m going to have to do better in the future about saying no and putting my foot down.
It’s not that being on panels and doing readings and things is hard — I really do enjoy it most of the time. But being so focused, being on stage and performing, is very draining and because it isn’t physically strenuous (well, except for helping Terry demonstrate bartitsu), I don’t realize I’ve used that energy until it’s already gone. Pile on a bit of my usual imposter syndrome issues (“Um, I don’t understand, why would people listen to me anyway?”), and it makes for a tiring time.
So, today, I rest.
March 28, 2014
I’ll be at Denver’s own Anomaly Con this weekend. I’m on a ton of panels, and I’ve also been recruited for bartitsu demonstrations and costume contest judging. This is a friendly, low-key con where almost everyone is in costume and looks great, so come check it out if you have a mind to witness some steampunky goodness.
The hardest thing I have to do today is decide what the heck I’m going to wear all weekend.
March 21, 2014
Whew, lots of deep thinking this week. Time for a frivolous post. Last night I knitted and watched the first Hobbit movie, and it made me super sad because the whole sequence with the Dwarves at Bag End is just so absolutely perfect, it makes the second movie seem even worse. It’s like at some point Jackson stopped trusting the source material. But for at least that stretch, he nailed it.
I’m knitting a shawl, and the section I’m in has increases, three stitches a row for something like 50 rows, which is going to take forever, but it also feels very zen. All that repetitive action and at the end I’ll have this giant thing.
I also need to go do laundry and water a tree. (It is so dry here right now…) And I hear there’s a Muppet movie opening this weekend… (I haven’t been to a movie in ages. Two weeks ’til Captain America!)
Have a good weekend, y’all.
March 19, 2014
Had a bit of a rough day yesterday — the wind woke me up, I didn’t get enough sleep, the weather change made me super cranky, and I kind of muddled through it all. So it felt really great to sit on the sofa with a big knitting project I’ve started and watch some TV last night: Face Off and the Marvel Assembling the Avengers making-of special (with gigantic spoilers for the new Captain America movie!) were both on.
And I pondered a bit. This is going to be a rough post on a serious topic, and I apologize for that. It really needs some analysis, and I’m just going to throw it out there instead of doing that analysis.
Face Off: For the second week in a row, a man and woman were up for elimination, and the woman was eliminated. All the remaining contestants are men. It got me wondering about percentages over all: Over the six season, when a man and a woman are up for elimination, how often does the woman get eliminated, and is the percentage higher? Because I gotta say, it feels like it’s usually the woman who gets the boot and the show does indeed have a gender bias. On the other hand, I may just be paranoid. What I need to do is go through the recaps and actually crunch the numbers. In five seasons the show has had two women winners (Yay, Laura!), which is great from a gender parity perspective. But now we bump that to two women in six seasons… Like I said, I need to crunch some numbers on the show overall before I make any declarations.
Then we get to the Marvel special, which had a bunch of great interviews and confirmed my thinking that these guys really know what they’re doing. (That thing about how a superhero movie can also be a political thriller or a techno thriller or a space opera or some other story besides just a superhero story? Yes!!! That’s what I’m talking about!) But putting aside the actor and actress interviews, just taking all the creators, writers, directors, comics pros — I think there was exactly one woman, Maurissa Tancharoen, co-creator on Agents of SHIELD, who was on screen with her co-collaborator Jed Whedon.
Now, I love both these projects, and I’m pretty sure that none of the people behind these projects are sexist or would ever come out and say that women aren’t capable of doing big serious creative work. But what all this reveals to me are the systemic biases. And it just makes me sad, speaking as a woman in a creative industry — how discouraging, to look at fields that are so male dominated and think that the odds are stacked against women from the get-go.
A personal example: At this point in my career there aren’t too many short fiction markets or editors I haven’t placed stories with. But one market I’ve never sold to is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, one of the more prestigious magazines in the field. I pretty much don’t even send them stories anymore, because why would I when there are a half a dozen great markets that love my work? Then this came out: a group of folks crunched the numbers and found that only 14% of F&SF’s content in 2013 was written by women. (Scroll down to see Sean Wallace’s tweet with the numbers. Contrast that 14% with Lightspeed’s 43%.) I saw that and thought: Oh, it’s not just me. It’s not just my writing. There’s a systemic bias that I would have to overcome to get accepted by that market.
It actually made me feel better. But that also means I’m even less inclined to send that market stories than I was before. I imagine a lot of women writers feel the same way, which means F&SF simply isn’t getting a lot of stories by women, which reinforces the pattern of not printing stories by women… You see how this works?
Systemic bias is easy to ignore. But it’s also something that once you see, it’s really hard to unsee.
March 17, 2014
When I was writing Steel, I had to think about diversity and representation. Not because it was politically correct or because I was looking for a pat on the back. I had to because it would make Steel a better, more historically accurate book.
I decided from the first that a historically accurate pirate story would be a better pirate story. I wanted to make sure my readers learned something true and real about pirates, sailing, swordfighting, and the early 18th century Caribbean. To put my readers in the middle of the grit and mayhem and bad food and all the smelly bits. So I did a bunch of research.
It took about five seconds of reading about the “golden age” of Caribbean piracy to realize I couldn’t write about it realistically without talking about slavery. Piracy existed to such an extent in that place and time because of the ridiculously vast amount of wealth coming out of the Caribbean during the plantation period. That wealth was produced on the cheap labor of slavery and the capital generated by the Atlantic Triangle Trade. To talk about Caribbean piracy and not mention the slave trade is to ignore why that piracy existed at all. So my pirate ship, the Diana, captures a slave ship. Its quartermaster, Abe, is a former slave. The crew encounters Granny Nanny, who helped many others escape slavery and founded a town of former slaves in Jamaica.
Another decision I made when writing the book was making Henry biracial. I did this specifically in response to discussions of diversity — I was writing the book when the news about the whitewashed cover of Justine Larbalestier’s novel Liar were all over the web. As part of the fallout of that I read a blog post by a young reader wondering why main characters’ love interests in YA novels were almost always white, or if there was a triangle maybe featuring a boy of color, why did the protagonist always end up with the white boy? And I thought right then — Henry isn’t white. And as soon as I decided that, it felt perfect, because I’m absolutely certain that someone just like Henry really did exist in that time and place — someone with a white father and a black mother who ran away to join a pirate ship. He could speak with great authority about how a pirate ship was the only place he could be himself and find acceptance, more than any other character I could have put there. He felt true.
It’s possible to tell a story about Caribbean pirates that doesn’t address slavery or feature any characters of African descent. Hell, it’s been done lots of times. But it wouldn’t be a realistic story. It wouldn’t be true.
And really, that’s what calls for diversity in fiction are all about. Not about some political agenda or quotas. They’re about taking the blinders off and seeing parts of the world that are underrepresented, or have been outright ignored. Like slavery in pirate stories. It’s about showing the world as it really is, and not just one little corner or perspective of it.
Diversity made Steel better than it would have been without it.
March 14, 2014
Just a reminder: I’m reading tonight at CU Boulder. Here’s the event info.
I was thinking this morning about writing advice. There’s SO MUCH of it out there. A new article or essay gets posted almost every day. Even random tweets and FB updates from working writers can look like advice, if you take what they’re doing as something you ought to be doing.
I got to wondering — how much of all this writing advice sinks in, and how much of it are lessons that don’t actually mean anything until you’ve been working at this gig for a certain amount of time and you learn it for yourself? I don’t mean the logistical advice like “don’t pay an agent up front.” I mean the nitty-gritty of making stories and building a career. Stephen Graham Jones posted this great retrospective looking over his career so far and what he’s learned. I found myself nodding at so much of it because, you know, I’ve been over that same road. But that’s what I mean — do you have to do it before you can learn it and offer it as advice to the next up-and-comers? Can the up-and-comers learn it without going through it themselves?
I’ve read Anne Lamott’s brilliant book on writing Bird by Bird twice. The first time, right after it came out in the mid-90′s — I hadn’t sold a word yet, and I ate it up, especially advice like “shitty first drafts” that seemed so validating. Like she was in the trenches calling, “Follow me!” and I was right there. I read it again a couple of years ago, and I was kind of shocked because there was all this stuff in it I didn’t remember reading the first time — but that I knew anyway. Things I thought for sure I had discovered all by myself, with the powerful rush of epiphany — like how plot and character are the same thing, and how even after you sell a book and are a real working writer, you’ll still struggle. This quote in particular, about being successful at writing: “It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.” This is true. This is me and my writing friends. I don’t remember this bit from the first time I read the book, but I remember it from the second time.
All this stuff about writing I’ve learned through hard experience — people were there telling me about it all along. Someone really had warned me about all this right at the beginning. And it’s not that I didn’t believe Lamott. It’s just there was no way what she was saying would sink in until I’d been through it myself. And I wonder how much this is true of all writing advice.
March 12, 2014
My crocus are blooming. Hooray for spring and flowers!
I completely re-wrote a story. Got rid of two characters and a whole subplot. It’s much shorter, and much better now. I love when that happens. It’s so much work to do, but I love looking at the end product and suddenly realizing I can’t see the story any other way than this.
Got beta reader notes back on another story. A bit daunted with that one.
Got an idea for a whole new novel, because apparently I don’t have enough to do with my time.
Apparently, this morning, there was a car jacking and high speed car chase in my neck of the woods — like, really close by — and I slept through the whole thing. Just as well.