Reminder that this is crossposted from my Patreon site!

I usually really like the holidays. The food, the music, the decorations that add a bit of magic to the ordinary. The parties, the gatherings, the presents. The last couple of years, it’s all felt a bit exhausting, for obvious reasons. I have this sense of clinging to the holidays as comfort in a storm. A thing I hit on awhile back that I’m constantly reminding myself and I want to think about this year: The holidays are a process. They’re a season. It’s not a mad race to this one day or one event that ends up being disappointing, given how much preparation goes into it. What works better is finding ways to enjoy all that preparation for its own sake. This is the time of year when I can, I hope, express gratitude and indulge in some awesomeness:  Mulled wine. The Muppet Christmas Carol. Driving around to look at the lights. Oh yeah, that’s the ticket.

It’s the end of the year, which also means assessing. How did I do this year? What did I do this year? Did I make the progress I wanted? What do I want to work on for next year? (One of the things I’m working on is not saying “need.” As in, “I need to do this, or that, etc.” I was saying things like “I really need to pull myself together.” I realized, I don’t even know what that means. Need comes with pressure and obligation. So how about I say want, instead? I would like to write a new novel. I’d appreciate it if I could find ways to keep my house cleaner. I’d like to find ways to be less anxious about travel. And so on. That language reminds me that these are good things to work for, not obligations.)

On that note, this month’s lesson is going to be about goal setting. When I was about twelve or thirteen, I learned a pretty simple goal-setting technique that served me very well for a long time. And next week I’ll share it with you. I suppose I could have waited until January, when everyone else is talking about goals and new year’s resolutions. But how about we get a head start on that, yeah?

The other thing that happens this time of year is SF&F writers posting about their publications for this year. Ostensibly to let people know what’s eligible to be nominated for awards, but also it’s just nice to see the concrete evidence of my work, all listed out. Writing can be ephemeral; a story is published and then it’s over. I like to remind myself that I actually have been working.

  • If I had to pick one thing I’m really proud of this year it’s my novella, “Polly and (Not) Charles Conquer the Solar System,” on Clarkesworld.  I had so much fun with it, and I think it’s quietly subversive besides. I mean, the opposition party on Mars is called the Guthries? Did anyone notice that?
  • Short story: “Dead Poets,” Someone In Time, May 2022, ed Jonathan Strahan (I’m really fond of this one, too.)
  • Short story: “The Voyage of Brenya,” Lost Worlds and Mythological Kingdoms, March 2022, ed John Joseph Adams
  • Short story: “Grow,” Tor.com, July 2022, part of the Wild Cards series, the origin story of my British Ace Jiniri
  • And my collection: The Cormac and Amelia Case Files. At least I think it’s a collection, of previously published novellas. A whole book’s worth, it turns out! 

Not as much as I’ve had out some years, but still a pretty good list of stories when you see them all lined up.

Review: Weird: the Al Yankovich Story, is glorious. I’m very biased because I’ve been a fan of Weird Al for most of my life. I love UHF, his movie about a couple of losers who are shockingly successful running a local-access TV station. It’s ridiculous and full of love, and everyone should see it. If for no other reason so you’ll finally understand why a certain class of Gen X nerd will shout out “We don’t need no stinking badgers!” at random. Also, it’s about crowdfunding before crowdfunding was a thing? So far ahead of its time! The thing I love about Weird is it feels like a spiritual successor to UHF. It’s a parody of many things, full of love, that feels like it exists in a slightly off-kilter world from our own but is still recognizable. It’s so good. I need to watch it again to get the stuff I missed the first time. Polka Party!

Birding: At the start of this month, I attended Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. One of my ongoing goals: I’m at the point where if I want to be a better birder I need to learn from experts. Birding festivals like these are chock full of experts who can help me learn the differences between Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese, get better at IDing vocalizations, and so on. I saw thousands of cranes and snow geese. But I think my favorite was seeing my lifer Gambel’s Quail – twenty of them swarming the feeder at the visitors center. So ridiculously cute!

Have a safe holiday season, whatever that means for you. Remember it’s all about process!

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August 2022 Update!

August 3, 2022

Reminder that this is mirrored from my Patreon page and you can check that out for more posts!

This month’s lesson will be Plot (and also character).  What is plot anyway, and why does it matter so much? Part of this is about how we really need to get across some sign of the plot on the first page (in a short story) or the first chapter (in a novel). As an example, in the following week’s seminar I’ll show you the before and after of the beginning of the story I’m working on right now.

I have a couple of new stories out!

“Grow”: This is the origin story of one of my Wild Cards characters. I posted my initial outline of this story a couple months ago, and now you can see what the final product looks like.

Also out this month on Clarkesworld: “Polly and (Not) Charles Conquer the Solar System.” I’m really excited about this one because a) I’m still really excited about novellas, which seems to be a lot of what I’m writing these days and b) It’s the sequel to my novel Martians Abroad and I can finally show people what happened to Polly and Charles.

This story has a really good example of how “real world” experience often gets incorporated into my work. It usually isn’t a big plot point or a character based on a real person. It’s often a small detail that stuck with me, that I can use to make a story feel more real. “Polly and (Not) Charles” has a single line about people freaking out in environment suits:  “I made him look at me. You could usually tell when someone in a suit was about to freak out because their eyes would get really round, showing too much white. But he wasn’t freaking out.” About ten years ago I went scuba diving in the Yucatan in Mexico, in one of the cenotes – limestone caverns that have filled with ground water. It’s not cave diving, but it’s close. It’s probably the most challenging diving I’ve done – there’s not a lot of room, and staying calm and in control are critical. Several times during  the dive, our guide stopped each of the divers and looked at our faces. Afterwards, I asked him why. He said, “So I can see if you’re about to freak out.” He explained that people sometimes get suddenly claustrophobic and panic, and he so he looks at their eyes to make sure they’re still calm. Almost the exact line I used in the story. Scuba diving and space travel:  both using technology to keep us alive in hostile environments. I can use that similarity. 

What I’m watching:  Catching up on the latest seasons of shows I’ve been watching, like What We Do in the Shadows and For All Mankind. Nadia wearing two little top hats at the nightclub is something I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time.

I baked cinnamon rolls for the first time. They turned out a little crunchy around the edges, and it turns out I kinda like ’em that way!

And last month I had a realization: if I really want to get cleaning done I need to do it in the morning before I do anything else because by late afternoon I just want to sit on the sofa and veg. We’ll see how long I can keep this up!

July Update!

July 1, 2022

Welcome to my July 2022 Update!

This month’s lesson on Patreon: July’s Lesson is either going to be “Plot (and also Character),” the companion to the June Lesson because as I mentioned then, plot and character are actually the same thing. Or it’s going to be on networking. I’m traveling for a couple of weeks through here and it’s discombobulated my schedule a bit, so the lesson will be whichever one of those two I can get into shape by next week. Do you have an opinion about which you’d like to see first? Leave a comment!

I have two new publications to tell you about:

“The Voyage of Brenya” appears in Lost Worlds and Mythological Kingdoms, edited by John Joseph Adams, from Grim Oak Press

“Dead Poets” appears in Someone In Time, edited by Jonathan Strahan, from Solaris

These are both theme-specific anthologies I was invited to, and so wrote the stories specifically for them. When I talk about networking, one of the things I need to talk about is how I get into invitation-only anthologies like this. And then how do I come up with stories for a specific theme, because that’s a topic in itself.

What I’m working on currently:  I’m rewriting the novel manuscript I wrote over the winter. It’s going well. My agent said the story lacked urgency, so I was able to rework the outline to raise the stakes and better link scenes with causal relationships.  I’m making so many more connections than were there before.  (i.e. Character B is now doing this because of what Character A did two chapters ago, rather than doing it randomly.) I’m reminding myself that what happens in the story actually has to have an impact on the characters. I mean, of course, but sometimes I get so deep in the weeds I don’t see the map. Turns out I wrote an entire draft trying to figure out who the characters were and what the story was, but I think I’ve got it, now. Plot beats, ID those plot beats!

I’m reading something like five books at once because I can’t seem to settle. Some fiction and non-fiction, a lot of books on creativity, just seeing what other people write about it. I think this is a symptom of ebooks – it’s so very easy to switch between five different books, everything from stuff I’ve checked out from the library to old favorites.

I’m also bouncing around on TV. I watched Under the Banner of Heaven, which mostly made me want to read the book, and The Essex Serpent, which didn’t. Both underwhelmed me, even with my beloved Tom Hiddleston in the latter. Neither one ended up being quite what I wanted them to be about, and the shows themselves didn’t seem sure what they were about.

I’m really enjoying Kenobi and Ms. Marvel, and I think it may be that amidst all the chaos of the world I really like being in those familiar settings. It’s like a warm fuzzy blanket. Nothing wrong with a little escapism.

The next season of For All Mankind is up, and I’ll get to it soon, but that show is so emotional I need to mentally prepare for it. Seriously, this is one of the most underrated things on streaming TV right now. It’s so good.

Now, back to the word mines with me…

Patreon Link

January 17, 2022

Okay, here it is! It went live over the weekend, and now you can see what I’ve been working on:

I’m creating a Writing Symposium on Patreon

I’m already feeling some improvement in my motivation — I’ve set this up with a structure and deadlines that will encourage me to get work out. I suddenly realized that I haven’t had an external deadline — someone else telling me they need X work by X date — in a year. While I’m usually really good at setting deadlines for myself, I think that muscle has been getting tired. This is going to provide some accountability. Let the experiment begin!

I’m also starting to watch movies again. At home, anyway. Some thumbnail reviews:

Eternals. Oh, sweetie. Where to start. It’s beautiful and elegiac. And hits so many of my pet peeves in the first fifteen minutes that it was hard to keep going. 1) Opening scroll containing information that a character repeats in dialog a little bit later. (MCU, you know better than this.) 2) Huge, vast, expository lumps. In fact, the second expository lump is basically “Oh yeah, that whole first expository lump was all wrong, so here’s another one, delivered in exactly the same cosmically overbearing way the first one was.” and 3) Look, I just really really need people know that agriculture had been established in Mesopotamia well before 5000 BCE, along with domesticated animals, stone walls, and early urban social organization, so telling me that it’s 5000 BCE Mesopotamia and then showing people digging in the dirt with sticks and banging rocks together is just deeply offensive. I know I’m a little sensitive to this because I’ve been studying the Neolithic period kind of a lot for the last few years. But really, all they needed to do was say it was 10,000 BCE and I wouldn’t have had a problem. Or as much of a problem, anyway.

To be fair, I think there’s a good story in here about a family facing a moral conundrum and members coming down on both sides of it in a really tragic way. But we have to wade through a lot of awkward to get there.

The Tragedy of Macbeth. This is here to remind us that cinema can be art. The design on this is black and white, Modernist, spare, shockingly beautiful. Bergmanesque. Washington and McDormand are fantastic. They play the couple as really in love, and their mental breakdowns in the last half are understated, swift, and brutal. This is not my favorite Shakespeare movie, but it’s a really really good one.

upcoming appearances!

January 13, 2022

Y’all, I’m so out of practice in posting about news and stuff that people would actually like to hear about… But here we go, let’s do it!

February 18-20: I’ll be participating virtually in Boskone. Log on to see my smiling face, and a bunch of other programming besides!

March 16-20: I’ll be IN PERSON at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. This is the one I had to cancel out of two years ago when everything fell apart. Let’s see if I can actually get to Florida this time! Is it weird that I’m really looking forward to doing some birdwatching while I’m in Orlando?

Uncanny Magazine is having a poll to vote on the best stories of the year! My short story, “The Book of the Kraken,” about a girl and her squid is among the candidates, if you’re so inclined to tick the box!

year in review 2021

December 13, 2021

It’s time for the annual review of what I published this year. Had a little trouble trying to remember everything. If last year was battling a chicken the size of a T-Rex, this year has been battling a hundred T-Rexes the size of chickens. I’ve spent a lot the year being angry and tired, and angry and tired about being angry and tired. It’s a terrible feedback loop.

But I think I’m writing some of the best stories I’ve done in my whole career. I’m really proud of this group of publications, and most of it was done during the pandemic. So, I just need to keep going, I guess.

Novel

Questland. About gaming and pop culture and real-world violence vs. made-up violence and what stories mean and lots more. In some ways it still doesn’t feel real that this book is out in the world. Part of the strangeness of this year.

Novella

“Age of Wonders,” in Wild Cards Deuces Down. This was an impossible task: take a 20-year old anthology and write an interstitial that ties together a group of completely unrelated stories. And I did it. And I think I did a good job.

Fatal Storm and Charmed Waters. The two new Cormac and Amelia stories. And I absolutely love the novella format that lets me do these and have fun without knocking myself out the way novel writing sometimes does.

Novelette

“The Burning Girl” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The Norman Conquest with superheroes, and I think we need a lot more historical fiction with superheroes.

Short Stories

“The Book of the Kraken” in Uncanny Magazine. A girl and her squid. ‘Nuff said.

“An Easy Job” at Tor.com. The second Graff story. I have so much I want to do with Graff, he’s been spending a lot of time in my brain lately.

“Entanglement: Or How I Failed to Knit a Sweater for My Boyfriend” in Lightspeed, out just this month. I think this is a light little story about knitting, then I go back and look at it again and… well, I just really like this story.

And that’s my year in publications.

new story!

December 9, 2021

I have a new short story out today! Lightspeed Magazine has published “Entanglement, or How I Failed to Knit a Sweater for My Boyfriend.”

Maybe not my longest title, but close. I’m really proud of this one (I mean, I’m proud of most of my writing, but some stories stand out, you know?) because the idea hit me all at once and bubbled up and turned into a real story much quicker than usual, and it’s always nice when that happens. It was fun to write. I hope it’s fun to read.

Just FYI, I’ve never knitted a full-on sweater.

If you’re still looking for holiday gifts, may I make a recommendation, perhaps if you have a gamer in your life who has everything? My latest novel QUESTLAND might be just the thing.

My latest novella, Charmed Waters, released as an e-book yesterday. Hurrah!

Cormac and Amelia meet a mermaid in landlocked Colorado. Now, they need to get her home.

Kindle

Nook

Apple

An an audiobook will be out soon!

Cormac and Amelia are back!

November 3, 2021

FATAL STORM, a brand-new adventure starring Cormac and Amelia, is now available!

He’s an ex-con turned supernatural detective! She’s the spirit of a Victorian wizard! Together, they fight crime!

I swear, sometimes the pitches just write themselves. This one’s a country house murder mystery. And the house is haunted…

Links: Kindle, Nook, and it’s up on Apple Books as well. I’ll post that link when I have it. Update: BOOM, here’s the Apple Books link, right after the post goes up.

An audio version will be coming soon, so keep an eye out for that.

And in one month, the fourth book in the series, CHARMED WATERS, will be out.

Just in time for some cozy winter reading!

What did I do this summer? I got two new Cormac and Amelia novellas ready to go, y’all! We’ve got ghosts and blizzards and folk singers and murder and cryptid hunters and mermaids in landlocked Colorado. Whew!

FATAL STORM is out in November, CHARMED WATERS in December. Kindle and Nook pre-order links are here:

Fatal Storm:

Kindle

Nook

Charmed Waters:

Kindle

Nook