it’s a Monday

September 18, 2017

My brain is full. On the one hand, it means I think I’m recovering from the August That Would Not End. I can plan more than two weeks ahead! On the other, ugh, I just want to take a nap.

I’m in the middle of the third major revision of this book. Here’s what I’m doing, just in case it might help someone else with their revision:

Chapter two and four combined to become chapter one. (Basically, in the earlier draft, a thing happened, then a more exciting thing happened. Now, they’re both happening at the same time.)

In trying to make this all make sense I had to go back to the beginning and read it all fresh. This got frustrating because I had the feeling I’d written all this before (character descriptions, etc.). Because, you know, I had.

So I backed up. I went through it once to get the bare bones of the new structure in place. (Lots of cutting and pasting. But I didn’t have to make it look good, I just had to get scenes in the right places.) Now I’m going through it again to read it with fresh eyes and make sure all the information is there in a way that makes sense.

This two-step process seemed to work a lot better and saved me from that nagging feeling that I was repeating myself.

Of course, on the next book I’ll need to do something totally different again…



why I write about war

September 15, 2017

For the release of the anthology Infinity Wars (which is going to get really confusing when the MCU movie comes out), I wrote an essay for SciFi Bulletin that explains why I write about war and the military the way I do. I mean, I write about war and the military a lot. But I rarely write about actual war, if that makes sense.

It also includes one of my favorite pictures of me and my dad.


my bullet journal

September 14, 2017

About a year ago exactly, I saw a mention on social media about something called a bullet journal. This was a sufficiently intriguing phrase that I googled it (as I google whenever when I don’t know what something is — as should you!) and found a tsunami of links and information about this Hip New Lifestyle trend that was sweeping instagram and was guaranteed to Change Your Life. Now, I’m the last person to jump on board a Hip New Lifestyle trend — the self help section was my very least favorite section of the bookstore, followed closely by its cousin the business advice section. But I gotta say, this spoke to me. I read up on it. And I pretty much started my own bullet journal that same week.

It’s great.

In a nutshell, a bullet journal is an adaptable, self-guided planner and organizer and whatever else you need it to be. That’s kind of what I love about it — you start with blank pages and then do whatever you need to make it work.  This article (which also links to the original Bullet Journal site) made it all make sense and got me started.

I’d tried other planners — Day Runner, calendar systems, etc. —  with pre-printed pages and notebooks and rigid structures, and they never worked. They didn’t fit with what I needed to do. (It should come as no surprise that my life has never really looked the way that the makers of planning systems think a life looks like.) Entire sections of my planners would remain blank, or I’d start dutifully using various sections the way they were meant to be used and then stop when it became clear that it was just making more work for myself without helping me. There were never pages for what I needed, and the pre-existing pages never seemed to fit. I don’t need a day-to-day calendar with all the hours marked out, not when most of my days are “6 hours of sitting at the computer trying to make stuff up.”  Not to mention the expense of buying all those proprietary pre-printed sheets designed for a proprietary-sized notebook.

So I turned to the post-it note method of organizing and planning, which is utterly terrible. Imagine a desk covered in post-it notes, with various other notes tucked into folders, and yet more notes pinned to a bulletin board. I’d joke about needing to-do lists to organize my to-do lists, and spend time just about every week trying to consolidate my to-do lists.

The bullet journal is a way to organize to-do lists. And least that’s how it works for me. Now, instead of writing things on post-it notes and scattering them all over, I have a book that I have customized to my own needs. When I need to write something down, there’s likely a place for me to write it in my bullet journal. Books I want to read? That has a page. Release date for a short story coming out in six months? Deadline for an anthology I just agreed to write for? That’s got a spot. Stuff I need to do this week? This month? Boom. There’s a page of book promotion items. Another page for trip prep items. Travel, deadlines, release dates, and just about everything else are all compiled in one space instead of me having to consult three different pages to sort my life out.

What I really love about the journal is the way it flows calendars. This is the bit I did take directly from the bullet journal format:  The future log, which gives a thumbnail look at the whole year. Each month then migrates to a page which gives a month-at-a-glance summary (especially useful for travel, as it blocks out entire trips), along with a monthly task list (i.e. things I need to do this month but not necessarily on a particular day). This in turn flows into weekly to-dos (things that do need to be done on specific days). If I don’t get something done it roles forward. If I keep rolling forward the same task then I need to think about how much I really need to do this task.

Also, whenever you need to write something, it just goes on the next page. Go on vacation for two weeks and don’t need your usual to-do lists?  You just skip it and won’t have any wasted space in your book. You use what you need, and nothing extra is left over. Brilliant!

I could probably do a better job of utilizing this tool. Tens of thousands of websites give examples of templates and methods for tracking daily habits, managing housework, long-term goals, and so on. A lot of people use the journals for actual journaling — what happened day-to-day, gratitude lists, memories, etc. It’s a planner as envisioned by scrapbookers.

I’ve talked before about how over the last few years the goal-setting method that carried me through almost two decades of life and success started to break down. I’d accomplished just about everything on even my long-term list. “Just keep doing what you’re doing but better” isn’t a good way to formulate a plan that will actually allow me to accomplish anything new. And what new things did I want to accomplish anyway?  I’d been moving toward keeping something like a rolling list of goals and dreams that I could consult and prioritize at just about any time.

Turns out, a bullet journal is pretty brilliant for something like that. There’s a page for future travel. There’s a page for “things I want to get better at” (like music, Spanish, and birdwatching). A list of craft projects, which I can add to whenever I want, instead of writing it down on a post-it. Sometimes I don’t really have a plan, but even writing a thing down makes it concrete and reminds me to think about it.

I’ve heard lots of people say they’re intimidate by the whole concept of a bullet journal because they google it and are inundated with images of colorful, perfect layouts and beautifully calligraphed pages. Who has time for that? I don’t.  I use colored pens to make headers and things but that’s about it.

Remember:  no one ever has to see your bullet journal. It’s not getting graded. Posting on instagram isn’t a requirement. It’s for you and nobody else. Use it how you want. No one is the boss of you.

Ugly bullet journals unite!


two months!

September 11, 2017

Bannerless has been out for two months!  It feels like forever. It’s been a really long summer…

Later in the month we’ll be having a cover reveal for the sequel:  THE WILD DEAD.  I just broke the latest revision so I know what I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks doing…

In the meantime, the new issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction has my story “Dead Men in Central City,” which is about that one time Rick the vampire met Doc Holliday (as briefly mentioned in I think it’s Kitty’s Big Trouble).  This is a story Kitty doesn’t even know, y’all!


Friday update

September 8, 2017

So much going on. The good news, things are starting to feel normal again, for the values of normal in which I never get enough done but at least time seems to be moving normally and I can start thinking more than two weeks out. I’m able to get my bullet journal back on track, and when I’m a bit more prepared, I want to do a post on bullet journals. Particularly my own personal style of ugly bullet journal, which I think no one talks about enough.  I keep hearing people say they don’t want to try bullet journaling because all the pictures are so neat and pretty and artistic and who has time for that? Well I certainly don’t, which is why my bullet journal is an ugly mess. But I love it anyway.

It’s been a rough week in news, though, and kind of hard to stay focused. Basically, the prequel to Bannerless is playing out in real time, with multiple high-category storms brewing all over the world, entire regions flooding out, or burning out, and no signs of any of it getting better.  In my world, I’m thinking of our flood of 2013 and what that would have looked like as snow. Nine feet of snow, basically. It could happen. That’s what a major disaster would look like here. It would mean not leaving the house for a week, and making sure there actually still is a house at the end of it. Roofs cave in, with that much snow.

Time to get that survivalist stash up to par. I should probably get some more propane cans for the camp stove.

In the meantime:

Infinity Wars, ed. by Jonathan Strahan, is out next week. This includes my story “The Evening of Their Span of Days,” which in my usual sideways take on anthology themes isn’t directly about war. More on that later.

I know what I’m working on next. It’ll be good.

And my niece declared what she wants to be for Halloween this year:  Heihei, the bug-eyed chicken from Moana. Right, we are totally going to make this happen. It’ll be great.

*rolls up sleeves*


art in the age of chaos

August 30, 2017

I’ve been feeling guilty. Many, many writers and artists on social media have been talking about how the current political situation, the fear and uncertainty, has made it difficult to work. Editors and agents are talking about how, across the board, the artists they know are missing deadlines and freezing up. It’s hard to make art when your brain is locked in panic mode.

This hasn’t happened to me. Rather, art has been my refuge. I flee to my work.  It’s the only thing I really have control over right now. I’m fortunate and grateful to have work and deadlines. My work has been a comfort, these last several months. So now I feel lucky twice over, that my art hasn’t left me.

Working on the sequel to Bannerless has been strange in some regards. First, I had more time to work on that than just about any book I’ve written over the last decade. (A whole year between deadlines, what?!) But while writing it, I watched it become more relevant in real time. Bannerless is a more subversive, relevant novel than it was when I wrote it a year ago. In it, I posit a cascading failure for civilization. As more and more infrastructure and support gets knocked out, disasters like storms and epidemics become more difficult to recover from, until recovery is impossible. (For example, imagine Hurricane Harvey happening in conjunction with an epidemic on par with the Spanish flu of 1918. If you’re able to help with storm recovery, please do: here are some links to get you started.) And now we have an administration that has proposed cutting, if not eliminating, so many of the support structures that are specifically designed to help our society survive and recover from disasters.

Bannerless depicts a society where economic strength is measured by whether or not everyone is healthy and taken care of, not by how much profit is accumulated. I’m writing this while facing an administration that is giving the Ferengi a run for their money in terms of sheer, amoral acquisitiveness.

I was aware of Bannerless #2’s relevancy in a way I wasn’t with the first book. And this gave me incentive. Art is relevant. Art is important. Like so many others, I feel so helpless in the face of forces that seem determined to destroy things that are important to me. But I can still write.


sitrep: the return!

August 18, 2017

Turns out last weekend was a pretty good time to be out of the country.

So, I’m back. I spent a day riding an Icelandic horse, I bought a lot of Icelandic yarn, I experienced a Finnish sauna, I ate a bunch of cod in one country and then a bunch of salmon in another, added maybe a dozen birds to my life list including the Atlantic puffin.  I took the fast ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia — so that’s three new countries checked off on one trip! I learned what Finland did during World War II, which it turns out is very complicated. I caught up with a lot of friends, went to the Hugo Losers Party at Steam Helsinki, a steampunk bar. And yes, I lost a Hugo, and had a great time.

Modern communication being what it is and wifi being everywhere, I kept up with the news pretty well, though I might have wished to be a little more cut off.  Strange days indeed, so while I’m still plowing through emails and doing laundry and sorting out the gifts I brought back for people and planning an eclipse viewing roadtrip (yes, I’m gonna do it!), I leave you with this:

Ten Ways To Fight Hate, from the Southern Poverty Law Center.