Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Woke Up Still Caffeinated....

Last night was my first "Mars Needs Writers" class at the Loft.  I'm happy to report it's a nice size; there's an even dozen, (if you include me.)

Since my lecture style is very non-linear, I promised my students that I would write recaps here the following morning. The first class, traditionally (and perhaps predictably,) covers the definition of science fiction vs. fantasy.

Alas, I have whip-smart students this time around.

Before I could even engage them in the battle of, "But, wait, is X fantasy, or is it... science fiction???" (my cunning ploy to get them to talk to one another) a women in the class offered up the term "speculative fiction" as a cover all.

Speculative Fiction (according to this article I JUST found) is a term attributed to Robert Heinlein in the 1960s and is, in point of fact, intended to include All the Things (science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, etc.)  One of the first definitions thrown out by one of the students to describe science fiction "stories about the weird" would quite succinctly describe what is meant by speculative fiction.

I also laid out a few of the genre definitions I've heard over the past.  I told the class that when I asked Gardener Dozois, the then editor of Asimov's, how he defined science fiction, he quote the famous line by Damon Knight, which is, "science fiction is what we point to when we say it."  (Or as I misattributed it, "science fiction is what we say it is.")  The other famous quote I misattributed to Neil Gaimon, but which actually, apparently, belongs to Rod Sterling, is, "fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible."

My own personal one is as follows, "Science fiction is any story where the plot turns on science (and/or industry); Fantasy is any story where the plot turns on magic."

Then, we had some fun (at least *I* had fun), listing out various sub-genres of each and discussing various places where the sub-genres can fall into either category.  A prime example of that is that superhero fiction can either be fantasy or science fiction, depending on how the superhero was made: lab accident/alien = science fiction, magic/prophetic destiny = fantasy.  Similarly, time-travel stories can be either, depending on the mode of travel.  In simple: did you build a machine to hurtle back into time or jump through a gap in standing stones on the dawn of equinox?

Again, I mostly do this exercise because I want my students to get in the habit of blurting out their thoughts, asking questions, interrupting me, and talking amongst themselves.  I can usually tell how a class is going to go, by how many people get engaged in this exercise.

I'm here to tell you: we're gonna have a GOOD class.

Similarly, I did NOT have to work hard to convince the students about the value of critique.  I even got an early volunteer, and, when we did a prompt exercise at least three students were willing to read what they'd written out loud, to the class.

(You have no idea how hard this can be in Minnesota.)

So... I came home very, VERY pumped from the late night caffeine and from what I felt was a very successful start. Fingers crossed that everyone else felt the same and that this trend continues!


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Getting My House in Order

Those of you who have been reading Unjust Cause on WattPad are probably wondering what happened to me.  I'm going to try to spend some time this week pulling everything I've written down from there and put it into a big file so I can finally start organizing that mess into a book-like-thing.

It's going to be a big job, and, I'll be honest, I'm not looking forward to it.

It needs to be done, though.  That story went off the rails some time ago.

The other thing that happened at convention this last weekend is that during the interview, I announced that my other plan for this year is to FINALLY start writing some Garnet Lacey novellas as a self-published thing for Amazon.com.  One of the things I just did in prep for that was pull out my old book synopses for the stories that didn't sell.  I'm going to re-read those and see what I can do with what I have (since they'll have to be trimmed to novella size.)

I am SUPER determined to have things produced this year.  I will conquer my depression.  I will get myself back up and out.

You just watch.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Con Schedule, Reading, and Writing

MarsCON 2015 is this weakend, and I'm one of their guests of honor.  So, I hunted and pecked through the on-line programming list and I think I found everything I'm scheduled to be on:

How Come Nobody’s Heard Of Me, Dammit!!
Room 419 (Krushenko’s) -- Friday 04:00 pm
Let’s figure out all the things we did wrong!
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, mod.; Rachel Gold, Michael Merriam


Fiction Reading: Lyda Morehouse
III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars) —Friday 08:00 pm
Come hear our Author Guest of Honor read her work.
With: Lyda Morehouse

FanFiction - Who, What, and Huh?
IV Hawk’s Ridge (Anime/YA) — Friday 09:00 pm
From the basics for the beginners to your favorite websites to share your own stories.
With: Lyda Morehouse, Rakhi Rajpal mod, Bailey Humphries-Graff, Susan Woehrle

Marvel Phase 2, on to Phase 3
Room 419 (Krushenko’s) — Saturday 12:00 pm
Catch up on all of Marvel films from phase 2: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and X-man Days of Future Past. Marvel One-Shots: Agent Carter, All Hail the King, on TV with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. (There will be spoilers for all listed above.) The end of phase 2 with Avengers: Age of Ultron and the start of phase 3: Ant-Man, Captain America 3, Doctor Strange, and the rest of phase 3.

With: Lyda Morehouse, Tony Artym, mod.; Aaron Grono, Bill Rod, Ruth Tjornhom

The Rise of Women Superheroes
Room 419 (Krushenko’s) — Saturday 01:00 pm
Let’s talk about some awesome female superheroes who have become breakout sensations in recent years! Why do we love them so much, and how can we get more?
With: Lyda Morehouse, Christopher Jones, mod.; Cynthia Booth, Catherine Lundoff, Chandra Reyer

What is Anime?
IV Hawk’s Ridge (Anime/YA) — Saturday 02:00 pm
What really is Anime? What’s the real difference between Anime and cartoons, and why do we classify them like that? Hear all the facts and argue it out yourself!
With: Lyda Morehouse, Bailey Humphries-Graff, Hojo Moriarty

Lyda Morehouse Interview
Room 419 (Krushenko’s) — Saturday 04:00 pm
Learn about the mind and works of our Author Guest of Honor.
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, Interviewer

Mass Autographing
Room 419 (Krushenko’s) — Saturday 05:00 pm
The Author Guest of Honor and other interested authors sign their work.
With: Lyda Morehouse, Sammi Kat, Rachel Gold, Michael Merriam, Kathryn Sullivan, et al.

The Wyrdsmiths: Twenty Years
III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars) — Saturday 08:00 pm
GoH Lyda Morehouse is in a writers’ group that was founded in 1994. How does a critique group sustain itself for two decades?
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, mod.; Eleanor Arnason

Hero Support: Sidekicks and Minions
III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars) — Saturday 09:00 pm
How does your hero go about getting a really good sidekick or a really good minion? Who are some of your favorites in literature and other kinds of storytelling? Who is the hero of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings?
With: Lyda Morehouse, Rick Gellman, mod.; P M F Johnson, Ozgur K. Sahin, Tyler Tork

Otaku Dilemma: Wait for Season Two or Read the Manga?
III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars) — Sunday 11:00 am
Your friends just turned you on to a hot new anime (think: “Attack on Titan” or “Yowapeda”) and you burned through the first season in one sitting. Now you’re wondering that age old question, should you jump in and read the manga or sit back and wait for season two to air? What are the pros and cons to reading “ahead”? Is there a reason that waiting is better, is there a reason NOT to wait?
With: Lyda Morehouse, mod

No Country for Old Heroes / Happily Ever After
Room 419 (Krushenko’s) — Sunday 12:00 pm
Topic one, No country for old heroes…. Life after heroism. How do former heroes—real or imaginary—continue to have meaningful lives? Topic two, Happily Ever After. Consider act two of Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Many if not most stories end at the moment of maximum joy for their characters. But life is more complicated. How do two people—real or imaginary—go about staying reasonably happy together for a long time? What are some good examples of this in fantasy literature?
With: Lyda Morehouse, Rick Gellman, mod.; Rachel Gold, Ozgur K. Sahin

Convoluted Quests: The Modern Writing Career
III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars) — Sunday 03:00 pm
Book contracts, self-publishing, short fiction, editing… writing careers these days are often made up of a patchwork of options. Join GoH Lyda Morehouse and other professional writers to talk about how they’ve dealt with current publishing realities.
With: Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, mod.; Roy C. Booth, Michael Merriam, Kathryn Sullivan

I will, of course, also be at Opening Ceremonies and Closing Ceremonies as to be expected. I may be AWOL from the con for a brief period on Saturday morning in order to take my son to his swimming class, but otherwise he and I will be around the whole weekend. Maybe, with luck, Shawn, too.

The last thing I wanted to report is that I finished reading THE GIRL IN THE ROAD and am now on to what appears to be a contemporary fantasy novel called MEMORY GARDEN.

THE GIRL IN THE ROAD is a difficult book to describe or categorize. I was talking to a friend about it and, while there were a ton of things I really enjoyed in the book (future India, future Africa, the strange journey across the wave power generator), the main character(s) were problematic in that they were not only typically unreliable, they were also, at times, hallucinatory. I can't say that necessarily got in the way of my enjoyment of a book, but I'm usually a careful enough reader that I can get to the end and have a fair idea of what happened. I'm not nearly as sure as I normally am having finished THE GIRL IN THE ROAD. Again, I'm not entirely sure that detracted from my enjoyment of the book, honestly. It was well written, engaging, science fictional and many things like that that I normally enjoy but... I don't know that I could recommend it with out the caveat of, "Okay, but this one is seriously TRIPPY."

Between THE GIRL IN THE ROAD and ELYSIUM, OR, THE WORLD THAT CAME AFTER, I have to wonder if 'trippy' is the new black. From the looks of things (so far) MEMORY GARDEN is more traditional in its narrative tropes, but we'll see. THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE had some oddities in its storytelling practices, but I wouldn't have labelled it "trippy," per se. I will say, in light of the conversations I've been having about women's writings, all of the four books I'm mentioning here are very feminine in their approach to science fiction.

I think a lot about what my friend Richard had to say when trying Margaret Atwood's HANDMAID'S TALE for the first time. The books women write are often (though obviously not always), quite intentionally, infused with the feminine. It probably does seem somewhat alien and unsettling to someone who isn't used to ever thinking about pregnancy, periods, and sex (and its corollary: death). These things all showed up in the books I've been reading--sometimes just casually, but sometimes as the point. THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE is very much a female apocalypse, both literally and figuratively. ELYSIUM less so, because the gender of our pov character constantly shifts.

So, it's been an interesting ride so far. The library tells me that ANCILLARY SWORD is ready for me to pick up (speaking of oddities in gendering. I read a large part of ANCILLARY JUSTICE before I had to return it and the ship AIs, who are the pov characters, always identify any human they encounter as 'she' regardless. They will sometimes tell you 'she was male.' But it really f*cks with a person's perception of gender identity, gender stereotypes and other such things when everything is always female. Makes you think. Particularly when women are always told, "oh, 'he' includes you." I'm thinking, by this way this feels, that doesn't work the way we think it does.)

I'm looking forward to reading that one, too.

All this reading has also inspired me. I'm about 3,000 words into a short story that, I'm thinking, is ultimately about redemption. I saw an anthology call for "angel and demons" and so I started considering what I might write since, as you know Bob, this is directly in my areas of interest. So, fingers crossed.

I don't think I can really pull off 'trippy' though, so....

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Book Cover



I have some VERY AMAZING cover art design to share with you guys for the book that Rachel Calish/Gold and I have written. This is the story that we've been publishing in serial form over at http://entertheunseen (and re-issuing, as it were, on WattPad as well). The cover art was designed by Rachel's friend Kristin Smith, and I really love it!  What do you think??

This is, at the moment, a GIANT TEASE because we're still in the production phase. The book, however, will (baring acts of god[s]) be available for purchase at MarCON (March 6 -8). Kristin did an amazing job with the interior as well and there will be illustrations through out from our artists Alexis Cooke and Mandie Brasington. There will be an ebook version, as well, but I have no idea when that will be available. Of course, as soon as it is, I'll link it here. I'm assuming we'll sell the print version via the usual e-bookstores, too. (This is where, once again, I'm SUPER-GRATEFUL not to have to be the only one in charge of dealing with all this, because the dealing with Amazon.com, etc. is never fun.)

In other news, Happy Friday the 13th.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When Writing Breaks Us

Last year, my friend and fellow writer, Sean M. Murphy decided he needed to stop calling himself a writer. This morning, I woke up and discovered that another dear friend and colleague is considering doing the same.

This is heartbreaking to me.

I want to blame something for this, but there are, frankly, too many options.

It seems to me that it's far harder to break-in to pro markets (magazine and novel) than it was when I first started writing. A lot of people are jumping straight to self-publishing these days, and, while that seems to work well for many, it's no more a guaranteed road to success than any other. Personally, I find trying to motivate myself to write for self-publication much, much harder because of all of the extra work you have to take on yourself in order to get a finalized product out there. This why the first of my self-published books is going to be the collaboration I'm doing with Rachel. (She just went over our proofs, because I have to head off to work in about fifteen minutes! Thank gods for a co-writer!!)

But most of us struggle alone. Even Sean, who was part of a writers' group, was ultimately alone with his own sense of 'being a writer' and all the myriad ways a person can fail at that.

That's the other thing I really want to blame. Because, I think everyone realizes how hard it is to break it (and how hard it to survive once you do,) but I think we all underestimate how easy it is to undermine ourselves. Ultimately, I think Sean hit the nail on the head when he said 'writers' write' and that that should be the defining quality, but that's still a trap. Because how OFTEN does a writer need to write in order to call themselves a writer? Every day? Every week? Once a month? Once a year?

My answer is that I think we ought to expand this definition a little, give ourselves a tiny break. A writer is a writer if they have written, if they want to write, and if they write, but not necessarily all those things all the time, every day. Some days, the best we can manage is that we wanted to write. Sometimes, especially after some hard writing-related news (the publisher doesn't want to renew your contract, say,) it's enough to say, "I have written" while you take time to recuperate.

Of course, it's maybe easy for me to say. I have books on the shelf with my name on them.

But, damn it, my friends, I don't want to lose any more of you. Cut yourselves a break. You are a writer because you WILL write. You're a writer because you HAVE written. You're a writer because you WANT to write. Courage is measured in that voice that says quietly, "I will try again tomorrow."

Monday, February 09, 2015

My Partner Has this Fear of...

.. of all things, lightbulbs exploding into her face while she's changing them. She reminded of me of this fear of hers this weekend as we switched out the kitchen light. It burned out when I got up to feed the cats at o'dark thirty. At the time I thought, "Whelp, this is why they call them IRRATIONAL fears, because, really, how LIKELY is that?"

Well, I can now tell you that it's fairly likely when, say, you're idiotically fiddling around with recalcitrant lightbulb in the betta's fish tank where there is running water and electricity. Perhaps, one should have considered, say, unplugging the light, or maybe not twisting it in and out in such quick succession... but yeah, BLAMMO! It exploded in my hand. I am, not, however, writing this from the emergency room, probably only because fortune favors the foolish. In fact, I only have one Hello Kitty Band-Aid on my pointer finger.

I had to IM my Bleach fan friend, though, because, while my finger has the one obvious gash, I discovered when I started dripping blood on my keyboard, there are actually a thousand *tiny* cuts, too. Just just Senbonzakura, I'd imagine.

Because, yeah, I'm an otaku to my core.

At any rate, today is one of those days where I started out really strong but have petered out quickly. My family and I decided to blow off going to the big grocery store yesterday. All of us are really suffering from the collapse of Rainbow. None of us REALLY much liked grocery shopping at the big store much even then, but we all HATE Cub--partly because it's just not organized in a familiar way. I'm sure we'd learn it in time, but so far any excuse not to go is a good one. Though I said I didn't really want to shoulder the burden of the HUGE staple run, I'd be willing to do several really short trips to the big store over the week. Knowing myself like I do, I knew I had to pretty much drop everyone one off at their respective places and head to the store before I lost my resolve. So, that's what I did. I came home with about four bags of groceries, which seemed just about the right size for me, and, feeling super productive, also finally took care of some correspondence and a Loft teaching contract that had arrived in the mail that needed attention.

The correspondence had actually been hanging over me for several months (since last October actually.) The thing that's slowed me down is so silly too. The letter was basically fan mail, but the fan also really wanted to share their idea for a book--in that classic, I'll give you the idea, you write it sort of way. I know a lot of authors mock people like this, but I totally get the impulse and I really wanted to encourage this person to just go ahead and do it on their own. I believe, deep in my heart of hearts, that the only difference between a published and unpublished writer is drive and dream. I didn't know how to write when I started, but I was determined to learn. Similarly, when things got tough (and oh, they always do,) the dream kept me slugging away at things.

So, why did it take me almost six months to tell this poor fan that? They'd written snail mail.

I don't even have a printer at home any more, and while I kept MEANING to sit down and write and actual letter... it was so easy to forget when I started each day with the Internet to distract me...

But today I finally wrote back. Hopefully, this person won't be too angry that it too me so long.

The other thing I did today that felt very productive was that I looked through the list of Twin Cities meet-ups and I found a group that gets together to practice Japanese conversation. They say on their page that they're for Intermediate students, but I'm hoping that it will be okay for me to come and listen for a while as I keep learning. I can't go to their current meet-up, anyway, since it's on Saturday and I took the Saturday gig at the North St. Paul library all this month again. But, so I have that bookmarked and hopefully will be able to join them at some point. In the meantime I still have my class on Tuesday nights and the Japanese language podcasts that I've been listening to, which are teaching me basics like how to ask someone's name and where they're from and what they do for a living, which should be a good start to an actual conversation.

MarsCON is coming up fast (March 6 - 8). I'm going to be one of the guests there, as I'm sure I've said a few times. I'm waiting on my collaborator for a cover of School for Wayward Demons so I can get some promotional stuff ordered. But, otherwise, I'm signed up for paneling and all that. It should be a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 06, 2015

All Sort of Things I'm Up To...

I just spent about a half-hour queueing things up on the School for Wayward Demons Tumblr page. During the process I was chatting with a friend who encouraged me to link to my other Tumblr page (which if you go there RIGHT THIS INSTANT, you'll see I did.) It's a funny thing, my resistance to... invading this sacred fan space I've made for myself with self-promotional things. It's REALLY silly when you consider that I have no qualms about posting links on my fan tumblr space to my reviews of manga or my podcast or my fan fic. She asked me if I was afraid to tarnish my professional reputation with my fan one. My response? No, it's the other way 'round.

I'm really protective of my fan spaces. I don't mind people knowing about them. In fact, I will happily give out my fan name or my AO3 account handle to anyone who asks me at con. I'm very, very proud that at CONvergence last year, in the women's bathroom, I had someone shyly ask if it was true that I was "junko from AO3." It turned out, the woman asking was the person who podfic'd my Bleach/Free! x-over, and, once I confirmed and she told me who she was, we did the dance of squee with each other.

So, it's not like I care if people who are my fan friends find out I write professionally, or vice versa.

I guess it's strange, but I almost feel like self-promoting my original fiction on my fan sites sullies them somehow. I mean, I should get over that, because, as my friend said, "The data stream is so fast. No one will really notice." Which is VERY, very true. I used to worry that if people found out I was a professional writer on my AO3 account that the tenor of the conversation would change. The very last thing I want is for people to stop telling me when I suck because, you know, I guess you know better because you're some kind of pro. Which is, of course, bull.

I sometimes wonder if that's partly why Rachel and I don't get many comments over on entertheunseen.com or why they're not more critical on either of my Wattpad entries. (It could be, too, that both those venues require some kind of log-in.) But, I think, often people are reluctant to tell someone they perceive as a professional that they'd like to see the story go another direction... face-to-face/directly. Obviously, people are happy to say all sorts of things about professional writing on review sites once a book is done and dusted. I mean, I can understand this hesitance. People are afraid of being yelled at. But, I THRIVE on critique. I love it. And fan fiction has been a great place to be treated like a peer by a large number of people again.

At any rate, I suspect I've said all this somewhere before. It's one of my favorite topics to hold forth on. But, so if you want to tell me what-for (and check out some of the new content that's been added) on Wattpad, there is a new installment of School for Wayward Demons up: Gabe Runs (into Darkness.
Also, my review of the latest chapter of Ao no Exorcist (#64) is up on MangaKast.

In other news, I finished reading Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta. It was the first of the books I've read so far that are on the Philip K. Dick award nomination list that I would call straight-up science fiction. It's also a very... subtle, quiet book, despite having a LOT of tension woven in throughout. I found it very interesting. The story follows a woman who is the tea master's daughter in a future Scandinavia where we've depleted much of the Earth's viable drinking water. There's been a kind of post-oil apocalypse and the 'past world' is shrouded in mystery, mostly understood by the things recovered in the plastic graveyards on the outskirts of town. I would totally recommend the book without any reservations, so long as you weren't expecting a rip, roaring, page-turning thriller. The ending is also very much a downer, and the only sense of hope comes from the prologue and the implication that there might be a second book to continue some of the threads that don't really get answered. But, I didn't mind that, surprisingly.

Now I'm waiting for Book of the Unnamed Midwife to show up through Inter-Library Loan. Then, the last one will be the Jonathan Strahan book (which he seemed to have edited, Reach for Infinity which I'm reading last because I'm not a big fan of short story collections.) In the meantime, I think I'm going to start a Melissa Scott book that Shawn nabbed off Amazon when the Kindle version when on one of those 99 cent sales.

Not much else is going on. I finished up the two seasons of Tiger & Bunny that Hulu had, and have, on recommendation, started watching Zenkyou no Terror/Terror in Resonance while I wash the dishes. It's quite a shift in tone, I must say. Zenkyou no Terror follows two very disturbed and unusual young men (who to refer to each other by numbers because they were raised in some kind of horrible orphanage) who are exacting their revenge on society by... well, by being terrorists. So you know, from heroes to villains. It's a bit of whiplash, but I'm enjoying Zenkyou no Terror the same way I enjoyed DeathNote. It's kind of fascinating to go deep into the criminal mind. Like in DeathNote, there's a smart, vaguely outsider to root for on the other side, on the good-guy side. So, I've got that to cling to. I'm very, very worried for the female character in Zenkyou no Terror, but you know... it's early days. I'm only on the fourth or fifth episode so far.

Like much of fandom, I'm anxiously waiting for the arrival of this month's Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan. The things I've seen on Tumblr from the raws make me kind of happy (*anxiously grabs abs*)... I'll have a review up as soon as we see in English