Year’s End

It’s nowhere near the actual year’s end. But it’s beginning to look a lot like for-your-consideration season, and since I only have two things this year for your consideration and don’t anticipate having more, I will just go ahead and round up all both of them right now.

My short story “Jack Among Wolves” appeared in the (incredibly fun) Aetherwatch anthology Skies of Wonder, Skies of Danger.

It could not be said that Captain Jack Valiant objected to illicit custom; what she did object to, strenuously, was being entered into such an arrangement without her foreknowledge and consent.

“It is my most ardent desire,” the Captain said sotto voce to the great blond bear of a man at her shoulder, “that the portmaster should fling himself into the God-damned sea.”

“He would have to go some way,” her Chief Mate observed. “Better to desire he fling himself into the river, no?”

“Desire knows neither reason nor geography, Mr. Kuznetsov.” The Captain stepped forward to address the trio waiting amongst their baggage on the gangway. “I am sorry; you could have the sigil of Black Bess herself and I’d still tell you to sod off. The Blackbird is a cargo vessel, neither obliged nor licensed to ferry passengers anywhere, much less to the bloody Sebiran border. As Mr. Hewlett damned well knows.”

And “Ghosts of Bari,” my second published story from the KinVerse, had the bittersweet honor of being the final story in the final-ever issue of Shimmer.

Salvage is the only long-term game in the universe.

No tyrant of the star-nets or titan of trade ever admired a salvage crew; we’re the crows on their trash-heaps, the rats in their walls. But I don’t think any of them’s ever considered, either, that when their names have long gone airless and their works are rust and shadow, it’s junkers who write their elegies.

Every empire ever raised eventually falls. And sooner or later, the crows always come for the corpses.

Neither of these stories is currently available free online, but if you are a SFWA or current WorldCon member and have any interest in considering either one for a nomination, drop me a line and I can send you PDFs of either or both.

Accounting for Myself

I want to try an experiment.

I wanted to blog more this year — it was a resolution, you may recall. I also want to write more, to garden more, to do projects with my kid more — basically, to do more of everything except playing video games. I want to play fewer video games.

I’m constantly resolving to do more things, and equally constantly failing to keep up those resolutions (to wit: more blogging). I tried bullet journaling. It was great, it made me feel crafty and productive, and I stopped doing it after a couple of months when keeping the journal itself became the kind of chore I needed to set time aside in the journal for.

But three things happened recently. The first was that I read C.’s post about using her bullet journal as a log rather than a planner, and I thought, Holy profanity, what a great idea. Look how tidy that is! My tidy-sense is tingling. Then, second, I was reading my darling Mary’s journal and thinking how much I admire her … accountability, I guess? The fact that she’s able to itemize the things she gets done daily, point to progress as she makes it. And the third thing was that I was commiserating with some other writer pals about the fact that a lot of the writing work I do — real, necessary work, the planning and plotting and research and so on — happens so much in my head or in the background (pages and pages of amorphous notes, index cards jotted unintelligibly in the middle of the night and strewn around my desk, long brainstorming walks and sudden breakthroughs) that it doesn’t feel like work or concrete progress. It’s not a thing I can point to like, for instance, I wrote 1,500 words today. Sometimes it’s just, I took a walk and thought about it and realized why [redacted] is resistant to [redacted], and how that conversation with [redacted] should go.

But that is work, it’s work without which the writing doesn’t happen, because so much writing — for me, anyway? — is head-work, not word count. And I wish there were a way to quantify that better so that I didn’t spend so much time moping about not getting any writing done when in fact I had two plot breakthroughs and learned how fermented horse milk liquor is made. (Look, it’s relevant.)

So anyway all of these things fermented (like horse milk liquor) in my brain and I realized that what I want (à la C.) is not a plan but a record. Both to credit myself when I deserve credit and to keep track of what’s actually getting done and what isn’t.

I have ADD, and I don’t know if that’s why — as C. speculates for her own part — I am Not Good at things like keeping planners and making elaborate schedules for myself. (I seem to make to-do lists mostly for the purpose of losing my to-do lists.) But I do know that the prospect of having to account for my time and actions after-the-fact is pretty motivating for me in general, with the added benefit that it doesn’t require any kind of advance planning or preparation: I have to do the thing, first, and then I get to say I did the thing.

So anyway, that’s the new plan (she said, a touch ironically). I’m going to try to use this blog as a regular — a few times a week, if not daily — check-in, just to report what I’ve been up to, Mary-fashion. It may be news on writing and word count; it may be rambly notes on the research rabbit holes I’ve fallen down or the plot-potholes I’ve filled in. It may be some terse bullet-points. It may just be pictures of gardening or baking projects. But in any event, there will be more regular noises of some kind over here, and hopefully they will form a catalogue of my various species of productivity.

Blank Page

Good morning, 2017.

I saw people posting year-end roundups and so on which seemed very Responsible and Organized of them, and since I am neither of those things I guess this isn’t that sort of post.

What did I do in 2016? I sold two more stories — “On the Occasion of the Treaty of the Thousand Rivers, A Visit to the Gallery,” and the still-forthcoming “The Storyteller’s Sleight.” I was accepted to and attended Viable Paradise 20, and emerged from it feeling stuffed with knowledge and a little gladder and surer of my craft, and — more importantly — collected a tribe I adore. I made a bunch of nebulous progress on the novel, but it was progress, and it was progress both quantitative and qualitative. I went to Readercon, my only con for the year.

Today I am setting out into 2017 with the novel soon-ready for beta, I hope, and two short stories I intend to have out on submission by month’s end, and two novellas I aim to finish and polish. I mean to reach the end of 2017 with the novel at least out on query and a second outlined and in progress, two to three more stories sold, and both novellas on submission. I also mean to read a book a week (less ambitious than some, but since my daughter was born I’ve averaged probably 3 – 4 books a year) and to practice some self-care. Self-care is important, and mine is terrible. I’m going to try to blog more, too, and of course you’ll still be seeing Tuesday tarot writing prompts from me.

I’ll be attending Fourth Street Fantasy, Readercon, Worldcon 75, and Sirens this year, so if you’ll be at any of the above, please let me know! We can get together and I’ll buy you the beer or non-beer item of your choice.

I have non-writing-related goals too — gardening, parenting, anti-fascism, fiber arts, fitness, staving off apocalypse — and you’ll probably hear about those in time, if I’m going to be blogging more.  I will spare you a breathless list of resolutions right now; I’m not sure 2017 starts so optimistically for many of us. There is hope for things ahead, naturally and defiantly, but there’s also so much work to be done.

I have faith, friends, that we can do it.

The new year stretches out ahead, for better or worse. Off we go.

Word for Word

You’ve probably heard before the advice to read your work aloud when you’re editing and revising it. So I’m not here to give you new advice, I’m just here to testify: Do it. Really.

It helps not just for making sure dialogue flows naturally, character voices are distinct, etc., but also with basic stuff like errors of grammar or syntax. We get so used to staring at those words on the page that they become a sort of visual white noise; we know what they’re supposed to say, what we meant to say, and sometimes our eyes just slide over errors because we’re seeing our mental story instead. It’s useful to shift the story into a different form to review it, so your reading brain can’t take shortcuts. (Another method that operates on the same principle, if you can’t or for some reason really don’t want to read aloud: Change the document’s font when you start to revise.)

Last night I read aloud to myself the first half of the story I worked on all weekend, a story I’d been fiddling with in minute and meticulous detail, and it wasn’t until I heard it that I registered I’d used the expression “pretty sure” a half-dozen times in the first couple of pages. It’s a phrase I type so often in my own casual chat and correspondence that my reading brain completely failed to see it until I had to say it.

Thoughts About Boobs

So yesterday on Twitter I linked to @gaileyfrey‘s Storify about objectification and male gaze in writing female characters. Or her Storify about boob spies, if you prefer. You might want to look at that first, if you haven’t; I’ll wait.

I had some expound-y sorts of thoughts on the matter, which were too much for Twitter, so I’m just gonna put ’em down here. They aren’t any kind of gospel; they’re just my Thoughts About Fictional Boobs.

As writers, we have a finite amount of space, a finite number of words, in which to Make Characters Happen for readers. No reader is going to stick with us indefinitely while we noodle around with minutiae, and no publisher is buying 800,000-word books. So the things you say about a character and the actions your character takes on the page should be salient. Character-relevant or plot-relevant, as you like, but relevant and revelatory in some way. Useful information, no noodling. The reader is trusting you to tell them the important stuff, and trusts that this is going somewhere.

If your female character’s first thoughts about herself, or her thoughts on a regular basis, are “boobs” or “hair” or whatever, you’re telling the reader those are salient character details: your female character is boobs and/or hair. If your female character is something other than boobs and/or hair, then maybe that’s the stuff you want to hit us with, in the limited space that you have.

(It is possible the main point of the female character in question is SHE’S WHOA HECKA SEXY, the end. But in that case, there are probably better and sexier ways to convey that than “BOOBS,” which is kind of like Sexy at an Eighth-Grade Level. Also 97% of the time that is a dumb Main Point for any character.)

Boobless writers take note: as a Boobed Person, I do think about my boobs on occasion. But usually only when they’re being annoying in some way, the same way you probably rarely think about your elbow until it’s itchy or you’ve knocked it into something or you’re dressing for an Elbow Fetishist’s Party. My boob-thoughts are not a salient character detail. I don’t put them in my LinkedIn profile or anything.

If the fact that your female character has boobs is one of the most telling details about her, you probably need to think harder about that character. If it’s not one of the most telling details about her, then think about what you should be telling us about her instead. Readers can fill in the boobs.

Similarly, if the first or most pressing thing your hetero male character thinks or notices regarding your female character(s) is: “BOOBS” — well, again, readers absorb that as a telling detail about him. You, the author, have chosen to use your limited piece of the reader’s attention to share your character’s boob-thoughts, thus they must be insights of some kind.

And again, maybe that is what you want to tell readers about him — he is quite noisily heterosexual, or he finds this lady WHOA HECKA SEXY, or he is a libidinous gentleman, or his brain is in his pants-parts — in which case, cool, you do you. Maybe that is an important thing to note; maybe his pants-brain is about to get him in trouble, for instance, because he is distracted by it. But if that isn’t what you want readers to absorb about the character, then maybe shift focus to stuff that is. I doubt most straight men would rank Thinks a lot about boobs high on a list of their significant character traits. Boob-thoughts, extant or not, aren’t high-priority information.

My husband is a big fan of animated movies, and he explains that it’s because everything you see on the screen, everything in the frame at any given moment, is there on purpose. Someone drew it, someone chose to put it there. Every detail was considered. It helps to think about your writing this way, too. Every choice you make matters, every detail that shows in the finished scene should be there because you considered it before putting it in place. Make your finite number of words do what you mean them to.

I’m not here to tell you DON’T DO THE THING; I’m telling you to think about the thing you’re doing and whether it’s your aim. I’m not saying your characters shouldn’t have and/or think about boobs; boobs are rad. I’m just saying that in this world, in your reader’s brain, your characters get to occupy limited space. Is it your authorial intention to fill that space with boobs?