Thursday, December 29, 2016

End of year wrap-up, Part deux

I know I already posted my publications for 2016, but then three more came out in the past week, SO . . .

"Last Call at the Hypothetical Tavern" in Liminality #10


"Fimbulheart" in Helios Quarterly, Volume 1 Issue 2


"Across a Storm-Dark Sky" in The Pedestal #79.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 Publications

“Between Dog and Wolf” (poem) in Star*Line 39.1, Winter 2016

“Fox Children” (poem) in Dreams & Nightmares #104, September 2016

“God’s Bones” (short story) in Not One of Us #56

Apocalypse Reunion” (poem) in Eye to the Telescope 

Death and Taxes” (poem) in Topology 

Love, and the Merciless Sea” (poem) in Mythic Delirium 2.3  

Saint Nothing” (poem) in Through the Gate 

Automaton” (poem) in Liquid Imagination 

The Book of Forgetting” (poem) in Uncanny 

Fallen to Witches” (poem) in Mithila Review 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Guest Blog: A Nontraditional Foodie Christmas

Please welcome Diamante Lavendar, my guest blogger for the Giftmas Blog Tour!

Food during the holidays. Hmmm. What do I write about?

Well, the holidays have been sort of a rough time for me for a while. And this year, they got rougher. I lost two children before Thanksgiving: one in 1990 and one this year. Food? Well, I can't help to think about the meal we ate after each funeral.

Food has a way of lending some comfort to pain. In 1990 my food choices were different. Now, I think the most comforting thing I've eaten since my daughter passed was a hash brown casserole. Comfort food. You know, the warm kind the settles in your belly and whispers to your blood, “You can calm down. Everything's okay for the moment.” I realize this may seem macabre, but honestly, the holidays aren't all glitter and glamour for some of us. So….if you're one of the many who is hurting this holiday season, try this casserole on for size:

1 pkg. Hash browns
1 green pepper
½ c. mushrooms
1 onion
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
6 eggs, scrambled ( I leave these out because I'm a vegetarian)
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the green pepper, onion and mushrooms. Fry with the hashbrowns in 3 T. olive oil. (You may add more if you need to, to prevent veggies from sticking to your pan). In a separate pan, scramble your eggs. When the veggies are cooked and browned, put the eggs on top and cover with the shredded cheddar cheese. Allow the cheese to melt completely. Salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe is easy and quick. It's perfect comfort food that is still healthy. And it helps to ease the pain of the holidays for those of us who are suffering. I know it's not traditional Christmas fare, but when it comes to tough situations, that really doesn't matter. What matters is it tastes good and takes little to no time to make.

In remembrance of those who are needful this season, please consider contributing to the food bank below. Giving to others always makes the world a better place. Merry Christmas. Please make it a good one.

To help out the Edmonton Food Bank, follow this link.

Diamante Lavendar has been in love with reading since she was a child. She spent many hours listening to her mother read to her when she was young. As she grew older, she enjoyed reading novels of all genres: horror, fantasy and some romance to name a few.
She began writing in college and published some poetry in anthologies over the years. After her kids were older, she wrote as a form of self expression and decided she wanted to share her stories with others.
Most of her writing is very personal and stems from her own experiences and those of her family and friends. She writes to encourage hope and possibility to those who read her stories.
Diamante believes that everyone should try to leave their own positive mark in the world, to make it a better place for all. Writing is the way that she is attempting to leave her mark—one story at a time.
You can find Diamante's blog here.
Her book Breaking the Silence can be found at Amazon. Her chapbook Poetry and Ponderings will be published soon. There's more information here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blog tour--I'm away today!

Over at Beth Cato's blog, I've told about one of my favorite memories of Christmases past. You can read all about it here.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Attention everyone!

Join us for the 2016 Giftmas Blog Tour! We're raising money for the Edmonton Food Bank, and there's a chance for you to win a prize, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Everything (important) I've learned about publishing (so far)

Today a friend asked me to tell her everything I know about the publishing industry. This is a tall order. But I distilled the key elements down to what has been most helpful to me, and she gave permission for me to share it with you, too.

The entire publishing industry is a big territory, and a lot of what I've learned (focusing on poetry and SF/fantasy/horror) may not transfer to other genres or sectors of the industry. But there are some general ideas to keep in mind.

Everything here should be taken with a grain of salt. Or a bucket of salt.

1. There are a lot of scammers out there. If you are submitting to editors/agents, a good rule of thumb is that MONEY SHOULD FLOW TO THE WRITER. That means, reputable places do not charge reading fees, or fees to publish your book or get it on store or library shelves. If someone asks for an upfront fee, or tells you that they'll publish you IF you pay their associated editing group to spruce up your manuscript, they're not legitimate.

2. If you're self-publishing, or looking for an editor and agent, and want someone to proof your manuscript or offer ideas for improvement, there are reputable people who can help with that for a fee, or with ebook design or cover art. (If I ever decide to self-publish, I will definitely get outside help with stuff like that. A good book designer or copy editor can make a huge difference in how professional the end result looks.) Approach it as you would hiring someone to put a new roof on your house, or fix your bathroom plumbing: get recommendations from people they've worked with, check out finished products, etc. Not everyone in the industry is equally skilled or experienced.

3. For that matter, do your research for editors and agents, too. Spend some time in the bookstore, and check the acknowledgments page of books you like in your genre. Many authors will mention their editors and agents, because they know good ones are worth their weight in gold. Make a list of agents/agencies who seem to have a liking for your style of story. Check out their websites and see if they're taking new clients.

4. Is an agent worth it? I have some friends who have gone without because they stick with smaller, more specialized publishers, and that works for them. My closest writer friend has hit the NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists, is going on a book tour paid for by her publisher, and has work translated and published in a dozen or more countries--and she swears by her agent. It's a complex issue, but I think having a GOOD agent can open a lot of doors. Having a sucky agent can be career-destroying. I've watched that happen to friends, too.

5. Another writer friend taught me that, when making book submissions, you should be careful to understand what that particular editor or agent is looking for, and you should not spam EVERY agent at an agency or every editor at a publisher. Many of them take the stance that, if you've submitted to one person at the establishment, you've submitted to all of them, so choose your first contact wisely.

6. ALWAYS READ THE GUIDELINES. All the guidelines. And follow them. It's pretty easy to find sites that will give you standard manuscript format (William Shunn's is the one I've most often seen mentioned), but many places will have their own tweaks or requirements. If you have an absolutely killer story, it won't necessarily be the kiss of death to make obvious mistakes . . . but lots of people write killer stories, so why give them any advantage? And there are always editors and agents who will reject you based on nit-picky issues because it's a sign that you might be difficult to work with. 

7. Revise and proofread. Do it one more time than you think is necessary. Read your work out loud--it will help you catch errors that your brain glosses over.

8. If you have a genre in mind, think about joining the professional organization as an associate member, or a full member when you have the requisite sales to qualify. In my field, that's the SFWA for science fiction and fantasy, HWA for horror writers, SFPA for speculative poetry. There's also the RWA for romance writers, the SCBWI for the writers of children's books, or the MWA for writers of mysteries and thrillers. They have benefits even for beginners--RWA sponsors a lot of conventions with classes and learning opportunities, for example. Regardless of whether you write SF, you should check out SFWA's Writer Beware site--I think Victoria Strauss is still in charge of it, and it's a great clearinghouse that warns of many scammers, sketchy dealers, and collapsing presses. 

9. Writers' groups, conventions, and workshops can be a great opportunity to network and learn, or a massive time- and money-sink. It's important to do your research, but also to consider what YOU need. Don't leap into something just because someone tells you that's the best way to become a success, even if they seem pretty successful to you. What works for them might be a disaster for you.

10. For that matter, be wary of anyone who tells you they have the One True Way to be a successful writer, whether that's writing every day, publishing their own work, or standing on their head while typing with only their big toe. Every writing career is unique, in both its successes and its hurdles. You're going to have to find your own path, to a certain extent.

11. Understand that this is a difficult field in a lot of ways. You have to have enough confidence to sustain you through the struggles, and enough humility to learn and grow from those struggles. Prepare to learn patience in a way you could not have imagined. And try to have a metric for success that does not revolve around number of book sales or autographs given. Otherwise, no matter how good you are, you will have too many days that leave you feeling like an impostor or a failure.

12. I tell people there are really only two rules: 

1) Do what works for you.


2) Try not to be boring on the final draft.

Good luck!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Overcoming the inertia of disappointment

I got a rejection every day for the first four days of the month. And then resounding silence for a few days. I'll admit, it shook my confidence. As much as I love to write, the business of writing can be a soul-sucking endeavor. Yesterday I struggled to do the work. I took myself out of the house to do a revision sweep on a story a friend was kind enough to beta-read, got home and wasted time online for a couple hours before finally getting to the rough draft work I'd committed to doing every day.

The whole time I kept thinking, This is one of the hard days, but if I keep working good things will happen. Maybe the universe will see how hard I'm trying and how much my heart hurts and I'll be rewarded!

So I was all, *Another* rejection? 

Or, you know, maybe once the work's all done, I'll get another rejection. Which is what actually happened, because the universe does not want me to be happy ever again.

So yesterday evening I wallowed and was bitchy. This morning, I decided that was not an acceptable lifestyle choice in the longer term, so I put together a list of markets I wanted to send poems to, and checked to see which ones were open, and what they might want.

And I sent out a bunch of stuff. I'm still cranky because honestly, rejections are never awesome. But I've been caught before in the inertia of disappointment, where a few rejection letters lead to months of sitting on all the new material I've written, or not bothering to revise stuff because that's the hard part, and all that effort seems pointless.

Which is not to say that I'm suddenly immune to the inertia of disappointment. Just that, today, even though the universe doesn't want me to win, I'm not going to sit quietly and take it. Not today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New Poems!

The tax sonnet is live now at Topology Magazine, here.

Enjoy! (Definitely you will enjoy this poem more than you enjoy paying taxes. Seriously.)

And there's "Fallen to Witches" at Mithila Review, here.

I've been writing witch poems this year, after learning that both of my parents have ancestors who were jailed during the Salem Witch Trials.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Grit and the Art of Deliberate Practice

Today I’ve been reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. It’s a terrific book, and one I suspect I’ll hark back to because there are a lot of good ideas here. She talks about the sociological and psychological research around overcoming defeat and disappointment, as well as specific real-world examples of people who show grit in their lives. As a writer who regularly gets rejected, developing that resilience is something for which I’m striving.

One aspect to grit that particularly struck me is the idea of deliberate practice. We’re all pretty clear on the way that time spent in an activity leads to better results. Any writer will tell you that it’s common to run into people who would love to be writers but can never manage to make the time to sit down and, you know, write something. But in Grit, Angela Duckworth takes the concept further. She points out that it’s not enough to grind out the hours. Really successful people, the ones who overcome the inevitable plateaus in life, engage in what she calls deliberate practice. They seek to improve their performance by setting goals that will test their limits and stretch their skills, by focusing on specific areas that need improvement, and (yes) putting in the hard work that will make meeting those goals possible.

She points out that, while that hard work may not be fun, those with grit take pleasure in their accomplishments, and find joy in the process as it helps them improve. So tonight, I’m thinking about deliberate practice as it applies to the art and craft of writing, and seeking ways to put those ideas to work in my own stories.

If you’re a writer who’s made a conscious effort to practice deliberately, what techniques did you use? Did you have a mentor, take a class or join a workshop? Has your study been more self-directed? How did you mesh this practice with your writing?

In line with this, I’ve been thinking about one specific thing I’d like to improve in my own stories. (This is not to say that this is the only shortcoming I have; only that this is the one I think is currently holding me back the most.) My writing needs to be more emotional, or rather, there needs to be a stronger emotional thread in the story, and a stronger emotional connection for the reader. So I’m going to read a couple books that address that particular issue, and I’m going to read stories and think about how their authors develop that emotional resonance. Until I can understand what gives me a strong emotional response as a reader, I won’t be able to translate that into my own fiction. I shy away from emotion too much, in life and in art, and that won’t work.

What about you? What’s your deliberate practice? Where are you going next, and how will you make it happen?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Some thoughts on goal-setting for writers

I was putting together my goals for July, and found myself thinking back to earlier days and the way my goal setting has changed—and stayed the same—throughout my years as a writer. Everybody works differently, but I suspect there are few writers who succeed without setting any goals. And I have a suspicion that setting the wrong kinds of goals can be disastrous as well. Whether the goal-setter is thinking too big or too small, the way we approach progress and mileposts can hamper us. Or inspire, on the other hand, if we do it wisely.

First of all, it’s good to have an idea of what motivates you and gets your creative juices flowing. The sad fact is, there may be long stretches of time where you’re not receiving a lot of positive feedback and outside rewards for your hard work. So figure out if a special meal, a night out with friends, or a new book might give you some much-needed joy. And then think about ways to earn that enticing reward.

Dorothy is absolutely right--but the wait can be excruciating

Break it down

The rough draft of your 300,000 word fantasy opus is probably not going to sell right off. And even if it did, you still have to write the damn thing first. You’ve got your maps, and the ominous prophecy-thingy, but now what? Shockingly, opuses don’t get written in one sitting. And you’re going to struggle.  So maybe your goal list should include something other than 1) Write epic fantasy novel. Maybe you need to figure out how to get there.

Figuring out the best approach is a learning process. Maybe you’ll outline thoroughly and break it down into scenes. Maybe you’ll calculate how long you’d like it to be and plot the major turning points and where they’ll need to occur. Maybe you’ll be pantsing the whole way and set a daily or weekly word goal. Be prepared for the trial and error you’ll need to work out your best method. Remember: everyone finds themselves stuck from time to time. It’s not a sign of failure, so much as an indication that you need to rethink the process.

Best rest stop ever, or best rest stop OF ALL TIME?

Whatever path you take, set smaller goals that mark out the way. Just like you wouldn’t drive from Boston to San Francisco in one marathon session, you’ll need figurative hotels and rest stops on the story trail, too. Treat yourself when you’ve set the hook in the opening chapter, or when you’ve finally slogged through the flabby middle part of the story and see the end in sight.

Branch out

When I started, the general advice was to begin with short fiction and break into the market that way before trying to sell a novel. That advice wasn’t terribly helpful then, and is even less so now, but there’s a kernel of value. You may have a natural form that works best  for you—I’ve been most successful with poetry so far, and my stories all want to turn into novels—but it’s not wise to limit yourself to only one thing, however comfortable that feels.

Learning to write better poetry has taught me about rhythm and pattern in language, about finding images that are vivid and unique, about compressing the necessary details and deleting what doesn’t move the piece forward. Working on short fiction has made me think about satisfying beginnings and endings, and how to convey emotion to the reader in a shorter space. And longer pieces have their own needs and structural concerns, calling for much deeper thinking on matters of theme and plot and characterization. All of those things are valuable parts of a writer’s toolkit. Even if poetry requires a different mindset than fiction (like thinking in a different language, as one writer puts it), I can use what I’ve learned in every aspect of writing.

There’s value in trying different genres as well. Too often we find ourselves locked into one particular type of story, but taking the risk of writing in a different field can bring new life to all of a writer’s work. Anyone who reads voraciously can think of favorite authors whose work grew stale over the years, as they trod the same ground again and again. So don’t be afraid to experiment. Write in a point of view you’ve never tried before, switch to a different verb tense, or even give that genre mash-up you’ve been dreaming of a shot.

In other words, don’t forget to have fun. Otherwise, you might as well be making widgets in a gloomy factory.

Build it up

The longer I write, the more clearly I see how much I still have to learn. There are ideas I have that I can’t work on yet, because I just don’t have the knowledge and experience to convey what’s in my mind and heart. (I know some of you are saying that I should try anyway—and you’re right, to a point. There’s value in taking risks, but there’s also value in gaining an awareness of the gaps in your skills and exercising patience.)

So one of the things I’m working on consciously (and semi-conscientiously) right now is to gain a better understanding of what makes good writing in various areas, to study writers who are good and work on incorporating those skills into my own toolkit. To accomplish that, I’ve set goals to read anthologies and collections and think about the stories that seem particularly effective. I’m critiquing regularly for other people, too. In the past, I’ve worked as a slush reader, and that was an enlightening experience. You know how editors will say, “I don’t ever want to see stories with X [vampires, zombies, sappy love stories]!” There’s a damn good reason for that. And you will understand, when you’ve read through every possible permutation of boring, sloppy, unimaginative vampire story that your fellow writers can come up with.

When I was an editor, it was stories about people losing it and killing their spouses. There's a lot of spousal rage out there. Seriously.

In short, there are a myriad ways in which you can build and expand your writer’s toolkit. One of the terrifying things about this work is that there’s so much more to learn. But that’s also the wonderful thing about it, too. I will never reach a point where I know everything about writing. As long as I want to, as long as I work at it, there’s always another mountain to conquer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Reading fees: Not even once.

Posting this makes me feel a little like a cranky Luddite, but this new trend of magazines charging reading fees for submissions is really terrible. I get why contests do it--it's why I don't enter contests, but there has to be some pool from which to draw the prize money. But regular publications? No no NO.

This crab with a plastic fork conveys my feelings.

Here's the thing: writers generally write on spec. At least that's the case for beginners, and for a lot of the rest of us who don't have a multi-book contract. We have to put in a whole heck of a lot of work, up front, with no guarantee of payment. That's the burden of risk the creator bears in the market.

Editors and publishers have to sort through all the not-awesome submissions to find the ones that are both wonderfully written, and fitting for the publication. Slogging through the slush pile is not the most fun part of editing (and I say this as a former slush-pile-slogger) but that's part of the burden of risk the publisher bears in the market.

When a publisher charges a writer to read their work, that's shifting more of the burden of risk onto the writer, who is already bearing enough by working without any upfront pay. It's a crappy thing to do, and unprofessional. STOP IT.

And writers, do not pay these fees. Revenues should flow to publishers from advertisements, crowdfunding, and subscriptions. Not from the writers. The implication is that somehow you'll get a more fair read by paying for the privilege, but I wouldn't count on it. If you want to sink more money into your craft, take a class. Go to a convention and network. Hire an editor and a cover artist and publish your own work. But don't pay someone to do their job. If they can't make it work without your fees, they're probably not ready for the big leagues anyway.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dear Short Story:

Oh shiny new short story, I'm begging you: Please, please, please do not turn into another novel.

I can't juggle another novel right now, no matter how adorable your characters are.


The Writer

Picture courtesy of my sister Margaret Bibber, who arms crabs in her spare time.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

100 Days of Writing

I feel sort of like an addict, telling you that today is the 100th straight in which I have written something new. (Maybe I am a laziness addict. Sometimes just sitting down for the time it takes to write a page of . . . something . . . feels like a huge battle.)

Here's the thing, though: while writing every day works for me, it may not work for you. It's important that we have this discussion, because I don't want anyone to feel like they're Doing It Wrong. That's something that gets slung around a lot in the writing world, and I've learned to be wary of people who try to tell me there's One True Way of creating. That, my friends, is a load of crap.

For me, it's important to write every day--at this point in time--for a couple of reasons. One, which I consider the most important of all, is that when I write, I'm happier. Sometimes the good feeling arises just from sitting at the computer and working on a cool scene or a poem that's been gnawing at my brain. Other times, it's glorious to put in the time and feel victorious over my lower nature. Either way, it's healing. Times when I'm not writing are times when I'm not at my best.

The baby alpacas want you to be happy. Listen to the baby alpacas. Do what they tell you.

Second, putting the time in to hone my craft is one sure way I know of to get better at it. And my mind is more focused when I make a point of showing up. I have a lot to learn, and the more I work at writing, the clearer my shortcomings appear. There are other elements to learning: reading widely and thoughtfully, doing research, revising, talking about writing with more knowledgeable people. But none of those can substitute for making words of my own.

I don't work the same project every day, but if I have two or three or four going, of different lengths and styles. A blog post counts as new words. A poem counts as new words. A page of fiction counts, but no more or less than the others. When I lose focus on one project, or run into the Brick Wall of What the Hell Happens Next, the lizard hind brain has already been working on some other thing that needs telling. Or maybe it's worked out what I did wrong the last time I ran into a roadblock.

That's my process. It's what works for me. Your process may be different. Hell, my process will probably change if I ever have a non-self-imposed deadline. And that's okay. I expect at some point in the future, I'll be sane enough that writing every day will seem less important. But for now, there's a deep personal significance in letting the words out any-which-way and getting comfortable with that.

Daniel Jose Older wrote this really great post on Seven Scribes, talking about how wrong the 'write every day' advice can be. I love the point he makes right in the title, that in order to write, we have to forgive ourselves, let go of the shame that can hold us back and even destroy us. It's important advice, and you should read it, because Older says it better than I can.

Whatever form your shame takes, however it tries to take your voice, find the way to let it go. I can't tell you how to do that, but hopefully you'll forgive me for being excited that I'm learning to show shame the door--and write like my life depends on it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A question of strength

Today marks the 86th straight day in which I’ve done some rough draft work. Sometimes just a poem, other days I’ve written as much as 2000 words. The important thing for me right now is the act of showing up. When I do that, my moods are more even and I tend to be more creative overall. It’s the kind of streak that won’t last forever, but it reminds me why taking the time to commit to my work is important.

I'm kind of more in the blue circle right now.

That being said, I’m struggling with the work—particularly the part where I’m supposed to focus on rewriting and making the words sing, and the part where I need to send stuff out and collect rejections, and the part where I should probably make a list of agents and polish the novel query like I’ve been meaning to do for over a year now.

I’m really reluctant about that part, almost on a molecular level. Bit by bit the urge is returning, because I do want to share my work with others. That being said, writing to get published was a huge factor in the massive depression from which I’m emerging, which makes me leery of the risks involved. Not just rejection, though that’s never enjoyable, but the sense of futility and invisibility that have dogged me.

Let's face it, none of us will ever be as awesome as Helen Mirren and Judi Dench.

So here’s what I’m wondering, my fellow creative types: Do you know how to distinguish between legitimate self-care and recalcitrant foot-dragging? How do you tell them apart? Have you found a way to give yourself the courage to fail, while still making a safe space for the fragile parts of your soul?

I could really use your advice.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Do What You Love (Badly)

A while ago, the Spousal Unit and I were talking about our high school days, and about doing sports in particular. (I was a track rat who specialized in throwing heavy objects because I was even worse at jumping and running; he was a swimmer and water polo player.) I love to hear tales of his wild days, and the torturous regime of practices his coach put him through. One of his teammates subsequently tried out for the U. S. water polo team, and the whole group often went to the regional championships in California.

I asked him, “Do you miss it?”

“Well,” he said, “I was never very good.”

“That’s not what I asked. Do you miss playing?”

He was quiet for a moment and then said, “Yeah. Yeah, it was fun, and I miss it.”

I once read that, if you ask a group of kindergarteners if they’re artists or dancers or singers, they will generally agree in a heartbeat that they are, in fact, totally talented. And they have fun with it. But if you go back to the same group of kids a few years later, and ask which of them identifies as an artist, very few will raise their hands.

I think that’s sad. (I also have this cockamamie theory that our warped view of talent and creativity worsens the epidemic of mental health and substance abuse issues in our society, but that’s probably a post for another day.)

A lot of us, like my spouse, have absorbed the idea that after a certain point, if you’re not demonstrably good at something, you lose the right to enjoy it. You’re off the team, as it were. Maybe it’s a self-inflicted judgment, or maybe a host of bad reviews and snarky comments have worn down hope. And attempting any kind of creativity as a business proposition is its own special kind of hell. Trying to balance the need to make things and the need to eat, putting your deepest and most fragile self on display and hoping no one utterly stomps on it . . . That’s a tough life.

Yeah, that.

I’m small potatoes in the writing world, but I’ve listened to a lot of other writers—amazing writers, people you admire—and they all struggle with keeping that love of creating alive. Maybe there’s a point where someone is so successful and popular and beloved that they never, ever feel bad about their work. But I haven’t met that writer yet, and I kind of suspect that if I did, that writer would be, you know, dead.

In some ways, this is a great time to be creative. You can reach an audience anywhere in the world, make connections and collaborations to an almost unlimited degree. At the same time, it’s easy to feel lost, with the relentless sense of competition, calculated cruelty, and looming invisibility, especially when you factor in the tendency of every artist ever to feel inadequate to the task.

My first crochet project--sort of oddly shaped

I think I mentioned that I’ve been learning to crochet over the past few months. Slowly, and badly. The Spousal Unit tells me scallops are ‘in,’ but I think he’s just being kind about the wobbly edges of my projects. But you know what? I’m having fun crocheting badly. I am sucking magnificently, with some pretty yarn and shiny hooks. It’s good to have a reminder that being brilliant is not the be-all-and-end-all of existence, and learning to love new things and take risks should be a big part of life.

What if we all made the choice to do what we love, regardless of whether or not we met anyone's standards--even our own--of 'good enough'? And what if we reached out to others and encouraged their efforts, not with false praise, but genuine affection and appreciation? If we're all going to suck anyway, what if we did it with joy and enthusiasm?

So while I’ve recommitted to growing and improving as a writer, I’ve also given myself permission to do it badly and enjoy it. Unlike ballet—or brain surgery—writers get unlimited revisions to make things better. The magic happens as much from love and joy as from hard work. I don’t want to forget that again.

I'm learning to be okay with this.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Tomorrow, when I make the drive from Buffalo to Maine, that will mean I've driven all the way across the contiguous United States on my own.

From the Maine coast . . .

To the Oregon coast (and many points between)

Before he died, my great-uncle Ed visited every state in the U. S. I'm up to 32 now, so I need to plan some new travels soon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Snippet: Prophecy of Bone

The prosecutor leaned close, her breath stinking of sausage and stale beer. “Do you hear them? They want blood, and yours will do.”
Through the dull roar of pain a sharper howl reached his ear, a wild animal with many throats. He couldn’t make out the words, but he suspected this stout, humorless woman was right. “You are willing to bet . . . your office . . . on my guilt?” The words tangled on his tongue, and he drew on the last dregs of his strength. “I saved General Tugg . . . from an assassin in Kethmira.”
She snorted.
“How I came to his . . . notice.” He flexed his fingers, shocked at how cold they felt. “For your sake . . . I hope your protector has more power.” Dev choked and something wet erupted from his chest and sprayed over his chin. Blood, probably, from the taste. The pain seared his chest, lanced down his back. At least he wouldn’t have much longer to wait for death, he thought. “Neera,” he whispered. That would be his last regret: that she would have to bury him, so soon after her husband.
A booming crash shuddered through the thick stone walls of the building. Another followed close after, then another. The prosecutor was barking orders to subordinates outside the cell, but the words no longer made sense to Dev. He wondered if death would come as a bright light, the way his father’s people taught, or if he would find himself in a slow-moving river full of blossoms, as his mother had sung of before her own demise.
Someone cursed loudly, right in his ear. He’d have flinched away from the spray of spittle on his ear, but he couldn’t move his arms and legs.
Another resounding crash gave way to the sound of squealing metal. Dev found himself flung back, in mind if not in body, to the train accident: Pain. Noise.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Latest publications

Hey, everybody! Just a quick update to let you know where to find some of my new work. In a couple places, it's even free to read. Everybody likes free, right? Okay, here we go:

The second half of Uncanny Magazine's issue 9 is online. My poem "The Book of Forgetting" is here. (But you should also read the excellent poems by C. S. E. Cooney and Brandon O'Brien. I'll wait.)

If listening is more your thing, there's also a podcast.

(And as a sidenote, there's a companion piece, "The Book of Longing," that's here.)

Another poem, also available online, appeared in issue 2.3 of Mythic Delirium, which you can read here.

And if fiction is more your thing, I've got some stories in anthologies. There's "Cover Her Ghost in a Feathered Cape" in Ruins Excavations from Hadley Rille Books, which you can find on Amazon here. And if you want something even spookier than ghosts, there's "Wandering Swallows" in the Triangulations: Lost Voices anthology here.

ETA: Also also, because I'm forgetful, I didn't mention the Angels of the Meanwhile anthology, which you can check out here. All proceeds go to help my friend Elizabeth McClellan through some tough times, and there are a whole bunch of fabulous authors featured!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How did you know he was the one?

Last week, the Girl!Twin called home from college. I miss having her around, and it was a good talk. I’d posted on Facebook about the day her dad proposed to me, and how I hadn’t taken him completely seriously at first because it was April Fool’s Day.

This is the Girl!Twin, headbutting a goat. As you do.

She asked, “How did you know he was the one?”

[I should add a caveat here: I don’t believe in The One. I do think some people are more suited than others, but a mature, basically decent human being can build a life with any number of potential spouses. We all have so many choices in life, so many varied experiences. And the idea that you have to somehow stumble upon the one right person, at the right moment? That seems like way too much of a crap shoot for my tastes.]

One of these fabulous beasts is the Spousal Unit.

Looking back, I can’t say there was one defining moment when I looked at the Spousal Unit and thought, Yep, that’s the one. More like a series of moments, when I saw the pattern of our lives intertwining, when I recognized in him someone I’d enjoy being with for the long haul.

But there was one conversation early on, which caught me off guard in the best way possible. It was late 1990, early 1991, just before the first Gulf War started. The future Spousal Unit were driving around—probably headed out for shakes at that great little place off campus in Provo that doesn’t seem to exist anymore—and discussing current events. I don’t recall what we disagreed about. It wasn’t an argument; I just expressed my opinion, and then commented that he probably wouldn’t want to date me again.

I do remember, vividly, what he said next: “I think it’s sexy that you’re smart. I’m tired of dating girls who couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map.”

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how badly I needed to hear that from my significant other. I’d dated a few guys before that, some of them nicer than others, but not one of them—not a single one—ever made me feel that the quality of my mind was important. I’d long since decided not to play stupid for anyone, because that’s a horrible way to live, but I’d gotten used to boys politely ignoring that part of me. Having any measurable degree of intelligence was at best the sort of defect that someone could overlook if I had enough acceptable traits. I’d never imagined that holding my own in a discussion of geopolitics might be a selling point.

That’s the story I told my daughter. And I said, “The right person for you is the one who loves your whole self.” Too often in life, we accept less-than because that’s how we see ourselves. Even the good parts of us can make some people feel uncomfortable. But that’s not the kind of person you want to wake up next to for the rest of your life. The right one fuels your good ambitions, because they already see the culmination of them in you.

It’s good to be loved for being a whole person.

We were both fairly intelligent people until we had children, and we've been wrong and stupid pretty much every day since then. True story.

[Side note: If you ever meet the Spousal Unit, and happen to ask him who’s the brains of the family, he’ll probably say it’s me. Apparently he’s known for bragging me up behind my back. But you should not believe him, because he’s an absolute whiz at a number of things that stump me, and he’s one of those people who’s always willing to learn something new. Which, to my mind, is one of the best measures of intelligence.]

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The obligatory 'Where do you get your weird ideas?' post

I had a variation of the ‘where do you get your ideas’ question on Twitter last week. Since I’m not famous, it’s not one I have to answer very often, but it’s definitely not the kind of thing I can fit into 140 characters, either. So this is my (admittedly limited) knowledge about ideas.

First of all, if you court ideas, you will end up with more of them than you can ever hope to use in a lifetime. A few years ago when the Spousal Unit and I were vehicle-hunting, a car salesman found out that I’m a writer, and he spent as much time trying to get me to ghost-write a book for him as he did trying to get me to shell out for a car. “It’s a great idea!” he said. “It’s a science fiction novel, and you write science fiction! I’ll split whatever we make on it!” He was very enthused about this plan. I was rather less so, inasmuch as he was offering half the profits to me while asking me to do all of the actual hard work. I told him what I always tell people in that situation: Write it yourself. If the idea makes you feel that way, then you can do better justice to it than I ever could. And anyway, since I usually have a good half-dozen novel ideas besides the one I’m currently writing and the three I need to revise, it could be a while before I get around to you.

This is a good reason why you should write your own damn book.

Connie Willis is known for saying that ideas are like the leeches in The African Queen. “You don’t get ideas,” she says. “Ideas get you.”

This is more true than non-writers realize. I find ideas are especially pestiferous when I’ve reached a slow spot in the current work-in-progress. I’ve made a wrong turn, or need to think more about the characters and their motivations . . . and suddenly there’s a shiny new idea jumping up and down and waving its metaphorical hands in the air. Like the know-it-all in fourth grade, it yells, “Hey! Pick me! Pick me!”

And I can never resist taking a little peek. Here’s the thing about ideas for me: they aren’t like a dry memo from some corner of my brain. I get movie clips and sound bites, but only long enough to intrigue me, and then they’re gone again. So I’ll overhear a couple characters having a heated argument about the heist they’re planning, or I’ll see someone about to step into a dangerous situation. For the story in the Ocean Stories anthology, a young woman who’d suffered a devastating loss was stuck at a social event and trying to stay out of sight when a mysterious stranger showed up—and shifted shape between when my character saw her and when everyone else noticed her. Everything else—the whole world—grew out of that moment.

Last week turned out to be a week for writing poetry. (Poems and stories have completely different energies. Usually if I’m writing one, it’s difficult or even impossible to write the other—but that’s a post for another day.) I wanted to experiment with formal poetry—sonnets, villanelles, and the like—so I got some of my poet friends to make requests and suggest words. So far I’ve written eight new poems, mostly generated from those suggestions.

I realize this is how many of you think of poetry, but I like you anyway.

Sometimes I read something and it strikes a creative nerve. The current project grew out of a true-life account of some very weird circumstances on a ranch in northern Utah that my friend David suggested I read. But it may not be as obvious as that. A whole poem may spring from a phrase in a history book that hits me in just the right way. (I realize I’m using a lot of violent verbs here, but for me there’s an intense, often physical reaction when an idea shows up. The best ones make the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end. I’ve learned not to ignore it. It’ll knock—really loudly—but if I don’t answer, that idea will leave again without warning.)

Ideas aren't going to listen to your requests anyway. Get used to it.

This is why I’ve learned to tolerate the distraction of shiny new ideas. While it’s important for writers to finish what they start—ask anyone who’s been reading the Game of Thrones books how we feel about unfinished projects—creativity is an organic process. Nurturing the energy that churns up new ideas can be as vital as enduring the slog where it seems like the story will never come together. And sometimes, the lizard hind-brain knows things my conscious mind hasn’t yet processed. The image that seems like it has nothing to do with the current story somehow fits into the pattern, making the whole stronger than it would have been otherwise.

And I know I’ve been using weasel words in this: ‘somehow’ and ‘sometimes.’ Maybe you want a road map to writing a story, and I’m giving you a couple of sketches and a nice soundtrack instead. But that’s the part where the magic comes in. You can cultivate that moment by showing up, by feeding your brain with interesting pictures and words and experiences. The magic happens in its own time, though.

When I was a kid, I’d visit my grandmother, who lived in a 250-year-old cottage on the coast in Maine. There was no electricity and no running water, so we had to use the hand pump in the yard that brought up rust-colored water that tasted like iron. If you’ve ever done that, you know that when a pump goes unused for a while, it can lose suction or whatever it is pumps need to do their job. You have to prime the pump, pour a little water down into the mechanism, and that’s enough to get fluid moving in the right direction again. Creativity is like that—it needs a little inspiration sometimes, but once that energy starts flowing, it’s hard to put a stop to it.

I totally miss the good old days of going to the outhouse in the middle of the night and hanging my naked ass over a hole filled with angry spiders. No, wait, I don't miss that.

So prime that pump with the most interesting words and pictures and people you can find. Try something new. Be brave, and be hopeful.

And when those ideas are mobbing your doorstep, don’t forget to take a moment and let them introduce themselves, even if you’re already busy. Write them down, so they don’t wander off.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable

One of the things I’m working on this year is learning to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I think a lot of my bad habits grow out of the desire to paper over any feelings I don’t like: sadness, anger, shame, fear. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, eating unhealthy foods is a coping mechanism.” It’s another thing entirely to understand what it means in connection with my moods and behavior.

If I could just live in my most favorite place . . . all my issues would have an ocean view!

A key moment came when I was rereading The Inner Voice of Love by Henri J. M. Nouwen. Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, struggled with a deep depression—the kind of dark night of the soul that tends to lead either to powerful insights or really destructive behaviors. Or maybe both, if you're like me. The Inner Voice of Love  consists of a series of brief essays that he originally wrote to himself as he worked through this chasm of despair. Later, friends advised him to seek a publisher, and I am glad he took their advice. His perspective as a Christian may not work for every reader, but the things he has to say about being kind to himself, befriending those broken and fearful parts that he’d been shunning, are some of the most moving words I’ve read on the subject. I think they’d be helpful to a wide range of people.

The thing that struck me on this reading addressed the empty place Nouwen recognized at the heart of himself. As he worked to find a better mental and spiritual state, he gained the insight that this hollow place—what he seemed to think of as the inevitable distance between any mortal and God—was something he’d been trying to fill for years with relationships and other means of avoiding the pain. The relationships, he noted, always fell apart because he needed something beyond what any fallible human, however loving, could provide. Nor could he avoid for long that gaping hole, however alluring the distractions he found or created.

If you're able to laugh at this, probably I've never decided you were the answer to all my problems.

What finally dawned in him was the need to make peace with that absence, accept that it was an integral part of himself and his experience. In his essays, he counsels himself to be present with the pain, the confusion, the disappointment. To not grasp at other people, to not avert his gaze.

As it turns out, this is both excellent advice, and really, really hard to work on. I am a clever monkey, and lots of things interest me, so it’s far too easy to let my own stories or other people’s stories or craft projects or shiny objects or whatever paper over the pain for a bit. Or chocolate. Chocolate is a good paper-overer. At the same time, I’ve found myself repeatedly trying to befriend people who are clearly not that interested. Apparently the Bad Brain thinks if I can just win over one of those too-cool people, it will somehow make me okay. All those years of social floundering and loneliness and feeling like I don’t belong will . . . I don’t know. Not have happened? Belong to some other social leper?

If you’re somewhat less crazy than I am, you can probably see that none of those things will work, long-term. It can put the brakes on the downward mood spiral for a while, but it doesn’t end. There aren’t enough spontaneous bookstore purchases in the world to shut off the Bad Brain permanently.

Sometimes your shadow self just wants to snuggle.

But here’s the thing I’m learning: if I just sit with the uncomfortable stuff, whatever it is, it turns out I am not actually going to die from it. And while it still sucks, sometimes monumentally so, it’s also temporary. The pain fades into the background. I can be with that void, that chasm, acknowledge it, and after a while I can get back to being present with the writing, or the family stuff, or friends . . .Real life. The chasm is real, too. It’s the shadow part of me, working through the past, and the present. It’s doing necessary things. The fact that I didn’t want to see that for a long time doesn’t negate the meaning of it.

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote a terrific essay on the shadow self in her book The Language of the Night. It’s been too long since I’ve had a chance to read it, but one of her points has stayed with me, and surfaced again as I was thinking about all this. Basically, she said we all have that shadow self. And the only way to live with it is to acknowledge it. If we try to run, or pretend it doesn’t exist, it just becomes more and more powerful. It’s in accepting our shadow selves that we become whole.

And, yeah. This has not been a great week in some ways. I’ve been restless and out of sorts, having a hard time focusing on the super-important tasks I meant to be doing. In some ways, emotional and spiritual wounds are like physical ones. Just as scars will itch, sometimes years after the scab falls off, that restlessness is a sign of healing. It makes a difference, too, when I can take a deep breath and sit next to that hole in my heart, that wound which never seems to heal. There will be sun later. For now, I’ll sit with the shadow and find out what it needs me to know.