Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Stats

So here's a report on my booklife, strictly by the numbers:

Short story submissions: 43

Poetry submissions: 2

Novel submissions: 1

Short story acceptances: 6

Poetry acceptances: 1

Novel acceptances: 1

Queries (for agents): 21

Story headers for anthologies: 57

Author spotlights: 3

Author interview: 1

New stories: 10 submittable

New poems: 1

Novels: 1 drafted and revised for submissions; 1 revised with editor for publication.

Slush-read for the Glasswoman Prize.

Began reading slush and related stuff for Fantasy this month.

2011 starts in 2.5 hours. I'd better get cracking if I'm going to top 2010!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Slush it to me!

Confession time: I started reading slush at Fantasy magazine, and I have to say that I like it. 80% of the time, I wind up reading the entire story, because I'm a neurotic jerk like that. I want to know what happens, damn it!

But I've learned something from the process that I desperately hope I can take to my own writing. I've learned after achieving a certain level of craft, there's really one one thing you need to make from my pile of slush to the editor's desk. It's not using fancy metaphors or exotic language. It's not something you could put in a cover letter. It's not anything you could learn in an MFA program. It's just one small thing. Can you guess what it is?

Don't be boring.

Now once the boss-man gets your story, your prose probably gets scrutinized and the publishing schedule gets looked over. Lots and lots of criteria rolls into place. But the biggest hurdle for an unknown writer is making it to the editor's desk in the first place. And all you have to do is manage a reasonable proficiency at writing--while not boring people like me.

There's a lot that goes into not being boring. I brought up some requirements back in March in my post "Lessons from Free Fiction." I back every last claim in that piece, and if I was your critique partner, I would rip through your piece and point out every ugly incidence. On top of those recommendations, I would suggest working on your world-building and character creation. If they're unique and interesting, a slow story can still rock my socks.

Anybody else have any good suggestions to cut the boring right out of your short fiction?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blogging becomes tricky

There's actually a lot going on in my writing world, but I'm not really able to blog about any of it. I started querying for Novel #4. I'm doing some editorial work. I sold a story, but the anthology is in this weird limbo. I sold a poem, but I'm not sure when it comes out.

On the plus side, I started the notecards for Novel #5 last week. The holidays have slowed everything down, but this afternoon I hope to get more work done and start the first page next Monday. It's a YA project and I hope it pans out. I love the world it's set in.

I don't have any big plans for New Year's Eve, except lunch with a friend and hopefully baked brie for an exciting evening appetizer. Anybody have any favorite baked brie recipes?

Monday, December 20, 2010

True North

Do you know what a lodestone is?

A lodestone is a naturally magnetized piece of the mineral magnetite. In the picture above, you can see the paper clips sticking to the chunk of ordinary-looking rock--it's a lodestone.

In medieval China, navigators developed a compass using the lodestone. Because it will point north, many people associate lodestones with telling direction and finding one's way in the world.

Almost eight years ago, I had lost my way. My plans to go to graduate school clashed with my new role as a single mom (at this point, I was a hugely pregnant emotional mess); I felt alone and I had no passion for anything. After two years of almost rabid environmental campaigning (letter writing and marching and organizing protests about agricultural issues), I felt depressed about the future of the world and powerless to do anything about it. And while I'd always dreamed of being a writer, I felt guilty that the only story ideas I had involved dragons, fairies and vampires. I was ashamed of everything about myself.

At the time, a friend of mine was planning a birthday party, and since she was interested in paganism, I stopped by a magic and herb shop. Nothing seemed like the right gift for my friend, but a display of lodestones caught my eye. It felt like a sign, like an offering from some mysterious spirit. I bought one and kept it in my underwear drawer.

I didn't think much about it, taking it out once in a while to wonder at the tiny iron filings clinging to the stone's black flanks. It wasn't a beautiful stone, but its heft in my hand and magical magnetism fascinated me.

Weeks passed and decisions that had tormented me became easy. I quit my job. I wrote a children's book. I moved in with my mother. I set aside grad school plans and began a novel. Life wasn't easy--I had to move to Portland and take on odd jobs to pay my student loan, while mooching a home from my sister and sucking the food stamp teat--but somehow, I knew which direction I was going. I knew I needed to be a writer.

Sometimes I still take my lodestone out of my underwear drawer and study it. The superstitious part of me deeply believes that this little charcoal-colored stone pulled me back onto my life path. The more rational part believes that my lodestone is simply a beautiful symbol for the love of story that has always been inside me, hidden beneath the chatter of a busy young life. My time alone turned off that chatter and let the truth tug at me.

We must all look for our own true north. For me, it lies in a land of myth and mystery, of fantasy and horror. It lies in the darkest forest of the Realm of Words, the place on the map labeled "Here there be dragons." There are other places in that realm, good places, wonderful to visit. Maybe you pull you.

If they do, you should let thtem.




Picture by Ryan Somma.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Waves & runs

Hi, blog! I just wanted to let you know that I am still alive but I've started some editorial projects that are very absorbing. If you need a bloggy treat, hit up my interview with Blake Charlton over on the Inkpunks blog!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Family & friends

I spend a great deal of time talking about work and writing and the career. And those are really important parts of my life. But this year, I've learned something important: it's the people I love who make my life hold together.

This year, the relationship part of my life blossomed like it's never blossomed before. I made new friends with a remarkable group of people: the Inkpunks, a crew of writers who are incredibly supportive, talented and large-hearted. I have gotten to know a lot of people online, but of them all, this crew has created a special and incredible bond. I am so glad they added me to their lives!

One of the Inkpunks is a remarkable lady who asked me to critique a story for her. I read it, then she read one of mine, and soon we were inseparable critique buddies. Amazingly enough, these first stories we read for each other were purchased by the same editor for the same anthology--our first pro sales. Now we don't just read for each other: we talk every day. Seriously, a day without talking to Christie is weird and empty--and totally unusual.

My very special family has played an extra-wonderful part of my life this year. My wonderful partner, Kaz, asked me to tie the knot after I came back from my trip to England. After a week of single parenting, he not only didn't hate me, he was ready for more! (Which he'll get to try out again this March when I go to the Rainforest Writers Retreat.)

I have so many treasured people in my life, but I often push aside being social. Sometimes the thought of spending time with people is overwhelming. It's easy to say "I'll get together someday." It's easy to say "I've got a deadline coming up." But life doesn't always offer you a someday. This November, another Portland writer I know had a major health disaster. We'd met a time or two and I always thought that someday we'd get together and have coffee again. There was plenty of time for it. But he could have died that weekend, and all those someday's would be gone.

We're having coffee this Friday.

Life is busy. I know my life is only going to get busier. After all, there are a lot of projects on my horizon--and some of them are pretty big. But this year, I'm going to do a better job making time for the people I care about. They are a pretty wonderful part of life.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tell me a ghost story

I had a strange experience at work yesterday. I was sitting in the box office, facing my friend and chatting, when I felt someone lay their hand on the back of my head. I could just see a shadow from the corner of my eye, so I turned around to see who was touching me ... and no one was there. I immediately broke out in cold goosebumps.

Oddly, I've never thought the museum was a creepy place, even though many other co-workers (especially folks who've had to stay in the museum at night time) swear there's something eerie about the building. Some have seen strange men who vanished on 2nd glance; others have experienced strange noises or mysterious cold spots. To me, the place is just a mid-century building with an extensive building.

Although I've had a few paranormal-y experiences that I still haven't properly solved, I'm the first person to look for a scientific explanation for these things. Despite my fascination (okay, obsession) with all things creepy, ghoulish and undead, I have yet to be convinced that any of it is real.

And yet, I was immediately freaked out by this phantom touch, which could easily have been the result of some kind of pressure change. Maybe someone opened a door in the building and the resultant breeze ruffled my hair in a way I've never experienced.

I'd like to say that when it comes to ghosts, I'm a tabula rasa. I don't believe in them, but if anyone could come up with a convincing explanation for them, I would probably accept them. But to be honest, ghosts are my very favorite topic. I love reading about them. And writing about them. (Living with them, however, is another story. Eek!)

But what about you guys? Any experiences that might sway me either way? Or scientific tidbits that might help clarify my thoughts?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No-well, no-well...

Ever feel like the universe is trying to tell you something?

This year has been a year with a big word count--about a dozen new (completed) stories, 40+ story headers (brief introductions), a couple of author spotlights over at Lightspeed, novel revisions with my editor, and then a 1st draft & a re-write of a novel. With the exception of about four days off after I finished the first draft of Novel #4, I've been writing 6 or 7 days a week all year long.

But last week, I finished polishing Novel #4 and I just ran out of words. My word-well went completely dry. I thought I'd start work on my Secret Santa story and drew a blank. It was ... creepy.

I thought I'd push through the emptiness, but so far, I've had zero success. And the wisdom of the universe is encouraging a break. Friday, the wonderful Sandra Wickham posted a great post about recharging your batteries on our Inkpunks blog. And then yesterday, a trip to the SFWA page gave me a blog post from Jeff Vandermeer about the importance of rejuvenating the imagination. Is somebody trying to tell me something?

If so, it's not anything I like to hear. My imagination has always been my constant companion. Daydreaming and storytelling are my fall-back entertainments, the happiest moments of my day. And writing has become my stress-reducer, feel-alive, depression-fighting past-time/drug of choice.

Not writing creeps me out.

I had a hunch I needed a break after September's writing explosion. I felt worn out, the words tired and dry. But digging into the novel revision helped. There was so much great energy packed into the book that it just pulled me out of my funk. When I reached the end, I realized I'd burned through all my energy and then all my reserves. The pretty lights and colors in my mind had gone dark.

Now that I've accepted the fact I can't just stir up new ideas out of nothing, I'm kind of excited. I took a trip to the kids' section of the library, loading up on fairy tales and spooky stories. Brain food. I can't think of a better time to step away from the computer and get down to nibbling.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Secret Santa

My friends--the good folks over at the Inkpunks blog--are doing a really fun Secret Santa project this year. We all drew names (our organizing genius, Morgan Dempsey, drew for me since I wasn't at World Fantasy) and now we'll write stories for each other. We each created a story prompt so we get a story that is uniquely tailored to our interests.

This is a fun challenge. It's easy to blow off writing a story for a theme anthology when it's not a topic that you'd normally choose--it's impossible to blow off a Secret Santa request. I mean, how could I let one of my friends down? These aren't just ordinary nice people. They're people that will crochet you a scarf when they've met you once. And send you chocolates when they've never even laid eyes on you. And beta-read your query letters. These are the kind of friends you don't let down!

So even though the prompt I got is a pretty big stretch for me, I'm eager to get started on it. I'm not sure if I'll wind up with an awesome story. But if I don't, luckily, all my friends like chocolate. I can at least sweeten them up before they read the darn thing!

In slightly related news, it feels great to say I'm excited to write a new short story! The book is done! My brain is in full recovery mode! I'm beginning to feel like a human again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Touching bases

Oh yeah, I went to a con. And I just got a short story acceptance, but the details are too convoluted to share right now. And I've got, like, 7 pages left on this draft.

Yep.

Still alive!

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Hunger Games, FTW

This weekend, after blitzing through the trilogy as fast as I could convince anyone to lend me the books, I finished Mockingjay. They're action-packed fun reads. For me, that makes them enjoyable lit-candy. But if I was a thirteen year-old girl today, these books would resonate in a powerful way.

You see, the protagonist of the series, Katniss, is under scrutiny almost all the time. In several sections of the books, she's being filmed and broadcast across her country, and she knows all too well that any wrong move will doom her death. For kids growing up in the Facebook-reality TV-instant messenger world we live in, they must really identify with this girl.

We're warned every day that what we post on our social networking sites can derail our abilities to find & keep a job. Google Buzz is being sued for privacy invasion. A college kid used Twitter to share videos of his roommate having sex--and the roommate posted his suicide note on Facebook before jumping off the George Washington bridge.

If you were a teenager hearing all of this, you'd be a little scared. For those of us who grew up in the 70s & 80s, TV is about entertainment. The Internet is a great way to find information and catch up with friends. But to us, they're still virtual. Their power is removed from us, kept an arm's length away by the security of the screen.

Today's kids see the Internet and the real world as extensions of each other. To them, the screen is perfectly permeable.

While I read The Hunger Games trilogy, I thought about how unfair it was that Katniss's actions in a ridiculous TV game show should be held against her, her family and her nation. When my daughter reads it, it will make perfect sense.

Isn't that terrifying?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Babes on wheels

The coolest thing that has come out of revising this novel is all the research I've done on regular life as a wheelchair user. I can't believe all the amazing stories I've read and wonderful online resources I've discovered!

My book is about two families, and one of the families is modeled after a wonderful couple I've gotten to know over the last three years. The mom is a veteran with a foot injury, and the dad is a cool stay-at-home dad. My fictional version of my foot-injured friend is a wheelchair-bound (paraplegic) mom.

She started as a very minor character, but in the revision, she became a vital force of the book, and provides the second point-of-view. She does a great deal of sleuthing in this piece, and luckily, she has full use of her arms. She drives (a specially modified soccer mom van), she's a good shot and she is also incredibly hot.

Here's what she was working on today:



I found this awesome video on the blog Climbing Stairs in a Wheelchair.

When I first set out to learn what Ellen's life would be like, I had no idea how much research I'd pour into her, but I was inspired by the great parents who come into the Museum and play with their kids. I feel so lucky getting to see these folks in action!


Monday, November 01, 2010

November already???

After the magic of October, I'm not sure I'm ready for the grindstone of November. But sometimes a girl just has to knuckle down and get shit done! I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, but I am wrapping up the 2nd draft of the book and then? NaQueWriMo! Let the queries begin. :D

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween weekend? W00t!

Well, Nanowrimo is out of the question. *sigh* I'm making terrific headway on the revision, but that terrific headway has turned into a major retooling of the last third of the book. I'm excited, but I'm also a little stunned. The good ideas in this book just keep bludgeoning me over my head--if they're not careful, they might give me brain damage!

I have a bunch of great plans for this magical weekend--dinner & a movie (Ichabod Crane! The Disney version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" WITH Bing Crosby as a narrator!) with a good friend, a walk in a cemetery ... I'm really excited!

Earlier this year (okay, even this week) I was incredibly bummed about missing the World Fantasy Convention. My writing clan will be there, and there will be some great events, including a party with some Rigor Amortis readings. But I'm feeling a lot better. It doesn't hurt to know that I'll be doing my own Rigor reading in just two weeks!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Final week of October

Since I'm deep in the bowels of this final edit, I'm going to try to limit my online activities this week. That means I should be spending ONE hour a day instead three slacking on the Internet ... ha ha ha.

(It also doesn't help that everybody I know will be at World Fantasy, so I'll pretty much be talking to myself, feeling like an absolute loser.)

But if I'm really lucky, by the end of the week I'll be jamming java and rocking a rough outline for my next book! I'm looking forward to hearing all about everyone's upcoming Nanowrimo projects. Pass along your best survival tips--I'm eager to listen, even if it takes me a while to get back to you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's not a cliche--it's true!

"I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm afraid of them." --Edith Wharton

Back in January, I dubbed this year "The Year of Science Fiction." I planned to catch up on my reading, play around writing a few science fiction short stories and soak up as much science and technology info as possible. Some of that's been going well. I've read some great stuff this year! But the writing ... nope. That's pretty much tanked. I've written a handful of SF pieces, but there's just something missing in them. They haven't been fun, and they haven't gleamed with the fun, manic energy of a piece that comes together in that just-right way.

And it hit me today: I've been violating the #1 cliched piece of writing advice: Write what you know.

Not that factual knowing, but what you know. Like a belief, something honest and true that you can feel in your bones.

Well, I'm a lot like Edith Wharton. Deep down, I don't believe in the future--but I'm absolutely, positively afraid of it. The other day, I read a really enjoyable story over at Lightspeed ("The Taste of Starlight," by John R. Fultz). It's a great story, full of gore and a highly depressing ending, but for me, it was too cheery. I can't bring myself to believe we'll ever leave Earth. I think we'll wipe ourselves out first. Or devolve. Or something else incredibly god-awful. But space travel and colonization, tropes I've always enjoyed in novels and tried to use in my own pieces, are things beyond the knowing of my inner universe.

What we know, you see, is a system of symbols and emotions and ideas that are leached out of the things we read and do. Our inner universes are built out of our experiences in both the real world and the imagination. The creative endeavors we create are the logbooks of our explorations that those inner worlds.

That's one of the reasons why, when an author finally hits his or her stride, their books begin to sound more alike. They have found what needs to be explored inside them, and it is infusing every word they create. This doesn't mean all their books and stories are exactly the same or even that they're all set in the same places. It just means that the iconographies of the texts begin to hint at each other.

My inner world doesn't include the normal stuff of science fiction, even though I love science and I adore science fiction. Somehow my world gelled around other landscapes. (I'm not giving them away because then you wouldn't need to read any of my future books or stories!)

That doesn't mean I won't write science fiction--and by that, I mean scientifically reasonable futuristic fiction. I just have to write the right science fiction. The bad news for all of you guys? Some of those stories might make "The Taste of Starlight" read like a children's matinee. There's a lot of ugliness in the future I see.

But ugly or not, I think I'll be happier writing science fiction now. It's like I threw out a travel guide someone else bought for me, and now I'm setting out on my own trail.

I've got my helmet light on. I'm ready for the monsters.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nicknames

Lately, I've been calling my kid "Evangelion."

Her actual name is Fiona, but when she was little, I called her my "inky binky biddy baby" (I know, yuck!), and it just sort of evolved from there. I actually call her "Inga" about 75% of the time, or more frequently, "Ee." Evangelion was a natural spin-off, I guess.

Nicknames are a big part of my world. For example, I grew up being called Winnie. That was just what my dad called me, a secret identity. I went through a phase where I hated it, and then I recently started liking it again. And by recently, I mean in college, when I saw The Shining for the first time. Winnie suddenly seemed like the coolest name in the whole dang world after watching Shelley Duvall take on Jack with that baseball bat.

On the other hand, my brother wound up changing his name. He always hated his real name and the nickname my dad gave him. But one day he invented a character for an RPG--and found his real identity. He got all his teachers to call him by his new name and eventually convinced my parents to help him change it legally!

Fiona loves her name and tolerates all the weird things I call her. I suppose that Evangelion doesn't sound too bad compared to the pet-name I gave my mom: Skoonamagawa.

So if you're doing any writing, keep nicknames in mind. They say a lot about the characters who use them and the characters who created them. The nicknames I use for my family members probably show that I'm a goofball who ought to have her mouth taped shut.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Raising the bar

I've been doing some thinking since the post before last--you know, the whiny, terrified about the seriousness of writing short fiction. And I haven't changed my mind. I'm not ready to crank out short stories at the pace I've been hoping for, at least, not ready to crank out GOOD stories. I'm not Jay Lake, who shot for a story a week and actually produced something good. Maybe I just don't have enough vision.

But this is the perfect time for a slow-down. I'm wrapping up the 2nd draft of my novel and Nanowrimo is lurking in the wings. The big family season, with its power-trifecta of Halloween, Thanksgiving & Christmas, has arrived, demanding a major chunk of my attention. And the book list is piling up. There is something wonderful about settling into winter, sinking down into a mellower and more absorbent frame of mind.

Maybe I just need to recharge my creative batteries.

Here's one place I plan on hitting to rev up my scary powers: The David GraveYard. These guys are Portland legends, normal people who have transformed their home into the ultimate Halloween display. I can't wait to check them out this year!

Speaking of checking things out, don't miss today's awesome post over at the Inpunks blog. Morgan Dempsey is an exceptionally clever blogger!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Macabre fun

And since I promised everyone a taste of Halloween goodness, here's a link to some amazing skull images!



Also, I don't know about you guys, but I'd love to try making a sugar skull like this one:
Calavera de azĂșcar

(from By El Comandante [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons)
This year I might just try to whip up a batch--I saw a recipe last year for EZ Kids Sugar Skulls, which used Marshmallow Fluff (they've got a vegan variety at the food co-op!) and almond paste. That would make a batch of skulls you'd actually enjoy eating!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ugly thoughts

I don't know if it's because I've never seen myself as a short fiction writer--I mean, I used to have zero interest in short stories--but I never really thought of my short stories as anything but a game. They're play, the kind of fun thing you noodle around on to see how things work, the way a car mechanic builds go-karts. They're not real. They're toys. Practice. And when I sent them out in the world, I just wanted to show them to my friends. Oh sure, I sent them to the big markets, too, because that's just what people do, but mostly I was just happy that editors I liked, editors I knew, were getting to play the word game with me.

I sometimes forget that those short stories are the stuff careers are made of. Those editors I know and like so much at second-tier markets? They're dreaming of stories that will launch their magazines to pro status. And the big guys, the people I sent stories because you're supposed to send things to them--well, they're paying attention. Your name gets around in this little industry.

It's easy to forget in all the supportive kindness of the spec fic community that everyone in it is in business. And it's a serious business. Underneath the smiling faces, the successful writers are sleek word-killing machines. Sharks.

I am not a shark.

I don't know if I can make it in this business. But I do know it'll be a hell of a long time* before I send out another short story.

*Appended: In the hyperactive world of Wendy, this means like, a month. Or maybe 3 weeks.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Brain scrub--stat!

No, I haven't been freaked out by reading (ok, RE-reading) Rigor Amortis. Nope, this is a much, much worse thing to have happen to my brain. Brace yourself.

I was walking along Monday afternoon, admiring the beautiful autumn day, the lovely leaves, the cute baby passing by, the friendly orange cat--when out of the blue the most preposterous, horrific thought crossed my mind: "Wouldn't it be sweet to have another little baby?"

Those were the exact words. I actually stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and slapped myself in the forehead as if I could knock them out of my brain. Jeebus. I can't even imagine living with myself if I had another kid.

It's not just the environmental factors (OMG POPULATION CRISIS, people--put your freakin' legs together!) or the expense thing (kids are powered by money, I think). It's not just the fear of sibling rivalry or the endless mess, or even the forty weeks of misery. It's idea of living in absolute terror for four long years.

I say four, although it's an approximate. I mean, you live through the agony of pregnancy, where the least little mistake could make the little critter shoot out three or four extra limbs or a harelip. A morsel of bad sushi could annihilate the poor thing. Then it finally gets here. There are germs and SIDS and colic and random viruses just waiting to pounce on the tiny, undeveloped immune system. There are all the food issues--dare I breastfeed after I've had Pad Thai, for fear of peanut allergies? There are all the fears that I'll drop the slippery, squirmy thing after I've given it a bath.

And those are just the infant terrors! Toddlerhood with its wobbly legs and attempts at running and climbing--that's where the real hell begins. Everything is a lethal weapon in the toddler's hands. Death is a second away at any point in time.

Just typing this stuff is making my tummy hurt. I am too big a sissy to be a parent. I feel damn lucky I made it this long, and you better believe that I have raised a child who is obsessed with safety. She's the school safety bully. Don't let her see you doing anything dangerous or you'll get your ear chewed off.

Well, luckily that thought passed. But in different "baby" news, I am feeling a bit like an empty nester. I'm pretty sure I feel exactly like a baby-sitter feels when she learns the kids she watches have gotten too big to need a sitter. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself!

You see, the last couple of months I've gotten to enjoy a truly, awesomely fabulous experience: working with John Joseph Adams on a couple of his projects. If you're like me, you've read all his anthologies and love them. (If you're not like me, you can keep it to yourself.) Somehow, a miracle happened and this guy, my hero, let me work on story headers for the coolest, most awesome anthology of all time: Brave New Worlds. This book is going to be amazing and I can't wait till it comes out, which is something like next January.

But now my work is done and it's been sent off to the publisher and I am just sitting here, twiddling my thumbs. I guess it means I'll have plenty of time to get ready for Nanowrimo!

I think I'll write something scary. But not as scary as thoughts about babies.

Yes, I am geeked out about this!


Monday, October 04, 2010

October!!

We really kicked off October right: we spent Saturday at Rasmussen's Farm out in Hood River. Rasmussen's is great because it has amazingly good apples & pears, as well as goofy, silly pumpkin patch fun. Also, they make a delicious caramel apple.

At Rasmussen's, they have a barn filled with tableaux of punkin & gourd art. This year I saw my favorite ever pumpkin:


Geek pumpkin art at Rasmussen's Farm! on Twitpic


What a cutie!

I promised to share some of my favorite October-ish treats this month, so I thought I'd put up a link to an article about some of the most inspirational--er, creepy--place on the planet. I'd like to check out a few of these places, especially this one:

Friday, October 01, 2010

EEEK! It's October!

Sweet jeebus, today is a big day. For one, it's the first day of the month I call Halloween season, my absolute favorite. There should be scary movies in my mailbox and I've already put a ton of ghost novels on hold at the library. I'm also shooting for blog updates throughout the month featuring my favorite creepy stuff on the web.

Today's favorite creepy item is easily my favorite. It's RIGOR AMORTIS, the zombie anthology that began as a joke, was nourished by love and grew into the sexiest monster you'll ever meet. You can expect me to talk about it a lot. It's cute and I'm completely in love with it (you can tell I just got my contributor copy, huh?).

Another big thing that starts today is the new Inkpunks blog. Some of my most treasured writing friends--the friends I most trust to read my stories and help me edit them--have banded together to write about life as part of a virtual writing community. We'll all be bringing our specialties together to shine a light on life as writers just breaking into the biz. Expect great anecdotes, tips and the occasional recipe. What? Even struggling writer-types have to eat!

Well, that's all the news that fit to print. Here's wishing everyone a fantastic Halloween season!


Monday, September 27, 2010

Keeping the faith

A writing life is busy. I knew that when I signed up for it, but living it is a whole new realization. I sat down almost exactly 7 years ago and started writing my first (completed) novel. This weekend, I chatted back and forth with the marketing department of that novel's publisher, making decisions about the cover. In between those moments, a lot has happened. I've written two trunked novels (they will probably never see the light of day), completed the first draft of a fourth, submitted plenty of short fiction, sold some short fiction, and "minioned" my way through some great editorial projects.

There have been a lot of rejections and setbacks along the way. I've had about 27 rejections this year, which isn't bad--unless I'm having a bad day. Then all those nos start to sting. If you've ever sent words out into the world, you know what that feels like. But my hide is beginning to get thicker. I can even look at some of my pieces and think "that's not very good" without feeling too badly about it. There was a time when I couldn't stand to trunk a piece. It hurt to say that there was no hope or home for something. But now I can look at things and shrug. Sometimes not working is okay.

Part of this detachment comes from my approach to writing short fiction. Some people are short story writers because they are in love with short fiction. Some people only write short stories. And for some people, short stories are just a kind of writing laboratory. That's me. I don't know exactly what I'm going to learn from a piece when I set down to write it. I still don't know what lesson I should have got out of some of my pieces. But I am certain I am learning. I can't say that every story I write is better than the ones before--but I know that I am better. I think I am failing in new and different ways every time I sit down to write. Seven years ago, I couldn't have even imagined the mistakes I make now.

I read something great in an interview with Paolo Bacigalupi that struck a nerve in me today:

For me I actually knew that I had a great deal of talent. I knew that I was a really great writer in high school. My writing teachers were amazing. When I went to college I could write essays and all that stuff—really tight, clean stuff. And having the raw ability...it was meaningless, ultimately. It was the willingness to write four novels and fuck them all up and keep going that was the definer. It wasn't the ability at all. Yeah, the willingness to accept failure and not let it stop you, and to not let that define you....

[Quote taken from this interview--Read more: http://techland.com/2010/09/27/paolo-bacigalupi-this-is-what-it-takes-to-write-a-novel/3/#ixzz10my5MqlF]
I was just like him when I was young. I look back on the short stories I wrote in high school, and they're good, full of fun action and clean dialogue and great description. And my college essays were epic. I couldn't lose when it came to putting words on paper.

But when I was ready to take on writing, I had to learn how to fuck up. Until you've blown it--and blown it badly--you'll never cut through the blithe ease of your talent. You'll never look for new tools or dig down inside you for something more. More meaningful, more powerful, more funny, more sad, more ugly ... whatever. You have to want to look for more.

Because the truth is, words are too shallow on their own. And no matter how hard you work, you're just making busy-work until you break through that superficial surface and feel the currents of meaning swirling beneath yourself.

Will I get there? I don't know. But I've got my ice pick ready.

Friday, September 24, 2010

G**gle-y Gadgets

Somewhere down the line, I became a Google freak. I have gmail. I use gchat. I use Google Notebook (now defunct, sniff) to store many important pieces of information. I use Google Calendar, which between coordinating the family's schedules and a top-secret upcoming project that involves my favorite members of the Internet, has saved my bacon more times than I can count. And I can't rave enough about Google Docs, which not only helps file-sharing, but really does work as a good emergency word-processing tool. Hey, emergencies happen.

But then again, Google makes me nervous. There's the Google-Verizon Internet-twisting deal. The author-crushing Google Book Settlement. And I don't even like to think about the fact that Google is the world's biggest provider of information, what with the search engine and youtube and satellites and maps and YIKES!!! It's just creepy that one organization has become such a critical gateway to knowledge.

But creepy or not, they're dead useful. So I'm not sure what to think. But I do know the more I think about it, the more inspired I get to write dystopian fiction!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seasonal Treats

One of my favorite things about fall in our neighborhood is all the squirrel-tacular activity. Those little gray rodents scurry everywhere, racing up trees, scooting across front porches, digging up flower beds and veggie patches in a mad attempt to cache the autumnal bounty.

Our neighborhood is loaded with black walnut trees, so the squirrels find plenty of goodies. And the combination of black walnuts and squirrels causes one of my favorite fall phenomena. I don't know if you've ever tried to open a black walnut, but they are encased in a wonderful-smelling green husk that takes a great deal of scraping to reveal the shell and the exceptionally flavorful nutmeat inside. (I learned this the hard way at a time when I was fiendishly poor and decided to add roadside walnuts to my menu. Best banana bread EVER.) The green husk contains a compound that stains everything a deep dark brown, close to black, a stain so powerful it was used as an ink base and hair dye in Colonial times.

To remove the husk, the squirrels use their amazing teeth, gnawing and scraping at each walnut for five minutes or so. Their paws and mouths become stained dark brown in the process. I wish I had a picture to share the cuteness. It's like squirrel lipstick. It's beyond cute. It's squeee-dorable.

It's easily my favorite fall treat, better than pumpkin pie, better than apple sauce. Nothing says "autumn in Portland" quite so perfectly.

Anybody out there have a fall favorite? Since it's my favorite season, I'm eager to hear!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Awesome Rigor video!

Check it out! It's too big to fit in my columns. :D

Two of the images are from stories of mine. Maybe you can guess which ones?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Building new routines

I recently made a big life change. Not huge, not major, but big enough to make me really uncomfortable: I cut one of my days at the dayjob. There's no way we'll stare to death, but there will be serious belt-tightening measures around the joint.

The hardest thing for me is knowing that I don't have the spare cash to just waltz into my favorite coffee place and order a whatever latte or a cup of coffee and slice of pie. Going to coffee shops ranks highly on my list of favorite fun activities, and one of the few I've kept over this last year. Gardening has slipped by the wayside as too time-intensive. Gaming and movie-watching have fallen to a once-a-week treat, shared with the Sweetie-Pie--we can do one or the other one night a week. But I've been able to swing by the coffee shop on my way to pick up the kid from school or camp or a friend's house on a fairly regular basis. It's so nice to sit in a warm, delicious-scented space and just read or noodle out new story ideas.

This week has been difficult because I've been pushing myself really hard--AND I missed my night off with Sweetie-Pie. We have company coming this weekend (which of course I resent, because that's just the way it is when I'm struggling to figure out my writing and financial life) and I didn't want to fall behind. Last night I managed to take care of a little business and then gave in. I had to nip my resentful feelings in the bud! So I made margaritas and took them down to the basement and "helped" Sweetie-Pie play Silent Hill 2. Chips and salsa may have played a hand.

Now today I feel okay. I might take an afternoon bath to meditate up some new story ideas, and I'm going to try really hard not to feel like I'm wasting time. After all, I *do* have get clean once in a while!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Super-fast update!

I really know I've been neglecting to blog, but I got sucked into a Twitter challenge to submit 10 short stories by October 1st--which means I need to produce some short stories and/or polish up some older ones. And I've been doing an extra blast of minioning, too.

But there's no excuse for failing my blog! I'm just so boring (glued to computer night and day) that it's hard to find a mote of entertainment to share with anyone. I promise I'll try harder to be funny this week!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Week of Massive Productivity

My online writing group dubbed this THE WEEK OF MASSIVE PRODUCTIVITY. So far, I'm off to an okay start. There are some deadlines coming up in my world, so I've been cranking up my editorial minioning, and last night there was a surprise request from the cover artist assigned to the cover of Her Dark Depths, so instead of writing, I spent a chunk of time trying to figure out important details like my heroine's shoe style. (Heroine: boots. Villainess: gladiator sandals.) Tonight I'm just catching up on the blogging universe, because HEY! it's important, too. Sometimes I miss luxuriating over a good blog entry.

Another thing I haven't spent as much time on lately is my garden. But I got caught up this weekend. I even took out the worm bin and harvested the (really incredible mound) of worm casings. I like to harvest the casings the lazy way: tip out the bin onto a sheet of cardboard and leave the mound of casings out in the sunshine for a while. The worms crawl down to the bottom, leaving a top layer of uninhabited poopy goodness.

I was puttering away, planting some fall kale and waiting for the worms to settle, when I realized I needed to refill my watering can. Coming around the corner, I startled a number of sparrows from the bird feeder. It put a big grin on my face. Oddly enough, the sparrows didn't fly up into the trees when they saw me--they landed on the neighbor's roof, lining up on the rain gutter and staring down at me as I worked. The sound of their little claws on the metal gutter made my neck hair prickle.

After a few minutes, the birds went back to the feeder, and I finished with the kale and chard. And a connection fired in my beleaguered brain. Why had the sparrows been watching me so carefully? And why were they chirping so happily on the other side of the house, as if they were eating something especially delicious? Something uniquely tasty and squirmy?

I darted around the corner, startling seven sparrows from the mound of sunning worm poop. One fluttered around the inside of the actual worm bin, scooping up one last red wriggler who'd been hiding in the corners. The sparrow at least looked embarrassed to see me.

I hurried to return the worms to the safety of their bin, begging Sweetie-Pie & the Midget to help with the refilling process (I needed a lot of shredded newspaper). The birds settled onto our roof in the hopes we would abandon the delicious worms, and after a few minutes began to protest mightily. I felt a moment's remorse. After all, the worms might be my very useful friends--but sparrows are adorable!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cleaning up ... and gearing up!

Next week marks the first day of school, and for me, the first day of fall. Whoah. Summer shot by like a bullet train, and productivity forgot to buy a ticket. I haven't gotten much done the last 2.5 months. My rewrite isn't done. I've made very little progress on short fiction. I've kept up with my minioning, but only by the skin of my teeth. And in the last few weeks, I've added a new set of goals (that I'm not quite ready to reveal) that only deepens the workload. But. No matter! FALL IS ALMOST UPON US!!

My pals (#seshat) over on Twitter are gearing up for a week of Massive Productivity. I don't know about you, but before I can kick up the work level, I need a (slightly) clean workspace. It's pretty hard to chug out words when the computer keeps grinding to a halt with slow-down issues and memory problems. It's time to clean house. Get rid of all those old music- and image-editing programs that I'm never going to use. Dump all those extraneous back-up back-up copies. Double-check that the ACTUAL back-up copies of documents are up-to-date. You know, all that boring junk that a lazy computer user never gets around to.

I also plan to finish all my current minioning duties so that next week (barring catastrophes!) I can throw myself into the rewrite with all my heart. I am so excited!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

VACATION!!!!

Oh yeah, I'm so excited! Tomorrow I leave for a trip to my mom's house! We're planning a mass invasion, with my brother, my sister and her children and my crew all descending upon my poor lovable parent at once.

I'm really eager for the vacation, but it's going to need to be a working one. I am really behind on my minioning!

Upon my return, I hope to post a bunch of pictures, including an image of my wedding dress, which came in the mail yesterday!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Quiet week until now!

Woof, sorry to keep the silence all week! My kid brother came over, and as you all know, when you have company, you have all the pressure to have a good time and get away from it all as anyone actually on vacation--except without the free time to really enjoy any of it. Arggh!

So the most fun thing I've done this summer is work on Rigor Amortis:

As soon as Jaym brought it up, I was hit over the head by a story idea. Luckily, it's a flash collection that took multiple submissions, so when I had another great notion, I was able to send that along, too! I haven't written much flash, so I'm really pleased with my stories in here. I hate to admit it, but my story "Unparted" has made me cry every time I've read it!

I also feel an unseemly pride in the collection, since I reached out to a couple of writer pals and urged them to submit things--and they did, and they are now my ToC-mates. That's how everything came together in this book, friends telling friends and connecting friends together. It's a very indie, warm-hearted project and I'm beyond proud of how it turned out.


Monday, August 09, 2010

He's just like my mom


As we grow up, girls always hear that when they grow up, they'll marry a man just like their father. Apparently, I misunderstood.

I'm marrying my mother.

I'd always been amazed by the similarities between my Sweetie-Pie and my mom. They're both dreamy, big-hearted, artists with a love of comfort and beauty. Neither is that concerned with chocolate. Both are incredibly generous, going out their way to help friends and family members. Both have arguable taste in loved ones. My dad? Ummmn, not exactly a hunk. And me? Bossy and gassy. I don’t know how anybody fell in love with me, let alone an amazing guy like Sweetie-Pie. He's obviously a gem.

The fact that his sparkling facets matched many of my mother's was cute, but not concerning. Until one day I came home and discovered Sweetie-Pie had purchased 23 boxes of breakfast cereal.

Yes, *23* boxes.

That's when I knew it had happened. I had found the one man on the planet who actually was just like my mother.

My mom grew up Mormon and once she got married, spent the next twenty-five years of her life living in remote areas. Having a full pantry wasn't just mandated by religion anymore: it was a survival skill.

Visiting my mom is heavenly. Whatever you could possibly want to eat, she can whip up a version of it using canned or frozen ingredients. From fruit salad to gravy to cake, she's got you covered.

And now we're starting to shape up our pantry, too. We're not quite to Mom's level, but after I introduced Sweetie-Pie to the wonders of Disaster Preparedness, he became a conscientious stock-piler of all things caloric. Right now if disaster broke out, we'd be set for about three days of tasty eating (a reasonable amount). After that, we'd be reduced to catching rainwater to cook our quinoa, filling up on canned green beans.

I hope it never comes to that. My fingers are firmly crossed that if disaster unfolds, an east-bound road is clear enough for us to drive to my parents' house. I'm pretty sure nothing short of a direct nuclear blast would stop Mom from baking some kind of pie.

Friday, July 30, 2010

One musing on the future of other creatures

Humans are the new great evolutionary pressure. Only lifeforms that adapt to live with us or upon our leavings will continue existing. As we tinker with every system on this planet, pushing the world into arrangements more perfect for human life--or rather, for those living the American imperialist lifestyle--we destroy the people and organisms that do not seem to serve our purposes.

The fight to preserve the natural world will not succeed unless it is waged against the juggernaut of 21st-century Western culture.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Like a vacation, I guess

Well, my in-laws left this afternoon, leaving our house quieter, less full of mayhem and but somehow more full of potato chips. I think they have a plot to make me even chubbier ...

But on the good news side of things, I have 2 stories coming out in the new Rigor Amortis anthology! I feel really good about it, especially since I arm-wrestled a couple of friends (the charming Aussie-turned-Londoner, Dom McEiben & the amazing Ed Morris) into submitting. My friend & muse, Galen, is doing some illustration work on the book, too! It's sure to be a riot, since it's ZOMBIE EROTICA!! I'm not sure when the release date is on that book, but I'll keep you posted.

Peace out!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cherries, Fruity Pebbles and love

I'm having the kind of week where paragraphs just won't come into my mind. So in no particular order, here is a list of odd-ball thoughts and activities going on in my world.

  • We picked a gajillion pounds of cherries on Saturday. After snacking on cherries, baking with cherries, freezing cherries, juicing cherries and cleaning up cherry juice, I am now the only person in the family who will still eat a cherry.
  • I am once again snacking on Fruity Pebbles before bed. I'm a lazy snacker, and I'm trying to eat less wheat (hey, you'd encourage it if you lived downwind from my house), so rice cereal is a lovely treat. It's also a become a wonder bond with my lovely friend Geardrops. This week has been so nice--now that she's unemployed, we've had way more time to chat!
  • In the past five days, I've had four rejections and two acceptances. And no, I can't tell you who the acceptances were for. Not until August 6th.
  • Wedding planning continues. I'm not sure what's worse: finding a place we like or trying to imagine an outfit that I'll look exceptionally cute in. My party-expert sister, Kristina, looked aghast when my answer to the question "What do you envision yourself wearing?" was answered with "A cardigan!" Welcome to Fred Rogers' wedding, gang.
Well, those are the top thoughts in the cobwebs of my brain. There are a few other stragglers--"How DO Chinese restaurants get the tofu so chewy on the outside and creamy on the inside" topping the list--but at least these all make sense.

May your week be productive and your Pebbles fruity!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Easing off the metal

Now, normally, my writing work schedule is "Put the petal to the metal, dude!" But recent events are nudging me toward a slightly more break-a-licious sort of schedule. And by recent events, I mean that school got out and now I have a kid to entertain all the time. Anybody else think Japan's got the right idea with that year-round school business?

But seriously, I have found that my brain likes to cycle between inputting information, ideas and images and outputting literature. I'm probably lucky I've made it this long before the old noodle blew up on me.

Anyway, taking suggestions for summer books and movies. I'm looking for delicious science, art and historical stuff--nonfiction being the mental equivalent of pumpkin pie. That stuff puts bulk on, fast!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The headshot process

The email that sparked all the terror was brisk, businesslike and perfectly unassuming: Sheri Gormley, Virtual Tales' awesome (and adorable!) publicity coordinator asked for my bio and headshot for the company's website and the back cover of the book. Bio, okay. HEADSHOT? As in a picture? Of me? Why not just an extra shot of one of the werewolves--they're much more photogenic!

But you don't argue with the people who are putting your book together. You instead turn to your brilliant artist significant other, the one with the nice camera, and begin to wail about the situation. And that's how I came to spend the morning of the 4th of July in our yard, frightening my neighbors with my six pounds of makeup and three changes of ensemble.

Sweetie-Pie took 110 pictures. Most of them looked like this:



But some looked like this:

And a few just reminded me how quickly I was going gray:


But thankfully, there were quite a few pictures that I really, really liked. I decided that a couple were better for online images, like my avatar on Twitter and this new Google Profile image. But some seemed positively book worthy!

It wasn't easy to pick which picture I liked best, but after extensive polling--in fact, 62 people jumped into the fray, and took a survey on my main webpage--one image was a clear winner. I drew up my bio and sent off the picture, and THIS shot will wind up gracing my book's cover:

I'm not one hundred percent certain that this picture isn't WAAAY too sexy for a boring old fantasy writer, but you can't argue with what the people demand!

Monday, July 05, 2010

As American as Ernest Hemingway



When I think of American literature, I think of Ernest Hemingway. Sure, there are other, more boring literary Americans: Hawthorne and Melville spring to mind. John Steinbeck begs to be mentioned, too. But can any other writer so magically capture the spirit of America?

Papa was a man of massive talent, over-flowing with talent. (Just as the United States began as a nation overflowing with resources and possibilities.) He spent much of his life exploring foreign countries (that's the US all right, always sticking its nose in other countries' affairs!). He was a physically powerful, rugged individual who devoted his free time to consumption, be it booze, women or trophy animals. And he utterly destroyed himself, finally committing suicide in 1961. (Here in my analogy, all I can say is: o_O)

But beyond being a man infused with the American spirit, he was also an amazing artist. He earned the Nobel prize in 1954 for the novel The Old Man and the Sea. His words have influenced the following generations of American writers more deeply than almost any other compatriot--his style has been aped or rejected or lauded in almost every writing instruction book I've ever picked up.

So I celebrated the 4th of July, our American national holiday, with a dessert inspired by Papa. Hemingway spent a great deal of time in Florida and the Caribbean, where he may have become enamored with the wonderful treat of Key Lime Pie. I whipped up a very basic Key Lime pie and gave it a red-white-&-blue flair, with a blueberry garnish and an ad hoc red berry sauce. The red berry sauce is especially American, since it is made with Concord grapes--a truly American grape varietal!

Here's my recipe for the sauce:

Ad Hoc Red Berry Sauce
1/2 C fresh or frozen strawberries & raspberries, defrosted if frozen
1 tsp sugar
1/4 C Concord Grape Jelly

Thoroughly mash the berries and stir in sugar. Heat grape jelly until liquidized and pour over the berry mixture. Stir together and chill until cold.

So go out there and celebrate your favorite American authors! If Hemingway leaves you cold, and you're desperate to escape literary fiction, try enjoying some great Speculative Fiction writers. Whip out some Ursula K. Le Guin. Try Octavia Butler if you've never read her work. Or try my favorite, Sheri S. Tepper, another fantastic feminist SF/F writer. Craving something darker? Anne Rice, Stephen King and Peter Straub are all patriotic choices.

Whatever you read, enjoy it with a slice of Key Lime Pie!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Do I even exist? Dealing with Web Withdrawals

After a week with a pretty limited online presence, I feel weird. I haven't connected to most of my online friends. I haven't posted on my blog. And nobody's retweeted me in a good eight days! I feel almost invisible.

I'm pretty sure that sensation is a good sign that taking a break is the right thing to do. When you get to the point when your virtual validation is more important than your real-life experiences, you have a problem.

Of course, my problem is that I'm an aspiring writer with a day-job in a different field. At this stage in my life, it's significantly easier to connect with people in my industry online than it is in person. But then again, there are always exceptions!


The highlight of last week was a great Tweet-up with Blake Charlton. Blake is a Renaissance figure in spec fic these days, spending the summer promoting his first book, Spellwright, while on sabbatical from his work as a Stanford medical student. Wow. Let me tell you, a beer and reading with that guy makes you feel like smarts are rubbing off on you! Anyway, I'm very glad I had a chance to meet Blake and hope to see him again soon. Maybe when his second book comes out!

Monday, June 21, 2010

1st hummingbird of the season!

After the mysteriously gorgeous winter, I shouldn't be so irate at spring weather that's brought hail to my doorstep in the middle of June. But I can't help it. Last week, it was so gloomy and miserable that it took an otherwise mediocre week and flushed it down the toilet.

But this week, there's hope.

There's a glimmer of sunshine between the clouds, and I actually saw a hummingbird drinking from a brilliantly pink flower today. We have hummingbirds year-round here, since they can get by eating bugs, but it doesn't feel spring-ish until I see them slurping up nectar from a real flower. So it's coming! Spring is near!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Coping with sensitivities

Call me a sensitive person.

It's okay. I have finally reached a point in my life where that word doesn't bother me--because I am. Sensitive. I have a remarkable sense of smell (which sharpened during pregnancy to a point where I could identify individual customers at work when they walked through the front door, a floor below my desk). I have perceptive taste buds that can taste the gag-inducing flavor of dish detergent on my hashbrowns no matter how well I rinsed the baking sheet after scrubbing it. I have good senses and love giving them new wonders to enjoy.

I must also have a weak filtering system so information from these great senses goes straight to my brain. Lots of noise drives me crazy. Ladies with perfume give me headaches and make it hard for me to concentrate. Too much color makes me agitated and stressed. There's no tuning it out. It's all or nothing, and sometimes it's exhausting.

I also got hit with all the other kinds of "sensitive," the kinds that nobody wants: a sensitive tummy, easily irritated by stress and booze and the kinds of foods it decides it doesn't like this week. A sensitive disposition, easily startled or made to cry. Sensitive skin that breaks out in hives when exposed to the kinds of chemicals it doesn't like. A sensitive immune system that is easily launched into hyper-mode when exposed to molds & dusts. And even, lamely enough, a sensitive respiratory attack that launches into coughing and wheezing fits at the least drop of mucous.

Those are the kinds of "sensitive" that gives the word a bad name.

There was a time in my life when I would have given anything to have thicker skin, especially in college, when my coping skills were at an all-time low. But now, 80% of the time, I love being sensitive. It's like having super-powers that help me better understand people and more fully enjoy the world in which I live. Yes, there's a disadvantage to being so moved by good writing that I sobbed my way through John Joseph Adams' The Living Dead anthology. But you better believe it helps me create better stories. And I love that.

Sometimes the real world irritates the hell out of me. As I've gotten older, I've gotten more skilled at controlling my environment and finding approaches that allow me to minimize negative or overwhelming stimuli. But it's impossible to get rid of it all. Bad days do happen when noise and upset and dark emotions swamp me like storm waves overpowering a little fishing boat (hey, where's the small craft advisory when I need one?!?). Even good stimuli can be too much for me, sending me into a full crash.

A complete crash is bad. It's a pure black depression, exhaustion, despair, emptiness. It's like a sensory deprivation tank built out of unhappiness. I wouldn't want to stay there long, and luckily, my system has developed an auto-eject function: inner misery will often switch over to a cold! In fact, right now, after an exhausting week, I can feel blackness dissipating with every sneeze.

It's a weird relationship, body and mind, senses and soul. Everybody has their own troubles balancing them, and everybody has to find their own solutions. But I think you can't go wrong with a hot bath and the love of a few good friends. They've gotten me this far!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sometimes, you deserve a treat!

I don't know about you guys, but I'm pretty sure that all work and no play doesn't really suit me. And as loyal blog readers, I don't think you should suffer through another post about my culinary endeavors or another tedious discussion of how far behind I am editing this book. That would be mean. You guys deserve better than that.

In fact, I think you've earned:



Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Toothbrushes

So this morning I grab a toothbrush, paste it up and jam it in my mouth, only to look down at the toothbrush mug and realize I'm using Sweetie-Pie's toothbrush. You have never seen a toothbrush move so quickly--flying through the air in a beautiful arc of foam and spray, landing with a splatter in the sink. Uggh! The ultimate taboo! Using another person's toothbrush!

But isn't this ridiculous? I've lived with Sweetie-Pie for more than four years now. We share coffee cups. Share socks. Heck, in a pinch, I've even borrowed his underwear! (Boxer briefs, by the way, can be pretty dang comfy.) I certainly kiss the poor man. So why is it okay to put his tongue in my mouth, but not his toothbrush?

It's a stumper.

PS: Sorry for the TMI, guys. Hope no one was too scarred. :)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Weekend Update

I've just been loving all the talk about Gaga (which overflowed onto Twitter for a little extra fun). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

The last few weeks have had me taking a noveling break and working on short stories. I've written three in the last two and half weeks. One has already been subbed. One is almost ready to go out the door. And one is in limbo. It's the kind of story that has taken quite a bit of fiddling and might never go anywhere, but is teaching me a lot.

Hopefully in the next couple of days, I will get back into revision land and begin whipping this book back into shape. But I'll keep ya posted!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Gaga for my lady!



Come on. I want to know: what do you think about Lady Gaga?

Are you a fan? Do you think she's brilliant? Is she avant-garde or just another pop sensation?

I guess I want to know because, for me, Lady G represents a lot of things I like about pop culture in 2010. She blends high-brow and low-brow, smart & sleazy in one catchy package. She makes me think. She makes me want to stick my head out of my turtle shell and reconnect with the world. And I can't say that about a lot of public figures.

Plus, she's an advocate for all those people who felt freakish when they were high school and college kids. I felt that way! Who didn't? I really like that in her weird, scantily clad way, she is trying to reach out to the wacky, geeky kid in all of us.

Plus, she's incredibly cute!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Digging into the bull

The reason editing is so damn hard is that nobody can teach you the most critical part of the process: knowing yourself well enough to catch where you're digging into the bullshit. That's why you can't edit yourself very well when you first start out in this writing business. You've got to write quite a few clunkers--a whole mound of shit--before you can become thoroughly attuned to the deeply personal stench of your own crap.

Everybody has their own crap-symptoms. For me, series of 3-sentence paragraphs are a good sign that I am writing around myself, or writing on auto-pilot. The use of the double-dashes is an instant flag, as well. There are other, stinkier things that crop up, too, like mellifluous passages that go nowhere or secretly dump info while looking beautiful. Those are just the obvious signs.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can catch my B.S. and whisk it away without breaking a sweat. I'm getting better and better about it, but I still have blisters from my pitchfork. :)

Monday, May 31, 2010

"Peace Signs" up at Crossed Genres!

Get a blast of awesome fiction over at Crossed Genres! My story "Peace Signs" is making an appearance in their "Gadgets & Artifacts" issue. The gadget in question is a pretty cool one ...

So run out there and read it and tell me what you think!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Will work for bird seed

This is going to be a great summer. I'm really looking forward to a nice flexible schedule of editing and story production. And more importantly, feeding the neighborhood pests.

In case you haven't noticed, I love critters. Anything smaller with bright shiny eyes is a life form I can not resist. On the other hand, we're not allowed to have pets. For me, this is a special kind of torment, only ameliorated by an abundance of plants and a developing library devoted to bird watching. Things have also been a lot better since we got the bird feeder.

We used to primarily get swallows at the feeder, but lately a juvenile scrub jay has become rather territorial about it. I miss the swallows, but this guy is so funny and cheeky, I've grown attached to him. In fact, I've named him Gobbler. He loves nothing more than to stand on the feeder's roof, stretching out his wings and screaming his claim for the whole neighborhood to hear. When he sees one of us, he usually looks a touch embarrassed by his behavior.

For Mothers Day, my sweet family purchased a squirrel feeder as a gift. So far, this adorable device has seen zero squirrel action, but oddly enough, since it's arrival a squirrel has taken to eating from our bird feeder. We never used to get squirrels--that's why we got a squirrel feeder. Weird. But this little gal is so incredibly cute, I can't seem to mind her confusion. There is pretty much nothing more adorable than a squirrel looking up at you, her bright eyes gleaming and her nose covered in seeds. It's like a squee on four legs.

Of course, Gobbler is a little upset by the furry intruder. I watched him get his foot get caught in the auxiliary bird feeder (a wire mesh suet number) this morning, and after he pulled himself free, take a grumpy stance on top of the big front yard light. He squawked at the squirrel and beat his wings. The squirrel, cruelly enough, showed no concern.

If this rivalry continues all summer, I'm in for some serious entertainment. I'll also break the bank buying chow for these bottomless garden invaders. So if you've got any spare birdseed, feel free to send it my way. I could use it!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What NOT to do for stinky shoes

My shoes smell like cat piss.

I have no idea how this happened. It's not like we have a cat. It's not like I go around making cats pee on my walking shoes. But yet, here they are, reeking of urine. Cat urine. Ewww. I even washed them, hoping to get the horrible stench out. This afternoon I learned that it didn't work.

I noticed a little bit of a funk when I picked them up from their drying position in front of the baseboard heater, but I wasn't too concerned. I was more worried about getting them ready to wear--my poor old clogs were in need of a break, and honestly, sometimes a girl just wants her sneakers. I tossed them in the dryer and hoped for the best.

I don't know what it is about our dryer, but it hates drying tennis shoes. Who knew? Apparently there's a sensor that makes the dryer turn off when it believes all the items are dry. It's a safety feature designed to prevent fires. Or maybe to drive the desperate owners of wet sneakers crazy as they run up and down the stairs, starting and restarting the damn machine. I'd hear the tell-tale thumping of drying shoes stop, and then race downstairs, eagerly throw open the dryer door and breathe in a good long whiff of hot cat pee. Refreshing. And disappointing for many reasons, not least that the shoes were still clammy and I had only twenty-five minutes left before I needed to run out the door.

More serious measures were definitely in order. I went for two stand-bys: tea tree oil and the oven. Nothing dries things faster than a few minutes in a 250 degree oven, right? And nothing wipes out bad smells like a dash of tea tree oil.

I suppose I'm just lucky the damn things didn't melt or catch on fire. With three minutes left to go, I pulled them, steaming, from the oven. They were still soggy. And now the unmistakable aromas of cat piss AND tea tree oil billowed out of the oven.

And I thought cat pee smelled bad.

I crammed my feet into my still-damp Danskos and jogged outside. I had only two hopes as I hurried to pick up The Midget from her playdate. First, that the smell hadn't clung to me. And second: that I could score an invitation to dinner. How would we be able to eat in a house that stank like ours?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Naught Monday

I'm forcing myself to take 2 weeks off before tackling the tidying and brainstorming phases of the 2nd draft of this book (2nd draft almost feels like a misnomer--maybe a better phrase would be draft 1.1). The goal is to create some cool short stories. It feels like summer vacation.

Is there anything better than giving yourself the license to write whatever you want to write? For the last several months, every good idea has been noted down and put on the back burner to wait forlornly for that day when the novel would stop being the center of my universe. Now it's finally on the back burner, and let me tell you, the short stories are clamoring for attention.

Let me tell you, I love short stories. They're emotional. They're intense. They pin you inside their world and then spit you out raw and unready for your ordinary life. If I could get away with writing all short stories, all the time, I probably would.

Unfortunately, there's this part of my brain that loves novels, too, and keeps thinking about writing them. I'm sure I like this part of my brain. I don't think it understands that in a novel, there will be middles. And story arcs. And pages and pages of development. All of that takes freaking forever to write!

Yes, I love instant gratification. Glad I've got a healthy serving of it coming my way this week!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brain rock

I took a notebook to the coffee shop the other day and did some extreme brain storming. I came up with a raft of short story ideas and three (maybe four!) potential book ideas.

Too bad I couldn't brainstorm any great plans for eliminating the need for sleep ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How about them beans!



On Tuesday, we had a bit of a family reunion. One of my aunts, who lives in Arkansas and whom I've only met a few times, came out west to visit, and my other aunt and one cousin drove her (and her husband) down to the Portland area so she could see my sisters and I.

It was a very nice evening. We all had some good chats and good food, but the surprise treat of the evening was the distribution of a few family heirlooms. I had the good fortune to receive a pitcher, just like the one in the picture above. Mine also came with a lid, which is flat and yellow and sits quite nicely on the ceramic rim of the container.

Most people would probably use this gizmo as pitcher for pancake batter, but my intrepid great-grandmother used this as her bean-soaking vessel. I wonder how many batches of beans began in this little crock. I wonder how many more will be made. It seems like a small container for a big farm family, but for my crew, this would make the perfect batch.

This ovenware dish will never be worth a lot of money. It's not a fancy or particularly unusual piece of pottery. But it is probably close to sixty years old. And it has seen so much! My great-grandmother was a farm-wife in Aroostook County, Maine. My aunt Nancy took the crock with her to Arkansas at some point after my great-grandmother died. And now it's been passed on to me, here in Oregon. From potato farm to suburbia to the city of Portland; from World War II to 2010--if that pitcher could talk, it would have quite the stories for us.

And they would all be centered around the humble, economical, filling and delicious bean.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Magic is real & it is happening to me

6 years ago, a woman sat down to write a novel. She was a single parent with no job, who had returned to the tiny town of Gardiner, Oregon, to live with her mother while experiencing the most crushing sense of panic and hope of her entire life.

No, this is not J.K. Rowling's story. This is my story. It is a story that includes six months as a house-sitter (sponging utilities off my very kind middle sister), a year sponging off my mother, a year sponging off my oldest sister, six months folding laundry to pay my student loan and an idea that wouldn't go away: that I was meant to be a writer. So, close to two years ago, preparing to begin coursework to become a certified Waldorf teacher, I had an epiphany. I realized that I could continue struggling to find a decent-paying job that would swallow my heart and soul, or I could try to become a real writer.

I spent three days in mourning. Then I put my nose to the grindstone, and within a few weeks, I'd made my first short story sale.

Well, today, I'm happy to announce that I've made my first PRO sale. See that book cover at the top of this post? I'm one of the "many more."

Me. A chick who just a few short years ago was filling out paperwork for public health insurance and food stamps. A chick who was prepared to work at her fairly unremarkable retail job for the entire rest of her life if that meant giving herself a chance to write just one one good story.

It's not like I've made a six-figure salary and retired from the day job. But when I heard that my words could be in a book with words from personal writing heroes like Peter S. Beagle & Neil Gaiman, I felt pretty damn good about quitting that teacher training program. Now I know I've written at least one good story.

And I'm just getting started.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stomach puts its foot down

I've been hit by some serious life lessons the last few weeks, and the biggest lesson of all is that I have got to pick up some better stress-management skills.

The last week has been a little more exciting than I like. I heard back on a submission--the editor liked the story and might be able to use the piece if I was willing to make some revisions. I got extremely excited, wracked my brain, and whipped up the changes. I sent them out. Then I wondered if I had put pins and needles on my desk chair and checked my email four times in the next fifteen minutes, wondering if the darn thing had actually gone through.

Wednesday, I heard back from the editor (a person punctual, kind, encouraging and extremely enjoyable to work for!). The piece had been accepted! This was such exceptionally good news that I began cry. I spent the night alternating the urge to sob and the urge to profoundly vomit.

Thursday I was still wound tight. My stomach knotted itself into a ball I could palpate. It felt like a small woman's fist, pushing against my skin. I kept trying to calm down--after all, this was good news. I should be a little more reasonable about thing. I also felt extremely exhausted. I think my adrenal glands blew themselves out and were desperate for a recharge.

After two days of dragging along, I woke up today with a sore throat and feeling miserable. I went to work anyway. It was apparent that the germs I'd been fighting off had taken hold in my worn-out system, and by noon, all hell (or at least all stomach!) had broken loose. Luckily, my supervisor sent me home and I crashed for about five hours.

But how stupid is all this? I've basically been unable to get anything done and missed out on several hours of much-needed wages because I can not make myself unwind when I get too over-stimulated. So it's obvious that I need some skills, some tips, some ... something!

Anyway, more than happy to see some wisdom hit the comments here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Falling in with a good crowd

You guys, there is just so much exciting stuff going on in my life that I almost don't know where to start! Yesterday's one-line entry was pretty symptomatic of the zippy energy shooting around in my body. It's making it really hard for me to concentrate on ANYTHING, not just blogging. But I hope to knuckle down and settle down.

Part of the incredible excitement is the wave of awesome friend-power that's been rocking my personal boat. I have gotten to know such an amazing assortment of people lately that it is almost mind-blowing. From the parents of The Midget's buddies to my online writing crew to my amazing work buddies, I feel like I have found a group of people whose support is lifting me over the rough spots of life. It's a real blessing.

This year, in part because of the great encouragement from my Seshat tribe-mates, I've written and submitted half a dozen stories that are all significantly better than anything I've ever produced before. And I've worked my way through the first draft of a novel that is much, much more solid than any previous book. I can't believe how much good stuff is coming off of my keyboard.

It's really hard to believe that I've only met ONE of my writing buddies, the unbelievably amazing Sandra Wickham. (She is also single-handedly trying to curb my manic consumption of unhealthy baked goods. This woman is like a super-hero.) But things just might change! There's a chance--a really big chance now!--that I'm going to go to World Fantasy 2010!! I hadn't planned to go after the big intercontinental WHC blow-out, but I managed to be so thrifty on that trip that I think I can probably afford it.

Wow. I am getting so excited I think I have to blast some Lady G and dance like a maniac!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Whoah ...

Some nights you just have to revel in the joy of the world we live in.


Monday, May 10, 2010

I hug spotted owls

I just chased a cat off my doorstep after it behaved in a most intolerable manner: it started nibbling on my mint plant. This was after it had already spooked my most regular visitor to the bird feeder, a blue jay who will warily let me get within five feet of it, and whom I've named Gobbler. (He eats a lot.)

I spent yesterday afternoon playing catch-up in my garden, and it was much needed. I usually head out to my containers--we don't have an in-ground garden, merely about a dozen planters Sweetie-Pie has built, discovered or bought--in about mid-February. At that time of year, I mulch, I clear, I dream. I usually get everything organized for some extreme seedling work in March, when I turn stacks of egg cartons into soggy make-shift greenhouses. But this year, I've been so focused on writing that I've neglected the garden.

This is strange for me, because nature is the touchstone of my creative world. From a toddlerhood spent on a farm, believing the animals were just extensions of my family, to a childhood hiking in the woods and falling in love with plants, I loved every living creature. It was hard to be a sensitive kid quite certain that trees were sentient, magical creatures when I lived in a region supported almost entirely by logging, lumber processing and paper mills. It was even harder in the 90s, when the entire West Coast was rocked by clashes between the timber industry and ecology activists. If you've read The Legacy of Luna, Julia Butterfly Hill's story of a tree-sit in this incredibly heated time, you have a sense of the entire region's tension and raw emotion.

I think growing up like that really colored my life. For one, I spent the last ten years fascinated by green progress and activism. I've been in my share of protests and letter-writing campaigns--enough to make me a little bit cynical and a lot exhausted. I'm a composter, gardener, and hankie-user. And when I write, I write things that, obviously or not, refer to nature. For example, "Peace Signs," the piece I keep bragging about, comes out of all the hysteria of those early 90s times. Especially living as close to Eugene as we did, there was a sense that the ecology nuts would do anything to win. They didn't care who they hurt or what collateral damage they inflicted to kick timber industry ass. (Obviously, I'm just describing what I thought I heard and understood as a child. I'm not actually condemning anyone who fights for the environment.) Deep down, I always wondered what would happen if they did--and that story is set in the world of that wonderment.

Another writing issue I have is that when I write about magic, it's usually an earth-based magic. I don't have much interest in other kinds. (Well, okay, unless you're talking about evil blood-magic, drawn out after midnight by the light of candles made from the fat of a hanged man ... bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!) I'm wrapping up the final draft of a story that's about earth-magic users, and I'm loving it. In fact, I love it enough I think I've gotten an idea for another book! Now, if I could just come up with a plot to go with the set-up...