Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Super big weekend

Gosh. I can't believe how tired I am. People tell you getting married is hard work, but I hadn't believed just how worn out it would leave me. Who knew being a hyper-emotional mess for an entire week would leave a girl so tuckered out?

I'm not really sure why I was such a crazy emotional disaster, although I feel certain impatience, nervousness (what if they don't like my chili?!?), and excitement played equal parts. After all, it's not every day that I get to see my parents or meet a really awesome friend (who proved to be just as awesome in person as in her near-daily emails) or marry the most excellent man alive.

Now I just want to take naps, hold toes with my new hubbie (yes, he really does hold toes. It's enchanting!), and try to recoup some of my brainpower. I have so much writing to catch up on, it's not even funny!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Soaking & siphoning

Have you ever noticed that once you commit to take a break from creative work and just focus on soaking up the world around you, everything is super-fascinating? Posters, stickers, photographs in Vogue, cheesy movies ... I'm not sure if I'm just hopped up on pre-wedding hormones or if the world is just being extra co-operative!

Off to sketch girls riding elephants and watch 80s horror flicks.

Friday, April 15, 2011

SFWA Northwest Reading Series!

Just a reminder that Tuesday marks the first event in SFWA's new reading series! (7pm, the Kennedy School--Jay Lake, Kay Kenyon, & Brent Weeks will reading, drinking, and having fun with folks.)

I'll be there, sucking down beer and tater tots. :D

Monday, April 11, 2011

Schedules, rituals, & routines

Last year I got to meet the fantastic, super-cool Blake Charlton. The man is an inspiration--he's going to Stanford medical school and putting out quality fantasy fiction. And he blogs and tweets and cracks up everybody around him, too.

Of course, the first thing everybody asks is: "How the heck do you manage to go to med school and still have time to write?" I asked it. He volleyed: "You're a mom. How do you do it?"

I honestly don't know how Blake does it, because medical school isn't like other school. Going to (normal!) school and raising kids are both lifestyles that can actually dovetail quite nicely with the writing life, because children and school both demand structure--a schedule, a regular routine.

A smart writer finds a way to settle into a regular writing schedule. You get used to writing at certain times, and your body helps remind you to sit down and pump out some words. It's a lot like the way that if you eat lunch every day at a certain time, you'll be hungry even if your schedule gets thrown off.

Kids thrive with routines. It's comforting for them to have clear expectations about their day. You can use that to your advantage if you're a writer. My daughter comes home from school and eats a snack--but then she very regularly takes some quiet time to herself. Sometimes she hangs out in her room and listens to a book on CD. Sometimes she watches a movie. Sometimes she just disappears into the basement and hides. But I can pretty much count on at least half an hour of downtime in the afternoon that I can use to catch up on weird writerly tasks (blogging or reading slush or something).

School kids often have a structured rhythm to their week, as well. I feel a sort of ticking clock during the week--a friendly pressure to get the bulk of my writing work done before the weekend. That nudging really encourages me to keep on top of my to-do lists.

Kids also need a certain amount of ritual. Rituals are related to routines; they help kids mark off time and make it meaningful. Rituals come at the small scale (the careful rite of bedtime activities, the same every single day) and the large scale (the comforting ritual of Thanksgiving family breakfast followed by time in nature) and even the sporadic (weddings and funerals).

Writers can use ritual to their benefit, too. Having a certain specified sequence at the beginning of your writing session can help you shift from the prosaic world into the creative realm. Doing something special when you start or complete a project can help you cut your ties to a project so you can move your energy into the next one.

For me, I can't imagine being a mom who wasn't a writer. In part, it's because in those brief months when The Midget and I lived alone, I realized that to be a good parent I would have to put aside all pretenses and be really and purely myself. If I was going to be psychologically healthy enough to take care of a kid, I was going to have to take care of myself and live my life purposefully, with intention and passion. I knew I was going to have to give her advice about pursuing her dreams, and I couldn't undermine those values by turning my back on hers.

Your children deserve parents who are the best possible people they can be. And if you are a writer, then you owe it to them and yourself to be the best possible writer you can be. It might sound overwhelming, but you can make it a part of your ordinary life. Getting the words out is just like remembering to brush your teeth before bed: a routine. A ritual.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

What makes a murder?

I write science fiction and fantasy, but I have a background in philosophy. For me, the most obnoxious part of my philosophical training was my coursework in ethics. We had to discuss many hot-button topics, and a great deal of the conversation was compounded by an inability to agree on our terms. It's difficult to have effective discourse when people's different backgrounds have given common words very different connotations.

The hottest topic in ethics class was abortion. I think it's a topic that exemplarizes the fractured communications that come from word connotation.
  • For some, abortion means murder. It's killing a person, and that's it.
  • For some, abortion can't mean murder, because murder requires personhood, and some people don't feel as if unborn entities qualify as people. They tend to see abortion as a medical procedure, primarily affecting the mother.
  • For some, abortion can't mean murder, because murder requires malicious intent, and some feel that the choice to end a pregnancy isn't a malicious one--it comes from some kind of hope to prevent suffering. These people often see abortion as euthanasia.
With these three major differences in word usage, how can people talk clearly about the same subject?

When you're writing fiction and ethical situations come up, think deeply about word usage. The words you choose and the attitudes your character has about them will deeply color your reader's experience of the work.

When it comes to murder, your characters will use the term in fascinating ways. Here are some possibilities:

  • War involves killing, but depending your outlook, deaths in combat may or may not be murder. Someone who believes the battle is justified will not usually use the word "murder;" a peace advocate probably will.
  • Killing animals for food is typically not considered murder, but if you're writing a character who is an animal empath, you'll almost certainly use that term.
  • Assisted suicide might be called murder by someone with a set-fate religious belief, but a concerned grand-daughter who's spent time watching her grandma battle with cancer would probably use the term "euthanasia" or "assisted suicide."
  • If a horrible accident happens--say your character's new invention explodes and kills a young child--the devastated family members might use the word "murder" if the accident was the result of particularly stupid behavior or if they don't like your character.
It's not always easy for us to step outside of our own word connotations to explore morality, but as writers, it's critical, especially if you're digging into unfamiliar cultures. If you're creating your own new planet full of its own fascinating cultural mores, you'll be glad you slowed down and dug deep.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Families We Choose

Family. It's a weird creation, isn't it? It's this notion that something fundamental can bind people together, a binding that transcends borders and distance and age. That no matter what happens to you or who you've become, you can turn to your family and they will be there for you.

Most of the people I know have had to build or prune or reshape their families. From the simple and traditional (marriage is the classic way to claim a new person as a family member; adoption another) to more intense and unusual, most of us claim family members who aren't related to us by blood or marriage, and many of us have cut bonds with people who are related in those traditional methods. Some of my friends were expelled from their circles of kinship for reasons of religion or sexuality.

Since I'm gearing up for my wedding, family is on my mind. One of the major reasons my partner and I are marrying is to help him adopt my daughter. He's the only father she's ever known and we understand that we need to protect their special relationship. Our marriage is the first step toward taking better care of our family.

And of course having a wedding means inviting friends and family to be a part of the ritual. Sometimes it's hard to know where "friend" ends and "family" begins, especially in families where relationships are sometimes strained. Or where friends are exceptionally closely bonded!

I'm lucky to have so many wonderful people joining me to celebrate the new direction my family is taking. I know there have been times in my life where I've dreamed of moving away and starting fresh, with no ties, floating like dandelion fluff along the wind. But there is a pleasant weight to family, no matter the bad memories, the difficult times, and the hard choices. I'm glad I've chosen to keep them.