Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Fingerprints of Poverty

Over on, I blogged about growing up poor:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Words from a terrific woman

Need some bucking up or just some spirited advice?
Here are 9 Rules For Success, from the novelist Amelia Barr. (Now here was a lady who probably said "Bow ties are cool"--and meant it!)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Cover: blown!

So, yesterday the Internet blew up because of an article about what it "really" means to be a professional writer (that article isn't loading right now, or I'd link to it, but here's a pretty great response by Brian Keene.) Neil Gaiman voiced a response on Twitter. Chuck Wendig made a response on Twitter. People were talking about this article A LOT.

And I wish they hadn't.

Why? Because they are blowing my cover!

If you look at that blog post by Brian Keene, he says where anybody can read (and I mean anybody, not just those yahoos at the NSA!) that he cleans his house EVERY SUNDAY. That's right. He claims that as a professional writer, he has time to clean his house. There goes my argument that I'm "too busy writing to clean."


Haven't you had those days where you just couldn't motivate yourself to do dishes? Or one of the cats looked so cute sleeping on the couch you couldn't bear to break out the evil vacuum cleaner, even though you just petted a dust bunny so big you mistook for the other cat? Or maybe you knew the BBC was about to make a big announcement about a certain blue box-driving character, so you couldn't tear yourself away from someone live-blogging the big event? Seriously! How could I mop the house when I had to find out who would play the 12th Doctor?

And now I'm going to have to come clean about this lazy streak in me. I can't just wave a hand and say, nonchalantly, "I had a deadline;" OR  "I'm a professional writer, so right now I don't have time to be anal about the house;" OR "The muse held me hostage at my desk. Dinner's going to be corn flakes."

I'm going to have to break down and admit that I'm sometimes just a slob. Or else do what I did today: plotted a short story while I did dishes. If I remember right, that's how a certain writer used to do it.

And if Dame Agatha Christie wasn't a professional writer, who is?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure, 21st Century Style

Here's a cool guest post from my good friends Garrett Calcaterra and Ahimsa Kerp, who are co-creating a project that I think the world is more than ready for: METTLEFETCHERS, an interactive e-book, set in an amazing (and sexy) universe that I know I can't wait to play in. I'll let the guys describe it for you.

GarrettNow, the first thing you’re probably wondering is, what the hell is an interactive e-book? That sounds an awful lot like vague PR fluff.... And you’d be right, so—ahem!—Ahimsa, why don’t you go ahead and take this one. What exactly do we mean by an interactive e-book?

Ahimsa: I think we mean Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, but with that title already being taken, we have to go with “interactive ebook.” I think what we’re trying to create is an intersection between two great spec-fic loves—novels and games. I mean, sure I love Game of Thrones, but what if I could have been Ned Stark, and chosen to fight with Renly? Or captured Cersei? Or listened to Varys? I think we’re both really excited about the idea of a novel with reader input, and it seems that technologically the time is right. That said, we’re really not holding anything back! You want to talk about the setting, G?

Garrett: Does the pope wear a funny hat? Errr, I mean, yes! World building is one my favorite parts of writing, and world building is even better when working with a friend. I can say without any false modesty that the two of us are pulling out all the stops with our setting on Mettlefetchers, and it promises to be awesome. Our story is set in an alternate 1857—the height of the Victorian era—and will include everything from anachronistic steampunk technology to vampires, shape-shifters, elves, mythical beasts, aliens and zombies. The main premise of the book is that the rampant imperialism and pillaging of natural resources on the part of world powers has awoken a prehistoric menace—a slew of Great Old Ones and their minions. The result is global, mass Bacchanalian hysteria (which adds an erotica component to our story). This means the entirety of 19th Century Earth is our oyster, and readers will have a vast, sandbox world to explore. The usual European steampunk locales will be in there, but we’re making a big effort to provide access to the underrepresented parts of the world too: Asia, Africa, Central and South America, you name it. The steampunk aesthetic is very much in play there, which leads us to our protagonists. What sort of heroes will the reader have to choose from, Ahi?

Ahimsa: It’s important to us to have diversity in character as well as setting. Because we are starting off our story in Persia, we are thinking of using a eunuch or hijra as a point-of-view character. (I met a hijra while hiking in the Himalayas and she was one of the loveliest people I met on my travels). Overall, we have 6 POV characters, and in them we want to represent as broad a range as possible. One of the Mettlefetchers, for instance, is transgender (the term is 20th century, but the condition much older). This will tie into larger themes of identity, so it can be examined on a global, societal, and individual level. The characters will be very much linked thematically with the world they occupy, and it’s going to be exciting to “shapely up” our minds and make some connections. Whatever their orientation, however, our characters won’t be defined by their sexuality. You know what they say—what happens in Bacchanalian hysterias stays in Bacchanalian hysterias. And while we are on the subject of sex, Garrett, just how much erotica are we planning on including in this book? There won’t be too many turgid manhoods or quivering sexes will there?

Garrett: Oh, I’m quite afraid there are going to be a lot of love puddles in this one, but remember it’s an interactive reading experience, so the reader will always have a choice in what path the characters choose. If you’re feeling a bit naughty, you can have your character sleep her way to the enemy James Bond style. Or you can take the moral high ground and eschew the erotic interactions altogether. That being said, most of the choices aren’t going to be morally black and white. Like any artful erotica, the sex will be integral to the story. We’re not doing cheesy porn here, where any flimsy premise for a sex scene flies—no Victorian pizza delivery guys with a big sausage pizza! With six viewpoint characters and dozens of storylines, there stands to be a lot of variety and re-readability for the reader. In fact, as part of our Kickstarter campaign, we’re even given supporters a chance to interact with us during the creative process of writing the book. Ahi, you wanna tell them why we decided to go the route of using Kickstarter and what sort of rewards backers can get?

Ahimsa: Well, Kickstarter is a pretty good litmus test of an idea. Like everyone who has created a project, we think it’s a pretty snazzy idea. But it’s not really up to us. So it’s fun to use crowdsourcing and see if we have a concept that is exciting enough for the community to fund.  Unlike, say, musicians or to a lesser extent artists, it’s hard for writers to work in a collaborative manner. So we wanted to create rewards for backers that involved their inputs. Depending on how much they pledge, backers can create characters, insert themselves into the narrative, or just make sure we include their favorite fetish into a significant scene. We want to make sure it’s deep enough for those who want to wade into our world.

While we could blather on forever, I think we’ve covered the essentials. Any last thoughts, Garrett?

Garrett: Yes, how can people help? The obvious answer is to pledge a couple of bucks to help make Mettlefetchers come to be. For as little as $5 you get an advanced copy of the book when it’s done (and we’re aiming to have the book ready in as few as three months if the project is funded, so you won’t have to wait long). Pledge more and you get some of the cool interactive rewards Ahimsa mentioned. To pledge or just learn more about the book, check out our Kickstarter page:

If you’d like to help beyond that, we’d be forever grateful if you could help spread the word about the project. Kickstarter campaigns only succeed if they get out into the public awareness. Word of mouth is great, and if you want to have a bit more fun with it, you can take part in our inverse-meme campaign. Simply take one of our pictures with the phrase “What is Mettlefetchers?” on it and repost it wherever you hangout online. Better yet, create your own inverse-meme with “What is Mettlefetchers?” on it, post it, and let people’s curiosity do the rest.

If anyone has any questions or suggestions, hit us up in the comments below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer vacation!

It's summer time, which means scaling way, way back on my expectations for getting work done. The heat makes me a little dumb, and having my kid around all the time means a lot of distractions. I don't love falling behind on projects, but I don't mind having a little extra fun.

My daughter loves to bake, so a recent project (just before the heat wave hit!) was baking some yummy brownies with peanut butter topping. We used this awesome brownie recipe from Baker Bettie (we used the non-vegan version and subbed applesauce for half of the oil, with no apparent bad effects), although I will probably add a little salt the next time I make them.

So. Follow the brownie recipe, but before baking, sprinkle top of the batter with a handful or two of chocolate chips. Then dribble on:

Yummy Peanut Butter Topping
1/4 C peanut butter (Adams, of course!), heated until runny
1 tsp oil or melted butter
1 Tb brown sugar

Bake according to brownie directions: 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Then turn on the broiler for about a minute, which will bring out the caramelly goodness of the grown sugar.

The hardest part is waiting for the brownies to get cool enough to cut into very small pieces! (Pro tip: I used that time to henna my hair. It's much easier to resist brownies when your head is covered in a weird green powder that smells like the illicit love child of mate and kava.)

Friday, June 07, 2013

Sometimes SFWA rocks

Today I got an email from SFWA alerting me to a legal fund they'd established to assist authors dealing with legal fees incurred from a particular copyright issue. And while I have no need for this particular legal fund, I was still happy to hear about it. It was a great reminder of why I joined SFWA.

I know the Internet has been abuzz with SFWA's difficulties lately. Ever since the "Chain Mail Bikini"cover, things have been pretty ugly in SFWAland. Their outreach tool, The Bulletin, has been stepping on toes quite a bit, and a lot of people are upset with the entire organization.

SFWA can feel like a tiny club of entitled writers, and it's not necessarily the perfect community for everyone in the speculative fiction writing field. But if you're not looking for community, if you're just looking for the kind of cover-your-butt-protection provided by a legal fund and an emergency medical fund and a team of people who actually understand big problems like literary agencies with new owners and no understanding of publishing; or publishing companies struggling to pay their authors; or the Google Book issue--well, SFWA provides that in spades.

I'm not happy with everything about SFWA, but I do know that when the time comes to renew my membership, I'll be paying my dues. It's a bit like paying for insurance: I might not love everything about my insurance company's business practices, but I sure like the peace of mind it provides.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tony Stark, Slightly Crazy Inventor-Scientist

So last night my husband and I finally watched Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog. Which got me thinking about mad scientists.

[Side note: I have this giant poster of a book cover hanging over my tv:

If you didn't know, I wrote the story introductions to this book, and the cover is AWESOME. But having a giant poster of a mad scientist hanging over one's television makes you think about science a lot!]

Anyway, after watching Dr. Horrible, I found myself full of rage. Why are superheroes always using these innate powers and abilities to save the day, but scientists are always using their gifts for evil? Why are scientists always portrayed as bad guys? After all, in real life every single good thing in the world comes from science!

And then I remembered Tony Stark. Tony Stark! Inventor! Computer scientist! Student of strange physics! Hero! And hottie!

Batman uses technology to save the day, too, but at least in the Christopher Nolan series, it's suggested that he cannibalizes a lot of ideas from his family's company. He's a clever guy, and I definitely approve of his work, but Tony Stark seems to have a much more scientific and inventor-ish approach to his superheroics.

Needless to say, Iron Man is officially my new favorite superhero.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Thought week!

Last week was devoted to that strange post-novel ennui that often hits me after finishing a major draft or revision of a project. This week has been about researching, rethinking, and note-taking. I'm gearing up to revise a novel I wrote last year that I'm really excited about, and after working for Pathfinder--a universe with intense background worldbuilding--I know I need to bone up my worldbuilding for this project. The world that this book is set in has a lot of odd and unique features, and this week they've been blossoming into a much more interesting environment.

I also have to thank my friend Dale Ivan Smith for recommending a great book: Writing Twenty-First Century Fiction, by Donald Maass. I've only just started reading it, but it's really encouraging me to dig deeper into my characters' hearts and guts. I'm super-excited about the project ... although I'm nervous about actually getting to work next week!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

With a Bang!

Last week I turned in the manuscript for the novel I've been working on. Hoorah! It was a big, serious push to get the last of the revisions and proofreading done, but it felt wonderful to turn it in.

Something else fun happened last week: I had a poem come out in my favorite online magazine: the Lovecraft eZine! The piece is called "Not With A Bang, But Waves Whispering," one of the first poems written during last year's three months of I'm-writing-a-poem-a-week. I created a lot of poems and poem fragments during that time, and it's fun to finally be able to share one with people.

I've had almost a week off from writing, but I still feel pretty mentally fatigued. I have a short story to revise, but I'm not actually getting anywhere with it--it's a complicated piece, and I'm a bit nervous about wrecking it while I'm in this lunkheaded mode. On the plus side, we've been having a lot of great weather so I've been outside working in the yard a lot! At least it keeps me busy when I might otherwise be frustrated about the whole no-writing business.

This weekend is H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival & Cthulhucon. Is there any better weekend of the year? I don't think so! I can't wait to go catch up with all my favorite Lovecraftians and gorge myself on awesome movies. It's going to be a blast!

Given my obsessions this week, I'm hoping somebody nice will send me a print of this fun painting by Ursula Vernon:

"Garden Cthulhu", by Ursula Vernon
I might just have to buy it for myself, since it's so perfect for me!

Thursday, April 04, 2013


So I've been hearing a lot of people talking about ditching Blogger out of fear that Google will send it in to the same oblivion it's sent Reader and Notebook and just about every other good Google product. What do you think? I've been on here a long time!

Here in Oregon, we've had an unusual burst of good weather. I spent the last week doing work in the garden. I planted a cherry tree, even! Pretty exciting stuff. But now we're back to rain, so I'll be staying indoors.

Trying to keep my chin up this week, but feeling down. Some days the game goes to depression and this is one of them. Here's wishing you a better one!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gardening and revisions

Roseraie a Wargemont, by Renoir (public domain, via Wikimedia)

As you can see from this magnificent painting, roses demand a certain amount of structure. Having never owned any roses before we bought our house, I knew roses should be pruned, but I thought it was sort of optional. A light grooming activity, like dead-heading.

Then I realized one of our rose bushes was falling over.

It's a big, older rose bush, probably dating back to the early 70's (it's an Apollo tea rose, still bearing the metal tag nurseries used to use in the pre-plastic-everything era), and last summer it looked magnificent. It grew--intentionally, I believe--with a decidedly left-leaning slant, its large branches spreading an arch of yellow flowers over the birdbath. It smelled wonderful, and grew to about ten feet tall. It became my absolute favorite plant on the property.

I did some trimming in February, cutting back about a quarter of its height and removing a lot of canes that were dead or criss-crossing other branches. When we cut out one big, awkward cane, we actually saw the bush stand up taller. It was amazing to see, and very encouraging.

But yesterday, while I was weeding around the bush (the whole back yard is heavily overgrown with crab grass, bindweed, and blackberries, which are now beginning to jump into serious spring growth), I discovered what had been hidden beneath the winter's leaves and dead grass: a fissure running most of the way around the rose's root line. On the side opposed to the lean, the fissure is wide enough I can stick my finger down inside it.

Needless to say, I will stake this rose and do some more pruning. I will try to fill in the fissure with enriched soil to protect its roots from the questing weedy encroachers. I will keep my fingers crossed. But mostly I will feel a bit guilty that I didn't cut it back sooner. I know it was neglected for about two years before I came to live with it, but if I had gotten around to clearing out some of the weeds last summer, I might have realized that a serious problem was developing.

I can't help but see a correlation between rose maintenance and revising my novels. When working on a novel, it's important to establish a larger shape that you keep to, but don't allow to become overblown. Secondary plotlines and confused character arcs can weigh down that structure, and if you haven't made it strong, they can pull the whole story down upon itself. But of course, it's hard to see all of this happening when small issues--badly paced scenes, poorly turned phrases and the like--obscure the bones of the piece.

The novel sitting on my beta reader's desk has a big advantage over the novel sitting on my own: its outline was carefully examined by my editor and tooled into a strong scaffolding for the work. That outline went through several drafts before I even started writing. The other novel had an outline that I developed quickly and revised haphazardly as I wrote the first draft. It has lots of structural problems because of that, although a lot of awesome actions scenes hid those problems from me as I was writing. (What? Actions scenes can really kick up a book. If there are enough cool fight scenes, I might not even notice the vampires are sparkling and the boyfriends all suck!) Now I have a lot pruning, staking, and restructuring to do as I revise.

But at least that novel isn't going to fall down--or be swallowed up by bindweed, which lives on in the soil for 3-5 years. In this case, writing is far, far more satisfying than gardening.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Let's get it started

I have a silly ritual for starting a new short story. I open a new document and I make it look like this:

Yes, before I even start writing my piece, I want it (basically) in proper manuscript format. Why? Because I am a professional writer, and pros don't write things just to lock them up on their hard drives. Pros send their stuff out in the world. Having my story look professional is a good reminder that my piece is going places.

Another thing I do: I give the piece a descriptive title and I put that at the top of the page. Why? Because in Word 2003, which what I'm usually writing in, it automatically generates a file name when you hit the save button, and I'm tired of erasing the words "Wendy Wagner about xxxx words" all the time. It's dumb, but I love having the computer automatically name my story what I'd like the file to be called.

I also set the title line to "Brilliant Title," or "Kickass Title" every single time. This is because I want my story to have a kickass title at least once in its life, and I'm not always great at titling pieces. When I've finalized the story, I will save a copy in my "Submissions" folder that has the title for a file name.

When I hit a hard spot in my story and I'm tempted to give up, I just scroll back up to that first page and see my official-looking first page. It always makes me write harder to try to live up to its standards.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

She flies with her own wings*

This is both a Valentine's and birthday ode to the state of Oregon, my home state. As states go, I think it's terrific. Please don't move here. ;)

You know, last year, when we got the news that my husband's job was moving to Kent, Washington, we thought about going with it. I tried to keep my chin up about it, but every night, I got teary because as stupid as it sounds, the thought of leaving Oregon makes me cry. (Honestly, when we bought our house in this little suburb of Portland, I cried for two weeks because I didn't live in Portland anymore. [Sidenote: the boundary between Portland and our town lies less than a mile from my house]) Even though I was born in Washington and lived there until I was five years old, my heart is bound to this place.

What's so great about Oregon? Well, first and foremost has to be the fact that no one can own the ocean beaches here. That's right--the entire coastline belongs to our citizens. That sure makes road trips down Highway 101 awesome.

What else is terrific? Well, Oregon has an amazing variety of different environments packed into its borders. If you check out this USDA hardiness map, you can see ten different colors, representing ten very different temperature ranges that affect plant growth. California has ten as well, but it's about twice as big as Oregon! It's a lot easier to visit our bounty than it is California's. And we're pretty much a rectangle, so you can make your drive pretty efficiently.

Another thing that's terrific about Oregon is that we have a lot of really yummy things to eat. Did you know that Oregon is the world's largest producer of hazelnuts AND wasabi? Daaaamn! Those are two of my favorite snack ingredients! I'm not even going to go into details about Portland's food scene, but you shouldn't forget that our bizarre rules about food carts has caused a veritable explosion of weird, cheap, and greasy street foods. (Jeez, I really need some Whiffies right now!)

But what's my favorite thing about Oregon? Damn, but that's a tough question. I think our overall natural beauty is probably the highest of our West coast neighbors--although I think California and Washington both have more individual "jaw-dropping" locations. I think our biggest city has most overall yummy food, even if Seattle and San Francisco and L.A. have more hot shot chefs. I think our state is just as wacky as those guys, too. And by wacky, I probably mean "packed full of hippies, strippers, and rednecks." Which is great. Because they love Oregon, too!

You know, maybe I don't have a favorite thing about Oregon. Maybe I just like it because it's the right place for me.

*"Alis volat propriis" was made the state motto in 1987. I think it's rad!

Friday, February 08, 2013


Two novels with boating in two years is just way too much rigging.

I think that if you squeezed me, manila would come out my ears.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


I'm a lucky lady, because my family can appreciate the same awesome stuff I appreciate. How do I know this? Simple! My brother, husband, and daughter just started playing Pathfinder with me! After years of thinking about how fun it must be to play an RPG like Dungeons & Dragons or Mekton, I am finally gaming it up.

What I've loved best about our gaming sessions is the way our characters have begun to develop. At first, I wasn't sure what I thought about creating people based on a few rules and the roll of some dice. But as we play, the characteristics I "rolled up"gradually began to coalesce into a real personality. Dolingra (my dwarf cleric character) isn't just a bunch of numbers--she's a genuine goofball and I enjoy playing her. Moreover, the other players seem to have a good sense of her and can even predict what she'll do and say!

Playing the game makes me wonder about the ways I develop my characters in fiction. I'm not the type to draw up a complicated chart about my character's past or her interests. The vast majority of my characters seem to spring out of my mind completely developed--once I find their voice on the page, I don't usually have to think much about their pasts or the likes and dislikes. I just know them. The characters I've worked the hardest to figure out are the characters that usually fail. But now I wonder if perhaps I should have spent more time watching those characters in action and given them time to develop. After all, it worked so well for Dolingra!

What are some tricks you've used to help develop your characters? How do you find your characters' voices? I'm interested in hearing other people's techniques!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Actual size, but seems much bigger

David Eddings broke me.

Maybe "broke" isn't the right word, but he certainly re-shaped my expectations about fantasy novels, along with his contemporary, Raymond Feist. They made me believe that fantasy should be epic.

Now most people refer to Tolkien when they talk about epic fantasy, but Eddings and Feist were the guys I read in the late 80s when I was shaping my worldview. For a long time, every story I wrote involved a prophecy and the end of the world, and to be honest, I still don't feel right writing a book unless its major premise threatens the continuing existence of life in its universe. These books were like that. They were big! They had casts of entire continents with backstories that ran thousands of years. There were inside jokes that stretched across several volumes and even across series. I loved them. And now I'm hungry to read something as exciting, as delightful, as fun as those books.

I just got George R. R. Martin's books and I recently acquired John Fultz's Seven Princes. Both authors look to write big, exciting, epic fiction. (I also want to read John Joseph Adams's Epic anthology of epic fantasy short fiction, a concept which kind of boggles my mind.) But I'm not sure those books are going to fill the bill. They lack a certain undercurrent of light-heartedness which Eddings and Feist threaded into their  work. (Honestly, how did Feist get away with ending three books with the line "Ah, Arutha, you take all the fun out of life"? And how much did I love it??) Is anybody writing books like this anymore?

So any recommendations? Is there a new David Eddings? Or did that style of fantasy die out in the 90s along with grunge?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Big Lesson

I spent a little bit of time evaluating my writing production from 2012 and I think I've learned three things:

1. Don't get sick.
2. Don't move.
3. Don't let your kid have days off from school.

I'm still trying to decide how to make resolve those issues this year.