Archive for October, 2009

Good news in the mail

A surprising amount of good writing-related news has arrived in the last week.

While I was in Albuquerque I received an email acceptance from Escape Pod for a podcast of “Wind from a Dying Star,” which was my first professionally-published story. It should appear on the podcast early next year.

I came home to find in the paper mail a contract from Analog for my short story “Pupa.” This was the story I was working on during RaceFail, with a protagonist of color. I’m pleased to say that I finished it, sent it to my critique group, revised it, sent it out, got a couple of rejections, got a rewrite request from Stan Schmidt, rewrote it as requested, and sold it! Now we’ll see what people think of it when it appears, probably some time next year.

A couple of days later I received an email from an editor indicating that he liked a story I sent him for an anthology he’s working on. Unfortunately, he won’t know until next year whether or not there’s room in that anthology for it. But if there isn’t, he says, he’ll take it for a new online magazine he’s editing. (Just to keep me humble, he also rejected another story I sent him for a different anthology.) I’ll let you know more as soon as I have it.

And just the day before yesterday, I learned that “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” will be translated into French, in the anthology Légendes edited by Jacques Fuentealba, to be published in March 2010 by Céléphaïs. I submitted that one over a year ago and had managed to forget all about it, so that was a very pleasant surprise.

I also have one more acceptance pending, I believe, but I’ll wait until I have a contract in hand before saying anything more about that one.

Upcoming appearances

Here’s where you can find me in the next couple of months:

At the World Fantasy Convention, October 29 – November 1 in San Jose, I’ll be appearing on the following panels:

  • Friday, 9:00 PM, Crystal Room: DayBreak Magazine Reading with Jetse de Vries, Jeff Soesbe, Amanda Clark, Brenda Cooper, and Jennifer Lineae.
  • Saturday, 12:00 PM, Gold Room: Improv Story Telling with Jay Lake and Mary Robinette Kowal.

At OryCon 31, November 27-29 in Portland, I’ll be appearing on the following panels:

  • Friday, 12:00 PM, Madison Room: I have a story idea, where do I start? with Mary Robinette Kowal and Mary Rosenblum.
  • Friday, 2:00 PM, Morrison Room: Not enough humanoids? with Elton Elliott, Camille Alexa, and Irene Radford.
  • Friday, 4:00 PM, Broadway Room: And the winner is… with Jim Fiscus, Ben Yalow, Ruth Sachter, and Jerry Kaufman.
  • Friday, 6:30 PM, Multnomah Room: Endeavour Awards presentation.
  • Saturday, 1:00 PM, Madison Room: Reading.
  • Saturday, 2:00 PM, Washington Room: Writing the Other: Races and Cultures with Nisi Shawl, Rory Miller, and Lenora Rain-Lee Good.
  • Sunday, 12:00 PM, I Will Call My Story… Bob with Richard A. Lovett, Rebecca Neason, Patricia Briggs, and Camille Alexa.
  • Sunday, 1:00 PM, Improv Writing with Amber Cook, Lizzy Shannon, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Garth Upshaw.

I will also be signing books at the post-OryCon Sci-Fi Authorfest on November 29 at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton.

Hotlips writing workshop

This morning I spent a couple of hours at the local Hotlips Pizza for a writing workshop. This event is held in the morning on the third Thursday and last Sunday of each month (no Sunday workshops in November or December) and is a chance to “experience the transformative power of writing in community” and to support Write Around Portland with a donation ($10-30 sliding scale). See for more information.

About twenty people attended. The structure of the workshop was that we were given a series of writing prompts and then a few minutes to write on each, after which those who wanted to could read their pieces aloud, then the floor was opened for reactions. Only positive comments were allowed — this was an exercise in energizing writers rather than improving writing. Each excercise included two or three different prompts to choose from, and we were encouraged to write whatever we wanted without worry, apology, or fear of rejection.

The writing here was much different from what I usually encounter on the printed page or in critique groups. It was all raw, first-draft stuff, of course, but everyone who chose to read what they’d written had prose that was not only coherent but sometimes brilliant. The big difference was that everyone except me seemed to be coming from a modern-fiction, slice-of-life, or personal-memoir background. Some of the pieces seemed autobiographical, others were clearly completely fictional, but there was a lot more focus on emotion, memory, and poetic language (example: “the blue sky hanging in acres above the yellow leaves”) than I have in my own work or am used to seeing in SF. My own stuff seemed commercial — plotty, slick, and facile — by comparison with the best of these. Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s useful for me to be exposed to completely different kinds of writing every once in a while.

Here, for the record, is what I wrote, with the prompts:

“On the street where I live…”, 3 minutes:

On the street where I live, there is this enormous tree. I mean, it’s really huge — you can see it on Google Maps. I don’t know what kind of tree it is (probably a maple) or how long it’s been there, but the neighborhood dates from 1913 and I assume it was there before then. I imagine it as a full-grown but still young tree on this street of fresh new bungalows, right before WWI when Portland was young and new. It was here when the Titanic went down.

“Everyone knows him as…”, 8 minutes:

Everyone knows him as Devin. It’s a name he picked for himself when he came to this place, cold hungry lonely crying, not wanting to be himself any more. It’s a new opportunity, he tells himself, but it’s still a bitch — scrambling for work, never more than half a step away from homelessness, balancing necessities against absolutes, riding the float on his skinny little bank account. Then comes the day he finds the wallet.

It’s a fine, rich wallet — you can tell not only by the smooth dark leather of it but by how thin it is. This is not the wallet of a person who has to peel off grubby singles for a cheese slice ’cause he can’t afford pepperoni. Devin picks the wallet up, shakes off a few drops of filthy gutter water. It’s stiff with cards, gold platinum turquoise ruby… who ever heard of a ruby credit card? These colors remind Devin of a treasure cave, a fabulous hoard stumbled upon in a trackless desert.

But cards mean a name, and an address, and a fancy phone with a keyboard and color screen. Devin can’t use these cards — he’d go to jail for sure. Maybe, though — maybe there’d be a reward.

Pennies from a rich man’s purse. Charity.

Devin drops the wallet with a splash and goes on to his dishwashing job.

March 22, 1942 and “Everything seemed different after…”

(For this one we all wrote a date, something significant to us, on a slip of paper, put the slips in the middle of the table, and then drew one at random. I also used one of the two verbal prompts.)

Emily sat behind the counter at the USO, a cigarette’s smoke streaming gently up from between her fingers. All around, men in khaki and blue danced, chatted with the girls, talked seriously in the corners. Tojo was on the march — the Phillipines — bombing in Belgium. No Will. No Will anywhere, any more.

Emily stubbed out her smoke and rose, plastering a smile on her face and moving out into the crowd. Cleancut shaved faces perked up, turned toward her like flowers to the sun — then turned away as they found this sun shed no warmth. Why the hell had she come here anyway? Guilt? Guilt at being the young widow of a man who’d died at home — died changing a goddam lightbulb?

Will was going to sign up as soon as he got out of school. Emily’d worried about him — fighting out there in the jungles or on the fields of France — and when he’d fallen, and gasped his last alone in his own home, she’d been snapped in half by the irony — grief and a weird sense of relief. At least he died at home, she thought, and not in some bullet-pocked hell hole in the Pacific.

But still he was gone, and she’d been left behind — a warless war widow with no gold star to show for it. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to smile at the next pink shaven face.

“My favorite costume…”, 7 minutes

It’s the tie I love the best — slick silk, blue with subtle grey dots, that slips through my fingers as I twist and knot it around my neck. The shirt, too, stiff starched collar and cuffs, cool crisp fabric like a bright promise on my skin. The suit jacket’s warm weight on my shoulders, pads and layers of wool, cotton, and silk, are comforting to me — armor against a world that would tear me apart if it knew what lay beneath those layers. And the shoes — shiny leather, firm yet flexible, finge and stitches and, yes, two shiny copper pennies.

The last, most important part of my costume I don’t like so much. The clinging, imprisoning plastic of the mask, tight and pink over the green of my face. The contacts are the worst — they burn and irritate my sensitive eyes, masking the amber behind white and blue. The false plastic tongue and teeth, uncomfortable though they are over my fangs, are not as bad.

At last I am prepared.

Trick or treat.

I received an acceptance on a short story, but I won’t know until next June which publication it will be appearing in! Watch this space. “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” will also be translated into French, in the anthology Légendes.

Albuquerque tourism, and good and bad news via email

Spent the day touristing around Albuquerque, including the Petroglyph National Monument (fun scramble up into the rocks to see ancient carvings), Coronado State Monument (site of an ancient pueblo and some interesting old murals), the town of Corrales (which lacked a center), and lunch at the Range Cafe in Bernalillo. Dinner was at Rudy’s BBQ, which was not so much a restaurant as a place that sells smoked meats by the pound, and side dishes, and has tables you can eat your food at. Totally without frills but excellent BBQ. In the evening, dancing started.

I also got a bunch of writing-related emails, some good news and some bad.

  • My story “horrorhouse” will be published on October 30 at DayBreak Magazine, the online companion to Shine, Jetse de Vries’s print anthology of optimistic near-future SF.
  • I got my program schedule for World Fantasy Convention. I’ll be joining Jay Lake and Mary Robinette Kowal in Improv Storytelling on Saturday at 8pm.
  • I also got a draft program schedule from OryCon, about which more later.
  • After waiting more than a year for a response to a submission of my first novel, I got this: “Sadly, the manuscript wasn’t for me. I am not engaging with the writing style as much as I want to. Also, I fear the market for debut SF has continued to shrink. I get much smaller orders for my SF than I do for my fantasy, and so I am buying less of it, and as I buy less of it, I’m getting pickier and pickier about the SF I do take on board. I hope you understand.” This makes me sad.

Tomorrow: more square dancing.

Heading for Albuquerque

At PDX, heading for Albuquerque for a square dance event.

Right after my last post about doing more rewriting than writing, I got another rewrite request — this one a second request on a story I’d already rewritten for the same market. I rewrote it as requested and sent it in, and shortly received some more feedback. Admittedly it was only a few nits, but I put my foot down and said no, that’s it, take it or leave it. Fortunately the editor took this response well.

Now I’m back onto the YA novel based on 3 previous short stories. Right now I’m in the “noodling and notes” phase, thinking out loud on paper (as it were) about the characters and setting and plot. I’ll be needing to do a bunch of research as well, but that’s not going to happen during this trip.

We’ve seen a lot of live theatre recently. Chicago’s “Second Story” troupe did a performance for the opening of Wordstock, a mix of music and story-reading that was kind of like a live version of This American Life but not quite so noodly. The first couple of stories were lots of fun, but the last one was quite sordid and we bailed. “Becky’s New Car” at Artists’ Rep was excellent, hilarious and poignant by turns with some brilliant performances — recommended.

Last night we saw the “Star Wars in Concert” extravaganza at the Rose Garden arena. We worried at first that we were in the wrong place or on the wrong night, because the crowd was clearly more sporty than geeky, but it turned out there was also a Trail Blazers basketball game at the coliseum next door. The Star Wars crowd was geekier and heavy with the eight-to-ten-year-old set, many of them in costume. It made me regret that I hadn’t had Star Wars to play with when I was eight.

The performance itself was spectacular — scenes from all six movies on a humungous LED screen while a tremendous live orchestra played a series of symphonic suites from the films, all held together by Anthony Daniels telling the story. Tons of fun, and it was clear that the Imperial March was everyone’s favorite. (“We are the Empire, we’re big and we’re mean / We are Darth Vader’s destruction machine / When we engage the rebellion in war / We’ll strew the galaxy with gore / ‘Til the last man is dead.”)

Seeing this summary of the six movies in two hours really brought home just how disappointing the prequels were. The scenes from the original trilogy were not as technically proficient, but the scenes from the prequels lacked soul, heart, authenticity — even with most of the dialogue silenced, you could still see how flat the acting was. Especially that pouty kid with the stupid goggles.

Wordstock and iPhone

Wordstock, Portland’s annual Festival of the Book, begins tomorrow at the Oregon Convenion Center. Last year Jay Lake and I were on the program, but not this year — they don’t like to have people come back year after year. I’ll be in the Oregon Writers Colony booth from 1:00 to 3:00 on Saturday, volunteering for one hour, selling and signing copies of Space Magic for the other hour. Stop by and say hi.

In other news, I finally succumbed to temptation and bought an iPhone. It is very cool and shiny. Kate and I have a family plan, so if you ignore the cost of the new phone we’re actually saving a little money per month. I’ve already loaded it up with the following apps: AAA Roadside (call for assistance), Facebook, LiveJournal, MetrO (worldwide subway trip planner), Nambu (Twitter client), Notespark (sync and share notes), NPR (read and listen to news), PDX Bus (find a bus stop and when the next bus arrives), (augmented reality app that shows the names of the nearest mountains), and Urbanspoon (restaurant finder). What’s your favorite app?

Delayed gratification, and a research request

So often in this business our joys are provisional. Hey, I finished a story! …but I don’t know if anyone will buy it. Hey, I sold one! …but I have to wait for the contract and check, and wait some more for galleys, and wait yet more for publication. Hey, it finally appeared! …now we’ll see if anyone likes it.

I’ve been spending a lot of the last couple of months in a nebulous space between creation and publication — closer to publication than sometimes, but not quite there yet. For some reason I’ve gotten rewrite requests on five submissions this year, and I also got feedback from my critique group on a couple of recent stories that prompted extensive revisions. So I’ve been doing a lot of rewriting and not a lot of drafting, which is not as satisfying to me and also not terribly conducive to blogging-about.

I’ve made a couple of sales, too, but even there things are kind of nebulous. I got a rejection from an anthology, but it was accompanied by a request to use the story on the anthology’s website (for five cents a word). I would rather have been in the print antho, but it’s a decent pay rate and online publication means I don’t have to ask my friends to shell out money to read my stuff. So that’s a sale, sort of. I also got paid for the Wild Cards story, but there might still be a few revisions requested, depending on exactly what happens with the other stories in the book. So that’s another sale, again sort of.

Anyway, I just finished and mailed… let’s see, that’s the fourth revision in a row, and I’m nearly done with another piece, a nonfiction essay based on the talk I gave at the Library of Congress back in July, which isn’t exactly new writing either. Next up — and I should start that today — is a project somewhere between drafting and revision: a YA novel proposal based on the three stories I wrote for Esther Friesner’s fantastical-suburbia anthologies. I’ve been asked to write about half of it (~40,000 words) plus an outline.

The original short stories were set in the 1970s, because that’s when I was in intermediate school and I have no idea what life is like for Kids Today. It worked well but I’ve been asked to bring it up to the present day for the novel. I started off with one of the original stories but it was just too finished… trying to revise it was like trying to reshape a marble statue with a butterknife. So I’m going to tackle the project as a completely new novel with the same characters (well, with people based on the same characters) and then, once I have a good solid idea of the setting, characters, and voice, maybe revise the existing stories to fit in the new present-day world.

Now I have a research problem: how to find out what life is like for Kids Today, ages 13-14? I don’t know any kids that age well enough to talk to, and I can’t go down to the local middle school and just hang out… that’s creepy, and probably illegal these days. Any recommendations of books, magazines, movies, TV shows, or websites?