Thursday, April 21, 2016

Remembering Maureen Frost

Maureen Frost passed away yesterday.  Maureen was a writer: a new writer, with a few stories under her belt, as well as a history of the Mafia which will be in stores later this year.

Maureen and I worked together.  Sometimes we took breaks and walked out to get tea.  Maureen introduced me to genmaicha--green tea with roasted rice--and dragon pearls.  As we walked, we talked about writing.

Maureen showed me some of her stories.  At that time she had never sent them out, because she was sensitive, and feared rejections would crush her.  She asked me how I could bear it.  I don't remember what I answered, because it is a light thing to me; but it was a heavy thing to Maureen.

Watching her work up the courage to share her writing was so impressive.  Even showing a piece to just me--her colleague and friend--made her extremely nervous.  She took that first step bravely.  Then she began sending her work to magazines.  I remember her being so anxious that her voice was breaking when she told me.  And still she did it.

What Maureen faced, only she knew.  I feel like I saw the shadow of it now and then, in the intensity of effort she had to put forth to submit her work.  I do not know how much Maureen wrote, or how much of it she was willing to send out.  I do know there is no better way for a writer to remember another writer than to share her words.

Here are two of Maureen's stories which are available online: "Lugosi at Midnight" and "Battle in the Carpathians".

Friday, January 15, 2016

Non-Fiction for Fiction Writers: Irritable Hearts

Character and world-building: two essential skills for writers.  I'd submit that our invented characters and worlds are inevitably reflections of our real worlds and our understanding of ourselves and others.

Some of that understanding comes hard-won and first-hand.  I learn through falling down.

I also learn through shifting perspectives.  I need a sense of the wider context in which my own life sits, and I need it to believably write people who aren't me.

I also have trouble reading fiction when I'm working a lot on my own writing.  Something about the process, especially in the last couple of years, has made it very hard for me to get swept up in a novel the way I used to.  I get hung up on the craft of it, like having x-ray vision, seeing the skeleton too prominently beneath the skin.

Non-fiction also has its tropes and conventions, but since it isn't what I am writing, it's easier for me to read it wholeheartedly.  And I've read a lot more of it in the past couple of years.

So: this is going to be the first of a series of posts about amazing non-fiction that has expanded my understanding of people and the world.

Irritable Hearts by Mac McClelland

Irritable Hearts is the memoir of a tough, hard-drinking, seen-it-all journalist who falls in love with an equally tough soldier.  It’s also the memoir of a sensitive, vulnerable writer who lives through some of our worst fears and then nearly dies in the aftermath.

This book questions what it means to be strong.  Did McClelland start out strong and did trauma break her?  Did she start out more vulnerable than she knew, and did trauma put pressure on the cracks that were already there?  Did she start out in denial, and does she now show her greatest strength in resilience?

McClelland has been criticized--rightly, I think--for writing about someone else's trauma without permission, in an earlier piece that was the genesis of this book.  In this book she confines herself as much as possible to her own experience.  She does a great job of exposing the tangle of personal history, privilege, and politics that underlie both her own trauma and her imperfect response to it.

Irritable Hearts fascinates me because it doesn't give easy answers.  McClelland isn't a perfect victim, and she isn't perfectly recovered by the end of the book.  She isn't a perfect partner to her soldier husband, and he isn't a perfect husband either.  In all this imperfection is an irreducible optimism, a liveliness.  A more interesting story.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Setting Myself Up for the Win

2016 is going to be a huge year for me, with the release of Spells of Blood and Kin in June.  And 2014 was a huge year, too: the year I signed with my wonderful agent Connor, the year he made the sale.  A year of leveling up.

2015, then, was a bridge year in some ways: a year to consolidate my gains, to do all the work I could to make sure this next phase in my writing life will be a successful one.  Timelines in writing are very long compared to some kinds of work: even more than a year, in my case, between deal and launch.  I came to learn that it's very useful time!  Edits, proofing, and a lot of other associated tasks took a lot of it.  And of course, other projects need to be in the pipeline--my next book, plus some short stories, although the time I've spent on those has dropped a lot since the novel has to take priority.

Like most working writers, I also have a day job--which is understating it a bit; I have a career which I love, and which is sometimes demanding.  Between this, family events, and cons, 2015 saw an increase in travel for me, with the result that some of my writing work ended up being done in airport lounges during the inevitable delays and layovers. (Philly has good cheese fries.  Logan has a Starbucks that sells vacuum packed olives! Reagan runs out of beer weirdly often.)

So 2015 was a year of logistics, deadlines and checklists.  It was a year of anxiety, of getting used to new and higher stakes.  But it was also a year of marvels.  These things are inextricable.  I thrive on change, and one of the ways I do this is to give myself talismans and rituals, souvenirs of the new places I end up, new hooks on which to hang my new hats.  Lots of change = lots of new meaning in my life = more change, in a wonderful upward spiral.

My rules of resolutions are that they have to be measurable, they have to be consistent with my nature so that I might actually do them, and they have to be positive (I learned that from the epic Quitting Potato Chips debacle of 1997).  With that, here are some things I resolve for 2016! 
  • As many cities as possible on my book tour!  I have no idea of the scope yet, but as dates are confirmed I will post them here.
  • A different way to support causes.  For the past few years I've done charity mountain bike races, which is wonderful, but difficult to fit into a heavy travel schedule.  I might volunteer for same-day support of some of these events, which would allow me to help out but without having to train in advance.  Or I might choose something I can do online/remotely.
  • A new tattoo and/or frequent nail art.  It's really working for me to have a physical, personal talisman that I can look at often.  (If you're wondering, the past few rounds of nail art have been Pittsburgh black-and-gold, because Pittsburgh has been my biggest and most consistent talisman this year.)
  • Keep on working with the great writing productivity suggestions from Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k.  Huge win so far, guys.  I don't know how to carve out more time--but these tips are really helping me make the most of what I do have.
  • Keep on learning the world with my feet.  Some of my most shining moments this year, and many recent years, have been running or walking through the cities I visit.  Chicago's lakeshore trails; Pittsburgh's bridges; Boston's fens; San Antonio's river walk.  It's a glorious combination of fitness, tourism and meditation, and I'm going to have some new destinations to try out this year.
  • Post more of my reading here.  I have been reading a lot of nonfiction in the last couple of years, and I'd like to talk about it more--some of it is specific research for my own writing, some is related to my job, and some is just fascinating.
There you have it, friends.  May 2016 be powerful, prosperous and fun for all of us.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cover reveal!

Spells of Blood and Kin is getting closer and closer, you guys.  You can now preorder it from a whole bunch of different US retailers here, or of course, from Indigo.

And take a look at this cover!  It looks even better in person--I am the proud possessor of a mockup (my cover wrapped around a similarly-sized hardcover, since mine won't be printed for a while yet) and I can't even describe the rush of seeing it brought to life.

Next step for this writer: copyedits!  I have a word list from the copy editors detailing things they've corrected, and I need to review the changes.  (Side note: it's hilarious to me how many swears appear on the list.  Apparently I don't spell profanity as well as the rest of my vocabulary.  For instance, did you know "douche bag" is two words, not one?!  It never occurred to me to look that up.)

One thing I love about this process is the incredible number of talented people who are involved in making this book the best it can be.  I'm grateful to every one and I look forward to thanking them all properly, including those I haven't yet met... and including you, dear reader, especially if you're one of the people preordering!

Monday, August 24, 2015

On the horizon... look what dawns...

This day, my friends, needs a pin in it: SPELLS OF BLOOD AND KIN has gone up on Amazon (and Goodreads!) It has a preorder link and an ISBN number (which, for anyone reading this who isn't a book nerd, is like your book's very own fingerprint or DNA).

Go and look!  Look at the beautiful, generous things people have said about this book already!  I am so grateful--and so excited to watch this thing grow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Daughters of Frankenstein sweepstakes! is holding a sweepstakes--you could win one of three copies of Daughters of Frankenstein by entering here!  Read Brit Mandelo's generous review also.

My story "Eldritch Brown Houses" appears in this anthology--my first, and likely last, engagement with Lovecraft, all mashed up with analog photography, loneliness, and witchcraft.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Safety in fan communities

Given that I'm a writer, you might be expecting a post with this title to be about speculative fiction fandom.  It isn't, or not directly.*

It's about hockey, and the very troubling rape allegation that surfaced recently in regards to Patrick Kane, #88, star winger on the Chicago Blackhawks.

When professional athletes are accused of serious crimes, their fans don't always take it well.  There's a chorus of innocent until proven guilty and but he's such a great guy, he signed my kid's jersey one time and sometimes some pretty gross backlash against the victims of the alleged crimes.

As a female sports fan--heck, as a decent-person sports fan, here is what I want to hear from other fans when something like this goes down.  I want to hear, first and foremost, that you hope the victim is okay and being treated well.  I want to hear concern for her, belief in her.

I don't want your first thought to be for the alleged criminal.  He's a rich, highly privileged person who will almost certainly be fairly treated, well-represented and supported with excellent legal advice, and even if found guilty, may keep his prestigious job and his millions in salary.

I don't want your first thought to be for the franchise either.  Your team will win again, with or without their star player.  And if they don't--even if this kicks off a century of early playoff exits or bankruptcy or whatever--that is still incredibly unimportant when placed against the wellbeing of a rape victim.

I want to hear that you care about women.  I want to see you remember that the community you're in, the community of fans, includes plenty of women, and that all of us deserve to feel like our heroes wouldn't hurt us.  I want our heroes to be nice people who visit sick kids, donate to good causes and love animals.  And on the rare occasion when someone does something terrible, I want to know you understand that no amount of clutch goals can make up for that.

Rape accusations are rarely false, and rapists often walk free.  It's possible, and likely, that Patrick Kane will not be convicted; it's possible he won't even be charged.  Neither of those things means he is actually innocent.  Maybe, somehow, he is completely innocent; but he isn't who I am worried about right now.

I'm worried about the young woman who had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  I'm worried about the safety of other women who encounter the wrong athlete at the wrong time, who might be even less likely to see or even seek justice because of their attacker's fame and power.  And I'm worried--less, but still--about female hockey fans who won't be able to watch a game or a highlight reel for a while without feeling ambivalent, maybe afraid--not only of the men we want to admire, but of the other fans in the room, who might not be there for us when it matters most.

I'm glad to see some people, like Tim Baffoe, responding to this situation with intelligent commentary.  I feel like we often need reminders that our fan relationships are one-sided: that we can love a public persona, a performance, a creation, without being truly loved or respected in return, and without knowing for sure the truth of what we admire.

Whatever happens next, I hope the woman in this case is getting all the help and support she needs.  And unless or until something changes, I won't feel comfortable sitting next to the guys who think it's cool to wear their #88 jerseys right now.

*I don't actually identify as a fan in SFF: I love the genre, I love many of its works and many of its creators, but I didn't grow up in fandom per se.  I didn't even know the word until recently.  And the love I feel is different from the love fans feel: a statement I couldn't make with authority until I found myself becoming a fan of something else (hockey!).

I love literature.  It's my career and my intellectual home, and I approach it almost always with a spirit of critical thinking, wanting to understand how to make my own writing better.  Hockey is the only thing I consider myself a fan of: I love it with a simple, obsessive yet passive enthusiasm.  I don't want to do it, I just want to know all the things about it, and watch it whenever I can, and read blogs about it and stuff.  Maybe this doesn't dovetail with your experience of being a fan, or being a creator, or both.  I have no intention of critiquing or invalidating anyone else's experience or identity.  But I would feel weird calling myself a member of SFF fandom when my experience has always been mediated and distanced by my sense of myself as a writer.