Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My new favourite thing...

...apart from writing, of course... is answering questions about my work.

Also: if I can make myself work ten more days like yesterday, I shall be finished the Not-a-Werewolf book right on time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Viable Paradise 2010 about to open for applications

In 2008 I attended Viable Paradise, a week-long speculative fiction workshop held on Martha's Vineyard.

It was the smartest thing I've ever done for my writing career. When I applied I was already past the million-word mark, but I had only a few sales under my belt (all a decade ago, too), and a completed novel but no agent. I knew I wanted to write short fiction again, but I hadn't begun to do so. The instructors of Viable Paradise gave me the tools to take my next steps with confidence, without wasted effort, and with a new sense of excitement and dedication.

When I applied for the workshop, my father was dying. I don't remember whether I talked it over with him; what I do remember is the understanding that came to me with his passing:

Time's short.

I know some writers who are content to be hobbyists, to write for an audience of their spouses or to stuff their completed manuscripts in a desk drawer.

I'm not one of them. I need my work to be read. And I needed professionals in the field to help me quit wasting time and start writing my best work, submitting it to pro markets, and getting it accepted.

I also needed contact with a community of my peers. My fellow students turned out to be a truly inspiring and supportive bunch. We have a wide range of styles and forms, but we all share
an intensity of purpose.

It's been just over a year since I attended. In that time, I've made my first two professional short fiction sales; I've joined the Ideomancer team as a slush reader; I've written two-thirds of my second novel, and three other stories that I believe are ready to sell.

Every one of these steps was made easier and quicker by the things I learned at the workshop. So: a huge thank-you to Elizabeth Bear, Debra Doyle, Steven Gould, James MacDonald, Laura Mixon, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and John Scalzi.

And to aspiring applicants: look at that list of instructors. Those people are awesome. You, too, could learn from them, talk literature with them, have a drink with them, have another drink with them, find yourself singing folk songs you don't know very well, and come home with spectacularly scarred knuckles!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Progress Report

As the year draws to a close, I am, as always, disappointed with how far I've fallen short of the goals I set for myself. I wanted to write a short story for every month in 2009. Even counting the 2008 stories I revised, I only came up with half that; nor am I quite finished the Not-a-Werewolf book.

I did, however, write some things of which I am very proud.

Sold:
"The Tongue of Bees"
"Who in Mortal Chains"

On submission:
"The Oracle of the Dashboard"
"The Compass of Chicago"
"The Duellist, After Her Prime"

Final revisions:
"A Sovereign Cure for Pneumonia"

In progress:
"Rush Lane"
"Seven Postcards from the Garden of Earthly Delights"
"Book of the Dead"

Broken:
"King of Bramble Heights"
"Bleaker Collegiate"

Next things to write:
#3 in the Gus series
#3 in the Oracle series

State of the Little Novel:
2/3 complete, aiming for February

State of the Big Novel:
In pieces all over the floor... almost literally. This novel needs a chirurgeon.

State of the Novelist:
...in need of another cup of coffee.

Red-letter day yesterday. I got a cheque in the mail. I am in a fortunate position--I have a day job which covers my living expenses, so I am free to spend this cheque on something symbolic.

Because it is the cheque for "Who in Mortal Chains," in which one woman cannot defend herself and another cannot quite control herself, I am going to donate it to the Shape Your Life project. (I may also buy myself a pint of Hop Addict, or something similarly great and bitter.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

it's alive!

My website is up.

My thanks to the lovely & talented Kristin Craig Lai: may your future be rich with delicious tea!

Monday, December 14, 2009

In which it turns out this photograph is a metaphor

Because I miss green things already: have a leaf. This particular leaf is a grape leaf from my back yard.

We don't know what we're doing with grapes. We inherited them from the previous owners of our house, an elderly Portuguese couple. These vines are likely older than we are.

Some years our grape yield is more than we can handle; one year my mother-in-law made jelly from them. This year, I don't know what we did differently, but all we had were leaves.

I have writing years like that. Years where I can see that the vines of my mind are still hardy, but they bear no fruit. Sometimes it's because I let them run wild earlier, and they only need time to recover their sap. Sometimes, it's because I cut them back, harshly, all but the ragged dark trunk.

This year, I am knee deep in the crush, and well on my way to a strong vintage.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In which everything's coming up Humphrey

...although I do wish I had a more euphonious surname. I think it's already too late to give myself one, however; it was too late the moment I signed my first contract.

My website is ready, and will go live as soon as my webmaster has a free moment (currently, he is doing double duty as saladmaster, soon to be followed by workoutmaster). My web designer is a marvel of creativity and patience, and deserves some really nice tea.

I continue to be amazed and humbled by the kindness, professionalism and enthusiasm shown by the people in my communities: the SF community, the bookselling community in general, and the community of my friends. My life makes me so excited sometimes that all I can think of doing is running around, picking up heavy things, or hauling myself up walls.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In which I get profitably lost

As often happens at the end of a business trip, I had a few hours of grace. I checked out of my hotel, got coffee, and began walking.

I thought I was going to a market mentioned in my guidebook; I didn't find the market, but I found a wide waste of tracks and warehouses, broken glass and razor wire. I went alone through vacant lots and beneath bridges, in the heat of the midday sun.

It was exactly the thing I needed for my story.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Writing the present

I've found, over the years, that I cannot usually write about things as they happen, except in an unvarnished journal. The things I collect must mature, or compost, or maybe age like cheese, in order to be useful to me.

As I grow older, though, I find this less true--maybe because I'm not experiencing as many brand-new things, or maybe because the things that are new are not wholly new the way they were when I was very young. For example, I went climbing on Thursday for the first time, and although I had never climbed before, I still had a frame of reference: I've tried new sports before, I've joined new gyms, I've climbed to high places, and I've fallen off stuff, so combining those experiences didn't feel shockingly strange.

What I'm actually writing about now--in a story that has no title yet--is Chicago. I've been there a dozen times, or so, almost always in autumn; I know the colour of the sunshine and the breadth of the streets, and I've owned these memories long enough that there's something I need to say about this place.

The new thing, the thing I only experienced recently, is the feeling of being still young, instead of young. It's the feeling of early August, when you see the first yellow leaf on your way home from the cottage, and you know that although you have a good month of summer yet, you can see autumn on the horizon, and you know that beyond autumn there's winter.

Youth, on the other hand, is June: peak heat, fresh greenery, and days so long you can't believe the sun will ever leave you.

I've seen the horizon now, and what's past it. I know none of this will last. I am unable to forget these things.

But I'm still young, so I run up the hill past the milky red trees, and fill my lungs with smoky air, and I feel in myself as much power as I've ever had. My prime is upon me, and it will be for years yet. And this will be the meat of the story.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll: 1949 - 2009

I began reading Jim Carroll as a teenager in the late eighties. My father saved me a newspaper clipping about Carroll's life and poetry. I don't know how my father knew that I, good daughter, would adore Carroll, bad son; but he did, and I did.

I read Jim Carroll all the way through the long year of my growing up: from boot camp to my dorm room to my boyfriend's squalid flat to the wakeful hours of my nightshift summer. I saw him read, once, in Toronto. I remember, for some reason, these lines in particular:

"The positions we use when making love
Determine the next day's weather"

That's from "Sick Bird" in Void of Course.

And this, at the end of Forced Entries: "...red to green...stop to go. Walk. Wait."

As I write this I'm aware these lines, stripped of context, might not sound to you the way they do to me. I can't unread them. They changed me. He changed me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sale!

Yes, my temperamental heroine Gus Hillyard of "Who in Mortal Chains" will make her debut in Strange Horizons in the new year.

(Since very few people read this journal, I shall confess here that when I read the acceptance letter, I cried out loud like a little child. No one was home but the cats. I got cat fur stuck to my face. It had been an amazingly awful day up to that point; and then it was something else.)

This story, which I thought weaker than its predecessors, made the cut; goes to show that I'm not the best judge of my own work, I suppose.

For the first time since I began this project, I have more than one completed story in the kitty, as well: I'm going to be in SFWA by Christmas, at this rate. And I've given myself a deadline to finish the somewhat related Not-a-Werewolf book, so that I'll have something to show the agents who will doubtless come calling ;) Good Lord, but I must work faster!

Accepted for publication:
"The Tongue of Bees"
"Who in Mortal Chains"

To submit:
"The Duellist, After Her Prime"
"The Oracle of the Dashboard"

First drafts complete but in need of more work:
"Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All Female Production of Waiting for Godot"
"A Sovereign Cure for Pneumonia"

First drafts in progress:
"The King of Bramble Heights"
"Forty-Nine Days in the Intermediate States, with Extracts from the Great Liberation by Hearing"
"Seven Postcards from the Garden of Earthly Delights"
"Rush Lane"

Novel progress:
Not-a-Werewolf: Chapter 6 almost done
Dickensian Fantasy: Chapter 11 of Draft 4 (6 more chapters to go)

Perhaps I should seek out someone to flog me when I begin to tire. It's a great life if you don't weaken...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In which I break radio silence

Back-to-back trips have the salutary effect of frustrating my writing desire enough that on my return, I am more than ready to solve the problems I planted on my departure. To wit: the backstory of the not-a-werewolf; the timing of the magician's history in the Dickensian Fantasy rewrite; the presence (or not) of Augusta in Toronto.

Back-to-back trips also furnish me with so many opportunities for pleasure, not the least of which was yesterday's exploration of Boston. I had a half-pint at a pub which opened in 1765; I photographed architecture; I coveted, but did not buy, a number of wonderful pairs of boots.

And early in the morning I ran, up the mall on Commonwealth Ave, through the Public Gardens, and around the Common. When I am in doubt about the quality or direction of my craft, I must remind myself of this: half of my writing is done with my feet.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

honest author bio

I came across this a long time ago and found it completely hilarious.

The bios of many authors seem to follow a certain pattern. They include quirky job histories that show what a unique character the author is (rag picker, hand model, mule trainer, UFC commentator). They include references to the author's long-suffering spouse, and usually numerous cats.

I, clairification, have a long-suffering spouse and currently two cats, and my job history does include some quirkiness (reservist in the Canadian Forces; tree-planter; night manager at a fast-food drive-thru; portrait photographer). However, none of this really, to my mind, encapsulates who I am as an author.

Herewith, the first instalment of the Honest Author Bio of yours truly:

clairification always wanted to be a boy, until she discovered that boys are expected to play T-ball.

Or:

clairification has failed her driving test four times. She still does not hold a license. When her husband wishes to leave the car parked illegally, clairification will not accept the keys, and until he returns, she will walk about nervously, pretending the car belongs to someone else.
A storm has beaten all the petals from the roses, and still wrings water from the clouds. I'm indoors, and I'm finally alone.

The list of things to accomplish this weekend is a grand one, but as usual, I'll be content so long as I have a few hours in my worlds. The rest is silence (and laundry, and avoiding the telephone).

Monday, July 6, 2009

In which I am a superhero named Galvan

...fighting the forces of parental oversight with my friends Mercuria, Skew, Quiksilver, Spectaculo, and Princess Kicking-Ass. Much wine was consumed, once the parental oversight was vanquished.

Yes, we're in our thirties and even forties, and we still can't get drunk in front of the fam.

In important writing news, however...

Accepted for publication:
"The Tongue of Bees"

On submission:
"Who in Mortal Chains"

To submit:
"The Duellist, After Her Prime"

First drafts complete but in need of more work:
"Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All Female Production of Waiting for Godot"
"A Sovereign Cure for Pneumonia"
"The Oracle of the Dashboard"

First drafts in progress:
"The King of Bramble Heights"
"Forty-Nine Days in the Intermediate States, with Extracts from the Great Liberation by Hearing"
"Seven Postcards from the Garden of Earthly Delights"
"Rush Lane"

Novel progress:
Not-a-Werewolf: still on Chapter 5
Dickensian Fantasy: Chapter 11 of Draft 4 (6 more chapters to go)

Vexed questions of the day:
Which thing to finish next? And will someone order my pizza for me?

Friday, June 26, 2009

In which I succumb to temptation and relate a dream

I know, I know... I've been told before that no one finds dreams interesting. But since I'm the only one here:

I was paddling a dragon-boat with Elizabeth Bear. We went around a lagoon for a while and then braved an open channel, where we capsized, but quickly recovered. When we returned to the dock, we adjourned to a barracks, where we did pushups with a number of other people. A skinny, pale man with no legs was doing handstand-pushups, with amazing balance. A young, dark, bearded man instructed me on a better placement for my hands when doing tricep-pushups.

Finally I was resting and I said to Bear, "All this exercise is great, but this doesn't seem like a regular gym; what are we here for, anyway?"

She said, "Viking school!"

I am, as you can see, immensely charmed with the idea of Viking school, and would like to begin my instruction post-haste.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More from the pillow-book

Silences: the many kinds thereof.

The silence that follows an awkward pronouncement.

The silence that follows love.

The silence of the city when all the power is out.

The silence of the country when the weather is still.

The silence under water.

The silence between stars.

The silence of a lover injured.

The silence of a child asleep.

The silence that follows a great gun.

Monday, June 1, 2009

In which the night is sweet

It is, you know. Sweet and spicy and warmer than the day was. My cat won't come inside.

I will be meeting with my writing group in a couple of weeks. So that I don't show up pantsless, I need to take an inventory:

Short stories accepted for publication:
"The Tongue of Bees"

On submission:
"The Duellist, After Her Prime"

First drafts complete:
"Who in Mortal Chains"

Back to the drawing board:
"Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All Female Production of Waiting for Godot"

First drafts in progress:
"A Sovereign Cure for Pneumonia"
"The King of Bramble Heights"
"Forty-Nine Days in the Intermediate States, with Extracts from the Great Liberation by Hearing"
The talking fish story
"Seven Postcards from the Garden of Earthly Delights"
"Rush Lane"

Novel progress:
Not-a-Werewolf: halfway through Chapter 5 of what I believe is partial draft 10
Dickensian Fantasy: Chapter 10 of Draft 4 (7 more chapters to go)

If only I felt more like writing. At the moment, after a rather grueling week of looking at the books of others, I only feel like masticating potato chips in front of some Criminal Minds.

In other excellent news, though, I will shortly begin reading slush for Ideomancer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ways of reading

In conversation with a colleague today I stumbled upon a new way of looking at a problem I've been pondering for a while now: the hierarchy we ascribe to different genres. It's not a constant hierarchy, but it's a pernicious one in my opinion, since I write one of the less respected ones. I'm sure it's a very arguable hierarchy, but the specifics are less important than the overall shape.

I'm finding myself more and more of the opinion that the way we read is what separates "difficult" from "easy" work. It goes back to my earlier thoughts on metacognition: whether we read aurally or visually is surely a factor. Where's the attraction of genre fiction if you're just hearing a story in your head, told blandly, one word at a time? On the other hand, if you're right there with Reacher as he crushes someone's windpipe with his bare hands or something, it's a bit of a thrill--but you can do this much more easily when your brain is gulping down entire sentences or paragraphs and converting them into experience.

Where I find the greatest fulfilment, of course, is in speculative writing that also lives up to a high literary standard: innovative forms, strong word choices, and above all, a commitment to truth: never taking the easy way out, never letting the conventions do the work for you, always exposing truth about the writer's world and the way we all live; at the same time, offering a pipeline to the world of archetypes, and painting everything in vivid colours. It feels more true to me than kitchen-sink fiction. I do have a kitchen sink in my home, but I also have a threshold and a basement and a skylight. And I have a self who walks in her sleep, and I have a lover, and I have friends of other species. All these are served very well with metaphors of wonder.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Decemberists, and sleepwalking

The Decemberists are my obsession du jour, and fortunately one that my husband does not find unspeakably annoying (unlike, say, Joanna Newsom). I've been inhabiting their world for several months now; as I often do with musical obsessions, buying as many albums at once as I can find, and putting them all on random rotation.

Why mention it? Because, like Kate Bush and Tori Amos, the Decemberists have become essential to this particular phase of my work, in some inarticulate way. I must have them. I think they're eminently suitable music for any fantasy writer, in fact.

I'm not likely to forget it, but I note it here because I like to chart these things; at some time in the future I'll look back on this period and want to recapture a mood or a thought, and I'll have the musical key ready.

And now for the sleepwalking portion of the post; it is related to writing only tangentially, because when I woke up, I found myself at my computer.

Fortunately, I had not actually messed with anything much; I'd apparently read an email from the Viable Paradise group, and that was all. I am now going to back up everything, everything, yet again, because the idea that I might wander down and accidentally delete something makes me very, very anxious.

I don't have much of a history of sleepwalking; I have had night terrors before, but not often; and this was the first time I had both.

I suppose it's well timed, since I am about to write a chapter in the Not-a-Werewolf Book in which the protagonist experiences night terrors of her own, and now I have fresh memories of it--in case the ones from a few years ago had gone stale, or something. Sigh. Occasionally the suffering-for-one's-art thing becomes a bit literal.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The place which is many places

I lived in this house the summer I grew up. This house stands beside railroad tracks, not far from the downtown of a small city which is laid out like a European town, with a plaza at the very centre. When I lived there, this house was shabbier, and the deep hollow of the yard was filled with lilacs.

Part of me has never left this city. It makes appearances even now, disguised as cities of my imagination; in my stories, the square is broader, but a diner still serves breakfast on one edge of it, and a fountain still plays, and people busk there, and people come to watch an eclipse.

Last weekend I visited this city, and in a solitary half-hour I walked a circuit of my old houses, and took pictures of them as they are today. I believe this house here is the only one of which I have no pictures from before. I wanted it that way, at the time, because I was unhappy there. Now I wonder when this house will have its turn in my imagined city, and who will live there, and whether she will walk home as I did, in the early morning, tired eyes set against the dew-bright grasses beside the tracks.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

They say whiskey'll kill you, but I don't think it will

--Bob Dylan, "Nettie Moore"

It's proving to be a very appropriate soundtrack to my story revisions. Gus, for her own special reasons, loved the sixties and has never stopped listening to Dylan.

Although I'm sure any of my major characters can be read as me-analogues, I wonder if this love of Dylan makes Gus a bit of an analogue of my dad? Not as he was, but as he might have been, unwed, unbred, wandering in the hills with his camera-lenses slung over his shoulder and his bad haircut like the guy in No Country for Old Men.

Gus is a rolling stone, no two ways about that; and she wants peace more than almost anything.

While my dad was very much for peace, I don't think I ever figured out whether he believed it was possible. I suppose that is key. Gus, for her part, knows it's not possible, and that is her cross.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Peer feedback reviews

...in the form of Submit! (my writing group). I have been given the duct-tape to fix the broken story. I have also been given a great deal of homemade pizza, chewy brownies and berry pie. I proceeded to burn it all off in nervous tension while I read the conclusion to the broken story: twisting my hair, swinging my foot, drawing little triangles on the table with my fingertip and chewing the skin off my lower lip.

This tension comes from the distance between this story and a thing which really happened: a distance apparently not enough to allow me to read it with complete equanimity.

Other stories, I've been able to read to the group without flinching, because those stories were less new and because I knew they were good. This one was still wet, and not good yet, and it felt quite a bit like something private and nasty: a dental examination, perhaps, or the scrutiny of a hostile lover. This despite the fact that my group consists of the most mature, supportive, talented people for whom I could possibly wish.

Hah... my problem is that they're all rather too good for me, I suspect. Established and intelligent people who manage to write brilliant things while raising children and conducting admirable careers. While I, held together with safety-pins, imperfectly powdered, and not quite sober, attempt to distract them with pyrotechnics as I discover too late that my fly is undone.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Progress Report

Because I was feeling as if I had not made much, until I began listing it all to the in-laws, and discovered that although I haven't finished much this month, I have been seeding all kinds of things.

Short stories accepted for publication:
"The Tongue of Bees"

On submission:
"The Duellist, After Her Prime"

First drafts complete:
"Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All Female Production of Waiting for Godot"
The violence story, which really needs a title

First drafts in progress:
"A Sovereign Cure for Pneumonia"
"The King of Bramble Heights"
"Forty-Nine Days in the Intermediate States, with Extracts from the Great Liberation by Hearing"
The talking fish story
"Seven Postcards from the Garden of Earthly Delights"


Of course, I've already fallen down on my commitment to write a story a month this year; but if I were to actually, you know, finish some more of the ones I've started, I wouldn't be far off. In terms of word count this is possible. In terms of emotional commitment, I don't know... word for word, they're harder than novels, although finishing a short story doesn't give me that full-brain smackdown that finishing the Dickensian Fantasy did.

And now: I have very extravagantly gone and bought the second season of Criminal Minds and I am going to watch more than one episode, while eating popcorn.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

By Grand Central Station I sat down and pulled out my camera...

...no weeping whatsoever. A passerby mumbled "That'll be a beautiful shot."

I was well-dressed, I had dined on the company and I'd been flogging my brain all day, so that it felt loose now and light. I dropped my colleagues at their hotel and walked to mine, through this luminescent fog, deliciously cool.

Manhattan in spring is always a few weeks ahead of Toronto, and so my visits there are touched with wonder and disbelief. (They have forsythias already?) And in between meetings I buy coffee and walk on Fifth Ave because that's the part I know best, and I greet the library even if I don't have time to go inside, and I photograph the buds on trees and the stately shop-windows.

And I come home through turbulence and we bank down close over the lake and I see my own city, a smaller jewel. And everyone on the plane is a famous actor or a model. And I call my husband from the ferry; and he is glad.

And through the following week at the office, I stealthily add to my aluminum notebook all the thoughts and thoughts and thoughts. If only I were immortal or could forget the press of time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My anxiety

...suggests that something has the potential to go Horribly Wrong before my story sees the public, and so I have told barely anyone (my husband and my mom, and of course, you, my invisible audience).

I believe this dates from a Formative Event in my past: when I was fifteen I wrote a fantasy novel. It was atrocious, but no more so than many things written by adults. A publishing house expressed an interest and I had my very first business lunch with two wonderful editors.

They declared bankruptcy not a week later.

I'm sure it wasn't as simple as all that, but being fifteen, I felt like some kind of leper of doom. This feeling was dispelled when the editors recommended to me another house (who rejected me kindly, and did not declare bankruptcy, restoring my faith in my own smallness).

Why do I tell this story? Possibly to illustrate to myself the fact that I've always had a magical-thinking thing going on when it comes to my writing. Although I believe--strike that, I know--that I'm good, I feel that I also need omens, gods, runes, cards on my side; that anything that occurs around my writing is Fated and Strange; and that on days when I have something on submission, any number of rituals may affect the outcome.

Yeah. Nuts.

Apparently even when I have a perfectly nice acceptance note in my inbox I am not immune to this particular anxiety.

So, tomorrow, as I prepare to send off a different story for its first outing, I will be wearing my new red shoes and my silver thumb-ring, and I will offer the Friday toast of the Royal Navy: "A willing soul and sea room!"

And until then, I give you a cat and a bottle of absinthe.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sold!

ToB: first professional sale of my fantasy-writing career.

Red letter day!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Discipline and submission; and an extract from my pillow-book

ToB is back out on the market. I love people who accept electronic submissions--no messing about with stamps and things (particularly challenging for Canadians submitting to US markets).

You would think letter-writing would be an attractive pastime for a writer; and it once was for me, back when I was fifteen and possessed a fountain pen and a great deal of sealing wax. I suppose sealing wax is not technically forbidden on literary submissions, but I cannot imagine it would do me many favours, even in SF/F.

Since I am (a) not fifteen any longer and (b) neurotic, letter-writing is right up there with pizza-ordering and expense-filing in my mental list of Wretched Things. Email-writing, on the other hand, I find relatively painless. Tonight's submission email was a bit more painful than usual, but only because my arms are so fatigued from a killer workout.

I have been very pleased with my ability to submit, of late; apparently my discipline has improved, although I don't know the cause. Work, workouts, mastery? Welcome, anyway.

And now, since I am thinking of it: the pillow-book needs an entry or two.

Wretched things:

They say it will snow again this weekend.
There is cat-vomit upon my copy of Middlesex.
A man on the streetcar touched my buttock.
I have never been to England.
My favourite boots are ruined by salt.

Things that give a feeling of grace:

My husband's hair is a hundred kinds of red.
I have seen the albino squirrel in Trinity Bellwoods.
On Lisgar Street, there is a garden behind a high gate.
One cannot have too many cufflinks.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In which I am rejected: once again, kindly

"ToB" has come back to me. As with this story's first outing, the polite and friendly editor has taken the time to write a personal note. In this case, he praised the style, and criticized the length and the finale. Like the first editor to have seen this story, he invited me to submit other work.

I call that a pretty solid sophomore outing for this story.

"Fail better," I say to myself. Except I'm not actually sure there is a better type of rejection than this--one step up the ladder lies acceptance.

(If only this wasn't my best work! It quite outshines the other stories I've written since. I guess that's where the "fail better" will have to come in.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Still on our backs closer than a shirt

Violence: complete. 4800 words. I don't know the real title yet.

This story felt the way I imagine it feels when shrapnel, long buried in your flesh, works its way to the surface.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

It is not for nothing I have lived through this long day

The Godot story is complete, at last. It's not very long: 3300 words. I said to my husband that it's probably completely unsaleable, but as usual with these things, I wouldn't have been happy if I had tried to leave it unfinished.

I might still re-draft it; I shall need some readers, but I'm rather afraid it will only be intelligible to readers of Beckett, in which case I will be correct about the lack of commercial potential.

It did do that thing in my brain, though.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Monthly Progress Report

I suppose it is not exactly monthly, but it has been a month since the last one, give or take. In that month I have done a fair bit of work, notwithstanding a Hardware Fail and a great deal of other claims upon my time.

novels
Not-a-Werewolf: 19,000 to date.
Dickensian Fantasy, Draft 4: 26,000 to date. Yeah, I started on it. I don't get real credit for all of those words, though, because a lot of them are cannibalized from Draft 3.

stories in progress
Godot: 2100, and only about 250 of them suck, which is a great improvement.
Book of the Dead: 1200, all genius. Though this is a very difficult and dicey story for a number of reasons.
Violence: 990, some of which were just transcribed from the handwritten draft, others of which were added yesterday.
Talking Fish: no progress.

stories completed since VP
Pie: ready to submit, need to pick a market.
Belladonna: on submission.

The discerning reader will note that despite all of this verbiage, I did not actually complete any stories in either December or January, although I did manage to touch up the Pie Story to the point of being ready for submission.

I owe myself two past-due stories now, plus the one on deck for February. Fortunately, I have enough open tabs that I might actually be able to achieve this. Possibly also fortunately, I do not have very much money, and might take a vacation at home this month, where my expenditures will be limited to the occasional fancy coffee.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturdays, Bob Dylan, ashes

Bob Dylan was Saturday music. Often we had chores to do; I remember shoveling out the fireplace on an April day, working on a poem in my head, with "Tangled Up in Blue" coming from the living room.

Things like that lay the groundwork for all the creative work you're going to do later. You just don't know it. You might try to plan it differently, if you knew; but there's no way to predict what will be the triggers, what will lay down the pathways in your brain. You don't even find out until much later, when you hear a song and you recognize something and it hands you the missing piece to a story.

This is part of my father's legacy to me: a childhood of music, and embedded in it, a library of sensory details and emotional states.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rejection!

I get such nice rejections. This one was a personal note telling me that my story, although not right for their publication, was beautifully done, and inviting me to submit others.

Apart from acceptances of course, this is the best kind of letter to receive. (Even better than the ones from my grandmother containing money, in fact.) It gives me confidence that this story (which I myself also thought was beautifully done) will find a home in the near future, and it encourages me to continue with my other stories, one of which will surely find favour with the editor in question. I cannot imagine a kinder thing to do for a beginning writer. Thanks, editor!

I am possibly anomalous among writers in that even form rejections are a pleasure for me to receive. Firstly, they relieve the anxiety that stems from having a piece on submission, if only for the few days it will take me to put it back in the mail to someone else. More importantly, though, they're tangible evidence that I am taking steps in this, my profession. Real, businesslike steps. I've learned so much from my many failures in my other profession that I've stopped seeing them as anything other than steps on the path to success.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In which I receive a twenty-year-old hug

Today I got back the first of several rolls of film I found in my dad's old cameras.

Three rolls: one containing only a single shot (a tree); one from our holiday two summers ago, during which he was afflicted with extreme cold sensitivity due to chemo, and could not go in the lake, but photographed it from the porch; and the final one, which had apparently been kicking around the camera bag for twenty years.

It was shot on our first hiking trip in Killarney. In the last two decades the film seems to have been rained on and x-rayed and liberally dusted with sand, so all of the shots are grainy and streaky and strange. But I'd recognize those white mountains anywhere.

Halfway through the roll, I came upon myself: myself at twelve, in my green tunic and ponytails, sprawled grinning on the rock. From my outfit, I think it was taken the day we climbed Silver Peak. I remember that day as the first day I was self-aware, in the sense I am now. The first day I was something other than a child.

I already knew my dad was watching--I have another image he took of me that day--but somehow this one, with its grit and distance and lack of contrast, is like a postcard from him, from the unimaginably far place. A memory that is his, as opposed to the other image, which is mine.

Twenty years since the trapdoor first opened in my mind. I hope I've learned some things. The feeling is the same, though. It's the feeling you get when you climb up a ridge and see above you another, higher peak, and below you, green branches and blue distance.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

In which we make people

Sarah Monette and Justine Larbalestier both posted about characterization recently. It's always interesting to me to hear other writers describe their methods, because sometimes they are so different from mine, and sometimes very similar. Also--since these are real writers--it's very, very helpful.

I think of myself as a character writer. I usually begin work with an image of a person in a place, doing something. For example: a guy crossing a vacant lot, stopping to look at a caved-in jackolantern. The guy is maybe seventeen, he's Caucasian and he's carrying a backpack. He's wearing running shoes and jeans. The vacant lot is stubbled with grass and the busted-up jackolantern has been there for some days.

This image tells me a lot of things about my setting and my character, if I look at it long enough. The time of year must be November, because of the rotting jackolantern. That means the guy must be in the first semester of his senior year, because he doesn't look quite old enough to be in college. That means his pack likely holds school books. He's wearing running shoes: maybe he likes to run. Maybe he's on the school track team. He stops to look at the pumpkin: maybe he was one of the people who busted it up and left it in this vacant lot. Or it could have been his friends, who like to get drunk. He goes along with them sometimes but he feels bad about it because it might affect his track performance.

...And somehow this image has become the jumping-off point for a lot of information about Guy and his life.

Now that I know Guy is a white teenager dressed in the clothing of the early nineties, I can give him a name suitable to that culture and period. And once I have a name, all this occult stuff in my brain starts churning: associations and meanings and directions start falling into place.

The next step Guy takes will be the first plot action in the story. I don't need to know where the story is going, and I probably won't know until I'm around the two-thirds mark. All I need to know right now is who Guy is, and what else is happening around him. Since he is Guy, he'll act and react only the way Guy would, not the way I would.

Since I like to write this way, rather than play God and suck Guy into another dimension or make zombies chase him, my next step is to create another character whose life is somehow connected to Guy's life. She'll start acting and reacting too, and before I know it, I have a plot that consists of the tension between the wants and needs of Guy and his girlfriend, or Guy and the zombie queen, and whoever else I bring into the picture.

Why do I need to tell myself about this right now? Well, I keep doing it wrong in the Not-a-Werewolf book. Part of me wants to introduce some new people, so I keep trying to wedge them into various scenes. It's the wrong approach. All I really need to know is who Maksim would call. And if he wouldn't call anyone, then the only way these people can get into the book is if they're the kind of people who would follow Maksim around and get in his business, and I don't think they are. That's why this chapter isn't working. I need to get myself out of the action, and let Maksim do what Maksim would do. Full stop.

Thank you; and now, to follow my own instructions.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You get your transmissions at your front door and then you get old

I've spent a quiet morning reading the news. It was blissful at the time; and then I realized the whole thing had passed, and I hadn't written a word, and I'd wasted hours of sunlight that I could have been pretending to be a working writer (or at least buying groceries).

Self: do better! This is the year of striving.

(As if all those other years were not. Still.)

I have four more vacation days this winter, and--happy coincidence--four stories I owe myself by the first day of spring. Go forth!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gratitude

I don't really do New Year's resolutions any more, due to (a) my own repeated failure to comply with the ones I felt were self-punitive and (b) my tendency to obviate all the less punitive ones by doing them anyway, upon the moment they occurred to me, instead of waiting until the New Year to implement them.

I do, however, use the New Year as an occasion to think about my progress over the last twelve months (if any) and my intentions for the next twelve.

This year a number of friends and acquaintances have positively humbled me with the things they've done for others.

I've learned about the science fiction community's ethos of paying forward. I've been welcomed by that community, along with a number of my peers, and blessed with everything from distilled knowledge to good humour to medical texts to a warm embrace against a chilly wind.

I've watched my best friend vow, in memory of my own father, to avoid taking lives in her home, and instead transport bees and flies outdoors.

I've witnessed the generous spirit of my mother's small town, helping her out with everything from lawn care to baked goods, and I've witnessed their astonishing tribute to my father, as every member of the Fire Department passed before his coffin and offered their salute.

And I've witnessed my father's own generous spirit, as he found loving and wise things to say to me in the last days of his life: to me, the one he'd always found contrary and frustrating. He took care that his last words to me should be "I love you."

I've been loved by my little cat, too: with every ounce of her being, for every day she was with me. All I did in exchange for that love was to keep the food dish filled and make some space on my pillow.

That's a lot to pay forward. I could spend the rest of my life trying, and never be done. But I have some things to give. I'm not living on instant coffee and stale pie, not for some years now. I don't think I've been selfish with my resources in the past--I hope not--but I can do better, and I must, and I will.

And at my feet, eternity draws ever sweeter plans for me

I began the New Year this way: scribing words upon myself and my friends. My own word was "Strive", from Tennyson: "to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield."


And now, to go forth and publish.