Monday, December 24, 2012

2012 in Review

Some statistics from the writing trenches this year:

Rejections nearly tripled vs previous years.  Not an accident--submissions also nearly tripled.

Acceptances dropped, with no new pro sales in this calendar year--only reprints.

Of course I feel less than happy about that, but I see it as a result of a strategic change I made: I focused on my novels in the early part of the year, and didn't finish any new stories until quite late in the year (and still haven't finished the final drafts of a couple of them).  I now have a nice crop of things that are ready, or almost ready, to submit in the new year.

I got to see my work reprinted in not one but two print anthologies, which was pretty exciting--I now have two lovely paperbacks on my desk, between bookends which are optimistically huge and heavy, built to bracket a whole lot more books.

I remain less prolific than I would like, and too easily derailed by life events.  My goals for 2013 include constructing a writing plan that will hold steady not only in the weeks where everything is golden, but in the weeks where I have a three-day migraine, a plumbing leak, a bachelorette party, a bike race, a funeral.

I have been watching the Nebula Suggested Reading List on the SFWA forums with great enthusiasm, as two lovely people have recommended "Nightfall in the Scent Garden" there.  I've recommended two stories myself, and if you're a nominating SFWA member I encourage you to read and consider them--"Immersion" by Aliette de Bodard and "At the Foot of the Lighthouse (Todai Moto Kurashi)" by Erin Hoffman.  Both of these stories are brilliant, complicated and emotionally hard-hitting.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

twelve twelve twelve

Revising a story.  It's hard, so I made a playlist.

Tori Amos, "Night of Hunters"
Matt Mays, "Take It On Faith"
Handsome Family, "If the World Should End in Fire"
Handsome Furs, "Repatriated"
Black Keys, "Sinister Kid"
Metric, "Clone"
Divine Fits, "Salton Sea" and "For Your Heart" (yes, they get two, they're that good)
Lana Del Rey, "Blue Jeans"
Whitehorse, "Peterbilt Coalmine"
Cat Power, "Ruin"
Joel Plaskett Emergency, "Somewhere Else"
Neko Case, "Hold On, Hold On"
Patti Smith, "Changing of the Guards"
Cyndi Lauper, "True Colours"

What do these songs have in common?  Well... this story, I guess.  It's all so very subjective.  I'm on the second-last scene and I think it needs hot chocolate.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us"

Revisiting the ending of SCARS OF KINSHIP, because this book has come close to convincing people to represent it, but not close enough, and I finally figured out the way in which it was a copout.

If I were a quicker learner, a brighter mind, a more diligent worker, a more serious introvert... but I am what I am, and I have done what I can.  And I think it's pretty fucking awesome.

Monday, November 5, 2012

World Fantasy: The Afterglow

I started this con with several rejection letters, a headache and a cold sense of failure--and I ended it in a state of exaltation and elation.  Once again, spending time with about a thousand brilliant and fascinating people, talking about the thing that matters most to all of us, has had the desired effect--and so this post is a long, and highly incomplete, thank you note.

Thank you to the friends I saw as soon as I walked in the door--Jennifer Brinn, Scott Andrews and Mike DeLuca--who swept me up and into a bar conversation that continued for the whole weekend, and ended spectactularly with Jennifer handing me the solution to my problem novel.

Thank you to Elwin Cotman, who agreed with me about the superiority of metaphor in fantasy and also ran a fucking fantastic panel.  Thank you to Gemma Files, who was awesome in Elwin's panel and later showed me the most beautiful fan art--someone had given her careful and lovely ink drawings of all of the major characters in her Hexslinger series.

Thank you to Stephen Geigen-Miller, who put up with my caffeinated ramblings for ages, and said wise and hilarious and kind things in return.  Thank you to Leah Bobet and Chandra Rooney, who grounded me with some discussion of Kensington Market and delicious foodstuffs--and invented the Motivational Kitten.

Thank you to my Viable Paradise tribe, Katrina Archer, Christian Klaver, Tiffani Angus, Julia Dvorin, Heather McDougal, Eric Griffith, Tucker Taylor and also tons of other people.  I am beyond grateful for all of you--your warmth, your great ideas, your shared loves of Sherlock and Paul Gross and the Age of Sail, your dapper fashions and your dinner stories.

Thank you to the people who asked me to sign their copies of Imaginarium!  I don't think this will ever, ever get old.

And of course, I can't forget to say thank you to Peter Halasz and the con crew for such a fantastic experience.

There were a hundred other hallway conversations, quick connections, generous gestures, thought-provoking quotes and fascinators.  I can't enumerate them all, and it will take me weeks to unpack them.  All I know right now is that I have my will back, and my joy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

World Fantasy

I'm not doing anything official at this con--I plan to attend panels, hang out with friends old and new, and basically go where my whimsy takes me.

That said, there are a couple of things I will absolutely not miss, so if you're looking to meet up with me, here's where I will be:

  • Friday, 11 a.m.: York B&C Room, panel on Defining Urban Fantasy.  This panel features Tim Powers, among others.  And maybe it will help me define what the hell I write.
  • Friday, 1 p.m.: Vaughan Room, panel on Gothic Fantasy Noir.
  • Saturday, 11 a.m.: York B&C Room, panel on The Road to Urban Fantasy.  (Are you sensing a theme yet?)
  • Saturday Night: CZP Fall Launch Party.
I've had a couple of months of feeling off my game where writing is concerned: I've sent out some stuff that probably wasn't up to my usual standard, and therefore banked a high number of rejections; I haven't managed to put in my desired word counts; and I have a backlog of stuff that needs to be re-drafted before it goes out.  I am reminded that this work is not easy work, and that I'm trying to do it on top of a very full-time job, and I do not always succeed in balancing my priorities.

So: time to refocus, recommit, get back on the horse and all those things.  I'm putting on my party boots and going to join my tribe.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Literary Community Bulletins

First: Ideomancer, where I have been on staff for several years now, is looking for new junior fiction editors.  Deadline for applications is this Wednesday.  If you've been thinking about joining us, now is the time to apply!

Next: Strange Horizons, where I have been published several times, is having their annual fund drive.  If you're wondering why you should donate, take a look through their archive for a selection of stellar, diverse, compelling fiction.

And finally:  I am looking forward to World Fantasy at the beginning of November!  If you're attending and want to hang out, drop me a line!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More great moments in the life of Clairification, Professional Writer

Yesterday I went to Chapters and bought Imaginarium 2012.  Yes: I walked into one of my bookstores and bought a book with my story in it.  Somehow it feels bigger than seeing my name in a book in the first place--which was cool and all, but this book was living in the wild.

There are more copies there, if you want one!

The last few weeks have been rather scattered, from a writing perspective, but I have been immeasurably cheered by an awesome review from Bogi Takács, a blogger I have been reading for a few months, who writes wonderful and cogent reviews on a laudably regular basis, and also a shout-out from Liz Bourke on

Let this post serve as an inadequate but heartfelt thanks to everyone who reads my work, whether you respond in public or think about it in private.  I'm so glad that some of what I am doing works for you... and I'm so grateful that in turn, you are seeing me, and through your observation, making me real.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This is my brother Ted.  He passed away suddenly on Saturday.  He had been struggling with cancer for the last couple of years but had recently had good news; we are still not sure exactly what happened.

This isn't exactly a post about Ted.  (I don't write about real people in my life here, or anywhere--you might guess where they turn up in my fiction but you won't likely be correct.)  It's a post about death, about what happens when it comes near.  This is the second time in recent years that I've lost an immediate family member, and the same thing has happened to me both times: a sense of grace, of awe, of something that is almost elation.

Death is miraculous, in the same way that birth is miraculous.  It is outside of our control.  When it strikes this close, like lightning, it raises all the hairs on my arms with this electric sense of a near-miss.  He is gone.  I am still here.

There are a million cliches about this, of course.  I'm posting it here because I want you, whoever you might be, to receive a little of that awe, to drop a bit of that tangle of petty mess we all carry, and to walk on faster, less burdened, toward the citadel of your purpose.  I am walking toward mine now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

In which there's a new issue of Ideomancer

Our September issue features stories, poetry and reviews--this time focused on the theme of identity, real or false, inherent or constructed, assigned, assumed, evaded.  I love working on this magazine--hope you'll love reading it too!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In which there are Historic Moments in the Life of Clairification, Professional Writer

I haven't posted for a while because I've been out of town: four trips in six weeks, making for a very dense and colourful summer.  Most of my writing time has been in airports.

Why have I been travelling, you ask?  Mostly family stuff, but some important writing stuff: Readercon.  I flew down with Leah Bobet and Gemma Files--a veritable convoy of Canadian talent.  This was my third time attending, and some things have begun to feel like traditions (the Viable Paradise Saturday night dinner at Redbones, the greasy spoon breakfast with Chang and Marko).  Other things were shiny and new, particularly the Outer Alliance meetup, at which I experienced a spontaneous and utterly thrilling occurrence--I got to sign people's copies of Beyond Binary.  Photo by Julia Rios:
Expect to see me on panels this coming year, assuming the con programming committee wants me--I think I am ready to start speaking as well as listening.

The other recent writing benchmark was not so positive: for the first time, I reached double-digit rejections on a single story, which at the time of this post has still not been sold.  For comparison, one of my most successful stories has two sales and zero rejections, and the other has three sales and three rejections plus an honourable mention from Ellen Datlow.  Also, my writing career to date hasn't been very long--I've banked 35 rejections in total, so for this one story to be responsible for 10 of those is... not great.

Why haven't I retired this story?  It's been through a couple of rewrites, so many of those rejections were for an earlier version.  Maybe it would have sold by now if I'd been submitting the current version all along.  (Also, if I retired it I'd be breaking Uncle Jim's Rule: 'Til Hell Won't Have It.)

Also, I don't write stories unless I need to.  This story had to be written, and so it has to be read.  I just haven't figured out where its audience is.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My People

The reading last night went off without a hitch.  I got to go first, thank God Sandra actually, so there was no time to sit around getting breathless.  I remembered not to rush, I think.  And I had my personal cheering section in the back row to tell me that the volume was good (the venue is a bit difficult that way, as often happens with readings--industrial fans for background noise plus a mike that wasn't very loud).

I was fully prepared to pretend the audience was made up of cats, but I didn't have to--instead it was made up of members of all my various tribes.  Friends, colleagues, fellow writers, readers and editors.  I forget, sometimes, that all of these people want me to succeed--and I'm so grateful to have days like this one to help me remember.

Now: off to Readercon!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Public Appearances!

I'll be reading next week with the winners and other finalists of the Friends of the Merril contest!  It's at Augusta House, 8pm, July 11, as part of the Chiaroscuro Reading Series. Full details are here.

My first hometown reading!  I may have to get drunk employ responsible coping strategies to deal with my nerves.  I shall pretend the audience is made up of cats.  Someone told me that at Readercon before my first reading there, and I wish I could remember who it was, because it was grand advice.

Speaking of Readercon: I shall be there too!  I am participating in the Ideomancer reading of Kenneth Schneyer's hypertext story "Neural Net". From the program:  "Group Reading: Ideomancer Speculative Fiction. Mike Allen, Leah Bobet, C.S.E. Cooney, Amanda Downum, George Galuschak, Claire Humphrey, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Kenneth Schneyer, Sonya Taaffe. Authors and poets read work from Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, one of the longest-running speculative fiction webzines still publishing."  3pm on Saturday June 14th, folks--see you there.

That's my only programmed appearance at Readercon, as I am not important enough to be a panelist yet--I will spend the rest of my time there attending other people's panels and readings, meeting people from Outer Alliance and hanging out with my Viable Paradise buddies Marko and Chang, and whoever else we can dragoon into drinking bourbon discussing literature with us.

Total non sequitur: I just read a great story: "Immersion" by Aliette de Bodard.  I cried.  (Since I was reading it at my desk at work, this was actually a bit awkward.)  It's about identity and colonization and the difficult political work of being yourself.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Best Canadian Speculative Writing

Imaginarium 2012 is coming to bookstores in July!  I'm pretty excited about this--I've never been in a Year's Best Anything before, and holy mackerel, look at the other names on that table of contents.  David Nickle!  Amal El-Mohtar!  Gemma Files!  Cory Doctorow!  Peter Watts! 

A great day for Ideomancer all round: honourable mentions also went to Ian Donald Keeling's Ideomancer story, "Broken", and to publisher Leah Bobet's "Stay".

I also find it strange and hilarious that both of the anthologies I've been in this year have cover images featuring a face with an eye full of binary code:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In which I'm back in my home town

Hard rain pounding down from a mostly sunny sky.  I went out and danced in it, barefoot on my front walk.

New York was clear and the air was great for running and I saw lots of people I love, but man, I missed this place and the cats in it and the comfort of making my own dinner. 

Now I'm rain-wet and there's probably soot in my hair, and I'm going to saute some cabbage and listen to hip hop.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

In which I am reviewed in Romanian

Since I don't speak Romanian, I am not totally positive what the reviewer said.  Here is the Babel Fish translation:

The short story Nightfall character in the Scent Garden, by Claire Humphrey, published in the online magazine 05.03.2012, belongs to Horizonsîn Strange ficţiunii romantic. The narration can be classified in the genus ficţiunii, tangential speculative science fiction.
Elements of Romance:
  • schematizate characters that look more defined by the choices we make, the consequences of those choices while pursuing them for the rest of life;
  • the action going on around a sundial, in a lush garden;
  • epic thread also ranks among the more experienced feelings of characters, rather than a certain determinism.
  • end of story, composed in the dubitativă key.
What makes me recommend this story:
  • the originality of the composition of the text;
  • narrative freshness, in spite of the abundance of the elements, inspired, poetic.
This charms the heck out of me.  It's kind of like overhearing a conversation in a washroom where a stranger says "...and that awesome girl with the yellow shoes" and you are wearing yours, and you know it's you, and you'll never know exactly what makes you awesome, but you'll know there is something.

This is one of the things I didn't imagine about being a writer.  I did imagine that I'd spend a lot of time awaiting responses from editors, and that feels pretty much how I thought it would, but I didn't think I'd have access to readers' responses in the way that I do.  (For one thing, when I was a kid and first thinking about this, the internet didn't really exist yet.  I figured that when people talked about my work, they'd do so at cocktail parties in other cities, far away from me.)

When I've got a lot of things on submission, as I do right now, nothing makes me feel more grounded than knowing the things already published are living apart from me, with their own presence in the world, being read by people I will never meet.

Friday, June 1, 2012

June issue of Ideomancer!

It's live here.  Three fascinating stories touching on the idea of home, and what we'll do to get away from it.

Also, poetry and reviews.  Come and see!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Lilac season

Scent memories are hard to shake.  Every street in my city has a lilac tree.

Almost twenty years ago--God, can that be right?--I lived in a house in a hollow beside a railway embankment.  The hollow was filled in thick with lilac trees and the scent mingled with the iron smell of the tracks and the dew at dawn.

I had a bad time in that house.  Every year when the scent comes around again I remember how I lived then.

I wrote it into Scars of Kinship, like Alexander McQueen stitching human hair and fingernails into the seams of his garments.  I don't know how it feels to a reader, this half-secret weight.  But I knew, when I figured out what this book was about, that it had to take place during lilac season.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Set 'em up, knock 'em down the phrase my husband and I use when we're being extra-productive.  You know, those days when you clean the kitchen and take back the empties and get the dry cleaning and pick up cat food and go to the gym and finish a story and send it out and then take a break for lunch.

It amuses the hell out of me that I've apparently used it on this blog, too, because it was one of the search terms that appeared in my stats this week.

Sometimes I write like that: I know what's got to happen and I pound away at it until it's done and I'm all full of righteousness.

Most of the time, though, I chip and pick and retread.  The word counts I post in a day are what most writers post in an hour.  I rewrite the same scene four times before moving on to the next, and then I get to the end of the chapter and throw the whole thing away.

I don't think, at this point, that a reader could tell the difference between the things I've written in painful little dribbles and the things I've written with a firehose.  Even I can't tell, after a while.  What I can tell is that time keeps passing and the word count doesn't always grow commensurately.

That will be my challenge this year: improve my average time for the rest of the chapters in the current book (working title A Game of Pants, because I do not do outlines).  Seven chapters to go, roughly.  Seven months, if I don't let myself get derailed.

Some people write novels in a month.  Sigh.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In which I will appear

Readercon: booked!  And the night before I leave, it looks like I'll be reading right here in Toronto along with the other winners and finalists of the Friends of the Merril Contest.

Before either of those things will be the annual trip to BEA.  I attend that show not as a writer, but as a buyer, and my business tends to keep me, well, busy.  But even though I don't usually get to meet other writers or agents or anything, it's quite a gift to be involved in this business in so many different ways.

Early summer has become the busy season for me--the season where I'll interact with the most people over the shortest time, and take in the widest variety of new perspectives.  I'll also be doing the Wild Ride again this year.  It's a bit stressful to have a race in the middle of travel season, but then again, I always say that I think with my feet... regular workouts make travel much more comfortable and keep my brain from derailing.

Fortunately for me, I also really like to write in airports.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Recurring subjects in the works of John Irving

Working in the head office of a bookstore chain, I have a lot of literary conversations with my colleagues.  We talk about books in many ways, from the clinical business viewpoint (copies sold and margin earned), to the completely personal viewpoint (romantic heroes, childhood dreams), to the sociopolitical viewpoint (ideas that have changed society).

Yesterday we were trying to talk about John Irving, except none of us had read his backlist very recently.  Was Cider House Rules the one about abortion?  Wasn't there some horrible accident in The World According to Garp?

Wikipedia to the rescue.  The helpful chart of John Irving's recurring subjects made my day.  Deadly accident, sex workers, New England, wrestling, Vienna, bears!

Someday, my friends, someone who loves me will make such a chart about my work, and I'll finally get to see what the hell I've been doing all this time.

There are a few I can check already: magicians and their mentors, queer protagonists, bees/wasps, upstate New York, boxing, characters with drinking problems.  But I'll bet there's something I've missed entirely that will be hilariously obvious once it is pointed out.

And all this ignores the question of why.  Some of it is fairly conscious, of course--Gus has a drinking problem because she believes she's treating her violence problem, and this seemed to me to be a fairly realistic representation of how real-life alcoholics get that way, and once I'd thought that through, it got used with some other characters as well.

Other things... I have no idea about the bees/wasps.  I used to get stung a lot (A LOT) and I still have a scar on my calf from a particularly memorable 17-sting waspocalypse.  I can see how this would become an important symbol for me... but a symbol of what?  What?

Only one way to find out...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Good editors. Also, preserved lemons.

Cool news from Strange Horizons this week: Julia Rios has joined the already-fantastic editorial team.  I already loved reading, and selling to, Strange Horizons, and I think they're set to continue their excellent track record.

It's also fascinating to realize how much more a part of the SF community I have become.  In 2009 when I made my first sale to Strange Horizons, I didn't know anyone there--I just knew they were consistently publishing stories I loved, and even more importantly, stories that made me feel welcome.  (I don't mind telling you, oh entire world, that when I made that sale I was so happy I actually wept.)  Now, I've worked with all three of editors in different ways and I hope to do so again (as soon as I finish the next damned story, damn it).

I became acquainted with Julia through the network of Viable Paradise alumni who gather at cons.  Julia did an amazing podcast of my story "Who in Mortal Chains".  The other new editor, Brit Mandelo, is also the editor of Beyond Binary, and so of course I have a very high opinion of her editorial sense.  Senior editor Jed Hartman was the one who worked with me on that first story sale, and another one since, asking questions and pointing out patterns and generally drawing out their strengths, making those stories better than I could have made them on my own.

That's what I want for my novels, too: advocates who believe in what I'm trying to do and show me how to do it better.  I want my eventual agent and publishing house to be vocal about anything that isn't quite working for them.  I never want to stop learning.


Very Cool Side Note: Nicola Griffith interviews Brit Mandelo about Beyond Binary on her blog


Another side note: Do you have preserved lemons?  You do?  Proceed directly to your kitchen and place the preserved lemons on top of a radicchio and avocado salad.  Dress it with good olive oil and cracked pepper.  That is all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Story Hat Trick

I remember saying to my husband, while writing "Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot", that no one other than me would ever want to read this story*.

Then I sold it. Then I sold it again. Then I discovered that Ellen Datlow gave it an honourable mention in Best Horror of the Year #4.

You know what? Now I'm going to finish writing all the other stories that I was sure no one would want to read.

*He reads all of them anyway. That's one of many reasons why he's my husband.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book birthday!

This anthology is now available for order! Featuring stories by me and a whole bunch of people even better than me.