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.