he was a grass widow

he was a grass widow

Sometimes, I draw things. Not very often, not like I used to when I was a kid, drawing character designs for the game my friends and I called ‘FANTASY,’ which was basically us running around in the woods with sticks that alternated between swords, bows, wizard staffs, and spider-web removers with the greatest ease. These days I say I haven’t the time to draw, but that might be a lie. Maybe I’d just rather watch Buzzfeed videos.

I wouldn’t, actually; but sometimes I do things I don’t want to. Recently, though, I’ve been doing (close to) what I want: been circling round and around the next novel I want to write (codename Bladderwrack, for now), by writing bits and pieces extricated from its middle and building a playlist on youtube:

I’ve also been working on character designs, so I thought I’d share a glimpse or two:

(Ebb and Peregrine)

Ebb and Peregrine

(Ebb)

Ebb

(Peregrine)

Peregrine

I also updated my illustrations and sketches pages with a couple other images:

 

…anyway. I still have to recount my trip to the Oregon, but that means sifting through my indecipherable journaling, so that might be a few more days in coming.

Life (universe, everything)

Well, fuck.

Can we just leave it at that? ‘course not. There is a lot of It and because of That I will allow myself a list (list for me, November) and later I will tell all the true(ish) stories. But not now; I’m not ready. So for now, a list.

<><><>

Clarion UCSD

I am going. (!!!!!!)

Foxes and Things that Look Like Folklore, But aren’t Really, but Maybe Actually Are.

Mythpunk and the Queer Fox. (My thesis.) The Storyfox Database. (Also part of my thesis.) Foxeology. (Yes, thesis.)

In short: THESIS. (Because I graduate in two months.)

Life.

We’ll skip this for now.

Publishing

There have been podcasts and stories and papers. I will talk about them.

Goat Skins and Burning Wood

This means drumming.

Food. (Because there must always be food in a list.)

Always: Dragons (sushi). Cabbage (fermented). Bolted kale (kimchi; so, also fermented). Green Fucking Peas. Tahini + kabocha squash (holy shit, really, I need nothing else). Pickled ginger. More kimchi.
Less than Always: Cornbread, honey butter, smoked salted caramel ice-cream and HAIL to the bee honeycomb toffee chocolate freckled ice-cream, chocolate peanut-butter sauce. All at the same time. Obviously.

Stories About Coastal Oregon Fossegrim. Also Riot Grrrl-Inspired Robots.

Novels I am working on. I took a trip to do research for the first. There are pictures (see link). There will be words.

Body

Working out and stuff. ’cause I do that.

<><><>

So, yeah. I’ve got a fuckton of blogging to do. When I’m not, you know, teaching, or working on my thesis, applying for graduation, novel-writing, writing other things, working out, tweeting, drumming or eating. (Note that sleeping and socializing are not on this second list.)

Be back soon.

STORYFOX Interview: Yoon Ha Lee

If you’ve perused the Storyfox Database, you’ve surely come across Yoon Ha Lee’s poetry and fiction. My personal favorite is the story “The Contemporary Foxwife,” but I recommend that you explore Yoon’s other work as well; it’s all quite excellent. After you’ve done that (or before!), be sure to read the following interview. Much gratitude to Yoon for agreeing to answer my questions!

Finally, if you are a writer (or videographer, game designer, painter, or creator of any sort) of fox stories and want to be interviewed (or know of someone you’d like to be interviewed here) or have your narratives archived in the database, please contact me in the comments section of this post, on my contact page, or via twitter. Guest posts about foxes and/or fox stories would be most welcome, as well!

foxfoxfox….

<><><>

A Korean-American sf/f writer who majored in math, Yoon finds it a source of continual delight that math can be mined for story ideas. Yoon’s fiction has appeared in publications such as F&SF, Tor.com, and Clarkesworld Magazine, as well as several year’s best anthologies.

You can find Yoon on Dreamwidth and on Twitter as @motomaratai, or by email at yoon@yoonhalee.com.
Website: http://www.yoonhalee.com/

INTERVIEW WITH YOON HA LEE

Just to get a glimpse of your broader context, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I live in Louisiana with my husband and daughter. During the day I write. I’m also interested in game design, interactive fiction, cartooning, and composing; I like to keep busy.

When and why did you start writing?

I decided in 3rd grade to become a writer because my 3rd grade teacher, Mr. McCracken, really encouraged his classes to do creative writing. I realize that this is a little early to make a career choice but I didn’t realize that at the time. I wrote stories for my little sister at first (even to this day she is one of my beta readers), then decided around 6th grade that I wanted to sell short stories and, eventually, a novel. The novel hasn’t happened yet, but I started submitting short stories in 6th grade. I got my first acceptance six years later, as a freshman in college.

Beyond the stories, what sort of relationship do you have with foxes? Has your interest in them always been narrative, or did it have another source?

It’s nothing deep, I’m afraid–I think they’re incredibly attractive animals, and as a city-dweller who has never seen one in the flesh, that’s it for me. (I’d love to spot a real fox, though.) If I lived in the country and kept chickens I’d probably feel differently. I did have some early exposure to Korean folktales of gumiho (nine-tailed fox spirits), who are shapechangers who seduce and usually kill people. (I think; it’s been a while.) I was also enchanted by Kij Johnson’s novel based on Japanese folklore, The Fox Woman, which I read when I was in college.

I also love The Fox Woman, deeply. What about it did you find enchanting? Are there any other books you’ve found similarly enthralling? (Fox-related or otherwise!) What about them drew you?

What I loved about that novel was that it really delved into the fox’s viewpoint, which I don’t think I’d seen before.  The idea that the fox had fallen for the human as well as causing the human to fall for her was a reversal that I hadn’t considered, and Kij Johnson really did a heartbreaking job of portraying it.

A non-fox-related book that evoked a similar feeling from me was Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane.  At the end the protagonist, a human woman, has the opportunity to become a dragon.  She is also a mage who has limited power, in part because of the demands of her struggles to survive and her family.  But she meets a dragon who falls in love with her (as much as dragons ever do, anyway), and she decides to go with him, rather than stay with the man who loves her, and who watches her go because he knows he can’t make her stay with him.  (The husband is actually one of my favorite characters ever, although I also really like the female mage.)  Anyway, after some time as a dragon, the protagonist decides to return to being human.  It’s incredibly bittersweet, because she can’t, in fact, have the best of both worlds.  She has to make do with a compromise, be one or the other.

When did you first begin writing about foxes? What first pushed you to write vulpine-inclined tales?

I started writing about foxes in flash fairy tales that I sold at $6 a pop up-front to raise quick cash for small purchases. I believe the first one would have been “The Fox’s Tower,” which I posted on my DreamWidth blog (also my former LJ, although it’s since been deleted) on January 9, 2010 (http://yhlee.dreamwidth.org/117509.html). The flash stories are done to a one- or two-word prompt from the purchaser, and while people don’t necessarily specifically request foxes, some of the prompts just seem to come out as fox stories.

Mostly, foxes seemed both mysterious and attractive, adaptable to a variety of fairy tale scenarios. I particularly like their trickster and shapeshifter aspects, which is odd, because ordinarily trickster archetypes drive me up the wall. I was also maybe a little frustrated with the way foxwives got treated in Legend of the Five Rings (roleplaying game/collectible card game setting, Asian-inflected); in the official fiction the foxwives usually fall in love with jerks and have their hearts broken, and don’t get to be foxily awesome at all.

You mentioned that most trickster archetypes aren’t exactly your thing—do you think foxes contain a deeper sense of motivation or emotion, or interiority, perhaps, than other tricksters? Why do you think you find foxes more resonant than other tricksters?

For me, it’s definitely that sense of motivation.  I’ve read some stories where the tricksters seemed to be doing random things just for the hell of it.  I guess that represents the chaotic and sometimes inexplicable forces of nature, but I’ve never found that very satisfactory in a narrative sense, especially in a character.  With a fox, I have a sense that there’s some strategy even if I don’t necessarily know what that strategy *is.*  That the fox is doing these things for a goal.  I guess I like clever characters!

In both your poem “Foxfeast” over at Mythic Delirium, and your short story “The Contemporary Foxwife” in Clarkesworld, you’ve written about foxes in a science fictive setting. Can you talk about where these pieces came from, and any other thoughts you might have on foxes in science fiction?

When I wrote “Foxfeast” I couldn’t recall seeing (many?) instances of foxes in space, even though it seemed to me that a mythological animal as adaptable as a fox would still find a way to make itself felt in the future. Also, the foxes in my flash fairy tales (collected at http://www.yoonhalee.com/?cat=3 — they usually have “fox” in the title somewhere) are, hmm, kind of nerfed. They’re very nice.  For “Foxfeast” I wanted to write more dangerous foxes like the ones I remembered from the Korean folktales, foxes with teeth.

“The Contemporary Foxwife” goes back to a nice fox, mainly because I partly wrote the story as a bit of a joke. There’s a character in an unpublished novel I wrote (it’s out on submission) who is associated somewhat with foxes, and things do not end well for him. I wanted to write a version of him that got a happy ending. Said version of him is hardly recognizable, but that’s where the story started. I mean, I usually write about genocides and massacres. “The Contemporary Foxwife” may be the nicest, least genocidal story I have ever written.

Among many other things, a number of your fox stories have dealt with gender, language, and family. Are there particular themes or issues you find most potent and/or pertinent when writing about foxes? Why? Do those stories lean toward certain forms/structures/characters/settings, etc?

I guess I think of gender as a natural theme to tie in to foxes because of the fox’s mythological reputation as a shapeshifter. Going from there to foxes who don’t care about gender variance seems natural. I’ve dealt with issues of language in other stories, so I don’t think that’s particular to foxes, and I hadn’t noticed that about family before, although I think you’re right now that you’ve pointed it out! In the case of family I think it has to do with issues of trust–foxes are so often portrayed as tricky and devious, but I wonder what it is that they’re tricky and devious in service of, if that can’t be turned to good (or anyway, to some purpose beyond tricky-and-devious-for-the-hell-of-it).

Do you have any thoughts on why they often have this shapeshifting nature?

I think of the saying “crazy like a fox” and their reputation for deviousness when being hunted.  I wonder if people think that foxes are clever enough to adapt to any situation, and if their shapeshiftiness symbolizes that.

Why do you think people–especially in the science fiction and fantasy community–are drawn to telling stories about foxes? Do you consider yourself to be in conversation (intentionally or not) with any of these works–and if so, who, and why?

Partly because they’re gorgeous, partly because they have mythological roots to work with (both the Reynard stories in the West and the kitsune/gumiho/huli jing in the East, I’m sure there are others), even things like Disney’s animated movie Robin Hood. (I had a crush on Robin.) So maybe they’re not quite as popular as dragons (my 5th-grade daughter is big into dragons!) but they still have a respectable following.

I don’t read much in the genre anymore, mainly because I read so slowly these days, so I’m hardly even aware of what’s out there. In that sense I’m not really operating in conversation with the rest of the sf/f community.

For the sake of fun and curiosity: have you a favorite kind of fox?

I have to go with the classic Vulpes vulpes here. Their coloration is so handsome! I have a Tumblr that I hardly know how to use, but I’m subscribed to an account called thelittleredfox that delivers up pretty fox photos. Also on Twitter there’s @emergency_fox. And on FaceBook I follow the National Fox Welfare Society (based in the UK somewhere, I believe), which rescues foxes and posts updates on how they’re doing–they help some, they lose others, but learning about the habits of foxes is very interesting and it’s another source of photos.

STORYFOX podcast, episode 1: Mary Lowd (interview)

Octopi, otters and a fox raised by chickens! (+ much, much more)

This is the first in a series of Storyfox-related interviews. Most will concern foxes, but today’s interview is a bit broader in scope, focusing instead on Mary Lowd’s relationship to animals in narrative. Show notes are below.

STORYFOX podcast, episode 1: Mary Lowd

Interview Audio
Interview Transcript

Mary E. Lowd is a science-fiction and furry author, best known for her novel Otters In Space.  She’s had three novels and more than fifty short stories published so far.  Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Cóyotl Awards.  She also edited a collection of furry fiction, ROAR 6, for FurPlanet.  She’s a member of SFWA, the Furry Writers’ Guild, a judge for the Cat Writers’ Association, and co-chair of the Wordos. Mary lives with her husband, two children, and a bevy of cats and dogs in a crashed spaceship, disguised as a house in Oregon.

Homepage:  www.marylowd.com
Free fiction:  http://marylowd.com/free-fiction.html
Twitter:  @Ryffnah

How to Not Know a Novel

When I was a kid, I was always writing books. None of them were ever much over two hundred and fifty pages and the first one, something about a dog, a dog thief and a girl named Jenn (hey, that’s me) written at nine years old, was twenty pages (totally still a novel). But by age thirteen or fourteen I had four book-shaped things, plus numerous projects started and never finished. In ninth grade or tenth grade I watched The Matrix for the first time. Two hours after I finished the film I started writing a book about dreams and reality. It was first called Puzzle and last called The Dream Tree. In the space of eight years, I started to rewrite it seven times and rewrote it fully for my undergrad senior project. Then I rewrote it a third time and edited that draft from 95k words down to 48k, which was probably a little drastic. After all that, you’d think I’d have learned something. But I didn’t know how to write a novel before Puzzle, I didn’t know how write one during Puzzle and I still didn’t know how after The Dream Tree.

Somewhere during the time that Puzzle became The Dream Tree, the author Karina Cooper told me to escape. Run away. Stop. Just stop beating the horse dead in the rain.(She didn’t say that, exactly; she was nicer. But let’s be brutal here.) I listened, but not really, and continued wasting my time.Compulsion is strong in me and I have a hard time letting go even when I know I need to. But it wasn’t just a matter of writing this one book over and over. When I was a kid, everything was a novel. Every idea was worth tens of thousands of words.

I don’t know why, maybe because books were it. They were big. They were better because of their greater gravity. But actually, I think it’s because they were all I knew. I didn’t read poetry or short fiction as a child, not unless it was mandatory for school, in which case of course I did (remember my compulsive compulsion?). But even though novels were all I read, I didn’t actually know a thing about them. I knew, sort of, how to read them. I definitely knew how get high on them. I wrote them start to finish, but not very well. Of course, I thought I knew them, but the further I got from them, the more I realized that, no matter how close we’d been, I hadn’t known a thing. I listened, but didn’t engage.

A month after moving to Montana, I finished that third full draft of The Dream Tree and finally listened to Karina Cooper’s good advice.I finished my 47k wordhack, realized the book was broken. I don’t think I’ve opened that file since. I read The Melancholy of Mechagirl and At the Mouth of the River of Bees, two collections that were pivotal. I started writing more short fiction and joined a writer’s group, were I met Richard, a friend full of snark and wordlove, who told me that applying to MFA programs was a shitty idea, because I already had a voice and stories, and that I knew what I needed to do to figure the rest out. Once again, I didn’t listen. His advice was good, but I think that this time I made the right decision. I ended up in a Master’s program of folklore and it’s both good and upsetting. I finished my first year in June. I don’t think I’ve ever been further from novels than during those nine months. All I wanted to do was write stories. Instead, I wrote papers and annotated bibliographies. We were long-distance lovers, novels and I (especially bad because I hate phones and it was all one-sided, anyway), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them clearer than in my first year of grad school. Distance does wonders. (Side note: Richard’s amazeballs–he’ll appreciate that word–The Flood Girls is due out from Simon and Schuster February 2016. Fuck yeah. If you’re reading this Richard, I want an ARC, hahaha.)

When I moved from Montana to Oregon to begin my folklore degree I was deep into a sword and sorcery novel about wormholes and magpies and revenge. I reached 65k words before the term started. I haven’t looked at the manuscript since. I spent the fall, winter and spring reading and writing about foxes, studying Swedish, philology, cosmogony, eschatology, and some of the stuff in between. The only novels I read were during a fiction seminar I took from the university’s MFA program and The Blue Fox, excusable because it was vulpine and relevant. I read probably a couple novel’s worth of fanfiction–sometimes when I had a little down time, but mostly when I had absolutely no time–but no intentional books.

Then summer came and I was supposed to be jobbing, and researching and reading for my terminal thesis project, which I did and am doing. But I got desperate. I read The Republic of Thieves when I was supposed to be reading Convergence Culture. I read The Name of the Wind instead of Marvels and Tales, 2015 (Vol. 29) No. 1, SPECIAL ISSUE: Queer(ing) Fairy Tales. When I wasn’t misbehaving, I did read plenty for my thesis, including Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook, which I think is what really did it. I read Wonderbook parallel to the Lynch and Rothfuss, and while I fried chicken and burritos and jo jos and yet more chicken at Safeway’s deli, I thought about writing books. I’d enjoyed Republic, but Name made me want to write (and just read, forever). But in between reading Le Guin’s Cheek By Jowl for pleasure by way of my annotated bibliography, pretend-coding a database and writing my prospectus, I didn’t actually have much time left for writing. But it turns out that frying chicken leaves you with plenty of time for thinking.

I thought about Wonderbook. I thought about The Name of the Wind. I thought about what was wrong with my magpie book. I thought a lot about wanting to write a book, but I couldn’t think of an idea wide enough and intense enough for a novel. I had ideas, sure, but were they book ideas? Before, when I was a kid, when I was in high school, when I was an undergrad, they would have been, but I wasn’t so sure anymore.

As a kid, I thought about plot and imagery. Plot because I knew that’s what stories are all about*, imagery because Tolkien. This time, I thought about character. Every time I wanted to know how the tale was going to finish, I wrenched my thoughts back to who, and the whys that defined the whos. I thought about many characters, but the ones that stuck were the ones with stories thick enough around them to warrant novels. And it was the around that really got me. I stopped thinking linearly. I thought about what came before and after the pivot point of character, not the story I wanted to write on them. I started with that seed, sure, but I didn’t cling to it. I considered the possibilities.

And that’s what’s most important, I think. I stopped flogging the horse. (It’s still raining, obviously, because I need rain for story writing, and because it’s been smoky and hot in Oregon and if I can’t get it anywhere else, I need rain in my head.) Before, I could recognize when a plot line or scene wasn’t working. So I’d rethink the scene, seeking the key that would make it work. But there’s not always a key, not when all you’re dealing with is brainplay (which is both it’s wonder and its bane). Reading Wonderbook made me realize that I was just trying to unbreak something rather than finish the break and kill it completely. And I understand why I stuck with that method for so long and will probably always have to remind myself that it’s not the only way–beheadings are hard work. Spinal cords are tough. But rather than reviving a scene back to shambling life, I’ve started to wonder what else works. What are my options that have nothing to do with the broken thing at hand? What can I do that’s completely other, unexpected, unplanned? How quickly can I give up a thing and be okay with it?

I think it’s working. After almost a year of knowing I have books in me, but not knowing what they were, I now have a trilogy and two novels to write. Maybe one, two or five of them will fail. But all I know right now is that I’m procrastinating on my thesis not because I’m subscribed to every single Buzzfeed channel on youtube, but because I’m writing.

I’ll be honest: compulsion still dogs me. I still think about The Dream Tree. I haven’t let it go, not completely. There’s something compelling about Fel, Kit and Jiiki, the book’s three main characters–I’m not relinquishing them yet. Their stories aren’t dead–but I don’t think they’re novels, either. There’s an exercise somewhere in Wonderbook, and maybe I keep thinking about it because it feels like a condolence:

Excise a scene from a trunked novel
Keep the scene, the character
Removing the context
Write something new

There, there, little novel. You aren’t dead yet.

But actually? I don’t think it’s a condolence. I think it’s an acknowledgement. I have good ideas, sometimes, but they don’t always come out right. And that’s okay, but beware: repeats might be treacherous. A rebirth might be better. Or maybe go back to the conception. Different egg, different seed, and when you do get around to squeezing that idea out, find a midwife with steadier hands. (Also, be careful around extended metaphors. [That’s probably my favorite advice from Wonderbook.])

Or burn your ideas. I hear that works, too.

<><><>

*the asterisk exists to make note of how little I know

Storyfox update!

Updates should be coming more regularly, now that I have a month-ish reprieve from grad school. Here are a couple of ready-at-hand additions to tide the curious over until my next update, which will probably be substantial.

A couple notes:

–I’d like to do a number of interviews to accompany this project, so if there’s anyone out there who you’d like to see interviewed (or if you want to be interviewed) about fox media, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
–Thanks go to Sonya Taaffe and Sharon Goetz; both tipped me off to a number of works this time around.
–I renamed the ‘Interdisciplinary’ section to ‘Transmedia.’ The music section needed some categorical stretching room, so it is now called ‘Audio.’
–An addition of note: I’m especially looking forward to exploring Wuxia the Fox, which looks to have a beguiling story, pleasing art, and an engrossing, inventive cross-discipline narrative framework. You can find it in the aforementioned Transmedia section.

Check out all of STORYFOX: a Database of Vulpine Science Fiction and Fantasy here!

As always, if you have anything to add, you can contact me here and on twitter.

Audio

P.L. Travers
~”The Fox at the Manger” (BBC Radio 4, 1990)

~”The Fox” (traditional ballad)

Comics/Graphic Novels

Minna Sundberg
~”A Redtail’s Dream” (2011-2013)

Film/Television

Volodymyr Kmetyk
~”Mykyta the Fox” (Pershyi Natsionalnyi)

Thomas Funck and Jan Gissberg
~”Kalle Stropp och Grodan Boll på svindlande äventyr” (Charlie Strapp and Froggy Ball Flying High) (Cinemation Industries, 1941)

Räven Boll
~”Made By Räven Boll ” (Räven Boll, 2014)

Children’s Books

P.L. Travers
~”The Fox at the Manger” (Norton, 1962)

Games and Video Games

Alana Joli Abbott
~”The Choice of Kung Fu” (Choice of Games, 2012)

BioWare
~”Jade Empire” (Microsoft Game Studios, 2005)

Nintendo EAD
~”Starfox” (Nintendo, 1993)
~”Ocarina of Time” (Nintendo, 1998)
~”Majora’s Mask” (Nintendo, 2000)

Novels

Garry Kilworth
~The Lantern Fox (Mammoth, 1998)
~Hunter’s Moon (The Foxes of Firstdark) (Unwin Hyman, 1989)

Poems

Lizzy Huitson
~”Rey” (Goblin Fruit, 2014)

Transmedia

Jonathan Bélisle
~”Wuxia the Fox” (2014)

Links? Lynx?

I’ve an accumulation of things from…the beginning in April? I think I’ll do these in a couple of posts, to keep things organized.

First, links on writing:

Fundamentals of Writing the Other Basically, Writing Beyond the Default 101. This is good. Also, lots of Julie Dillon‘s stunning art. (On a side note, she recently won the 2014 Hugo for Best Professional Artist, and is utterly deserving.)

Should White People Write About People of Color Listen to Malinda Lo. JUST LISTEN:

When white writers come to me and ask if it’s OK for them to write about people of color, it seems as if they’re asking for my blessing. I can’t give them my blessing because I don’t speak for other people of color. I only speak for myself, and I have personal stakes in specific kinds of narratives.

It also feels as if they’re asking for a simple answer, and frankly, there is no simple answer. Writing outside your culture is a complicated endeavor that requires extensive research, being aware of your own biases and limitations, and a commitment to delving deeply into the story. However, writing any fiction requires this. There are no shortcuts to writing fiction truthfully and well.

Cultural appropriation (from Aliette de Bodard)

When a writer is perpetuating horrible clichés in the course of their writing, when they’re propagating transparently false ideas of what it means to live in a place and/or a time period… This is cultural appropriation, and it’s bad–and whether said writer meant it or not doesn’t change the fact that they’ve egregiously mangled someone’s culture through lack of care.

Five Common Problems I See in Your Stories Chuck Wendig has smart things to say about doom and dream-teats and eating things made out of paper. And maybe some stuff about writing, too. I don’t know. I read this months ago, so why don’t you go and find out.

now i’m looking in the mirror all the time wondering what she don’t see in me (from Elizabeth Bear) “Everybody deserves stories. ”

And some resources:

Writing with Color What the URL says. Lots of questions, accompanied by good answers.

Diversity Crosscheck Tumlr “This Tumblr is intended as a platform for writers to interact with the very marginalized people they want to write into their stories, in order to minimize stereotyping. Nothing will ever be a 100% perfect portrayal, but this will hopefully open conversations and take us a step in the right direction. Diversify your writing. Don’t be afraid.”

card-swiping for diversity

I’m going to talk about publishing–specifically, my publisher, Sparkler Monthly. But first, I’m going to talk about apologies.

The word sorry leaves my mouth a lot. And yet, never often enough. Sometimes, it’s fear that stops me. Or ego. Usually ego, especially because the fear is often there because my ego is a coward (clarification: I am). But I try to keep my ego in tight-check, so I’m usually able to get the apology out. Sorry.

I’ve also had apologies made to me, and in both instances (as the giver and receiver of remorse), apologies can be genuine or they can clog themselves with inaction. Because apologies are half-assed when all you do is say sorry. You can look at me all frowny and penitent, with contrition bleeding sweet as liquified lollipops from your eyesockets, but if action doesn’t accompany your words, sorry sounds like an insult. Same goes for me: if I ever apologize and neglect to follow up, I am (again) sorry, I have failed and you now have permission to stuff my socks full of meal worms and snap my drum sticks and poke holes in my rain pants. I will be better. Do better.

Here are a couple guides to apologizing: Getting Called Out: How to Apologize and Apologies: What, When, and How.

This framework of inaction = questionable sincerity, and action = sincerity that might actually mean something can be applied elsewhere, too. For my purposes, I’m using it to talk about writing and publishing—specifically, women and diversity in writing and publishing. Other people have discussed it (eg: Malinda Lo, Kameron Hurley, and nattosoup), with more eloquence and intelligence than I will, but this is an important conversation. And a conversation is only a conversation if there’s some conversing occurring.

A piece of the dialogue: you can talk all you want about diversity in publishing and narratives, but true support is action. I can say I support diverse authors all I want, but if I go out and spend all my (paltry) allotment for book purchases on Scott Lynch and George RR Martin, then I have failed. I mean, I fucking love Scott Lynch (GRRM I enjoy, but not to the same extent), but I love Aliette de Bodard and Ann Leckie just as much, so wouldn’t it make just a little sense for me to swipe my card just as often (if not more) for them?

I’m not saying don’t ever give a straight white cis male your money ever again, the end. I’m saying that if you believe in something, act on it. Give women your money, prove we have value, that we sell. Which, yeah, is objectifying as hel and a really terrible way to frame this, BUT. In many ways, this is how worth is established. With money. You want more diverse writers, stories, characters, settings? Buy it ALL. Everything you claim keeps you grinning and thrilling and screaming in biblioporno bliss? Let it feed upon the belly of your bank account. (This is, also and by the way, a reminder to myself.)

As I said earlier, I’m just pissing at the mouth, basically regurgitating what my betters have said, so here’s my personal spin on it:

I have a serialized novel running in Sparkler Monthly.   (It’s called Skyglass, and is about sex, cyber- elves, rock ‘n’ roll, and murderous firecats). Sparkler Monthly is a multimedia publisher of comics, prose and audio dramas written from the female gaze, with diverse, ensnaring casts: people of color, a wide breadth of sexualities, fluid genders. This is quirky and not normal, because what is normal, what is expected, is the male gaze, is lack of diversity, and to have someone out there giving us great stories that aren’t cemented into that default? It’s vital.

But Sparkler is only just entering their second year and if they want to see a third year (and beyond), they need the support of everyone who says they support this kind of thing. (That’s you, by the way.) To keep stable, they need 2000 subscribers. Right now they have 142. They’re still small, and relatively unknown, but they deserve to be known. Their stories deserve to be read, and listened to. They deserve, and need, your support.

I admit: I have a stake in this. Multiple stakes, actually:

    1. Sparkler Monthly gives me money, because I give them words. It’s a good arrangement, and worthwhile for us both, I like to think.
    2. They publish really addictive stories, really important stories because they feature strong, diverse, female characters (and male characters, as well as those who don’t strictly adhere to that binary). And let me be clear: when I say strong I don’t intend ‘strong’ to only mean brawny-but-still-beautiful, kick-ass women. When I say strong, I mean nuanced, and potent. And deep. Women who get to be full characters. Which leads me to my last stake (and look! I could almost raise a tent with all these stakes…)
    3. Me. The third stake is me, because I’m female, and I get to see myself in the stories they publish. I’m not wallpaper, or a bed-prop, or a convenient orifice. I am a necessary, narrative creature with lungs and teeth and heart and spine, and I want more. So much more.

I know I’m not the only who wants all this. I know I’m not the only one who wants to do something. So consider a membership to Sparkler Monthly. Read up on their membership drive, and all of its excellent tiers. If you’re lacking funds, try their sampler issue, which is free to download. Also, their submissions are currently open, so if you’re looking to get published (or if you’re a voice actor), go send them something. (Something good, preferably.)

There’s continuing the conversation–and then there’s engaging and leveling it up. Make art that matters, art that syncs with this necessary diversity, and keep talking. Do everything you can, keep on and keep on, and the storyworld will grow close and colossal.

a necessity of mouths

I have trouble vocalizing my thoughts–one of many reasons I write. I understand myself through stories, or obscure poetry, or my reflection seen darkly refracted by a good doom metal album. I work best with abstraction–which is what my brain is: one great big mindfuck.

Alas, this doesn’t translate so well when I have to talk to people. I don’t lack humor, but sometimes my version of funny is crackling-dry, or so thick and impenetrable it might as well be a bog. But beyond being an obscure smartass, I often simply can’t get the right words or ideas out of my mouth.

So I shy from talking about my writing out loud, because my ideas and stories and characters are deep, snarly messes. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy being difficult, I like my art dense, but sometimes it all feels like too much work to talk about–but really, that’s just fear holding my tongue. Me, holding my tongue. I hold myself back, and though I’ve got this problem–a problem that hold me back–I don’t do much about it.

Tonight’s writing workshop, however, taught me just how important talking about my writing is for this hacked-up, mayhem-powered thing I call my process.

I started a new novel not long ago; it’s currently going by the name Magpies. I’m only 6,000 words in, nowhere near its belly, but I’m already doubting it. All my second guesses are a constant relentless scrabbling in my skull. Before my workshop today, I skimmed over the most recent chapter to prepare for critiquing it with my group, and basically decided it was dead to me. Which is unlike me–I’m obsessive. I don’t give up–and yet that was exactly what I was considering.

However, I was startled by the usual workshop evisceration. No guts were spilled. Blood was minimal. There was poking and pinching, and discussion–but people liked the third chapter of Magpies. What followed though, a broader discussion of the novel, and my intentions–that’s when everything turned smoky-crystalline. When we started discussing footnotes, and form, and layered stories–that was when I figured out my problem, and my solution.

Granted, the problem’s been solved with another problem–but it’s not so much a problem as a challenge; a story-puzzle for me to unravel and then re-knot, just the sort of game I devour. And if I hadn’t used my words, my tongue-words, this wouldn’t have happened–or it would have been a long time coming. Patience and I are companionable, but I’ve got too many stories to tell to muck around with sitting demurely and waiting.

Magpies was already a tale worth telling, but after tonight’s workshop, it’s a whole hel of a lot tricksier. Foxier. Tastier. And even if, in the end, I fail it (I won’t), at least I’ve remembered: I don’t exist with my feet pinned to single rope. I’m snared in a massively tangled-up web. I don’t have to stay in my head–I can use my lungs to solve my problems, or sit behind my drums and hit hard until the answer comes, or walk and walk and walk until my boots wear out, my feet wear out, and my tracks bleed-out clarity.

I Signed My First Book Contract (and neglected to mention it)

I Signed My First Book Contract (and neglected to mention it)

Sometimes a thing happens, and it’s a really exciting thing, and all you want to do is smash people’s faces in it cream-pie-style because your really exciting thing is delicious and should be smeared everywhere.

Only, really exciting things often require patience and silence–

…and that’s where I’m going to stop the pie metaphor because instead of smashing the pie it has to be sat-on, and NETHER REGIONS + CREAM are sadly not directly related to my first book contract (though the book is, on occasion, quite sexy).

Tangent diverted.*

Anyway:

I signed my first book contract with Chromatic Press in March. Just two months ago. That moment made me grin wide and toothful, and it’s quite possible I punched the air and gave a ghost a nosebleed. (Did you know that uber-concentrated excitement can give you ectoplastmic superpowers?) But there’s a before and after attached to that moment. A story:

Last fall, I discovered Chromatic Press, and their multimedia magazine, Sparkler Monthly. In Sparkler’s words, they aim ‘to be a platform for engrossing, entertaining stories that aren’t heard enough in mainstream media,’ with a focus on the Female Gaze. I’ve only just begun to dig into the work they’re publishing, but it’s like good chocolate: habit-forming, and quality. My favorites thus far are Awake, an (agonizingly addictive) audio story about a generation ship, its human crew, and a healthy-dose of murder-made mayhem. If you like the BBC’s radio dramatization of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but want something more subtle and nerve-wracking, this is for you. I also enjoyed Before you Go, a sweetly brief comic about two girls falling in love in the rain, and am highly anticipating my soon-to-be read of Dusk in Kalevia.

When I heard Chromatic had put out an unsolicited call for novel submissions, I knew I’d found the perfect home for the book I was working on (a character-driven SF novel about an anorexic, aromantic drummer and his blood-hungry fire-elemental roommate). So I kicked myself in the ass, polished up my submission materials, and sent them off.

While anticipating (what I thought would be) my inevitable rejection, I fantasized. A lot. At the time, I had another (shorter and completely unrelated) piece under consideration with Shimmer –the piece was “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” and, to my dizzying elation, eventually accepted. With that good news lashed to my belt (for fear it was all LIES), I’d sometimes think giddily to myself, what if my book got picked up too?! Only probably with more exclamation points. Because I knew how unlikely it would be for BOTH to be accepted.

And yet, in September, I received an email. It was one of those nebulous emails writers occasionally get, where you can’t tell from the subject line whether you’ve been accepted, or gut-punched out of the running. I opened the message and found that my fate was neither: I’d been cryogenically frozen; in-betweened. It wasn’t bad news, it wasn’t good–it was promising. Very, very promising.

Basically, Lianne (Lianne, who is now my editor, yay!) said she liked what I’d sent. A lot. But also that it was a mess. What followed was a (wonderfully) giant critique detailing everything that was killing the book–and an offer: revise your outline, polish up the first two chapters, get it back to us in three weeks, and we’ll reconsider your submission. Terrifying, because I knew cleaning up a mess that size was on par with giving a troll a bath. But validating, too, because if she’d spent that much time with my submission, that much time writing her reply, I must have done something right. I was also a little thrilled and in-agony, because holy hel-hounds, my book MY BOOK was kind-of-almost on the brink of getting published.

I revised. Cut. Toned and stream-lined. Did the writerly equivalent of plyometrics for books.

And then I waited.

Thanksgiving day dawned. The apartment was cleaned. Food was made in blasphemously modest quantities. After a turkey-less feast (chicken for the carnivores, salad and candied walnuts and cheese for me) eaten cross-legged around our coffee table, in the company of Cavan’s fellow grad students, I checked the special gmail account I reserve for writing and publishing. In my inbox, I found an email from Lianne–a message full of puppies and rainclouds and metalheads making snarly-faces, aka my kind of happiness. One of my favorite bits of bliss was this beautiful string of words:

We’d like to offer you a contract.

A two and a half hour Skype conversation followed, and then a number of months–and then came the arrival of my legal document. I read it, had my workshop instructor Richard Fifield (who just sold his first novel, The Flood Girls, to Simon & Schuster!) read it, after which I read it again, and asked for clarification (many times over). Clarification secured, I fretted for a moment or two, and then I signed.

YES. I signed it, my first book contract, for SKYGLASS, this novel of mayhem and wonder, and Peep-obsessed vocalists (and yes, I DO mean those sparkly chicken-shaped marshmallows. Somehow they manage to survive the post-apocalyptic earth of my story…are you really that surprised?).

As for the whole I-Signed-My-First-Book-Contract-And-Kinda-Forgot-To-Mention-It, well…I had to keep silent about the contract before it had been signed, obviously. And then I signed it, but I’d gotten used to the silence, and then things (editing, writing, writing, writing + grad school apps and the day job) just…piled up, and–as exciting as a book contract is–humans are adaptable. Even realizing my lifelong dream was strangely easier than I expected (except for the all-too-often moments of paranoia, where I’m sure all my good luck is going skedaddle itself right out my existence). In the end, while this super-exciting thing is truly and utterly SUPER-EXCITING–and also a huge gift of fortune and privilege–it took hard work to get here, and will continue to always be hard work. Writing is my existence; I love it, but sometimes it’s just my air and lungs.

In a soon-to-come post, I’ll talk about how the publication of SKYGLASS will differ from your typical book (because of serialization! and Skyglass’ excellent illustrator). Till next time, though, behave, eat chocolate, plant a tree–and if the sky’s deep and starry enough, don’t forget to wish for benign alien abduction.

<><><>

*If you begin with a tangent, is it really a tangent? Are they chronologically dependent? Tangents imply the existence of a coherent point, and then the act of branching. And yet, you can grow a tree from a branch…