December 31, 2012

Another Dang Year

Well, the world didn't end at the end of the Baktun, and I think I speak for everyone when I say, "Crap."

But in the meantime, life and writing happened. I finished a novel, and though reports from early readers are uneven at best, at least it's finished. I hope to find it a home in 2013.

It was a very good year in short fiction. I sold nine (9!) stories this year, which is more than in all my other years of story-selling combined. Five were published in 2012, three of them by Every Day Fiction. Links to all are on my "publications" page.

Two of the as-yet-unpublished stories were commissioned, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, like a "real" writer. More information on these to follow in the new year. One of them has a cover illustrated by a totally badass artist, which also makes me feel "real."

The remaining two sales are stories I wrote prior to attending Clarion West in 2009. "The Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer" will be in After Death, an anthology edited by Eric J. Guignard and published by Dark Moon Books. "A Fairy Tale" is a story I wrote in my MFA program, which I used to apply to Clarion West. I just learned it will be sharing a TOC in The Colored Lens with CW classmate Kris Millering's application story, a coincidence that is as random as it is awesome.

And yeah, I also wrote a few stories, some of which are starting the long slow trip through slush piles.

Here's hoping life and writing continue to improve in 2013! As far as I know, there are no apocalypses planned for the next few years. Yay?

December 19, 2012

The Last Big Thing

Here is your installment of The Next Big Thing, that chain-letter blog post for writers that's been making the rounds. Like all parties, I find myself late to it. But better late than never!

What are you kids doing in there?

1) What is the working title of your next book?
I despise titles. After many deranged ideas, mostly cribbed from the text of Romeo and Juliet, I'm now calling it STARS CROSSING IN THE NIGHT. While I was drafting it, I simply called it Romeo and Juliet in Space.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
It actually came to me in not one but two dreams. In the first one I was trying to describe my previous novel to someone at a convention and told them it was Romeo and Juliet in space. I woke laughing from that dream, having never written anything remotely like that. The second dream provided me with an opportunity to do so, handing me Earth as a prison planet and an alien race that's been watching us throughout history.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
But despite the above, it's really not a cheesy space opera. It's post-apocalyptic, near-future SF, but it's also a love story. Is it paranormal romance to have a human fall in love with an alien? My writing group saw it as YA, but I didn't, so take that for what it's worth.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I'd like Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) for Mona and CG for Frangi. 
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
One woman and one alien will do anything for each other--even if it leads their species to war.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I really can't say.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The first draft took about two months, which is so! fast! that I can hardly believe it. The next draft took four months, and the one after that took seven. I hope I don't have to do any more, because at this rate of change the next one would take well over a year!
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Um? Do I have to? Okay, then: THE ROAD (only not as depressing), CAT'S CRADLE (only not as funny), and Nancy Kress's STEAL ACROSS THE SKY.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Isn't that the same as question #2? 
10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
UFO chases, rogue robots that hunt humans for food, whole planets destroyed! Alien-human sex scenes!
So. Despite knowing a gaggle or more of writers, none of them would consent to being tagged in this chain letter. Many had already participated, and some were just stubborn. You know who you are.

It dies with me! Apologies to Jeremy Zimmerman (who tagged me). You didn't know you were choosing a loser, did you?

*update* The fabulous Lori Rader Day, colleague from my MFA days, has taken up the baton. Check out her next big thing over at her blog.

December 07, 2012

Tigers and Unicorns*!

Last weekend I saw something rarer than a unicorn: a movie based on a book that doesn't disappoint!

I loved Life of Pi when I read it. I mean, who wouldn't? Shipwrecks and tigers and floating acid islands full of funny little mammals! So I was therefore hesitant about the movie, even though previews looked gorgeous.

Worse, husband wanted to see it in 3D, which I think is generally gimmicky and unnecessary. Plus, 3D hurts my nose. See, I wear glasses, so a 3D movie means wearing two pairs of glasses, and they rarely line up quite right, so then I have to tie them together with hair ties. And even so they sit heavily on my face. When we saw Avatar, my nose ached for hours afterward. I know I can't be the only one with this problem; I'd be interested in hearing other glasses-wearers' solutions.

But anyway, at the end of Life of Pi only my eyes hurt, and that was from crying. The movie was so well made that everything else faded into the background. I was only occasionally aware of the 3D, or the lousy service and terrible food at the theatre (one of those food-serving theatres), or anything else. The story was all that mattered.

This is a great adaptation. Everything I remembered (with only tiny exceptions) made it into the film, and without it turning into an epic. I think it's about two hours long. The main character, Richard Parker (the tiger), looked so good that it was easy to forget he wasn't real. The human actors were also great, pulling off wrenching scenes.

Just go see it. It won't even ruin the book for you. Tigers! Shipwrecks! Crazy cannibalistic islands!

* Note: there are no unicorns in the book or the movie. Or this blog post.

November 30, 2012

Cleaning out the trunk

Allow me a moment of indulgence: they are rare in a writer's life. More common are moments of crushing defeat, like Wednesday when the news that I hadn't won a contest that I had little chance of winning nevertheless hung like a raincloud over my mood.

Today, a sale. A sale that is part of a larger trend this year, in which all my oldest stories are finally finding loving homes. I don't want to break it by talking about it, but I do want to exclaim! Yay! It's so easy to feel down about writing, and it's so nice, for a change, to feel something like momentum building.

Like this, I hope.
At least that's what I hope: that this means I'm reaching a point in my career where sales come easier. Of course, I can only believe that by ignoring some of the salient facts. Like the fact that without exception the stories were written over a year ago, or that they visited an average of seventeen markets before landing on their feet. Or the fact that none of the sales are to markets paying pro rates.

But still, I am pleased. They're lovely semi-pro markets and I'm proud to appear in them. And even though I'm still slightly baffled by which stories sell and which don't, I'm hopeful that my current favorites will soon follow suit and find editors to love and publish them.

November 22, 2012

Turkey with a side of guilt

Yesterday my cousin posted a picture of his son dressed in an Indian vest and feathered headdress of construction paper, and I thought, "What a cutie." But I immediately worried that what I should have thought was, "Cultural appropriation is wrong at any age."

And then I thought about the other kids, dressed as Pilgrims with big paper buckles on shoes and hats. And this is even more problematic, almost like dressing as a Klan member or a Nazi. I wonder how cute those kids look. 

We're perpetuating a harmful myth!

It does upset me that in the year 2012 my little cousin is still being taught the myth of Thanksgiving. I’ve read a lot about the reality of Puritan genocide and also how perpetuating the myth continues to hold us back from becoming a “post-racial” society. Let’s throw that junk away!

But on the other hand, do I want my sensitive young cousin to feel guilty about something that people he resembles but is in no way related to did hundreds of years ago? Because he probably would. And while glossing over the violence in America's past is wrong, the moral of Thanksgiving, the one that never actually happened, is a good one: people from different backgrounds sitting down together in friendship. Isn’t that what we want?

And further, with the ever-changing nature of this country, how long must we be responsible for the actions of people who are not even, for the most part, our ancestors? I understand that I benefit from all that horrible stuff the first white Americans did, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about it.

So yeah, Thanksgiving. We get a long weekend, time to gather with friends and family. That’s nice. Frankly, I’m a big fan of re-appropriating holidays as I see fit. I keep the Christ out of Christmas, and my Easter tradition borders on sacrilegious (though I think of it as sacrilicious). In the case of Thanksgiving, I think it’s worthwhile to spend a day overeating among family, loosely defined as whoever I choose to be around, and to take a moment to appreciate what we have.

And tomorrow most Americans will rush to stores to buy more, and some people will die in that pursuit. And then there are the deeply ingrained gender roles that usually come along with this holiday. But those are both matters for another post.

Happy Turkey Day, folks.

November 20, 2012

Another story!

My not-especially-SF story "Like Braces for Broken Teeth," is live today at Every Day Fiction. 

Of course, it is SF in the sense that OnStar can't really control people's cars to the degree depicted . . . yet.

The story was sparked by my friend Matt Macfarlane, who innocently commented that someday there would be people whose lifelong aspirations were to work for OnStar. Which just goes to show that you can never be too careful what you say to a writer. Any little thing you say may lead to some perfectly nice (if rather bland) fictional person being tortured.

And with that, I'm off to murder some (fictional) teenagers.

November 13, 2012

After Death . . . Coming next year

This week the Table of Contents was announced for Eric J. Guignard's After Death anthology. Spoiler alert--I'm in it!

As are all of these fine people:

Andrew S. Williams — Someone to Remember
David Tallerman — Prisoner of Peace
Steve Rasnic Tem — The Last Moments Before Bed
Lisa Morton — The Resurrection Policy
John M. Floyd — High Places
Kelda Crich — Circling the Stones at Fulcrum's Low
David Steffen — I Will Remain
Aaron J. French — Tree of Life
Sanford Allen & Josh Rountree — The Reckless Alternative
Brad C. Hodson — The Thousandth Hell
James S. Dorr — Mall Rats
Ray Cluley — Afterword
Jonathan Shipley — Like a Bat out of Hell
Edward M. Erdelac — Sea of Trees
Jacob Edwards — The Overlander
Bentley Little — My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur
Jamie Lackey — Robot Heaven
John Palisano — Forever
Robert B. Marcus, Jr. — Beyond the Veil
Alvaro Rodriguez — Boy, 7
William Meikle — Be Quiet At The Back
Christine Morgan — A Feast of Meat and Mead
Simon Clark — Hammerhead
Peter Giglio — Cages
Kelly Dunn — Marvel at the Face of Forever
Trevor Denyer — The Unfinished Lunch
Steve Cameron — I Was The Walrus
Larry Hodges — The Devil's Backbone
Benjamin Kane Ethridge — The Death of E. Coli
Emily C. Skaftun — Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer
Joe McKinney — Acclimation Package
Josh Strnad — Hellevator
Allan Izen — In and Out the Window
John Langan — With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts

My story is about a ghost with a serious problem to take care of back in the physical world. And probably the other stories are much better than mine.

This thing will be available next spring, printed on genuine paper! Yay!

November 10, 2012


Last year I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time, and to my great surprise found the challenge doable. It was hard, but I put writing first for 30 days and wrote 50,000 words of a novel. Yippee!

This year? Not so much.

As the month approached I started fretting that my next novel idea was little more than a concept, with no real characters or plot. I thought maybe I'd start pantsing it, but I had no real faith that that would work, especially in the relentless word factory of NaNo.

Ten days in I find myself trailing the daily goal by about half--down some 7,000 words. Boo. When I look at the word totals it makes me want to give up.

But on the plus side, I've written a little something every day, even if some days it's only two hundred words. It's two hundred words that maybe I wouldn't have written otherwise.

Will I write a novel this month? No way, José. Unpossible.

But I am writing. One word at a time.

November 07, 2012

Peaceful Transitions

I generally try to keep politics off this page--I have very strong opinions about political issues, and the leanings of these opinions would probably not surprise anyone who knows which broad demographic slot I fit into, but I don't think they are particularly relevant to my life as a writer, which is what this site is about. All of which is to preface this post about last night's election. This will be an exception to that rule. You've been warned.

The first presidential election I was legally eligible to vote in was Bush II v. Gore, in 2000. It would be a gross understatement to say that the resulting mess (hanging chads and suspect recounts and corporate voting machines, oh my!) upset me. What it actually did was obliterate my faith in our system of "democracy." For eight years I believed that our country's fate was irredeemably out of our hands.

And then Obama was elected, and that was great. We drank champagne and cheered and maybe cried a little. I can't remember for sure.

But I remained trepidatious for a few more months. My cynicism was so great by that time that I feared Bush II would refuse to step down. People told me this was ludicrous, and I'm quite glad that they were right. That moment, on Inauguration Day, when the outgoing President calmly stepped onto a helicopter and out of our lives, as the crowd below chanted na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, GOODBYE!--that was the moment that a strange feeling tugged at my heart, literally raising the hairs on my arms.

Don't let the rotors hit you on the way out!

The feeling had lain dormant in me for so long that I'd forgotten what it was. It took me a moment to recognize it as . . . patriotism. Pride in my country.

I felt another taste of that last night. Not because of any particular person or thing that was voted for or against, although I think a lot of good choices were made yesterday. What made me shiver was watching Romney up there on his stage, conceding that it was over and oh-so-sincerely wishing the President well. I don't care what he was really thinking behind that smirk. What makes me teary with pride is the peaceful exchange (or in this case non-exchange) of power.

I love that it was ridiculous of me to fear a coup four years ago. In many parts of the world, peaceful transitions are not a given.

Change is built into our system. That's very scary sometimes, and I'll admit I was a bit nervous about this election. There's a lot that's ugly about the process. But it has the potential for great beauty, and some of the choices we made last night--narrowly, squeaking by--show just how willing to evolve this country is. For a big, fractious, diverse nation, we're doing okay.

Or so it seems today, anyway.

October 30, 2012

It's almost Halloween; have some zombies!

I have a story up today at Every Day Fiction! It's a zombie love story tour through ten Los Angeles area tourist attractions. Yes, you heard me.

When I lived in Southern California I would see ads all the time that said variants on "Things to do before you die!" The qualifier (before you die) always struck me as unnecessary. Which led me inevitably to the title of this story, "10 Things to Do in Los Angeles After You Die."

And I think that pretty much says it all.

*** But wait, there's more! (This post has been edited)

This morning I learned that Mad Scientist Journal, Summer 2012 (containing my story, "Ray, Disintegrating") is available for sale as a nook book.

I also learned that Every Day Fiction will publish another story, "Like Braces for Broken Teeth," which is -- *gasp* -- not SF. Well, except for being set in the not-so-distant future. Details to follow.

October 26, 2012

Novel Writing (The Horror)

Perhaps thirty seconds ago I finished fiddling with draft three of my current novel project. Draft three of Gravity knows how many. Maybe it's because I've been working on the thing for too long, but I feel much less relief than I thought I would now.

Perhaps more than with any project I've ever written, I have no idea how to feel about it. Is it good? Is it terrible? Have I wasted a year? Draft one received very mixed reviews from my writing group, and I'm not sure that I've made it better in this version.

"They" say that novels are never finished, only abandoned. It's time to walk away from this one for a while, leaving it like an orphan on a doorstep. It hurts to think that I'll have to take it back someday, and work on it MOAR.

Like this, only scarier.

In the meantime, it's almost NaNoWriMo. Will I attempt to outline and begin a new novel in only six days? I honestly don't know right now. Maybe it's the October spookiness outside, or the ineffable doomfeel of the impending election, but I'm feeling a little on edge.

I'm feeling a little behind. I have no idea how I can feel behind on my own life, which has no firm deadlines, but there you have it. I can't believe it took a year to write three drafts of this novel, considering I almost completed draft one during last November. But I suppose life is perverse like that. For another example of perverseness, my instinctual reaction to feeling behind is to avoid working.

Yeah, I know. Get back to work.

If you have any suggestions for how to actually do that, let me know.

October 11, 2012

My abusive relationship with Sherman Alexie

I've met a lot of authors now, at conventions, readings, or in a classroom setting. For the most part I can avoid gushing like a teenage fangirl. After all, authors are just people. Even famous ones.

But for some reason, Sherman Alexie is different. He makes me nervous, and when I get around him--say, at one of the two recent Seattle readings I attended--I say silly, embarrassing things. What can I say? I just want him to like me.

Why won't you be my friend?

But he never will. Mostly because my fangirlness turns me ridiculous, but also because I am white.

In both of his recent appearances he said stunning things about white people. Things like, "You genocided a really entertaining people."

To me this feels like a slap. I have never genocided anyone. I've never even killed anyone, Indian* or otherwise. I think it should go without saying that no one is guilty of the crimes of his or her ancestors. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure my ancestors' history in this country is too short to include the genocide of which Alexie speaks. One branch of my family immigrated in the 1950s (and probably haven't killed any Indians since). But of course that's not the point.

I can't even imagine how a person of color would take Alexie's statement. Despite his assertion that Seattle is a white city, I saw many non-white faces at both of his readings. Odd that his "you" would exclude all the minorities.

The point seems to be to make white people uncomfortable. I can get behind this, on principle. After all, we're often a bit too comfortable. So when Alexie says that he assumes white Seattlites are racist, I try to look at it from outside my own reflexive defensiveness and consider that perhaps I am racist even though I don't think I am.

The point, I suppose, is to make white people feel like a minority.

But it does kind of hurt my feelings. It feels weird to admire an author who seems to hate me. Why do I do this? Oh, but I do love the words, the wonderful words. I know I'll keep going back.

* "Indian" is Alexie's term; please don't blame me for using it.

October 03, 2012

Allow me to blind you . . . with MAD SCIENCE

Just a quick post to announce that Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2012, which contains my story "Ray, Disintegrating," is available for purchase. It's only $1.99 and available in all manner of digital formats. And it has my name in slanted text all the way across the front of it! It's almost like the editor has mistaken me for a real author.

Looking forward, my story "10 Things to Do in Los Angeles After You Die," will be up on Every Day Fiction on October 30th. It's a love story . . . that may involve some brain eating.

October 01, 2012

Everybody clap now!

I have always hated audience participation. When a performer on stage asks me to clap, or to sing a portion of the song, or to raise a finger to the sky and twirl around and pretend to get drunk, my immediate reaction is to balk like a horse asked to cross a shallow puddle.

Maybe I'm just contrary, or maybe I'm no fun. It's a possibility I've considered.

But last night I went to Amanda Palmer's show at the Neptune in Seattle, and at some point during the encore I realized that I was happily clapping, stomping, and singing when instructed to as part of an "experiment with crowd-sourced percussion."

We are the drums, too.

The whole show was a lesson for me in audience participation. It was so qualitatively different from anything I've been to before that I want to call it something else. I think I will term it audience involvement. Before the show people were invited to send in pictures that were projected during various songs. At the show there was a box for people to write specific sad stories that were then read by Palmer between songs and used in a song to pretty stunning effect. There was also a scroll of paper on which people wrote who they wanted to be, which was incorporated into the show. So was the fruit that some people had brought (though apparently not in the initial spirit of the fruit, which is still a secret), and the flashlights.

All of this was integrated seamlessly--or at least hilariously--into the experience of the evening. Though I had nothing to do with most of it, I could feel how all of this brought us together into a community, how we were all part of the concert. The division between performer and audience grew smaller, such that by the end of the night when the drummer said clap I clapped willingly. Nobody ever said, "I can't hear you!" or goaded us into doing "better." They didn't need to.

Amanda Palmer is, by any measure, a terrific performer. When she wants people to feel sad we feel sad, and then she mocks the whole concept of feelings and we laugh. As an audience member I trust her completely--something fabulous is going to happen. If I have to stomp my feet to make it happen, I will.

This is (shockingly) a lot like writing. The more trust a reader has in a writer, based on things like his or her previous works or the technical skill on display, the more crazy crap that reader will put up with, even revel in. I guess it's the same for me with audience participation.

Who knew?

September 20, 2012

Mwa ha ha!

Hey Internet. Did you miss me?

It's weird how guilty I feel, having not posted in soooooo looooong (two weeks?). It's a two-headed snake of guilt that chases itself in circles trying like a hoop snake to eat its tail. But of course it has no tail.

One head says, "You're letting the Internet down. Post something, dammit."

The other head says, "Do you really think anyone misses you when you don't post to your blog? Someone's got a high opinion of herself." And it rolls its beady eyes.

All of which is to say that I haven't left you, Internet, whether or not you care about my presence. I just haven't had much to say. I still don't have much to say. But let me show you this amazing picture:

I am so excited to have a story in the Mad Scientist Journal. I mean, just look at that thing! It makes me want to put on some goggles and a lab coat and laugh maniacally. The issue will be out soon; details to come.

September 03, 2012

When in Doubt, Make Something Up

Subtitle: Literature and the Unknowable

It's campaign season again (still?), which has me thinking about Truthiness. I'm for it, especially in politics, but that is another post entirely. The following is excerpted and adapted from an application essay I wrote for a PhD program some years ago. In case you're wondering, I didn't get in.

My need for knowledge borders on compulsive. Two years ago, my mother’s house was robbed while I visited her, and among the things stolen was my laptop. For me this was a tragedy, not because I loved my laptop so much—though I did love my eight-year-old PowerBook with a passion usually reserved for spouses and children—but because the robbers stole knowledge. Some of the data lost was heartbreaking in obvious ways—photos of my ten-week-old kitten, thousands of words of that year's novel project, invitations I'd designed for my wedding—but I was equally disturbed by losing things like financial records and old calendar items. Now I will never know what I did on February third, 2008, or why it cost $27 cash. The information is lost, unknowable.

I'll always love you, old lappy

Much of our world is unknowable. If even the specifics of my own life can be lost to robbers and imperfect memory, then we have little hope of solving the true mysteries of our universe. How did life begin on this planet? Does it exist on others? History is filled with questions in need of answers. I will never know why the pyramids were built. I will never know what crash-landed outside of Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. I will never know the last thought that flashed through the mind of the man sitting on the steps of Horishima’s Sumitomo Bank, before he was burned into a shadow. 

This bothers me. But instead of turning diligently to the study of the past in an effort to unearth buried truths, instead of becoming a historian or an archaeologist, I turned to fiction. Because as excited as I get when scientists discover new nuggets of knowledge about the world, and as much as I love relics of past eras for the glimpse of lost times they carry with them, these things leave me unfulfilled. We can wire the dinosaurs’ bones into position, but we will never know what color their feathers were. What we are left with, in the absence of omniscience, are fragments. Carvings on cave walls. Ruins of palaces collapsed onto their footprints. Literature.

I mean, seriously. WTF?

In a very mundane sense, literature can tell us of otherwise forgotten things. It is always a reflection, and sometimes a terrific record, of the time that produced it. But it is not even this reflection that makes me love literature.

A work of fiction is a complete thing, pinched off from this world at the ends like a soap bubble from a wand, and within those worlds knowledge works differently. As a writer of fiction I control my world, and therefore I can know it utterly. It’s my creation, so within it I am omniscient. This is not to say that my inventions don’t sometimes surprise me, or that I spell out every detail down to the number of hairs on a character’s head. But if a question needs to be answered—if it’s important to know when a character’s last dentist appointment was, or how much she spent on cat food in March, or, indeed, how many hairs she has—all I have to do is write the answer. Nothing can be lost.

Nothing can be lost, and nothing need be unknowable. I don’t think humans will ever learn all the secrets of the creation of the universe or the birth of the species. But in my universe I can fashion a time machine from antique clocks and rubber bands, and take my characters back to watch it all from start to finish. And no one can argue that the fish walking out of the slime weren’t wearing wire-rim spectacles, because it's my universe and within it my word is the truth.

And now, I must regain that feeling of godlike power, and use it to write some robot smut. Because why not?

August 15, 2012

Narrative and the Olympics

I know I'm a bit late here (as usual). The Olympics are over, and we here in the U.S. will now go back to arguing about politics. But the stories from the Games are far from over. I wish I could hear them.

This is the first time I've been able to watch a significant amount of the competitions. And yeah, I have a lot of the same gripes with NBC's coverage--too much focus on a few sports, too few non-Americans shown--but I also have some that I suspect might be unique to me. Because what I really like are all the stories before, during, and after competition. What I like is the way the Olympics changes the participants' lives, for better or worse.

We never see most of these.

We only see this

We see the ones that fit the narrative. Family sacrifice, hard work paying off, dreams coming true. It's amazing when that happens (Gabby Douglas! Yay!), but it's not what mostly happens. Most of the athletes who make it to the Olympics don't medal. A lot of them don't even make it past qualifying rounds. We never hear about the swimmer with the slowest time--but there has to be one! What does it feel like to come in last place at the Olympics? What does it feel like to compete in one event, but not to make it to the finals. To have one race or performance or game, and then go home.

Those are the stories that interest me, and not just because I have a cynical, negative view of the world. The vast, overwhelming majority of us will never be outstanding at anything. We will never even be as amazing as Olympic losers. And if we believe the Olympic narrative that hard work pays off, in converse that means that the rest of us didn't work hard enough. What would it say about the world if we knew more about the last place Olympians? If we knew that they all worked just as hard as the winners, but went home with only memories? I find it hard to relate to champions (especially the athletic kind). The ones in last place are slightly more human in their defeat.

Another story that got beat into the ground this Olympics is the one about the supportive parents. "Thanks, mom and dad. Without you I wouldn't be here, and I'm doing this for you." So maybe I am cynical and negative, but I really want to see an interview with an Olympic champion who says, "F you, mom and dad. Thanks for nothing. I did this despite you." Of course, after I thought about it for a minute I realized that that was unlikely. Social pressure aside, it takes so much work, money, and support to get to the Olympics that it's probably impossible to do it without awesome parents.

And yet. . . . Surely there's more strife in these families than the simple narrative would have us believe. More complexity, more specificity, more awesome.

I would rather hear those stories than watch any more volleyball. Ever.


August 09, 2012

Postcards to humans

Submitted for your approval, a final(?) batch of postcards from the Clarion West Write-a-thon, which went out to sponsors this week. Thank you!

Dear Dominica, I stand here apprehensive, looking up at the alien structure towering over this snowy land. Logic tells me to trust them. They’ve come all this way, after all, so their launcher must work. The human scientists assure me it will work. The math is like none they’ve seen before, but it’s solid. And of course my sense of wonder urges me onward. To go where no human has ventured before. But perhaps not boldly. Among other things—a whole planet full of things!—I’ll miss you. Thank you for all your support. I fear I won’t be back. Yours, Ambassador to the galaxy

Dear Cat, The Iceland trip was going great. We went on nature walks, sat in blue hotsprings, ate exotic food (like puffin!). One night, it was barely dark enough to be called night, but we saw a bright shooting star. Jeremy said, “I wish we could stay here forever.” The next sensation was weird, like being squished & exploding, & I thought I was passing out or dying. But then it stopped & I looked at Jeremy, & his big nose was even bigger, & bright reddish-orange. It was a beak! We were puffins. So I guess we will be staying in Iceland forever. I just wish I hadn’t eaten that puffin meat. I know how tasty I am, & I don’t expect to survive for long. Best wishes, Emily

Dear Beth, I was about to break up with Dumbass. Yay, right? We walked near the cliffs, & I said, “We need to talk,” & like a DUMB ASS he shouted, “NO!” I heard a rumble, & I was sure he’d started an avalanche, but instead of rocks coming down, a strange silvery ship hove into view. With an unearthly light, these beams shot down all around us. They looked like shiny icicles, but they soon turned as solid as steel. It looked a bit like a dance club. We were left alone for hours in a cage made of the things. And we didn’t end up talking, much.  Anyway, your nephew will be born in six months. Here’s hoping he’s not a little Dumbass. Love, Your sis

Dear Liz, I’m worried about Dorothy. Ever since we got free of the Nome King she’s gone a little crazy. She keeps talking about these red shoes she used to have, & yelling for someone called Auntie Em. She thinks she’s from another world, and that in that world someone was trying to zap memories out of her with electricity, which I guess is some kind of magic. So lately I’ve been trying to keep an eye on her. Today I was looking after her as she bathed in a lake. When she saw me she screamed and tried to run and slipped under the water. She hasn’t come up yet.  So anyway, I’m worried. Best, The Gump p.s. Why do women run from me? I’m a nice guy!

Dear Andy, I shouldn’t be writing this. We’ve all been sworn to secrecy about the zeppelin assault; Hitler has ears everywhere. In this frozen wasteland, it’s easy to believe. You can hear a rock falling miles away. Or a gunshot. Our squad is down to a handful, barely enough to crew this beast. Worse, most of our munitions are “missing.” But I am determined to carry this bag of hydrogen onward to victory. The Nazis may delight in their unsinkable helium Hindenburg, but we’ll give them something spectacular. Even if it kills us.  Cheers, Captain Kollen, 1st Zeppelin Div. Svalbard

July 30, 2012

Gender, the Olympics, and my own shameful sexism

So, I'm weirdly obsessed with the Olympics this year. I've never watched so much of it before (or so much of what NBC deigns to show me, but that is another story), and a few things have struck me so far.

1) Some Olympic sports are weird. I mean, synchronized diving? Why is that a thing?

Besides the fact that it's awesome, of course.

2) Gender differences in sports are weird. Why isn't there women's Greco-Roman wrestling? Or men's synchronized swimming? Why do male gymnasts use one high bar and females use uneven bars? And for that matter, why are there separate men's and women's events in sports like shooting, archery, sailing, and dressage? Seriously, if someone can explain to me some physiological difference in the way men and women fire rifles, I'm willing to listen. But I'm willing to bet Kimberly Rhode's 99 out of 100 is as good as any man can do.

3) And yet . . . when I look at some of the events, this strange feeling comes over me. It first happened while watching men's gymnastics. Those guys look pretty amazing on the high bar and the rings, and I guess the pommel horse can stay, though I think it's kinda silly. But then the floor routine came on. And to my shame, it made me uncomfortable. As I watched a man tumble and jump and flip, I was impressed by his athleticism. But I was also squirming at the sight of his pointed toes.

I've been trying to unpack that reaction, and the closer I look the more upset it makes me. In thinking about other men in tights, I realized that I have no problem with male ballet dancers, even when they point their toes. I realized that if there was a combined floor event with male and female gymnasts together, none of it would bother me.

I cannot come up with a reason for my aversion to men's floor routine that isn't pure sexism.

Well . . . except for this. What it reminds me of more than anything is "posing like a woman," pictures of men imitating female poses on book covers and the like. So maybe I'm reaching here. But perhaps the reaction I (and, I'm guessing, others) have to men's floor routine is the normal one. Perhaps it's my acceptance of the same silly moves when women are performing them that should be examined.

You tell me. Why does this:

look weirder than this:

or even this:


July 24, 2012

Things that will eat us

1) Travel. Why is it taking me so long to get back into my regularly scheduled life? I don't know. I guess I can't complain about that.

2) Aliens?

Dear Mr. President, I work on a derrick far offshore, & I seen something you should know about. We’re not alone. Humans, I mean. At first we thought the things were dolphins, but their faces weren’t right. Bobby tried to make contact. I didn’t hear what he said, but I think he offended them. Their heads went underwater. Then it was quiet. Then in a huge puff of steam and whatnot, the aliens zoomed right into space. I tell you, it was impressive. I thought we were about to explode or sink or both. so, I don’t know if they’ll be back, but maybe you should prepare, just in case?  Sincerely, Buck p.s. I didn’t vote for you, but if you protect us from the aliens I will this time! p.p.s. Bobby says he’s sorry, whatever he said.

3) Injuries. This week has taught me that I am not cut out to be a caretaker. Get well soon, mom. For lots of reason, including that I miss my life. To the extent that I have a life right now it isn't my own: I'm living at her house and driving her car. I miss my cat and my husband and my bed. I've slept in it shockingly little this summer.

4) Bears. No kidding; they will eat you.

Dear human friends, You didn’t have to run away. I won’t eat you; I only eat seals & fish. I only wanted to hug your friend. Bear hugs are awesome; everyone says so. It’s not my fault he struggled. Please come back. I saved your friend’s wallet & camera for you. There are some really good shots in there. Love, Clyde the polar bear

In writing news, the Clarion West Write-a-thon is almost over. There's still time to sponsor me and get a postcard. And, you know, support a wonderful organization. I am still plugging away (slowly) at the novel re-writes, which will certainly not be finished by the end of the week. Sorry. See previous excuses about things that are eating my life.

Also, I sold a story! "The Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer" will appear in After Death anthology sometime next year. 

Also also. I will have a story as part of this project. Isn't it pretty? I will definitely have more updates on this.

July 14, 2012

Family, and a poisonous corpse

It seems troubled family is on my mind. I have no idea why that might be. :)

Dear Tyler, We’d hiked all day to get to the waterfall, like the guidebook said. It was supposed to be awesome. But we got there & there was no water. None. Like, the rocks were dry & there were dried-up fish bones in the riverbed. Then this lady in a bright red dress totally appeared out of nowhere. She looked creepy, man, right away. But Sam whistles at her. Her creepy eyes flash red & she spins around pointing at him & says, “Blood for water!” Then the waterfall starts back on like she opened a faucet. We all scrambled out of its path, but I don’t know what happened to Sam. We never found him. I think the witch got your brother. Sorry, dude. Robbie

Dear Dad, You’ll be happy to know that Susie is still a virgin—or at least she had this tribe fooled. After your last letter I tracked her halfway around the world, to a beautiful little island. She thought she had it made, because the natives were treating her like a princess (like you). She told me to get lost. But I stuck around long enough to decipher some stone carvings: virgin, volcano, sacrifice. Standard stuff really. I got to her just in time, swooping into the caldera in my little plane to pluck her from mid-air (who’s your favorite child now?). We’re on our way home now. To recap: The good news: Susie is a virgin. The bad news: there’s one less island in the ocean. Love,  Eric

Dear Gramma, I’m sorry you’re dead and won’t receive this card. But I want to thank you for a couple of things. 1) Your snickerdoodle recipe. Be cause of it I was in the kitchen pulling cookies out of the oven at your wake when uncle Dwight decided to open your casket. Moron. Which brings me to 2) whatever chemical or bacteria or voodoo curse you had yourself buried with. It actually melted them, the whole aggravating lot of them. I had just time to watch as they dissolved into ghostly wraiths before I ran for it. And now I am free. I love you, gramma. Rest in peace, Kelly

July 10, 2012

What postcards have taught me (so far)

1) I can write really small when I need to.

2) A picture really is worth 1,000 words. Most of my mini-stories are meaningless without the postcard image that inspired them. This is fun, leaning on those images and letting them fill in the gaps between the lines.

3) Sometimes fewer words are better. At first I tried to cram a whole story into these little spaces (hence the tiny writing), but as I go on I see that sometimes the suggestion of a story is far more interesting. One of my favorites is only 43 words. Again, I'm not sure this works without the images to do the heavy lifting. Maybe in some cases?

4) I'm not really sure at what point something becomes a story. Am I deluding myself that these qualify? Probably.

Anyway, more to come. I am home now and recovering from a month of travel. Next on the priority list is revising the novel. But I promise to keep postcarding, too. This silly idea, born of the Clarion West Write-a-thon and sleep deprivation, has the feel of a lasting obsession.

Dear humans, You think I’m pretty cute, huh? You think my fur is soft? Yeah, I’ve got cousins in the zoo, & they tell me about your squeals. But guess what? I lost a brother the other day to one of you squealing bipeds. Dude took a club & just beat him like Rodney King. We don’t have video cameras up here, but don’t think you’re getting off without a riot. We may look cuddly, but it’s only skin deep, & we won’t be your shoes anymore. I am a baby seal. And I will f*ck you up. You’ve been warned, Snuggles

July 05, 2012

Postcards: two fishy love stories

Because most of the postcards at the Munch Museum were prohibitively expensive:

Dear Sis, I should have known better, but he seemed so nice & charming when I met him at the bar. He drank aquavit, which is disgusting, but he was paying so I had a few. I really am a mess! Now my passport & money are gone, & all I have left is this sketch he made of us. And I’ll have to give that to the police. Oh, I should have known better; his pickup line was, “Anxiety devours the soul.” I just thought he was artistic! Please send money (& better taste in men!) And don’t tell mom and dad. Love, Salome

And, in case you ever wondered what happened after The Magic Fish ended:

Dear wife, Or ex-wife, I suppose. They say there are many fish in the sea. And there are, but the only woman I want to reel in is you. You were greedy, yes, but it was only the lure of fishy magic that left you restless. I am sorry that I could not provide what you wanted. Please return to me. Our shack feels like a castle when you’re in it with me. What are the odds of there being two magic fish in the sea? I don’t know. But for you, my love, I’ll fish until I find out. Love, Your humble fisherman

July 03, 2012

Return to sender?

Here's the low-down: 1) Clarion West is an amazing thing, a six-week education for SF writers. I went there. It changed me . . . y'know, in good ways. 2) Clarion West is having a Write-a-thon to raise money for itself, so it can keep being an amazing thing, and changing people . . . for the better. 3) If you give them money through my Write-a-thon page a) they get money and b) you get a postcard. An AWESOME postcard. It might not be one of these. It might be better!

Dear Mom, I’ll be home a bit later than planned. Another two months, maybe, with good behavior. Prison is pretty nice here, though. I can sum up Oslo in a few words: Opera House, Bowling ball, WORTH IT. See you (relatively) soon, Jeremy

What could be better? And yet, after two weeks I have few sponsors. I feel lonely. I am writing postcards to the void.

Dear Yahweh, I’ve been meaning to write for eternity. I’m well established now in my new home. Things get more interesting with each trainload of new residents. I confess I’m surprised by the variety of souls who end up here—musicians, dancers, & writers keep the place lively (why don’t you want them?). People seem basically good. Mostly they’re sorry for their mistakes.  How are things with you? Forgive me for saying it sounds awfully dull there, with only bible-thumpers around. If you get bored you can come visit me. I can barely remember what we used to fight about. Surely it no longer matters. Say “hi” to the other angels for me, Lucifer

Maybe it's the economy. $20 is a lot, right? I know. (Boy, do I know. You think things are expensive in the States? Try Norway!) So, okay. Forget $20. I have a lot of these postcard things, and they just keep coming. I'll send them to sponsors until I run out. And then I'll feel guilty and write more of them, and send those out.

Dear Professor, At first we thought it was just a rock. It glowed a little, but in the midnight sun no one noticed. The rock was odd, pointy & rough. So we studied it, & that’s when the suicides began. First Jones, who dug the thing out of the ice. He sliced his own throat. Then the doctor ODed. Then Caldwell. You don’t want to know. I know they’ll send you to investigate when we’re all gone, but don’t come! I have the thing now & I am finding my pistol hard to resist. I want to get rid of the rock, bu-- All is well. This is funny joke, HA HA. From your friend

Got it? Sponsor me; get postcard. Any amount will do (but maybe more than the cost of a postcard stamp, yeah? Just for karma?).

Dear sis, I told you sending Sammy on vacation with us was a bad idea. He basically wouldn’t stop screaming & throwing temper tantrums unless he was eating candy. So despite misgivings about feeding your son an all-sugar diet, we sent a steady stream of chocolate & lollypops his way. In a strange little shop we bought lollipops that sparkled. Actually, they were almost luminescent. Sammy sucked on one for a while, then threw it down & launched into another fit. Exasperated, I said, “If you don’t stop that, you’ll freeze that way.”  And damned if he didn’t.  We think Sammy looks good like this, & he’s certainly a lot quieter. We’re getting quotes today on shipping him home. Love, me

If you don't sponsor me, I might throw a tantrum. And then I might turn into a statue. And then how will you feel? 

July 01, 2012

Postcards! Again!

I am having a jolly time writing postcards to and from all manner of things.

Dear anyone: I don’t know why I’m writing this. There’s no postman here to carry this card, & he’s not coming. We can’t even get to the nearest “town”—if anyone’s alive there. The virus hit Nordkapp hard, & the world (if it’s out there? Are you?) has forgotten us. But let’s not dwell on that. We’re safe for now, hunkered in this odd chapel under the rock at the end of the world. We have plenty of candles, & enough food for a few hungry weeks, courtesy of the cafeteria & gift shop (& other sources, but let’s really not dwell on that). We also have plenty of souvenirs. Would you like a stuffed baby seal? A magnet? A keychain? Will these sweaters & animal skins keep us safe and warm? We miss you, other humans The Survivors (for now)

Dear Mother, It was a dark & spooky night, a full moon hanging above the Nidaros churchyard. Being a man of science, I knew the chill in the air had more to do with the northern latitude than with spirits walking the earth. But what of the other creatures? It was then I saw it: too large for a dog, too upright, too knowing in its malicious glare. Could it be, finally, a werewolf? The thing lunged at me, I drew my pistol, & after that I do not know what transpired. I woke in the morning, oddly full, but otherwise unharmed & totally myself. I’ve concluded that my sighting last night was a hallucination.   I’ll be home in a mere four weeks. Your son, Jeremy

Dearest Mama Bear, By the time you receive this note I’ll be gone. I know we always seemed like a perfect storybook family, but ever since that little blonde girl broke into our house, I’ve been thinking about things. Like, why do we live in a house? We’re bears! But you know I never wanted to be anyone’s Papa Bear. I’m not cut out for it. I’m still young, & there aren’t so very many of us polar bears left, & I’ve got wild oats to sow. Please tell Baby Bear that Papa loves him. And that I’m sorry we never gave him a real name. Yours with love, Clyde “Papa” Bear

This last might be my favorite. And it has no real life recipient yet! Would you like it? Sponsor me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. (And I promise I'll stop asking soon)

June 30, 2012

Dear Postcards . . .

I haven't always loved postcards. In fact I've downright hated them, for reasons that I now see are unfair. So, I've written a conciliatory postcard . . . to Postcards.

Dear Postcards, This bad blood between us has gone on for too long. It’s not your fault that you rarely say anything meaningful; it’s just the nature of the form. You can’t help it if you arrive three weeks late, usually after the sender has returned home, & that your trivial information is thus always woefully out of date. You’re a faded image, a piece of the past. Furthermore, it’s not your fault that—once upon a time—I received banal cards crammed with tiny, insignificant writing. Nor are you to blame for my pathetic analysis of those cards; the sender did not love me as I wished, & that is that.  It’s in the past now. Let’s forget it & move forward. Together, we can be interesting. Yours, Emily

And now I've got the Beatles' song, "Dear Prudence," in my head. And the Internet here is so slow that I fear uploading any more photos will take approximately the time it took some glacier to form this fjord we're in. So look for more postcards soon!

And remember, if you want to look for them in the meatspace mail, sponsor me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

June 28, 2012

More Postcards!

If you have no idea why there are postcards here, click back a couple pages until it makes sense.

Dear mom & dad, I found the church where you were married. Just like in the old photograph, the roof like a staircase leading up to God. The happy couple radiant in black & white. Flowers, & the imagined sound of church bells.  When I was young you told me, “Leave the past be.” But I’m only human. When the machine fired up, how could I resist? A simple trip, a chance to stop a war, to save lives. It worked.  So here is the church from the old photograph. I do not know what became of the happy couple, the flowers. The church bells are not ringing. I really hope you receive this postcard. Love, Your son, the time traveler

Dear mom, Jeremy isn’t coming home.  First, dad dared him to wear a sparkly pink hat we saw. He said he’d pay 1000 NOK if he wore it for an hour (about $167 USD). So of course he put the hat on. But then people started shouting & running. There was a monster in Trondheim! I never saw the monster, but I heard something about snakes. We ran & hid in an alcove off the ground. I closed my eyes. When I opened them, Jeremy had turned to stone.  The doctors say there’s nothing we can do. And dad refuses to pay, saying that the hat is no longer pink or sparkly. Anyway, I’ll be home soon. Love to the cat! Emily

June 27, 2012

Postcard Madness, part II

As part of the beautiful blending of travel and Clarion West Write-a-thon, my 100-word postcard story project continues. I must be quick, as internet access is fleeting here in the scary world of my imagination. Remember, it's not too late to get one of these one-of-a-kind storylets. Just sponsor me in the Write-a-thon for $20 or more!

//begin transmission// Reached the new planet. Reached it faster than anticipated. Attached find the last image we captured on the way down. Gravity is strong here.  Planet is covered in frozen H2O. Highest lifeform encountered is a mech with four bumpy wheels & 1-3 pairs of bright eyes. They emit a constant growl & occasionally disgorge a clutch of small bipeds from an orifice on their flank. Neither they nor the bipeds have detected us, flattened into warm crevices in the rocky hills. Sensors report pressure building, molten rock rising into the vents we hide in. Soon planet will explode. We cannot move. Thrusters smashed in landing, & not powerful enough to lift us anyway. Send help. Planet not fit for habitation. //end transmission//

Dear BJ & Zedd, Our trip’s been interesting. The ship is nice, or at least it was when we boarded. The scenery is gorgeous, & the weather perfect. In hindsight, though, a cruise deep into a narrow fjord seems ill-advised. First came a mighty wave that rocked the ship. Then another. Like the trembling puddle in Jurassic Park, only we’re in the puddle, on a boat that suddenly seems tiny. They towered over us, yelling in a lilting language. They roared. They stomped their feet and nearly toppled us. More came down from the hills throwing stones the size of busses. Between them they have our exit good & blocked, though it seems their quarrel is not with us. It’s been days now, & we’re low on supplies—especially wine! We huddle belowdecks away from the splashing & bellowing, plotting our escape from here & hoping, desperately hoping, not to feed the trolls. How are things with you? Best, Emily & Jeremy

June 21, 2012

Postcards from . . .

Ah, the postcard. "We saw this. It was nice. Wish you were here." Boring, right?

Because 1) I am on holiday in Europe, and 2) it is Clarion West Write-a-thon, and 3) I'm feeling guilty about not being able to focus on my more lengthy commitments, for the next three weeks I'll be composing a series of micro-stories in postcard form.

Here are the first two (apologies to Gordon and sis-in-law if you see yours here before you get them (which seems pretty likely)):

Dear Gordon, My name is Clyde, & I’m an arctic fox. I came from a faraway land, but one day a foxy lady fox swished her tail & I chased it across the frozen sea. Thick snow came & I soon lost her. Sometimes I wonder if she ever was real.  The ice made my paws cold, so when I saw some land I stepped off onto it. And then—wouldn’t you know—the ice retreated, & I was stuck here. I am the only mammal on this entire island.  I am lonely.  Will you be my friend?  I’ll share some of this tasty puffin with you.  Love,  Clyde the Arctic Fox

Dear Emily, I’m an Icelandic horse. Or “horsey,” if you prefer. They call me Dreamer because I have a dream. They call me lots of things, actually, & some of them are not very nice. But that’s another story. You see, I need your help to fulfill my dream. Oh, but I haven’t told you what it is yet. Promise you won’t laugh?  I want to be a unicorn.  As you know, all horsies can turn into unicorns if only girls love them enough. But you have to really, really love me. I promise if I turn into a unicorn I’ll fly to California & you can ride me &—WHAT!? Unicorns can’t fly?  Well, shit. Yours truly, Dreamer p.s. don’t I look cuddly? love me!

Want one? Sponsor me in the Write-a-thon! For a mere twenty dollars I'll send you a story of about 100 words, on a genuine European postcard (probably to be posted from Seattle).