December 09, 2013

"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Days 11 & 12: But why is the rum gone?

November 16, 2013
It was our last day in Cuba, and thanks to Air Cubana's multi-hour delay, we had some time. We set our with no real plan. We walked toward the capitol, which is the same as ours but a little bigger, with palm trees and classic cars surrounding it. It looks like a bizarro world set piece--it could be the US capitol after some serious climate change, or in an alternate reality.

The capitol building as seen from taxi #2.

We also saw the whole building or two that constitute Chinatown, and the bar where Hemingway drank. The most famous one anyway--Husband and I have a theory that any bar of a certain age can make the claim that Hemingway drank there. I was also told that there's a bar down the street advertising the fact that Hemingway didn't drink there, but we didn't pass that one. At any rate, this is purportedly the bar where Hemingway invented the daiquiri, though the idea of him sipping a daiquiri doesn't compute in my head any more than does his bidet.

There's Hemingway's liquor, between the granny chairs
and under the taxidermy.

December 06, 2013

"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Days 9 &10: Trinidad and Beyond


Trinidad

November 14, 2013
Today was our visit to Trinidad, a town that apparently was the highlight of the trip for many. I feel like we failed at seeing the town properly. Husband was ill again and stayed behind. The rest of us went and wandered the town, but we had no agenda or plan or even map and so just wandered around buying things. Trinidad is famous for its weaving. We thought we had less time than we really did, so we aborted a mission to climb a tower, and just sort of hung around. Another of Trinidad’s claims to fame is its stone streets (not cobblestone, stone), which are definitely a throwback.

Most of the things Bunny and Crow bought were hats.

Other people made reservations for dinner and music and such in town, but it didn’t even occur to us. What with our late night scramble to find flights home and the fact that we were staying in a resort, the idea of taking a taxi back into town to have dinner seemed hard. So we aimed for the beach instead. It took forever to eat lunch and change and check the stupid internet for a flight confirmation and rent goddamn beach towels and finally get to the beach. 

On the bizarre side, we found this scary effigy in our room.
Hotel cleaning is an art form in Cuba. 

Crow and I went swimming. Bunny got about knee-deep before bailing on the coldish water and sharp sand, and Husband wouldn’t budge from his chaise. The sun set early and we went to the hot tub. It was moderately warm--much more so than the ocean!--but did not have any kind of view and so we missed the sunset again. I would have liked to see it. 

After the hot tub we ate the mediocre buffet dinner and played a variant of big chess that I came up with. It’s team chess, with no strategizing. The players take turns and they are absolutely not allowed to talk to each other about their plans. It makes you wish for telepathy. It’s also a little stressful, because I for one made some huge mistakes and felt really guilty. But Crow and I won in the end. In the end we had only our two rooks and a couple of pawns, and they had nothing but pawns, and then we queened up one of our pawns and killed everyone. All in all it was a relaxing day, which was much needed.




November 15, 2013
The next day was back on the bus. We drove to an empty intersection with nothing around but cows, which was where the Soviet Army trucks were supposed to meet us. They were late, and in the end we all had to crowd into one because our two didn't show.

Coffee, with army trucks in the background.

We went to a coffee plantation where we saw the true Arabica plant—Cuba is apparently one of the only places where it hasn’t mutated. Andre, the coffee farmer, is amazing and I want to take him home with me. We drank coffee and then drove up farther into the mountains where we had lunch and finally met the jincila, my favorite of all the cocktails we tried. 

Andre in his natural habitat. He's promised to write a book.

Then we went on a hike with Andre and he told us how to cure everything with plants from the jungle. Which of course we forgot immediately. There are these cute little plants that curl up when you touch them, which I found endlessly entertaining. Then we had lunch, and we also were lunch for the tiniest little mosquitos ever [spoiler: it's three weeks later and I still have the bites]. Lunch was roasted pig that we saw being roasted.

Lunch.

The ride on the army trucks was the highlight of the day for me. The roads we went up were ridiculously rutted and muddy and steep and it was like an amusement park ride.

After that we were late getting back to Havana, which meant that we had to rush to make the Buena Vista Social Club show that we’d booked. We bailed on dinner having barely gotten our entrees. When we got there, late, they immediately brought us a round of mediocre mojitos, and then another. The music was exactly what you’d expect, not really my thing, but fun, and with more variety than the music we'd heard everywhere. There are only six songs in Cuba (or so goes my theory): "Guantanamera," "Oye Como Va," another whose name we never knew, "My Way," "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas," and one rotating selection by the Beatles. 



Mandela, "terrorism," and perspective

I feel I must take a brief break from my navel-gazing travel blogging to say something about Nelson Mandela. I am no student of history, especially recent history. I can't claim to know much more about Mandela than what I've read in the last day or so since learning of his death. But even that is enough to give me pause.

History is, as we all know, written from the winners' perspective. This places Mandela's legacy into an odd category. He lived long enough to become one of the "winners," universally acclaimed as a force for good and a moral person. But as many have pointed out, the US didn't remove him from our terrorist list until 2008. Why? Among other things, Mandela refused to renounce violence as a method of seeking justice. Therefore, from certain perspectives, he was a terrorist.

The definition of a terrorist is, of course, completely dependent on perspective. One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. The British thought of our founding fathers as terrorists, and with good reason! But no one is the villain of his or her own story. So who else might we be erroneously demonizing? It's a tough question.

I saw some of this while in Cuba. Growing up in the US, I was of course taught that Fidel Castro was an evil man. In Cuba, he's a revolutionary. Here he's a rebel, and a tyrant. Now, a week in Cuba doesn't make me an expert, but while people there do seem to prefer Raul, I didn't get the sense that anyone felt crushed under Fidel's iron fist (as my American education led me to expect). It is possible that there's so little freedom there that no one felt safe enough to criticize the regime, er, government. But it is also possible that people really do support the country birthed by his revolution. Perspective.

In order to accept Mandela into the pantheon of winners, the other winners are already trying to shape his legacy, erasing the violence and claiming that they were behind him all the way. Let us not forget that the truth is more complex than that.

December 04, 2013

"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Day 8: Crocodiles!


November 13, 2013
Today was another long bus drive out to our all-inclusive resort on the beach. A little break to enjoy the fact that we're in the Caribbean! Have I mentioned the weather? It's so nice to be too hot in November.


On the way we stopped at a nature preserve--the Cienfuegos Zapata--where we were supposed to take a bird-watching boat ride. Some of us had prevailed upon Michael to keep the crocodile visit on the schedule, so we started at the breeding center for the endemic Cuban crocodile. They have adorable young ones, and amazing grown ones. They are as still as statues, just waiting, I guess, for something edible to wander past their mouths. Michael and Danilo tried to rush us out of the place in order to catch our boat, but us bad kids went back in and I'm thankful we did, because that's when Husband spotted the man with a little crocodile we could touch. He asked us if we wanted pictures holding it, and we said Hell Yes. The little crocodile felt so soft and warm, and I'm so glad we didn't miss out on that chance. We still rushed out after three of us had held it, only to wait around. It turns out that the boat driver wouldn't take us on the kind of slow bird-watching ride we apparently wanted, so instead of taking a speedier trip we decided to forego it.

My little crocodile friend.

We stopped again when we got to the Bay of Pigs, or Playa Giron as it’s called locally. But we didn’t go to a memorial or museum or anything. Instead we just stopped on the side of the road where people were snorkeling in the bay’s crystal clear blue water. Hard to imagine anything warlike happening in such a location. 

The Bay of Pigs.

The drive was pretty beautiful overall, especially the closer we got to the resort. We almost made it in time to see the sunset; instead we followed a very insistent gato down to the beach just as it was becoming fully dark. The beach was rougher than I’d hoped, the dropoff steeper, the water cooler. But still it was a Caribbean beach! We headed back inland to the resort and got drinks, sitting down by a set of big chess. Crow mused about how he used to play, and Husband too, so we pressured them into playing a game of speed-chess before dinner. Neither of them could stop overthinking their moves, so we had to abandon it and go eat our “special” dinner in the resort's better restaurant, which was not so very special.

Almost to the resort.

After dinner the chess game was still there, so they resumed, and now Bunny and I jumped into the game to help. And then we were blindsided by Michael, who in the day and a half since telling us about our flight problem had managed to get a cursory internet search done. This was not the help I felt we'd been promised, and it also bothered me that he hadn't sought us out in any way, but just given us the info when we ran into him in the bar. So then we had to get in line for one of the resort's two ridiculous dial-up computers and spend literally hours struggling to book new flights. I believed we had managed it, but I was never sent an email confirmation of the change, which would effectively sour the rest of our trip with the uncertainty of whether we would be able to go home. United Airlines, if you're reading this, little things like that matter. Despite the fact that every time I logged into the site I saw our new flight times, the lack of that email mattered. 

So that was how our first resort day ended, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a semi-strangled cry of frustration. Still--crocodiles!




"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Day 7: We live here now

November 12, 2013
Today was my birthday, but it wasn't my all-time favorite. Husband was sick (with what we are calling Fidel's Revenge) and didn't go on the day's adventure. I admit I was pretty worried about him, especially since if he got worse and had to go see someone we would have no way of communicating. Even if we hadn't minded the probably astronomical cost, US phones simply do not work in Cuba. And I didn't really trust the hotel staff, because someone had already taken one of Husband's inhalers and pretended they didn't have it, when they did. Husband had to sneak behind the reception desk and steal back his own medically necessary property.


Me sad because Husband's not with me.

So anyway my day was already not awesome from the time I got onto the bus alone, feeling pretty guilty about going without him. And then we learned that our flight time from Cuba had been changed by several hours--enough that we would miss our flight home. This meant that we now had to figure out a way to change our (non-refundable) flight while in a country where we were totally disconnected--no phones, no internet. Tour guide Michael said that his office could handle the changes (which turned out to be completely untrue), but even so I was worried about the cost. It looked like my birthday present was going to be losing about $1000 just to get home. Whee.

If it weren't for those issues, though, it would have been a nice day. We visited a tobacco plantation and some cuevas (grutas), and now I have an entirely unnecessary two words for "cave" in my Spanish vocabulary. Also caverna if it's really a big cave. 

In a cave. On a boat.

At lunch, humiliation as I was pulled into the Afro-Cuban band that was playing me a happy birthday song. I'd already been visibly worried enough that well-meaining people kept asking me what was wrong and telling me it would be okay. I had just said that all I wanted for the rest of the day was for no one to look at me, and then I was the center of attention, trying not to murder everyone with my eyeballs. All I wanted to do was eat the delicioso rice that we'd been served. Our table--the cool kids--ate all of the rice from all of the tables. Todo el arroz! Amy and Darin bought me the local drink, orange juice and honey and rum, which was okay. Husband would have liked it, was all I could think.

The last of the rice disappears into Crow.

We also visited a tobacco plantation and drank rum and coffee with the "Marlboro Man," who is pretty awesome. The cave were cave-y, and the scenery gorgeous, but overall we spent a lot of time on the bus for not terribly much. This was also the day we realized that things that had been listed on our schedule were being quietly skipped, so we did not see the painted cliffs.

The Marlboro Man rolls a cigar.
Tobacco leaves dry behind him.

Back in Havana, the night's activity was a cabaret show. Husband felt well enough to come along, which helped my mood. We were right next to the stage, and practically kicked by the dancers, who were pretty good. The costumes were colorful and threadbare, the makeup glittery, the dances . . . odd. The first number was a rape dance that made me truly uncomfortable. However, it was also my favorite number as a work of art. The dinner that was served before the show was truly horrible, by far the worst food we ate on our entire trip (yes, worse than lunch at the Houston airport Panda Express). We joked that it was a good thing we couldn't really see the food in the low light, but when the stage lights came on and my mostly-uneaten plate became visible, there was the biggest wad of what looked like pubic hair on it. 

Halfway through the show tour guide Michael told us that the bus was leaving, so we awkwardly left right in the middle of the performance. He gave me a bottle of rum for my birthday, and the hotel gave me a bottle of Chinese sparkling cider and a fan, which was very sweet. Also, to my pleasant surprise, they took care of Husband while he stayed behind ill, checking on him every couple of hours. It turns out the chambermaid is also a registered nurse and she examined him and gave him advice while mopping the floor. Another odd reminder of the problematic two currency system that has turned nurses into maids. But again, this reminds me of my own life, and those of all my highly educated underemployed friends. Le sigh.



December 02, 2013

"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Day 6: Socialismo o Muerte

November 11, 2013
Today we visited an organic farm in the outskirts of Havana. It was pretty with bright red soil, and they served us a delicious lunch. During the food shortages post revolution, Castro set up a series of small urban farms to meet local demand. The one we visited is one of these, though it's now run collectively by the workers. They are mandated to sell a certain percentage of their food to the government, but the rest is theirs, and the profits likewise.


"What do they do with the bunnies?"
"Um . . . What do you think?"

Then we visited Hemingway's home. There are no polydactyl cats at this one, unlike the house in Key West, though there are a lot of inbred dogs. The house, reportedly, is exactly how he left it, and indeed it is fully furnished, right down to the selection of liquor. I may never understand the fascination with Hemingway, but I do have a picture of his toilet. Why not?  

This is Hemingway's bidet.

We had the afternoon and evening free so we went to the Museo de la Revolucion, which unfortunately I was in no mood to appreciate. I was grumpy because they made me check my purse, but for some reason not Bunny's. I also saw ones much bigger than mine. So I had nothing with me: no camera (they told me photography was forbidden, but told Bunny & Crow to go right ahead), no translator app (also on my phone), and I was worried that they would steal a 20 CUC bill from my purse, which they did.

The Museo de la Revolucion, with a piece of Havana's
old city wall in the foreground.

All in all the museum made me feel bad about my country some more, and even though I know to take these claims with a grain of salt, the socialist system in Cuba seems pretty good. I would trade some creature comforts, and the ability to become really rich, for a basic safety net that won't let me starve or go homeless or die for lack of medical care, and that will let everyone get a good education without going into debt. I don't even think I mind the educational system of choosing your top ten majors and being placed in one based on the need for that type of professional and your test scores. That seems fair and it would help to not produce a glut of professionals in one area who then can't find work. Cuba has a problem in that skilled professions tend to be paid by the government in relatively worthless Cuban Pesos, meaning that doctors and teachers and such make less than waiters, who are tipped in CUCs. This is pretty lousy, but the same is true here to a large degree. I make more money working in a bar than I did teaching college.

The view across the Bay of Havana.

After the museum we walked along the Maracon toward old Habana, as the sun set. We had a very excellent dinner at the paladar tour guide Michael recommended (whose name I will apparently never know), and then we had a drink with two Cubans, Josef and "Jack Daniels," who had accosted Crow earlier. Even though we all knew what was happening (that they wanted us to buy them a drink), we didn't mind because it was fascinating to chat with them about life in Havana. We also bought a box of "black market" cigars from them, which we have been told not to do [No, US Customs, if you're reading this, we did not bring any back with us]. But probably the story they told--that workers in the factory pay the guard to let them sneak a few out the back door--is true, which means it was a pretty good deal. I love that we did two of the things we were warned about at once, eyes open, and still didn't get ripped off.

Who needs a glass?

After that--and we had to extricate ourselves with some difficulty--we made our way to a brewery in the plaza vieja, where they serve beer in huge columns with a column of ice down the middle. We got a golden beer, 3 liters of it, and it was pretty good. Here there were many cats hanging around, though I think they had standard cat toes.



December 01, 2013

"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Days 4 & 5: Cuba Libre!

Ugh, late again. But happy December, everyone! Congratulations to all you NaNoWriMo winners out there, and if I may insert a small personal advertisement, why not take advantage of my NaNoWriMo Special:

Want a break from that heap of words you’ve just written? Give them to me for a developmental edit. I’ll give you ideas about what’s working and where to go from here: structure, plot, characters, and style (always keeping in mind that this is a first draft). And the best part? I won’t give it back to you until after the New Year, so you have a perfect excuse not to work on it, and time to get some distance and regain your own perspective. (Unless you want it sooner, in which case just tell me when.)
$200 for 50,000 words – query for longer or shorter works.
Only 15 available – reserve your spot now!
 And now, without further ado . . .


November 9, 2013
On a plane to Cuba. It's late, and we're missing half a day in Havana as a result, but at least we knew about it days ahead of time so we knew we could take most of the day to meander back to Cancun.


November 29, 2013

"Live" blog of Yucatan/Cuba trip, day 3: Yucatan high & low

November 8, 2013
Day three was mucho mas bueno. We left semi-early and hit the cenote at Ik Kil, which was amazing. When we first looked down into that seemingly bottomless sinkhole, we almost didn't know what it was. We were the first ones there, and we got to see it pristine, vines and roots trailing down into the water, dark but for a few sunbeams. My first thought was, "I don't want to swim in that."



My second thought, which came about two seconds later, was, "I want to swim in that!" So we rented a locker and a life vest for Bunny and narrowly missed being the first ones down there. That would have been incredible, but even so it was pretty ridiculously cool. The water is cold, and full of friendly black fish who may or may not have eyes. When I first stepped down the ladder, I wasn't sure I could bear to immerse myself in that water, but soon the effort of swimming warmed me up enough that it was okay. Swimming is hard! And there was no shallow end--a cenote is basically a hole straight down into the earth. The sides are sheer cliff, but it's rough enough that we eventually found handholds and even a ledge. On one side, plants grow at the water's edge, and hanging vines and the roots of trees above trace the earth-side edges of the hole. Water trickles down in small waterfalls. Heavenly. I will admit that on my first swim across I had a moment of panic. It's rare that I swim in water over my head, and being away from the walls--in fact, not knowing if any of the walls offered purchase--was a bit like being thrown down a well. 

November 28, 2013

"Live" blog of Yucatan/Cuba trip, days 1 & 2: Getting there is less than half the fun.

Did I say I'd start on Wednesday? Whoops! Late already, which seems appropriate. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 7, 2013:
Yesterday our trip began, far too early, with Bunny and Crow picking us up for the airport before dawn. Our first flight was after theirs, and yet we got here ahead of them. Husband and I spent a boring couple of hours on the floor of the Cancun aeropuerto, not going outside for (legitimate) fear of not being allowed back in. When they did arrive--their flight late, of course--the man from Fox car rental bundled us all out of the airport before we could change money, look for maps, anything. I'd thought to take care of money-changing while I waited, but it seemed silly since I'd just have to wait for Bunny and Crow to do the same thing. I wish that I had at least checked the exchange rate. Then I would have known that the ATM in the 7-11 ripped us off by at least half, giving me only 500 MXN for my $100 USD [update: the ATM only charged me around $40 in the end, so all kinds of WTF]. Instead we erroneously used this as the exchange rate, and spent about a day thinking things in Mexico were incredibly expensive, instead of just very expensive. Who would have thought that Mexico was such an expensive place to travel? Not I.


We weren't the only ones bored in the airport.

We had worried about the drive to our hotel near Chichen Itza--three hours or so, in the dark, in freaking Mexico--but we needn't have. The cuota road was lovely and about $25 US all told (tolled)--though at the time we thought it was much more. Also at the gas station Husband immediately got cheated by the attendant, who got an extra $20 bill out of him using the scam from the freaking guidebook (turning away and pretending he had been given different bills, then demanding more). We were off to a pretty terrible start.

November 22, 2013

A message from the Central Bureaucracy

This letter is to inform you that you're about to receive a letter. Or rather, it's a blog post about upcoming blog posts. You see, I have been neglecting this blog. I could give you excuses, but what am I, some kind of freshman? You don't care.

My favorite of these excuses is only valid for the past couple of weeks: I was traveling in the Yucatan and Cuba, with no internet. Sound interesting? You betcha. So I've decided to "live" blog my trip, with "live" meaning three weeks behind. We start next Wednesday! Grab your passport, check out the exchange rate, and come along with me, as we travel through space and time.

Warning: not to scale.

Oh, and remember how much fun I had with postcards last summer in Iceland and Norway? (Check out these links if you don't: Postcards from, Postcard Madness part II, More Postcards!, Postcards! Again!, Return to Sender?, two fishy love stories, What postcards have taught me, Family, and a poisonous corpse, and Things that will eat us) Well, postcards return! So stay tuned.

In other news, my story "The Red Sno-Cones Are Not for Sale" has been podcasted for Every Day Fiction by the lovely Folly Blaine. After, or before, you should listen to the manic horror that is the children's song I based that story on. There really was an ice cream truck that played it on endless loop through my neighborhood, and that song stuck in my head was worse than "Guantanamera." I'd give you a link, but I can't find one creepy enough.

Finally, an update on the Million Writers Award: my story really did time-travel! It can't be considered for the 2012 award, but it has been automatically added to the 2013 shortlist. So next year that'll be pretty awesome. Prepare to be pestered for votes.

September 24, 2013

Notable Stories, with possible time travel

I was pretty excited to be informed by email, facebook, and twitter--you guys are way better than google alerts!--that my story "Melt With You" was chosen as a Notable Story of 2012 by storySouth's Million Writers Award.

I was also baffled, because that story wasn't actually published in 2012. Time will tell how this shakes out, but for now I'm just happy to be included. If my story is (justly) disqualified from moving up in the contest, I'll understand. If it just plain doesn't make the cut, that's cool too. There are plenty of fine stories on that list. Go read them!

(Also, sorry to just pop onto the blog, after so much time away, with another lame post about myself. I promise to write some real content soon.)

August 02, 2013

Long-Overdue CW Write-a-thon Update

Thank you so much to all my sponsors! If you've sponsored me, please send me a novel or story idea--or even just a random noun--to receive your free gift* in the mail.

The workshop is over. My move is . . . sort of over.

And I'm at Taos Toolbox, right in the middle of this workshop. I had my first critique today and it was . . . uneven. Controversy is good, right? Right?

I ended up writing almost what I needed for this workshop, including an outline, which is very hard for me. Now I have to write more. So, will this week's story be about space dinosaurs or Christian sharks? As always, I welcome suggestions.

*no backsies on free gift

June 23, 2013

Another write-a-thon?

Yep, it's that time of year when I become more annoying than usual, asking for money and talking about my work and insisting you care about something called Clarion West.

It starts today. The workshop, with its 18 new students and uh-mazing lineup of instructors, and also the write-a-thon, with (last I heard) some 340 writers typing or scribbling or dictating away.

My somewhat insane goal is to write an outline for a novel and its first 10K words. . . . By the fifth week, at the latest. Making it more insane is the fact that I'll have to move during that time and that I desperately want to finish revisions on a different novel before I start the new one, and the fact that I have no idea what to write about.

So, I need your help. CW would appreciate your financial support, but I need your idea support. Go on over to my write-a-thon page and make a donation (any amount counts!) and then email me with an idea that you'd like to see in a novel. I make no promises that I will use what you give me, but I will send you a surprise in the mail. As I pack to move, the pile of potential surprise gifts grows.

And, if helping me and writers similar to me isn't good enough motivation, do it for my cat.

Can you say no to this creature?



May 23, 2013

I missed you, Internet; have some books

Hi, Internet. I've been a bad blogger lately because . . . no real reason.

While I was away another story came out, in Daily Science Fiction. It's called "The Taking Tree," and it's sort of an evil sequel to The Giving Tree.

But enough about me. I want to tell you about some books I've read in the last few months. Writing reviews always makes me feel a little unsure of myself, because sometimes when I think I've uncovered (or stumbled upon, or been shown) a hidden gem, it turns out that everyone else in the world has already read it.

But anyway, here are some books that I liked. You should read them.


Near + Far by Cat Rambo -- Beyond the physical awesomeness of this book, which is in the style of an old-timey double-header, Cat Rambo's stories are amazing. From evil mermaids to living coats and far, far beyond, these stories cover a wide range. One of them was on the Nebula ballot! There are only two drawbacks to this book: 1) not being sure how to handle having two bookmarks while reading from both sides simultaneously, and 2) always having Grover's voice in my head when I think of the book's title(s).



The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell -- I almost put this down in the first few chapters because it seemed to be needlessly coy about basic things like what happened to Emilio's hands, not to mention the central mystery of WTF happened on that other planet. However, once the story got going I was hooked. It's a fascinating other world peopled with believable aliens and fun human characters, and though it's been a few months since I read it it's stuck with me. Plus, there's about to be a TV series of it, so get in (slightly) ahead of the curve!


Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan -- Never has being a bear seemed so appealing. I am very fortunate that I was warned about this book's beginning. A friend said that the unpleasantness was frontloaded into the first couple of chapters, and without that knowledge I may have given this wonderful book up due to said unpleasantness. Yet even when horrible things were happening, the writing was incredible, so perhaps I would have endured it. At any rate, this was a magical book. By the end it had me bawling.

April 16, 2013

Gnooooooome!

Having recently written two stories about yard gnomes, I'm in danger of becoming The Gnome Writer. Thankfully, my birthday isn't until November, so hopefully my writing group will forget about it by then and I won't end up with a collection.

No, I really don't want a gnome collection,
even if I did buy this beer for the picture.

But at the risk of perpetuating my gnome-loving status, I must share this link with you (thanks to colleague Camille Griep for the link). Go to it now! It's an IKEA ad about garden gnome warfare!

And if that whets your appetite, go read my story in Clarkesworld, "Melt With You."

And now I must get back to writing, thankfully, not about gnomes. I will write gnome more forever!

April 04, 2013

New stories!

This week saw the release into the wild of two of my stories!

One is "Melt With You," a tale of religious war among apocalypse survivors reincarnated into the bodies of lawn decorations, which is in April's issue of Clarkesworld.

Yes, the Clarkesworld

The other is "Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer," which appears in the anthology After Death. There's a bomb in the garage. And Michael Williams's ghost needs to do something about it before it kills someone else. 

Anyway, it's in a book. With, like, pages! You can buy it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


March 23, 2013

Machismo Construction, Wobbles, and the VIDA Count

Bear with me, if you will, for a moment. I have something to say about women and publishing and society, but I don't know what it is yet. As you may or may not be aware, VIDA's 2012 count once again showed us that women are underrepresented in most book reviews and literary magazines. There are, of course, a lot of reasons and excuses about why this is so, one of which is that women don't submit as often as men. I really like this unpacking of that particular excuse, which strikes fairly close to home. I also love this explanation of how two magazines made their numbers more equal.

A prime example.

As a writer, I have developed a thick skin. It's important. I've made hundreds of submissions to magazines, which means I've received hundreds of rejections. And that's what happens when you're a writer. I know that now, and I knew it then because I was lucky enough to have a mentor who believed in me.

Women are socialized as girls to doubt themselves. To apologize. To please. I like to think of myself as a strong woman, but I still back away from things. I tell myself that I don't really know what I'm doing, or I have nothing to say.

In college, I needed to build a bunk bed. I'd done stage crew for years and built all kinds of things. But when it came time to buy supplies I deferred to a man's opinion. This pile of machismo who shall remain unnamed (not the husband; this was before I met the husband) was seduced by some giant bolts we saw at Home Depot, and we ended up using them. They were ridiculous, and required a ridiculous drill bit and ridiculous wrenches to use. Not only that, but this man's design included no cross-bracing. Half an hour into the building of the wobbliest bed ever built I knew I had made a mistake, that I could have done much better on my own. But it was too late. Male certainty had prevailed over female doubt.

Yes, I know I'm oversimplifying this. But that memory serves for me as a clear reminder to be strong.

At almost the same time as the VIDA count, I became aware of this story about The New Yorker rejecting its own story. In brief, David Cameron:
"grabbed a New Yorker story off the web (no, it wasn't by Alice Munro or William Trevor), copied it into a Word document, changed only the title, created a fictitious author identity, and submitted it to a slew of literary journals, all of whom regularly grace the TOC of Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, O’Henry, etcetera and etcetera. My cover letter simply stated that I am an unpublished writer deeply appreciative of their consideration."
And the story was repeatedly rejected, even by the magazine that published it. So, that's hilarious. But in light of all this other stuff I can't help but wonder whether the fictional identity was male or female.

There's more to this, and I still can't find it. It has to do with the backlash Amanda Palmer is getting, and wondering whether it would be happening if she was a man. It has to do with reading that blind auditions increase the percentage of women hired into orchestras. It even has to do with the Steubenville rape trial, although I wish it didn't.

Can anyone help me put these pieces together?

Or, wait. Maybe I can do it myself.

March 07, 2013

A hatful of fun

For shits and giggles, I entered a contest. I wrote a story based on this picture:



It had to be 250 words or less, and mine started at around 600. Thanks in part to Cat Rambo's editing class (take a class! they're awesome) I actually got it under the word count.

It's here at Lascaux Flash. Go read it, maybe? Write a comment? If it wins, they'll give me money. And that would be awesome.

Oh! And writer friends? This contest is still open. Go enter it!

February 20, 2013

Pro Sale #2

Allow me a moment of own-horn tooting. I learned yesterday that "The Taking Tree," my answer to a horrifying book from my childhood, The Giving Tree, will be published by Daily Science Fiction.

This is me, saying, "Woot!"

I love all my publications, but this one pleases me more than most. For one thing, it's a market to which I've submitted many times in the past, and it feels nice to get some love after eleven "no"s. For another, it's a "pro" sale, only my second one. This sale also holds the land-speed record for sales, having only been to two markets.

It also surprises me, because while I rarely write flash fiction, both pro sales thus far have been flash: fiction under 1000 words. This makes me wonder if I'm doing something right with flash, or something wrong with longer fiction.

Along those lines, I think I'll go try to edit a 500-word story down to 250 for a flash contest. Why not?

February 13, 2013

Becalmed

Like this. Not going anywhere.

(I stole this gorgeous photo from the
Folkestone Camera Club gallery;
it's the work of Frank Barraclough )

There's an ebb and flow to this writer's life. Submissions go out and come back in, and because I am an impatient person I tend to order my submissions based on response times. If the world made sense, this would result in a constant flow of rejections, older ones coming in after months at markets, newer ones every few days.

Of course, that assumes a steady output of stories, one after another. This seems like a reasonable assumption, because I learned long ago that I must finish one project before starting another. It's simple physics, really: projects at rest tend to remain at rest.

And yet, in actuality responses tend to cluster. Supposedly swift markets end up taking six months, getting my hopes up while simultaneously robbing me of the urge to write. Maybe this is just me, but when the responses aren't coming in, the words don't get out as well either.

In other cat-vacuuming, I just realized that I have never had a story accepted in March, April, or December. My best month for acceptances seems to be August. The six-month period from December to May has only yielded a total of four sales, while the other half of the year is responsible for ten. Ebb and flow.

This is all fascinating to me, probably boring to anyone not-me. Hey, other writers: do you have a season that seems to be more successful for you?

January 16, 2013

The Colored Lens

The newest issue of The Colored Lens is out, and it has a me story in it!


This is one of my oldest SF stories, written while in my MFA program, submitted to Clarion West as an application story, revised a zillion or more times (or, like, five). For most of this story's existence it was the story without an acceptable ending: first it was the ill-fitting happy ending, then the much-too-dark depressing ending. No one who read it could figure out how to bring it to a close. Have I succeeded this time? You be the judge.

The story after mine in the issue is by my Clarion West sister Kris Millering. It was also the story she submitted for application. I just read it and it made me a little teary. I'm pleased that our stories live in adjacent rooms in this magazine, just like we did in that big old sorority house.

Anyway, go buy the issue. It's $2.99, and her story alone is worth that. Consider mine (and all the rest) an added bonus.

January 09, 2013

The year has landed

It's a week or so into 2013. The holiday haze is fading. The days are getting imperceptibly longer. And I've received the first rejections of the year. Yay?

I've made some housekeeping changes to this, my webhome, too. I finally got myself a big-girl domain, www.eskaftun.com. So far it seems to have increased traffic, even without me doing anything. Weird. But don't forget the "e"--if you do you'll go to the personal webpage of a Norwegian cousin of mine. Go ahead and visit it if you like pictures of (charming, lovely) blonde children and/or can read Norwegian.

I've also added an "editing" tab above. You may have noticed that I'm into words. I like to make stories out of them, for sure. But I'm also a skilled editor, particularly of the copyediting/proofreading variety. If you need someone to make your words and punctuation conform to the "rules" and conventions of the English language, consider choosing me. Seriously. I rock at sentence-making.

Or: "Crabby copy editor does not like your copy edits."

And with that, I'm going to go make some sentences of my own, throw them into a sack, shake it, and hope a story falls out.