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In the End

4 Feb

And now for something completely different.

About a year ago, a good friend of mine from high school, Jason Whitmore, asked if I had any short stories that I thought would make good short films. Jason’s an incredibly talented filmmaker and I knew he’d do something great with whatever I gave him, so I sent him some things that I’d recently finished. He really liked a story called “In the End,” a flash fiction piece that had come almost fully formed out of a dream.

Jason took my basic idea and ran with it, creating an amazing work of art all his own and it rightly got a very warm reception at Florida State University, where Jason got his MFA. It’s being screened tomorrow night at the WGA Theater in Los Angeles as part of a showcase of the “Best of 2012″ short films from FSU. In honor of the event and for a little bit of context about my role in this whole process, I thought I’d put up the original short piece.

And thus:

 

In the End

Nicole M. Taylor

 

It was the last day of our world and I could not find Galliol any place that I looked. He was not in the apartment we shared with its squashed view of the dark, sickly river. I lingered though. I took the ring that had been Galliol’s mother’s from the jewelry box beside our bed. He hadn’t given it to me, said he was waiting for just the right time. The opal winked like a single cataract’d eye on my finger.

He was not downstairs in the grimy little deli where the owner had shot himself and was lying next to the open cooler of liquor. The bottles were sweating unpleasantly. I tried not to look, but I saw the owner from the corners of my eyes. His features all looked as though they’d slid upwards.

He was not in the alleyways between the cramped buildings. Baria, who lived down the street and was always in the deli complaining about shitty bagels, ran by me. She had a little girl in her arms, maybe three or four. The little girl wasn’t moving.

I found Galliol in the street with his camera. He crouched on one knee, the tiny, intricate workings of his camera clicking and sputtering. The streets were empty, but for us, the tall buildings blank and sightless. The little juttering clicks of the camera seemed to come at us from all sides.

Galliol did not speak. I leaned down and looped my arm through his. “We have to go now.”

The ships had landed crookedly, throwing up big piles of earth with their metal feet. Thick lines of people swarmed around the ships’ mouths. In their arms they clutched unwieldy packages, haphazard piles of clothes. The blank-faced soldiers walked placidly up and down the queues. Galliol clutched his camera to him like a child.

“Hey.” His brown eyes were distant and unfocused. I pressed my hands to the back of his neck and pulled his face down to rest against mine. “Hey,” I said, and his mouth was unresponsive beneath mine. “Hey,” I said again, and realized that I was crying.

I tarried, trying to stop my tears. A middle-aged woman with cut lip let me wipe my face with the corner of a bed sheet.

“Where’s Galliol?” asked Josa, behind me. I pointed towards the far end of the line, where Galliol stood with his camera in both his hands, staring into the dark lens. Josa narrowed his eyes. It made him look like Galliol, though for brothers they had never had any great resemblance. “He okay?” he asked.

I tried to laugh, it came out strangled. “Who’s okay?” Josa took my arm in a familiar way that I disliked, I edged away. In the distance, the light was getting bigger, it made strange orange shadows on all of our faces. “Are they gonna-” I began and heard shouting from one of the ships.

Galliol was struggling with one of the soldiers. He clutched his camera to him, the solider attempted to wrestle it away. “Galliol!” I said, and the soldier tilted his head like a cat. Galliol ran and the soldier did not follow him. The light in the sky was huge and bright, and there was nowhere to go.

I moved to follow him and Josa pulled me back. “Where are you going?” he hissed. I shook myself out of his grip and went after Galliol. He had vanished already.

“Orna! Stop!” Josa’s breathing was ragged and urgent right behind me.

I met Galliol on a riverbank, I was reading a little book of poetry. He took a picture of me. In it, I look thoughtful and weary, there is a long strand of hair stuck to the corner of my mouth.

“We don’t have time for this,” Josa complained, keeping pace with me.

“Then go back.”

“Orna.” It sounded like he was crying, “don’t do this, come back with me. Galliol’s gone, everything’s gone.”

Once, when Galliol and I had been dating for about a year, Josa came up behind me while I smoked over the kitchen sink. He grabbed my hips and danced us slowly across the tile floor. He smelled like cologne, not anything like Galliol, who just smelled like white soap and clean, bitter sweat. I just stopped, planted my feet and smoked like it was my last cigarette. He dropped his head until it touched my shoulder. “I’m so goddamned drunk,” he said.

“Come back with me,” he was saying, over and over again until it was wasn’t words, just strange slurring sounds. I pulled my hands out of his one at a time.

“Go back now, Josa.”

I found Galliol on the second floor of a warehouse. I think he was trying to get to roof. He had gone over a railing, maybe on the third or the fourth floor. He was sitting up, resting his elbows on the window sill as I climbed up to him.

I sat down beside him, his legs stretching out uselessly beside me. He was bleeding from an open cut just above his eyebrow. I licked my thumb and wiped the red away.

He looked at me, looked at my face and my wild hair, my torn shirt, my dirty tennis shoes. He looked at my hand, where his mother’s opal stared up at us. “I should have given you this a while ago,” he said, touching my ring finger.

“Yeah,” I said. Dust choked my throat.

Outside the window, the light was getting big and yellow. I thought I could hear the sound of the ships firing their great engines. Galliol turned to me and raised his camera. He looked like some bleak machine. I stared steadily into the dark lens. The camera gave an orderly, brittle snap and he lowered it, revealing his dark and lovely eyes.

“Beautiful,” he said.

And then we turned and watched out the window as the light got bigger and bigger, burning everything it touched.

Raining and Pouring

24 Jan

A collision of coolness!

My story, “The Pianist’s Wife,” is included in Arcane Anthology 2, which is available for download right now and softcover purchase soon, my darlings, sooooon.

Also, Shimmer Magazine just produced its sixteenth issue, full of dark and delicious stories, including my own “Gemini in the House of Mars.”

Bonus! My story “A Spoonful of Salt” is the featured “From the Archives” tale at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Writing Rape (in the Time of Zombies)

29 Nov

Sigh.

So, Nicole, how does a well-prepared slice of crow taste, you may be asking yourself. And the answer is: mighty fine, I guess.

Because, after doomsaying and lecturing about it last week, I have to say that, last Sunday, The Walking Dead handled a scene of sexual assault really well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write about rape, about characters who have been raped. As you might expect, I think the issue is deeply complex and I do think its a story move that is hard to pull off with integrity. Part of the problem is that a lot of other people don’t seem to think that and its widely attempted with no real understanding of the pitfalls involved.

I wrote my first “rape story” last year. It’s out in the world, looking for a home, and I think of it as a strong story. It came out of the time I spent working on the sexual assault crisis hotline in Michigan and the conversations I had with women there. It came out of their deep, raw sense of confusion. It came from the question they asked me that I could never answer, that no one could answer for them: “Why?” Why did this happen to me? Why did he think he could do this? Why didn’t they listen when I said I was afraid? Why doesn’t anyone care that this happened? Why me? My story was an attempt to work through the feelings that often arise after a sexual assault, when the world dismisses you, dismisses what has happened to you. A rape is a serious incursion into our sense of personal safety that we, perhaps erroneously, but certainly naturally, imagine ourselves to have. Someone can hurt you for no reason, someone can touch you and manipulate your body and your wants and your protests do not matter. People cannot go around thinking that that might happen at any time, because, if you did, you would not go around. Even people who have been sexually assaulted have to re-convince themselves of a certain degree of bodily sovereignty to simply live in the world. That is why we ask why, because people cannot cope with a universe in which someone might, at any time, for any reason, viciously infringe upon you and there’s virtually nothing you can do to stop it. We want reasons because reasons give us strategies. If she got raped because of her short skirt, then I will wear overalls and no one will ever hurt me. When people ask “why,” they are asking for a sense of power back.

My story is about the ambivalent “why” in the context of sexual assault and, thus, there are scenes of sexual violence in the story. They are thematically relevant. And the way the characters respond to them drives the plot. At least, that is my hope and my intention, time will tell if that’s actually what the story communicates.

And this is, to my mind, the more difficult issue to juggle. Because a story that leans on sexual assault for a theme or an argument is, I think, easier to “get right” because it often comes down to some degree of polemic. We can have opinions about sexual assault and they can be “better” or “worse,” more or less valid. It is when you get into character and how it may or may not be shaped by rape that it becomes more difficult, because then you are in the realm of emotions, of the subconscious, of all the things that may neither be “good” nor “bad” and are highly individualized.

In my experience, women respond to rape by:

-self-soothing with drugs or alcohol

-quickly moving on

-therapy

-repression

-not acknowledging what happened as a sexual assault

-blaming themselves

-seeking punishment for their rapist

-forgiving their rapist

-becoming advocates for others

-focusing on work or school

-becoming increasingly spiritual

-becoming increasingly secular

-leaning on family members

-gradually alienating themselves from the people around them

-buying a weapon

-becoming increasingly pacifistic

-talking about their experience

-never talking about their experience

-putting their abuser in prison

-marrying their abuser

-self-harm

-using the experience to fuel other endeavors

…and approximately a billion other things. Yes, there are more common reactions to sexual assault, but those are only guidelines and they are only relevant to a certain degree. In popular culture, there is only one way to react to rape: a woman is raped and it devastates her fully, damaging her to the point of near non-functionality; it radicalizes her (often violently) and renders her unable to normal emotional relationships. And this is a very palatable view of what happens to people who are sexually assaulted, all of these are reactions that make a certain amount of “logical” sense. It is easy to say “if I were raped, I would become an unstoppable killing machine” or “if I were raped, I would never be able to trust again.” It’s harder to parse a middle-aged woman who stays with her sexually abusive husband because she’s an immigrant with four children, all still in school and she can’t make her life work without the support and income that her husband provides. It’s more satisfying to watch someone kill her attackers with a flamethrower than to watch someone go through a lot of therapy and gradually get to a point of peace with what happened. We like easy and exciting narratives, but we also use stories to tell ourselves how the world is and how we should be in it. There is no “right” way to be raped, but you wouldn’t know that from reading books, watching TV or going to the movies.

And that brings us back to the near-rape on Sunday’s Walking Dead, because I think it does a very good job of depicting one individual’s reaction to the threat of sexual assault, rather than implying that this was a case study or part of what “everyone” goes through when they are assaulted. And, significantly, they also did a good job of tying that assault to the characters involved and the existing themes present in their relationship.

Menace to a woman in fiction is almost always coded in terms of sexual assault. As soon as Glenn and Maggie were kidnapped by Merle, the specter of rape appeared, spurred on by the sexualized way that Merle and others talked about her. The viewers and, it seems clear, the characters, all understood this subtextual threat. The idea that a woman being held captive by the villain will always be either raped or threatened with rape is predicated on two ideas: 1.) a given man will, absent strictures on or accountability for his behavior, rape a given woman (this is also where some of the victim-blaming stuff like, “well, you shouldn’t have walked alone at night” or “well, you shouldn’t have gotten into a car with a man” comes from. The myth that the majority of men are rapists held barely in check by society.) and 2.) rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. Naturally, that is what a bad guy would do to a woman: the worst.

The fact of the matter is that in conflict, rape is often used in a highly strategic way for lots of reasons. To incentive soldiers and/or maintain their sense of the enemy as less than human, to demoralize or decimate a population, as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing, to propagate a culture of fear and shame that inhibits resistance. Rarely, however, is rape in fiction framed in this way, as a thought-out, intentional tactic used because it works, but that’s how The Walking Dead played it and I appreciate it for that. Because nothing we have been told about the Governor indicates that he, personally, is a rapist. He is not stalking the streets of Woodbury at night because he gets off on sexually assaulting women. Nor is his a rapist of opportunity, forcing himself on women when the situation presents itself. Instead, he is a zealot, a radical, who is trying to protect something that he built (the relative merit of what he built is just that—relative) and he will rape people to do that. He threatens Maggie with rape because he thinks it will cause her to break and reveal the location of her group. When he doesn’t go through with his threat, it does not read as the writers “pulling punches,” but instead it reads as the Governor sizing up the situation and realizing that raping Maggie will not get her to comply. It would not be an effective action and he has no personal desire to rape Maggie. So he doesn’t. All of this makes good, logical sense and also sheds light on the characters. We do not think the Governor less monstrous for not having literally raped Maggie—he has shown that he would and will use any abhorrent tactic to get what he wants from the people around him.

And, furthermore, what the Governor discovers in that scene is the other good character reveal: rape is not the worst thing that could happen to Maggie. The fact of the matter is that Maggie is a very young woman who has nevertheless experienced unimaginable horrors. She has watched the dead rise up and eat the living, and that’s just for starters. She’s seen the slow decimation of virtually her entire family. Just a few days ago, she cut a baby out of her screaming friend and then watched as the woman’s son shot her in the head. Quite frankly, it is logical that Maggie would regard rape as just one more thing in the panoply of awful that is life after the zombie apocalypse. She is visibly afraid and enraged; it’s not like rape is no big deal, but neither is it the biggest deal. In fact, she seems to stoically regard enduring this sexual assault as part of her duty as a warrior, as a member of the group and, most importantly, as Glenn’s partner. It’s happening, she can’t stop it, but she’s not going to let it destroy her either. And if, by enduring rape, she can prevent harm from coming to someone she loves deeply, possibly more than anyone else, she’ll do it.

That is what the Governor discovers and that is what, ultimately, he plays upon to get what he’s looking for. It’s one of the better bits of psychological manipulation that we see from him, because we see him go through the entire process of discovery and re-strategizing (I also appreciated how he brought Maggie in, doing everything he could to imply that she had indeed been raped in an effort to further rattle Glenn). It’s a good character beat for our villain; its easier to fear him when we see him being clever and ruthless rather than when we just get a lot of glowering.

I like that they treat both the Governor and Maggie as individuals here, and I like that the way the Governor handles this is thematically resonant (he is a manipulator who resorts to violence when it works) and I really like the way it ties back into what we know about Maggie, especially her relationship with Glenn. From very early on, their relationship dealt with (sometimes clumsily, sometimes acutely) the idea of the vulnerability of loving and being loved. Maggie was always presented as the more aggressive half of their relationship; she initiated the sexual relationship and was frustrated with Glenn’s reticence to make increasing commitments to one another. She also scolded him for taking so little care with his life, which was, if not valuable to him, very precious to her. Glenn was subsequently conflicted about this, the weight of her feelings for him made him afraid in a way he hadn’t been before. Sometimes we don’t fully realize our mortality until someone is depending on us, emotionally or otherwise. The idea that Maggie would suffer sexual humiliation, would even give up the location of her group, her own family, to protect Glenn (or at least to not be the explicit reason he was hurt or killed) is already there in her existing character. Maggie has clearly long thought of herself and Glenn as a unit within a unit and put him before the larger group, when the two came into conflict. This a natural issue for the show to bring up, as the idea of a person’s “sphere of compassion” is dramatically different in a survival scenario and the ruthlessly hierarchal nature of relationships in extremity is squarely within the purview of a show about the end of the world.

Essentially, what separates this scene from sexual-assault-as-motivation bits in other stories it that it feels justified by the characters themselves and situation they find themselves in and it is clear that there was an effort to consider how the individuals involved with approach sexual assault, rather than some imaginary idea of the “universal” rape experience. It hits everything a good story beat should: if advances the characters, it asks important thematic questions, and it spurs the plot. It is a fine example of how to tell a story that includes sexual assault without being lazy or offensive.

…but the stuff about T-Dog still stands.

Nebula Eligibility!

26 Nov

It’s that time of year, dudes and dude-ladies: Nebula nominations are open! I’ve created a list of my Nebula-eligable work, if you find that sort of thing useful:

Eligible in the Short Story category:

The Undertaker’s Son, Shimmer Issue 15

The Last Day of the Armistice, Northwind Magazine Summer 2012 Issue

Stolen Child, Jabberwocky Issue 12

In the Valley, Wake: Great Lakes Thought and Culture November 2012 Issue

Eligible in the Novelette category:

Hold a Candle to the Devil, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 106

(Belated) Reviews!

18 Oct

Some very fine reviews of The Undertaker’s Son (and Issue 15 of Shimmer, where it happily resides):

Casual Debris 

SFRevu

Fantasy Literature

Writing News! Interview with Shauna Roberts!

18 Feb

Shauna Roberts, fellow Clarionite and Angeleno, has an interview with me up at her blog, For the Love of Words. Find out more about my upcoming stories, the novel and this weird gum-chewing thing I do all the time. Bonus picture of me preparing to destroy the German navy.

Ass in Chair

9 Aug

I don’t publicize story sales. It’s a rule, insofar as I have “rules” (like how I’ve developed this weird aversion to the Facebook “like” button and am absurdly proud about almost never using it (touch screen accidents don’t count) or how I leave change in vending machines with the vague idea that this will, in some sort of cosmic way, protect me from finding myself without sufficient change in some imagined future and, now that I write all of this out, my rules seem, to mangle a writerly chestnut, indistinguishable from magic.)

Anyway, the sale thing. Part of it is that I feel like the celebratory, triumphant part is a good thing for me to keep small and personal. Of course I tell Ed and my mom (who is bottomless well of excitement, no matter what news I bring to her) and, these days, I also tell Paul*, because he lives four feet underneath me. *(Note: this was actually started several weeks ago, when Paul did indeed live four feet under me. Now he doesn’t. But I’m not going to change it because fuck editing, man!) Back in the day, I would tell Brittany and Nicky and we would happy dance. But I suppose I want to keep that happy dancing small, keep it isolated. Because that part has nothing to do with the work, I think, it’s just about being happy that I have had some success at all. I want to reserve any press-y type notes or linkage until I actually have a concrete thing to offer people, because I think that spurs a conversation. People can say lots of things in response to a story, but can only really say “yay!” in response to a sale and I think there’s really only a small group of people I want to “yay!” with, the rest I’d just like to show things to. Plus, there’s often a huge lag time between sale and publication and I worry people will forget or feel like they’ve already used the space in their heads earmarked “Thinking About Nicole’s Sales.” …you guys have that, right?

(note: this is not to say that there’s anything wrong with publicizing sales. I have a lot of friends who do it for a variety of good reasons and this is certainly not a critique of the practice in general just a (needlessly long and stupidly intricate) explanation of why I don’t.)

And why all this verbiage? Because I’m breaking said rule, of course. Well, kinda. I mean, arguably, I publicize sales immediately, because I like to update the “Writing” section of this blog whenever I finalize something. Oh my god…my tenuous rhetorical web is unraveling around me!

Anyway, I made a sale recently. A big one. My first really big one, actually. And I was all excited and stuff because, whatever people might tell you about artistic endeavors, there is something about money that legitimizes.

Not that I made an enormous amount of money or anything. In fact, after my accomplishment high subsided, I realized that I would have to make five of those sales to afford rent in a modest apartment in LA…every month. This is not a commentary on the market, just a really basic statement of fact: it is virtually impossible to live by writing alone.

However (and this is what I actually wrote this blog about. Sigh.) it is entirely possible to live as though you can live by writing.

This is another rule, or magic spell, of mine. I’ve decided that the best way for me to be successful, for me to be happy and productive is to write like I have to, like it’s putting food on the table and keeping a roof over my head. Because, you know, it’s really easy to turn a “safety net” job into a whole life and it’s really easy to downgrade something that will likely not be your primary income into a “hobby” or any other thing you take less seriously.

Here are the benefits of the Write Like You’re Broke (and It’s 1902) System

1. You write a shitload. Gotta get those stories out there, man! Ideas that stay in your head aren’t doing any work for you, for one thing and, eventually, if you are sufficiently persistent, you will start to run out of stuff to send places, if you aren’t generating stuff at a reasonable clip.
2. You are in a constant state of refinement. Stories come back, fix them, send them out again. They come back, fix them, send them out again. You are always working on a piece, there is no “done” and your rejections all teach you something (even if it’s just “I disagree; that doesn’t need to be fixed”)

3. You become less angst-ridden about process (your own and that of the whole “launching a writing career” thing). You just do not have time to tear out your hair over a given story when, goddammit, the refrigerator is leaking and you’d like to eat something other than peanut butter and jelly this week. Writers are prone to introspection, which is great. Which is, actually, what makes them writers at all. But too much of that can paralyze a person and economic realities (even, perhaps, artificially imposed ones) can really light a fire under your ass.

4. This one is the biggest one for me: you feel less discouraged. Once you prove to yourself that you can write, that you can keep writing, I think rejections and criticisms become a lot easier to take. It allows you to disperse your love and identification with the work. It’s no longer “Market #1 rejected my magnum opus and that means I’m a talentless hack and I should give up,” but rather “Market #1 rejected that werewolf story, but you know, I have one about mummies that they might like.” There is much about the publication process that’s outside of a writer’s control and the best way I know to get rid of those icky feelings that come with waiting and waiting and waiting for someone else to judge your work is to do something. Do the only thing you can do: write.

When Ed and I went to the shore, we took a side-trip to the Delvaux museum, which I found entirely delightful. The paintings are weird and beguiling (and we scored a print of big-eyed mermaids to hang in our new apartment) but, as I moved through the museum, reading the biographical plaques that often accompanied the paintings, I became just as interested in the man as in the work. I was especially moved to discover that, towards the end of his life, his eyesight deteriorated until he was essentially blind. A particular kind of horror for a painter. But Delvaux accepted it with the kind of peace that comes from a life lived agreeably and well, painting until the end of his life, the colors growing more vivid as he could see less and less of them.

One quotation, on the nature of talent, really stuck out to me. I think it’s very correct and I’d like to share it with you.

(Note: I photographed the French part, but I couldn’t get the English and I don’t remember the exact wording, so this is my very clumsy translation. Any weirdness is mine.)

“On (Je) n’est jamais avec l’idée qu’on peut avoir un talent quelconque. Au contraire, on a toujours l’impression que ce que l’on fait ce n’est pas ce que l’on voudrait. On doute toujours. On espère toujours un jour faire  quelque chose mais on n’est jamais sûr que ce sera cette fois-ci ou la fois prochaine. On n’est même jamais sûr que l’on fera quelque chose un jour.”

“I never held with the idea that one can have any talent at all. On the contrary, I always have the impression that what I’ve done is not what I would like to do. I always doubt. I always hope to one day do something but I’m never sure if it will be this time or the next time. I’m never even sure I will do something someday.”

Not our mermaids, but mermaids all the same.

Points of Interest

7 Jun

…provided you’re interested in me pimping writing. And why wouldn’t you be? I have only your best interests at heart.

Clarion people are awesome people and they are (in the words of Heather Albano) doing awesome things. For example:

Ken Schneyer’s “Tortoise Parliament,” is available in First Contact: Digital Science Fiction Anthology Vol. 1 (get it for the Kindle, feel snazzy).

Grady Hendrix, who will not stop until he clasps the whole of the writing world in his fist of iron, has no less (and probably a few more) than three projects to check out:

His story, “Transcript of Interaction Between Astronaut Mike Scudderman and the OnStar Hands-Free A.I. Crash Advisor,” is in the June 2011 issue of Lightspeed Magazine. Buy the physical mag now or check out the story online June 21st.

His novel, “Satan Loves You,” is available as an e-book for only 99 cents. Grady has a uniquely hilarious voice and his stories always push envelopes in useful, thoughtful ways. For 99 cents, you really can’t afford not to buy it.

And the Southern-Gothic, YA-mystery “The Magnolia League,” which Grady explains here sounds incredibly cool.

The dandy Liz Argall has a quietly dystopian and thoroughly unnerving short story, “A Study in Flesh and Mind,” up at Daily Science Fiction.

Also at Daily Science Fiction, fellow Clarionite 09er Mishell Baker’s bitterly funny (perhaps amusingly tragic?) story “Break.

….and “Torn,” from Clarion 2010 alum Leah Thomas (who I sadly never managed to meet in person while at MSU, but find delightful online), is fun and energetic and makes good use of an oft-ignored creature.

Man, DSF is the place to be!

Also a place to be? Anthologies, man. Anthologies.

Like, “More Scary Kisses,” which features Heather Albano’s story, “The Dark Season.”

And Dark Highlands Anthology: Volume 2, which includes my own true (ish) ghost story, “Specter.”

You can also catch my flash fiction piece, “Fish Tail,” very, very soon at The Raleigh Review. I’ll put a more exact link on the writing page when it’s posted.

Also, curiously alluring man of mystery H.V. Chao has a story, “The Interview,” in this paperback (and e-book!) edition of Diet Soap.

Last, but definitely not least, Clarionite Matt London and his awesome ladyfriend Jordan tied the knot in the most wonderfully nerdilicious way possible. Awww!

 

 

On the Occasion of My First Publication…

13 Feb

Honestly, I’m so happy I could spit. I won’t though. That’d be gross.

The Excision

I’m going to ask to be paid in Zimbabwean dollars, so I can swim in a pool of filthy lucre, Scrooge McDuck-style.

Also, today I finished the first draft of a new story in what feels like forever. It heavily features Paris and dogs and severed hands. So, all in all, it’s been a good writing day.

>Readercon 2010

14 Jul

>So, this is a Readercon wrap-up. Warning: the edges will be lumpy, because I used Elmer’s glue instead of Scotch tape.

First of all, I had the privilege of getting to know Liz Hand at Clarion and I heard many great stories about her life and work there. Everything she does she does with such warmth and passion, especially those things that are close to her heart. And so her panel on Crypto-Aviation was a high point of the convention for me. She talked in her effusive, wonderfully curious way about the strange history of flying machines that never were. The best part was her reading of a letter from an enthusiastic inventor from a small Greek village. Last year, at ComicCon, I sat on an interview with Ray Bradbury (yes, I went to ComicCon and sat ten feet away from Ray Bradbury. This is me bragging) and he stop about wandering the alien streets of London the night man first walked on the moon. And I started to cry. Liz Hand reading that strange, sad, sweet letter does the same kind of thing to me. Reminds me of the soaring, dizzying, almost tragic hope that makes us write stories about colonizing the burning stars with fragile human bodies.

So really, if you can ever hear Liz Hand speak at all, do so. And if you can hear her speak about rockets and dirigibles, do so immediately.

Similarly, I was extra-excited about this year’s Readercon, as Nalo Hopkinson was the guest of honor. She’s so cool, you guys. She appeared on a very interesting panel on writing dialect that kind of turned into a discussion about representation and observation. On that same panel, she mentioned possibly doing podcast readings of her work and, after sitting in on a bit of her reading, I think this is a wonderful idea. Her voice is just as lush and lovely as her prose.

For various reasons, I spent a lot of the weekend thinking and talking about author compensation in the modern age. Friend, Clarion-buddy and all-around excellent gentleman, Ken Schneyer moderated a panel on this idea and it produced a lively and interesting discussion. I don’t think I actually arrived at any conclusions, but that may be because I understand little about law and less about economics. What I learned more than anything was that, no matter what else happens, writers are going to have to become active participants in business-y end of the business. Whether it’s cultivating an online identify, becoming a kind of performer as Mary Robinette Kowal suggested, or simply educating yourself about where the money comes from and where it goes. My “live in a cave and periodically leave manuscripts out for someone who collects them and then replaces them with a variety of cheeses” model is not going to cut it.

World Fantasy Con, as you probably know, was a bit of a mixed bag for me, feeeeeelings-wise. Most of that was my head and the weird way it is put together, but I do think some of it was due to the atmosphere of the con. WFC is huge-normous and it was my first con. Two or three floors full of parties, each one full of hundreds of people I should probably talk to. I wandered around feeling both crowded and totally alienated. I felt like I always needed to be “on” (which, in reality, probably made me totally artificial and creepy). At Readercon, I was determined to keep my shit together and I managed that mainly through pleasing myself. I went to the panels I thought were interesting, I joined the conversations that sounded good. I talked to the people who were cool. And it was lovely. I enjoyed myself virtually all of the time.

And, of course, all my Clarion people. Do you ever do that thing when you actually pause and think about a cliche and you realize, for a moment, how really elegant and perfect it is and understand why everyone uses it? When I say I love my Clarion people, it is useful to consider the unthinkable vastness of that word “love,” the depth and the breadth of it. I talked to them in cars and at tables and in big hotel beds with nine hundred extraneous pillows. I told them secrets and not-secrets. I hugged them and I smiled so much, simply to look about me and see them there. Good faces, lovely faces.

Mishell’s little girl has these huge eyes that roam everywhere. Ken’s family is warm and silly and so open-hearted. Tiffani takes care of me. We all sat together and listened to one another read stories to a room full (!) of people. The world spins and bewilders. What a good, good time.

In closing; at the beginning of the weekend, I started writing down useful or simply great quotations from various panels and readings. At some point I quit (I think this coincided directly with how much gin I had consumed at the time). But here’s what I got:

“Everything is made out of something else. Everything you make is made from what you already have.”
-Kit Reed on modeling characters on the real and what and how much are authors permitted to take from the lives of others.

“That’s the Unified Field Theory of Writing: you are always going to get it wrong.”
-Greer Gilman lays out the parameters. Just a big sliding scale of wrong.

“There is a difference between paying for content and paying the author.”
-Mary Robinette Kowal makes a critical point.

“They have the stage presence of a sack of potatoes.”
-Charles Stross on authors

“That’s not a blog, that’s a large national magazine.”
-Charles Stross on Boing Boing

“In the real science-fictional world, what people will pay for is a brain dump.”
-Charles Stross (who is clearly a quotable guy)

“I listened to a lot of Norwegian Death Metal while writing this. So you don’t have to!”
-Liz Hand takes one for the team

*also: I saw Amanda Fucking Palmer do a ninja gig in Boston. Which was rad. As you would expect. Not the least because it necessitated a harrowing journey with Liz Argall, who is a brave explorer and makes me brave as well.

>Clarion Write-a-Thon: Day Four

2 Jul

>Words, words, words. I didn’t get any of them today. I excised bunches from my Atlanta story, and now it doesn’t have a beginning anymore. And then I started looking at a story I wrote last year called Stasis. It was kind of a weird story for me, sci-fi which I rarely do (although, honestly, I far prefer reading sci-fi to fantasy. I don’t know, I guess I just don’t feel authoritative talking about spaceships. Probably something to work on, as I do love it so hard).

I had it workshopped during a class where the professor was none to kindly disposed to the fantastical in fiction and he essentially dismissed it. Since then, I haven’t really been able to look at it. Even though I tell myself that just because one (or even several) people don’t see value in something doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t have value. But I think the the damage was done. My confidence in the thing was gone. I was almost ashamed to look at it.

In reality, it’s about as good as anything else I was writing at the time (meaning, not very good at all, but not actually as soul-sucking bad as I feared). And I still think the fundamental concept (a woman who builds dreams for patients put in prolonged suspension) has something in it. I think my prof was right when he asked my “why” about this story, though. It may well be that it’s nothing more than an idea (not every idea can carry a story) or maybe it’s an idea out of place and I have to transplant it.

I didn’t intend to revise during the write-a-thon. But…um…I’m gonna, I guess? Woo! This ride is a crazy whirlwind!

>Clarion Write-a-Thon: Day Two and Three

1 Jul

>Okay, Monday I got 1,940 and Tuesday I didn’t get jack shit done. I had kind of a rough volunteer thing in the morning and it sort of colored my world a shade grayer for a while. It wasn’t so much the thing in and of itself, but going home afterward to an empty and silent house. I didn’t necessarily want to discuss it with someone (also, I couldn’t), but, after something that hurts you (or, I think, reminds you of a kind of big, universal hurt that can swallow us up unless we regularly convince ourselves to forget about it) it is a good thing to hear human voices and see human faces. Without that kindness, minds (my mind, at least) have a way of lingering.

But then I watched a little boy be absolutely mind!blown by a yellow highlighter and I felt a little better about the world in general.

What work I did get done Tuesday was thought-work. The story was hovering somewhere around 5,000 words at that point and about 2,000 did not work. I’m not a big fan of logistics. I tend to develop a story idea with a very clear impression of a few scenes (in this particular story it was: hero fingers Aphrodite, hero wakes up next to a deceased prostitute and the ending of the story, which I don’t want to…um…spoil? I guess? In the rather unlikely event that it goes out into the world in this form and y’all see it somewhere). I’m more interested in the characters’ emotional arc than the physicality of the thing, so I tend to careen through stuff that I know has to happen to get to the stuff that seems vivid and real. I jump people around, like checkers. But characters have to move like chess pieces: with their own unique (and consistent!) internal logic.

Plus, it was way too long. Whenever I read stories to critique them, I tend to ask myself two major questions: what is this story about? (in fact, I think at one point, Nate teased me about every. single. one of my Clarion critiques beginning with “I think this story is about…”) and where does this story start? Usually, it wasn’t at the first word. And that’s where a story really needs to start, because otherwise you’re just wasting time.

But I think a lot of writers, even those who plan meticulously and outline and ect, wind up kind of telling themselves the story as they write it. Looking back at the first part of my story, I have no business beginning with a guy brooding exposition on a train for two pages. The audience doesn’t need all that stuff. But I need to know that stuff, and sometimes I don’t know it until I write it down. And then, of course, I can put that stuff in the back of my head, where it belongs, and remove it from the page, where it doesn’t.

So, I’ve gotta re-work the beginning. But I’m pretty solid with the ending, so that’s probably what’ll I’ll spend tonight on. I’ve got about 1,000 words right now, I’ll clock in later tonight and see what’s what.

Oh! Excerpt:

“Ezra felt steady enough to stretch one of his hands through the bars. It fit, if he held it palm-flat and sideways. “Can you help me?” Even in his own ears, his voice sounded childlike. Weak. The white haired woman just stared at him.

“Why are you here, then?” Ezra groaned, “just to laugh at me?”

“Not much funny about a little girl with her throat cut out,” said the woman. “Here, bend your head forward.” Ezra obeyed. He was so weak and he hurt so bad, that he might have fallen forward anyways. He felt the white woman’s hands on the back his head, on the still dampish clot of blood in his hair. He expected it to hurt, but everywhere she touched felt cold and liquid, like sinking down into the clear riverwater at the end of a hot day.”

>Clarion Write-a-Thon: Day One

28 Jun

>Okay, I might get some more work done tonight, but I figured now was as good a time as any to do some accounting. So, for my first day, I got:

3,037 words and
11 pages

All of this was on the Atlanta story. In the less-tangible arena, I’ve realized that I’m going to have to shore up some of my connective scenes and that I need to deal with the fact that my narrator has to be pretty naive for this plot to work. And he’s really not. Arrogant, certainly. Maybe that’s a way to go? And tonight, I got through my seed-scene. You know that one image or moment that kind of launches a story? Mine was, oddly enough, Aphrodite forcing an awkward guy to round third base on her. You know, just another Saturday night.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

“Her hair was white. Not blonde, but a fish-belly absence of color. Her skin was the same way and her veins stood out in such lurid greens and blues that it was as though someone had inked all over her. Her eyes were hard to look at. Ezra couldn’t tell if she was beautiful, much in the same way he didn’t think he’d be able to pick out an especially pretty spider or beetle. That was a question for other spiders and beetles.

She wore a plain white shift with a big, gaped neck. It was short on her and her white thighs, folded over one another, looked as though they’d been carved out of fresh fallen snow. “Anything?” she said, and smiled. Ezra didn’t like that at all.”

Overall, I feel pretty good about today. I’d like to have a complete first draft of this by Tuesday, then I’ll likely let it rest for a while and work on something else. As I’ve got it worked out now, this is going to need some re-structuring, but that’s for when I’ve got more objective eyes.

Also! Mega-thanks to my sponsors, Liz Argall and Ferrett Steinmetz, they are rad as all get-out.

What about you guys? How goes the writing? The a-thoning?

>Clarion Write-a-Thon

24 Jun

>Another post! Egads! And another Clarion-y one at that. But no mushy stuff this time, I promise. Rather, I would like you to give me money.

Well, not “me” exactly. Give money to Clarion, because I would blow it on shoes and scented candles (I am a girl, my uterus dictates all of my fiscal choices). Clarion will use it to help talented writers become even better talented writers who often go on to be even better talented writers who are published and paid money and everything.

Clarion obviously benefits individuals, you might say, but I’m not interested in going to Clarion, what do I get out of this? It’s pretty simple and pretty wonderful: you get more good fiction, specifically spec fic.

Past Clarion attendees have included people like Octavia Butler, Kim Stanley Robinson and Nalo Hopkinson and so many others (seriously, reading the Wikipedia entry before I went last year was more than a little intimidating). Now, I don’t know to what degree Clarion helped these people break into the business and I realize that extraordinary writing and hard work will often produce success, writing workshops aside. But I know for me personally, what Clarion did was open up possibility. Before Clarion I wrote as a matter, but I couldn’t imagine any of my stories in a magazine or published in a book. There just seemed to be some fundamental divide between the things I wrote and the things I bought at the bookstore. I had never submitted to a market before Clarion because it hadn’t really occurred to me that I could. During our personal conversation, my first week instructor Holly Black asked me why I hadn’t submitted and I stammered out something about being lazy about paperwork. The fact of the matter was, I needed something like Clarion to de-mystify the writing and publication process. I learned that no one was receiving perfectly formed works of genius ferried to them by, like, lightning bolt. Even brilliant and successful people were putting in the hours, doing the work and the difference between them and me? They didn’t stop until they got it right. Now I submit regularly and I get rejected regularly and I don’t stop because someday I’m going to hit the sweet spot and Clarion taught me that. If you ever see something of mine in print and you like it, Clarion will be partially responsible. And I think that’s true for many people. So, if you like to read cool fiction, it is in your best interest to keep Clarion chugging along.

And it just so happens that I have an excellent way for you to do that! Please considering sponsoring me or someone else (or, if you’re awesome, several people. I’d make suggestions, but there are seriously so many cool writers on the list I could not choose). In exchange, I promise to complete four short stories in the six-week time period. By my count, that gives me 10-ish days for each story. Included in this fabulous package will be daily updates here (and likely on Twitter on Facebook) and a once-daily 30 minute writing sprint. Because I am competitive by nature, I will announce the sprint times on Twitter/FB/here and people can play along, if they so choose.

Here’s what’s unfinished on my computer:

-The Incubus Child
(essentially what it sounds like. It’s a story about stories. And Incubi.)

-Magical Incest-y Iron Lung Story
(sickly bastard child of an emperor winds up embroiled in palace intrigue and impending war)

-Western Atlanta
(City boy inadvertently strikes up a deal with the goddess of love to win the hand of a cattle baron’s wild daughter.)

-Alien Custody Battle
(this story is basically embryonic, but: man who is the result of a decades long inter-species breeding program attempts to convince his ex-wife not to move their daughter across the country)

-Apoca-bortion
(about why no one ever gets an abortion at the end of the world.)

-Pirate Doctor!
(a Moll-Flanders-style confession from a woman who wound up ship’s doctor for a bunch of no-good pirate types)

-zombie queen
(just a simple tale of a boy and his zombie mom)

-wizard story
(about inter-faith marriages and sin eaters and, oh yeah, wizards. Well, one at least.)

-Tam Lin
(yeah. Tam Lin. In Alaska. With a cute boy-librarian.)

-The Kuleshov Effect
(a girl in a long-distance relationship discovers she can teleport when she begins to fear that her boyfriend is straying)

As you will note, that is significantly more than four. So, if you would like some input on which stories I choose, send some dough my way and I will be happy to oblige you, insofar as it is possible (i.e. if eight people all ask for different stories, I probably won’t be able to get to all of them. But having too many sponsors is probably a good problem to have.)

So, are we all clear on the plan?

Step One: Support Clarion, sponsor writer(s)
Step Two: enjoy delicious spec-fic, fresh from the oven
Step Three: feel good about oneself
Step Four: I don’t know, get a good night’s sleep or something? Have a drink? Meditate? Yeah, that sounds good. You should meditate when you’re done.

Get ready! Get set!

>Happy Families Are All Alike…

31 May

>Snaked this from Ken Schneyer’s journal (which you should totally read if you want to be inspired. The man is a writing, editing, subbing machine.)

First Lines Meme

I chose to use only stories that I am in the process of first drafting. There are some other things I’m going for round two on or polishing, but this the stuff I’m still hammering out. And lest you think me productive or something, lots of these stories have lingered incomplete for years. The oldest, I think, was actually first attempted in a spectacularly awful form when I was fourteen.

Anyway:

-“Davis was messing around in the guts of the old farmhouse they were staying in when Laura told them him she wanted-needed-an abortion.” (this story doesn’t have a name yet, I actually only started it this weekend. It’s mainly about me wondering why everyone’s so psyched when they get knocked up in post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s saved as “apoca-bortion.”)

-“It was her hairspray and her shampoo and the perfume and talcum powder and the laundry detergent and the gum.” (this also doesn’t have a name. Right now it’s saved as “Alien Custody Battle.”)

-“The first really warm day of spring was May ninth, and I was sitting underneath our old, twisted apple tree, blossoms falling out of my hair and a piss-yellow cast on my right arm.” (from a version of the Electra story that I’m going to finish someday.)

-“It was generally agreed that Faye had gone wild, out there in the badlands where nothing grew and the sun sat high and hard at the very top of the sky.” (western version of Atlanta and the Golden Apples. I love Greek myths, what can I say?)

-“It was raining and I was so relieved.” (called “Renewable Resource,” about a demon trolling for souls)

-“This is not the story that Naomi told when the man with the grey recorders came to collect all of our memories.” (The Incubus Child)

-“That year, Pelliol was just sixteen and he had recently moved house with his mother.” (this also doesn’t have a name. I’ve been calling it the Incesty Magical Iron Lung story)

-My name is Amanda Samuels. (saved as “Pirate Doctor!” a Moll Flanders kinda thing)

-“Afterward, everything died.” (a story called “The Rain God.”)

-“Genie got in a pretty bad car accident when she was three and a half months pregnant.” (a Tam Lin story without a name. I’ve just recently figured out what it needs: more Alaska)

-“At the time, I was dating a boy named David, who was the best kisser I ever had.” (The Kuleshov Effect)

-“Momma was a Lutheran and Daddy was staunchly Church of Orr, the traditional branch.” (another nameless story. This one has wizards in it.)

-“Yesterday was my thirty-third birthday and I have decided that this is the year I will come to terms with my on-going desire to rule the world. “ (a story about a really crappy supervillain that I’ve stalled out on)

What have I learned from this? I am terrible at naming stories and put it off as long as possible and holy shit, Ken has a lot of irons in the fire.

I love first lines, actually. They are single most important sentence of any written work. Whenever I am debating reading a book, I read the first paragraph and then the last paragraph and the rule is: they both have to be good.

So what about you guys? What are you working on?