Monday, October 24, 2011

Where to find me

This weekend I will be at World Fantasy Con, in San Diego. If you are going to be there, and would like to find me I am:

Having a solo reading! Friday 11:30 am, in Pacific 6/7. I will probably be reading "The Speaking Bone," which was published in Apex earlier this year.

Reading as part of the Fantasy Magazine group reading. Saturday 3-4 pm, in one of the hotel suites (tbd). There are some really great writers who are participating in this one, so I'm quite excited for it. I'll be reading an excerpt from "Choose Your Own Adventure."

I will also be wandering about most days (except for Sunday, when I leave, lo, very early), attending readings and panels and BarCon. If you see me (I am a tall and redheaded person, so fairly easy to spot) feel free to say hello.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Would you like to hear something strange?

I love pretty much everything about October. The cooler weather, and the way that lends itself to cooking soups and stews. The smell of the leaves and the slant of the light. The reds and golds and ochers. Pumpkins and apples and cider. 

I also particularly love Hallowe'en. I love dressing up, and scary stories, and really, every part of the celebration. Including the music. I always make a playlist, and I generally ask Twitter to help. I got some great suggestions this year, some of which didn't make it on here because they didn't quite fit the mood, but I'm holding them in reserve.

Here it is:

1. Danse Macabre  - Béla Fleck (with Ben Sollee)
2. Every Day is Halloween - Ministry
3. Heads Will Roll - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
4.People are Strange - The Doors
5. Buffy Main Title Theme - The Breeders
6. Peek-A-Boo - Siouxsie and the Banshees
7.Transylvanian Concubine - Rasputina
8. Living Dead Girl - Rob Zombie
9. Bela Lugosi's Dead - Nouvelle Vague
10. This is Halloween - The Citizens of Halloweentown
11. The Killing Moon - Echo and the Bunnymen
12. Nemesis - Shriekback
13. Dead Man's Party - Oingo Boingo
14. Zombie Jamboree - Rockapella
15. Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Pickett
16. In the Hall of the Mountain King - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
17. A Forest - Bat for Lashes
18. Ramalama (Bang Bang) Róisín Murphy
19. L'il Red Riding Hood - Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
20. Walk Like a Zombie - HorrorPops
21. Time Warp - The Rocky Horror Show Original Cast
22. Bad Moon Rising - Thea Gilmore
23. Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
24. Thriller  - Michael Jackson

If you have a favorite that I left off, please feel free to leave it in the comments. I'm always looking for more creepy music.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Still alive, still writing

I'm at one of those weird places where I'm very busy, lots of things are happening, and yet I have very little to write about here. I'm working on a number of writing projects, and teaching my course, and getting excited for World Fantasy next weekend. And things are happening, but nothing I can really talk about in a concrete way, and blog posts full of "I've got a secret" aren't really that fun.

There is, of course, the option of the blog that isn't a personal update, but that requires the time and the brain and the words to write it. And my time and brain and words have all been going to other things recently, with more or less degree of success. So I'm semi-hoping that this post will do what posts of this nature so often do, and give me such wonderful things to blog about that I'll make myself find the time, and so there will be a post apologizing for lack of posting followed by lots of writing, but I have my doubts.

So. I'm alive. I'm writing. I'm busy. Things are generally good, and I hope they are for you as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

We are our medium

This post is a response to two other posts I read today. This one, by Cat Valente, which - to vastly oversimplify an elegant post - wishes we talked about the content of books, rather than the medium by which we read them, and this one by Paul Jessup, which longs for the days when writers talked about writing as art, rather than as business. 

Here's the thing. Writing has always been a business. That Anglo-Saxon bard, chanting out Grendel's destruction of Hrothgar's men in thumping alliterative verse? Did so in exchange for a place by the fire, food on his plate, mead in his mug. Dante and Chaucer had wealthy patrons. Shakespeare didn't just write the plays that were performed at Blackfriars Theatre, he was co-holder of the lease on the building (a building he helped dismantle and move when cost of the original location proved too great.) Now, am I trying to say that Will and Kit Marlowe or Ben Jonson never talked about dramatic structure or whether a clown ought to speak in blank verse when they had drinks at the Mermaid? Absolutely not. But I do think they discussed how those drinks were getting paid for, and thus, the business and economics of writing.

And for nearly as long as writing has been a business, there have been innovations in the way it was done. The switch from oral to written story-telling. The move from books being completely handcrafted and thus available only to the very wealthiest to moveable type printing. And yes, ebooks and podcasts. All of these things - and more - had effects. Even if not on the way stories got told, they had effects on who had access to them, on who bore the costs of their creation, of who had the ability to create.

And Cat is absolutely right to say that the thing that matters most in all of this is the story. She and Paul are both right to say that the reason we become writers is because we love stories and want to tell them. I agree with this absolutely. But I also think that once we start writing for publication, things become not so simple.

If I just wanted to think of myself as a writer, I could write stories for myself. I could polish them until they were perfect, and care not at all about what the market looked like or if they would ever sell or if anyone would ever read them. But once I start writing for publication - whether publication on my own blog, or through some form (paper or electronic) of self-publishing, or publishing professionally, I am no longer simply writing for the art of it. I am writing in order to get something back. That something may be money, or fame, or simply someone else reading it and thinking of me as a writer, but it is something. So let's not be disingenuous here and say we only care about the art. It may be the thing we care most about, we may be willing to make less money and reach a smaller audience in order to have more artistic freedom, but we are engaged in the business of writing, as well as the art of telling stories.

And when people outside of our immediate world of people who tell stories and get paid to do so get a chance to ask us questions, they are going to want us to respond to things like ebooks, and the fact that award-winning professional magazines are only available on the internet and for download and are never available in print format. They're going to want to ask us questions like why we trunk a story rather than self-publishing, or why we self-published our backlist, or why a publisher can't have an e-version of a long-awaited sequel available for download the day after the author presses send on an MS. Hell, I've seen writers complain about ebook pricing, and formatting errors, and say they won't buy something if they can't buy it for their ereader, so how can we be grumpy when fans do the same thing? We can say the only thing that matters is a good story, and I do believe it is the thing that matters most, but this other stuff - well, I understand why people want to talk about it. 

This doesn't mean that I don't believe there's space for discussion of stories, and the books that have made us who were are, and the things that have inspired us, that have made us want to be better writers. And yes, I would absolutely rather discuss someone's novel, rather than the format in which it was first published - reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making will make me a better writer. Knowing that Cat first published it as a serial novel on her blog won't. I've made plans when at World Fantasy at the end of the month to get together in the bar and talk about the contents of Little, Big, not about the fact that Crowley is going to be recording an audiobook of it. We should talk about our stories - they are the best part of us. We should want to make them the most important part of the discussion. But I don't think it serves us or anyone well to pretend there was once some halcyon age where talking about our stories was all we ever did.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It is not now as it hath been of yore

It was one of those runs. One of those runs where your body reminds you that you are, lo, very far from being a teenager. Where every ache manifests itself, just out of harmony with all the others. Where you ask yourself why exactly you are out doing this, and wouldn't it be nicer just to go home and put on sweats, and hang out with the dog.

I could lie to myself, and say that I am running because I am a writer who does not wish to be writer-shaped. I could lie and say I am doing this for my health, and because I rather like chocolate and triple cream brie, and something must be done to counteract their effects. Those things wouldn't even fully be lies. But they wouldn't be the important truth, the truth that keeps me running, even though the real reason may well be the biggest lie of all.

I didn't realize it at the time, but my competitive fencing career ending in an ice-slicked parking lot in Edina, Minnesota in December of 2002. A woman in a black Ford Explorer pulled out of a parking spot without looking, hit me, and sent me flying. I landed on my right hip, cracking, as I discovered later, the cartilage. Surgery wasn't an option. I had already qualified for Nationals, so I trained through it, with the help of an orthopedic surgeon used to dealing with high-level athletes.

Nationals was a disaster, but my hip held up. Unfortunately, once I got back, and we stopped spending all that energy fighting entropy, entropy won, and the rest of me fell apart. My next two tournaments, I brought home a dislocated shoulder and a torn hamstring. It was time, we all agreed, to be done.

Except I didn't want to be. I fenced again as a refuge from the horrid end of my marriage and as I was writing the first draft of my first book and the final draft of my dissertation, and training kept life and soul together through all of those things. I still don't want to be done. I've found a club here to train with. It's the shoulder, even though that was the least of the injuries at the time, that gives me the most problems. (And please, I love you guys, and you are awesome people, but trust that I have good doctors, good physical therapists - including a sister who is one - and that I have tried just about everything to put it back together again, and please do not give me helpful suggestions about what might work.)

But I'm not ready to say never. I'm not ready to put away my equipment, and say I'll never compete again. So I run, not just to get into less-writer-shaped shape, but to help get back into competitive shape. I run, and then I come home, and put on sweats, and hang out with the dog. And pick up my pen, and sometimes my sword.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"The Calendar of Saints"

I am extremely excited to tell you that I have a new short story out, "The Calendar of Saints," in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I am very pleased to be in such a great magazine, and incredibly grateful to Editor-in Chief Scott Andrews, not least because he said it reminded him of one of Ellen Kushner's Riverside stories, which is on the short list of nicest things anyone has ever said about my writing.

"The Calendar of Saints" was an unusual story for me. I wrote the first draft in the late winter or early spring (they blend together to a rather appalling extent in Minnesota). It was the first time I tried experimenting with structure, and it was about twice the length of what I normally wrote. I knew it had issues when I finished it, but I wasn't sure what, and I sent it to my beta readers. They were very helpful, and after I read all their comments, I trunked the story.

I had no idea how to fix what they said was wrong. I knew they were right, but I couldn't make the changes. 

Then, earlier this year, out of the blue, I woke up, and I knew how to fix it. I made the changes, and knew I wanted to send it to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And lo, I did. Scott asked for a rewrite, and this was my first time doing that, but he bought the revised story. And his editorial work was fabulous - he was a keen-eyed reader who was willing to talk to me to help me get the best story I could write.

I am really proud of this story. I hope you like it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The heart and stomach of a king

Because of the new book I'm working on, I'm doing a lot of research into various sixteenth century people and places. One of these people is Elizabeth I of England.

Elizabeth, you may recall from her sobriquet, "The Virgin Queen," famously remained unmarried throughout her life and her reign. This was remarkable for a couple of reasons. The smaller reason is, after the dissolution of the monasteries as part of the Henrician reforms, marriage was the only option for women. There was no other career path, even for a woman born to royalty. The second was that, for a woman born to royalty, participation in the marriage game was expected. Weddings were how treaties were sealed, the promise of a betrothal was an expected part of political negotiations (and those promised betrothals were often undone as negotiations fell apart). Women were pawns in a very real game of thrones.

Not only that, even though Elizabeth had literally been given the education of a prince and was a staggeringly intelligent woman, no one, including her advisors, thought she was capable of ruling a country. At the beginning of her reign, her ambassadors and staff would bring messages to her privy council, rather than to her, when the information was "too great a burden for a woman." Parliament petitioned her multiple times to take a husband, who could better deal with the great tasks, and then to show her greatest love for her country by producing heirs and shoring up the succession.

At eight years old, the woman later called "the greatest catch in all her parish" told a childhood friend she had no wish ever to marry. Considering her father's marital disasters - which included the judicial murder of Elizabeth's mother - it is not hard to see why. But for twenty years after taking the throne, Elizabeth played the marriage game. She agreed to be courted by most of the crowned heads of Europe, and used her potential marriage as a negotiating tool. It was a game she played with consummate skill.

Yet so far, every single book I have read at one point or another, dismisses the intelligence and cunning Elizabeth used throughout those twenty years of almost-promises and says she was simply "acting like a woman." You know, changing her mind, being fickle, and enjoying watching the boys fight over her.

Oh, sure. Some of the books sometimes go back and say, "hey, that was pretty strategic of her, she really was her father's daughter" but no one - and mind you, these are modern biographies - seems to be able to sustain the notion that maybe, just maybe, Elizabeth was thinking with her head and not her loins. It's a puzzle to me, and it's especially a puzzle when the book presents Elizabeth as an otherwise intelligent and politically savvy person.

I don't know if it's that we're so conditioned to believe a princess must have a prince that people are trying to rewrite political maneuvering as romance (no matter that the prince is her dead sister's husband or a boy half her age with known sadistic tendencies and a weeping ulcer on his face), or if people are still underestimating Elizabeth and refusing to believe that she knew what she would be giving up by marrying - that she would go from being the most powerful person in the country to being a broodmare - and so they cannot imagine that she spent twenty years outsmarting the crowned (male) heads of Europe, and then another 400 outsmarting historians.

She said once that though she had "the body but of a weak and feeble woman, I have the heart and stomach of a king." I think she had the heart and brain of a queen, as well.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Everything and nothing

I feel like I'm living in the land of Almost and Not Quite right now. It's a place where all the streets are paved with uncertainty, and the stoplights flash in code. So many pieces of things are almost ready to happen. Almost, but not quite, and so I can't talk about them.

I don't even like to think about them, because there's so much flux, I don't have the foundation to make a decision. So instead, I make all the decisions, and let my thoughts trace down all the paths, and then my brain races like it's on a hamster wheel, and let me tell you what, that's a very uncomfortable feeling.

But some things I can share: I am working on a new book. I am kind of embarrassingly excited about it. The elevator pitch right now is "it's like a female-driven version of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell set in the sixteenth century." The exciting part - research. For example: Catherine de Medici had seven stuffed crocodiles hanging from her ceiling. (My brother pointed out that this would be a great deal more impressive if said ceiling-crocodiles were live.) This has to go in the book. The not-exciting part - maps. I am so bad at maps, and this book is really going to need them.

Also! I will definitely be at World Fantasy this month. It was in serious doubt for a while (my dog has had serious medical bills a couple of times this year, and then there was the whole "the hurricane smashed my car with a tree" problem.) But due to a very generous gift of a plane ticket, I will get to go. I am incredibly grateful. And if you're going to be there, I hope you'll say hi.

Also also! Perhaps you know that my friend Megan and I are writing a ballet together. (If you do not know this, and wish further information, you can find it here. This entry describes the current state of things.) We had a planning meeting today, and talked about some of the next steps. One of which is where I block out a fencing sequence that is translatable into dance. I am excited, terrified, and doubting my sanity, which is probably the perfect frame of mind to be working in.