Well, This Has Languished…

I admit, I’ve slacked on updating this blog. While I’d like to place the whole of the blame on Covid-19 and quarantine it’s…not entirely the culprit. Yes, quarantine has thrown my usual schedule off-balance, but my lack of blogging has less to do with a world-wide pandemic, and more to do with having little to say.

So, because I have little to say, and most of it is fairly inane, I’ll arrange it all in bullet-point style.

  • Since quarantine, I’ve started to beta-read more (and beta-read outside my usual network of writer-friends). Which is also why there hasn’t been a “Month of Books” since…oh, wow. March? Two months ago? Wow. Anyway, beta-reading, by its nature, tends to require me to read slower and devote far more attention to, well, everything. Meaning, I can’t just sit back and read purely for the enjoyment of it, and because it requires so much more mental energy, I haven’t been reading much else. BUT! I have read some excellent yet-to-be-published fiction, and that has been a joy. 
  • It has also gotten me ruminating on writing and writing craft, something I haven’t actively done since finishing that degree.
  • This might result in more blogging. We shall see.
  • Still waiting on beta-reads for my own novel, but they’re starting to (slowly) trickle in. Most of my readers are, understandably, distracted by a world-spanning pandemic, so it might take awhile longer.
  • imagesInstead, I’ve started preliminary brainstorming for book 2. Should I? Probably not. If I was wise about this, I’d instead be writing something entirely unrelated, because the likelihood that the first book not only being picked up by an agent, but also by an editor, and the publisher gambling that it’d do all right enough to warrant a book 2 is…beyond astronomical. And yet…I still find this story, these characters, this world compelling, and the ideas for book 2 are starting to spark. Will it go beyond brainstorming? Maybe. Maybe it’ll go to the outline stage. Will I write it? Now? Eeeeeeeh. I don’t know. But it’s lovely to have a large project percolating in my brain again. I’d hit a bit of a slump immediately after finishing “Dead God’s Bones” (heretofore referred to as DGB). By extension, or perhaps, as a result, book 3 is also starting to take on more substance than the vague “it’s book 3!” it’s been since I started writing DGB.
  • I’m currently playing with the idea of expanding a short story into something longer (novelette or novella, not sure yet). The story came close to being published in an anthology I’d submitted it to, and hilariously, I’m going counter to the expectation and instead of turning around and submitting it somewhere else, I’m thinking of ripping it apart and stitching it back together as something new. I realized, after receiving the rejection, that I have no idea how to write a romance story. And this was supposed to be a fantasy romance. I also realized that the thing that was missing (other than the romantic spark) was the other half of the romance’s viewpoint…and why most slow-burn romances have dual PoVs. It’s hard to convey that both characters have feelings for each other when we’re in only one head and that head is not only in denial, but convinced the other doesn’t care. So I’m going to have some fun with this, I’m going to make a whole slew of mistakes, and I’m going to write a romance, goddamnit!
  • Speaking of short fiction, I’ve been writing a little of it here and there. I sold two pieces, which will be coming out at some point in the future, and I’ll update this with links and such when they are.
  • 407798-the-elder-scrolls-online-morrowind-playstation-4-front-coverThe other reason I haven’t been reading much has been because I buckled and bought the Elder Scrolls Online, and have been happily traipsing down memory lane on Vvardenfell. It’s not exactly the same, of course, but I’m enjoying the way the developers interpreted and reinterpreted the lore…and it filled that void for a stable Skyrim I’ve so desperately dreamed of (my Skyrim—and Oblivion for that matter—are notoriously glitchy, partly because I mod, partly because the game engine is unstable). So I’ve become an ESO player.
  • I also caved and bought a subscription. Because crafting materials take up so much space. I wanted that crafting bag. I’m not even actively crafting and I wanted that bag. There’s just not enough inventory slots available for materials and still be able to pick up that fancy pair of boots. Was this wise? Not sure but, hey, haven’t regretted it yet.
  • Eventually, I’ll roll up another character. Namely, my beefy high elf sneaky-fighter who’s been my main in Skyrim for the past long while. Why high elf, you ask?
    Osrin
    Osrindil, soon, you shall return to Tamriel, though I think high elves start in Summerset? Need a pirate hat though…
     Because I find it bizarrely amusing to play a masked, swashbuckling high elf wearing a giant feathered pirate hat gallivanting across Skyrim. Also, if you play high elf, when you infiltrate the Thalmor embassy, you can steal a set of Thalmor robes and waltz right through, and since I have mods for immersive sneak-centric characters, there’s just something very satisfying about waylaying a Thalmor inquisitor, putting him in a choke-hold, rendering him unconscious, and stealing his clothes, to go sneering off past all the Thalmor guards unmolested. It just…completes it, y’know? 
  • On the topic of ESO, their music is gorgeous. I purchased the soundtrack and it’s become my new ambient music for when I’m working/writing. Worth it.
  • I did have my first piece of nonfiction published, “Viewpoint Intimacy Through a Third Person Lens,” which, I hope, will not be the last article/essay of mine that appears somewhere that isn’t my blog.
  • Also, I made a website for my artist alter-ego (about damn time).
  • Since I’m home due to Covid-19, I’ve had more of an opportunity to take photos of the wildlife in my yard:

And that’s it for my bullet-point updates. 

I don’t know about the new WordPress blog editor interface. I’ll get used to it, eventually, but it’s going to take a little while. It likes doing odd things to my image formatting, though having the new slideshow option is nice. I’m not using it, but it’s nice.

A Month of Books: November

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: Okay, I love this book. It is such a delicious, rich, flavorful book, and it touches on so many things that I, personally, find fascinating. Culture and cultural exchange across cultures. Language and how language changes. The idea of being in love with a culture not your own, and equally being afraid of that culture subsuming yours. The question of what it means to be human. The whole concept of memory and personality, and the effect each has on the other, plus the fascinating question of, if you have two sets of memories, one present and one past, are they the same person? Are they different? And where, when memories of two different people are combined into one brain, we become I and I become we? And what it would be like to experience memories that aren’t yours? (True, I’m biased, since that’s one of the major elements I’ve been exploring in my own novel, so it’s wonderful to see someone else tackling the same questions that I am, but with a different lens and perspective*). I am also excited to learn that this is only book 1, and that all those dangling plot threads at the end might be answered in the next installment (and it’s saying something that I didn’t even notice there were unanswered questions till I started writing this, the end was so satisfying). True, I will now have to wait until 2020 to read A Desolation Called Peace, but will mean that future-me will have the satisfaction of a good read.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Irreverently giggle-inducing, often gruesome, and occasionally downright weird. The combination of magic and space ships is both different and pleasantly jarring—those shouldn’t work together, and every so often, don’t seem to work together, BUT the mixture is unique and unexpected, and I felt that outweighed the odd hiccup. In a way, the plot’s structure reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with a cast of characters with dubious morals trapped on/in an inescapable location, being murdered one by one, the only suspects each other. And that end. All I will say about that end is “Hm. Now that is interesting.” However, just as a note, the beginning can be a bit tricky; there’s a lot of jargon and quite a few sentences that I needed to read a second time to get their meaning. But once they’re at Canaan House, I found things either smoothed out or I gelled with the writing style, and it became easier, and once a certain conversation happened late in the book, the relationship between the main characters sat better with me. It also has a tendency to leave things visually vague, which calls for the reader to do some imagination legwork. Unrelated to the actual content of the book, the hardcover with the black side-trim is absolutely gorgeous, a total work of art. It’s such a pretty book. Harrow the Ninth looks like it’ll be just as pretty (and maybe answer some of my blasted questions!).

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold: So. This year at Windycon, I was on a panel devoted entirely to discussing the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, in particular The Vorkosigan Saga (the theme this year was Space Opera), and I realized it’d been awhile since I’d reread the earlier books in the series, seeing that with this latest reread, I was for some unfathomable reason reading the books backwards. So I jumped back and realized…I’d conflated a lot of the events in The Warrior’s Apprentice with events in The Vor Game. Anyway, it’s interesting to go back to young Miles, and to see what’s being setup for later books.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold: Continuing my reread in preparation for the panel. Not much to say other than, still vastly enjoyable, four rereads later. Seriously, The Vorkosigan Saga is one of those where I can read and reread and not be bored, even though I know how everything turns out. Instead, I get to look forward to the parts I know are coming, and it’s with giddy anticipation that I read. The Vor Game is still a delightful romp, pre-Miles-as-professional-deep-cover-agent, so it’s just so much fun to see him mess up and save it, and somehow make it look like he was planning for that eventuality the entire time.

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold: Cetaganda can be a bit…odd, compared to the others. Tonally, in some ways, it’s almost more in line with the later books after Miles is medically forced to retire from his double life as Admiral Naismith. This one is, in a way, an early precursor to Miles Vorkosigan, the Imperial Auditor, since he gets to investigate and do his hero-ing under his own name. Only thing is, all his heroics end up swept under the rug of “so classified, the classification is classified” due to him…saving? what is, ostensibly, the enemy. However, the thing I so love, absolutely love, about this one is the humanizing of the Cetagandans. Up until this point, they were more of bogeymen wearing terrifying face paint; there’s a brief moment of screen-time for them in The Warrior’s Apprentice, but for the most part in the first few books, they’re either a threat in the past or faceless ships. It’s in Cetaganda that we get to see them as individuals…and they are simultaneously characterized as both incredibly alien and incredibly human.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 edited by Carmen Maria Machado (series editor: John Joseph Adams): This one was intriguing to analyze from the perspective of a writer writing and submitting short stories. While the majority of my reading tends to be novels, I do enjoy a good short story, particularly during my lunch break. Anyway, the majority of stories included in this year’s The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy leaned heavily into unusual/nontraditional story structures, often riffing on other forms not usually used for fiction (such as “Poor Unfortunate Fools” by Sylvia Park, which is told as an academic paper, “STET” by Sarah Gailey, which is told through editing notes and notations, and “Dead Air” by Nino Capri, which is an audio transcription), but had its fair share of traditional narratives as well (and an interesting use of second person right off the bat in “Pitcher Plant” by Adam-Troy Castro).

Godblind by Anna Stephens: Hrm. I’m conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I devoured this book in two days, and it’s not a small book. It was compelling and kept me turning pages. On the other, it didn’t feel quite…deep enough for what I was wanting. I like to be entirely immersed in my fantasy, and Godblind seemed more keen on fast pacing than immersion. Yes, it moves at a very quick clip; things start spiraling out of control for the main characters practically from the get-go and don’t let up. But that fast pace is at the expense of the world- and character-building (more so world than character). It also has a lot of viewpoint characters (ten, count them, ten!), which can give you a bit of whiplash when you go from one end of the country to the other in the space of three pages (though if I remember right, Mark Lawrence did something very similar with Red Sister, so it might just be a mark of the subgenre). These two things combined in such a way that the book didn’t—hm—have the chewiness I like in my fantasy. Still, if you’re a fan of fast-paced grimdark, Godblind is a good addition to the genre. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.


* I also have found a new comp title for when I start querying the new novel. Am pleased. Am very pleased.

Achievement Unlocked: 40 Submissions in 2019!

success-846055_960_720.jpg

So at the beginning of the year, I gave myself the challenge of 40 short story submissions. This was a modification on a challenge that I’d heard of where one tries for 40 short story rejections in a year*, but I’d felt that that still relied too much on external factors that I can’t control. My success in my own personal challenge would still be dependent on someone else.

Some markets don’t send rejections letters (it’s rarer than it is with agents, but it happens). Some markets are notorious for slow turnarounds (I’ve got something out right now that’s at 133 days pending; someone else who’d submitted long before me just got a rejection notice at almost 300 days). And sometimes, sometimes, instead of a rejection, you get an acceptance.

Which is a lovely reason not to have a rejection, by the way.

Better, say I, to count submissions. I can control how many submissions I send out. It’s a quantifiable number that’s entirely dependent on my own agency.

Long story short, I accomplished my personal challenge! Woo! As I’m done early, I’m giving myself the stretch-goal of another 10 by December (grand total, 50 submissions in 2019). And, should I hit that, ten more.**

For 2020, I’ll aim for 40 again, with stretch goals.

I also made myself an achievement badge. For bragging. (And because I found an Xbox achievement generator.)

40 Submissions!


* Okay, so, there is another reasoning behind the original challenge that isn’t just getting in submissions. The idea is to look forward to rejections in order to replace the negative connotation of rejections in your mind so they sting less when you receive them. I’m one of the lucky few who can roll with rejection letters fairly well (yes, I admit, when I see the rejection letter phrasing in my email’s preview, I sometimes don’t open the letter till I’ve worked up the gumption/my emotional defenses, but for the most part,  I’m not overly saddened by rejection notices). If rejection letters really hurt, I suggest maybe trying out the original challenge, for funsies. I needed more accountability for submissions when I started, thus, my modified challenge.
** I’m not counting queries or novel submissions in this. Just short stories, novelettes, flash fiction, and novellas.

Anthologies vs. Magazines

fire-and-water-2354583_960_720

So far, all of my published work has been published through anthologies, and, as I’d just finished my last Stonecoast residency*, it’s come to my attention that the major drawback of anthology publications is that I can’t really use them as writing samples and examples. Typically, you have to buy the anthology in its entirety to read my story (especially since, so far, I’ve been toward the middle of the book, not in the preview pages) and that’s at least a $10 investment in an unknown.

This got me thinking about the pros and cons of anthology publication and magazine publication (both print and digital). Thus: handy-dandy bullet-pointed list, drawn from my limited experience (and, honestly, the ‘versus’ in the title is more for compare/contrast; neither is better than the other, though it amuses me to think of anthologies and magazines duking it out).

ANTHOLOGIES

Pros:

  • They usually have a print option, along with the e-book version, so you have a physical thing to show people if you’re, say, at a con or doing a talk or what have you. It’s a thing people can touch and flip through. It has weight. You can point at it and say, “I am in that.”
  • If you happen to do open mic readings, there’s a certain illusion of legitimacy lent by reading from a physical book. Well, for me, at least.
  • Also, if—like me—you respond well to prompts and challenges and/or find outwardly imposed deadlines something that drives you and your work output, there are many themed anthologies (read, writing prompts) with open calls running at any given time (not all pay, but that’s beside the point).
  • Competition ranges. If the open call period is short, or the anthology is relatively new and/or pays little, you might be competing with hundreds of submissions in total, rather than hundreds of submissions per week (this fluctuates! Some anthologies do have more submissions, though those tend to be ones affiliated with a well-known magazine).
  • Reprints! Some markets stipulate that they’ll accept reprints but only if the story isn’t currently available online for free.

Cons:

  • That issue I mentioned before about having to pay in order to get a glimpse of a writer’s work.
  • Remember that weight-thing? Yeah. It’s literal. When packing for a convention or a conference, the number of copies you can bring is limited by luggage space. It’s either a second pair of pants or extra copies of that anthology.
  • Submission expiration date. Anthologies, particularly themed anthologies over series ones, have a deadline, and once that deadline passes, it’s gone. You’ll have to wait for another zombies-in-space anthology to send that zombie-on-a-space-station-existential-horror story, or start submitting it to magazines (which, consequentially, is where everyone else is submitting their zombies-in-space themed stories, too). Often, anthology themes can be extremely specific, thus making the story harder to place elsewhere.

MAGAZINES

Pros:

  • Rarely themed, though they tend to be genre-specific (eldritch horror or gothic or heroic fantasy or post-apocalyptic dark sci-fi, etc. (check magazine guidelines)). But the umbrella tends to be broad.
  • As such, if you’re a writer who prefers to do your own thing, and has little use for prompts, magazines are far more open to anything within their umbrella that piques their interest.
  • Links! Like, live (mostly) links! If someone wants to get a taste for your work, all they need to do is follow the link on your publication history/credits/clips page, and there you go! Instant gratification.
  • Sometimes, a magazine is both print and digital, or is primarily digital and has end-of-the-year collections that are put out in print. These are usually the higher tier pro markets (occasionally semi-pro, though, and print on demand makes this a more accessible option for magazines). So, best of both worlds? Links and paper?

Cons:

  • High competition, especially for the paying and/or well-known ones. We’re talking submissions in the hundreds a week for some of the big ones.
  • You can’t easily promote an online-only magazine publication at a convention or conference. A person (in my experience) is less likely to go to a website and click through the links when they haven’t had the opportunity to flip through the book first. It’s more work on their part. And requires that they haven’t lost your business card between the con and their computer.
  • Sometimes, magazines go defunct. And that shiny link suddenly and irreparably goes dead. Which is why I highly recommend that publishing authors occasionally click through the links on their bibliography/publications page and if a link is dead, remove it. Keep the cred, obviously, but I personally find it messy to click through links, looking for someone’s work, only to get 404 pages.

Know of any I’ve missed? Leave a comment, and I’ll add it to the list.


* In short, Stonecoast’s program has a ten-day intensive residency in Maine which is something like a combination of classroom and writing retreat. During residency, students attend workshops, seminars, panels, pop-up events, talks, and generally get six credit hours worth of material and hands-on writing experience compressed into ten wonderful, crazy-frantic, challenging days.