Lise Needs a New Writing Project

Day 148: The end of the line

I need a new project to work on. Probably a novel, since last year did a pretty good job of establishing that I’d rather be writing long-form fiction instead of short. I am feeling antsy to put new words on paper. The question is: on what?

“But Lise!” I hear you say. “Aren’t you still working on novel edits/querying Lioness/submitting short stories?”

Yes, but that’s a different sort of creative energy. They are important, and good, but they do not give me that wild exhilaration of creating something out of nothing. Drafting is arguably why writers write; it’s the most enjoyable part of the process, and probably what drew us to the vocation in the first place.

So what are my options for drafting something new?

A sequel to Lioness

I know, roughly, what happens in the sequel to Lioness. It involves sea journeys, and new cultures, and probably new points of view, since our trio of main characters is going to be split up. (If you wanted an Estevien POV, for example, he’s going to be off by himself in the equivalent of the New World).

The problem with this option is… there’s a lot of wisdom against writing a sequel to a novel you haven’t sold. You’re investing a lot in something that may not pan out. This is true for all writing, of course, but if your goal is ultimately to reach readers, then spending a year writing something you can never, ever sell (without selling the first novel) is kind of frustrating.

I guess there’s no harm in outlining the next novel? But outlining doesn’t really scratch the right itch…

Something else in the world of Lioness

On a whim a few months ago, I started writing a romance story in the world of Lioness. (It is the answer to the question, “what exactly does happen when Bizel goes back to Lisieres on the Empress’ orders to reconcile with his estranged wife?”) It’s a lot of fun to write — because Bizel is a lot of fun to write, and I’m discovering his wife is, too — but it’s yet another example of Something I Can’t Do Anything With ™ unless Lioness succeeds.

Revisiting an old project

I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to Gods and Fathers. There’s a lot of good stuff there, though marred by issues of “why am I handling characters at such a remove?” and “is this story really about Mirasa or Serevic?”

(Some day I’d like to get to the bottom of why I find it easier to write compelling male characters than I do female, despite my own gender. I don’t think Lioness has quite the same level of problem as G&F did, but my male characters do tend to be scene stealers, and so many of my edits on Lioness were, “no, seriously, make sure this scene is ACTUALLY ABOUT YFRE GODDAMMIT.” I blame years of narrative training with male protagonists in male-dominated SFF worlds).

This would be a lot of work, of course. If I want to be serious about self-pub I should probably rewrite it from scratch, and then plan out an entire series and marketing pieces for it.

I also have the half-a-novel I wrote in 2009 for NaNoWriMo, Viktory Empire, which is kind of steampunk/weird West with a young woman searching for her mother across a desert landscape. Again I would probably start over from scratch, keeping some scenes that I particularly liked. There’s a lot of filler that was just to make wordcount for NaNo, and of course it is only 50k, and unfinished as a story.

An entirely new novel

This holds the most appeal. And yet… I’m not sure what. Looking at my idea file, a few things stand out:

“Built-up fairyland.” This is intended as a return to Exilian Marquis, the portal fantasy world where I set all of my (seldom written down, usually just narrated to myself while walking circles in my yard) childhood stories. Looking over what I DID write down, a lot of it is rubbish, but there are many things I still love. I loved the arcane bureaucracy of the magical order I created; the race of grey-eyed, black-haired fae who were ever opposed to the main characters; my authorial stand-in, badass spinster sorceress who set the leader of her order on fire (I was anti-authoritarian even then…); the Japanese diaspora I created which was born out of my love for the Samurai Cat books and noodling with language.

I love the idea of reworking that world for my adult sensibilities… especially turning it into this sort of crossroads between different times and places, where technology sorta half-works and half-doesn’t…. oh heck, that’s the premise of the larp Crossover, isn’t it?

Also… I have no real plot for it. I guess I could go back to the plot of one of the novels I did try to write in that world. The last novel I tried to write in that world (I was working on it when I lived in France) is probably the most amenable to that treatment.

Of course, I don’t want to turn into That Guy in Your SFF Writing Workshop ™ who’s been writing the same story since they were in high school. That’s the danger with going back to familiar settings — there’s so much that resonates with you which means nothing to other people.

And then there’s the boringly-named “dark queen” story. Basically I like all those stories like Labyrinth which start with something like “disaffected young woman meets up with seductive dark prince and considers embracing his sort of evil.” But then said woman inevitably makes the choice to turn towards light and goodness and… yawn. That’s where I lose interest. What is even the point of fantasy that tells us, “Get the fuck out of this fantasy world and Be Good?”

There are of course many pitfalls of this idea. What I WANT the story to be is a tale of the slow descent into evil by one banal decision after another; of a woman taking her power from being villainous. But “evil” winning often doesn’t fit with the narrative structures we know and love. There’s also the risk that the relationship between guy and girl will come off disturbingly coercive, when I see it more as him being the catalyst to a voyage of (villainous) self-discovery. And of course, this feels like another place where I am likely to fall into “the most interesting character is a) not the main character, and b) is a dude”-syndrome.

Honestly I just re-read Rosamund Hodge’s “A Guide For Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies” and it strikes me I want to hit a lot of the same notes as that story.

Finish Yo’ Shit 2018

There’s a certain appeal to this, too. I have a lot of unfinished projects that I cared enough to start, but haven’t bothered to finish. This is true even if I just count stuff I wrote in the last decade, what I consider to be my “adult” writing. There are the ones I mentioned above — the Lioness romance story, the half-novel — plus a couple of stories in the world of Gods & Fathers, a few standalone shorts, etc.

This feels good and responsible, and it involves putting new words on paper — but will it give me that “new novel energy” I seem to be seeking?

So what do I do?

I’ve talked before about how I use tarot as a sort of narrative therapy, using my interpretation of the cards to tell stories about my life. Since I was stymied by this question, I decided to use this method. I drew one card — the Magician, a card that is all about agency, master, and personal power.

… well, then. That seemed to very much point to the “built-up fairyland” story, where one of the main characters is, as I said, a badass spinster sorceress. I was especially drawn to one of the themes suggested by this card — “prodigy at the cost of normalcy” — which seemed to fit very well with how I envisioned the character, and the importance she played in my meaning-making and storytelling at that age. In the original tales, she was more like a mentor character, one POV out of way too many, but I think if I am going to write this, she needs to be front and center. I am Done with writing main characters who are not the protagonist.

I actually did a free write on this this morning, trying to get a feel for the character, the world, what the heck I’m doing. This is usually my first step, before I even write an outline; it’s not intended to be part of the finished story, although sometimes it is. I’m trying first-person POV for now; I may try third-person another day. I do like the immediacy of first person, even if these days its use seems to scream young adult. I mean, I guess this could be YA? I don’t know enough to say for sure yet.

So that’s, I think, what’s next for me.

Unless I decide to change my mind tomorrow. Which is entirely possible.

Why editing is a shitshow, but I’m still doing it

I haven’t posted much about editing Lioness lately — because, let’s be honest, editing sucks and I have been avoiding it a lot.

Reason number one why editing sucks

It’s hard to tell “something is broken and needs to be fixed” from the normal anxiety of being a writer and hating everything you’ve ever written.

Reason number two

It is basically impossible to see your writing with enough of an outside view to edit it adequately.

Oh, people claim you can. There are all kinds of editing methods aimed at giving you a new view of your writing. Edit backwards. (I’ve never understood this one — by word? By sentence? By paragraph?) Change the font. Export it as an ebook and read it on a device.

These are good for catching prose-level stuff, but I think they are useless for structural-level stuff. It won’t tell you, for example, that the character that you have in your head isn’t on the page.

“Put your MS in a drawer for a while” is another method I’ve heard of gaining objectivity, and this has some truth to it. I’m certainly more objective about stuff I wrote years ago. But a mere month or two is not enough for me to sufficiently forget all my infelicitous authorial choices.

Reason number three: lack of concrete goals.

Right now I’m working through a list of potential edits, based on comments from alpha readers and my own impressions after reading the full draft. I feel like I never get to cross anything off this list. “Make viewpoint really tight on Yfre throughout” is not a point at which you arrive, at least not until the very end. Or sometimes I’ll partially implement something (like “make it clear early on that deep sea navigation isn’t possible”) but realize I need to do it in more than one place to be really effective.

Reason number four: unhelpful criticism.

I mean, my writing group is great, and I have some wonderful feedback from my alphas. But then there is feedback which is basically, “make this novel something else entirely,” and that is not helpful. At its worst it depresses me for days and makes me wonder why I even bothered spending the time to write this novel.

Reason number five

Ultimately it is not instructing my twelve tiny dwarves to build a shelter on a barren wasteland and fight off hordes of monsters.

The Way Forward

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last month last few months last approximately forever largely avoiding doing it, but to get back on the bandwagon, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April–

… and that kind of fizzled. According to my highly unscientific calculations, I did ~6 hours of editing in April, but then larp season happened.

One big change I have made recently — which I tentatively think may be the best life change I’ve ever made — is to change my work schedule from 10am-6pm. Not only am I avoiding the worst traffic, it also means I can get 45mins to an hour of work in before my day begins.

Assuming I wake up at the same time. Which is sometimes hard after a holiday weekend spent bingeing on video games. But I seem to have gotten back on track, just in time for the weekend 😉

I’m really hoping to be done by the time the Pitch Wars submission window opens in early August. Though, seeing as I am still busting and reconstructing complex relationship structures in the first third of the book, maybe this is too optimistic.

All of this kvetching is to say, for those of you who ask: I’m still doing it. I may hate doing it, but persist.

I just hope that at the end what I have is a polished gem, not a shoebox full of story fragments.

That Loser Lise Wrote Another Novel: the (in)Frequently Asked Questions + Excerpt

This is largely the same post I made on Facebook on Monday — all I’ve added is the excerpt at the end, and a bunch of links. Feel free to skip it if you’ve read it there. I know at the moment the world is focused on bigger matters than little ol’ me and my writing, but I wanted to have this preserved somewhere less ephemeral and easier to reference than FB.

As I wrote elsewhere, I recently finished the novel project I’d been working on for ~3 years. Like the last time I finished a major writing project, I thought I’d make a few notes for people who might be interested in helping me out with the difficult next steps.

So, what’s the title of this novel?

A Lioness Embarked

So what is this one About ™?

A Lioness Embarked is a fantasy re-imagining of The Three Musketeers from the point of view of the antagonists, liberally sprinkled with queer characters, polyamory, frockery, and bad innuendos. In order to repay a life debt, diplomat (read: spy) Yfre must unravel a conspiracy to assassinate the Empress she hates.

It’s fantasy, obviously. Adult fantasy, specifically, and fantasy of manners more specifically still. Indeed, if you go to the Wikipedia page and look at the list of authors, it looks a lot like a list of my favorites 🙂

My alpha readers have compared it to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside stuff, which is flattering, and has caused me to ABSOLUTELY NEVER MENTION CHOCOLATE, because the similarities really are too great. Ironic, since I didn’t even read Swordspoint until I’d already started Lioness. There are some incidental similarities to the Kushiel series, too, just because we both picked a fantasy version of medieval France as our setting.

Other than that, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a great deal of inspiration from Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, although it’s grimmer in its outlook. (Definitely not grimdark, though).

How many words is it?
Around 120k, after cleaning out a repeated scene in the final chapter.

This is, for anyone keeping track at home, just about on the line of becoming a hard sell in SFF. (Books more than 120k are harder to sell, harder to edit, harder to publish, and harder to print). I can probably cut it down significantly, however, in editing.

Seriously, are you still writing fantasy?

Yes, Mom and Dad 🙂 Not that I really need to defend my choice to write genre fiction, considering that SFF stories make up something like 80% of films and TV these days, and being a geek is the new cool, but yes, I do proudly write fantasy. I write it because we all think we would be secret badasses if you gave us (in this case) an education in diplomacy, poisoned hairpins, seduction skills, and the ability to pick locks. I write it because when wonder has gone out of the world, I like to find it on the page; if I can’t find what I want, then I have to create it.

But I also write it because SFF has the unique ability to sufficiently remove us from the real world to provide a 10,000 foot view of issues we are mired in. As Anne Rice said in her totally unnecessary introduction to the movie version of Interview with a Vampire, it’s not a story about vampires. It’s a story about you and me.

(Lioness is also, literally, not a story about vampires. Just making that clear).

And what the heck do you plan to do now that you’ve finished it?

Well, first, celebrate. I’m trying to figure out how. Buying a lot of writing books appeals–I enjoy reading books about writing, and they have the potential to be helpful in some way, but I usually don’t allow myself to buy them, because that way lies procrastination and too much process. Ultimately they are not putting words down on paper, and it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking they are the same as being productive.

But when you’ve just written 120k words, I think you can indulge yourself.

I kind of want to have hot dogs from Elvis’ Hot Dogs in Leominster and ice cream from Cherry Hill Ice Cream in Lunenburg, but a) they would both be breaking my diet, b) making an unhelpful connection between writing and food, and c) Cherry Hill is also closed for the winter.

LISE REALLY KNOWS HOW TO LIVE IT UP, AMIRITE?

(Note, after the fact: yeah, I mostly just ended up buying a lot of books, not all writing-related. Not a bad indulgence).

Okay, but really, what are you going to do with this novel?

Edit the ever-living fuck out of it. I think the first draft is relatively clean in terms of internal consistency, but there is a lot of characterization stuff I need to clean up, and the plotting is all over the place.

I’m probably going to use the editing method espoused by Rachel Aaron in her 2k to 10k book, because it appealed to me when I read it, and seems wildly better than the methods I used for Gods and Fathers. (Which were… none, really). I have a few editing books I might explore to see if they suggest anything that feels more in line with how I work.

I PLAN to have a PLAN.

So are you going to publish it?

I am going to attempt the very traditional route of finding an agent who then sells the book to a publisher. I know, a wild and crazy thing to do in these days of self publishing, but honestly? I want more people than my friends to read this book. I would also like to make non-zero amounts of dollars from it. And really the odds are much better in these regards if you go the trad publishing route.

So I’ll continue to bang my head against the gates to the ivory towers of publishing. Maybe I’ll self-pub it if I can’t find a way in, but more likely I’ll do what I did with Gods and Fathers, and trunk it as not-good-enough when I can’t even get an agent to request a partial.

ISN’T WRITING FUCKING AMAZING?

Can I read it?

With a few exceptions, I prefer that people don’t read it unless they are prepared to offer constructive feedback. I desperately need lots of eyes on this to make it the best novel it can be, and while it warms my heart for you to look at it and go “I love it!!!” it doesn’t actually make the novel better.

That said, if your question is actually, “Can I be a beta reader?” why yes, you can. In an ideal world I’d have alpha readers, who see it in its current state, and beta readers, who take a look after I do edits — but let’s be real, I’ll take what I can get. The latter is a much more pleasant job, I would imagine. And I do have some alpha readers, in the form my writing group (i.e. Dave* and Laurence).

I am also desperately in need of sensitivity readers. As I said, there are numerous characters of an LGBT persuasion, including one trans man, and you’ll have probably noticed I am none of these things. It is not a story about being gay or bi or trans — that is not my story to tell — but this is a world in which those kinds of characters exist, and I’d like people who have real experiences with such things to comment upon it and tell if I’ve fucked it up.

Really, it’s your preference what role you’d like to take on. I’m happy to send it to you in any format you like, at any point in its development, as long as I get some sort of feedback on it. Since I use Scrivener I can even send it to you as an epub, so you can read it on your e-reader or mobile device, if that’s easier.

Comment below, or email/PM me, if you wish to be involved. All I can offer in return is an exchange of critiques and/or your name in the acknowledgements and/or a free copy of the book, if this ever gets published.

Can I see a sample of your work so that I know your writing is better than a kindergartener writing with crayon on a paper bag?

Sure. There’s a brief excerpt from the first chapter below. (I don’t want to post more, because posting to a blog does, yes, count as publication, and most publishers only buy first rights).

Do you like peas?

Yes, yes I do.

Without further ado, I present: the excerpt.

Continue reading

Three early memories about stories

Twixt Love and Honor/The Duel, chromolithograph from a painting by Laslett John Pott.

Twixt Love and Honor/The Duel, chromolithograph from a painting by Laslett John Pott.
Credit: instappraisal.com.

The first story I remember writing was called “The Burglar and the Bear.” It was written with cherry-scented markers on notebook paper, and I was in second grade.

I’m pretty sure I remember the genesis of this story, too — a jar you could pull story prompts out of in my second-grade classroom. It might have been part of the ongoing project where we created our own “anthology” in a blank journal we were given — or maybe that was third grade. Either way, I kept at it even when I wasn’t getting graded on it.

At around the same time, I started playing a game with other girls in my class during recess; we would pretend we were dogs, living under a picnic bench, which happened to be in Alaska. (I don’t even know). We were each different breeds of dogs, most of which we knew of thanks to pages of full-color photographs of different breeds in the school library’s encyclopedias. I think I was a beagle. Someone else picked an Alaskan malamute, because I guess a Siberian husky wasn’t interesting enough?

Eventually I started writing them down, because if they were entertaining enough to play out once, they were entertaining enough to read about later, right?

When my dad was visiting recently, I spent a long time sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Home Depot, reading. Far from being unpleasant, it was a nostalgic feeling (and definitely preferable to spending an hour arguing with Matt and my father about cement).

Why was this so comfortable for me? It reminded me of the number of times I stayed behind in the car as a child.

Not through any neglect on the part my parents, understand. We traveled a lot by car, because plane tickets were often out of reach. My parents were also antique dealers, so we stopped at every garage, rummage, tag, yard, or estate sale we found, as well as every fleamarket and antique shop. When a ten-year-old nerdy girl gets bored of staring at Depression glass, she goes back to her books.

And my books were in the car.

And we lived in an era in which it wasn’t seen as vast neglect to do this. Dude, the windows (and doors) were open, I wasn’t suffocating. I was happy reading Marion Zimmer Bradley while my parents “invested” in boxes of heat-resistant chocolate bars from the first Gulf War.

This was one way in which I coped with the stuff my parents found interesting and I found boring.

(Another way was building stories from the paintings and knick-knacks and furniture that surrounded me–pretending I was a princess in a nebulous fantasy-land composed of netsuke, ruby flash souvenir glass, faux-ormolu clocks and cigar-box Romantic art. That’s the next anecdote).

It was also how I managed stuff which was too much, emotionally, for me to handle. I remember sitting in the car in a cemetery in Connecticut at the burial of one of my parents’ friends, for example.

Over my seldom-used writing desk, I still have a print that used to be hanging in my mom’s antique shop — called “Twixt Love and Honor,” it depicts two 18th-century gentlemen about to duel over a woman’s honor.

Recently, I researched the print, and found it was a chromolithograph based on an 1892 painting by Laslett Pott. (Which itself might have been a colorized version of an 1886 engraving called “The Duel”). In the late 19th century you could apparently send in 25 tobacco wrappers from the Wilson and McCalley Tobacco Company to purchase this or one of two other framed prints in the series. (I think they’re the ones who added the “TWIXT LOVE AND HONOR” text, as by all accounts that was not the name Pott gave the painting).

I realize by any aesthetic standard, this isn’t a beautiful picture. For all I know, Pott could have been the Thomas Kinkade of his day, and the artifact itself is mass-produced, its frame and backing falling apart, faded with years of sun exposure. But it’s beautiful to me.

It hangs over my writing desk because… this is where it all began. I distinctly remember walking around my mom’s antique shop before school one day (middle school), creating stories from the objects I found there. My story for this one was not quite the same as the one implied by the art; I was convinced it showed a couple being set upon by bandits at a crossroads. I didn’t even notice the print’s name; I only learned it when I asked my mom, “remember that print that used to hang in your shop…?” At that time, she told me she’d never sold it, and sent it on to me.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is, but these are three stories about stories, remnants of my youth, that I wanted to share.

What are your early memories of stories?

On writing, rejection, and Pitch Wars (warning: maudlin)

I’ve been writing a lot more lately. You probably noticed.

A funny thing has happened — I’ve turned into one of those people whose happiness seems to be dependent on how well their writing is going. To be fair, I’ve always had a bit of this; it’s just that in the past, there were three states: “not writing,” “writing going well,” and “writing going poorly.” I seem to have collapsed the waveform since VP, for better or worse.

Matt has always pointed out that I have a lot of self-worth tied up in my writing, and it’s true. Probably too much. I don’t feel like I have much value if I’m not writing.

So I end up in these maudlin states where I’ve just gotten the fifth form rejection in as many days and everyone on Twitter is selling stuff except for me, and my non-writer friends are just looking at me like I’m this strange beast who doesn’t want to spend time with them.

I feel alienated from non-writers, and shabby next to writers, and universally unheard. Staring at social media only reminds me of this.

Up until now all my writing struggles have been internal — believing in my ability to tell a story, finishing a novel, editing a novel, etc. Now I am facing external obstacles, and positive attitude can only do so much.

I know I need to keep submitting if I ever want to be published. I know it’s largely a numbers game. I know (thanks, Kameron Hurley), that writing is “persisting in the game after you know what it’s really all about.” I know there are a million reasons why your story might not be accepted, even if it’s good.

And yet every time I wake up to a form rejection sent at 1am, probably from a first reader, I feel like I’m being punched in the gut. I feel like maybe my writing sucks, and no one will tell me straight up.

That’s the acute pain. The chronic, gnawing pain — or worry — is that I’m trying to sell stuff that’s not ready. That I should stop trying to sell it and do more revisions, instead.

I feel this most with Gods & Fathers. (The short stories I have out there, while certainly flawed, are basically to the point where I don’t know what or how to fix — truly they’ve escaped more than being released). I don’t query it much any more, because when you’ve queried something like 25 agents without even a single request for more pages, you begin to feel it has no worth. I know there are things I would do differently if I were writing this novel today; the beginning probably could benefit from some editing along these lines. Hell, it could be completely rewritten.

So I’m stymied, torn between sending out something that I am 90% certain won’t get a response vs. holding onto it for edits/rewrites I might never do. That, honestly, I don’t want to do. I kind of want to trunk it and move on.

And yet… I’m pretty sure that’s fear talking. And the stage of being a writer I’m at is all about feeling the fear and submitting anyways.

Which brings me to Pitch Wars.

You might remember I participated in this last year. My experience was… mixed. I met a lot of really, really cool writers, who I traded critiques with, and thus it was valuable in terms of creating community.

But honestly? I think the mentors didn’t give my MS a fair shake. (To be fair, I really only had about six mentors to pick from who accepted adult SFF; there might have been more appropriate choices if the field were larger). I only received comments from one mentor, and it was pretty clear they didn’t read more than the first page, and misunderstood what I was doing.

And yeah, mentors are busy volunteers, they don’t have to give comments, agents won’t give your MS a second glance, etc, etc. But it rankled. Once again my words had no value, and if they have no value, I have no value.

So Pitch Wars is here again. Despite my qualms, if Lioness were ready, I’d be trying with that, but it’s about 25k from being done. Maybe next year with that one.

A lot more adult mentors have been added this year, though, including at least one who might be a better fit for G&F. It’s tempting to try to go over that first chapter yet again, make it better, and submit.

But. Eh. I feel the same malaise here as when I think about querying. Why should I spend time on this when writing Lioness is so much more pleasurable and rewarding?

At least for now. At least until I try to sell it. At which point I’ll probably also encounter radio silence and realize that this isn’t going to be my breakout piece. I’m probably going to have to do this X more times, where X is a number between 1 and never.

Part of the reason this hurts so badly is because I keep hoping. Hope is a hell of a drug.

Look, I’m going to keep writing. I can’t not. But I often feel like being a successful writer is a game where the house always wins.

I went to Readercon and all I got was this inferiority complex

Readercon 26 was this past weekend. It was a decidedly mixed bag for me.

On one hand, I got to see VP tribe! (Including some I hadn’t seen since the workshop itself, like Leigh Five). There were fascinating panels, as there always are. I met new, interesting people. I bought Sonya Taaffe’s book, at long last.

On the other hand, it turns out that hanging out with more attractive, successful writers for a long period of time is no good for one’s self-esteem, i.e. my Friday night. I ended up spending most of Saturday morning/afternoon recovering from this.

So I guess I’ll talk about the events I went to? I attended way fewer than normal, preferring to spend much of my con in the bar with VP folks.

Thursday:

I ate dinner at Seasons 52 with a group of VPeeps, after a failed attempt to get into Not Your Average Joe’s without a reservation.

I went to Chris Gerwel’s reading, which was practically required of me, since he is VP15 and now VP staff. (This is a lie; I missed a lot of VPeeps’ readings). He read from his unpublished novel, set in a Roman empire that has never fallen, ruled by an automaton emperor with all the memories of the original Caesar. Good stuff. I still remember the line “mortal Caesar bleeds memories.”

Afterwards I hit If Magic Was Always Real with panelists Karen Burnham, Lila Garrott, Max Gladstone, Romie Stott, and Walt Williams. This panel tackled the idea that, if magic has always been around (the premise in many urban fantasy-type books), why hasn’t it improved the world? I liked the idea of magic as privilege, which got me thinking about magic in the world of Lioness.

I ran into fellow larper Brian R briefly, who was checking out the free night of the con. He was headed to different panels than me, though, so I didn’t get to see him again. But Brian, I totally want to hear how it went!

Friday:

I had to work, so I didn’t arrive on site until 6pm or so. Then, despite having panels I wanted to go to, I spent most of the evening hanging out in the bar, with an ever-varying group of VPeeps. I did get restless around 7pm, and stepped out to attend the end of How Intelligent Are We, Anyway? This panel really didn’t do anything for me; I mostly just sat on my hands, feeling bored and antsy.

However, the next panel I went to, Revealing the Past, Inspiring the Future was quite good — probably my favorite of the con. The panelists were Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone, Alena McNamara, Sarah Pinsker, and Julia Rios, and most of the conversation concerned interesting instances of women, POC, or LGBTQIA folks doing cool stuff in history — stories which tend to go unnoticed because they don’t fit the narrative of what these folks’ roles in history are. I learned about the “Elephant Girls,” a gang of young women in 1930s London; I had the book Makeisha in Time recommended to me.

After that I returned to the neverending bar party, which now included Elizabeth Bear, Amanda Downum and her fiance whose name I never caught, fellow VP17ers Arkady Martine and Beth T, VP16er Kellan/Kevin/sprrwhwk (who looks pretty good in a dress), and Alex, someone who I totally recognized solely from her Sabetha cosplay which I’d seen pics of on Bear’s and Scott Lynch’s Tumblrs. (I am neeeeeeeerd).

Most of them were dressed up for the dance party that night, and I felt very… inadequate beside them. It was also the sort of conversation where it was hard to get a word in edgewise, which basically just made me feel like an NPC in cooler people’s lives.

(I did have interesting side conversations with Alex about the magic of bound buttonholes, which I’m now convinced I need to try).

It got a little better when we went to the VP room party that Latasha and Leigh Five were holding. Uncle Jim and Doyle were there (they were staying in the adjoining room), and we heard stories of their working on the novelization of the terrible script for the terrible Prince Valiant movie. Uncle Jim did magic tricks for Beth and Conni and me; I had interesting conversations with ckd (who had somehow managed to infiltrate our party despite not being VP. INTERLOPER ;)).

Chris Gerwel was there, too, and he and Beth and I talked about the various disappointments of being a writer. (I felt somewhat better about my one novel with no nibbles from agents after hearing about Chris’ three novels in the same situation — including the Roman emperor automaton one we’d so enjoyed his reading from).

Most importantly, I put Doritos on a very drunk Kevin’s head.

I stayed sober throughout, and headed home around midnight, so it was not a very wild and crazy night for me at all. Still, it left me feeling maudlin, even into the next day. Realizing I’d lost my credit card, and waking up in the middle of the night with a coughing fit didn’t help.

Saturday:

I spent Saturday morning and part of the afternoon at home, reading (still working my way through Our Mutual Friend) and writing. Regarding the latter, I did a few word sprints and put down ~750 words on Lioness, which made me feel human again. I’ve still gotten waaaaay behind on Camp NaNo, but time remains to catch up.

I returned to the con just in time for the VP dinner, for which we returned to NYAJ, this time with a reservation. (I also found my credit card, just in time to pay for dinner). Seated near Kevin, Leigh, Beth, Laurence, Latasha, and Conni, we mostly discussed our current projects, and other folks (more up to date on their Hugo reading than I) got sucked into conversations about The Three-Body Problem and The Goblin Emperor.

Since apparently Readercon no longer has programming other than the Miscellany after 3pm on Saturday (!), after dinner we repaired to the gazebo and continued our partying there. And by partying, I mean “conversing,” because again: nerds. I talked to Beth and Laurence about historical smut, and to Kevin and Scott (Ali Wilgus’ husband) about video games, until mosquitos forced me inside. There, I chatted with VP… 9? 10? graduate Suzanne P, about my job as a front-end developer. I headed home before 10pm.

Sunday:

I returned just before noon to found Arkady and John chatting with a guy named Peter with a bunch of cool Middle Earth tattoos. (One of the many people I regret I did not give a business card to!) He was looking for recommendations on flintlock fantasy, since he was thinking of writing one of his own, so of course I had to mention the inestimable Django’s Shadow Campaigns series.

Arkady and John and I went to the BTAIQ: Writing the Lowercase Letters panel which focused on QUILTBAG folks that don’t normally get as much attention in fiction. Panelists were Kythryne Aisling, Amanda Downum, Sioban Krzywicki and Rachel Steiger-Meister; Delany was supposed to be there, but wasn’t. Since Lioness has characters of the B and T persuasion, this seemed relevant to my interests? Most of the conversation was focused on representations of trans characters, because the moderator identified that way. That was a little narrower of a focus than I was hoping for, but still interesting to listen to.

I think what this panel made me realize is that my fears about “writing the other,” to borrow the Nisi Shawl book title, have evolved. I think like most privileged people I used to be afraid that I would say something “offensive” and get called on it. Nowadays my worries are more that I’ll say something hurtful and that no one will tell me — just silently judge me.

I… think that’s a development? Except for the fact that I pretty much worry that people are silently judging me about all my failings.

(If I say something hurtful to you, or represent a character in a way that’s not authentic to your experience, please do tell me, if you feel up to it. I’ll try to make it right with minimal fuss).

After that panel, I went to A Visit from the Context Fairy with Kythryne Aisling again, Stacey Friedberg, Gwynne Garfinkle, Kate Nepveu, and Sonya Taaffe. The panel was about how the context in which one reads a book changes one’s opinion of it, and thus it tied into fascination with how different an experience re-reading is from reading.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite panels of the con. Kate Nepveu did a great job as moderator, allowing the panel to both accommodate audience points of view and yet stay on target. We discussed many of the factors that might influence one’s perception of a book, from life experience to supplemental reading to even the music one listens to. Sonya, who always has clever things to say about the intersection of memory and literature, talked about how she’s spent much of her life tracking down the references in The Last Unicorn, and how that has influenced her enjoyment of the book.

Over and over I kept thinking you can never read the same book twice. I wish that was a sentiment that had been expressed.

The panel did get off-track near the end, when one of the panelists brought up how evolving social mores can change one’s enjoyment of a book (i.e. all the racist caricatures which the author of Mary Poppins went back and removed from the book in later years), which led That One Person in the Audience to start talking about “political correctness” and “whitewashing,” but Nepveu managed to steer it back on course.

My ulterior motive in coming to the panel was to get Sonya’s book, Ghost Signs. And I succeeded, with an inscription: “There’s Wittgenstein in here!” Indeed; and even Lovecraft. I’m working through the book slowly, pausing and mulling over every poem. I feel so much more capable of appreciating them and taking them apart when I’m not staring at them on a computer screen. Poetry is really not suited to that medium, you know?

That was pretty much my con, aside from lunch and taking some folks to the Logan Express. Overall it had some rough patches, but I recovered from them and was ultimately glad I went.

The State of the Writing (July 2015)

I’ve set various writing goals this year, and this post is to check my progress on them, since it’s now about halfway through the year.

In January I said I wanted to do something writing-related every day — at least 50% of the days. It looks like my current percentage is 42%, after some rough months (March and April, for example). Thankfully, I’m out of larp season now, so I hope I can be more consistent.

Let’s look at my novel projects:

Gods and Fathers. I’ve revised my query so many bloody times now I’m not even sure what this book is about, but still no bites from agents. I’m tempted to trunk it (or self-pub it, since there’s at least some interest among my friends), but I also feel like I haven’t queried as many agents as I could. And I haven’t sent it directly to any publishers, certainly.

I think if I started this novel today, it’d be exceptionally different, and I’d handle certain cultural/ethnic concerns better. I don’t think it’s offensive or anything, but I suspect there are parts people could squint at and say, “Really?”

Maybe that’s the signal I should put it aside. I don’t know. I’m a terrible judge of my own writing.

Lioness Embarked, on the other hand, is going very well at the moment. I just passed 63k yesterday night. At the end of April I decided to participate in the Codex Novel Contest, setting a goal (roughly) of 10k words per month until the contest ends in December.

However, in May I logged only 3k words, and in June about 5k. (Thanks, larp season!) To try to get back on schedule, I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I have to write about ~700 words per day to make up for May and June’s missed words and get July’s done — a total of 21,600 words.

Of course, this is assuming a book of about 110k words, which may be more than I need. It may be less than I need, too, though, which is the concern.

So far, a week into the month, it’s been challenging, but I remain more or less on track! We’ll see it this can hold up through Readercon and the Shadows one-day, which are my big time-sucks this month.

Eventually I am going to need more alpha and/or beta readers. Right now I have my writing group, and EB, basically. These folks have valuable feedback, but I’d especially like some transfolk as readers, since there’s a character who identifies that way in this novel, and I worry I’m doin’ it wrong.

If you’re interested in trying on the role of alpha reader — reading as I produce pages — but aren’t sure if you can commit to 100k words of my deathless prose, let me know, and I’ll send you the first chapter. You can decide from there if you want to continue. I’ve been pitching this novel as “a fantasy genderqueer retelling of The Three Musketeers from the perspective of the series’ antagonists,” so if that sounds like your cuppa, let me know.

If you’re interested, but want to wait until the novel’s finished, let me know, too, although I’ll probably forget between now and then and ask again later 😉

Short Fiction

I just submitted “Powder of Sympathy” to Lackington’s for their Dreamings issue. This is the second place I’ve submitted it — it’s only a semipro market, but the theme fit, and the submission window was closing. Given pieces I know were rejected, I suspect I’m going to get the “how is this connected to theme?” rejection (because it requires somewhat of a careful reading to see).

This story is flawed. (Every story is flawed). But dammit, my Dunsanian imitation is pretty dang good, and I wish someone would appreciate it.

I had a few people read the flash pieces that came out of the Codex Weekend Warrior contest–“Remember to Die” and “Handedness.” The consensus seemed to be that “Remember to Die” was the stronger piece, and “Handedness” felt a little too derivative SF.

Given that, I decided to focus on “Remember to Die.” I’ve made some edits which I think strengthened the beginning, but probably botched the ending even worse. I need to take another pass at that, but I’d like to get it out to DSF this week.

Codex is doing its summer flash contest this month, but pretty much all the dates conflict with larp and fandom commitments.

I have three sad, half-finished short pieces in the world of Gods & Fathers and Lioness which I will not be focusing on any time soon. They’re the kind of things that are only interesting if you’ve read the novels, though, and I don’t think they can stand alone.

Other than that, the other short fiction I’ve written this year has been a couple of Fifth Gate ficlets and “The Little Dutch Boy,” the purposefully terribad historical smut I wrote for a burlesque show.

Poetry

I’ve written a few poems since the start of the year, but still no idea what to do with them. Mostly I write poetry because I can’t not, rather than to do anything with it.

Executive summary

I’m behind on my goals. No surprise there. I need to have more reasonable expectations for larp season, it seems. On the up side, my year-over-year “doing something writing-related daily” percentage is up 6%.

I am still optimistic about finishing Lioness this year. I’m less optimistic about… well, everything else.

I still struggle with submitting my work. A lot. This topic has got me thinking about the “gates of writing,” the obstacles one has to overcome on the path to being a published writer. I’ll probably have a post on that in the future, but suffice it to say, that is the gate I am trying to pass through now.

I’m alive; Dickens isn’t

R.W. Buss' unfinished watercolor, "Dickens's Dream."

R.W. Buss’ unfinished watercolor, “Dickens’s Dream.”

Have not been posting because I’ve been run ragged. I’ve finally got a moment to catch my breath, so here, enjoy a summary post.

LARP

The spring of living most larpily is almost over. Cottington Woods was last weekend, and I worked logistics/monster desk, and it was stressful, but I learned a lot, and would do it again.

(One day someone will ask me to staff a campaign larp, and Matt won’t give me a meaningful stare quickly enough).

This upcoming weekend I may go out to Witchwood for a few hours on Saturday — or not, depending on if someone can be found for a certain role. Then on Sunday the Eyrie, my 5G group, is crashing the high tea at Camelot Co-Housing and having an RP day.

Health

I am almost over my nasty cold that has lingered far longer than expected. I thought I was better going into this weekend, actually, but then it was 4am in the woods on Saturday and I couldn’t stop coughing long enough to fall asleep.

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot.

Still in the middle of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. (How appropriate to mention — today is the anniversary of his death). It’s still delightful. I am developing a deep love of Dickens’ character studies. My reading is enhanced by the Our Mutual Friend Reading Project, and the related Our Mutual Friend Tweets. Of course I love the Eugene Wrayburn tweets the best:

Thanks to the exquisite Maggie D. for pointing me towards this wonder.

While I couldn’t sleep in the woods, I started reading Mistress of Fortune by Holly West. I’d picked up the epub over a year ago now, when I saw a promotional post West had written for it on Chuck Wendig’s blog. It sounded interesting — a mistress of Charles II secretly works as a fortune teller and investigates murders and tries to keep the king from being assassinated. And it is interesting, but I have hesitations.

West knows her history, I’ll give her that, and she paints a vivid picture of the time period. My issues aren’t with any of that.

The prose is workman-like, nothing to write home about, except for a few weird non-sequiturs which I feel should have been caught in editing. (This is small press? Or self-pub? I’m not sure which, but definitely not Big 3).

The plot is strange, and yet strangely compelling. The main character, Isabel, has all this busy backstory that informs her character, but it often times feels dropped on the reader. Isabel also starts the novel estranged from the king — whose assassination she is trying to prevent — and it takes a third of the book for us to even meet the character of Charles. It feels a bit like West is veering violently away from any interesting conflict. At one point Isabel goes to meet Lord Danby, and Charles starts walking towards them… and then literally turns around and walks away. It feels like the plot walking out the door.

Of course, that’s only an illusion, because stuff is happening. We’re just not sure of the significance of it yet.

Found it interesting that Sam, Isabel’s… bodyguard(?), is just casually gay, too.

Weird how Isabel reacts to Charles’ other mistresses. I mean, historically, he had tons, and I often wonder how they felt about each other. Isabel has this oddly acute jealousy; the book is full of moments where one historical mistress or another is name dropped (Lady Castlemaine, Nell Gwyn, etc) and Isabel is all, “ugh, I don’t like her.” I mean, I understand jockeying for position among the various lovers, but I guess I don’t understand this feeling Isabel has of wanting to be the only one in the king’s heart. It seems a completely unreasonable expectation for that situation.

We’ll see where it goes from here. So far it’s keeping me engaged.

Finally, I’ve also been reading Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers, and working through the related Coursera course, Learning How to Learn.

Writing

I made progress on Lioness in May, though not the 10k words I had hoped for. (It was more like 3k). I also edited my two Weekend Warrior flash pieces and sent them out to betas. Got some useful feedback which I am still digesting, but I probably won’t send it to anyone else, as I’ve already got more to think about than I know how to resolve. Thank you to everyone who offered, though.

Other

I will be at Readercon. I’m skipping the Cottington summer one-day to attend.

I have a one-week staycation coming up in July. My current plan is to devote it entirely to writing and cleaning.

Our second mortgage will be paid off this month — woohoo! On a related note, I need to buy airfare for Consequences. Matt and I are thinking of stopping over in Dublin for a couple of days on the way there.

Three Things of Awesome

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1. Spring is beautiful — perhaps made sweeter by how bitter the winter was. Yesterday over lunch I went for a walk along the Cochituate Brook Reservoir Trail, a new-ish bike path which runs along a stream/canal in Framingham. Apples and cherries and locusts were blooming, grackles were… grackling? and I even saw a red-tailed hawk, sitting in a white pine tree.

2. I had dinner at Tempo in Waltham last night with Sprrwhwk, which proved to be a delicious choice. I know every gastro pub in the world these days offers truffle fries, but theirs are seriously the best I’ve had, and they come in a nearly endless horn. The gnocchi I had were fabulous, too, braised and pleasantly crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. I liked their Sexy Old-Fashioned of bourbon, rye, Benedictine, allspice and bitters, as well.

3. While waiting for my aforementioned guest, I wrote 500 words on Lioness. It’s been over a month since I last touched it, other than submitting portions to writing group. I was definitely rusty — it felt sort of like touching the world through a glove. I am getting back into it, slowly, though.

So tired…

Not a lot of sleep this week. I’ve only had Monday night to recover from the weekend, and then I’ve had date night Tuesday (dinner at Rye & Thyme with the hubby; predictable but not boring), RiffTrax Live last night, and tonight, dinner with a friend in Waltham.

Friday night is still open, but then I had the genius idea that, hey, Witchwood is this weekend! Witchwood takes place close to my house! Witchwood has a CP exchange with Fifth Gate! I want to be at season cap for Silverfire 2! I should NPC for Witchwood on Saturday!

Of course, Witchwood is also not an Accelerant game. It bears some resemblances, but there are a lot of different rules, which I am busily trying to cram into my brain. Also a really in-depth culture, which I do not have time to absorb — sadly, because I usually love detailed world-building.

I suppose in some ways it would have been easier to NPC Madrigal this weekend, since it’s at least an Accelerant game (run by the creator of Accelerant, I believe?), but the 20-min drive to Camp Stairmaster vs. the hour drive to Camp Mormon won out.

That said, I’m getting more exercise than I usually do thanks to spring boffer larp season, and despite the inevitable muscle soreness (fuck you, statins), I feel great, and I want this to continue.

Sometime this week — Friday and Sunday, probably — I need to get some writing in, if I want to stay on track for the Codex Novel Contest. I admit I have lacked both time and focus to accomplish this lately. I’ve been overcome by 5G prep, followed by 5G floon. Instead of writing the adventures of Yfre, diplomat and spy extraordinaire, I’m more interested in coming up with playlists for Ianthe (send me recs! my music collection is sad), planning out new costuming for her (didn’t I say NO MORE SEWING for a while??), or imagining how she would react in certain situations.

I’m having fun, though. Life is good. Can’t complain too much.