Starting to look forward to Capclave: Here’s my list of panels.

Capclave dodoCapclave, the convention held each year by the Washington Science Fiction Association, is coming up. Jim and I like to attend because it’s a really nice East Coast literary con and because we have friend who both attend and live near there. Capclave starts Friday, October 9th and runs through Sunday, Oct. 11th at the Hilton Washington DC in Gaithersburg, MD.

If you’re going to be around the area and plan to come, here are the panels/readings I’m currently scheduled for (I’m told this is a beta schedule, so things may change). Drop by and say hello!

Friday 4:00 pm:
Your Day Job As Your Muse
Salon A
Panelists:Barbara Krasnoff, Sarah Pinsker, Lawrence M. Schoen
SF writers who work for NASA have it easy. What about the rest of us? How does your day job influence what you write when you are off the clock? Do you base characters on coworkers? Turn daydreams of being the corporate hero into your creative works?

Friday 5:00 pm:
Crowdfunding & Alternative Funding for Writers
Panelists:Bill Campbell, Neil Clarke, Barbara Krasnoff, Alex Shvartsman
Traditionally, publishers gave authors an advance on royalties in exchange for the completed manuscript. Today, some writers are receiving alternate revenue streams including crowdfunding of anthologies and novels in advance by the public, serialization in which the author releases a chapter (or story) as long as readers continue to fund it, and electronic self-publishing. What methods have you used and what works? What new methods do you see in the future? How will this change the creation of books?

Friday 7:30 pm:

Saturday 4:00 pm:
Linguistics In SF
Panelists:Tom Doyle, Barbara Krasnoff, C.S. MacCath, Lawrence M. Schoen
What are some of the creative ways writers use language and linguistics in their fictions? How can language be used as a weapon or to unite different peoples? How can writers portray linguistic differences in a way that is not condescending?

Thoughts from a porch

From the porch of a seaside house on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, near the end of the Starry Coast Writers Workshop:

From a porch

The sound of the waves against the shore is constant and changes only slightly with the tide. Unlike the waters north, the waves are smaller, quieter, perhaps appropriate to the South.

Butterflies On either side of the boardwalk that leads from the house to the beach, there are bright yellow-orange flowers at which butterflies, usually at least five to ten at a time, stop and drink before proceeding along their migratory route. The butterflies, dark orange wings lined with black and with black spots, flutter to each, stop, pump their wings slightly as they drink, and then travel on.

Small sandcrabs, the same color as the sand in which they live, wait until the humans pass, and then scutter from their holes, quickly scuttering back if there is any noise or vibration to alarm them. One has fastened onto a smaller black crab and drags it along the sand; the black crab struggles uselessly. Food? A mate? I’m not sure. The predatory crab is the only one that doesn’t move when I shift my stance; it has its prey and is reluctant to let it go, even when danger threatens.

SanderlingFive Sanderlings skitter across the sand just at the point where the water occasionally flows into their path. They completely ignore the humans walking around them in a way that I’m not used to; it’s as if they were pigeons in Washington Square, so bored by the presence of humans that we’re no longer part of their landscape. They only dance a short distance away if our feet get too close. The birds pick at the surface of the sand for food; when the tide comes in, they probe a little deeper in the wet sand. One obviously thinks of himself (assuming it’s a male) as the alpha Sanderling; he occasionally chases the others away from a treat he wants, and they hurry away, looking a bit like actors in a silent film that has been accidentally sped up.

The beach is lined with large houses, big enough for a family, or for a group of friends. Two people alone wouldn’t be enough; they would rattle around like marbles in a can. People wander along the beach, either alone or in pairs or groups; walking their dogs or walking their kids. A few yards into the water, people stand on surfboards and paddle themselves along, only occasionally riding a slightly more enthusiastic wave into the shore.

I love porches. I love sitting on a porch and writing (and occasionally grabbing my binoculars when a Brown Pelican flies by, and no, I haven’t been able to get a good photo and probably never will). I wonder if I would get bored if I could spend the rest of my life like this.

My short story “Sophia’s Legacy” is now available on Mythic Delirium

Mythic_Delirium_1_4_coverGreetings all! If you’re looking for something to read, you might want to try my short story “Sophia’s Legacy,” which just went live on the Mythic Delirium site. It’s part of the July-September issue of the magazine; the stories are released over the course of three months, and mine was held for September. Enjoy!

In other news, I’ve sold my story entitled “Of Their Sweet Deaths Are Sweetest Odours Made” to TripTych Tales — it’s the second story I’ve sold to them; the first was “The Waterbug.” They’ve got a lot of good fiction on that site; you should check it out.

And I’ve sold another story as well, which I’ll report on as soon as the contract is signed…

Trying a novel: Watching a deadline float by

While I’m not usually the kind of person who does things at the absolute last stay-up-until-4 a.m. minute, I have to admit that I usually work well with deadlines. They give me a goal and an endpoint. They keep me on track. And, for the most part, I usually make them.

Fresco from Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum
Credit: Carole Raddato

So it pains me to admit that I didn’t make this one.

I had a deadline of today — Thursday — to have a reasonable chunk of novel ready for the Starry Coast workshop that I’ll be attending next month. The idea is that each person attending the workshop should have a manuscript (or, at least, a reasonable piece of it) ready so that two of the other attendees can have enough time to read and critique it.

Three weeks ago, I thought: I can do this. I’ll work hard, I’ll push through, and I’ll get at least 50,000 words in a reasonable condition so that I can send it in.

Two weeks ago, I thought: Well, maybe I’ll settle for 30,000 words. In decent shape.

One week ago, I thought: Yeah, right. I’ve got about 30,000 words, but there’s no way I’m going to show this to anybody. Decent shape? Yeah, tell me another one.

The problem is that I — like many writers, I think — am extremely critical of my own work. And while I have approximately what I think of as a beginning of a piece of work, as soon as I started reading it over I saw that it was barely a beginning — certainly not anything I’d want anybody else to read. The characters aren’t well laid out; the dialogue is awkward; the environments aren’t well described or thought out…

This, I thought, is not enough. The people reading this first draft should at least have some idea what the storyline is. I don’t mind hard critiques — I’ve spent my life attending a variety of classes and writers groups — but I visualized instead a puzzled silence. As in, “Um — who are these people and what is going on here, anyway?”

I started editing and rewriting — and realized a couple of days ago that I just wasn’t going to make it. It was just going too slowly. So I found myself typing out a pitiful plea to the two people who are going to critique my work, asking for at least a weekend to do another edit.

They, generous souls that they are, said that there was no problem. So deadline’s passed, and I’m going to try to make the secondary deadline and at least get the first 30,000 words out — in a reasonably coherent form.

And I’m also going to keep hoping that this will all be worth it, and for the first time in my life, I’ll finally be able to finish a single story that is over 5,000 words.

Trying a novel: An outline? I don’t need no stinkin’…. Yes, I do.

I just realized something about this novel that I’m supposedly writing.

I need an outline.

A woman writesThis evening, I went to the Word bookstore in Brooklyn to hear N.K. Jemisin read from her latest novel The Fifth Season, the first book of her new Broken Earth trilogy. The reading was wonderful (not surprisingly; since she is high on my list of the best specfic writers around today), and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But what struck me was something that was said during the Q&A session, when Nora mentioned that she had started with one outline and eventually realized she needed to drastically change it. All the long-form writers in the room nodded knowingly.

And I thought to myself, “Oh, hell. I need an outline, don’t I?”

Now, you have to understand that I’ve never worked with an outline before. When I write a short story, I usually do one of two things: I either start writing and wait to find out where it’s going to take me, or I start with an ending in mind and build the story to reach that ending. Very often, the story that develops has little to do with what I started with — but if I’m satisfied with it, that’s fine.

Now, however, I’ve realized that I may have been doing the whole novel-writing thing all wrong. I’ve been approaching it as if it’s a short story: Begin at the beginning with a general idea of where it’s going and then start writing. If I hit a wall, move to a different part of the story and write that, and then see how (or if) I can connect the two.

But that won’t work in the long form. For example, if I create a character in the third chapter that will disappear until the 15th chapter, I’d better damn well track what that character’s name is and what they’ve been doing in the meantime. And there’s the whole world-building thing; if I’ve established a society that’s just discovered the combustable engine, I can’t have somebody pull out a smartphone four chapters later. And by the way — if characters change by the end of the novel, shouldn’t I figure out how and why?

In fact, it may be a good idea to have a vague idea of where I intend to end up — especially if I’m going to have a workshop full of writers reading (and critiquing) it.

So, despite my increasing desperation about getting this thing actually done — or, rather, getting enough of it done — I’m going to have to take at least an evening or two and make myself an outline; some kind of textual map of where I’m going with this. I may end up going totally off that map, but at least I can pretend I have some idea what I’m doing.

A short story writer tries to get the long form habit

I’ve never succeeded in writing a long-form story. Oh, I’ve got several unfinished might-have-been novels sitting in file folders — some old enough that we’re talking about real, cardboard file folders — but I’ve never actually been able to finish one.

Woman writingAnd I’ve been very resistant to even trying one. More than once, I’ve been told that a short story was actually not finished, that it was only the beginning, that it should be pulled into a novel. My reaction was always, “No, that’s the end. It’s done. Time to go on to the next thing.”

I’m not sure why. I’ve joked that I simply don’t have the attention span to finish a novel; and that may not be far from the truth. Or it could be that, as an editor, I am simply too picky to be able to complete a long first draft. Or I’m just so damned insecure about my own work that I can’t write for more than about 4,000 words without giving up on the whole thing, and so I simply limit it to that.

Or whatever.

Well, I’ve made what may be a very good move — or may be a huge mistake. I’ve committed myself to a week-long workshop this coming September in which several writers will be getting together to work on and critique novel-length works. And as a result, I’ve got to have something novel-length — or, at least, something partially novel length — to offer up for critique.

So I’m forcing myself to learn to write quickly. Without going back as I write and tweaking each phrase, each paragraph, and then going back again. Without telling myself every other sentence, “God, this is awful; I’d better start over — no, this isn’t working — that is so incredibly miserable;  try again — oh, hell, she wouldn’t do that, delete that… Maybe I should try this other story instead…?”

Because I’ve got a deadline. I’ve got to get a lot of coherent words down on the page. And if I keep stopping and trying again, it will never happen. And I’ll end up sitting in a workshop where several other people have managed to put together manuscripts made up of several thousand words and will have expected me to do the same — and feeling like a complete and utter twit.

Wish me good luck. I think I’m gonna need it.

54 Below Sings Starmites

What with a full-time job, an attempt to keep my writing up and other obligations, I haven’t done a lot of “going out” lately. So it was really nice to to be able to treat ourselves to 54 Below Sings Starmites, a cabaret-type performance of a 1980s comic-book musical called, yes, Starmites. It was directed by Pat Cerasaro & Barry Keating; Keating wrote the music and lyrics; he also wrote the book along with Stuart Ross.


54 Below is a nightclub in the lower level of what was, of course, the former and notorious Club 54 (the upper level is now a theatre owned by the Roundabout). We had a somewhat expensive but extremely yummy dinner; then an enthusiastic and very talented cast and band performed the musical numbers on a dangerously small stage while the story (such as it was) was narrated by Liz Larsen, a member of the original cast.

It was a huge amount of fun. The whole cast was great (and negotiated their way through a few mistakes and glitches with professionalism and humor). I was especially impressed by Cheryl Freeman, who belted out a song called Hard To Be Diva with incredible energy, and Brian Charles Rooney, who played the bad guy with relish and sang The Cruelty Stomp wonderfully, throwing in some jazzy riffs that that directly referenced Cab Calloway, among others.

Many thanks to Sheri Lane and Barry Keating for helping us discover this event.