4th Street Fantasy convention recap

I had worked up the courage to finally talk to one of my favorite authors at the convention this past weekend. It was right before a panel was about to begin and I wasn’t sure there was enough time. Scanning the other seated attendees frantically, I was worried she might not be in the room. Perhaps she left the convention early?

Then I heard her voice directly behind me. I turned around and there was Mary Robinette Kowal, author of Shades of Milk and Honey and one of the voices on the Writing Excuses podcast. She said “You listen to my podcast, don’t you?” When I asked how she knew, she said because I had turned around when she started to talk and had recognized her voice. While she signed my notebook (because her books are on my kindle) with her own fountain pen, she told me a story about meeting one of her own favorite authors, asked about my writing, and talked about the crochet project in her lap. She is as lovely a person as you could ever hope to meet. In my notebook she wrote “Be kind to yourself”.

Another author I adore, Caroline Stevermer who co-wrote Sorcery and Cecelia (using the letter game!), wrote me a note saying it was lovely to meet me.

The panels were a gold mine for sure, but that was only half of what made 4th Street amazing. They’re just a bunch of lovely human beings who somehow manage to have a tight knit community that is still welcoming to newcomers.

4th Street Fantasy convention, to me, was like drinking from a fire hose while having an IV drip sustenance into my veins at the same time. There was so much to take in. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. But there was also something incredibly energizing about being immersed in the atmosphere of 200 or so other writers and readers. This was not CONvergence, which is my only other con experience, where thousands of people create a lot of noise and there is occasionally a panel on how to write. This was a little known gem filled with authors and editors who are dedicated to their craft. There was so much knowledge and experience in the room, that often the audience would take over the panel, offering comments and suggestions as well as asking questions. I’ll never forget when I saw one man interrupt the first panel I attended and the entire panel stopped to listen to him, and he had a lot of good things to say. I found out later he is a Senior Editor at Tor books.

I’ll probably occasionally rehash some of the panels here on the blog as I have time to decipher and type up my notes. No promises on accuracy, cohesion, or doing it in a timely manner. I have a lot to think about now and I’m excited to get back to writing.

And reading, of course. I came away with no less than 231 book recommendations that aren’t your ordinary recommendations where you put them on your list because you have a nebulous feeling that you ‘ought’ to read them. These recommendations each came with a reason, as they were mentioned in the panels as examples of authors who wrote a particular thing well. I know which books to turn to if I want to encounter well-written examples of moving the plot forward without the use of war or violence, realistic depictions of war and violence and the fallout from that, what books have good soft magic systems or hard magic systems, authors who have done well at restrictive writing and cutting things out. Even video games, plays, and podcast recommendations. There was talk about how to end a series, or kill off characters, the emerging genre tags Grimdark vs. Hopepunk and how they’re not mutually exclusive, and how cities are built in layers over time and how we communicate with people across time by what we leave behind.

There was even a lovely older gentleman whose hobby is finding toys and fixing them, who gave my ten month old daughter a Happy Apple that he had repaired. I also came away with a pair of dinosaur bone earrings made by Elise. Elise even had a piece of meteorite in a bottle sealed by wax from one of Neil Gaiman’s beehives, so it was pretty much straight out of the Stardust novel.

I cannot say enough good things about my experience and I hope that if you have any desire to further your craft of writing, or to discuss your favorite fantasy novels with high-minded thinkers, that you’ll take a good look at attending next year. (Especially if you want to meet Mary Robinette Kowal or Caroline Stevermer.)

Of course, since I’m all about reading, I’ll be posting the book recommendations soon, and hopefully with the reasons they were recommended. Stay tuned!

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Trusting the future self

Something I discovered about how I write is that I find it hard to trust myself.

That is, it’s hard to trust both my future self and my past self.

I think I outline so much because I am scared that my future self will be some kind of uncreative zombie and I have to give her all the tools I possibly can right now. There is always an immediacy to my writing. If I don’t write it down now, it will slip away and never get written, or worse yet, I will try to write it later and it will be something completely different than what I want it to be now. As a result, my outlines tend to be around 40,000 words. (Ten thousand more words and it would officially be novel length, people. I’m crazy.)

When I sit down to write from an outline later, I look back and think “who was the person who wrote this?” It feels contrived and false. Like I was trying to jam as much stuff in it as possible instead of letting it grow organically over time. I think I sense my former self’s distrust of my future ability and it dampens me.

I’ve gone back and forth with this ever since I started writing, until June 2015. We took a vacation out to Portland and Seattle. On the plane ride back, I was determined not to get motion sick like I usually do. So I had my notebook handy and tried very hard to only focus on writing. To just get stuff on the page and not pay attention to how the plane was moving. And it worked.

But it also worked for my writing.

I almost never write by hand anymore. It’s too slow and my hands are already hurting from working them so much that grasping a pen just seems like a silly idea. But I didn’t want to get out my laptop because I was in the middle seat and there was hardly any room. This also meant that I had no notes on the story I was about to outline. I was going to be starting Camp NaNoWriMo in a week and a half and still didn’t have an outline. This kind of freaked me out, so I was like “yeah, I better write this outline right here, right now, before we touch the ground.”

But I had to do it all from memory. The story in question is one I wrote many, many years ago, then stuffed it away because it was horrible. Still, it had some good stuff I can reuse (I hope), so I had planned to rewrite it during camp. I suddenly had to recall an entire, intricate novel’s worth of outline from over five years ago. This was the beauty of it: I was only allowed to write down the important things that moved the plot along, because I couldn’t remember all the other parts.

When I got home, I typed up the outline and was pretty proud of it. Then I looked back at the old version to see if there was anything I had forgotten or wanted to salvage. And I felt my inspiration faint on the fainting couch in a dramatic fashion: the previous version was not only pretty readable, there were some downright good parts I didn’t want to throw away. I told myself that my outline from the plane was rubbish and I was just going to have to keep the storyline the way it was from the old version, just make sure I updated the language and caught any inconsistencies.

I was tempted by the concept of an easy rewrite. I was also scared of my airplane outline because it was honest and I had to dig deep for it. It stripped out a lot of things I loved about the story, and I wasn’t willing to admit that it was better for it.

So camp started and I got about 15,000 words into my novel before I realized I was struggling. It was like pulling teeth to write even 400 words during a word war when normally I can beat out at least 1,000 in ten minutes.

Discouraged, I took an honest look at my airplane outline. I faced up to the fact that it scared me because it was so swift, lean, and clean. I was scared because with all the stuff I’d left out, it meant that my voice and good writing would have to carry the load, and that wasn’t the easy way to write a book. (But it is the best way.)

So I started over using the airplane outline, and things flowed so much better. I started to sympathize with the villain, care about the characters again. As to voice, well, I won’t know if I have that until I take another good, honest step back to look at it, when I have time to do that. But it sure felt good to drop all that baggage from the past and moved on with a trimmer, faster story.

Two take aways from this for me:

  • Writing an outline by hand with no notes is definitely something I will practice with my stories in the future. Even the language I used was different because I wanted to write as few words as possible. It made me say things differently, and made the outline come out so well. It also forced me to trust my future self a little more. Instead of spelling everything out, I had to just say one or two words to convey what was to be written next. Being that future person now, I appreciate the trust and the freedom to interpret it as I see fit.
  • Trusting my future self and my past self saves time and energy. And if for some reason I do turn into a noncreative zombie in the future, having a massive outline won’t help anyway. I need to consume some brains (aka, read other people’s good writing). A lack of an outline is not the problem, nor is it a very good bandaid for the problem. I need to look at other factors that affect creativity (health, diet, exercise, enough reading, enough rest, enough honesty, etc.)

In honor of my new discovery, this post is brought to you without an outline for once. 🙂 Hope it wasn’t too bad. If you need me, I’ll be over in this corner going through outline withdrawal. Please only talk to me in bullet points.

Also, I mistyped “bullet points” enough that autocorrect wanted to change it to bull sh*t. Lol. Please don’t only talk to me in bull sh*t. That will not help.

I’m probably bad for doing this…

Me: “I’m probably a bad administrator for doing this, but I just don’t care right now that I’m letting the database automatically sync with our mailing list.”

Friend: “Um, that’s just you doing your job well. That’s what databases are supposed to do.”

Me: “Yeah, I’m just going to throw off these heavy heavy shackles of expectations that tell me I need to enter data by hand. I can’t handle that right now, even though I’m sure some judgy admin out there could.”

Friend: “Uh, no one expects that. That would actually be bad because you’re bound to make more mistakes entering by hand.”

Me: “I’m sure someone out there will say I’m a bad admin for answering so many emails today, but I just don’t care.”

Friend: “Uh-huh. That’s not— can we talk about a topic where you don’t feel compelled to chastise yourself for doing things well? It’s annoying.”

This is what it sounds like if I talked about my job like some moms talk about their parenthood.

Seriously moms. This topic came up FOUR TIMES in my news feed today.

When someone talks about their profession, they never say whether they are a good ditch digger or a bad one, a good dentist or a bad one, a good teacher or a bad one. They talk about it as if that is just what they are. They don’t invite others to pass judgment on them being good or bad at it by bringing the subject up.

I don’t care if you think you’re a good or bad mom for doing such and such. All I know is that you are a mom, and I don’t want to be invited to judge you. I will snooze you on facebook until your kids are grown up if I keep seeing this stuff.

/rant

(I promise I almost never rant and you won’t see that often on this blog. Just strongly felt this one needed to be called out. I love you, fellow moms, and you’re amazing. I hope this only encouraged you and didn’t discourage you.)

Sneak preview

Last week I talked about the letter game and how it started my story. This week, I’d like to give you an unedited preview of that first letter I sent, which sparked all the things that led me to create this unique world of cyberpunk weirdness.

Please note, there are mistakes in this letter. I’m choosing to leave them because this is the actual letter I sent to my pen pal.

A little background: we decided that my character would be an ambitious hacker nurse who has driven herself so hard that she hates her daily routine, and so has decided to enroll in a pen pal program just to have a social life. She thinks the pen pal program is probably fake, with letters generated by an AI, but goes along with it anyway. (Where the replies come from is actually much weirder, but that was my pen pal’s side of the story so I won’t go into it.) I decided to start my novel years later, after she has written to this pen pal program for quite some time, had adventures, and grown up a bit. So when you read the actual book, you’ll be encountering a much older Alexia.

Behold the first letter, in its unedited state.

Sunday, January 7, 2596

Salisbury, Smallbone:Realm 3, Earth

Dear unknown pen pal,

I am not a lonely person. Everything I’ve heard about your program seems to indicate that you are a tool for lonely people to help them feel some sort of companionship. Please do me the courtesy of believing that I am perfectly happy in my current fellowships. I’m not even sure why I feel like I need to explain this. It’s just, I’m afraid I’ll get some kind of letter back from you filled with psych-net links and subliminal hacks to my neural implant meant to make me feel more fulfilled.

I’m only writing to you because of an article that claims successful people give themselves something to look forward to at the end of the day, and the bitty-box-of-the-month club is too expensive. Also time consuming. I hear the usual edgezones and real-time deep reality plays will consume my soul to the point where I don’t want to do anything else. They sound amazing. But I don’t have that kind of time. You are just the diversion I need and will never be captivating enough to get in the way of my work. Sorry, but I think it’s important to be honest.

You’ll understand why my work is so important when I say that I’m the youngest stitcher at work they’ve ever had. Just in my hospital. Not in the world, obviously. But hopefully I won’t be a stitcher for long. They can’t keep patients coming in fast enough to keep me busy. I’ve only been working there for six months and already I’ve worked with more variety of cases than some of the stitchers who have been there for three years. Mostly it’s because none of the other nurses want to use the virus cleanser, so I get all the difficult cases. That’s ok with me. I need all the experience I can get.

So what about you? I mean, I know you’re probably some artificial intelligence, (or a person pretending to be an AI,) but that doesn’t mean you don’t have aspirations or passions. All AIs were created by humans so we can’t help but put ourselves into them. So you’re probably more sentient than some of my co-workers. Especially after a double shift.

What do you do when you’re not answering letters? Do you have family?

I live with my mother and it’s not what it sounds like. I’m not late to leave the nest or anything. She needs a lot of care, and my father is gone. If you’ve heard of the Neural Digression virus, you know what I mean. ND isn’t exactly deadly. Just debilitating. Her entire neural plant is almost gone now, so it’s impossible for her to keep up with such a slow interface. I used to think this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but trust me, it is. It’s amazing the things she doesn’t know, and I have to dumb down my language just so she can understand me. Being cut off from the marketplace of ideas and the great voices of our time really puts you out of touch. It’s terrible, and I feel so sorry for her. Even her eyes look like they are dull and unhappy because she is confused about her world. The other day I found her trying to login directly to a part of the net she’s never been to before, instead of being directed by one of the chaperone links. One of these days she’s going to get herself hurt.

Anyways, that’s about all I can think of to write before bed. Um, in case you are incapable of experiencing a good day, I will wish you a happy consciousness and good interfacing.

Love,

Alexia

 

Well, that was a trip down memory lane and a little bit cringe-worthy. But despite the all-too-common feeling of looking back at old writing and thinking of all the ways it is so bad, Alexia’s story is still vibrant and alive in my head. I can’t wait to share it with the world. Hopefully soon. I’m still working on edits.

The Letter Game

I once read a book by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede that was written as the result of the Letter Game (you can find the book here). Here’s how the letter game works:

  • Two people decide on a genre, a setting, and the character they will write in the voice of, and who will write the first letter.
  • After initial details are set, no more discussion is allowed. Communication about the story may only happen through letters.
  • Letters are written back and forth between the two people in the voices of their characters, progressing the plot as they see fit.

Of course, I was inspired to start letter games of my own with other writers and friends. A lot of them got off to a really good start but petered out quickly, as life gets busy sometimes. One of these games, I sort of went overboard with creating the world and plot from which my character was writing her letters. I had plans for a long game, and anticipated that after two years of writing letters and building up to it, I would produce this great denouement that would blow the mind of my fellow epistle-creator. Well, life got busy and the letter game remained a shiny jewel in my imagination until I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to turn it into a book.

That book is what I’ve been working on for the last several years, and which I hope to publish very soon. I am so excited to see this come to life, and will be posting a cover reveal soon. This thing that has only existed in my imagination now has a cover! I can’t believe it!

Until then, if you have an inclination to start a letter game, let me know! I’m always willing to start something new. It’s a super fun exercise, and can range in depth from a light-hearted few exchanges to a serious commitment on par with your monthly D&D group. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the letter game is the second best storytelling method I’ve come across to date (D&D being the first).

If you want to be notified via email about my book news, sign up to get my newsletter. I promise, I won’t flood your inbox and will keep it relevant to stuff happening with my writing projects. Thanks, friends!

some poetry for your day

April was poetry month. I’m clearly late on this, but wanted to send some poetry your way. I know I don’t stop and appreciate poetry as often as I should. So below is a poem that I’ve been contemplating lately.

Also, did you know that the Poem a Day challenge is a thing? I totally meant to participate this year but April has already passed me by. But if you want to still get in on the action, you can check out Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog where he posted poetry prompts for every day in April.

I’ve had this poem hanging on my wall for a couple years now, ever since my co-worker shared it with me. It has faded into the background of my life as I got tired of looking at it, then completely forgot it was there. Until a couple weeks ago when we started painting sample colors on our walls and I moved it to make room. This wonderful reminder to slow down and let creativity mature has been there in front of me every day but have I done that? Nope. The mind is forgetful. I’m hoping this will pop up in my feed a year from now to remind me again, because I likely will have forgotten by then too.

A prayer of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability–

and that it may take a very long time.

 

And so I think it is with you;

your ideas mature gradually–let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.

 

Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

Futuristic Lingo Quiz

I’ve learned a lot of new terms for things as I write my Cyberpunk novel, and have included a lot of them in my book. It’s a challenge to write them in such a way that my readers understand what they refer to without directly explaining it. Characters in the world would obviously know what they mean, so they wouldn’t stand there quoting the dictionary.

Just for fun, I made this quiz from some of the terms in my book. See if you can spot the fake definitions from the real ones!

Risk (why my book is like a Trireme)

When I was growing up, the video game my brothers and I played constantly was Civilizations III. It was so much fun. We would compete with each other to see who could discover Railroad technology the earliest (I think my older brother holds that record for something like 600 BC but it was awhile ago and I could be wrong).

One of the first major exploration units you can build in that game is a Trireme. It’s cheap, and it’s the only boat you get until you discover more technology, and it’s really good for just scouting out your own continent. It can only go around the edges of the land and not out into deep sea. So the early game strategy was to build your first city next to an ocean square, then build a Trireme as soon as you could and launch it to explore around your continent. That way, you would know if you are on a small island or a continent and give you a sense of how much space you have to expand. It was also a good way to scout and see if there are rival civilizations in your space. And if you were really lucky, your Trireme would spot a piece of land one square away with no deep ocean in between the two, and it could jump over and explore a second body of land.

But more often than not, it didn’t discover additional land and that’s where you had to make a choice. Do you send your Trireme out exploring into the deep ocean, knowing it has a high chance of sinking after every turn? Or do you just keep it close by to defend your territory, even though it’s no good at defending (but it can alert you to incoming enemies)?

I always sent my Trireme out. They almost always sank. But once in awhile, they would strike land before they did and then I’d have an advantage on my opponents.

“Failure is the cover charge to live the human life. How many things have you not done because you were afraid to fail?” My pastor said in a sermon a couple Sundays ago and I’ve been thinking about those words ever since. And I asked myself what I was afraid to fail at. The answer came quickly: self-publish my book.

I’ve never had any intention of letting fear of failure hold me back. I’m too excited. But I still have fears. I realized that I could easily fall into the trap of tweaking things ad nauseam hoping to get them just right and never actually publish because things aren’t perfect.

But this book is a Trireme. I’ll never know what’s out there if I don’t send it out. I could keep it at home, just kind of sitting around, but that’s not what it’s made for. Maybe it will sink, but it’s not doing anything if I don’t send it out.

My plan is to self-publish sometime this year, but I am tentatively and optimistically hoping for end of May. If you want to know when it’s ready, sign up for my brand new newsletter here.

Thanks for reading! (And by that, I mean thanks for reading my blog, and just reading books in general because that is a wonderful thing.)

More reading recommendations

Hey there,

My life is still crazy as can be with two kids. My son has turned 2, and is potty training and learning how to read already. My daughter is content to wiggle and giggle, but will be crawling soon. As busy as I am, everything is only going to get busier.

So for now, all I have for you is an update on what I’ve been reading.

My 6 favorite books read in 2017

51s31EB8dyL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this book earlier. I LOVED this book. It’s not only the best fairytale retelling I’ve ever read, it’s the best fantasy book I’ve read in a long time. I really liked Novik’s Temerraire series, and she managed to bring the same awesome writing to this book, but with a completely different feel. She’s a great writer, and I am in awe. She actually just released a limited illustrated edition of this book which had me drooling for hours. Too bad they only made 175 of them.

 

91rygugDY9L.jpgThe Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson – Such a good book! I am really disappointed there isn’t a sequel because I wanted to snatch it up right away after I finished. I found this to be the most compelling and interesting of Sanderson’s magic systems. Just goes to show that no matter how many magic systems are out there, you can create something new. I really hope he’s going to write a sequel someday. His comments on writing a sequel can be found here. As a writer, I totally understand why he hasn’t yet and what stands in his way. But if he ever does start to write it, I will be haunting his social media sites like crazy to find out everything about it I can.

22181034Mort(e) by Robert Rapino – Military-Animal-Sci-Fi/Fantasy-Dystopia-Adult-version of Homeward Bound. So basically, everyone should read this and witness the frightening journey of Mort(e), a cat who gained human intelligence and fought in the human-animal war, but fought on…well, I think he fought on both sides? Really, he had his own goals the whole time and the war just got in the way. I read this little by little on my iPhone in the dark while rocking my son to sleep every night. And since I was pregnant at the time with my daughter, rocking him to sleep on my stomach wasn’t exactly the most comfortable, and my ability to breath would slowly get cut off the more he relaxed and put his weight on me until finally I texted my husband to come in and hoist him into the crib for me. But I loved it because I got a little further in the adventure every night. And I discovered that this was one of those books you really do want to read in the dark. It added to the thrill.

33916024Sourdough by Robin Sloan – It’s no Mr. Penumbra, so try to ignore the fact that it’s written by Sloan. It is still excellent, but not as enjoyable if you’re expecting more of the same. Though it did bring yet another fascinating aspect of San Fransisco to my hungry imagination. And Sloan’s writing is great. A woman programmer who is slowly loosing her soul at her job stumbles into making sourdough bread and it changes everything. She combines technology with baking and intrigue ensues. Ever since reading this, I have been searching for the perfect sourdough and spicy soup combination, trying to recreate the experience from the book. I had a lot of questions after reading it, so I emailed Sloan himself. And he responded quickly. Twice. He not only writes great stories, he is accessible to his readers and that made this read all the more fun.

61i58xDQ3YL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Illuminae by Amie Kaufman – Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book. This book is something between an “Ology” book and a graphic novel with its splash pages and unique layout. The story is funny, thrilling, scary, and–I mean there are space zombies and hackers, and one of the least annoying love stories I’ve ever read, so. You should go out and buy this book immediately. Buy the physical book. The beauty is in the printed pages and I think some of that is probably lost in an audio book or ebook.

 

136814Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle – A must-read for any artist (and especially for Christian artists). This answered questions about art that I’ve been asking since I was 8 years old. Of course, no one would ever think to give such a book to an eight year old, but I sure could have used it! This book was very inspiring, especially during the days when I didn’t want to write.

 

 

All books that I read in 2017:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford (2 stars)

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman (5 stars)

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle (5 stars)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (4 stars)

Diastasis Recti by Katy Bowman (3 stars)

Sourdough by Robin Sloan (5 stars)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (5 stars – re-read)

Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan (4 stars)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (4 stars)

Derelict by LJ Cohen (4 stars)

Turquoiseblood by Cecelia Isaac (3 stars)

Grand Theft Octo by Neils Saunders (4 stars)

Mort(e) by Robert Repino (5 stars)

The Mage and the Magpie by Austin J Bailey (3 stars, almost 4 though)

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (5 stars)

Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick (1 stars – like, not even)

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (5 stars)

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (4 stars)

Flyte by Angie Sage (5 stars)

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (4 stars, almost 3)

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This is why I haven’t blogged lately

A month ago, a tiny little person was placed in my arms and now I can’t imagine my arms not being filled with her coos, wiggles, and snuggles constantly. We are all doing well and adjusting to our new normal.

Hopefully that new normal includes getting back into blogging. Sorry for the lack of posts, everyone! But you know, not really sorry. I mean, look at her! She’s so darn cute!