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The Lenten Quiet

lizzy

Lizzy, 1915

Lent is the span of days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, during which Christians are encouraged to fast and give up luxuries as a form of penitence. I would not describe myself as religious (two roads diverged in a gloomy wood, the mark of it still clear on my body), but Lent does usually cause me to pause and consider what I’m doing with myself. This year, I decided to give up bullshit.

This has included stepping away from my writing group, which has made me anxious and calm by turns. (The stepping away has made me, though I will allow the group itself has as well, heh.)

There are aspects I miss — the ritual of it for one. I’m very accustomed to beginning my day with the group, reading through posts and market news and challenges and who sold what and etc.When I automatically moved to click the group link a week ago, I had to stop myself. I had to sit and remember. And I had to consider what to do with that time, if I wasn’t going to be participating in group.

This week, that time has been filled with reading short stories I probably wouldn’t have otherwise made time for. That’s a lesson right there! Stories read for no purpose other than enjoyment. Something I rarely have time for, given how much I read for Shimmer.

I had three story contracts to read and sign on Monday (that never happens, until it does), and I missed being able to crow about them in the group. That strikes me as ridiculous as I type it. Especially since I think many in the group tend to file me under “editor” and not “writer.” That can be a tricky balance, let me tell you. Creative mind vs. critical mind, yes, but also how people you see as your peers view you. A lot of people don’t want to hear about my writing; they want to know how to break into Shimmer. Which makes me wish for a group that was made of both writers and editors — people who deal with both disciplines and want to thrive.

I hope this time gives me space to evaluate what I’m getting from the group and what I’m giving the group in return. Maybe it’s another diverging road in the wood.

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Fallout 4

side-eye

Fallout 4 was my first in-depth experience with a game from Bethesda. (I dabbled with Skyrim and still have it, but never got far enough to feel I could say I’d actually played a game from them.) Fallout 4 was an amazing — and often frustrating — journey.

There will be spoilers for the main story of Fallout 4 from here on in — so if that matters to you, abandon ship!

For the rest of us, let’s talk.

The player is presented with the choice of playing male or female and there are loads of customizations for your character. You can even change yourself over the course of the game, by visiting hair salons and various doctors — you can even get tattoos! But what I liked best was the main story presented.

You live in an idyllic Boston, or so it seems, but then you’re being asked to invest in a fallout shelter, because well, you never know. Of course the worst comes to pass, nuclear devastation, and you along with your family, run for the safety of the shelter. Only to be…frozen? (That reminds me, I need to see if I can unlock the ice gun yet!)

Sometime later, you wake to find people breaking into the pod that hold your spouse and child. And you are helpless to do anything as they are… Taken? Killed? You aren’t exactly sure until you are able to bust out.

Fighting your way out of the vault, you discover the world forever changed. Everything you knew is gone — it’s two hundred years later and you, well you’re a relic.

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You encounter many people and creatures on your journey, and are given the opportunity to travel with some of them. I traveled with Dogmeat until I discovered Codsworth was one heck of a murderbot and even better as a second in combat. Later, I’d travel with Danse, a pairing that led to a romance — the first time I played a romance in a game!

It was amusing and often delightful — he’d complain about me hoarding bullets and snack cakes, and then praise me in battle, and say I’d shown him what being happy was all about. Of course, you’re still a little preoccupied with learning what happened to the world. You might not care much about the factions who’re fighting each other, you want to know what happened to your kid.

cakes

If you’re a parent, it may well be a punch in the gut — it’s a good emotional hook that carries through to the end. You discover your son has grown up to lead the Institute, a company that claims it’s doing good for the Commonwealth. But are they? That’s a decision you get to make. One of the most emotional parts of the story was walking into the Institute, to see what had become of the child you saw carted away. Will you allow the Institute to continue their work or will you decide they need destroying?

My choice in that was complicated by who I’d gotten into a romance with, and which faction I ended up falling into. Which only made the story better, because it was constantly changing, and asking me as a player to really think about the choices I made. Those choices led to others, which lead to revelations that, I’m not going to lie, got me choked up! Good job, Bethesda.

As with any game, it’s got its quirks and technical challenges. This game likes to make my computer scream, because it eats all the resources! But beyond those, I had trouble with the interfaces and the dialogue prompts; often, the prompt had little to do with what was actually said, and I’d find myself down a path I didn’t want. But, that’s also life.

(Also a note for anyone else who is as doofy as me: you can scroll your perk screen. I had no idea until very late in the game, so wasn’t leveling things I should! At the bottom of that screen though…it scrolls. I felt so stupid!)

RADIO

One of the best side quests I set for myself was locating the DJ who kept me sane in the early days — I was thrilled to discover he actually exists!

I’ve finished the main storyline with the Institute, but there is still loads to do. I’m learning how to build better settlements and connect them with traders. I’ve also outfitted my loveshack with disco balls, kitten posters, and all the Giddyup Buttercups I’ve come across so far. I have safes to crack, and weapons to liberate, and I keep trying to shush Preston, but no luck yet. He’s still jabbering about settlements, ghouls, and raiders. Hush, Preston. I’ve got snack cakes to find!

I also need to praise the main theme, because it’s a stunning piece of music. And don’t let’s forget Uranium Fever!

the-end

And oh my gosh, ten amazing things to do in Fallout 4!

My favorite monster? I love Deathclaws, but oh my gosh, the Mirelurk Queen! Ahhhh! She was probably my biggest challenge and taught me a lot!

My favorite weapon? Righteous Authority. With a few mods… I also love grenades. Who knew!

And those Fancy Lad Snack Cakes.

And there’s wine!

Scroll your perks!

Venture beyond the map’s southern border!

Goodnight!

Pie! I will have you...

Pie! I will have you…

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What I Know

Photo by Felicia Cano on Flickr

Athena – by Felicia Cano on Flickr

Recently, I wished I knew what I was doing. Writing, mostly, I decided, but there are some things I know. Here we go:

1. Showing up is only half the deal.

You want to be a published writer? Showing up is huge, but it’s only half the battle. Doing the work is the other half. You can sit in all the coffee shops you like, with your cute laptop and your foamy milkycoffeedelicious drinks, but if you’re not doing the work, you’re not reaching the end.

If you want to be a published writer, you write the scene.

You write the scene that comes after that.

You write the next scene.

Write the next one.

You repeat until you can type THE END.

This is called doing the work.

2. Worry about what you can control and only that.

This is story about control
My control
Control of what I say

Control of what I do
-Miss Jackson

Writers tend to worry about things they can’t control. What will people think about my work? What happens if no one reads my work? What if I get a bad review?

Absolutely none of these are the end of the world. (Oh, it feels like it, but it’s not.)

Chances are, you will get a bad review.

Chances are, someone will dislike your work.

(Both of those means someone read your work. Breathe!)

Will I end up on a ballot? Will I get a shiny rocket?!

Here’s what you can control:

  • What you write.
  • What you finish.
  • What you send into the world for publishers to consider.

Have you done the work? Have you typed THE END?

You control how you work.

Return to point one. Showing up is only half the deal.

3. Shut up and write.

Truth: real life happens to everyone.

Truth: your years of work will be overlooked.

Truth: no one will value your writing space or time the way you should.

If publishing matters to you, shut up and write the scene.

Then, write the next one.

Write the next one.

Write the scenes until you can write THE END.

Writing is not magic — though it can feel that way when it’s going well. Writing for publication is like any other job. It consists of hard work. Of putting words down, of stacking up pages, until you have all the pages that story contains.

[queue the sports metaphors]

You can talk a good game, but no one goes out onto the field and just stands there — do they? You have to pick the ball up.

You have to move the down markers.

You have to do the work.

Some stories work.

Some stories don’t.

You won’t know which you have until you stack those pages and reach THE END.

Write the scene.

Then?

Write the next one.

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100

8dd02e4b2a2a1c78657ae4505fa09328I’ve been having some conflicting feelings about writing these past few months.

Writing is terrible.

Writing is wonderful.

Talk about extremes.

This week, I sold my 100th original short story (not counting reprints). (And whoops, there is sale #101, too. Well.)

That brought some feelings with it, too. In looking back, I don’t think it was a milestone I expected to reach.

I never set out to write short stories, see — once upon a time, I didn’t like them very much. But I took an SFF class in high school and college both, and something in my brain was unlocked and I said oh, I see. I discovered Bradbury and Le Guin and even asked to buy one of the older, worn textbooks the school meant to just throw away. (I still have that book.)

It was always the path people talked about too, right? In SFF circles, you sold short stories first — like those white men of old — and then you sold a novel. When you were known by your short fiction and readers would clamor for your novel-length masterpiece.

All right, I thought. Let’s sell some short stories.

I sold some short stories.

No one really clamored for my novel-length masterpiece.

Still, I wrote them. (Well, novels — not masterpieces.)

I’ve written approximately one novel every two years I’ve been writing. Those novels make the rounds to agents, to publishers who take un-agented queries, etc. etc. None of them hit until Rings of Anubis stuck at Masque/Prime. But Anubis didn’t do well, so they bid me adieu. (Oh sure, Watermark sold too (before the bad Anubis numbers) — but sank like a stone, to the bottom of the lake where the kelpie keeps her cold hearts.)

Since short fiction seemed to be my bread and butter, I assembled and queried short story collections and was often told “not sure if we’re publishing those,” only to see publishers publish those — the works of Other Authors.

Ah.

Writers never really talk about this territory — they always talk about Landing the Deal. They Got the Agent and the Book Deal and were Happy and their days were filled doing what they loved doing: Creating. They shared their Works. Their works were Collected and Read.

Every novel I’ve written has been rejected except two.

Ninety-nine of my short stories have never made a ballot. One hundred of my stories have never made a Best Of. (Honorable mentions yes, thank you Ellen Datlow for taking the time to read.)

(At this point — are we whining? The storm is loud, let our whine be swallowed.)

I offer review copies of forthcoming books (Folley & Mallory carry on due to a small press that saw the potential) and receive silence.

(What is a writer without a reader? The paired set probably has a beautiful name in German.)

I query and I query and I query and receive rejections.

Maybe I am not a novelist.

How does a writer who wishes to be read (and wishes to write novels!) go on in the face of that?

(I have many writer friends who write for the simple pleasure of writing — they don’t share their work, it’s not for public consumption, they don’t want to be published — so there’s a line there, because some of us very much do want to be published, but beyond that, want to be read.)

Harry Potter was rejected twelve times? That’s darling.

Who would miss us if we stopped writing?

Why do we adjust the sails against the hard winds?

(We, us, yes. Conversations in recent days show me I’m not alone in these feelings or struggles. Writers fall through the cracks. Good work is never wholly seen.)

Maybe the actual question is, how does one adjust those sails.

I certainly never set out to be here, but here I am, and the invisible territory ahead requires a new compass at the very least, methinks.

 

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The Honey Mummy

If you know anything about me, you should know one thing: I am not good at being patient. Waiting is the hardest thing. Not having a thing when you really want a thing? Clearly the worst!

Being an author who is often put in a position where they have to sit on Really Good News? Impossible! Thank goodness for the ability to squeal to friends in private, or climb up on the rooftop and yawp.

Look — I’ve made you wait two whole paragraphs for the brilliant news. When we last left Folley and Mallory, they’d wrangled with Anubis and Horus over some ancient bones in the catacombs of Paris. And now?

Things are about to get very sticky.

honey_promo

Art and design by Ravven

Alexandria, Egypt ~ December 1889

A mummy bound in honey.
An auction of archaic wonders.
An immortal link to the past.

Beneath the streets of Alexandria, Agent Cleo Barclay stumbled into a catacomb that changed her life. Her arms were taken, transfigured, and something remarkable was revealed — something that will stir an ancient life from the ashes of history.

A serpentine sarcophagus holds clues to Cleo’s past and future. She enlists Eleanor Folley and Virgil Mallory to collect the artifact at auction, to unravel its mysteries and her own. When the sarcophagus falls into the hands of an enigmatic Egyptologist, they find themselves participants in his diabolical pursuits.

Drawn to Alexandria by their friend — and the temptations of a newly discovered ring (oh Eleanor!) — Folley and Mallory will be challenged as never before.

jackal_trio

You can pre-order THE HONEY MUMMY for your Kindle (at a discount!) and it will land there March 1st, ready for consumption! Amazon is being a trifle difficult with the trade paperback pre-order, but the trade paper book will absolutely be available March 1st (if the pre-order doesn’t miraculously appear before then — we have Egyptian gods on our side, or do we…).

If you are a book reviewer and would like an advance copy for review, please contact me. I’ll get you set up!

Writing this book was glorious fun. Airships and Egypt, wintry Paris and Anubis, friendships between ladies and gentlemen, tea parties, streaming meteorites, strange stone sarcophagi, mysterious rings, futures imperiled, and pasts never quite put to rest. Monsters made of air and shadows, bound into flesh and bone. I hope you love it! It’s going to be sweet.

You can also join the Folley and Mallory newsletter, for updates, and giveaways, and more, more, more!

jackal_trio

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Writing, Mostly

Jia Tolentino #FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives

Jia Tolentino #FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives

I wish I knew what I was doing.

I’ve been publishing for sixteen years now (writing for even longer?!), and still don’t know. What the hell is this? Writing is the dumbest job. Are there performance reviews? Promotions? Bonuses? Vacation ti– aahahahaa.

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A long time ago, a friend said “I will not walk into the ocean today.”

I turned that into a story. (Eventually my friend did walk into the ocean — not all stories end happily.)

I will not walk into the ocean today.

The ocean, full of dark and sea monsters, always beckons. I wish I knew what I was doing.

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Sixteen years is a long time. It’ll probably go on a bit longer, right? Sixteen years — almost 100 short stories. Some novel-shaped stories. Nothing that’s done…anything, really.

A story of mine ended up on a ballot once. It’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written, about distance and longing and about having a thing and also not having a thing, and how that’s beautiful in its own right.

It’s kind of like writing, right? Having a thing, and not.

Existing in a space where you do the work, but few take notice. I can sell short stories like they’re hotcakes, but after that… Silence all the way down.

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How to keep writing when no one gives a shit?

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It’s award season, so there are Huge Lists about Awesome Writers & Their Fictions One Should Consider For Awards and Glitter Ponies, and I’ve been reading through the works upon them, because there’s a lot that goes right by me — there are So Many Stories, right? It’s hard to catch them all — stories like Pokemon, really! I published a lot last year, and found my name in one place. Just one.

I’ve written novel after novel, and have queried agent after agent, and have received no after no. This isn’t marketable! I am not in love with this Very Weird Idea! I don’t know how to sell this! But some people, your helpful brain reminds you, don’t have to write novels to get agents. They just have them because their short work is brilliant and Does Stuff. Mmm. Well.

Authors who’ve been writing a lot damn less have collections, Elise, because their work resonates and Says Stuff. You’ve never ever been in a Years’ Best, Best Of, Best Bested Bester, because your fiction just… Well. No one knows. Who even reads it. What does it even do — you aren’t exactly on Lists Of Merit. So.

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My dear friend Aidan wrote a brilliant thing.

I’ve got three stories I need to write.

And I wish I knew what I was doing.

Writing, mostly.

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Yellow

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by Emiando

I never much liked the color yellow. Maybe it’s because in my youth, I was sent a hideous yellow cable-knit sweater, that didn’t compliment my bosom or my skin tone. Yellow makes me look like I’m in possession of some terrible disease and should have died three years ago. Yellow and I never really got along.

And then, we kind of did. I wouldn’t wear it — that was off the table — but I could read about it and write about it. Within the universe of The King in Yellow? Which was weird and fantastic and creepy? Heck yes. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman? I hated it when we read it in school — but I think I hated it because I understood it. None of my classmates really seemed or cared to.

When editor Joe Pulver assembled a group of women writers to create the Cassilda’s Song anthology, a collection of stories by and about women in The King in Yellow universe, the first thing that came to mind was a room that had once been papered in yellow. And what existed within that paper? And beyond that paper? Surely it was Cassilda and her world. Could the paper be a portal? Of course it could.

What terrible things happened within those yellow-papered rooms?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that “She Will Be Raised a Queen” was also inspired by Arthur Machen’s “The White People” and “The Green Book” (both of which you can read at Project Gutenberg). Strange people in strange woods (aha, a theme in Shimmer’s January cover story as well — everything is eventually connected, time itself is a circle).

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In this anthology, I was also given the opportunity to collaborate with Damien Angelica Walters, which was a distinct pleasure. We got to play with a novelette length work that traverses the world in every stage of its life. Our Cassilda is searching for something, but what? Doorways, portals, the songwriter who understands them and encourages her to break on through. The writer of the original tale. The writer who has corrupted the truth of her.

If you love The King in Yellow, I hope you’ll pick up this book. It contains a lot of brilliant authors, in addition to me and Damien (who are also brilliant, make no mistake): Nicole Cushing, Lynda E. Rucker, Helen Marshall, Mercedes M. Yardley, Chesya Burke, Ursula Pflug, Allyson Bird, Lucy A. Snyder, Anya Martin, Selena Chambers, Ann K. Schwader, Maura McHugh, Nadia Bulkin, Molly Tanzer, S.P. Miskowski.

You don’t need a mask. Come, join us.

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2016: I Want To

keys

They’re really not resolutions — they’re just things I want to do.

Writing:

  1. Short stories: I want to write two new stories a month, at least. January always means the flash fiction challenge in my writing group, too, which will give me four new flash experiments by month’s end. I want to submit twice as much as I did last year, so doubling up the number of stories I produce should be a good start!
  2. Novels: The new book I started last year died after I read a novel that covered very similar ground. The perils of reading! But, there are still some solid bones in my book, and I want to explore them and see how they can be rearranged. I’ve also got a book that I’m revisiting. The draft is quite good, but not good enough; I don’t think I was in the right place to adequately handle everything I was putting on the page, and perhaps now I am. I want to revise this book and shoot it into the world (agent queries, most likely, because I can not get enough rejection).
  3. The Unknown: I’ve been publishing for fifteen years, and writing for longer than that. What haven’t I done? I don’t know, but I want to find out.

Art:

  1. Partner in crime and Shimmer, Beth, graciously gifted me with a six-month art course online, in which we plan to create something very pretty indeed. I want to loosen up and realize that art isn’t about perfection. Put something on a page, move it around, see what it does — this is how writing works! You can’t do anything with a blank page.
  2. I acquired some acrylic paints from a friend and have been enjoying them greatly. I want to continue to explore new supplies and new techniques. White gel pen? Sure!

Fitness:

  1. I want to head back to my gym and not hate every newbie in there. Hello, January. I see what you’re doing. I want to remember what it was like to be new there, and how kind the regulars were to me (and I guess I’m now a regular after four years…four years, holy crap).
  2. I want to be kind to myself when it comes to gym doings; this body has suffered some injuries and it’s hard to remember it’s not as young as it used to be ahem oh em gee. That I can run 5k in a body that still feels the effects of a broken femur is astounding. My time doesn’t have to be record.
  3. I want to give up sugar again. I did this for three months in 2015 and it was amazing and horrifying. It’s crazy hard, sugar is everywhere, but it’s also crazy possible. We sent a spaceship to Pluto and didn’t spoil Star Wars on Twitter, anything is possible.

Reading:

  1. My goal for reading last year was 70 books (though ended up reading 82). Every year, I add to this number, so let’s say: I want to read 80 books in 2015. That sounds like a lot, and yet! (Note to self: you read a lot less in years when you are writing a book, so know that going in!)
  2. I want to read more diversely. In 2015, I read 10 books by non-white authors, and I want to improve that number in 2016.
  3. I want to keep track of short stories I read but ahahaaaa. This feels daunting — maybe because there’s nowhere like Goodreads set up to easily maintain a list. I love spreadsheets, however, so!

Personally:

  1. I want to use my time more conscientiously.
  2. I want to stop giving to those who only take from me.
  3. I want to get to the downtown library so I can upgrade my library card and have access to an even bigger e-book collection.
  4. I want to do LetterMo in February.
  5. I want to attend the chocolate exhibit at the museum.
  6. I want to get my bike fixed once and for all.
  7. I want to keep showing up and doing the work, even if no one else notices. I notice.
  8. I want to get over this Martian Death Flu.
  9. I want to stop loading everything with “super.”

Super-happy new year!

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Some Sunsets, 2015

It’s amusing, how I planned to do this, and then discovered someone else does it as well. Enjoy the Colorado skies.

awyis

bitterlight

cloudy

down-low

gold-black

leaf-set

on-fire

orange

setting

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sunset (2)

sunset (3)

sunset

up-top

west

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2015: Dun dun dun

Wind, by Rhads

Wind, by Rhads

We spend a lot of time making resolutions — lists of things we mean to do — but do we ever look back and take note of what we’ve actually accomplished? We should. Here’s some of what I did in 2015:

Submissions: I made 63 submissions this year (and I’d like to double that next year ).  It’s a challenge when so many good pro-paying markets stay closed, argh!

Rejections: As of this writing, I’ve gotten 51 short story rejections this year (if I double my submissions, this number should also double?). If you think that working writers don’t get rejected, think again. It’s 100% part of the process. I queried four publishers about short story collections and only received one response. None of my agent queries received a reply.

Short story sales: 14 stories sold this year, which is fewer than last year, but 14 is a super great number. This includes my seventh story sale to Clarkesworld. “The Abduction of Europa” will appear in the January 2016 issue. Never thought I’d be able to say that, my seventh sale to Clarkesworld…

A novel by any other name: The Glass Falcon (novella) came out in April and was reissued in November with a new cover. The Kraken Sea (novel, but on the short end at 40k words) sold to Apex Book Company, and will appear in June of 2016. (And yes, The Honey Mummy is on track for early 2016!)

Written: I wrote 11 new short stories, a new Folley & Mallory novella (#4 in the series), and 1/3rd of a broken book. It’s broken because after reading another novel, I realized much of the ground I wanted to cover had already been covered, and I think that was like jabbing a pin into a balloon. Still, there is a good character core here and I plan to revisit one of my earlier ideas for them, and see how it works going forward.

Shimmer: Shimmer had its first fully digital year in 2015. We published six issues, woohoo! More than that, I took over the design/layout/assembly stage with issue #25 in May. That was a huge learning curve, and I found myself very thankful to have learned HTML and CSS a hundred years ago, because that allowed me to do this. I got to work with 17 new-to-Shimmer writers, and that’s always just the best part.

Fitness: I didn’t track the miles I walked/ran this year, which is super annoying. (A few years back, I was keeping track via the Walk to Mordor challenge.) But I lost twenty pounds along the way. Thumbs up. In 2016, I’m headed to the gym with a device that might actually be able to track those miles for me… I also swam a ton–I feel so strong in the pool!–and squatted two-hundred.

Reading: I read 81 books, though that may turn into 82 by the end of the year, because the book I’m reading now should be devoured in quick order. (My goal was to read 70 books.) When it comes to slush, I can only estimate that I read more than 1000 shorts over the course of the year, and I didn’t track my short reading otherwise — I probably really should have. My favorite book of the year? Probably Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand.

Video games: I became obsessed with Minecraft, Monument Valley, and Fallout 4. And let’s not kid ourselves, Neko Atsume.

What did you do this year?

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