Friday, September 30, 2011

What it's like in month nine

Even when I know a problem is only in my head, it's not necessarily easier to deal with. This has been a week of self-doubt, weird dreams, and poor eating habits, which all add up to a sleepy me, engaged in half-assed self-reflection as I will the coffee to brew faster.

So here's the deal: If I bring up a problem I try to bring up a solution. So let's talk about how I can make life better for my noggin.

  • Spend the weekend integrating the cats. For the past week we've kept them mostly apart and one of us has been sleeping on the couch to keep Chiana company. Couch dreams are fickle dreams.
  • Drink coffee. Or sleep. Then shut the hell up about being tired. Everybody is tired.
  • Exercise. Go outside or to the gym. Move you lazy creature!
  • Recognize what I do and do not have control over. (This has always been my biggest challenge.) Quit worrying about the stuff you can't change. There's no profit in it.
  • Handle that paperwork I've been avoiding. You know the paperwork.
  • Stop switching between first and second person. It's creepy.
  • You're creepy.
  • Callate la boca.

This is such a strange job I've signed up for, and I've never done anything like it. You work for long stretches in a cocoon of silence alone with your thoughts, making stuff up, and nobody pays you anything most of the time or pats you on the head and says, good work. All the motivation has to be internal, all the resources for fighting off the sad times and the constant stream of judgment dribbling in through the email inbox and the mailbox, hoping for the best.

Geez. Does it sound like I'm complaining again? I'm not. Not really. I love having this opportunity. I've been very fortunate -- I've met really fantastic and interesting people. I've had three flash fiction pieces accepted in a short time. I have a wonderful husband and family who are all very supportive. This is the best possible world.

And I still have so much to learn about writing. There are no shortcuts. I feel like there's this heavy boulder crashing down a hill and what I'm doing right now is stopping that boulder and turning it around. Every day I make a little more progress.

Sisyphus metaphors make the boring reality of typing all day seem much more dramatic.

The only cure is to write more. Or learn more. Or both.

So you and me computer. Let's dance.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Baseball and blackberries

Waiting at the bus stop, admiring the blackberries

I took the bus downtown last night to meet Jer. After drinks with his coworkers we headed over to the stadium to watch the Mariners play. I always feel like an interloper at events like this, particularly with baseball. I try to understand what's going on, who's doing what and why, and I'm lost.

Mariner's game 9/28/11

I keep trying though. I'm stubborn like that.

Yesterday I submitted a story and received a rejection, unrelated to the submission. One step forward, one step back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cherie Priest Reading at UW Bookstore

I left the house last night to meet friends and see author Cherie Priest read at the University of Washington Bookstore. She is best known for the steampunk tale, Boneshaker, but is fairly prolific, having written 11 novels and counting.

Some of you may remember Boneshaker was part of the recommended books list made up of friend and Moonshine reader suggestions.

Priest's reading was interesting and the Q&A portion entertaining. It was great to put a name with a face. I brought home a signed copy of The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, and I'm looking forward to reading and admiring the art.

One slightly annoying discovery was that street parking around the University is now enforced between 8am and 8pm for a two hour maximum limit, which means more trips to the car to keep payment current. (It used to only go until 6pm) I get that they want to increase paid parking revenue, I just wish the limit was longer than two hours or I could renew from my phone since most events I attend at UW begin at 7pm and I usually arrive around 4:30 to shop or eat ahead of time, thus necessitating an extra trip to the car. I suppose I could just skip shopping and dinner and arrive after 6pm for events.

Probably not what the city had in mind though.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Niviane and what's a story

Much of my day has revolved around a little black ball of fluff with tiny needle-like claws. Kitty and I visited the vet today to have her checked over -- when I made the appointment I told them her name is Niviane, so I guess that's that -- and the vet said everything looked good. I also had them trim her claws, so she can start getting used to the sensation.

Nail clipping is something we never did with Vash or Chiana, and I have the scars to prove it.

Today I also introduced her to Cat Dancer, which is hands-down the best cat toy I've ever used. It's freakishly simple and stupid looking, just springy steel wire and rolled cardboard, and yet every cat I've ever exposed it to can't get enough. For only $3 plus tax, you too can know the strange joy inherent in Cat Dancer: The Action Cat Toy.

I'm sure the cat talk will die down soon, so don't let me scare you away if it's not your thing.

Speaking of writing, I spent most of yesterday reading about the business of writing. And I read Ben Bova's answer in "The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells" to What is story? as a narrative description of a character struggling to solve a problem. I like that definition and it's given me new insights into what I'm trying to accomplish here.

To put it into practice and in the hopes of adding depth, I'm going back over a story that's been rejected and adding some inner emotional problems to go with the outer physical problems. We'll see if it works soon enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Enter new cat, stage left

Jer and I have been discussing getting another cat for months now. Vash (our 8 year old male cat) passed away last May, and with me staying home to write, and no conferences or conventions for a few weeks, the timing finally worked out. So last night we found ourselves at the Humane Society in Bellevue, meeting all the cats up for adoption. We hadn't originally set out to arrive at that particular location, so we were surprised to find all the cats and kittens on sale right now, $25 for cats older than 6 months, $50 for kittens.

There was another cat we liked at first, but that one needed to be an only cat. So we went to a neighboring room and met a little one year old furball named Bea, who was vocal and pushy and curious and very affectionate. I grabbed her paperwork, we applied for adoption, and then an hour or so later we were able to take her home in the carrier.

We're keeping Chiana (our 7 year old female) and her separated for about a week and then we'll slowly introduce them. The staff said two females are the hardest to introduce, so Jer and I are taking turns with each cat and making sure nobody is feeling left out. I would especially hate for Chiana to feel neglected in all this.

That probably sounds silly to non-cat people.

I am angling to name the new cat, Niviane, after the huntress that Merlin fell for and who ultimately destroyed him. I would call her Nivi for short, or Niv. I'm not sure Jer is on board with that yet, but I suspect I can wear him down.

All of this is to say, stay tuned for more wacky hijinx. Now with more cats.

Progress Check for September

Updated on September 29th with 1 more submission and 1 more rejection

Here are my writing submission stats for September 2011:

  • Submissions: 4
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 1 (to 10Flash Quarterly for 10/1 posting)
  • Pending submissions as of 9/25: 6

This summary is slightly premature because I expect to hear about one of the pending submissions any day now, and I plan to resubmit one of the rejected stories before October, but there you go. - Updated 9/29

2011 Overall Status (Didn't start submitting in earnest until June 1):

  • Total Individual Works: 16
  • Acceptances in 2011: 3
  • Rejections in 2011: 16

Friday, September 23, 2011

Desperately Seeking Dorothy

Someone on the internet is wrong, and I'm having one of those mornings where I'd really like to engage the person in adult conversation and ask them to reexamine their opinion in a civil and respectful manner.

But we all know how well that'd actually go.

Besides, it's all just excuses not to finish what needs finishing. I have stories to critique and stories to write, and there's no profit in the rest of it.

Or so I tell myself.

I should mention for posterity that I attended a new writing group last night, which I don't think is a secret. It was a nice change because we sat down and wrote during our time together, which is not to say I have an issue with the critique-style groups at all. I have been very lucky to stumble into a number of writing groups in these past few months, full of talented and friendly individuals. And every one of them has helped make my writing better. I'm just saying that sometimes it is also nice to eat a chocolate truffle and put some words on the page.

Or maybe I am desperately trying to be Dorothy Parker in search of my own Algonquin Round Table.

There are worse things to be.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Neal Stephenson follow-up and a story sale

Photo of Neal Stephenson answering audience questions at Town Hall in Seattle, September 20, 2011

I met Jer after work and saw his new workspace. Then we walked over to the Elysian for dinner. I was disappointed they didn't have any pumpkin beers available yet, but soon. (Their pumpkin beer fest is Oct 8-9, and I have tickets for Saturday.)

Our table was on the narrow, fenced-in strip that just qualified as outside, and we watched the hundreds of Sounders fans stream past in their bright green shirts and scarves for the stadium. I listened to the conversations around us and pretended they were instruments in a serendipitous cosmic tune.

As you do.

Later we drove up to Town Hall and found convenient parking. There was no wait to get inside and I already had my tickets in hand, so we found seats and waited for Neal Stephenson.

The reading lasted about 45 minutes and then there were questions. The most interesting answer I'll take away is Stephenson's assertion -- in response to a question about the heft of his books -- that novels provide the best outlet for depth and scope of storytelling. A storyteller should take advantage of that opportunity.

We came home and I learned I sold a story. It'll be out October 1, and I'm very excited to be selected by this market. It also makes three acceptances in three months, if you're following along, and marks the first time I've sold a story on my first try. The other stories I've had accepted were rejected and revised before acceptance elsewhere.

All of this is to say: Tuesday was a good day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Neal Stephenson Tonight

I have tickets to see Neal Stephenson tonight at Seattle Town Hall. He's promoting his new book, Reamde, and I'm excited to get to be there.

I mentioned in the August 3rd entry there have been incredible opportunities to attend readings this summer in Seattle.

Here are the author readings I've seen in the past few months:

Paul Park, Nancy Kress, L. Timmel Duchamp, Margo Lanagan, Minister Faust, Charles Stross, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, William Gibson, and C.S. Friedman. In May, I also saw/heard John Scalzi read.

And next week I'm planning to attend Cherie Priest's reading at the University of Washington Bookstore.

This town, and the people who set up these events, are amazing. (Those responsible by the way, seem to be Clarion West and/or the UW Bookstore.) Prior to this summer I had no idea events like these even existed. The more I explore our local SF/F community, the more I like what I see.

Speaking of amazing people: In the last post I mentioned the web sites of folks I met at Foolscap. One of the many I neglected was Elizabeth of NightshadeRose Studio Handcrafted Jewelry. Be sure to check out her wares. She won a blue ribbon for her work in the art show.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Foolscap, the Experience

I spent the weekend at Foolscap 13, a small science-fiction and fantasy convention for writers, readers, authors, and visual artists. It was fantastic.

There's not just one thing that made it so good. The panels were almost all open discussions between the panelists and the audience, which led to some wonderfully weird places.

Friday I attended the writer's workshops:

All the workshop teachers were incredibly helpful and I came away with a multitude of notes and ideas. Pages and pages.

Skipping ahead, I met many cool and creative and interesting people -- and here is where I'd post all of their web sites to prove how cool they are, if only their business cards weren't so far away in my bag. Oh, here's one: Jeremy Zimmerman. For the rest, I'm sorry I am too lazy to walk the ten feet to the other room. Nothing personal. I'm just kind of a jerk. It's better if we learn that lesson now.

I was also really pleased to meet Lee Moyer, who is a fantastic artist and very generous with his time. I didn't even know there was going to be an art show and then I walked around a corner and saw the art for Caitlin R. Kiernan's new book cover and recognized Lee's work immediately. I snagged one of his smaller pieces at the silent auction. Definitely a highlight.

I realize this entry isn't all that interesting. You want conflict. You want drama. And here I am with nuthin' but praise. I haven't even mentioned the radio show or the chocolate fountain or the guests of honor or the easy parking or the brunch or the free book table...

Okay. I wracked my brain and thought of one sucky thing. The 520 floating bridge was closed all weekend so it took me a whole extra 10 minutes each way to get to the hotel.

The humanity.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My new story is available

My new horror story, Justice Comes to Jack Marra, is now up at Flashes in the Dark. I hope you like it:

For Jack Marra’s last meal he ate one bacon cheeseburger, one vanilla malt, two bags of sour cream and cheddar potato chips, and a slice of enchilada pie with extra hot sauce...(Read more)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Impatiently Yours

A year ago I was recovering from a nasty cold I'd picked up on a business trip to Chicago. I was about to go to Europe for the first time. I had no idea I'd be quitting my job in three months.

Today I'm hammering away at my computer trying to write about an ancient civilization. Life's weird.

I feel...impatient. I guess it's better to be patient and wait for good things to happen rather than being impatient to learn the bad things sooner.

Does that even make sense?

Probably my worst quality is my lack of patience. (Though one or two people might have something else to say about my worst quality. Maybe we'll take a poll.) I know things take as long as they take, and it's no use living if you're always looking forward to the next damn thing and never enjoying the present, but bah.

I was that kid who opened all her Christmas presents ahead of time. Under the cover of darkness. And I'm still that kid, but bigger.

In other news I spent the morning poking around old issues of Dragon and Dungeon magazines. I don't know if I'm motivated enough to make DnD into my full-time study, but I'm curious about what it would take to create my own adventure.

Maybe someday. Once I learn how to (patiently) read a book cover-to-cover and grok some new realms.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A writing book recommendation

I started reading Revenge of the Penmonkey by Chuck Wendig on my Kindle last night and I'm really enjoying it. I just finished a section called, "Beware of Writer II: Revenge of the Teenage Penmonkey from Mars," and laughed out loud several times, particularly during "You Can See Our Libraries From Space."

So far it's sort of like Stephen King's "On Writing" with more attitude, structured as a collection of essays. Chuck Wendig is a funny guy, with a story worth knowing -- at least as far as 17% of my way into the book lends me credibility.

Maybe I will start a feature called The 17% Report, where I grade a book based entirely on the first 17%.


You guys. If you steal my idea I'll know it was you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My First Copyright

Technically the moment you create a work, you hold the copyright. (Source). The catch is if you want to bring a lawsuit against someone infringing on your copyright, you need to have registered your work with the United States Copyright Office. Basically, you have the copyright, but you can't defend it until you register.

Before we go any further, I am not a copyright lawyer or any kind of expert. Always do your own research.

So yesterday I was reading about a situation that happened two years ago, where an author noticed similarities between his work and another. The author, Angel Zapata, proceeded to expose a whole trail of plagiarized content published by a person named, Richard Ridyard. (See Angel's post for the full story). When the story broke, others came forward with similar stories about Ridyard. At one point, Ridyard even tried submitting a Stephen King story as his own. (See A Broken Laptop's post)

Ridyard -- which was actually the name of a deceased journalist and not an actual person, as far as anyone could tell -- seemed to target stories that were published electronically. Angel Zapata stumbled into the whole mess because he was sent his own story (or at least similar enough to recognize, with one line lifted verbatim) via an email subscription to a flash fiction web site.

As a writer who plans to embrace the internet as a distribution tool, my next thought was: what could I do if that happened to me? I'm about to have two stories online, both of which netted me essentially no money, but have given me an opportunity to get my name out and build up some publication credits.

Sort of defeats the purpose if I'm just handing my story to a plagiarizer.

So I went to the U.S. Copyright Office web site, and submitted registration documentation for "Eau de Public Transit." I did this for two reasons: primarily because I wanted to know how to do it, but also because it couldn't hurt.

Many of you know someone stole my whole blog around 2000. The guy took all of the text, put it on his own web site and coded the text so a single page scrolled through the content, then created an art installation around it. He set up a computer monitor in a London museum to display the text, set the monitor on a table, and painted the wall blue behind. He charged 1000 pounds for the piece.

I contacted a copyright lawyer at the time and there wasn't anything he could do to help. I couldn't afford to pay consulting fees and my copyright only existed so far as "my word versus his."

When I finally got a response from the artist--I didn't discover the show until after it had been over several months--he offered to split the sale of his work 50/50 if it sold. He considered my blog, "found art" and thought he was being fair and kind to help expose my work as he had.

He also never thought I'd find out.

I might be relaying this calmly, but it still makes me furious. If I have to explain why that guy was so incredibly wrong, I will. But I hope you can see the problem for yourself.

All of this led me to pay $35 to register Eau de Public Transit yesterday. The online process is fairly simple, if tedious, but after you go through it once you can save your responses as a template. If/when I do this again it will take much less time. Also, I understand that some people group their unpublished short stories together and submit as a collection. I can see why that would be preferable, cost-wise.

Aaaand that's the story of my first official copyright. Have a nice day.

Friday, September 09, 2011

C.S. Friedman reading

C.S. Friedman reading at the University of Washington bookstore

Jer and I started reading C.S. Friedman's The Coldfire Trilogy around 2001. Her books were some of the first we read at the same time and enjoyed discussing. So it was with great pleasure we went to see C.S. Friedman read last night at the UW Bookstore, on her first West coast visit. In particular I enjoyed her sharp sense of humor

Although she's on tour to promote the third installment of her Magister trilogy, she read from her new prequel to The Coldfire Trilogy, which will be e-published soon. It was a lot of fun and I can't wait to read the novella in its entirety.

I highly recommend going to see her read if you have the opportunity.

Here's a link to the first book of the trilogy, if you're curious:

Black Sun Rising (The Coldfire Trilogy, Book 1)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Housekeeping Updates

Been making a few design improvements to the blog:

  • Added a navigation bar to the top of the site
  • Added an About Me page
  • Added a Folly's Fiction page, to help people find my published stories
  • Added a What's New blurb and a Search widget to the sidebar
If you go through a feed reader, like most of my traffic, then I don't expect you to care. But if you find yourself thinking, "Hey, I'd really like to see proof that Folly danced in a music video that one time. Where should I go?" Then the About Me page is for you.

The plan for today is to write, to clean, and to be merry. And maybe go see author, C.S. Friedman read tonight.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

My newest story will be published 9/16

Great news: I just got word my new horror flash fiction* will be posted at Flashes in the Dark on Friday, September 16.

The piece is called Justice Comes to Jack Marra, and it's about as dark as Eau de Public Transit, but less moody, more overt.

I can't wait for people to read it. :)

*In this usage, flash fiction is a story less than 1000 words.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Serendipitous Education

I spent most of yesterday doing research and found I'm a little rusty. In the old days, I'd go to the library and pull out a couple of encyclopedias, maybe view some microfiche, pour through bound magazines... If I really wanted to chance it, I'd just wander around the section with the relevant stuff.

Straight up Luddite rebel, yo.

But searching the internet, I kept wondering how much I was reading was true and/or relevant. I tried to find some videos on the subject, thinking at least I'd get a sense of the place I want to write about, and that was mostly fruitless. I know they exist, I just don't know how to find them.

I'll try again when my patience meter is higher. I'm sure what I need is out there, it just seems buried in the same five articles reworded slightly differently across the internet.

So this morning I submitted two short pieces into the world, which brings me up to eight active submissions. I'm treading new ground here -- eight is the most I've ever had out at one time. (My mini-goal is to have ten out at the same time. My extended goal is 25.)

I also have a story out for feedback and once that comes back, I should be able to make any revisions and submit that as well.

Nine is so close I can taste it. But then so is my coffee.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Spotting the clues, solving the mystery

I finished a draft of another short story last night. This one had to be 1500 words or less, so most of the revision was spent cutting and tightening. At the end of the first draft it was close to 1800 words, so I really had to focus on the point of the story to cut it down to the essentials.

Hey all that research on "theme" is helping. Bizarro! (Bonus reference for Sealab 2021 fans)

A technique that worked well this time is that I wrote 2/3 exploratory-style on the computer and then grabbed a paper notebook and listed all the things I knew to be true. Then I found the ending by combining all that stuff together, like a twisted game of connect the dots.

Once I figured out what I wanted to say with this story, it was easier to rip out the extra bits and rewrite sentences, knowing exactly what I needed to include and what I didn't.

Approaching short story writing as if it were a mystery that needed to be solved seems to have worked well for me. Having said that, the true test will be if the story works for anybody else.

It amazes me how humbling this is, learning to write fiction. I've only been seriously at it for eight months, and only about four of those months were spent actively trying to become involved in the community and taking classes.

I feel like I'm just beginning to see what's possible.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Theme is the weekend's theme

Why is only my right hand cold? I need a heated mouse.

Somebody get on that.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen this picture:

Saturday night note-taking extravaganza!

And now the context.

So people aren't kidding when they say you have to write in order to learn how to write. And I swear, I've been listening to feedback and trying to look for patterns in my...let's call them flaws...and not taking anything too personally. But there's one comment I've heard a few times now and I decided I need to address it.

The writing's nice and all, but what's the point?

Oh. The point? Well. Hm. You mean it can't just be to entertain you? Whoops.

You ever think you have a grasp on something until you try to explain it? Eight months ago I asked myself: what's a story? And I got stuck. I read a lot, I watched a lot of Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth," and I thought I had an idea. So I started to write.

(The shorthand definition for story I settled on, by the way: Words in a specific order meant to elicit a response.)

Last night I asked myself: what's a theme? Why's it important? Because "theme" seems to be the answer to "what's the point?"

So I gathered a bunch of how-to write books, camped out in the living room, and took notes. (See picture) At the end of the night I decided, at least until I find out differently, I consider theme to be this: a coded message the author wants to convey about an attitude or opinion on an abstract subject, shown through the characters's reactions to events in the story.

Or as I wrote elsewhere: Theme is the weird filament that gave Pinocchio life.

I think I've stumbled into themes before in my stories, just by virtue of the fact I'm an opinionated person, and it didn't hurt that readers are always trying to glean meaning even when it's not there. It's what we're programmed to do -- we fill in gaps. Just look at any optical illusion as an example.

I feel like I might have understood this once at an intuitive level and then I inspected the thought too closely and it fell apart, so now I have to do the hard work and learn it for keeps.

One thing's for sure: theme makes me rambly.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Taking requests

I woke up thinking about the children's story I have out for feedback, and I suddenly realized what the thing's about. (This is in regards to the story I mentioned previously--the one I started nine years ago with a loooong gap between drafts.)

Spoiler alert: It's about worth.

But does this epiphany interest anyone besides me? These tangents without context?

Writing fiction every day is strange, because I spend all this time in places I can't share. By the time the stars align and I find a market, the story of 'how it came to be' is history.

Accidental rhyme, I swear. Put down the pitchfork.

For example, I mailed a play yesterday. In four months, I can expect a postcard back telling me they received the submission. It could be a year before the play is formally rejected.

So does the account of its creation even matter?

I don't know. It's useful for me to look back and see how I'm growing as a writer. But if I'm the only one who cares, why don't I just document my 'growth' off-line? If I'm going to the trouble to post this kind of minutia, then shouldn't it be entertaining? Shouldn't I have the audience in mind?

Again, I don't know. I've done it both ways. When I wrote my first entries online in 1996, I made a big deal about writing for myself. Screw all y'all. Eventually I realized that was a lie. If online journaling/blogging was just for me I'd write on napkins and stow the shredded paper in a box.

I've always liked napkin stories.

Quick digression: At the live D&D show at PAX, the DM wrote clues around the curvy lines of a soccer ball, so the players had to pick up the ball and turn it over and over to read the text. I think it's so cool when the act of reading a story is a part of the story.

Forcing myself firmly back to the point, this next bit would work better with a fancy quiz, full of radio buttons and an evolving bar chart. I don't have that.

But, if you would be so kind to answer, is there anything you'd like me to write more or less about? Photography? Personal finance? Writing process? Booze? Books? Diet/exercise? Celebrity gossip? At one time or another I've touched on all these subjects. Except for the gossip one, which well, I won't do.

Let me know, if you would. I'm curious.

Or, if that question doesn't interest you, how do you approach blogging? Do you write for an audience or yourself?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Just Stampin' It

On the docket: finish and mail my latest ten-minute play. I wrote a draft yesterday afternoon, had some friends do a read-through last night, and now I just need to incorporate the feedback, print, and mail.

I've gotten spoiled with electronic submissions. Today we're stampin' it old school.

In booze news, I bought a ticket for the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival in October. I'm pretty excited about that. This year's festival will be in Georgetown, just south of Seattle, on October 8th and 9th.

Not much else going on. Writing, rewriting, updating my spreadsheets, waiting for the banshee wail of the garbage truck... Just another Thursday.