About Me

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New futures from old horizons. Author of off-kilter sci fi/fantasy books. Fond of apocalyptic and fantastical things. Known for phuquerie. I bite. On Amazon.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Speechless

I've opened my blog more than a few times in the last few weeks, trying to figure out what to say. But the American election happened, and Leonard Cohen passed away, and I don't know what to say anymore. All I have are words. I don't go out and protest, partly because I can't (for a variety of reasons). I am just a writer. Amazon's tightened up its reading and reviewing restrictions even further, something that won't exactly make it easier to spread the word about books.

What do I say in the face of this new world?

I've read some good articles lately - journalists offering sincere, grim advice on how to survive in Donald Trump's America, thinkpieces from people at intersectional breaking points, scientific journals sharing information about ancient hominids. In some ways, the world keeps marching on. In some ways, it's stopped forever. People have already died and suffered violence.

It's possible to write off my emotions as insulation from the world of violence and hate, but there's more to it than that. The legitimizing of violence and discrimination in such a public way is a new reality for all of us. It's one that I really thought years of reading and writing books would have prepared me for.

Maybe it prepared me more than I think it did, but the reality of living in a cautionary tale has not yet set in.

I am scared. Some of my favorite people have teamed up with artists to create things to sell, to help fund the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood's initiatives. From here in Canada, in this country which the rest of the world has acclaimed a sort of save haven and paradise, I remain and wait for the disaster to make its way here.

I want to offer people hope and encouragement, but I don't know if I have that right now. The only thing I can say is that I am still here. I am alive, I abide, I survive. I hope my friends and family will survive, too. There will be hope in these dark times, even if I'm too numb to have it right now.

I don't know what the use of words is right now, but words are my medium, my weapon, and they are all I have to give. Soon I may have more to give, more jokes and critiques and flakes of light.

Hang in there, survive, keep fighting, and don't be ashamed to hide if it keeps you alive. We will get through this, as many of us as can get by. Do not stop voting or protesting or just talking about democracy, no matter which country you live in. Do not allow racist, phobic people to dictate the direction of your world or to take power.

These are just words, but maybe someone can make them real, and maybe, just maybe, I can use them to give the rest of you strength or comfort. Don't be ashamed to laugh when you can. Rest, recuperate, and when you can rise, build and make what you can. Doesn't matter whether it's a sandcastle or a barricade at a protest or a scarf for someone you care about. Just make something.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Your Book is a Phoenix: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Revisions

Hello hello!

So, not long ago, I finished and published Bad Things that Happen to Girls, which will also end up in Braindemons, my next personal anthology. When is Braindemons coming out? No clue, but it's going to be a while - I need a nice big stack of stories to fill it, first. And in the meantime, that means I am preparing The Meaning Wars (The Meaning Wars, book 3) and Monsters and Fools (The Nightmare Cycle, book 2) for your eager, grasping hands, claws, and tentacles.

But BTtHtG did not arise fully-formed from my forehead, like Athena - far FROM it.

Stage 1: the bare outline of an idea 


I knew I wanted to write about two sisters, a love story with a young man from an Indian background - inspired, I must admit, by my own teenage love for a math tutor at the time - and about an abusive mother figure. I wanted at least one of the girls to be an artist, I wanted to capture the culture of suffocating, toxic religious families, and I wanted a happy ending. Snippets of scenes came together, but I couldn't get the whole thing to gel. Frustrated, I picked it up and set it aside as I worked on other things, hoping that somehow, some day, I'd be able to make it work.

Then a computer crashed and I lost my progress. I was desperate not to lose the file, even though it was corrupted beyond repair, and I rewrote as much as I could remember of the story. And there it sat for years. I pecked at it occasionally, but made little headway.

Then I had the idea of renaming it and of adding more to it, and of complicating the events. I knew I wanted the father character and daughter characters to spend time on the road, I knew I wanted the daughter in love with the young Indian man to have a second chance with her love, and I knew I wanted the other daughter to be queer. But where would I take them? I had no idea at the time. The girl in love would suffer from depression, but in high school, I had a very rough, broad idea of what that was like.

Stage 2: putting meat on the bones


The biggest problem I had with Bad Things' first drafts - back when it went by the name 'Foreverland' - was that I thought I needed to have events happen slowly. How could my readers get the sensation of a family slowly unravelling unless the pacing was equally slow? I didn't have events and revelations condensed enough, so there were these long stretches of dead space where basically nothing was happening. I have had that problem in a lot of books, so I think that's one of the reasons I've become such a parsimonious writer.

 One thing I did for Bad Things, though, to deal with the problem of the time jump, was - I DIDN'T look at my notes. It's been really useful; I based that technique on your advice to rewrite things using the original as a basis. I discovered, though, that it was better for me to just have the idea, and work from that - otherwise I tended to choke. My attempt to adhere to details was actually suffocating me.


Stage 3: doubt and denial 


Never trust the demon doubt. I've spent a few years in the trenches now, with battle scars from publishing, and one of the worst things I ever went through was a batch of negative reviews on GR. Apparently, dropping the word "cunt" under any circumstances means I have to hand in my feminist badge.

I almost stopped writing.

Finally, I published again, and moved on. I put together a collection of stories from multiple authors, and another, and entered a third collection, then a fourth.

I tried working on a story, and had an anxiety attack at the thought of publishing. My writing gathered dust for months. Even my blog had only a few peeps and snippets.

Stage 4: screw it, time to get back on the horse

Then, last month, I decided to tackle a story I'd been struggling with. I wrote 6K in one day and fired it off to my editors and mentors. Armed with their feedback, I let it sit a week, eagerly read over their critiques, and decided I'd finish the second draft by the end of the week. By the end of September, I'd finished my first draft of The Meaning Wars. 

The point of this story is: there will always be ups and downs. These stages may be inevitable. You may want to put your pen down. You may have to decide that writing needs to be a part-time thing. You may think it's time to quit, and that you can't do this. Mental health issues may leave you curled up and whimpering in the bathtub, rocking back and forth under a blanket, unable to verbalize your feelings.

But you CAN do it, oh writers and penmonkeys. You can. And eventually, the next book will stomp into your brain and demand to be written.

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Loaf of Bread: on Imperfections

Hello hello!

So, my father's been visiting this week. As those who follow my blog and Facebook may know, my familial relationships are somewhat complex and...perhaps the word 'fraught' is applicable. Still, things have gone pretty well. On the weekend, I was eager to show off my baking skills, which now include yeast bread. I don't have a stand mixer and do everything by hand, so as other bakers and cooks will know, this is a bit of an achievement.


Bread (and creative pursuits) are hard 


Bread is easy to mess up. It has to be kneaded the right way, left to rise, the water has to be the right temperature, and people across the internet have pretty fierce debates about when to add the salt for the sake of the gluten structure. Some people recommend a drier dough; some, a wetter dough. Different climates, elevations, and water types affect the taste of the bread. As a friend who went through culinary school explained it, bread made in a particular city will never taste quite the same as bread made elsewhere because of the makeup of the atmosphere. The point is, there's an art to it, not just the science of combining ingredients in a particular order.

While my father walked around the lake to make sure he could handle the carbs, and complimented the taste, he was also quick to look up the science of making bread. He immediately started looking at various ways to make absolutely optimal bread - using a stand mixer, of course, not tearing the dough as it's kneaded, the way to proof yeast, the chemical process of autolysing - and started quizzing me about whether I'd measured everything out to the gram or used volume measures.

I felt quite embarrassed and explained that I wasn't striving for perfection--just a good, edible loaf of bread. Food tastes different depending on whether the cook had their heart in it that day or was doing things perfunctorily. Something doesn't have to be perfect to be enjoyable for what it was. I explained, too, that I'm a relative novice - this is my third loaf of yeast bread ever, which is really not much - and that, as with knitting, one must do garter stitch, then stockinette, then lace stitches. I have to master a simple version of a thing before I start doing it more precisely and better.

My father, seemingly not understanding this, challenged me to a bread-making competition for the next time he visits. Although I laughed at the time, I felt disquieted later. The thing is, he proudly says that he can't cook but can follow a recipe, and that's very applicable to the arts. A paint by numbers kit is perfectly acceptable, but to create something new, diversions from a formula must occur, or will happen inevitably. For writing, bad or mediocre stories precede adequate, good, and excellent ones. And even then, writing is kind of hard.

I spent a long time not even attempting to make yeast breads because they're so difficult and technically challenging. Then I tried a breadmaker and ended up with some bricks. Eventually, I got up the courage to use a conventional oven and start attempting loaves. I'm definitely better at writing than I am at making bread, but that's okay.

At some point, reading about a thing can just be intimidating and make one self-conscious about imperfections. It's easier to criticize than to do, let alone to do well, and even the best art can never be utterly perfect from every single perspective. People are different, and what satisfies one person will leave another hungry and bring another jubilation.

How do you know it's good enough?


There's an anecdote I heard about Tennessee Williams; a friend of his found him sitting at his typewriter, editing a story that had already been accepted for publication. Williams shrugged off his friend's incredulity, saying the story wasn't done.

For my own part, I'm currently re-editing And the Stars Will Sing and The Stolen: Two Short Stories for re-release. I have a lot more bread to make and a lot more projects to knit, and many more books to write and edit. And none of these things will be perfect, but they're part of a process. Finally, at least they may satisfy some people in the moment, and when I release them, they will represent the best efforts I could offer at the time.

Here's the other thing, though - hindsight is a luxury borne of experience. It's easy to say "this ought to have been done a certain way", but that comes about after circumstances have changed. Maybe I shouldn't have torn my dough, maybe I should have left that character alive, but even having that alternative perspective only has come about because a decision was made. It's too easy to beat oneself up and focus on the past rather than using that experience and acquired knowledge to improve the future.

At the end of the day, the best one can do, even if it's imperfect, is better than an ideal creation that never enters the world. I know what the perfect loaf of bread would taste, feel, and smell like, and I can imagine it, but my learner's efforts and the slow process of attempting garlic olive oil bread and brioches will yield more goodness than a hundred dreams of snow-white loaves ever could. After all, as any poor person could tell you, dreams may be enticing, but they leave one's belly empty.

What do you regret? What would you change, and what have you learned from creative failures? Let me know in the comments.


***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

It's Okay to be a Lady (Or Gentleman, or Gentleperson): Why I Swear Less

Hello hello!

So, it's no secret that I phuquing love profanity. I cuss on Facebook and Twitter, and quite a few four-letter words find their way into my blog posts as well. But even so, and especially in conversation, I've been trying to swear less. Now, I'm not saying anyone HAS to follow my example, but it wouldn't kill anyone, either. Obviously, this post will involve a lot of profanity. If you're not crazy about that sort of thing, you've been warned, but consider giving this one a read anyway.


Why swear in the first place?


It can have analgesic effects for injuries, it's fun, it's emphatic, and it has a long and storied history. One of the first things I do when learning a new language is--and this is a hundred percent true--learn to swear in it. Learning to swear in Spanish helped the language stick, and actually taught me about some cultural values, as well as linguistic diversity within the Spanish-speaking world. (For instance, "pinche" is a cuss word in Mexico but means "bobby pin" elsewhere. There are many examples of this).

Swears represent cultural values and taboos, and have a lot of anthropological value. You can trace a culture's evolution through the swear words it's created and discarded (link). I love them, I love the way they sound, and I love what they express. But...

Swear words have power.


Because they're taboos, when injected into conversation, they really snap people to attention. Sure, our era's pretty lax about swearing, but it still gets banned and bleeped. It's kind of exciting to hear someone swear because they are breaking a cultural rule. Even the little cuss words, like "damn" and "Hell" are moderated in their use, and I really enjoy hearing them.

But pwer can be abused, and these words lose their zap and sing if they pass too much into common vocabulary. That said, new cusses, like "fuckboy" and "cuck" have arisen. "Douchebag" is another relatively recent invention; I first heard it used as an insult in tenth grade (yes, I remember the exact moment) when arguing with a girl named Holly in English class. We both came away from the argument with a sense of mutual respect for the other's wit, by the way, which was pretty cool.

Still, these words can also be very hurtful when directed at someone else, so there's a reason we try to teach kids to use them judiciously. I did grow up listening to one of my parents swear a lot, angrily, and hurtfully, so it took a long time for me to learn that swearing could be fun and even innocent.

Swearing less makes it more fun when you do swear.


I guess this is my biggest argument for reducing the rate of cussin'. I love it, so I wanted to feel that old thrill again. Swear words have a connection with sublimated violence, and sometimes I just don't feel like being violent in my thoughts or conversations. Plus, searching for alternatives can be fun, and a bit goofy. It doesn't hurt to revive archaic words and even archaic substitutes, because language is fun.

Final thoughts?


Swearing can be great. It can be hurtful as well. It can be transgressive. But making it a staple of conversation makes it less fun. Eating candy all day, every day would be fun for the first couple of hours, but eventually the inevitable sugar-sickness sets in and one wonders why they gorged on gummy candy in the first place, Disarcade. So, keep swearing, and try to be as creative as you can with it. Words can cut like knives, as long as you turn them on, say, vegetables in the kitchen rather than your friends, everybody wins.

Also, fuck onions for being so hard to cut. Why do they have to be round?

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Surprise Announcement: Flight Anthology is Out!



Hello hello! So, today I have a simple announcement for a book in which I participated!

Here's the basic rundown.

Blurb


A 300-word story should be easy, right? Many of our entrants say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever written.

Queer Sci Fi's Annual Flash Fiction Contest challenges authors to write a complete LGBTQ speculative fiction micro-story on a specific theme. "Flight" leaves much for the authors to interpret—winged creatures, flight and space vehicles, or fleeing from dire circumstances.

Some astonishing stories were submitted—from horrific, bloodcurdling pieces to sweet, contemplative ones—and all LGBTQ speculative fiction. The stories in this anthology include AI’s and angels, winged lions and wayward aliens. Smart, snappy slice of life pieces written for entertainment or for social commentary. Join us for brief and often surprising trips into 110 speculative fiction authors’ minds.


Excerpt


Smoke, by Zev de Valera


He rubbed his temples and squinted at the soft light of his surroundings through the fans of his thick eyelashes. The last drink had been a mistake.
Was that a shaker he'd felt, or the onset of a hangover?
He clutched a silken pillow and waited.
Suddenly, he felt his home tremble; a few pieces of glass and ceramic ware teetered and then fell to their demise.
Shit. This is the real thing.
With an effort, he hauled himself from his bed.
How many years had it been since the last one?
Sixty? Seventy?
The shaking ceased, and he looked around his small dwelling.
A model unit when he'd purchased it. Now filled with the result of years of collecting: a gramophone, a first generation television set, a water clock. And much more. All of it all had sentimental value—as did the photos of the various men that sat atop or alongside the items in his collection. Some of these men had loved him. All of them had once owned him. Now he owned their memories. That was the bargain.
Another shake. Followed by several unnerving tilts. He willed his cherished possessions to remain in place and willed himself into sobriety and a more becoming appearance as he prepared himself for work.
What to wear?
He selected a red brocade tunic and pants. A classic look always worked best for the initial consultation.
A resounding thud.
He peered up into the small shaftway at the center of the ceiling.
A pop.
Then a small circle of light at the end of the shaft.
He sighed, folded his arms, and transformed into a cloud of red smoke.
Up and away to meet his new master.

Judge's Choice — J. Scott Coatsworth


Buy Links and basic info


Publisher: Mischief Corner Books
Author: Various
Cover & Illustrations Artist: Mila May
Length: 33.6 K
Format: ebook, print
Release Date: General release 9/21/16
Pairing: LGBTIQA
Price: $4.99 eBook, $12.99 print b/w*, $24.99 print color*

*Book contains 5 illustrations inside.

Publisher (info only, no buy link yet)
Amazon 
ARe
Goodreads
Kobo 
Goodreads Series Page
Barnes & Noble: Coming soon
Apple: Coming soon
Smashwords: Coming soon

Author Bio:
In the first year of the Queer Sci Fi Flash Fiction contest, we received about 15 entries for the theme “Endings”. In the second year, it was 115 for “Discovery”.
This year, we had more than 170 entries from people around the world, and from all parts of the LGBTIQA rainbow. “Flight” represents 110 of those people and their stories.

The authors:
Colton Aalto
Kiterie Aine
Odin Alexander
John Allenson
Tam Ames
R.R. Angell
Bran Lindy Ayres
Jeff Baker
Jessica Bansbach
J.P. Barnaby
Capri S. Bard
Jonah Bergen
Michael J. Bode
L.M. Brown
Marie Brown
Michelle Browne
'Nathan Burgoine
Iona Burnfield
A.M. Burns
Katelyn Cameron
Hank T. Cannon
Foster Bridget Cassidy
Skylar M. Cates
H.J. Chacon
M.A. Church
Rebecca Cohen
S.A. Collins
J. Comer
Ross Common
Elliot Cooper
Gretchen Crane
Jase Daniels
Claire Davis and Al Stewart
Avery Dawes
Zev de Valera
Bey Deckard
Jana Denardo
Nicole Dennis
Kellie Doherty
Jude Dunn
Tray Ellis
Rhi Etzweiler
Thursday Euclid
K.C. Faelan
Christina Mary Francis
L.E. Franks
J.R. Frontera
Liz Fury
Elizabella Gold
Ofelia Gränd
S.E. Greer
M.D. Grimm
Jenna Hale
Kaje Harper
Qaida Harte
Saxon Hawke
Kelly Haworth
Cheryl Headford
Valentina Heart
Jaylee James
Jambrea Jo Jones
Michael M. Jones
Ryvr Jones
Ellery Jude
Jon Keys
K-lee Klein
Jennifer Lavoie
A.M. Leibowitz
Mario K. Lipinski
L.V. Lloyd
Clare London
Meraki P. Lyhne
Lloyd A. Meeker
Eloreen Moon
John Moralee
Christopher Hawthorne Moss
E.W. Murks
Rory Ni Coiliean
Jackie Nacht
Thea Nishimori
Bealevon Nolan
Alicia Nordwell
Mathew Ortiz
Nina Packebush
Donald Qualls
Kirby Quinlan
Mann Ramblings
Loren Rhoads
Jojo Saunders
Brent D. Seth
L.M. Somerton
Rin Sparrow
Andrea Speed
Paul Stevens
Ginger Streusel
Jerome Stueart
Julia Talbot
Jo Tannah
Natsuya Uesugi
T. Allen Walton
A.T. Weaver
Missy Welsh
Eric Alan Westfall
Brandon Witt
Alexis Woods
Christine Wright
P.T. Wyant
Victoria Zagar

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

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