“the little frog!! and the little girl!!”

Last week I sold my first short story to a professional SFF magazine! I’ll post more when it comes out in early 2018. For now, suffice to say: I’m super excited and want to get some momentum going! Since I’m in the baby dark zone and utterly failing to edit the novel I finished this spring, I’m churning out some short stories instead to join the other three I have on perpetual submission. The agent hunt is only temporarily on hold, till I’m getting just a BIT more sleep.

It’s time for another 7-year-old writer Sam flashback! I told you all about my first real narrative tale, “What Hapend March Ninth!!” Now let’s dip into the writing frenzy that followed as I became not just author, but illustrator as well. Here is one of my first staple-bound construction paper illustrated shorts. It’s pretty clear that I had only recently encountered commas and silent ‘e’s.  And, true to this day, nothing is worth saying if it isn’t worth saying with! an! exclamation mark!

Behold the adventures of a girl and her beloved pet frog, aptly titled:

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The little frog!! and the little girl!!

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There ones was a girle! the girle! ->

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There ones was a girle frog!!! The frog!

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The girl, met the frog. Hi! Hi!

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The girl, took The frog home,

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They played, and played, and played

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The girle, got a pool for the frog! Yaa!

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They swam together!

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They did lots of fun things together, They were happy together, and They were happy They met, They were so, so, happy.

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They were best friends, They told evry body that they noo, if they were not to far away. They went for trips together, They calked rocks together, big or little rocks.

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One day it got cold so it was winter, togethe they made a snowman, withe the girles Mom!!!! Ice >

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The End!

 

formative years

I was wandering around the house like a very helpful poltergeist in the wee hours of this morning, tucking a sick toddler back under his blanket, patting a baby, starting a pot of coffee. And I started thinking about those first five years of life before school creates a clearer timeline of memory and you just exist in a blur of Mom and Dad and Sibling(s) and Home, punctuated by the occasional birthday party or trip to the park.

Scan0008I’m the second of six kids, but until I was seven there were only three of us. I was pure, unadulterated Middle Child. Middle kids jonesing for attention have two options: act out, or become overachieving people-pleasers. Ding ding ding for option two! Though I’ll note that I largely grew out of the people-pleasing, and am now obnoxiously insistent on doing everything my own way. Except even that is a backlash against the early people-pleasing! See? There’s no escaping. And I’m definitely still a hopeless workaholic.

Those early years are SO FORMATIVE. And yet, you barely remember any of it. I have some faint, ghostly memories of jumping up whenever we were asked to do chores, or experiencing anxiety at doing something wrong, but it’s hard to tell if those are real memories or the secondhand memories you form when your mom repeatedly tells you what your childhood was like. Do I remember my fifth birthday party, or just the home video of my fifth birthday party?

So now I’m looking at my own kids and wondering what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. You can’t escape a bit of both. Am I raising them to be assertive but not bullies? Self-confident but not egotistical? Sensitive but not fragile? Appreciative? NICE? How much depends on their predispositions and innate potential, and how much is trying to push a boulder uphill?

And how does the sibling dynamic change things? What is the dynamic of raising one boy and one girl, as opposed to one boy and a boatload of girls? I’ve always been surrounded by sisters. My childhood was exceedingly loud. We’re still constantly up in each others’ business, and talk basically every single day via instant messenger. Will my kids be this close to each other? I hope so.

I don’t have a conclusion here, so I’ll turn the subject to writing. Any time that I’m grappling with a facet of my own life, I’m mentally filing it away for future character-building consideration. Writer friends, consider the sibling dynamic when building your characters’ backstories, even if it will never be explicitly mentioned in the main plot. What was this person like at five years old? Did life reinforce those personality traits, or dampen them, or strip them away? Why?

And don’t shy away from siblings. Fiction is chock-full of only children. I’m guilty of it, too. It simplifies the backstory and the choreography of plots that do involve family members, and let’s be honest, it’s hard to maintain the brooding allure of your anti-hero if his sister calls up and says, “Remember that time you pooped your pants at Jenny’s birthday party?” But he did. He totally did.

Big families lend themselves to comedy and sprawling epics, but they don’t have to be confined there. Maybe your brooding anti-hero was the oldest of eight and co-parented them through poverty. Or maybe he was the youngest and is trying to earn his way out of the shadow of many older siblings. Or maybe he was right in the middle and they all think he’s an asshole because he never calls home. Whether you mention the reason or not, he’s rooted in those core personality traits.

So. Who were you when you were five?

making it ironic (don’t you think)

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Confession: I unabashedly love Alanis Morissette. My teenage self loved the angst (specifically the albums Jagged Little Pill, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, and Under Rug Swept), and my adult self actually loves her more, because teenage me had no idea what she was really on about, but adult me Gets It. Add a layer of 90s nostalgia on there, and this shit is timeless. Those CDs will be in my car until they crack.

But this post isn’t about the angst! This post is about “Ironic.” Now, it’s been a popular pastime over the years to rag on this song, and the specific complaint is that none of the examples in the lyrics demonstrate irony. The commentary is so prevalent it’s even noted in the album’s Wikipedia page and there are theories that the entire song is a meta work, i.e., it is itself ironic due to the lack of irony. Well, I am about to posit a different theory in defense of my teenage angst heroine! I propose that every single lyric is indeed situational irony, if you add the right context. Though I will admit, some take a little more mental gymnastics than others…

So join me as I embark on a pointless literary exercise that nobody asked for, 20 years in the making!


Ironic

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day [in an accident at his post-retirement day job, which occurred when he threw down his safety helmet and announced he was quitting]
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay [at your new restaurant, which you opened after leaving your job as a health inspector]
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late [the convicted man, of course, was previously a lobbyist who helped limit the governor’s pardoning abilities]
Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day [after you changed the date due to the weather forecast; your previous date remained dry, naturally]
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid [wait, is this one already ironic? there’s a joke here about the inventor of Lyft Shuttle and public buses, I can feel it]
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take [from a psychic, to you, the psychic debunker]
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly [and switched to a later flight after chickening out the first time]
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
“Well, isn’t this nice.” [because if it weren’t for his phobia, he would have stayed on the first flight and been okay]
And isn’t it ironic, l don’t you think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face

A traffic jam when you’re already late [to protest a new freeway expansion at the city council meeting, since you don’t think congestion is a problem]
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break [at your job at the cigarette factory]
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife [you fired Barbara last time for ordering too many knives and not enough spoons]
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife [right after swearing off non-monogamous relationships for good]
And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think
A little too ironic, and yeah I really do think

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
And life has a funny way of helping you out
Helping you out.

into the abyss

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[image by Eric Kilby]

And lo did Samantha bear her second child into the waking world, that strange and too-bright earthy realm, and it came squalling and angry, in the manner of its kind. For a day and a night the creature spat clear fluids, furious and confused by the manner in which it was ripped from its mother’s womb–and neither was its mother any less wounded. But their recovery was swift, and both were released from the institution that coddled them.

They returned to the ancestral manor, bound together in a pattern old as humanity itself, the mother offering herself as food to that which she had spawned. There they found the father and brother eagerly waiting, and the cats slinking door to door, curious and yet disdainful, their ears pricked to new sounds and their backs arched for a missing touch.

Into the abyss she spiraled, day blending into night into day again, the creature growing at a rapid pace and her own body dwindling in thermodynamic remuneration. An unending cycle, a sleepless existence, the ebb and tide of a primal mission: the propagation of self.

She inhabited a living dreamworld, untethered from her initial aspirations, for what little time remained to her was claimed for sullen rest. Each time the creature slumbered, Samantha vowed to continue her work, but each time the creature slumbered, Samantha fell into a twilight existence somewhere between waking and sleep. In this walking twilight she saw wild and incoherent visions, each of which she feverishly marked down in a notebook set aside for just such record-keeping, each of which might one day inform her work, but which, for now, remained merely the ramblings of a strained mind.

Soon, she would return. Soon, she would emerge from the abyssal brink upon which teetered all her goals and wishes, and she would once again take on the mantle of ambition that fueled her literary scrawling. Till then: perpetual night and dreaming awaits.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

2017 reading update!

Last time I had a baby I powered through a ton of books during my maternity leave. Breastfeeding: it’s constant and it’s kinda boring!. This time around I prepped my TBR pile in advance, greedily envisioning the months of fiction absorption ahead of me. Remember the Christmas haul?

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sweet, sweeeeet Christmas haul

I’ve made progress! But not anything like last time! Granted, I’m only 2.5 weeks into these early baby months, but I can already tell that my time isn’t going to be spent in nearly the same way as it was before. That’s partly due to the presence of my toddler, who proooobably won’t tolerate me reading and dozing in a rocking chair for an hour at a time once his dad goes back to work. It’s partly due to my inability to stop buying new books (but… book club! new releases! all those damn recommendations from the Barnes & Noble scifi blog!). As of right now I’m up to number 27 on my Reading 2017 list and way too many of those titles are not from the Christmas haul.

But there is another, far more exhilarating factor, and it is this:

My brain. It isn’t 100% mush.

!!!!

Last time I power-watched the entirety of Parks and Recreation plus a bunch of Netflix shows (Daredevil! Sense8! Orange is the New Black! The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!) and still read a ton of books. Baby was asleep? I was vegging in front of a show. Baby woke up? I was reading while breastfeeding. My brain couldn’t handle anything more.

This time around the newborn transition hasn’t been nearly so debilitating. I’ve already adjusted my daily life around having a kid, so there’s no culture shock to my routine. And I’ve already been sleeping in cruddy, non-consecutive increments for the last two years, so I’m as tired as I ever was, but now I have two years of coping mechanisms in place!

[Ask me again how those coping mechanisms are working in a couple weeks, when my husband goes back to work. This could very well be the delirious optimism of a woman who gets to take mid-morning naps.]

All of which is a long way to say: I’m not just reading and watching TV this time. I’m actually writing again already. Not a mind-boggling amount, but I’m editing the book I finished this spring, and submitting some short stories, and brainstorming some new ideas (though lord knows when I’ll have time to work on them). I’m feeling really good! Except between the hours of 3 and 5 a.m., when this baby likes to groan continuously in her sleep, and the cats start fighting, and the sun rises way too early and perks me up…

This post was supposed to be a reading update, so let’s move along with the recommendations now.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: A very humorously written prose retelling of some core Norse myths. I read the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda in college and loved them. They’re some of my favorite bizarre pre-modern stories. My only caveat would be that Gaiman captures the humor of Norse myth but not the fatalism. For me, part of the allure of Norse storytelling is its humor in the face of pending doom–Ragnarok is coming, nobody can stop it, and they’re all going to die. But hey in the meantime let’s laugh at Loki for getting impregnated by a horse.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: A book club pick. It was a little dry but very detailed, and I love reading about civil rights and people carving out spaces for themselves against the status quo, especially not in the 1960s. The 1960s had a lot going on, but according to Hollywood everything was perfectly stable through 1959 and then all of a sudden out of nowhere everything changed in the 1960s. That isn’t how history works! This stuff was brewing for decades! So anyway, you can imagine my discontent when the movie adaptation rearranged everything and shoehorned the women’s stories into the 1960s. And then made it seem like their coworkers were all racist assholes. Like, you’re actively denying these women recognition for earning the respect of their colleagues in the 1940s and 1950s, ignoring the legacy of WWII on the civil service workforce, and failing to give the scientific community credit for being more progressive than the society surrounding it, just to tell the same civil rights story you’ve told in a hundred other movies…

Moving on.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah: Another book club pick. Apparently, I didn’t know nearly as much about apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa as I thought I did! Also, it was really funny! Also, it made me cry! Also, I’m a sucker for stories about people who love their mothers!

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett: The final volume of the Divine Cities trilogy. It was just as good as the first two (City of Stairs and City of Blades). The end made me very sad. Anyway, that’s a terrible blurb but trust me, go read them.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells: The first novella of The Murderbot Diaries. I’m suddenly reading and loving novellas, after long considering them a weird useless length in between short story and novel. This one was very entertaining. A security bot has become self-aware but keeps going about its normal duties so as not to frighten the people on the science team it works for. Oh and other people are trying to kill them.

Grunt and Packing For Mars by Mary Roach: Extremely entertaining non-fiction by a popular science writer. The first is the science of warfare (everything but weaponry) and the second looks at the incredibly detailed planning of the space program. I was absolutely convinced I had read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and loved it, so I put these on my wishlist. Anyway, it’s a good thing these were great, because it turns out I never read Stiff! I read a different humorous book about death and cadavers: The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson, also highly recommended. Anyway I guess now I’ve got to buy Stiff.

The last two Fairyland books, The Refrigerator Monologues, and The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente: Just read everything by Catherynne M. Valente.

pregnancy Q&A

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The Glory

I’m still recovering from post-birth baby brain, though I’m tentatively noodling around with book edits again and getting ready to tackle the submissions process. I actually drafted this blog when I was pregnant with my first child and never posted it. I was getting flustered about having the same conversation every day. And then I felt bad and didn’t want anyone to feel called out. And now I don’t remember who that could possibly be, so if we had these conversations: no worries.

Bizarrely, I didn’t have this experience at ALL while pregnant the second time! Do first-time moms exude some air of uncertainty that invites the opinions of strangers? Or do second-time moms exude some air of weary impatience that staves OFF the opinions of strangers? I may never know!


With a baby around the corner, I thought I’d reflect on the public interaction part of pregnancy so far.

Because, ah man, I would have been happy to only let my friends, family, and immediate coworkers know that I am expecting, but it hits a point that you are too physically obvious and strangers want in on the excitement, too. I work with the public, which means new people want to weigh in on the situation every week.

I’m being good-humored and taking it for what it is: polite small talk. It’s an easy topic to make chit-chat about because everybody at least knows somebody with kids. If I don’t want to answer something I laugh and hand-wave it off, but I try not to be rude because I know it’s coming from a polite place.

The most common opening question trifecta, understandably:

  1. When are you due?
  2. Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?
  3. Is this your first?

1-2-3 this is basically every conversation I have with curious patrons. I have been tempted to lie on number 3 and say I already have kids, because inevitably once I admit that this is my first baby people get the urge to gleefully explain some aspect of childbirth to me. The most bizarre thing that I didn’t anticipate: folks really want to tell you every childbirth horror story they know, all culminating in, “And then you end up getting a C-section.”

This has happened repeatedly:

“Are you planning to give birth naturally?”
“Well… I mean, I’m intending to, yeah.”
“It doesn’t matter what you plan, you might need a C-section.”

Thank you???

Everybody also wants to tell me how exhausting it will be, how you are never really ready, how your life will change, etc. They really play up the downsides. Meanwhile, my childless friends get the opposite barrage: questions about when they are planning to have kids, and insistence that “your biological clock will kick in and then you’ll do it!” But apparently once you actually get pregnant the rhetoric switches to convincing you it’s going to be terrible. Make up your mind, general public!!

There has also been a major fascination with prying out my symptoms. During the first half in particular, these were the most common questions:

  • Have you been throwing up?
  • Are you having mood swings?
  • Do you have any crazy food cravings?

Not only did people ask me this repeatedly, they asked my husband too! I finally figured it out: there are a zillion and one pregnancy symptoms, but these three are TV and movie STANDARDS, so if you don’t know much else about pregnancy, you know, “Morning sickness, mood swings, and cravings.” The reality involves a lot more issues with the digestive tract, it is wholly undignified, don’t even ask what’s going on down there, okay the answer is gas.

I don’t want to share my medical history with strangers, so when people get even more detailed (have you had this? that? any of this other thing I’ve heard of?) I kind of give a blanket denial. It isn’t that I want to perpetuate an illusion that all is going swimmingly, but I’m not keen on talking about my bodily functions at work either! So I say everything is fine even if ten things are bothering me that day. We’re just making small talk, I’m not going to start droning, “Sinuses are stuffed, feet are swollen, my boobs leaked last night and plastered my shirt to my chest”– America, is this really what you want to hear?

Now in the second half it is mostly questions about my future plans: am I going back to work? am I going to breastfeed? Again a bunch of stuff I don’t feel the need to explain to strangers, but by this point in the conversation they’ve noticed that I keep laughing and waving my hands and not answering questions. It’s starting to get weird. Find a way out, find a way out!

Ask your friends a bunch of questions about their pregnancies (I, too, am always eager to compare complaints! I have many!). Ask your coworkers, even, if you’re friendly enough. But think twice before peppering a total stranger with all your horror stories, especially customer service personnel who are trapped into that polite smile!

open letter to baby

If you’re reading this blog, it means… I had a baby this week!! No, you didn’t miss anything, it’s the first time I’ve mentioned it here. I’m a superstitious lady sometimes. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago (hellooo from the past), assuming that when Baby Week rolled around I would be way too exhausted to assemble my thoughts. Enjoy this open letter to my new baby. Cross your fingers that the toddler is taking it well. [Edit: He is!]


Hello, baby,

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m wide awake. You are, too. I’m hoping you don’t wake up at 4 a.m. every day for the next year, but if you’re anything like your older brother that’s wishful thinking.

Every well-intentioned website and acquaintance says, “Rest up before the baby comes!” as though a pregnant woman is purposefully wearing herself out, but how the heck are you supposed to sleep when there’s so much to think about? And when your hips don’t join up right and you’ve got a 20 pound water balloon strapped to your belly? I sleep poorly enough under normal circumstances. Throw in a toddler and 37 weeks of pregnancy and a bad back and the To Do list to rival all To Do lists, and I’m doomed.

So I’m awake. It’s cool, and dark, and everyone else is asleep but the two of us. It’s kind of nice. I can shut my eyes and feel you rolling around and not worry about anyone else for a couple of hours. Soon the sun will come up and your brother will poke his head over the baby gate and yell, “Mama! I’m up! Let me ouuut!” and I’ll go slap something together for breakfast and start cycling through everything I want to get done today (I’ve really gotta pack my go bag already and put the car seat in just in case, and we still need an extra chair for my room but I don’t think we’ll get to the store because the propane guy is coming tomorrow and we have to clean up the space for the new washer/dryer, though actually maybe I should wait it’ll be easier to pack a bag after I do laundry, except what if–)

But that’s all a couple of hours away.

I’m wondering who you are. What you look like. Whether you’re doing all right in there or if there’s something we don’t know about. I’m going to worry about you for the rest of my life, so why not start now? I’m nervous about giving birth again. Your brother cracked a collarbone on the way out and had trouble breathing and a fever and jaundice and gave us all a scare for the first few days–can you please just sploop on out of me without a bunch of drama? That’d be nice. [Edit: There was some drama. But all is well.]

I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait for your brother to meet you. I can’t wait to see you curled up all ridiculously tiny on your dad’s chest–and please, feel free, I’ll need a nap. I’m nervous about all the hell months of no sleep and constant walking and wrapping a 24 hour schedule around an unpredictable pooping machine, but there are also a lot of bits I’m looking forward to. Breastfeeding, believe it or not. The way we smell the same until you start eating food. Googly eyes. Making fun of your dumb squish-face because you don’t know what I’m saying yet, and infants look ridiculous.

I’ll see you soon, baby. Try not to knock anything over on the way out.