short story rabbit hole

CONFESSION:

I finished polishing my book, assembling the query package, and critiquing the first few pages… in April.

And then I got a bad case of nerves.

And I got it into my head that I’d send out a couple short story submissions, just to ease back into the cycles of submission and rejection and resubmission again, before delving into the deeper waters of an agent search.

And then I thought, “I’ve got two pro story sales under my belt, if I get a third one I can join SFWA and wouldn’t that be a suave addendum to the bio [not to mention access to a great support network]?”

And now it’s been two months! And I keep writing “one more short story” because, well, I’ve got an idea and why let it go fallow when it’ll just take a week to knock out and edit…

Sam. Sam. Stop!

Ayiyi.

I’m going to finish editing the rough drafts glaring balefully at me from my “in progress” folder. I’m going to send them out. And then everything else gets to remain in the notebook for a while because I am starting to get reaaal silly about all this.

If you hear me talking about starting anything else (I mean it! anything!) before querying, I kindly request a slap on the wrist.

Sam out.

one year in the doldrums

Yikes, as of last Friday, I have been staying-at-home for ONE YEAR. Certain individual months took an eternity to pass, yet somehow the year zoomed by. My squalling infant is now climbing and crawling and aggressively hugging cats. My chatty toddler is even chattier and the size of a grown man, bless their tall dad genes.

UNTITLED

BEFORE and AFTER

In the past year I…had that second baby! Fed her approximately 2,000 times! Changed a comparable number of diapers! Made my first two professional short story sales! Saw the first one go live! Eagerly started chasing the third!

I edited my 2017 book! Then I spent a great deal of time making a query package for my 2016 book! Then I heavily edited my 2016 book again to tackle weaknesses made apparent by the query package! And I did it all with very little sleep!

Okay, so, after working for two years when my first child was tiny, and staying home for a year after my second, I conclude: BOTH WAYS ARE HARD AND I HAVE NO PATIENCE FOR ANYONE DISMISSING EITHER PARENTING MODE AS EASIER. Same for “natural” birth versus C-section. I am here to tell you I have done both and THERE IS NO EASY WAY OUT.

I suspect there is a grass-is-greener tendency to pine after the good bits on the other side and ignore the bad bits. When I was working, my day ran 6am to 8pm with minimal breaks, my attention was fractured by multiple Sam modes, and I felt a lot of guilt for not seeing my kid enough. Once I was home, my day ran 6am to 8pm with minimal breaks, I became painfully cabin-feverishly bored by NOT having multiple Sam modes, and I felt a lot of guilt for not contributing to the finances the way I had before.

When I was working, I could actually relax a bit and take bathroom breaks by myself, I got positive reinforcement from grateful library patrons and colleagues, and there was so much quiet. Now that I’m home, I don’t have to put on customer service face after a sleepless night, I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas if I don’t want to, and I get to sprawl on my own couch during nap time.

This is obviously based on me having had a convenient morning day job that I enjoyed, and two fairly well-behaved kids that I also enjoy. If I had good kids and was still in the hellscape of retail shift work, I’d have fled to the home life as soon as financially possible. If I’d had a lucrative ladder-climbing career and colicky nightmare babies I’d have guiltily but steadfastly clung to the job longer.

I’m supremely lucky that after a couple years of scrimping we could afford to make this arrangement work. Most folks don’t have the option of weighing pros and cons, they just…do what they have to do. Sometimes you can’t afford to leave work–or, even more perversely, sometimes you can’t afford TO work because of childcare costs. Either way you’re penned in by circumstances, and that can be grueling.

So in conclusion again: everyone does what they need to do, if they’re lucky they get some choice in the matter, and everyone else just mind ya bizness and resist the backhanded compliments. You know the ones. “Ah ha, that must be nice [getting away to work / getting to stay home all day].” Yeah I see you.

Now. We’ll see how my opinion shifts when we enter…The School Years!

mother’s day hall of moms

It’s Mother’s Day and also my wedding anniversary, so naturally I’m sitting in a coffee shop enjoying my 4-5 hour weekly writing retreat! (My kids are too little to recognize/care what day it is, I visited my mom earlier in the week, and I’m taking the hubs on a date tomorrow because Mondays are easier, SO I GET TO HAVE THIS OKAY).

I’m extremely lucky in this regard: I adore my mom and consider her a role model and friend. I’m also aware that this holiday is fraught for a lot of people because they have more negative or complicated family relationships. And while I’m devoted to my blood family I’m also a huge believer in found family and mothering anyone who needs mothering, family tree be damned.

I have a large extended family in which the girls vastly outnumber the boys (if you leave out spouses, the current three generations total fourteen to four) so I naturally gravitate toward stories that feature mothers, sisters, and female friendships. THERE ARE NEVER ENOUGH.

Whatever your relationship to mothers and Mother’s Day, I hereby present some of my favorite fictional moms. Not very surprisingly, they’ve all been featured on my blog before!

From the original squad goals:

Ellen_Ripley_badassEllen Ripley! Supreme leader, love of my life, mother to a daughter she never made it home to, adoptive mother to a daughter she rescued, AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER, DO NOT SPEAK TO ME ABOUT SEQUELS.

I would also like to give the Xenomorph Queen a shout-out in this category. She is a ruthless monster doing anything she can to protect her babies, and I respect that. The climactic mom-versus-mom battle at the end of Aliens is the best piece of cinema ever created and you will never change my mind on this.

xena-warrior-princess-003Xena had a son and hid him away for his own protection AND THEN LOST HIM, she had a daughter and then basically destroyed the entire Greek pantheon to protect her, and then GOT FROZEN IN ICE AND MISSED HER CHILDHOOD. Xena is peak warrior mom and I will never forgive the showrunners for hurting her this way. The other fabulous thing about Xena is that her own mom is still around, and in the early seasons of the show she periodically goes home to visit her, because she’s peak warrior daughter, too.

From additional squad goals:

sarah_connor_linda_hamiltonSarah Connor isn’t always the most nurturing mother, but that’s because she has seen the future and it is FLESH-MELTINGLY GRIM. She is a ruthless badass single mom who is just trying to prepare her son to lead the resistance against the coming robo-pocalypse, and sometimes that means stressing resilience and weapons skills and self-preservation over sentimentality and reckless attempts to rescue your own mother from a mental institution. Her imperfections only make me love her more.

westworldMaeve is a more recent addition to my mom squad, and the folks making Westworld better not screw around here because their storytelling is increasingly erratic and Maeve is the best thing they’ve got going on. I don’t care that she’s a robot and her kid is another robot and their relationship is implanted backstory, MOMS ARE MOMS and if Maeve does not rescue her daughter and escape to the real world I shall riot.

cerseiThat’s right, Cersei Lannister, another flawed mother but also another mother who will ruthlessly do anything for the sake and legacy of her own children. I’ve only watched the first four-and-a-half seasons of the show and read none of the books, BUT that isn’t enough to stop me including her here. You a bad bitch, Cersei, but much like the Xenomorph Queen your dedication and motherly instincts earns my respect.

clonesI should add to this graphic because Orphan Black deals with motherhood in so many different ways. Sarah is the total fuckup trying to become a better person for her daughter Kira (and realistically stumbling and backsliding along the way); she has a fraught relationship with her foster mother Siobhan and OMG WHY didn’t I include Siobhan in my squad before because she will also shank anyone who threatens her kids; Alison, another flawed mother with adopted children who has to work through her own crap and a bad relationship with her mother; and the unlikeliest murderous reformed mom of them all, Helena and her beautiful bebes.

From the hall of good relationships:

hal and loisAs far as Malcolm in the Middle goes, Lois and Hal always stole the show for me. Lois does her best to keep four horrible boys on lock, even though they rarely appreciate it, and forms a united front with her husband, whom she loves dearly. She works her ass off to keep that chaotic household running, including working a crummy shift work job, because when you’ve got kids to feed and bills to pay you do whatever you have to do.

crocodile sandbankAmelia Peabody of the Amelia Peabody series is my favorite eminently practical heroine and mother to my favorite fictional child, Ramses, and if you threaten a hair on that kid’s head she will go berserk and beat you down with her equally practical and well-reinforced parasol. I’ve got a whole other post about her adventures right here. She’s the first and best of this character type, though there are others that I love. The best second-up has to be Alexia Tarabotti of the Parasol Protectorate series, though she somehow manages to be even more practical and less nurturing than Amelia is, and that’s saying something.

gomez and morticiaFinally, Morticia Addams is SUCH A GOOD MOM. The Addamses are kooky and morbid and deliciously goth, but they aren’t mean. They adore one another. They take care of one another. Morticia loves her children and indulges all of their interests, even when they don’t match her own. We see this in the second movie most of all. When she thinks Wednesday and Pugsley want to go to summer camp she lets them go, even though she and Gomez obviously find the place repulsive. When Pubert gets ill and turns into a rosie-cheeked baby with golden curls and angelic giggles, does she try to force him back to normal? NO. She sits in that boring white rocking chair and reads him Dr. Seuss like he wants. Because that’s what you do. Most of my favorite moms are ass-kicking action moms, but at the end of the day, Morticia Addams is the one to aspire to in everyday life.

morticia

A+ mom, Morticia for life

sympathetic villains: fair!?

Alternate, listicle-style title:

Three Times A Villain Lectured the Hero About How Their Optimism Was Solely a Result of Their Privileged Upbringing, and We Kind of Saw Their Point

1. Magneto versus Professor X

X-Men-Professor-X-and-Magneto-Play-Chess

Let’s go over this again.

This is basically their WHOLE BEEF, so I can hardly pick a single monologue. The conflict between Xavier and Magneto resonated so much in the original movies that the reboots then hammered on it ALL OVER AGAIN instead of drawing on the many, many other diverse characters and viewpoints the comics are known for. But I digress.

Charles Xavier was born into wealth! His mutation is invisible! He grew up knowing good people and little-to-no oppression, and as a result believes whole-heartedly in peaceful co-existence with non-mutant humans.

Erik Lensherr lost his family in the friggin Holocaust! His mutation is also invisible, but his message is very attractive to all of the mutants who can’t hide what they were, because they’ve all seen the worst of humanity and understand that humans inevitably lash out at anyone perceived as Other.

And I mean… Magneto ain’t wrong. The best part about this hero/villain dynamic is that you can see exactly what led the villain down their current path, and can sympathize with their motivations. What they choose to do about it is still wrong, and that’s their core tragedy.

2. Killmonger versus Black Panther

killmonger black panther

You’re not… wrong…

Better writers than I have broken down the thematic/historical underpinnings of Killmonger, so I’ll summarize in my usual haphazard, exclamation-point-heavy style.

T’Challa was born into royalty! In a super advanced secret civilization utopia that deliberately ignored shit going down in the rest of the world! Of course he’s hesitant to disrupt the policy of isolationism that gives his people this cushion of safety.

Erik Killmonger was abandoned in poverty, and his father murdered, due to that very same policy! He grew up under systemic racism, bitterly aware of the legacy of colonialism on the African continent despite the existence of a secret utopia that could have saved them! Of course he’s right to want their liberation, and to want Wakanda to step in and help.

But the dude goes too far down that path and becomes exactly like the people he hates. He straight shoots his girlfriend! He wants to turn Wakanda into an empire and dominate the world! The way he’s going about it is wrong, but…what he wants is entirely understandable, isn’t it? Magneto never budges Charles, but in this case Killmonger does nudge T’Challa to a more responsible middle road. His monologuing is top notch.

3. Stinky Pete versus Woody

stinky pete woody

FAIR?! I’ll tell you what’s not fair!

Hear me out, it’s the same thing!

Woody gets some shade in the first movie for always being so confident about his place (he’s been Andy’s favorite toy since kindergarten!) but the Prospector lays it out even more explicitly in the sequel.

Toys like Woody are beloved by their children! They get all the play time they want! They’re passed down as family heirlooms, loved all over again! Of course he sees the best in the situation, and believes a toy’s sole purpose in life is to make a child happy.

Toys like Stinky Pete either get bought and neglected, or never bought at all! They aren’t cool, they aren’t likable, they certainly aren’t lovingly preserved over generations! Of course he’s bitter about this (let’s face it) nightmarish world in which toys are sentient and immortal but doomed to an eternity in a landfill one day if they aren’t broken to pieces first.

Does that give Stinky Pete license to kidnap Woody and force him to live out his days in a museum? Of course not. But is he right to be bitter? Well yeah. Did I mention this world is a horrorshow? The older I get the more these movies make me recoil in grief. I love ’em, but. Damn.

In conclusion

This is one of my favorite hero/villain dynamics. I’m an absolute sucker for the sorta-justified-but-took-it-too-far villain every time. I’m equally a sucker for bringing the hero down a peg when they’ve had things too easy.

What I like even better is to have the hero also come from difficult circumstances, because then you get a stronger contrast between their character arcs. Heroes and villains can both spring from the same origin. A hero overcomes their flaw/tragic backstory. A villain doesn’t. They lean into their flaws, they give in to their bitterness, they use their tragic backstory as an excuse to turn around and inflict pain on others in service to their own ambitions. A villain is the abusive parent who declares, “I’m like this because I had a terrible childhood!!” Sure. But you’re still being a shit. The best kind of hero is the one who also had a terrible childhood, consciously decided they don’t want to raise their kid the same way, and doesn’t.

In the above examples, the villains are absolutely right to call out the heroes for the easiness of their good guy roles. They’re good because nothing ever happened to tempt them to be bad. Give me sympathetic villains, hell yeah. But I also like to see them pitted against less likely heroes.

(P.S. And if you really want my money, make more of them ladies!)

reading roundup!

We’re already three months through 2018! How about one of my inconsistent, semiannual reading roundups?

I’ve read eighteen books/novellas/graphic collections so far. There are SO MANY great things going on in SFF right now that it pains me not to be able to go faster. My TBR pile is a TBR mountain. But the core tragedy of writing is this: you write because you love-love-love to read, but if you write, you won’t have nearly as much time to read. I can either read thirty pages or write one, them’s the breaks.

I’m not the only one in this boat, which is probably why novellas are making such a splashy return to the field. They’re shorter, more direct, but in the right hands pack just as powerful a punch. What’s not to love?

Last year I powered through works by Martha Wells (the Murderbot Diaries), Cassandra Khaw (Persons Non Grata), and Sarah Gailey (River of Teeth). This year I’m going to continue following those projects, and I’ve also discovered JY Yang (Tensorate series) and Brooke Bolander (The Only Harmless Great Thing). You see how the mountain grows…and grows…

In novels: I finally finished the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik! Somebody make my Napoleonic War dragon movies statttt, why is this taking so long? I also zoomed through the Darker Shade of Magic books by V.E. Schwab (fun!).

I’ve even been reining in my fickle, fiction-loving attention span to include some nonfiction books on writing and the industry. So, expect my Reading 2018 list to explode with all the works of Donald Maass. I’ve also got Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward queued up.

Pour it all into my brain, I’m ready.

FINAL is FINAL (unless it isn’t)

You gggUUUUUuuuyyysss! I finished the quote-unquote “final” draft of my cowboy vs mermaid high fantasy novel! A month ahead of schedule! It’s amazing what you can do when you start staying up an hour later at night.

I use quotes because it’s only truly the final draft if nobody picks it up. If I garner agent interest I’m sure there’ll be tweaks (if not revisions) before sub, and if I get as far as a publishing house there’ll be several rounds of work ahead.

BUT I DIGRESS. The important bit is that I’m one finished query package away from wading into the query trenches. The query itself is basically done. The synopses are in draft form. My documents are formatted and ready. LET’S DO DIS.

If you don’t care about the nitty-gritty of the query process, never fear! I am about to go radio silent on this matter until I have news. So it could be months or a year+ before I bring this up again.

In the meantime! I will be…

  • Sending out short stories
  • Sprucing up the website
  • Starting a newsletter (get ready, guinea pigs!)
  • Outlining the next book
  • …and then writing the next book

So there will be a good amount of work occupying my time/thoughts while I wait for the responses to roll in.

Wish me luck!

(Meanwhile: lap cats think they are getting their lap back. Alas, they are not.)

IMAG1726

17 years

Is there a MeToo for school shootings? Because ours happened seventeen years ago, and I’m grappling with it in a very different way today than I did at the time.

Yesterday I took my kids to a birthday party. Then I spent all afternoon on the verge of tears looking up photos and statements about the March For Our Lives events all over the country, millions of people supporting the high school students who pushed this miserable debate into high gear.

I had an opportunity to join the march here but couldn’t finagle the time constraint to get to my other obligation (I’m sorry laaadiiiiies). The scheduling woe was real, but if I’m being absolutely honest, I also leaned into the problem as an excuse to chicken out of a high-emotion atmosphere. If Twitter could bring me to tears, going in person was gonna be a mess.

I should have just let myself be a mess.

Our school shooting happened in the early days of this nightmare, 2001, when it genuinely seemed (to us, at least) to be a fluke tragedy. Something wild and unpredictable and how-could-it-happen, but rare, at least. With two dead and thirteen wounded, for a little while we were called the second-worst to Columbine, and wow have those numbers become commonplace. Hardly even newsworthy.

Our shooter (I won’t even bother naming him, let’s just say Some Piece of Shit) ran with a group of bullies, so the media latched on to the theory that he was being bullied by them. But, uh, according to my classmates he ran with bullies because he was a little bully himself. Next theory, plz. (The Columbine shooters weren’t bullied either…but that story was bought into so heavily it has shaped twenty years of rhetoric on this.)

We didn’t do anything about it except try to move on. The adults were supposed to take care of it. Now we’re the adults, and we’re still not taking care of it. So oh my god, these kids are so brave. They weren’t even born when this started. This fear has been hanging over their heads their entire lives. And they’re right to be furious.

My feelings have always been a muddle. I was lucky–didn’t see anything, didn’t know anybody, though I would eventually see the toll it took on my friends who did. I was in a classroom on the opposite side of campus at the time, stayed in there during the lockdown, and evacuated via a route that prevented us from seeing where it happened.

I remember being very calm during the evacuation. They led us to a massive grocery store parking lot across the street, where the lines all immediately lost structure, and everyone bolted to search for their friends, and parents started showing up. I found my bestie pretty quick, but it took forever to find my older sister. I was just starting to panic when we spotted each other. That is my clearest memory of the whole thing.

I barely remember the aftermath, on the other hand, and that is just bizarre. Kids started getting cell phones (this was 2001, babyyy, teens didn’t automatically have them yet). They had us do weird art projects to express our feelings. We got a therapist on campus and a permanently stationed deputy (I interviewed him for the school newspaper, dweeb that I was).

But otherwise: big blank. I know there must have been huge amounts of emotion permeating the school, but either I walled it off at the time or I’ve walled it off since then. I do remember thinking I should reach out, friendship-wise, to a boy in my class who had been directly affected. We did eventually become friends, mostly because some of our friends became friends and our groups merged. Ten years later we got married. So add one more convoluted layer to this mess, because despite not touching me at all, this incident subtly shaped the course of my life anyway.

I’m always hesitant to mention it, because it never felt like my experience. It wasn’t “my” shooting. It was a Thing That Happened in my vicinity, a thing that hurt other people so badly it seems ghoulish or disingenuous to make any kind of emotional claim to it. It’s a disorienting mindset. I might never untangle it.

I didn’t even realize I had any remaining deep-seated feelings until I had babies, and now every news story has me reeling. I imagine my kids there, and I imagine myself driving like a maniac to reach the school like my mom did, and I break out in a cold sweat. I don’t want them to grow up with this fear. I cannot comprehend the mindset of people who think it’s worth the risk to keep their arsenals. I could rant all day about how there’s no such thing as responsible ownership.

I don’t have a good ending for this blog post. I just felt compelled to write something down. I’m mad that this is still part of the tapestry of our lives. No, I’m furious.