patience, sam

Let’s pretend it’s January 1st, and I’m still hashing out goals for the year without explicitly calling them New Year’s Resolutions.

With me so far?

Good, because my aspirations for 2018 (baby milestones and reading goals and word counts and submissions) are all well and good, but my degree of success really hinges on one single, overarching, invisible goal underpinning the rest:

Patience, Sam. You’ve got to learn some patience.

(Also, overarching and underpinning? Yes. That’s how important it is.)

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This means taking a deep breath during sleep regressions and potty training setbacks. It means reading more slowly and mindfully and really absorbing content, even if it means I don’t hit a certain arbitrary number of texts.

It means slowing down to spend more time in the planning and revising periods of each book.

This is incredibly difficult for me! Once I get my teeth into something I FULLY COMMIT and I go LUDICROUSLY OVERBOARD and I just chug chug chug ahead without pausing for breath.

But manuscripts need to breathe. The longer they are, the more air they need. Every year I knock out a book, and then I do a round of structural edits to smooth out the bits I rewrote halfway, and then I bound off to the next project. This makes my word count spreadsheet pretty respectable, but as a result I have a pile of manuscripts I consider good but not yet great.

My biggest weakness stems from my primary strength. I love love love writing characters, and my plots revolve around the core character arcs I plan from the get-go. That’s great! It’s my favorite aspect of the books I read, so it’s the aspect I spend the most time writing!

But I write fantasy novels, and in order for a fantasy novel to stand out it needs vibrant worldbuilding to prop up those character arcs. In my eagerness to reach the emotional climax of a book, I have a tendency to start writing before I finish worldbuilding. I end up with a strong story in a plain setting, and that just won’t fly.

So, what does this mean for 2018? It means I’m starting draft five (ugh, FIVE!!) on my weird western 2016 novel, and it’s about to get a lot weirder. The bones of it are good. They just need a bit more flesh. It means I have to stop obsessing over my daily word count and acknowledge that days spent thinking can be just as productive as days spent typing. (So hell yeah they are getting a line on the spreadsheet.)

By waiting three or four more months to start querying (an eternity in impatient Sam time, but hopefully only a blip in my actual lifetime!), I’ll be sending out my best work instead of my best potential work.

And while that’s out in the world, I’ll start planning the next one.

childhood bucket list

Previously I’ve written about matters of vital importance, those things that children take extremely seriously–you know, things like quicksand, favorite colors, and how to stop, drop, and roll.

Well, my childhood obsessions did not end there. I read books like crazy, including a bunch of monthly series like The Baby-Sitter’s Club. I also consumed enormous quantities of television (Thank Goodness It’s Friday!).

Long-running series tend to recycle scenarios, so the more you read/watch the more you begin to believe these scenarios are common occurrences. Well, maybe you don’t, but Baby Sam sure did. I was convinced that, at any moment, the following situations waited right around the corner.

And I aimed to be prepared.

Without further ado:

THINGS MY CHILDHOOD MEDIA CONVINCED ME I WOULD HAVE DONE BY NOW

More extremely specific first aid

In addition to previously mentioned catastrophes such as getting a pencil in your eye or catching on fire, Baby Sam was also convinced that people choke on large pieces of food practically every week, and therefore I must be prepared to do the Heimlich Maneuver. Did I have professional training? No. Did I have any practice? No. But I watched Mrs. Doubtfire a bunch of times so I was definitely ready to step up to the plate.

It was also extremely important that I know how to splint a broken leg or apply a tourniquet (I didn’t say all of my books and television were aimed at children). Also, I was vaguely aware that I should keep candy bars around at all times, just in case a diabetic person had a dangerous sugar drop. You can thank The Baby-Sitters Club for that one.

Survive on my own in the woods

Is every child obsessed with children-surviving-the-wilderness narratives? Island of the Blue Dolphins! Hatchet and it’s even shittier sequel, The River! My Side of the Mountain! The Swiss Family Robinson! Even Stephen King wrote one: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. She was really into baseball. And she had to fight a bear.

These books taught me that, despite the fact that I never left my quiet suburban neighborhood, I might, without warning, be stranded in the woods, on an island, or even on a distant mountain. In order to survive this scenario that was definitely going to happen one day, I needed to know how to start a fire with sticks, how to account for light refraction when spear fishing, how to build a shelter, and of course, how to splint a broken leg.

Nurse a baby bird back to health

According to my childhood media, everywhere you looked there were baby birds straight up dropping from trees. When this definitely happened to me one day, it was going to be impossible to simply return the baby bird to its nest. Either its mother was dead, or its mother would cruelly reject it for smelling like asphalt. I was going to have to build a nest in a box and feed it worms until it was big enough to fly away. And then, obviously, it would be my friend, because imprinting.

Call 9-1-1

Okay, this one is a little more feasible and I suppose I have been involved in a couple of 9-1-1 calls over the years. However, my real calls have been stressful welfare-check situations, and not the cool, dramatic, dare I say heroic 9-1-1 calls of my imagination. Nobody ever got trapped in a well, or a basement (we don’t even have basements in earthquake country), or broke a leg (in which case, obviously, you should devise your own splint instead of waiting for paramedics).

What a disappointment.

Win something at a carnival

Clearly, every kid in the country had fall festivals and traveling circuses and holiday carnivals EXCEPT ME. There would be hay rides and elephants and big top tents and also apple picking and also a freak show and an aisle of barkers exhorting you to throw horseshoes or something (I was confused and these were all one massive combo community event). In retrospect, these all totally existed and my parents just never took me, because they knew the truth: carnivals are money pits of ride tickets and game tokens, and you’re never going to win anything because the carnies have rigged the games.

HOWEVER. I’d have liked the chance to try!!

Sneak into a haunted house

Where the hell are the haunted houses, I ask you? Where is that one house that everyone in the neighborhood knows was a total murder house, and now nobody will buy it, so it is slowly moldering away, covered in creeping vines and padlocks, except that there’s a broken window in the back and the sociopaths in your best friend gang won’t respect you unless you sneak inside and bring back a token to prove you did it, except the token is also haunted so now you’re totally haunted.

Where is it?

Snow day

Winter was supposed to mean snow. Snowballs, snow angels, snowmen (snowwomen), sledding, Christmas cheer, snow shovels and snowplows, mittens that you attach to your coat, hats with ear flaps, rosy cheeks, diabetic babysitters trapped in cars during blizzards and desperately in need of a candy bar.

But Baby Sam, you grew up in San Diego. Not the mountainous bit. The bit bordering the desert. We don’t even get snow.

What an uneventful childhood.

hello 2018

Well, well, well. It’s the year two thousand eighteen, and everything surrounding my life is chaos, but everything IN my life is beginning to take shape. I’m fretting for my country and I’ll probably gnaw my arms off come November, but as far as personal goals go I’m feeling pretty good!

I don’t want to make compleeeetely  outlandish New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to challenge myself. I’m feeling UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC right now, because, you guys… MY BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Okay, I had to pat her down once, but I didn’t pick her up, and that practically feels like sleep.

This slight amount of extra energy has me bouncing off the walls. I did yard work! I made banana bread! I promptly had a caffeine crash because I attempted too much, too fast! Work hard, play hard, collapse hard! That’s the samtastic way!

So bear all of this in mind as I lay out my goals for the year.

LIFE

My boy will be turning 3 and my girl will be turning 1, so fill in all the appropriate milestones and setbacks you’d expect me to be engaging with this year. Scurry off to my Twitter account for the self-deprecating jokes that mask my tears!

Goal: Survive.

Mr. Sam and I also have a very vague goal of tentatively beginning to maybe look for a Settle Down House in 2019, which means 2018 needs to be the year of Fixing All the Dumb Little Things That Were Wrong When *We* Bought This Place. Goodbye, savings account.

READING

Nothing fancy here. I want to hit my usual book-a-week , but I’m not going to go wild trying to outstrip that because of the other pulls on my free time. I do want to read more strategically though, because those 52 selections seem to whiz by and leave me wailing at my TBR pile. Goal: Read more SFF new releases and finish the series I started over the last couple of years for goodness’ sake.

Additional goal: Read more short fiction! This year I really committed to reading SFF magazines and I did not regret it. So! Much! Good! Stuff!

WRITING

This is where I go overboard, fail to meet my goals, and rend my garments/gnash my teeth/shake people by the shoulders yelling, “I could have done so much more!”

So let’s be reasonable, Sam.

Goal: Finish editing my 2017 book. It should have been done by now but OH WELL, instead it ought to be done by the end of January, which isn’t the worst.

Goal: Write my 2018 book. Not too crazy, I do tend to finish a book each year. And if I stick with the one I was planning to do next, it should fall more in the 80K range than the 100K range because it’s a more literary kind of fantasy.

Goal: Put at least two more short stories on submission. I won’t make publication the goal, because that isn’t in my control and in that direction lurks self-recrimination. So I’ll make submission the goal, with publication being the obvious desire.

Goal: Put my 2016 book on submission! Ahhh! This is what I was supposed to do in 2017, but ah, life. The extra year gave me excellent time to research, reflect, and refine my approach. Again, I’ll make submission itself the goal and if all else fails I can be proud of the effort, then take everything I learned and apply it to the next book.

Or, you know, it could happen??

So there you have it. I have other intentions as well (join a writing group! spring cleaning! family activities! holiday plans!) but these are my core 2018 wishes and wants.

Wish me luck!

Nay!

Wish me persistence!

so long 2017

Wow, talk about a blur. A year ago I was three months pregnant, juggling work and a toddler, planning our first family vacation, and determinedly putting together a spreadsheet of my top 80 SFF literary agents.

That feels like an eternity ago. Instead of doing a bunch of separate, bloated posts on my reading/writing/daily life in 2017, I’m going to touch on everything at once. LUCKY YOU.

So, what happened in 2017?

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I’d say this sums it up

LIFE

I had a second baby! Her birth was a nightmare, but we survived! She’s six months old already and she’s super mellow and sweet, but even the mellowest, sweetest baby is a slog in the early months and I HAVEN’T SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT SINCE JUNE!!! So when considering everything else in this post, please take my sleep deprivation into account.

I left my beloved day job in June. I had grand plans for how I would spend the rest of the year, because I’m an IDIOT and baby amnesia convinced me I could handle a toddler and an infant and still put a book or two on submission. SPOILER ALERT: I could not. SPOILER ALERT: staying at home with babies is way harder than my day job was, though to be fair, now when I feel like crap I can sit around in my pajamas glaring at the walls instead of getting dressed and smiling at library patrons.

 

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I’m nowhere near done with these

READING

I did it. Barely. I read my 52 books in 2017, and I only had to cheat a little bit with graphic novels/collections at the end. I’m moderately satisfied with this. I still have a towering TBR pile leftover from last year, plus new books trickling in from the holidays. There are SO MANY good books coming out this year, I have no idea how I’ll keep up.

But this year I started regularly reading SFF magazines, partly for research and partly because DANG there is some amazing short SFF coming out these days. I’ve been trying to read short stories while breastfeeding, in particular, rather than scrolling Twitter and feeding my baby rage-infused terror milk.

RECOMMENDATIONS: too many!! Let’s break it down:

Nonfiction: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah; any science humor by Mary Roach (this year I read Grunt and Packing for Mars)

Short story collections: Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang; Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Novellas: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells; Hammers on Bone and A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw; River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Novels: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (end of a trilogy, all great!); The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente; The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden; Red Sister by Mark Lawrence; The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey; A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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But it’s haaaard

WRITING

Clearly I didn’t live up to my grand pre-baby expectations. HOWEVER, when life forcibly slowed me down it actually turned out better for my long-term plans.

I’ve spent the latter half of the year reading industry blogs, following Manuscript Wish List on Twitter, digging deeper into my agent research, and really refining my career goals. When I do wade into the query trenches (IN 2018 I MEAN IT THIS TIME) I’ll be even more prepared for the process, and much clearer about what I’m looking for in representation.

While I am LIVID over the fact that I didn’t finish editing my 2017 book yet (I’m so…close…), the cause was a different kind of productivity: I wrote a small stack of short stories in between editing sprints. They’re the best I’ve ever done. And two of them will be coming out in professional SFF magazines in 2018! Woohoo! It was a bit of much needed validation this year. It’ll also mean I can attach writing credits to my novel queries. And one more pro sale makes me eligible for membership in SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), so hey, more traditional legitimacy.

I wrote about 96,000 words. Galling after 2016’s 180K. I couldn’t even hit 100K? FOUR THOUSAND WORDS OFF, THAT’S NOTHING!! Heck, only 41K of that word count was before the baby was born. Once I got my brain unscrambled in July I added the remaining 55K. Like I said, galling.

The real culprit was editing. According to my fab writing spreadsheet, I worked on 224 days this year (~ 2 out of 3, not bad considering baby), and 125 of them were editing days. The editing was a mix of book editing and short story editing, some of the latter based on professional notes. I also took a month to study and practice writing queries.

What does all that tell me? Well, that my rough drafting speed is great, but my editing speed is atrocious. Time-wise, I’ve basically written my 2017 book twice. The book is a hell of a lot better following the additional drafts, but. Yikes. If I don’t finish it in January I’m gonna blow a gasket. To be fair, it’s incredibly hard to get into an editing mindset for 20-60 minutes at a time, during infant naps, while keeping an eye on a toddler. Luckily, I’m past the worst of it. My writing conditions will drastically improve over the course of the next year.

So that was 2017! Now, as for 2018–

Oh. The baby’s waking up. I better hit “publish” and run.

2017 christmas card

Previous cards:
2012-2013
2014
2015-2016

Every year I make 40 Christmas cards (~35 to send out, 1 to keep for myself, and a couple extra just in case I forget somebody or accidentally destroy some in the production process).

And every year I remember, too late, that every step the card requires must be completed 40 times. This year I remembered this pesky fact after I decided to put a cutout on the front in addition to pasting my usual Photoshop masterpiece inside. Cut out 40 cutouts, paste on 40 cutouts, paste in 40 inserts, sign 40 times, stuff 40 envelopes. ONE DAY I’LL LEARN MY LESSON.

But it was worth it. Because this year, LONG OVERDUE, I heralded the arrival of our (presumably) final family member with [drumroll pleaaaaase]… a Star Trek theme!

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why did I do this to myself

Hurk! I cut out 40 communicators for you people.

The finished product speaks for itself.

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And here is the insert, in all its glory:

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Yes that is Mr. and Mrs. Claws, thank you

I’m well aware that I used a TOS communicator on the outside and Wrath of Khan uniforms on the inside, but I just can’t resist those maroons. Also, it would have made more sense to have Kirk’s chair on the front since he’s dictating the captain’s log, BUT I couldn’t find a good image of the Wrath of Khan era chair, and the TOS chair looked too bulky, so since I was mismatching my eras ANYWAY I went with something easier to cut out, i.e., a communicator.

Anyway anyway anyway.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM OUR SNAPE TREE TO YOURS!

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[*cough* that’s 15 family members worth of presents btw…the pile for my own kids won’t be coming close]

absorbing writing advice

I’m currently trying to finish a big overhaul second draft on my 2017 book. Every day I change my mind over whether it’s horrible or pretty good, but I’m forging ahead because I made a commitment to always finish my edits. Partly, because the book always improves, duh. And partly to train myself into good habits, because a writing career means you can’t lose interest and wander away after the first draft.

I’m at the 75% point…and…I’m being hit with a tidal wave of nextprojectphilia. This thing I’m working has been chopped into pieces. The SHINY NEW THING, on the other hand, is still shiny and new and maybe if I take everything I’ve learned and start working on that outline instead of these edits, it’ll be even better and I don’t have to look back–!

Yeah that’s a lie. The shiny new thing is always shinier, and when I’m 75% of the way through that one I’ll start staring longingly at the next one. Hence my resolution to always finish my projects. Otherwise I’d have a big digital drawer full of three-quarter-edited manuscripts.

At times like this I ramp up my consumption of writing blogs/books/podcasts, and slow down my consumption of fiction–mostly because I will gnash my teeth and wail and demand to know why my UNFINISHED book isn’t as good as this PROFESSIONALLY POLISHED book?!

The thing about writing advice is that it can strike you anew every time you read it. You think you absorbed it the first time, and to an extent you did. But fast forward a year and a manuscript later, and suddenly that exact same advice will make sense in a new way. Because now you’ve got some actual content to apply it to! You also get better and better at discerning which bits of writerly prescriptions advance your goals, versus which bits you can discard as irrelevant to what you, in particular, are doing.

Advice only matters if it helps you convey your story effectively. It might be perfectly good for one project, and useless on another. Also, you can always translate “never do this” to mean “never do this poorly.” (Nice reminder here.)

With this in mind, I’ve been working my way through the archives of the great 15-minute Writing Excuses podcast and taking notes. I’m still on season one, but there are already plenty of bits that I know I’ve heard before…but which are striking me all over again when delivered in concise, focused episodes, using honest-to-god SFF examples instead of canon literature. *cue holy trumpets*

Will I finish this manuscript by the end of the year? Yeeeeeaaaaarrrggghhhhhh I’m not sure. I’ve been sidetracked by Christmas cards and holiday baking and top secret Santa projects and–GASP–real short story edits from a real editor, which naturally take precedence over my unpaid practice edits.

So I’ll be back in a week or two with some entertaining family Photoshops, but writing news will probably be light until the new year.

ONWARD AND UPWARD.

the adventures of young ham solo

I’ve explained the increasingly grand tradition of Sibling Thanksgiving before. In 2015 we leveled up our theme game with THANKVENGERS: The Winter Solstice, and in 2016 we went all in on Harry Potter and the Day of Thanks.

For 2017 it was time to head for the stars. Without further ado, I present The Adventures of Young Ham Solo: A Star Wars Story!

Only approved guests could get past the door guards.

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Nothing to see here, move along

Once admitted, you were free to help yourself to a drink at the Dagobar.

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There is no try. There is only drink or drink not.

Dinner was served beneath the shadow of the Empire, but never fear, a squadron of X-wing fighters were en route to do battle overhead.

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Let’s blow this thing and get dinner!

And for those inclined to join the Rebellion, there was an optional Jedi training piñata for just that purpose.

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Use the force, Luke!

There weren’t any themed dishes this year, although there WAS a round of blue milkshakes for the kids and blue milk (rumchata) for the adults afterward. We had our usual unnecessary flood of side dishes instead: cornbread, rice ball casserole, lumpia, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, obligatory turkey breast, stuffed jalepeños, stuffed mushrooms, stuffing, and French bread! *gasps for breath*

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Why do we do this?!

There were five kids toddling-and-up, but between the piñata candy, soda, dinner, and dessert, they vibrated so hard they achieved singularity and melted into the infrastructure of the house, only visible in blurs out of the corner of your eye.

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The rare candy-ghost caught on film.

Dinner, of course, was followed by kicking all the children from the room and playing a disgusting and curse-filled round of Loaded Questions.

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Almost anything can be answered “your mother’s vagina”

All in all, A ROLICKING SUCCESS!

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NEXT UP: CHRISTMAAAASS

And on a final note: it sure is nice to have professional help to clean up after a big party. Thanks, guys!