2018 reading and writing progress report!

I didn’t want to write a mid-year progress report in June because I knew I was wildly off my game this year, but I’ve come to accept the shift in what I consider productive work, so why not touch base while there’s still a quarter of the year left?

READING

Ayyyiii I still have a chance at reading my 52 books for the year. I’m currently sitting at 34 with two books in progress. (A physical book to settle in with at night and an ebook to read on my phone while patting the baby to sleep.) I’ve got nearly 16 weeks left to read 18 books! I can do it!!

And the stuff I’ve been reading this year is SO GOOD. New authors I’ve tried and loved: Cassandra Khaw, JY Yang, Kelly Robson, Aliette de Bodard, Rebecca Roanhorse, Justina Ireland, April Daniels, R.F. Kuang. Authors I already read and continue to love: Catherynne M. Valente, Mark Lawrence, Naomi Novik, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Jackson Bennett.

I’ve been lagging in books because I’ve been reading more short fiction. It’s really easy to lose a half hour here and there reading chunky fantasy shorts, and I don’t have an exorbitant amount of reading time to begin with. But it’s a form I love to read and a form I am trying to get better at writing, so I think I’m striking a good balance.

WRITING

Here is where my productivity spreadsheet has gone off the rails. My biggest resolution at the beginning of the year was to learn some patience. I took it to heart, GALLING though it may be. And that means I have spent way more days editing than writing new material.

I also added short story AND novel submissions to my workload, and it takes an enormous amount of time to research markets/agents, craft a submission package, and then format those submissions.

My word count for the year is riding low at about 46,000 words. So far, I have spent 218 days working, only 132 of which increased my word count. And, most GALLING OF ALL: only 43 of those days were writing NEW short stories, and exactly ZERO were spent writing a new book. ;_;

So what the hell is all that daily activity? Thorough overhaul and edit of my 2016 book; thorough edit of my 2017 book (I’m hitting the halfway mark today); editing and submitting short stories I finished late 2017; writing and editing a submission package for my 2016 book; beginning a submission package for my 2017 book; researching agents for both; sending out submissions for 2016 book.

So I knowww I’ve been busy. I knowww it is all necessary work, and that a long-term career means juggling shorts and novels, writing and editing, research and submission.

But owww, it stings that I won’t have a 2018 book, especially because it is all my fault for letting so many rough drafts pile up. The next book I want to write has been waiting in the wings since 2015, because I knew it needed a lot of extra care and research to do the concept justice. So instead of rushing through it in three months for the sake of a spreadsheet that matters to exactly one person in the world (me!!), I’m going to follow my own advice:

Patience, Sam.

LIFE

Bonus life update, because this is the other reason my free time has been spread so thin, and it’s important to remind myself that life is always a factor, and that is okay:

I have a toddler. I also have a baby. She just stopped breastfeeding and she just started walking, so my daily life next year will look absolutely nothing like my daily life did this year. That’s okay.

We’re trying to move. I have spent the last two months packing, doing minor household maintenance that fell to the wayside during baby year, and constantly cleaning my home for showings. That’s okay.

The holidays are coming, and I ALWAYS overestimate what I will accomplish between October and December, and I ALWAYS fail to meet those marks. So this year, I’m trying to be more realistic about what I can do. I usually go overboard for Thanksgiving (like, weeks of preparation and themed decoration and costuming) but this year I don’t even know where I’ll be living, and my kids are getting old enough to want to do Halloween right before that, and there are 30ish family members to start planning Christmas for, and–

BREATHE, SAM, BREATHE! THAT IS OKAY.

That’s my 2018 so far. I’ll see you on the flip side.

the art of expecting failure

So, you have career goals? Assume you’ll never reach them, and you will always be pleasantly surprised!

Now wait, wait, hear me out! Much like my terrible advice about the benefits of sleep deprivation, there is a kernel of reason deep down in the weeds. You just have to dig a little. The lesson in sleep deprivation was “don’t overthink the rough draft.” The lesson in assumed failure is “don’t obsess over the outcome.”

Let me elaborate.

[Sidenote: I talk about sleep deprivation so much, I actually got spam asking if I’d like to provide free advertising for janky sleep products sooo, always have your contact information online folks, totally worth it!!]

My childhood was mostly ideology-free, but a handful of superstitions have followed me to adulthood. The greatest of all: malocchio. The evil eye. Spite. When you tempt fate (say, by speaking aloud, “I think this is the book that will get me an agent!”), somebody (don’t ask me who; somebody) is going to hear you. And just like that, you are not going to get what you want. You were too prideful. You made assumptions. You bragged, and that made somebody else jealous. The universe is going to humble you now. Bye-bye, agent.

If you accidentally admit out loud that you think you’re going to do well at something (pass that test, have a complication-free pregnancy, sell to that magazine), you better throw the horns real quick to negate any evil energy coming your way. I don’t mean throw them up, like you’re at a heavy metal concert. I mean throw them down, in a blocking motion.

And if you’re real serious, you get yourself a chili pepper necklace. I don’t make the rules.

horns

Charms: cornetto and mano cornuta. Credit: flickr/crwr (flic.kr/p/56pBXK) (cropped)

“But, Sam!” I hear you cry. “But, Sam, if you always assume you’re going to fail, how do you accomplish anything?”

That’s the trick. You do the thing anyway! And you put your absolute best effort in, because you know the universe is stacking the odds against you. And if you fail, well, such is life. But if you succeed–oh man, the success is even sweeter! You beat insurmountable odds to get there! You tricked your way past the weird Italian cow-related manifestation of bad luck!

Here is how this plays out in a writing career: you only make goals out of the parts you control.

Acceptable goals:

  • finish the rough draft
  • edit the work until it is the best you can possibly make it
  • research the appropriate markets/agents/publishing path
  • submit the work

That’s it. The goal isn’t actually acceptance at the magazine, or an agent, or a contract. Secretly, it is, but you can’t control who says yes. You can only control whether you try, and how well you follow the guidelines.

So, you wrote it: success! You sent it out: success! Now assume it’s never going to get anywhere, because as soon as you think you’re a shoe-in, the universe will strike you down. Start planning the next step as though the next step is inevitable. (“Okay, after the story gets rejected there, I’m going to send it here,” or, “Okay, this book won’t be picked up, so while that’s on submission I’ll edit the query package for my next one.”)

It’s a weird headspace to occupy, I’m not gonna lie. I have to simultaneously be passionate about what I’m working on, genuinely love it and put my whole heart into the effort, do my absolute best to target my submissions and write a great query letter, AND ALSO protect my emotions by managing my expectations. I have to get that “no” in my email, shrug, and say, “Oh well, maybe the next one! But probably not [throw horns for good measure]. But maaaaaybe.”

Embracing this has made the submission process so low-stress. I’ve got half a dozen stories and one book on submission, and when a rejection rolls in I just send the work back out. And hey, once in a while I open that email prepared to log another “nope” in my spreadsheet, and I am delighted to find it’s an acceptance or a full request! So I happily send that along, and I go back to working on the next thing.

Like all writing advice, your mileage may vary. If this sounds horrible to you, ignore me. Do whatever you need to do to stay motivated, because publication is just as much a game of persistence as it is a game of skill.

But if you’ve got work in your hands, and a list of places to send it, and you suddenly find yourself stricken with stage fright (which I did, for two whole months), try this:

Take a deep breath. Say out loud, “It’s not a big deal. When this comes back, I’ll try the next one.” And cross your fingers behind your back where the universe won’t see it.

Then send it out.

SDCC 2018!!

Yes, it did take me a week-and-a-half to recover from San Diego Comic-Con this year, why do you ask?? I’m only packing and deep-cleaning my house and taking care of two kids under three and I never go out anymore, much less three days in a row ahahaha anyway.

This was the best SDCC I’ve had in years. It was so low-key and relaxed. I only endured one long line (for The Good Place panel on Saturday, which was amaazeballs) and otherwise only committed to panels I could stroll up to half an hour beforehand. There were more authors this year, so I got a good dose of book content and signings, and my husband peeled off for his usual comics.

There was, of course, fab cosplay all around.

Frankly, the departure of major Disney properties (*sigh* goodbye Marvel and Star Wars) is kind of good for the SDCC vibe. There was no Hall H mania this year. I felt no desire to camp out, and I was shocked to discover on Saturday morning that there were still wristbands left for the big room. You’re telling me…nobody needed to camp?? I mean, they did, because you kind of do it for the perverse badge of honor and also to scramble for front-third seats. But you didn’t have to?? How the mighty Hall H has fallen.

Even though the major panel rooms weren’t soaking up thousands of extra bodies in line, the Exhibit Hall was not outrageously overcrowded as a result! (Another problem in previous years.) The external programming has expanded considerably, drawing bodies outside of the convention center. And, perhaps even more importantly… SDCC finally instituted an online raffle system for folks to win shopping time slots at the major toy booths!

This sounds convoluted but oh my goodness what a relief. The entire middle of the hall was usually impossible to squeeze through due to layer after layer of lines circling Funko, Hasbro, and UCC, and this eliminated them. It was always a gamble whether you managed to walk by at the exact moment they opened the line for a new chunk of bodies, so the element of chance was already there. The raffle just decided the chance in advance.

So! My accomplishments! I scored a signed arc of Robert Jackson Bennett’s new book, Foundryside, which I’ve been coveting for months. I bought Spinning Silver, the new Naomi Novik book, and also got it signed.

I went to some really fun book panels, including one on apocalyptic fiction with Emily Suvada, Cory Doctorow, Elizabeth Hand, and Scott Westerfeld, which was surprisingly funny and gave me a lot of food for thought. I also went to a fantasy panel just to see Nalo Hopkinson and was not disappointed. 😀 😀

nalo

Then Saturday was TV day, with the hilarious aforementioned The Good Place panel, and later Cosmos, which was also hilarious and thought-provoking and very, very tactful when discussing science in politics.

Outside the convention center we found a Good Place activation with flying shrimp carousel; a Shark Week shark; a Hulk hug photo op; and the original Ecto 1 ghostbusting car with grody jumpsuits to put on!

hulk hug

Oh, and of course: ALLLLLL THE BUTTON AND PIN SWAG!!! Including this sweet Out of Print library card pouch to keep my buttons safe while shopping. XD By the way, I waited half an hour in line for that San Diego exclusive Golden Girls pin, ahaha oh San Diego Comic-Con, you do drive us to do ridiculous things.

sdcc 2018 swag

sooo i’m also a sucker for cats and Star Trek and therefore Star Trek cats

Til next year!

convention center

pre-SDCC 2018!

It’s here, it’s here, San Diego Comic-Con is here!

July is second Christmas for San Diego, because July means all of downtown and a perplexing amount of not-downtown transforms into a pop culture wonderland for an all-too-brief and all-too-traffic-congested period of time.

SDCC programming alone overflows the convention center, the baseball stadium, multiple hotels, the public library, and a theatre. All of the nearby bars, restaurants, art galleries, and other businesses at least decorate for the occasion, if not put up displays and tie-in specials. The tallest buildings get covered in enormous advertisements for new shows. The buses and trolleys put on skins, plus SDCC runs an elaborate shuttle system all weekend to transport folks to Hotel Circle out in the valley. It’s…gloriously excessive.

The convention’s official attendance maxes out at about 130,000 due to fire code, but huge numbers of non-attendees also flock downtown, to people-watch, to sight-see, and to engage in the growing number of off-site attractions that are open to the public. Bye-bye parking lots, hello additional sitcom activation sites.

One year I was trying to sleep in an overnight line along the waterfront, and some girls laughed at us as they drunkenly departed a Youtube yacht party. Excuse me, there would not have been a yacht party if not for us doofuses sleeping on the concrete, thank you!

What I’m saying is, Comic-Con has something for everyone. Sometimes you end up sleeping against the wall of a park bathroom or in front of a haunted maze to see it, that’s all.

This year I’ve got some book panels on my itinerary, plus a couple of signings, off-site events, and my usual merchandising scavenger hunt. My button bag will soon be groaning with the weight of additional enamel pins.

Most of my panels should be fairly easy to get into (most of the impossible crush is reserved for movies and TV; books, comics, and the educational bits are more accessible). The only one we’re going to spend hours in line for this year is The Good Place on Saturday. I know the Indigo Ballroom well, and I believe our crack-of-dawn plan is sound. Wish us luck!! We also pre-registered for The Good Place off-site activity, which HAS BEEN SPOTTED IN THE WILD:

good place

GET ME SOME OF THAT YOGURT

I’ve got my badges. I’ve got my parking pass. I’ve got my button bag. I’ve got lunch supplies, a water bottle, suntan lotion, and reading material.

The only thing I don’t have is… ANYTHING GOOD TO WEAR!! X( I’m still shedding baby weight, so none of my costumes fit. I’ve got comfy shoes that don’t go with my clothes, or comfy clothes that don’t go with my shoes.

So I suppose I better run out to the store for better shoes! And my costumes shall wait at home, pining sadly for 2019.

received_10103638606784684

Next time, dear friends, next time

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