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!

november splat

I’ve been MIA on the blog front due to the oncoming storm of holidays. Every single year I think I’ll manage my end-of-year goals, and eeeveeeryy siiiiingle yeaaaar I fall flat on my face in November. The blog goes haywire, my writing staggers to a crawl, and if I’m not already within a stone’s throw of my reading goal then it’s too late to catch up.

This year I have a Bonus! Baby to gum up the works, but it would have happened anyway. There are 20+ people to buy Christmas presents for (in our immediate family!!), so the only way to avoid financial disaster is to start spacing them out in November (if not earlier).

November is also Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is MY THING. I’ll put up some pics after this year’s extravaganza, but suffice to say: it’s gonna be a good one. Unnecessary themed decorations, costumes, games for the kids, lunch, a dozen dishes for dinner, post-dinner booze and Mario Party battles, and a slumber party for whosoever wishes to stay all night. Every year it gets bigger. This go-around we’ll have 15 butts to seat (plus Bonus! Baby on a rotating selection of laps). It’s gonna be wild!

But it means a couple weeks’ worth of my precious little free time has been devoted to meal planning, shopping, interior design, and origami. (Trust me on the origami!) Wednesday is for cleaning the house, Thursday is for decorating and baking desserts, and then Friday folks start trickling in by 9 a.m. to cook and socialize, so as you can see my week is booked.

And when this week is over? Then I’m going to be spending a lot of my time with my good ol’ friend Photoshop, working on this year’s epic Christmas card and other holiday goodies. The clock is ticking!!

I also go splat in November because I inevitably burn out on my grinding goals (this year has Bonus! Sleep Deprivation), but that’s another sort of blog post entirely…

So a magical, outlandish, samtastic Thanksgiving weekend to you all, and I’ll see you again on the other side!

writing is a scourge

I’m writing this in a noisy Starbucks, while getting mentally prepped to finish a short story. I’ve been making agonizingly slow progress on it all week, so fingers crossed that today is rough draft completion day. I don’t much like sitting in noisy coffee shops, but my library is closed on Sundays and I had to run other non-Sunday errands yesterday instead. I am so tired I feel queasy, but it’s my only chance to get this thing done!

I go out once a week for a chunk of uninterrupted writing time, and I only miss it for ill babies or a truly overwhelming confluence of family functions. I got up every 1.5-2 hours last night and feel like week-old roadkill, but oh well, it’s writing day! I’ll just slap my face a couple times and have some coffee!

Every once in a while it occurs to me that although writing is my absolute favorite endeavor, it is also the biggest burden in my life, and everything else I do would be far easier without it. All of my angst comes from constantly fretting over whether I’m writing enough, whether what I’m writing is good enough, whether I’ll hit xyz goal by the end of the day/week/year. When I prioritize writing I feel like a bad mother/wife/sister/daughter/friend. When I don’t prioritize writing I feel like a sham.

I’m in Year One Mom Zombie stage with my second kid, and I know my schedule will relax over the next 6-9 months, but instead of weathering the storm and watching all of those TV shows I didn’t have time to watch last year (or better yet, napping when the baby is napping), I’m trying to plant the seeds of a SFF writing career. Whyyyy.

And I am making progress! I’ve sold two stories to professional SFF magazines (both out in 2018, stay tuned!!), which is absolutely thrilling and some much-needed validation right now. But every few weeks I melt down and spend a full day laying on the couch, full of angst about the minutes ticking by, under-utilized. Hell, I’m already getting agitated because I’ve spent 20 minutes on this blog post so far, and that means 20 fewer minutes of Writing Day.

The trouble with writing is that it’s a hobby that requires brain power. It isn’t actually relaxing. It’s work. Work that I love, but still work.

So why do I persist at this? Honestly…I have no idea. I’ve wanted this since I was 7 and my second grade teacher told me I could actually write stories for a living one day. (Whether you can actually make a living at it is beside the point.) The periods of my life in which I regretfully set aside writing for Real World Obligations (need that graduate degree for that backup career yo), my desire to tell stories never faded. They just built up, and built up, and built up, and I filled notebooks with ideas I didn’t have time to expand yet, and I felt like my real life was on hold. And then writing again was agony because you get rusty and have to grease your way back in, but it was also an indescribable relief because I was finally telling those stories, and my ideas were so much better after I got a few more years of living behind me.

My last big writing gap was the latter half of 2015, when I went back to work after baby #1 and was basically clinging to consciousness for three months. I haven’t tolerated a gap like that since, even when I know it’s burning me out, because life is short and I have things to say.

So I’m still going. Even though I lose much-needed sleep over thorny world-building problems. Even though I cry with frustration over edits. Even when it’s something I immediately trunk and never let anyone read. I try to write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences or a paragraph of summary for the next day. If I can’t write then I read blogs about writing, or listen to podcasts about writing, or read book after book to analyze the writing. If you know me in real life, you know I’m incapable of doing anything by half. If I’m in, I’m ALL IN.

Writing is a scourge, but it’s my scourge. The joy of creating something, the satisfaction of typing the end, the nervous thrill of giving somebody a copy to beta read– it’s addictive. Maybe that’s all there is to it. It’s cathartic. It’s rewarding. It’s fun. And when you finish a project after months of torment, it’s a victory.

But that’s enough chatter. Back to work!


ETA: I realize in my fatigue and haste to write this post, I failed to give real examples of what I mean when I say prioritizing writing ruins everything else. Here is what I can’t accomplish, since I always pick writing instead:

  • I can’t maintain an exercise routine and have major writer bod. 30 minutes… EVERY DAY??
  • I can’t add much variety to my diet. I have a set of really quick meals that are moderately healthy, but anything better would require devoting more time to cooking.
  • I can’t develop any other hobbies. Used to have an Etsy shop– gone. Used to sew my own costumes– it’s been years since I made a new one.
  • I don’t make new friends easily. I chat with my siblings online every day, I have a monthly book club, and I have maybe two other people I see a handful of times per year. But I was that coworker who never went to staff events, and if we’re not related I probably won’t make it to your birthday dinner.
  • I’m constantly behind on pop culture. What’s out in theaters? What’s on TV? Maybe I’ll binge that show one day, when it’s all wrapped up and my friends assure me it ended well and is worth my precious time.

I think next week I’ll talk about why writing is worth the sacrifice. So far, I’m not really selling it, am I? XD