Mrs. Cat gets away from it all

Mrs. Cat has been pretty busy since her adventures with moving and couch-surfing last year, and she sorely needed a break from endless New House fixer-uppering and painting with small children underfoot and learning how to network in a brand new field after decades of toiling secretly behind a computer screen at home.

My friends, Mrs. Cat needed a vacation.

Cue: the third annual Book Club Getaway Weekend!!

I’ve met up at least once a month with the same glorious set of reading-and-drinking-loving ladies for the last seven-and-a-half years. Most of us mostly read every book! But mostly we like to hang out, so our activities quickly expanded to numerous book club field trips, including an annual Friends of Book Club croquet match, boating, painting–

And now a mountain cabin retreat. I missed the first year because I was nearly nine months pregnant. I went last year, but brought my breastfeeding infant, so it was a ton of fun but not exactly a retreat.

This year, however! Oh, this year is on in full force! There are trees! There is a hot tub! There is a basement game room!

And Mrs. Cat is having a lovely time.

mrs cat in mountains

Mrs. Cat enjoys the view from our deck

mrs. cat in living room of mountain cabin

Mrs. Cat especially enjoys reading in the great room

mrs. cat in a hot tub

And the hot tub is especially pleasant after dark!

All in all, this has been a much-needed break, and I even managed to force myself not to do any work (other than a couple of emails and this blog post, of course, but email is an immovable force of nature, it Must Be Done).

Now I have breakfast waiting for me, and a couple of hours of quiet reading before the drive home. Farewell from the mountains, and see you on the other side!

mrs cat on a shuffleboard table

 

samtastic reads january-april 2019

Back in January I started a reading hashtag on Twitter (#samtasticreads), to keep track of some of the books, short stories, and other works I come across throughout the year. And it just now occurred to me I should collect those onto the blog as well! Then perhaps I will be more organized by nominating season next time, though this first batch contains a lot of 2018 I was hastily catching up on. >_>

I seem to have heavily emphasized short stories and nonfiction so far this year? Well, that has got to change! OFF TO THE SFF NOVEL TBR PILE!

NOVELLAS

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield – A time-traveling highwaywoman! A war over how to redirect History! The sequel just came out in November, so I’ll be snapping that up soon.

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor – I finally finished the Binti novellas, and greatly enjoyed this weird little ride.

NOVELETTES

“Murders Fell From Our Wombs” by Tlotlo Tsamaase in Apex Magazine – weird and dark in the best way

“The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” by Jose Pablo Iriarte in Lightspeed Magazine – Murder and reincarnation and comeuppance!

SHORT STORIES

“The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum” by Marissa Lingen in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – A quiet, gorgeously written tale of guilt and repentance, and I am 100% always obsessed with guilt and repentance.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt in Clarkesworld – A uniquely narrated and surprisingly hopeful look at a seemingly hopeless future. I loled at some archivist humor.

“Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal in Shimmer – A lovely story 100% tailored to my love of complex multigenerational female relationships. Moms and grandmas all day, okay!

“Your Mama’s Adventures in Parenting” by Mary Robinette Kowal in Shimmer – Yep, an older one, because Shimmer has a dastardly “see more like this” feature and I went down a rabbit-hole.

“Due By the End of the Week” by Brandon O’Brien in Fireside – This one starts off as a super cute superhero story and then ALSO becomes an entertaining unreliable narrator story. Both!

“The Blanched Bones, the Tyrant Wind” by Karen Osborne in Fireside – Short, lyrical, and a perfect *finger kiss* of an ending. I do love me a twist on a good dragon story.

“Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey in Diabolical Plots – This is exactly what it says in the title, a raunchy send-up of my least favorite type of clickbait!

“Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – This one, about the owner of an inn that serves the living and dead and is trying to get rid of a difficult customer, made me HUNGRY. Seriously, great writing, fun plot, delicious descriptions. Muah!

NONFICTION

Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig – Insightful and entertaining, with an emphasis on good storytelling over plot templates. Also: so readable! Too many writing guides read like textbooks, which makes me question the advice. This one was damn fine.

Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin – This is another writing book that is actually imbued with its own techniques, so you can actually feel its advice at work as you read it.

Meaty by Samantha Irby – A collection of essays about the author’s messy childhood, messy adulthood, and even messier struggles with Crohn’s disease. I spent most of it giggling, and some of it CRYING, so I have to rec anything that makes me do both.

Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa – A startlingly funny memoir about struggling with agoraphobia. And, uh, I felt the Catholic guilt on a cellular level.

The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee – A really harrowing and illuminating autobiography about exactly what it says on the tin. I was on the verge of stress tears throughout, especially when she went back for her mother and brother. ;_;

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou – Um I powered through this in two days for my book club, and WHAT and WHY and HOW?! This account of a billion-dollar company peddling a blood testing gadget that NEVER ACTUALLY WORKED, hoodwinking major donors and retailers along the way, is a wild ride from start to finish.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Bitch Planet v. 2 President Bitch – The series is beginning to pick up steam, and, dare I say it, are we finally about to take over Bitch Planet??

Lumberjanes v. 3 A Terrible Plan – Yeah it’s for children but I’m saving them up for MY children, because this series is adorable and excellent.

a week in the life

This past week has been a bit of a roller coaster.

I sold a short story to Escape Pod. Woo!

My husband had to work 24 hours of overtime and the kids get wildly insecure when he’s missing. Boooo.

I was solicited for a super cool reprint anthology. Woo!!

I’m sick for no good reason. Boooo.

The medicine is giving me hilariously neon orange urine. Lol woo??

Today is the 18th anniversary of my high school shooting. Boooo, booo, extra boooo.

I’m feeling… contemplative. I wrote about my weird lingering feelings last year, so I won’t rehash that. But my kids are approaching school age, and I’ve been trying not to think about how that will make me feel. My older sister only sends her kids in twice a week and home schools the rest of the time. Another sister, my mother, and both my sisters-in-law work in schools, plus yet another sister and four more nieces/nephews are in elementary.

The dissonance of knowing what can happen and actively just pretending it won’t ever touch our lives again is very real. It comes up once a year, when my community collectively says, “oh man, has it been X years already?” And that’s not even accounting for, you know, every other public space in America. That’s not even mentioning how we wave hello to the police snipers positioned above Comic-Con every year, or Pride. It’s not including the fact that I attended active shooter training at my last job because I worked in *gasp* a museum in a large public park.

I’m mad. I can’t understand why you wouldn’t be.

brief surface from the novella pit

Eek, yes, I have vanished from the blog this month, but for a good cause! I’ve had a book idea noodling around since 2015, and every time I’m ready to start a new project I dust it off, get 30 pages in, and decide it isn’t substantial enough for a fantasy novel.

And then I realized: nov…ella??

So I’m finally doing it! I’m drafting this damn thing come hell or high water (lol I’m in Southern California it’s not gonna be the latter) and then I am going to let the rough draft sit for a while so I can tackle my real goal: THE TWENTY-NINETEEN BOOK.

And yeah, it’s deeefinitely going to need to sit for a while, because I’ve got four years’ worth of hodgepodge ideas crammed into this draft. And YET AGAIN, I have attempted to write a large story that transformed before my eyes into a small, personal story. Will it ever find a home? I’m not sure. But it’ll be out of my head, and that’s worth a couple months of work.

I’m 20,000 words in, with probably about 5,000 to go! It’s really happening this time! And this is a weird length to work in, I’m not gonna lie. It’s feels like a too-long short story, or a too-short book, my opinion flip-flops every day and I can’t tell if I’m being verbose or shallow or what.

By this time next month, I’ll be knee-deep in my comfort zone: extensive worldbuilding for a 100K word book that will never touch on most of that world!

strange waters longlisted for bsfa awards!

Exactly what it says on the tin! “Strange Waters” has been nominated for one of the British Science Fiction Association’s annual fiction awards. You can find the full list here. This month, members of the organization will vote to narrow the long list down to a final ballot, so for the short fiction category 44 stories will be reduced to 5 or 6.

Frankly, I’m so dazzled at being long listed for anything, I’m not even considering the possibility of making a ballot. XD But man, you never know, right??

It’s award season all over the place, and I’m a clueless baby so I only just realized I’m also eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for best new SFF writer in the field. Thank goodness there are two years of eligibility, because my pro sales in 2018 kind of took me by surprise and I didn’t plan ahead AT ALL regarding self-promotion and the like.

Have I mentioned how scary promo is? Because my quasi-Italian fear of malocchio is kicking in hard. I shared one happy post on Twitter about making the BSFA list and promptly received two short story rejections and lost a morning’s worth of writing by shutting Word down incorrectly. And then instead of telling me I’m being superstitious, my mom said it was my fault for not making the sign of the horns and assuring the universe I was celebrating, not bragging.

*siiiiigh*

This is a weird career I’m trying to jumpstart, you guys.

 

[P.S. j/k j/k I love you mom]

2018 holidays: CONQUERED

I’ve done it! I survived the 2018 Holidays! Oh, it was not easy this year, my friends. After moving the week of Thanksgiving, everything afterward was a long, chaotic flume ride through Christmas Day.

Because of the chaos, I’m lumping everything into one post this year. Mea culpa!

About a week after Thanksgiving we hastily threw Christmas decorations around. I’ve got an actual mantle now! Too bad I couldn’t hang the stockings till Christmas Eve cuz my baby is tall as hell and wanted to rip it all down…

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Er, the weird glow is Christmas tree lights, sorry…

Our tree is still pathetically weak on dork ornaments (though I got some good ones as gifts to put out next year). MOST IMPORTANTLY: My traditional facehugger and chestburster decorations were at long last joined by Ripley in a power-loader. Hallmark…. Hallmark you done good, she’s amazing, I love her, there will never be a finer figure upon my tree. :’)

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Get away from her, you–!

I somehow managed to squeeze in a day of cookie making. I only made four varieties this year (maple cream sandwiches; cherry/orange; oatmeal coconut raisin; and tollhouse cookie bars) but it was more than enough for parties and workplaces.

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Santa sternly questioning my decisions

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Santa sternly approving of the leftovers

And I managed to set aside ANOTHER day to make my 2018 Christmas card, which I once again RECKLESSLY designed with a cutout on the front. Meaning, I had to cut out 40 Sauron Santas, paste on 40 Sauron Santas, paste in 40 insert photos, write out 40 greetings, write out 40 signatures, fill out 40 envelopes…. one of these days I’ll learn my lesson.

But, what was that first thing? Sauron Santa, you say?

EXTERIOR

DSCN2132

INTERIOR

card insert

Previous cards:
2012-2013
2014
2015-2016
2017

Many forces conspired to sabotage my actual family Christmas party (car breakdowns! flus! earaches! miscommunications re: RSVPs!) but it all came together, albeit with one sister having to Skype in. And because this is Southern California and it doesn’t get cold till January, we got to eat out on the deck, and then bundle up inside for a truly raucous and foul round of Loaded Questions. Whether you were there or not: you got roasted. As it should be.

MUCH LOVE FROM HILL HOUSE! And so long 2018, you certainly were…a year.

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derrida goes to denny’s

Happy Holidays, my friends! I hope you’re ready for one of the dorkiest projects of my college life. Derrida Goes To Denny’s!

derrida dennys 2

One of the only required courses for my literature degree was Lit 101: Literary Theory & Interpretation. It was reputed to be the hardest course in the degree, and it was only available at 8am, which is about 4am in Standard College Time (SCT).

Our professor was Jody Greene, and every girl in class had a crush on her regardless of their orientation. Jody was just the absolute coolest and blew our little literary-interpreting brains every day.

But she had us studying incredibly dense translated texts by Jacques Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, and more. It was hard as hell. One of Derrida’s essays (of which I can paraphrase approximately zero words to you to this day) was titled “Signature Event Context.” Get it? Because S.E.C. spells sec, which is French for dry! Because his writing was so impossibly dry! Ughhh. He spent a lot of time agonizing over iterability, which… I dunno man. But this is how scholars talk about it, and I dare you to get past a sentence or two, much less both paragraphs:

iterability

Theory: this writer is wildly disguising the fact that he doesn’t get it, either.

There was also an incomprehensible film about him called Derrida’s Elsewhere. Again, I remember nothing about it now. Absolutely nothing.

Anyway, it was incredibly freeing to learn that I could interpret a text with or without the context of history, authorial intention, language, etc., depending on my relationship to the text and what I was using it to illustrate. But oh, we suffered for those revelations! And we studied our asses off, because we did not want to disappoint our great and wonderful Jody.

Long story short, in a delirious haze of studying, a friend of mine and I conceptualized a series of comic strips about Jacques Derrida, which we gifted to our teacher at the end of the class (um and she LOVED THEM). The running gag is that Derrida keeps trying to get out of paying for his breakfast by using literary theory, and his frazzled waitress, Debbie, is tired of his shit.

Enjoy! Or smile, kind of puzzled, at what seems like a punchline, but…

1 and 23 and 45 and 67 crop

DAMN THIS ITERATION OF EGGS!!

emergence (and Thanksgiving 2018)

The pit was dreary, my friends, and deep.

For 22 days, I moved. For 22 days, I unloaded, unpacked, organized, painted, culled unnecessary old things, bought necessary new things, spent hours at Home Depot and Target, went back to Home Depot again for one more thing, went back to Home Depot again for one more thing, threw a slightly subdued Thanksgiving party, gave up on Christmas shopping and just ordered a bunch of toys off Amazon, handmade 40 Christmas cards, and decorated, decorated, decorated.

For 22 days, I didn’t write! At all!! D: D: D:

I haven’t had a writing gap longer than a couple of days since the dark month after my second child was born. That was about a year and a half ago. I always stumble in November because of holiday commitments, but the move really kicked things into high gear.

I know that once I start a project, it’s painful as hell to bounce in and out of project mode, so I decided to buckle down and finish my New House To Do List as quickly as possible, rather than spend months of weekends doing one piece at a time.

Anyway, it took 22 days.

But I’m back, baby! In approximately two hours one hour, naptime will begin, and I shall finish reducing the word count on a synopsis I wrote a month ago, and then I shall very grimly contemplate how to next prioritize my time.

Knock out some short stories, because I have lamentably little on submission? Or dive into research for 2019 Book in order to fill in the outline? Or dive into the outline in order to suss out what I need to research?

Wish me luck!

And finally, a couple of subdued pics from subdued Itsa Me, Thanksgiving!

mario thanksgiving

Itsa me, Italian stereotype!

thanksgiving dinner

Itsa me, Thanksgiving lasagna!

We had already planned a lasagna regardless of the theme. I know what you’re thinking: it’s supposed to be a Christmas lasagna! To which I say: nah, nah, Christmas is for fish.

Now, away! I have naptimes to exploit!

2018 reading recs and eligibility post!

Award season is upon us!

Eligible Short Story:

Strange Waters,” published in Strange Horizons April 2, 2018. A time-traveling fisherwoman is lost and trying to get home to her children.

It’s made some best-month-list and best-of-year lists! (SFF Reviews, Quick Sips 1and 2, Barnes & Noble). And it’s been longlisted for the British Science Fiction Association’s short fiction award. Exciting!!

Campbell Award Eligibility:

I have officially entered my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award! What!! I know!!

Now, on to my favorite reads for the year!

Recommendations:

Novels:

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland [YA, where that factors in]

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi [YA, where that factors in]

 

Novellas:

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

 

Novelettes:

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births by José Pablo Iriarte in Lightspeed

Murders Fell From Our Wombs by Tlotlo Tsamaase in Apex Magazine

 

Short Stories:

“Bride Before You” by Stephanie Malia Morris in Nightmare Magazine

“Mother Tongues” by S. Qiouyi Lu in Asimov’s and Escape Pod

“And Yet” by A.T. Greenblatt in Uncanny Magazine

“Your Slaughterhouse, Your Killing Floor” by Sunny Moraine in Uncanny Magazine

“She Who Hungers, She Who Waits” by Cassandra Khaw in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“The House of Illusionists” by Vanessa Fogg in Liminal Stories

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark in Fireside

“Don’t Pack Hope” by Emma Osborne in Nightmare Magazine

“It’s Easy to Shoot a Dog” by Maria Haskins in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“Flow” by Marissa Lingen in Fireside

“Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse” by Cherie Priest in Apex Magazine

“The Chariots, the Horsemen” by Stephanie Malia Morris in Apex Magazine

“Asphalt, River, Mother, Child” by Isabel Yap in Strange Horizons

Mr. and Mrs. Cat are couch surfing!

or: Papa Lindsey’s Revenge

I’ve been reluctant to move out of our amateurishly haunted house. Soooo there’s a yawning hellmouth in the bathroom. Soooo toys and appliances turn on at will and there’s no indication whether the grave marker near the creek is for a dead pet or a deranged handyman felled by one of his own numerous electrical additions.

It was a weird, spider-infested ghost house, but it was my weird, spider-infested ghost house! We decided to move, for assorted Reasons, but to keep it short: the decision was bittersweet.

And based on the problems we’ve had getting out the door, I’d say the house isn’t keen on letting us go, either.

We went on the market in July. There commenced a terrible heatwave in which I struggled to keep my home and children clean and presentable and somehow cool for multiple visitors per week. There commenced numerous weekends of repair work and clogged pipes and a leaking fridge and my brother moving out of our converted garage and leaving behind some horrific bachelor pad filth (even though he isn’t even really a bachelor, he’s a single-ish dad with two tornadoes for children).

After three months of scrub pads and bleach and repainting inside and outside, and endless yard work as summer turned to autumn and leaves began to fall–then, in October, at last, we accepted an offer!

And our buyers have been the biggest pains in the asses, with a semi-retired agent who doesn’t understand the paperwork or how to use DocuSign, and a buyer with a laundry-list of truly minuscule fix-it requests (despite intending to buy the house for her son, who is a handyman), and the son, who wants to turn the property into a hippie commune (which is fine, enjoy) but who has a tendency to show up or overstay his welcome after appointments, leading me to believe I’ll soon be murdered and buried next to whatever’s in the creek.

Cuz the house just kept on throwing new kinks at us. Mostly the aforementioned petty fix-it requests (the diverter valve on the bathtub faucet sticks slightly?? fine, I hope you enjoy this $10 replacement), but then came the biggest drama of all: the septic report.

There commenced two weeks of chaos because our report didn’t include a phrase Mr. Semi-Retired Agent wanted it to include. We had an inspection that recommended a single repair, and a contractor who confirmed he had completed the repair. Good enough? NO. It needed the phrase!! But the inspector wouldn’t amend the report to include the repair because he only did inspections, and the contractor wouldn’t fill out an inspection because he only did repairs, AND ANYWAY it took a comical number of phone calls, texts, emails, and dollars to fix.

[Meanwhile, there was much chaos going on with our new home purchase as well, mostly revolving around a ludicrous solar lease we wanted removed; but this post isn’t about that. Leased solar is a scam, y’all.]

At last! we thought, like the fools we are, that’s it.

Except, dear reader, that was not it. Papa Lindsey had one more trick up his sleeve with which to torment us from beyond the grave: the termite report.

There was a small amount of wood damage when we first moved in that we’d never taken care of. The time had come. We got two estimates. One was significantly cheaper but included a recommendation to have the house tented, “just in case.”

Could we stay in our home till close of escrow and have the house tented immediately after, to avoid being displaced with a 1yo and a 3yo? Of course not. (Instead, our buyers asked, could we move out early and let them move in? UM, NO.)

We already knew we weren’t getting the keys to our new place till the 18th, but we had a place to stay lined up from the 12th onward. We just had to camp out on our property for one weekend, and then we’d have a temporary house-sitting arrangement to get us through the gap.

I spent all day Wednesday packing (the kids’ toys, alas, had to be out till the last minute). We spent all day Thursday loading the vast majority of our belongings into a storage pod, and some essentials into the vacant converted garage. We spent hours Friday morning moving freebies to the curb, cleaning the house, and babyproofing the garage for three days’ habitation.

My husband went to work.

The termite company arrived, and promptly informed me there was a single pipe connecting the properties, and there was a chance stray gas might reach the detached garage, and therefore we had to go. Like, now. Like, within the next two hours.

My husband came home.

There commenced much packing of cars, and disposing of trash, and rounding up of cats. We are now in a hotel until our cat-sitter and temp house each become available on Monday. The kids are bored as hell, the cats are confused, and my entire body is one big overtaxed muscle.

cats at hotel

“But why?”

I tip my hat to you, Papa Lindsey. See you in hell.