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 coming! I’ll be updating this post as I speed-read through everyone else’s recommendations.

Eligibility:

Short Story: “Strange Waters,” in Strange Horizons April 2, 2018. A time-traveling fisherwoman is lost and trying to get home to her children. It got some love when it came out! (SFF Reviews, Quick Sips, Barnes & Noble)

 

Recommendations:

Novels:

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

 

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

 

Novelettes:

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

 

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 eleventh hour

Oh no oh no oh no, it’s November. It’s November, and I’m moving out in one week, then couch surfing with two small children for a week, then moving in to our new home and immediately hosting Nintendo Thanksgiving!

I was frantic to finish editing my current WIP (Project 2017) last month, knowing how hard it would be to get my momentum back after a whirlwind of moving and holidays. And…

I DID IT!!!

P1030262

Okay, I’m still tweaking a couple bits of dialogue here and there, but essentially draft five is done, in this, the eleventh month of the year two thousand eighteen.

Which means… I did not write a new book in 2018. D: I thought I had accepted this fact months ago, but it still stings. On the flip side, I did get extremely serious about the editing and submission process, which is a workflow I had to learn sooner rather than later.

I’m not going to drive myself wild for the next two months to artificially inflate my word count for the year. Instead, I’m going to work on some short stories, hit my reading goal, and start noodling with the outline for my next book.

[Aside: whose terrible idea was it to put NaNoWriMo in November? Once in a while I feel a vague temptation to join in, but it is immediately shut down by the knowledge that November is THE MOST HECTIC MONTH OF THE ENTIRE YEAR.]

Anyway.

I’ll post an obligatory New Year’s goals post at the end of the year, but I already know that the gist of it will be:

  • patiently (PATIENTLY) await my partial/full responses for Project 2016
  • prep Project 2017 for the query process, should Project 2016 be passed upon
  • and then gleefully, gleefully, gleefully dive into Project 2019, the seeds of which were sown in a brainstorming notebook back in 2015, and which have been growing, growing, growing ever since

I am extremely excited and extremely nervous about Project 2019. I’ve been putting it off for years, convinced I couldn’t do the concept justice. Well, I’m finally ready! I’ve had the plot, structure, and supporting cast in place this entire time. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the main character–which is bizarre for me, since that usually comes first.

But I’ve got a lock on her now. I’m definitely gonna make my beta readers cry. All I have to do now is…

*hyperventilates*

WRITE IT.

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.

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.

FINAL is FINAL (unless it isn’t)

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

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

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

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

In the meantime! I will be…

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

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

Wish me luck!

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

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