the problem with knowing the end

I’m an outliner.

Mostly. Pretty much.

Anyway, I start with an outline! And then about halfway through drafting a new book, I come up with all sorts of better ideas, and I retool my outline, and I slap a big notice in yellow highlighter on page 180 or wherever I am: “FROM HERE ON OUT, FOLLOWING OUTLINE #2.”

Cuz who cares? Making the first half match the second half is Future Sam’s problem!!

Let’s just say it: Past Sam is a reckless monster. A heartless villain. SHORT SIGHTED.

Here is my blessing and my curse: I’m an outliner, and my outline is stronger in the second half. I know the ending, so I backtrack through a series of complications that need to happen in order to land that ending. And then somehow I (by which I mean: my hapless mark, Future Sam) need to stitch these intro chapters to that row of endgame dominoes without it seeming super obvious that they never fit together naturally in the first place.

It’s the beginning that’s the real end, the last thing I need to make work in order to set up this grand finale I’ve supposedly nailed with all that seamless action in the second half. But here’s the trouble with endings: they don’t land on their own, not without expectations raised and backstory planted, not without the tone well-tuned and the atmosphere maximally atmospheric.

Oh my god, it’s torturous.

I’m doing it right now (revisions, hiss, spit, etc) and I’m kicking my feet and wailing on pretty much a daily basis. “Please,” I’m begging these characters that I made up, “please, don’t just wander around learning the things you need to know by the end! Make the decisions that will lead us there! In retrospect!!”

Melodrama aside, there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and it is called self-awareness. (That’s right, there is a beam of light which embodies the conscious knowledge of one’s own behaviors, and it is located at the end of a tunnel, keep up.) I’ve become intimately aware of this problem, and I am now giving my future outlines a very stern look.

Moving forward, I am trying to–get this–fix the outline before I rough draft. A shockingly novel approach, I know! But I can no longer rush through my beginnings under the assumption that I always rewrite them aaaanywaaaay, because Future Sam is actually really busy these days and doesn’t want to write the book three times to make it work, she just wants to write the damn book.

And that means, well, kind of pantsing my outlines. I have to resist the impulse to leap to the ending first and then backfill the setup. I have to get better at carefully laying interesting pieces on the board, and then following through on the ramifications of what my characters initially want and probably won’t get–and if I do this tinkering and stream-of-conscious writing at the synopsis level, I’ll get the best of both worlds: the natural progression of pantsing + the steady guiding hand of an outline. Right?? Oh lord I hope so.

But first I need to finish this (last?) torturous revision.

Kiki’s on the Locus list! :D

In very exciting news:

Kiki Hernández Beats the Devil,” originally in Translunar Travelers Lounge, has been included on the 2020 Locus Recommended Reading List! I am in amazing company with a whole lot of my favorite stories of the year. 😀

Anyone is welcome to vote in the Locus Awards, and the poll is now live. Subscription to the magazine is not required, though subscribers’ votes count double. The poll even has a write-in option if you don’t see your favorites on the list. And if nothing else, it’s a great list of recommendations if you are looking for new novels, stories, anthologies, and short fiction to read!

2020 Eligibility Post!

Oh sweet mercy, it’s that time of year again!

This was, um, not the greatest year for me producing new work, but thanks to a little buildup from the before times, it was a really satisfying one for publication!

I have three short stories I’d like to highlight for consideration. They have three drastically different vibes–something for every mood! ;D

Without further ado…


If you’re looking for cathartic rage and fierce triumph:

The Limits of Magic
–In which you have run away from an oppressive regime, only to realize that saving yourself isn’t enough–you have to fight for those who cannot save themselves.

Originally published in Apparition Literary Magazine, Issue 11: Redemption, July 15, 2020 [available online]


If you’re looking for rip-roaring rock and the power of giving a shit:

Kiki Hernández Beats the Devil
In which Kiki Hernández, rock legend of the Southwest, finally bites off more than she can chew. Come for the devil-fighting guitar, stay for the chonky hellhound.

Originally published in Translunar Travelers Lounge, Issue 2, February 15, 2020 [available online]

And reprinted in text and audio in PodCastle, Episode #639, August 11, 2020 [available online]


And if you’re looking for something weirder and gentler and deeply heartfelt:

Anchorage
In which a very messy space family visits a floating library and the anchoress walled up within it (with bonus! narrator who doesn’t understand how metaphors work).

Originally published in Uncanny Magazine, Issue 36, September/October 2020 [available online]


I will now commence a much-needed reading retreat, because I already have SO MANY great recs piling up for my forthcoming 2020 awards recommendation post, and there are still SO MANY MORE amazing-looking reads piling up between my bookshelves, browser tabs, and twitter bookmarks, so farewell, I am now sinking beneath the waves of awesome, tell my family I love themmmmmm–

Samtastic News!

colorful banner with words "samtastic news with mr. and mrs. cat"

I’ve finally started a mailing list!

You can sign up at samtasticbooks.substack.com and get all my bloggy content, reading recommendations, and writing news straight to your inbox. I’ll be posting on an as-needed basis for now, which won’t be more than once-per-month. You can either check here for my usual blog posts as they come up, or wait for the emailed digest version. There’s something for everyone!

And I do have news!

photo of New Voices of Science Fiction anthology next to Mr. and Mrs. Cat

My proud parents. :’)

This month marked the release of the anthology The New Voices of Science Fiction, edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman. Spoiler: I’m in it!!

Description from Tachyon Publications: In this daring anthology of cutting-edge short stories, new science fiction luminaries including Rebecca Roanhorse, Amal El-Mohtar, and Sam J. Miller, are showcased with the rising stars that are transforming their genre. Discover exciting writers who are already out of this world, in this space-age sequel to the 2018 World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy.

I’m among the …AND MORE! 😀 “Strange Waters” was originally published in Strange Horizons in April 2018, was reprinted with the Podcastle treatment in August 2019, and now has a gorgeous paperback home with fantastic company. Go, little story, go!

And in even more spectacular news (I’ve definitely buried the lede here, I know):

🎉🎉🎉I’ve just signed with a literary agent! 🎉🎉 🎉

I’m now one of the supremely pleased clients of Lisa Rodgers at Jabberwocky Literary Agency. That’s right! To actually try to sell some of my samtastic books! Will my blog title finally become a reality? Well… stay tuned here or sign up for my mailing list to find out. XD

All that said, the blog will be fairly quiet on book news until there is book news to share. This part of the journey can be just as long as the whole rest of it, and I’ve got some strategizing and prepping and editing to do, but… woo! It sure is exciting to reach the next step.

Till next time!

2019 eligibility post!

It’s that time of year again! Panic rain falls gently from the calendar sky, and up springs a crop of nervous-but-eager eligibility posts.

Astounding Award Eligibility:

That’s right! I’m still a sweet, sweet baby in the grand scheme of things. This is my second and final year of eligibility for the Astounding (née Campbell) Award! If you’ve enjoyed my weird overbuilt worlds so far, I’d appreciate the consideration.

As of this typing, the Writertopia list hasn’t been updated for 2020, but you can keep an eye on it as the season progresses–and also this fabulous Hugo Awards (2020) Google Spreadsheet, which includes recs for the other categories as well!

Short Stories:

I had four short stories out this year! If you are interested in reading only one, I’d especially appreciate a look at “Four of Seven.” It was my nearest-and-dearest for the year.

Four of Seven
In which a pair of sisters attempt to reach a hospital after curfew, in a mining colony company town in spaaace (with bonus college woe and messy family solidarity).
Escape Pod, Episode #687, July 4, 2019 [available online]

Laugh Lines
In which a far future vat baby has some strong words to say about her mother.
Daily Science Fiction, June 10, 2019 [available online]

One Part Per Billion
In which humanity is invited to make first contact, but alas, we are put in charge of selecting our own representatives for the journey.
Diabolical Plots, Issue #50, April 15, 2019 [available online]

Adrianna in Pomegranate
In which a reclusive calligramancer grows obsessed with casting a very particular spell, and his ex-wife is determined to stop him.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #271, February 14, 2019 [available online]

IDEAS – by that one recipe reviewer, you know the one

I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally figured out my go-to metaphor for how an idea becomes a story.

I’m that one recipe reviewer who pops up on every blog and recipe aggregate website you’ve ever been to. You know the one. She swapped in Italian breadcrumbs for panko and eggplant for chicken and made her own sauce and put cheese on top and baked it instead of frying it–and now she’s giving this fried chicken recipe 4 stars but she’s clearly attached a photo of eggplant parmesan.

That’s me!

If you ask me where a story got started, you might get a very pat, incomplete answer like, “I was watching my kids play,” or “I had a dream.”

But the real answer is much sillier, and more convoluted, and there’s no real point telling the entire thing except to illustrate how little that initial kernel of an idea matters–because it’s not the idea itself, but the thought process it sparks that ultimately gets you something story-shaped. The only trick is learning how to let your mind wander, to see what it churns up.

So.

Last week I had a dream about spies in a space station.

And I actually woke up on my own for once, not from my 4yo climbing in next to me, or my 2yo hollering from her crib, but actually on my own, so I laid in bed for awhile, sleepily thinking about that dream.

And I wondered: what were the spies doing there? who were they after? what was their history?

And then I thought: oh, oh, wait, what if instead of a spy, it was an ordinary woman conning her way into this station to get revenge.

And what if, instead of a space station, it was a secret luxury resort built by this billionaire she hates. Right? Because he made all of his money using people like her friends and family as guinea pigs for his medical empire. She’s coming to kill this guy.

And instead of being in space, this place is built into a mountain. A hollowed-out mountain full of mazes and decadent parties and everybody who’s anybody, all in one place.

And instead of that other spy being her partner, he’s her competitor: his friends are trying to kidnap this dude, not kill him. But maybe they can work together, temporarily, to find him…

 

Ta da! I’m outlining a book. And if this weird magic-infused science-fantasy revenge story ever gets in front of other people’s eyeballs, and they ask how it started, I’ll get to say: I had a dream about a space station.

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]

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!