“Am I a Hero?” A Story Sale Tale Part 1

“Am I a hero?”

This is what the protagonist of my latest story, “How Molière Saved Lydia Bruer: A History in Two Fragments,” will be wondering in the next edition of Crossed Genres. Each issue of Crossed Genres revolves around a different concept, and the theme of the coming issue is “Superheroes.” The editors asked for tales of heroes that are a bit different, that make readers think about what heroism means.

When the Crossed Genres theme was announced, I asked myself if my story qualifies. A narrative of heroism is certainly present, but it’s not the sort of caped crusader story readers will expect.

Considering the theme, I thought of the first time I was invited to play Marvel Superheroes by TSR with a gaming group. My reaction was something like, “Heroes, like mutants in tights? Sounds silly.” I’d gamed with other groups, but mostly in classic fantasy settings, and I had a hard time picturing a superhero game with depth. We’d probably be involved in lots of high-powered combat, zooming around in capes, rescuing citizens from burning buildings, battling supervillains, that kind of thing.

To my complete surprise, the game proved to have not only emotional depth, but inspiring moments of sacrifice, thoughtful ethical dilemmas and character growth. Whole game sessions passed without any combat whatsoever (other gaming folks out there may ascertain that I’m a “role” player, not a “roll” player, as they say).

Since those days, I’ve become a fan of superhero comics and films, notably those that grapple with the personal cost of hero life, such as Promethea, the Luna Brothers’ excellent Ultra, and The Watchmen. Character counts, and that’s the sort of fiction I most want to write, regardless of genre.

Table of Contents for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities released!

The website io9 has just revealed the full TOC for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, in which an entry by yours truly appears.

This entertaining collection from HarperCollins is a follow-up of sorts to the delightfully freakish (or is it freakishly delightful?) The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, published by Night Shade Books.

The official description:

“A stunning find beneath the famed Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead’s house years after his death: a basement space lost under a collapsed floor, in which were found the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities. Containing artifacts, curios, and keepsakes collected over Dr. Lambshead’s many, many decades, the cabinet of curiosities took over a year to unearth, document, and catalog. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambshead and his exploits, we are now proud to present highlights from the doctor’s cabinet, reconstructed not only through original visual representations by the likes of Mike Mignola, Greg Broadmore, and Jan Svankmajer, but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure.”

The book will also feature title pages from John Coulthart.

You can even pre-order it from Amazon, if you are so inclined. Trust me, it’s gonna be cool.

World Fantasy Convention 2010

Here is what I hope is a pithy little post about this exciting event, as I am still recovering.

This gal is as pleased as can be to have attended her very first World Fantasy Convention this past week in Columbus, Ohio. Highlights: I reconnected with good friends from Clarion West, made some good contacts, and enjoyed fun facetime with writers and editors I’d only previously met online (or not at all), and attended some interesting panels and readings.

WFC lessons learned:

  • Kij Johnson’s readings are NOT to be missed.
  • If your Twitter pic actually resembles you, people may recognize you!
  • Everyone should buy and read the anthology The Way of the Wizard (the one edited by John Joseph Adams, not that thing by Deepak Chopra).
  • Columbus as a city is not as dreary as I’d been led to believe (well, not quite).
  • In October, an old leather jacket is not warm enough for a skinny girl from Florida.
  • Everyone (or at least those who like zombies) should buy and read the collection Rigor Amortis.
  • Ted Chiang apparently always looks dapper, and is too shy to talk to fangirls in the elevator.
  • Chicks in chain mail are ridiculous (see photo), but hilarious to intoxicated people.
  • Brian Lumley really just wants a cigarette,  if you have one.

I saw why this con is recommended for writers above conventions that support writer activity but remain focused on fans, costuming and entertainment/media. This is primarily an publishing industry con. This is where writers want to be to network with folks from Tor, Del Rey, Nightshade, Edge Publishing, and the like. Pro and semi-pro publishers were represented, and a surprising mix of people mingle at after-parties which seem to be what the con is really all about. Oh, and the World Fantasy awards are handed out.

I’m being a tiny bit flip about the experience, but it truly was worthwhile. I handed out as well as collected a number of business cards (sort of a party game, and not without very real etiquette and papercut hazards) and made useful and stimulating connections. I learned more about the lively industry that is sci-fi and fantasy publishing. I came home exhausted and probably with more information than I can ever process.

I’m already scheming to attend the 2011 convention.

Ideation (Making Narrative Happen)

A while back, before I considered myself a writer, I thought, “if only I had some good ideas.” Now, I have an over-abundance of ideas, and I’m thinking a great deal more about process, where ideas come from and how they are developed. To my mind, ideas come in two basic forms:

The Ah-ha: this comes to mind in dreams or due to random encounters, or seemingly from nowhere at all. When I get these, I leap up and grab a pen, or quickly make a voice memo, before the idea slips away. These ideas apparently can’t tolerate the distractions of real life. Someone really should conduct a study wherein electrodes are attached to writers (kinda like research on meditating Buddhist monks) to see what is going on when this happens.

The What-if: a seed that is consciously pursued. I sit down and ask specific questions meant to generate possible ideas for use. I make a list of concepts or items. Maybe a useful notion comes out of this, and maybe not. The key here, I think, is to throttle your inner editor and entertain anything that comes to mind, no matter how absurd it seems. It may be that the more absurd the idea appears, the better.

At Clarion West, I worked concepts from both categories into narratives, and if I got stuck, I did something that my pre-CW self may have thought unthinkable. I went to the nearest library (I was lucky to be within walking distance of the absolutely gorgeous and inspiring reading room in the Suzzallo Library at the U of Washington), and grabbed a random book from the shelf. Historical events, animals, gender theory, poetry, or any topic at all might serve to spark linkage in a story, give me setting details or provide background for a character.

A new short in progress enjoyed a similar boost yesterday when I happened upon a book full of disturbing images of collectible dolls from the turn of the century.

Elements for ideation can come from random sources; it’s what you do with them that makes narrative happen.

An Acceptance!

I’m am thrilled and amazed to report that a submission of mine has been accepted for publication.

In a fun publication, too. Recently, excellent super-duo Ann and Jeff Vandermeer announced a call for micro-submissions to be included in their latest, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiousities, which will feature such cool people as the marvelous and friendly-in-person Ted Chiang, China Mieville, Holly Black, Garth Nix and Minister Faust, to name a few.

You can read my submission on the blog comments here.

Congrats to all, and a big thank you to the Vandermeers for their consideration.

The Single Best Thing

One of my Clarion West buds just sent me a critique of my latest effort at a short story. A really solid crit. And that may be the Single Best Thing to come out of the CW experience.

Not only do I have great friends who keep in touch and tweet pictures of their lunches to me, who chat with me about theology and life and finding fulfillment, but we are also lending generous hands to each other in our continuing work.

Even better, we’ll get a chance to further that effort when we meet up again at events like World Fantasy Con.

Thanks, peeps! You made my day.

Life After

It’s been a busy summer, and I’ve only covered a fraction of it here. As proof that there’s more to life than Clarion West recovery, I actually set some goals.

One of the cooler gifts I was given at CW (among others too miraculous to quantify) was a autographed copy of Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife, which is an extraordinary survival guide that all serious aspiring writers should have. Thanks, Jeff! In the book, Vandermeer handily explicates the notion of goal-setting as it applies to the writing life, along with a wealth of other helpful suggestions.

I sat down and cranked out goals for the week, month, and coming year, including the number of submissions I think I should be rotating at any given time in marketland, and conventions for professional writers that may help further my career. I made plans to attend one, World Fantasy Con, and outlined plans for other events in the year to come.

The momentum is exciting, but I realized pretty quickly that my weekly goals are unrealistic; part of me crazily expected to keep up a CW pacing outside of the workshop bubble. When a child is tugging my sleeve, other family members need attention, and I find myself launched back into service of my faith community, the pace really slows.

However…

I have recently submitted three works, two of them stories from the workshop, and I’m currently working on a promising new idea. I’m keeping in touch with CW colleagues, and I joined the Codex Writers’ Group.

I guess this is a little pat on the back to reassure myself that the thrills and successes I experienced over the summer aren’t going to fade away into the ether of memory as the present realities of my life assert themselves. I’m working toward my future, one goal at a time, and I know what I want. I just have to keep moving forward.

The Clarion West Narrative: Eight Crazy Things Clarion West Made Me Do


This ongoing narrative thread about Clarion West is less coherent than I’d like, but I’m starting to think that’s symptomatic of the experience. My brain is so full of memories, sights, sounds, faces, places and ideas that the story is coming out in a jumble. A rough draft that I’ll clean up as I go, at least in my head, as I rewrite my life story.

One way I want to address some of the story is to drag it out of my past and into the present moment.

The welcome packet I was given warned us that we’d return home changed people, and in my case, the advice was dead-on. From very basic things (I started chewing gum to stay awake and developed a habit) to major shifts in self-concept that I can’t yet articulate, the workshop was transformative.

I developed an almost paranoid relationship with my laptop and still feel uneasy if it’s not where I can see it. I’m addicted to Twitter. I drink too much coffee. I’m aggressively protective of my privacy and free time. I can’t sleep (yet) on an Eastern time schedule. I returned to veganism with a passion. But, HEY! Results may vary.

I also learned to think and work like a professional writer, which is a good thing, one hopes.

This last part may seem a little juvenile, but when I came back, I also had a burning desire to be a bit funkier, to make my outer appearance match my changing inner self-concept. After some careful thought, I made a big change.

So, here’s my new do, some of which is blue. I feel fabulous and more comfortable in my own skin. I can’t sufficiently explain why this was important to me.

At my age, you’d think I’d be past little things like appearance. But I’m becoming a person I’ve wanted to be for quite some time, and it feels totally right.

Clarion West Narrative: some tidbits

Clarion West students work to build collegiality, but the workshop tone is set by the instructor.

Case in point: Week One

Michael Bishop was wonderful, a pro. Right out of the gate, he launched into an enlightening lecture on the evils of passive voice and tired phrases, and discussed the useful concept of the “object correlative.” During week one, it was clear that Bishop expected us to be familiar with more than just work in our chosen genre. We discussed James Joyce, Eliot, and Robert Hass. We talked about Flannery O’Connor and characterization, “say-able” dialogue and careful prose. And we wrote our butts off, with a different short piece due each day on a particular theme. The extraordinary part, one I dearly loved, was the fact that the stories were turned in anonymously, and Bishop read them aloud for us to critique.

The quality of those early stories blew me away. I had found myself in the company of some brilliant people. Good place to be to grow as a writer! In this process, Bishop taught us how to workshop stories without blasting authors. It set a marvelous tone for the weeks to come. Bishop himself was positive and humorous, a delightful guy.

On Tuesday, we attended a reading at the UW Bookstore where he read from a recent anthology he edited entitled Cross of Centuries. His selection was a fabulous re-imagining of Christ as a woman. Definitely worth the read.