Thursday, March 13, 2014

Speaking gratitude

One of my dearest friends bought me lunch yesterday. I babbled a bit, when she made the offer - we usually have lunch or dinner or drinks at least once a month, and we usually split the check. I wasn't celebrating anything big. There wasn't a reason. So I flapped and spluttered, until she said "I can't write your words for you, but I can buy you lunch." So I calmed down, and said thank you.

I'm pretty much on writerly lock-down right now. I have a major revision to turn in. I'm on schedule to meet my goal, but it's a strict schedule, word count-wise. And that doesn't count my freelance deadlines, which I need to make because I have bills that I need to pay. I'm not complaining about any of that. I am grateful that I have deadlines, that I can put together the freelance work to pay the bills. But it means that writing, which is already a pretty solitary profession, is going to be even more so for me for the next while. 

And yesterday was a day, writing-wise. Scenes that were hard to write, that left me feeling sick to my stomach from nerves, that left me in the same traumatized emotional state as my characters. I am scraping at old wounds, as I write this project, and the scars are fragile. But when it hurt, I could remind myself: your friend is in these words, too, and she loves you. She couldn't write my words for me, but because of her kindness, it was easier to get them written.

There are times when, as writers, we're told not to talk. Don't answer back to a rejection, don't engage with a bad review. I'm not arguing with those pieces of wisdom - they make sense. Many of us choose to live our lives semi-publicly, to engage on social media, to share pieces of ourselves beyond our fiction - it helps our work find readers, and most of us write because we want to be read. But because we choose what we share, there's an incomplete picture. For the most part, we talk about sales, not rejections. About the projects we got, not the ones we wished so badly for, and that didn't happen. The days when we made our wordcount, or page count, or got that tricky scene right, not the times that the writing crashed and burned. We don't want to look ungrateful, or like whiners. We share the highlight reel, not the reality.

Even now, I worry that by stating the reality that everything isn't hearts and flowers and gold stars all the time, I will seem to be complaining. And I am not. This is life: sometimes it is hard.

But I am also lucky, and I know that. Because I have people who love me, and who will buy me lunch, because they cannot write my words. Because my Mom sends me pictures of puppies in silly hats to make me smile, and boxes of cookies in the mail. Because sometimes what appears in my inbox is a letter saying a story that I wrote mattered to someone. Because I have you, and you read what I write, and your kind words are the hoard that I hold against the bad days. 

Because that matters, so much, even if it seems like a little thing. So thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stories! Updates!

I'm currently immersed in a largish sort of revision (by largish, I mean where The Thing that happened in the final 60 pages of the previous draft now happens in the first 100 of the new version. Whee!) It's intense, but I'm happy with the work. 

It also means I'm unlikely to be blogging soon on any sort of substantive, thoughtful topic because the revision is like a word-vampire, sucking them all out for its own.

However, if you want words, I have them for you! Three recently released stories!

Do you like ghosts and vengeance and toxic relationships, seasoned with a dash of poetry? Then check out "Dreaming Like a Ghost" over at Nightmare. 

Perhaps you'd like a novella, set in a New York where Furies walk the streets and Medea and Odin and Baba Yaga all go to the same party and also there are oracular bees? Then you might like "Hath No Fury" in the Spring issue of Subterranean

Or maybe you like myth and weaving and fate, in which case let me direct you to "A Different Fate" in Lightspeed. You can also listen to the audio version of this one, which is pretty cool.

Also! If you like behind the scenes glimpses, I did author spotlight interviews for Nightmare and Lightspeed. It was fun to talk about the pieces behind the stories. And speaking of behind the scenes, a huge thank you to my Mom, for helping me with the title for "Hath No Fury."

Finally! I have a few openings for critique and mentoring clients. Interested in working together to improve a specific story or novel, or want writing help in general? Here's an entry from earlier this year with some details. Please get in touch - I'd love to work with you.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Our Futures, Ourselves

The science fiction community is once again convulsed around the bad behavior of some of its members. In this particular instance, the bad behavior is some particularly ugly and unprofessional displays of misogyny. Part of me is furious that we as a field are not already past this, but part of me is glad that the uproar exists. The fact that people are loudly unhappy is - in a world where sexism still exists - a sign of progress. There are people willing to stand up and push back and say, "no, this is wrong, and this is not who we are."

One of the comments I've seen show up more than once in reaction to this mess is a variation on "But science fiction writes about the future. How come it's still stuck in the evils of today? Why is it still a sexist field?"

We build futures, yes. But they are futures that are recognizable to us. 

Here is the thing about being in power, about having privilege. Having those things gives you the luxury of not having to think about them, and what they give you. Because I am white, I don't have to ever think about what it means to live life as a person of color. Because I was fortunate enough to be born into a body that matches up with my gender identity, I don't have to think about what it would have meant if I hadn't been.

Now, whether I can write a good story (of any sort, not just SF) without taking into account the experiences and lives of people other than ones who experience life like I do is a different question. I happen to believe that the answer to that question is no. I have less and less patience for supposedly great literature that can only portray one type of human well, where the only people who look and act like fully realized people are the ones that tick the same boxes on the census as their creator does.

Thankfully, not all SF is like this. And there are writers - not just in SF, but in every field of writing - who work to expand their perceptions, to tell bigger stories.

But if you don't have to recognize your privilege, if you never bother to realize that there are people around you living very different lives, if you never choose to think about how those different lives will shape and be shaped by what happens next, then you are going to recreate the sins of the present in the stories of the future. You will continue show a world where there is only one type of person in power, and that person is going to look an awful lot like you, because who is ever going to write a future where they don't exist? Or where they are suddenly the ones who have to struggle and face oppression?

And so the futures that get written are the futures we have seen before - the presents of the powerful, with shinier props and new set dressing.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ghost memory

When I started writing, I hated the revision process. I knew it was necessary, as perfect stories do not usually spring, fully-formed, from the nib of my pen, but I still somehow felt they should. I looked at revision as a marker of how far I was from perfect, of how I wasn't yet the writer that I wanted to be. I agonized over drafts, hanging on sentences, trying desperately to get all of the pieces right the first time, to write the story that wouldn't need revising.

I don't think that way any more. A lot of the change has to do with the fact that I am writing more, that I have to write more to keep up with my professional obligations. But it also has to do with the fact that I trust myself more as a writer - I know if I can get it reasonably there the first time, that I can fix it later. I know that even if it is a disastrous hot mess the first time, I have smart writer friends who beta read for me and say helpful things like, "Kat, this is lovely, but you do realize you forgot to put the plot in, right?"

*****

It's winter right now, and the cold seeps beneath my skin, and wakes up my old fencing injuries. The ache in my hip from cracked cartilage, the torn hamstring, the dislocated shoulder. My entire right side reminds me of all the places that got broken at one point. I remember the practices and tournaments I got injured in, or that I trained through. Physical therapy, cortisone injections. I remember the frustration of being weak, of having a body that wouldn't do the things that it had done before, that I needed it to do again.

*****

I usually like revising now. I like the knowledge that I am making my story better and stronger. I like the things I learn about story structure and writing character and my own quirks as a writer when I revise. But there's been a project, sitting on my desk for about two weeks now, and every time I go to start revising it, I turn away. Surely, there's something else that can be written, or maybe my apartment needs cleaning, or anything really.

*****

I know what it's like to come back from an injury. To get strong again. To rebuild the fitness that was lost, to relearn the skills that aren't in practice. To wonder if maybe this time I can't come back, that it was one stress too many, that there won't ever be strength again, or a way of moving through the pain. 

We talk about muscle memory. The actions repeated in training so often that they become ingrained, that we do them automatically. It's why we practice, for hours and hours, over and over. Because if you had to consciously think each time, you'd never be fast enough to win. 

I know what it's like to be in a body that remembers what it should be doing, and can't this time. Not anymore. It felt like being in two bodies at once - the current, frustrated, failed one, and that past Kat, fast and strong and skilled. I got better, but it was a constant fight against myself to do it.

*****

There are other pieces of us that remember, too. The last time I was working on this project, the one that sits on the floor by my desk in a stack, it was during a period of tremendous stress and upheaval in my career. It was when my darling dog, Sam I Am, had a period of ill-health, and then died. I look at these pieces of paper that represent the broken pieces of a story, and I am afraid of what it means to fix them, because to do that, I need to put myself back into that story, and that has the side effect of meaning that I am looking back at that time, at that past self, and it hurts, and I don't know what the physical therapy exercises are for this.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Underground, the story continued."

When I was a kid, I lived in books. I don't just mean that I was constantly reading, that I always had a book in my bag for the car, that I perfected the art of reading under the desk during the boring parts of class without alerting the teacher, that I read every night by flashlight in bed, evading the notice of my parents with varying degrees of success. 

I mean that I lived in books. When I found favorites, I'd reread them again and again. I'd make my stuffed animals or my dolls reenact my favorite scenes. I'd make my friends reenact my favorite scenes with me - we used to play Birnam Wood at recess. (NB to future nerds: do not tell Sister Nathalie that the convent is Dunsinane when she asks what you're doing carrying around sticks. It won't go well.) I'd put myself in those scenes - I was always my favorite character, and I'd retell the story.

If I had known, at that age, what fan fiction was, I probably would have written it. Not to change the story or make sure that everything worked out okay for my favorite ships, but to have my favorite bits, those moments of reading that exploded my heart, on a constant repeating loop. To make them last forever. To live in the story.

I think about reading like that, and those are the books that made me. Sacred Texts. Books like the Prydain Chronicles, and the Dark is Rising series (especially The Grey King) and A Wrinkle in Time. I think the last book that I really read like that was Tam Lin. After a while, there was too much else taking up room in my head. I still read voraciously, but I lost the ability to truly immerse myself in a story.

Every so often, I find books that I know, if I had read them earlier, would have joined that list of Sacred Texts: When You Reach Me, The Last Unicorn, All Our Pretty Songs. There's something about them that speaks to the part of me that makes me who I am, that moment of recognition of a truth that goes beyond what is fact or real to simply be what is.

I didn't read Watership Down when I was younger. I remember seeing the movie, and remember being heartbroken by it, and so when I realized it was a book, too, my reaction was pretty much no. Why break my heart again on purpose? I thought about picking it up a few years ago, when Stories came out, and I realized I shared a table of contents with Richard Adams, but at that point I figured I was too old to really appreciate talking animal stories.

But then one of my friends, whose opinion I trust when it comes to books, raved about Watership Down. And later that week, I came across a good used copy, so I picked it up. Last week I read it, and I wish I had done so before. It was the closest thing to reading with that same sense of wonder that I did when I was younger. I know if I had read it then I would have made my friends play rabbits, and I would have been Hazel. (Though I know, now, for good or ill I'm much more Fiver.) It would have been a book that made me who I was. 

Even now, I know I'll go back and reread it. Partially because it's beautiful, but also, for the writerly moments. The way the mythology of the rabbits works. The primroses. For the reminder that the right story is always a gift, no matter when it is read.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Majoring in writing

I got a question on twitter yesterday, asking if I thought that studying philosophy in college would be good for a writer. I realized that my answer was a lot longer than 140 characters, and so I asked if I could respond in a blog.

And so, I am.

Here is the thing about being a writer: there is no one true path. Some people major in Creative Writing and then get MFAs. Some people go to workshops. Some people just sit down and start writing. It is possible to choose any of these, or a variety of combinations of them, and become published, even to become successful.

Because there's no one true path, on one level, it's easy for me to say that yes, studying philosophy in college is a good choice for a writer. It teaches you to think and to think rigorously, and to be articulate, and all of those things are good skill sets for writers to have. But that's also an incomplete answer.

Writing is unlikely to bring you immediate financial success. Even if you are fortunate enough to be the rare person where the first book you write is the first book that sells and it sells really well and it never goes out of print and there are foreign rights sales and movie deals and all of that shiny sparkly stuff, it is still going to take you time to write and revise that book. You need to be doing something while you are writing that will keep a roof over your head and food on your table. 

So, my answer to whether a writer in college should major in philosophy is tempered by the reality of most writers needing to have a day job at some time in their writing career. My advice would be to pick a major that will help you get a day job in a field that you would be interested in working in. Maybe that is a philosophy major, maybe it is something else. And then to also take as many classes as possible in areas that you love, or are curious about, or you think will help you write your books. Suck up as much knowledge as you can, and file it away in your writer brain.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Critique and Mentoring Services

I currently have openings for critique and mentoring clients. What does that mean, you ask? I'm so glad you did - I will tell you.

Critique services are where you send me a finished piece of work, from short story to novel length, and I read it with a critical eye. I make notes about what works and what doesn't, and I make these notes in a rigorous fashion - not "You suck! You can't write! Those words aren't even a sentence, omg!!1!" - but I am not going to lie and tell you that your writing is awesome if it is not. I will pay your writing the respect of taking it seriously. Note: this does not include line edits or copy edits.

Mentoring services are for people who want to work on a specific thing, or a specific project, with close assistance. I know this sounds vague, but really, I work with the requesting writer to come up with something that will be useful. This can be a short term or long term relationship, and again, I will work with you on anything from short fiction to novels.

To head off some potential questions:

Yes, I charge for these services. Rates vary based on project length and turn-around time.

No, you don't need to be an experienced writer - I am happy to work with any writer at any level of expertise.

I tend to publish in the SFF genres, but I am open to working with writers in other areas.

Here is a link to one of my current clients, Martin Cahill, who has some very kind words about working together.

If you think you might be interested, or would like further information, including about rates, please email me at KatWithSword@gmail.com