Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reflections and resolutions

I've just gotten back from a lovely visit with my family in New Hampshire for Christmas. Nearly everyone was there, travel snags were overcome, and it was peaceful and relaxing.

It's strange to think that this is not only the end of a year, but also the end of a decade. The 1999 to 2000 transition was so hyped (Y2K, anyone?), yet the 2009 to 2010 seems to have barely registered. But as the transition happens, I've been thinking of past and future.

2009 was a good year for me. My biggest achievement was successfully defending my dissertation and earning my doctorate. But I also sold my first story, and it was to a professional market. I finished a novel, and sent out the first round of query letters to agents. I painted and polished three rooms of my house, and learned to knit. Friends came here to visit, including Megan, who braved the coldest stretch of January Minneapolis has had in 16 years, and I was able to travel and visit old friends and meet new ones. I have worked hard, and been happy.

I am excited for 2010. I have goals for the upcoming year. (I prefer "goals" to "resolutions" unless I'm attempting alliteration. It seems a friendlier word.) I want to be a better friend - to be more active in letting people know that I am thinking about them, caring about them, and interested in what is going on in their lives. I have a tendency to get distracted, and to forget that I need to pick up the phone, write a letter, send an email. I need to fix this.

I will take better care of myself. This encompasses everything from exercising more (shoulder injury has put fencing on hold, but that needs to stop being an excuse for sloth), to cooking for myself more and relying on takeaway less, to giving myself permission to take a guilt-free day off if I am sick or having the sort of day that can only be fixed with chocolate, Love Actually, and a Nora Roberts novel.

I will read more, and read more widely.

I will pay more attention to what helps me to write and what distracts me from doing so, in order to maximize the former and minimize the latter. I will have two novels in polished draft form by the end of the year.

Whenever I can, I will help and support other writers and artists, and I will show gratitude to those who have made a difference to me.

I will take chances, dare to fail bigger, and do something amazing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Christmas gift to you

For Christmas, I wrote you a story. For those of you who might be interested in this sort of thing, I had Peter Gregson's recording of Spem in Alium on repeat while writing and editing it. (It's fairly extraordinary. If you like beauty, you'll want to listen to that version of the song.)

Merry Christmas.

*****

Star of Wonder, Star of Light

“…and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was.” Matthew 2:9.

It is because of me that you were born. The felix culpa, the fortunate fall. Without my disagreement with your father and my resultant forcible change of address, there would have been no need of you.

Oh, I know that when the humans tell the story, the fall is that of Adam, that the sin is that of disobedience. It makes such nice symmetry that way, born a human to redeem fallen humanity. But humanity only ever behaved as it was meant to. The failure of obedience is no sin, it is growing up. And the purpose of a story is truth, not symmetry.

No, the important fall was mine. Cast down from Heaven for gazing too high, burning through space and time and star and morning as I fell.

Of course, without my fall, you never would have been required to die, in the particularly hideous and gruesome method of your chosen day. Felix seems an odd choice of word when one considers the consequences to you.

I would have made amends myself, had I been given the opportunity. Had I believed that there was something I needed to make amends for. Had I believed that bloody, violent death was the appropriate response to the loss of a friendship.

They call what happened between your father and me a variety of grand and impressive names. The War in Heaven in perhaps my favorite: so epic in its scope. But the rift between us wasn’t epic, it was simple. It was planned. This is a universe that was made in opposition: order from chaos, light from darkness, from the very beginning. There was nothing that was created without its opposite. There had to be an adversary, because your father existed. And he knew that.

If it hadn’t been me, it would have been some other, who loved him less well.

And so I fell, and became a scapegoat, blamed for a thousand smaller failings, lesser falls. I am like you in this, if in nothing else. But while I became a scapegoat, an easy excuse for everything from pettiness to genocide, you were born to be one, to be the bearer of burdens for the all of the sins of an entire people.

I honestly don’t know which of us got the worst end of the deal.

I mark the remembrance of your birth every year. Why should I not? I was your father’s best friend, before. It seems only fitting that I should acknowledge the day of his son’s birth, and its promise of redemption for all. For all.

Even here, I can hear the Unfallen singing. I join them sometimes. I sing, and I remember the night of your birth, and the part I played in it. Do you listen for my voice, where you are?

That night, I didn’t sing. Too far fallen to fill the sky with glory and praise. As angelic as it remains, my voice would have been a discordant note in that song. But I knew what was occurring, had known for some time. The birth of a god carries weight, pushes against the fabric of the universe in all directions.

Even if it didn’t, I would have known. I was the one whose failings were the proximate cause of your birth, after all. O, felix culpa. O, holy night.

And so, as my gift to you on your birthday, that first one, all those eons and ages ago, I repeated the action that necessitated it. I climbed higher and higher still into the heavens, wings straining as they beat against the clouds and ether, high enough to once again see the face of your father, the face of my friend. And then, mantling my wings tight to my back, I fell.

Through the night and sky and stars, bright as I once was, bright as my name.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home for the holidays

Sam I Am and I got to my parents' beautiful home in New Hampshire yesterday. It's a little odd to be here - this is the third house for them in as many years. This isn't a place I know, this isn't the image that forms in my head when I think of "home."

But in ways that have nothing to do with place and geography, this is home. My parents are here, both of my brothers will be. Even Sam's mom and sister live here. The decorations on the trees are the same as they have always been, the same cookies are in the tins (this year, with the addition of Zombie Gingerbread Men). It is a different fireplace, but the same stockings will hang over it. It is both new, and utterly familiar.

I have never been here before, but I am glad to be home.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas in the trenches

Cnn.com informs me this morning that there is a war on Christmas. I think this is possibly the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard.

Look, if you believe in the Christian God, you believe in an all-powerful being. So do I really think that God is going to be somehow weakened if the person helping me find the right size sweater said "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" when I walked in the store? No, no more than I think that the 1954 addition of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance caused God to care any more or less about America. Nor do I care if children in a public school are asked to sing the Dreidel Song to go along with Silent Night at a Solstice concert, or if the school has decided to not mark any of the holidays that occur in December. There are options other than public school, if it is that important to you that your child be exposed to no other viewpoints than that of your own tradition, or if you feel that religion is a necessary component of your child's education.

What is important to me is the sentiment. Having some bored silly store greeter flatly wish me "Merry Christmas" does nothing for me. But the little boy down the street who gave me a big hug and wished me Happy Channukah filled me with delight, and made me feel loved. The genuine wish of joy from another person strengthens my faith. It does not diminish it.

And if people are concerned that the Christmas Spirit is being diminished, maybe, rather than insisting that their City Hall put up a Nativity in December, they might insist that their government feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, and clothes the poor year round. They might educate their children in the values of compassion and understanding, of striving for social justice. They might live as Christians in actuality, rather then relying on symbols and empty phrases to impress other people with their righteousness.

The title of this post, incidentally, comes from an event that reminds me of true Christmas spirit, the Christmas Truce of 1914. Here is an account, and here is a song about it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One of those writerly, process-type posts

I feel like maybe I've read somewhere or been told that, as a writer, you're never really learning how to write a book, you're only learning how to write that book. (Yes, I asked the internet, in the hopes of being able to properly attribute what I think is a quotation, but the internet only wanted me to sign up for courses that would teach me how to write publishable fiction, and to write said fiction very quickly. I already took one of those.)

Anyway. My point is, I've spent most of my recent writing time on one novel (working title, That Sleep of Death) and the writing of it has been completely different from how I usually work. No, I still don't have an outline or anything more than the most general sort of plot (I know the Scary Danger and What Happens Next, but that's it). It's more that, when I wrote Linger, I'd work pretty steadily, painting in broad strokes in the opening draft, and then filling in the details later. I'd have a pretty general idea of who the people were, and what was going on, and again, later drafts would add more specific and recognizable detail. I could float from scene to scene, and except for one or two "ah-ha" moments, the best way to describe my progress was measured.

This time, I'm writing in chunks. My brain will stir it's way through the next thing that happens, and then an enormous flood of words flows out onto the page. And I can't write my way through a scene: I need to know what's going on, who the people are, what the things are called, why everything is important, first. Naming things has been hugely important for this project - I've been using this regularly. I'm extremely aware of the detail-level of what I'm writing, and I've got a list of notes already of things that need to be made more important at the beginning in order to set up what's happening now. I can feel the emotional through lines.

It's amazing, and kind of terrifying. Instead of following the story, I feel like I'm being pulled along after it. I mentioned the other day that I felt like I was writing without a net. My friend Steffi said that maybe the story was the net, and the more I think about it, the more I think she's right. And I'm trying to trust that it will catch me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Still cold, less grumpy

Almost completely ungrumpy, as a matter of fact, due to an unexpected bit of awesome that happened yesterday. Details when and if they become relevant.

The snow removers still have not contacted me. Honestly, even this makes me more sad than grumpy. It's a small, local business that I used last year, and was very happy with (hence the prepaying this year.) But none of my phone calls have been returned, not even to say, "we're sorry."

I'm mostly holed up inside where it's warm, and writing, but here are a couple things that might make you happy, if you're feeling grumpy:

The Muppets ring the bells. Ding dong!

In honor of the Shakespeare decorating the top of my Christmas tree. "That is the question. Yeah."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And also, brrr

So today when I woke up, it was -5. I'm not sure what the windchill was. Sam I Am and I had to take his morning walk in shifts because the ground hurt his feet so bad he kept attempting to walk without actually touching the ground. (We tried boots. Once. He ate them.)

Then two of the Four Felines of the Apocalypse demonstrated their best Linda Blair in The Exorcist abilities, and engaged in multiple bouts of projectile vomiting.

And also there was unresolved personal stress that involved a phone call with my attorney.

To add to the fun, the company that I prepaid for winter snow removal has apparently elected to not remove my snow, and to not return my phone calls. I live on a corner lot on a hill, and so I have a lot of snow to clear. Snow removal is, in my opinion, an excellent winter investment. When it actually happens. I do not have the money to invest in snow removal that does not.

So even though it is now 4 (windchill of -11) I went out and shoveled. I had been working for 45 minutes when Awesome Neighbor Paul brought over his snowblower, and cleared the hill part of the sidewalk for me. Which was pretty great. And so rather than being horribly grumpy, I am now only mildly so.

And now I will self-medicate with chocolate.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This is not the Age of Not Believing

So on the Techland blog today, Lev Grossman posted the trailer for the new Sorcerer's Apprentice movie. Just to be clear - Techland? Awesome. Lev? Also awesome. (Remember? He wrote that amazing book, The Magicians, that I really liked.) The Sorcerer's Apprentice? Well, I dunno. But that's not really what this post is about. This post is about what happens at 1:08 in the trailer, where the Sorcerer has done a Magic, and the soon-to-be-apprentice says, "What you just did? That's not possible."

And... I'm out. My disbelief is no longer willingly suspended.

First, because never in my life, if I had seen magic performed, would I have had that reaction. No, if I had ever seen magic, I would have said, "Holy shit! Magic is real!" And maybe that's a reaction that means "Warning! You're going to grow up to be a speculative fiction writer!" but I really don't think so. I think our pop culture is so permeated with magic, and the possibility thereof (how many millions and millions of people have seen or read Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings, just to name two?) that the majority reaction - especially when the person having it is a teenager - isn't "that's not possible," but "magic is real."

I get why the writers would choose to put the line in there. It's like a big neon sign, telling the viewer to pay attention, emphasizing what the title cards in the trailer are emphasizing: this isn't myth or just your imagination. That big shiny explosion what you just saw is Real Actual Magic. But it's also lazy storytelling. If your story, which, you know, is called The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and you need big neon signs and title cards to tell the audience that the magic in it is real, well, you're doing it wrong.

And while I'd believe in magic, I don't believe in your story.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Sparrow: A Reflection

Let me be clear up front: this is not a book review. I love Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, and do believe it is a wonderful book, well worth reading, but it speaks to me in a way that renders me unable to look at it simply as a work of literature. So really, what this is, is a meditation on the book, and my reaction to it.

Here's the thing. I'm Catholic. Possibly not a very good Catholic, in the eyes of my Church. First, I'm divorced. I believe in birth control, and the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality makes me weep. But I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life of the world to come. I believe, because I would rather live in a world with miracles.

I'm also really well educated. I was a science major as an undergrad. I have a J.D., and a Ph.D. When I told people I was writing about Joan of Arc for my dissertation, the question I was most often asked was, "what do you think was wrong with her?" My response was always, "I believe in the truth of her experience of her voices." My favorite reaction to this was being told that "You shouldn't be able to think that, and get a degree from a state university." (Yeah, the first amendment is my favorite for more than just the speech clause...) But most often, I was met with a stunned, "But you're smart." Smart people, apparently, don't believe in miracles.

The Sparrow is a book that believes in miracles. And it does this in the context of science fiction, which is something that is particularly meaningful to me. (Look, if as a genre we're going to wrestle with the big ideas, we should wrestle with all of them.) And it addresses, head on, the problems and difficulties of faith:

"'Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine,' Vincenzo Giuliani said quietly. "'Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.'"

"'But the sparrow still falls,' Felipe said."

And that is part of the dilemma that I struggle with myself, when it comes to belief. That if God knows, why does the sparrow fall? I do not know the answer, and I will not pretend that I do. But I love the fact that a book exists that asks this question, that asks why God always gets the credit for the good, but never the blame for the bad. That directly addresses the fact that sometimes to be beloved of God is also to be used horribly. Joan of Arc was burned, remember.

And I particularly appreciate the fact that this is a book that allows the characters in its pages that are people of faith to be actual people, not plaster saints, holier-than-thou caricatures, or part of a shadowy Catholic Menace. (It's that last one in particular that drives me bats. I mean, we're supposed to be creative writers. Can't we come up with a more creative Evil Religion than one called the Magesterium, presided over by a Pontifex?) It speaks to the fact that faith is a struggle, not a given, that miracles happen, and the sparrow falls.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What should I read next?

When I was in grad school, I read hundreds, possibly even thousands, of works of nonfiction, with titles ranging from The Manly Eunuch to Wonderful Blood to The Sandman Papers. I read books that challenged me, and frustrated me, and made me think differently about things (the three books that were probably the most influential on my scholarly development, all of which I strongly recommend even to a nonacademic audience are: Holy Feast and Holy Fast, The Stripping of the Altars, and Hamlet in Purgatory.)

I want to dive into the wonderful strangeness of the real world again. I miss the feeling of learning about something. And sure, I've found some books on topics that interest me to put on my shelves, and yes, story research can lead you down strange pathways - there is, for example, a history of grimoires that I'll be looking at soon. But I don't just want to learn about things I'm already interested in. So what I'm hoping you'll do is recommend some of your favorite works of nonfiction - biographies, histories, collections of essays, scholarly or popular - things that will delight me, and make me see the world in a new way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Be part of something amazing! Win fabulous prizes!

Would you like a chance to help make the world a better place and to win fabulous prizes while doing so? I bet you would. And you can, by participating in this year's Worldbuilders fundraiser for Heifer International.

It's basically a great deal. You decide to donate to Heifer International, a great organization that helps people build lives for themselves, and you make your donation on the Worldbuilders page. Awesome, talented author Pat Rothfuss, and the co-sponsor of Worldbuilers, Subterranean Press, publisher of books that are not only good but absolutely gorgeous, will match 50% of your donation. That's right, you will do 50% more good than you had planned. Then you will be entered in a drawing for fabulous prizes (see the above link to Pat's blog for exactly how that bit works.) Or, you can choose to "buy" a fabulous prize directly with your donation. (Again, see the blog.)

I'm really excited about this. I think it's an amazing thing Pat (and Subterranean and the wonderful people who have donated items to the fundraiser) are doing. I'm not going to lie - one of my goals as a writer is to be able to donate something that will help raise lots of money someday. For now, I'll be contributing what I can afford, and I hope you will, too. And if you could pass the word on, that would be great.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Redefining vacation

There's a story from Stephen King (it's in his memoir, On Writing, which I have read and taught, and think is fantastic) where he talks about an interview in which he was asked if he wrote every day of the year. He told the interviewer no, that he didn't write on his birthday or on Christmas. And then after, he felt bad, because he did actually write on those days as well.

I've been thinking about that a lot today, as the first round of "how was your Thanksgiving?" phone calls and emails hit yesterday evening and this morning. I had a lovely Thanksgiving. I went to the home of a dear friend's parents, where I usually spend the holidays that I don't fly home for. I ate my weight in delicious food, saw people who make me happy, and felt loved. I wrote before I went, and after I came home. This past holiday weekend, I sent out two short stories, polished my query letter and synopsis, and put together packets for the first round of agents that I'm querying so I could send them out this morning. I transcribed pages from notebook to computer, and got some good new writing done. From the reactions that I got when I told people this, it is clear that what I did this weekend is not most people's idea of a vacation.

Part of that is just my own neurosis. I'm not good at doing nothing for extended periods of time, and right now, anything over 24 hours that doesn't have writing in feels like an extended period of time. But the other thing is, although writing is work, it's a sort of work that I love. And so I look forward to typing *ENDS* more than to what the calendar says.



Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just curious

I have a couple of pieces of short fiction that are, or will soon be, ready to send out. So I spent some time last night and this morning looking over the submission guidelines of various markets, making notes of response time, and requested format, and the usual sorts of necessary information.

And the thing that I keep wondering is if anyone has ever actually claimed to be a lusty pirate, in order to submit a lusty pirate story to Clarkesworld.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In thanksgiving

About this time two years ago, my life changed. I didn't realize exactly what was happening at the time, but in hindsight, when I think of before and after moments, that was one.

Some friends and I had organized a conference on fantasy literature, and the weekend went really well. I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing writers and scholars, and among those are people that I now consider very dear friends. And then about a week later, I wrote a story. And writing it felt kind of amazing. And I was at a crossroads - my marriage had recently ended, and I had moved from the constrained microscope that was the life of a faculty wife to a sudden and terrifying amount of freedom. I didn't have to be anyone's idea of appropriate anymore. I could be just a little bit mad, and try on being a writer.

So I wrote a couple more stories, and applied to Clarion. Because if I was going to fail (which I was sure I was) I was going to fail big. Because I had tried the smaller failures, and been exhausted by them. But more importantly, while I was waiting for that rejection letter, I kept writing. Because by that point, I didn't care what anyone else thought, I was going to write. And that was where the change came - I'm a driven overachiever who craves recognition, so I had lived my life using other people's opinions to define my worth. So, you know, I taught my first law school class at 24. Which sounds impressive, but I was miserable. Other people thinking you're awesome isn't so great, it turns out, if you hate your life. Writing changed that. I was finally doing something not because other people thought I was good at it, but because it meant something to me.

And then I didn't fail. And I've changed my definition of what failure means. Failure means retreat: to see the edge of the cliff and not jump off. And so I'm thankful. I'm thankful that my life upended itself to the degree where jumping off a cliff seemed possible. I'm thankful for the friends and family who have supported me, and encouraged me, and been the safety net that has kept me from hitting the ground. I'm thankful that I got scared enough that believing in myself was the only option.

I'm thankful for you, who read what I write here, and will, I hope, read me in other venues as well. Your support, your comments, make me so glad to have an audience, rather than the feeling of shouting into the darkness. And I'm thankful that now, even if the darkness was the only thing there, I'd still raise my voice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

To read, or not to read

It was my second semester of graduate school, and it was Byron's autobiography. You know, the one that we've never read because it was burned. I was a student of literature, and was struck by the tragedy of it - a text, from one of the greats, that would never be read, never be studied. Somehow, the fact that the book had been written, and would never be seen, was worse than if it had never existed at all.

Fast forward to now, and the recent publication of the unfinished work by Nabokov, The Original of Laura. And somehow, this seems like almost as much of a tragedy.

The context is, as always, the clarity. I love Nabokov. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the quality of even his unfinished prose is better than the majority of finished prose that is published. But there is a difference between an elegant sentence, a graceful idea, and a finished novel. And whatever else the 138 handwritten index cards that make up The Original of Laura are, they are not a novel.

If I were reading them as a scholar, in the small cathedral of a rare book room, I would be wholly grateful to Nabokov's wife and son for not following his wishes and burning them. But if I were reading them as a scholar, I would not be evaluating them the way those index cards will now be evaluated, now that they have been given to the world in book form. The Original of Laura is not the story he wanted to tell us, and, as a writer, I don't know if I can read it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wherein I still cannot listen to Neverwhere

I love audiobooks. Love them. Listening to an audiobook is like being told a story, a sensation that I hope to never outgrow. Even my pug, Sam I Am, likes audiobooks. His favorites are Seamus Heaney's reading of Beowulf, and Neil Gaiman's reading of The Graveyard Book. I know these are his favorites because when they are on, Sam, who is an older gentlepug, will get up and go to where the speakers are, and then sit in front of them, quirking his head in that mix of attentiveness and puzzlement that pugs show when they are interested in something.

I also love Neverwhere. It is the first thing of Neil's I ever read. (True story: my first year of law school, an acquaintance began the book, realized "it was full of weird shit" and that as she didn't like "weird shit," she wouldn't like it. Knowing that I was someone with a passing fondness for weird shit, rather than tossing the book, she gave it to me.) Outside of Sandman, it is my favorite of his books. Door is extraordinary, and brave, and she has red hair. And Richard shows the grace inherent in being an ordinary person, who chooses to do right. Also, I should quite like to have the coat of the marquis de Carabas.

I was given the audiobook of Neverwhere as a pre-Clarion gift. I tried to listen to it as I loaded my iPod for the drive to San Diego. And then I unloaded it. The problem, you see, is Misters Croup and Vandemar. Or, well, Neil's voices for them. The voices are terrifying. They actually gave me bad dreams. I had this nightmare that my story for week 4 was such a failure that when I went to my conference with Neil, it wasn't him there at all, but Croup and Vandemar instead. When they don't like your story... well, let's just say they don't express their displeasure with a red pen.

And then today. Today, I have been working on writing the synopsis for my novel. This is a process that has been so frustrating that I have begun to understand why so many writers are driven to drink. So I thought, well, I'll give myself a break, and a bit of a treat, and listen to something nice while I fix dinner. I put on the CD of Neverwhere. Sam perched in front of the stereo. And then Croup and Vandemar came on.

I'm rereading the book instead. Quietly.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In Camelot

There are certain stories that are so large that it seems that nearly everyone knows them. One of those stories is that of King Arthur. The name is one to conjure with and invoking it brings images: Camelot, the Round Table, the Sword in the Stone. Or was it from the Lady of the Lake that Arthur received Excalibur? And there, that moment of possibility, is why writers return to stories like Arthur's again and again: that maybe there is still some bit of truth to be discovered, even though we all already know the end.

But because we know the end, or think we do, care must be taken when the story is told. Hew too closely to the truth that already exists in readers' minds, and your work is simply derivative. Novelty is appreciated only if done with great care, and knowledge of the interstices in the Story that are waiting to be explored. Anything too novel, and your readers will wonder if you know anything about your source material in the first place.

Or there is the option taken by Catherynne M. Valente in her exquisite novella, Under in the Mere: to acknowledge that the Arthurian Story has become so large that the characters in it are no longer characters, but have become archetypes, roles to be played that are dictated by the bounds of the story. This acknowledgment is open - each chapter opens with a Tarot card (illustrations are by James A. Owen and Jeremy Owen) that indicates what role the character fills. And by telling the story in this way, by looking at what it means to be the Lady in the Lake, the Lancelot, the Morgan, Valente manages to do something new with the Matter of Britain, to make the characters both fully inhabit the roles that the story dictates for them, and, at the same time, to make them more than simply those roles.

Under in the Mere also deals beautifully with the fact that when a story is told as often as Arthur's is, that the later versions of the story overwrite the earlier ones. In other words, post-Eliot, a reading of the Fisher King's story is as influenced by "The Waste Land" as Eliot's poetry is by the story of the Fisher King. And so there is the imagery of the desert in Valente's writing, and her characters are haunted by modern day Camelots, and the knowledge that their stories have been told over and again. They know how this ends as well as we do. And so what they tell us is not the beginning and ending of Arthur or Camelot, but the way their story begins and ends. Valente's writing tells the truth of a Galahad or Mordred as a literary symbol who is also still a person.

I love stories about Arthur and Camelot. My bookshelves are full of them. Under in the Mere makes that well-known story new again, makes me remember why it began to haunt me in the first place, so long ago that I cannot remember I time that I did not know it. It's an amazing, gorgeous work. I expect that I will see it on a lot of "Best of" lists, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ready for what comes next

Last night I finished the revisions on Linger, and so officially converted what began as a 3400 word short story to an 80,000 word novel. Because I like symmetry, I listened to the same song as I was finishing it as I had on constant repeat while writing that original short story (Clarion, week 5): "Take to the Sky (Russia)" by Tori Amos. One of the lyrics - "and here I stand with this sword in my hand" - was the beginning of the story. Well, one of the beginnings, anyway. But certainly a touchstone for me while writing, and for the character Aislinn, who sometimes had nothing other than herself, and the sword in her hand.

I began writing it when I got home from Clarion, so it's been about a fifteen month process from the beginning to The End. Which, honestly, is longer than I would like, but I also finished and defended a dissertation, and dealt with a Major Personal Upheaval. It's been through three major (addition and subtraction of thousands of words) revisions, two based on reader response, one based on my own realization that some things were missing.

I'm proud of what I've written, and proud of myself for writing it. I'm grateful to my Clarionmates, who workshopped it, to Neil who made me write it, and Geoff who told me it needed to be a novel. I'm grateful to everyone who generously read and commented on drafts, and who provided encouragement and support.

And I'm ready to find an agent.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trust me, I'm a doctor

Doing literary analysis is hard. Oh sure, not like brain surgery hard, or airplane design hard, but it's one of those things that can be tricky.

Doing analysis of an actual work of literature within the text of a work of fiction, in a manner which is both accessible to the lay person and interesting enough to make said lay person actually want to read it, because it provides Important Clues about the Plot (and, oh yes, remembering to provide those clues) while in character is... well, it's so far beyond hard that writing this scene has fried my brain and I can't think of the right word to describe that level of difficulty.

Seriously, I feel like I should send this scene on to my advisor in the hopes of talking the U out of another doctorate.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thus and so

The revision of Linger continues, as these things do. The writing is done, and the changes are in the computer for eight of twenty-one chapters. I have conceived an intense hatred for the physical act of typing, and a miserable dislike of Courier 12-pt. On the upside, Sam I Am has eaten all of the Chewie of Eternal Stench, and so my office no longer smells like wet liver. The scent of wet liver is a serious barrier to creativity.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Please, please, please, let me, let me, let me"

I am officially at the point of revising where I feel that I have accomplished something if I remember that every sentence needs a verb. Two and a half chapters to go, and then this pass through Linger will be done. (Well, except for then transferring all the hand-written notes into the actual computer document. One day my process will be efficient. Today is not that day.)

And I was going to talk about how revising is hard, but necessary in order to be true to the story and tell it in the best way possible. And there were these amusing typos that I was going to share. But right now, I am too tired to be amusing, and all of my erudite and philosophical thoughts are going into putting the right words on paper. So rather than searching for any more verbs, I'll leave you with Amanda Palmer's version of the song from which this post takes it's title. It's a pretty accurate reflection of my current state of mind.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Recent reading

A. S. Byatt, The Children's Book. I wanted, so badly, to love this book. Possession is one of my favorite books, one that haunts me even when I haven't read it in a long time. The Children's Book I liked very much, but did not love. It had, I believe, the potential to be great, but was brought down by its own ambitions.

Byatt has an enormous cast of characters, and tries diligently to give each of them a moment on center stage. But what this means is that many of the characters are not fully realized, but rather are simply a name attached to a history and a set of characteristics. Because so few of them become people, it is very difficult to care about them, even when horrific things happen (and they do.) It's a book that deals with a grand geographical and temporal scale, and so Byatt often sums up the passage of history, telling us the events rather than showing them to us through the eyes of the characters. And (I can't believe I, of all people am saying this) if you are going to begin and end a story in medias res, you cannot allow the passage of time to serve as plot.

But what The Children's Book does well it does brilliantly, and that is meditate on the act of telling a story, and the effect that the stories we are told has on us. The connection between life and story is made real and tangible here, and that is a haunting and powerful thing to read, and to consider.

George Mann, The Affinity Bridge. On the other hand, The Affinity Bridge is a book that, based on the description - it has zombies! mad science! steampunk! - I never would have expected to enjoy. But based on the recommendation of a friend, and the shiny, fabulous cover art (art by Viktor Koen, jacket design by Jamie Stafford-Hill). I picked it up, and loved it.

The Affinity Bridge was a great deal of fun to read. The elements that I was wary of (zombies and steampunk) felt organic to the story, not tacked on for added shiny mayhem. And I particularly loved the character of Veronica Hobbes. Mann allows the male characters in the novel to pay service to the conventions of the day, and suggest that, for example, the smoldering ruin of an airship crash is no place for a lady, and then allows Hobbes to competently go about her business. She's great, and I'll read the next book just to see what she does next.

Elizabeth Bear, By the Mountain Bound. This tells the story of the events that precede All the Windwracked Stars (which you will want, so if you don't already have it, just get them both at once. If you do, find your copy now, because you will want to reread it.) Bear's Shakespearian delight in, and facility with, language is well on display in this gorgeous book. It is the story of love, and lies, and the end of a world. Of a Grey Wolf, and a girl in a red cloak. There is sacrifice and faith, magic and poetry. And, as is the case when a story begins with a marriage rather than ending with one, there is tragedy. Bear is one of the most brilliant writers working in speculative fiction, and if you want to understand why, this book is an excellent place to start.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy New Year

The timing of the Celtic New Year has always made more sense to me than the Roman one. This is the point of the year when things change. Night falls faster now. The leaves litter the ground, and the trees are dark skeletons, piercing a cold sky. The air carries with it cold, and a hint of decay. The old year dies, and we can see it.

It is the time of year when boundaries are thin. Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, All Saints' and All Souls' Days are celebrated. We remember our past, and make our promises for the future. The year dies, but it there is beauty in the end of things as much as in their beginning. We mourn our past so that we can look to our future.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An alternate proposal

It's nearly November, which means that it's almost time for NaNoWriMo, that time of year when people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel between 1 and 30 November. Let me be clear from the beginning, and let me say this loudly, so you can all hear me: This post in is no way meant to disparage NaNoWriMo. I'm basically in favor of anything that gets people to exercise their creativity, and to challenge themselves to do something that they would not otherwise consider. NaNoWriMo does both.

And maybe you already have your characters and themes set out, your world built, and your working title in place. You've laid in extra stock of coffee, and downloaded Scrivener. In which case, good luck, and I'll see you on the other side. But if you haven't gotten to that point, I have something else for you to consider.

Apply to Clarion. And take the month of November to write your application stories.

Clarion's application period is opening one month earlier this year, on 1 December. To apply, you need a portfolio containing two short stories, both between 2500-6000 words. It's not quite the endurance test of NaNoWriMo, but writing two complete, polished, short stories in a month is still a challenge. And if you need an endurance test, please believe that the six weeks at Clarion will take care of that for you. Sure, if you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you will get writing advice from brilliant, award-winning authors. Well, take a look at the Clarion faculty. Then think about the fact that not only will they participate in the round-table critique of your work, but you will meet with them for personal conferences.

I can't think of a fun acronym for "I wrote two short stories and applied to a premiere writers' workshop month," and yes, you could certainly do both, in that the application period for Clarion is open until 1 March, 2010. But consider the alternative to writing a novel in November.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writing to know the ending

Yesterday, I had one of those experiences that brought home, yet again, the fact that writers go about the work of writing in vastly different ways.

I, for one, use only a gold-nibbed fountain pen, filled with ink made from freshly crushed pomegranates. I set down my lapidary prose during the hours of dawn and dusk, and scribble my immortal thoughts onto parchment scavenged from the scriptoria of monasteries during the Henrician Iconoclasm.

Or something like that.

A friend mentioned an exercise she had done, in order to get a better understanding of plot. This is an impulse that I share: Plot and I have the sort of relationship where, if we discover we are at the same party, one of us makes excuses to the host and scuttles out the side door. But while I understand and share the desire to have a working relationship with plot, it was the method that knocked me backwards in awe. She made an outline of a novel.

I know there are people who do this, who sit down to write, and make outlines. Who know how many scenes they need to get from one place to the next, who have the story arc firmly in their grasp, and who even know the ending when they begin. I am not one of these people.

I have never known the ending of a story when I began - I'm lucky if I know what happens next, much less what happens 30,000 words later. I write because I want to know what happens next, and if I don't keep writing, I never will. I can't know the ending until I know the characters - where they live, how they speak, and most of all, what they want.

Some days, I think it would be nice to see a clear, well-lit path from beginning to end of story. But for now, I light my lantern against the fog, and pick my way through the rocks, hoping not to fall into a pit, and waiting to meet the dragon.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Previously, on Twitter

Last night, in an effort to help my brain process through a scene, I posted a question on twitter: Gate of Ivory or Gate of Horn? Some responses were more serious than others (and, to be fair, I didn't put the query in context.)

However, either the collected wisdom of twitter, or the pushing the question to the side of my brain worked, and I knew the correct answer. So here, from one of the far too many works in progress, That Sweet Sleep of Death, is the scene, and the answer:

*****

Two gates guard the Temple of Dreams, one carved from ivory, and the other from horn. It's easy to think that the division is illusion and truth, for the stories have it so. Many newcomers to the City of Nyx make that mistake.

But the divide between the gates isn't quite that simple. Rather, dreams of deception pass through the Gate of Ivory and dreams of fulfillment through the Gate of Horn. Never doubt, as you choose which gate to walk through, that there is more to deception than mere illusion, and that more than truth is required for fulfillment.

I am a psychopomp. The dreams in my aegis are the dreams of fulfillment in a very absolute sense of the word. When I go to the Temple on business, the gate I walk through is the Gate of Horn.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maybe crazy is my process

Project Writing Too Many Novels at Once continues apace. And, because you can never have too many notebooks open on your desk, I've added another pass-through on But I Linger On, Dear to flesh out the word count before putting together the query letter for it.

I know. That sounds like what we used to do in high school, and go back through an essay, frantically inserting adjectives and adverbs because it was supposed to be 750 words, not 679. If I'm doing it right, that's not what's going on in this case. My biggest flaw as a writer (that I am aware of, anyway, and for the sake of my sanity, I will ask you not to point out others in the comments) is a tendency to being overly concise. I'm almost always on the low end of a word count when one is assigned. When I was applying to Clarion, I panicked because the stories had to be between 2500 and 4500 words, and "Oh, my God, how was I ever going to write something that long?" The story I sold earlier this year isn't long enough to have been used as one of my application stories.

The reason for this conciseness is that I am often not awesome at getting what is in my head onto the page, at least not on the first pass. My second draft is always longer than my first. So when I say I am going back to flesh out the word count, what I should really say is that I'm going back to make sure that I actually wrote about everything I needed to, and that the level of detail in the story is correct.

And, crazy as it is, the good thing about adding this other project back in to the To Be Done list is that I am actually getting more things done. And the final bits of post-dissertation mush brain seem to have been cleared out of my head. So I will now return to my regularly scheduled insanity.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Well, that was unexpected

Last week I started a short story. Actually, let me clarify: last week I started what was supposed to be a short story. Clever readers that you are, you will have determined from the emphasis in that sentence that something altogether different happened. As I was writing (and writing and writing) I kept thinking "oh! you need to go back and add a lot of detail there!" and "but you already have all these words and you still have so many more you need to write." So, because I'm sure it's a good idea to have three (3) novels in progress at once, last night I finally admitted to myself that the story idea I was working with was a lot longer than a short story. I am pleased (?) to introduce you to (very working title) That Sweet Sleep of Death. It's about onieromancy, and psychopomps and the last dream between life and death, and in-between people and places. It's about living in a city where the dead dream, and dreams walk the streets.

My brain has decided right now that I write at two lengths - flash fiction (under 1000 words) or novel length. In theory, I don't have a problem with this. I like writing flash because the form frees me up to feel like I can experiment with ways to tell a story, but without a huge investment of time if the experiment winds up exploding. And I love the larger playground that the length of a novel gives me. And I'm certainly not complaining about being in the position of having multiple projects that I'm enjoying working on. But it would be nice to find a happy medium in between those two lengths as well.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Mermaid's Madness: A Review

The Little Mermaid has long been one of my favorite faery tales. And yes, I mean the heartbreaking version by Hans Christian Andersen. (Although I will confess that I am a bad feminist, and sort of love the Disney movie, too. Ariel has red hair. No heroines ever have red hair. Well, except for in speculative fiction, when they also then have tattoos and wear leather and sometimes use swords. Yes, I am a Mary Sue character in real life. And... moving on.)

Anyway. Love The Little Mermaid. Love retold faery tales. So I was both excited and apprehensive to hear that the extremely awesome Jim C. Hines was going to use The Little Mermaid as his source story for the follow-up to his novel, The Stepsister Scheme (which I loved, and you can find my review of here.) Excited because I love the source material, and was sure Jim would do a great job. Apprehensive because, well, would it be great enough?

The answer is yes. The Mermaid's Madness is a wonderful book. Jim uses the tragedy and heartbreak in Andersen's original story to great effect, making The Mermaid's Madness a deep and powerful story of love and sacrifice and heartbreak (and not just from where you would expect it) and at the same time providing enough moments of levity and snark to balance the darkness. He's obviously done his research into the underlying mythologies of the characters, but brings this information in with a deft enough hand that you can just enjoy the reading, rather than feeling as if you're being lectured to. And while this is a follow-up, you needn't have read The Stepsister Scheme first to know what's going on. (Although, you should read it at some point, because it is delightful.)

But the thing that made me happiest about reading The Mermaid's Madness was that is was like watching Jim level up as a writer. Don't get me wrong - he's always been talented. But there was something more here, something extra, that just made me want to cheer the whole time I was reading this book. The Mermaid's Madness is a terrific read, and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brasyl: A Review

When I said that I was trying to read more science fiction, I was lucky enough to get recommendations from talented editor, Lou Anders. One of the books that he advocated very passionately for was Brasyl by Ian McDonald. The short version of my reaction to this book is "Wow."

The more specific and longer version begins with the fact that I am droolingly jealous of McDonald's ability with language. I lost track of the number of times that I would stop and read a sentence out loud to better appreciate how perfect it was. McDonald's prose manages to be both rich and precise: detailed, with no superfluous words.

The story is of three Brazils: present, future, and past. It is also the story of the multiverse of layered Brazils, layered worlds, that exist. McDonald's choice to tell his story in a temporal triptych, where the events of the story unfold at the same pace in different times is an example of the form of the story perfectly complimenting the kind of story that is being told. The multiverse is always happening. I also found the ordering of the stories - always present, then future, then past - to be very effective. It was a powerful method of conveying that all events are being influenced by both what comes before and what comes after, that time is a loop, not a line. (This would be the point, yet again, where I mention how jealous I am of McDonald's skill as a writer.)

Brasyl is also full of rich and interesting characters. I was most impressed by Fr. Luis Quinn, a Jesuit in the Brazil of the 18th century. I went to a Jesuit high school, and I've done the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, so I feel like I have a pretty decent grasp, for a laywoman, on the Jesuit psyche. Fr. Quinn is a Jesuit, from his fascination with languages to his continual prayer that God might give him "a task most difficult." Fr. Quinn is also a swordsman, and McDonald nails that detail, too - Quinn sees with a fencer's layered awareness for detail, even before... well, I won't spoil the details, because trust me, you'll want to read them for yourself.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Time, it seems, is out of joint

The seasons are not being very seasonal this year. There were 80 degree temperatures to close out September, and the first snow of winter fell yesterday. Tonight, we are under a winter storm advisory. Unless I have done the time warp again, today is 11 October. This is not right.

One of the things that most makes the weather feel odd to me, is that it has interfered with my reading. Let me explain. There are certain books that carry very strong seasonal associations for me. And every year, since the first time I read it, I reread Sandman in the fall. It is an autumnal sort of book - I mean, one of the trade volumes is called "Season of Mists." I hadn't started yet this year, but I'm thinking that, as weird as it may be to reread "Sleep of the Just" with snow falling, maybe I ought to start tomorrow. At least that will make it feel like fall.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This season of mists

Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the red and gold color of it, like flame, painted across the trees. The ink-slash of branches against a grey November sky. The scents of burning leaves and Bonfire Night, the crisp, mineral smell of the earth, and the dust of leaf-mould. The tastes of apple and caramel and spice and richness. The cold air that flushes cheeks, the certain slant of light that turns a neighborhood street into a cathedral window. The reminder that things end, that beauty is transience, and that we cannot find ourselves in the light unless we walk into the dark.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Books, warm like love

If you are a person who reads, you probably have them: comfort books. The books that you go to when you are sick, or sad, or having a bad day, or just need to be reminded of something better than the current state of affairs. But what is it that makes certain books the ones we turn to for comfort?

My comfort books have changed over time, and some of them were very situationally specific. My Mom gave me Little Women to read when I was sick, and through most of my adolescence, if I was sick enough to stay home from school, I reread that book. My freshmen year of high school, I spent a week in the hospital. On one of his visits, my Dad brought me all of his Tom Clancy books. Military fiction has never been my thing, but I devoured all of those books because having them made me feel loved.

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber is one of my favorite comfort books. I've read it so many times I can't even really articulate why I love it any more, I just give it to people and tell them that it is amazing. It's also one of the few books that has been a comfort to me ever since the first time I read it. (For years, I didn't have a copy because I had given it away when purging my shelves of "childish" books. Thank God for friends whose blogs have enough readers to cause things to be reissued.)

During law school, when I often wondered what, exactly, I was doing there (and also in Minneapolis) and didn't come up with satisfactory answers to either question, I reread Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (particularly the Question Game bit) and E. M. Forster's A Room With a View obsessively. The Stoppard because the tone of it captured my frustration with the legal academy so precisely, and the Forster because it reminded me that there were other possibilities. I still turn to these on the days when things fall apart.

Right now, my comfort books are heavily on the spec fic side - the Harry Potter series, Madeleine L'Engle's work (especially the Time Quartet and The Arm of the Starfish). Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Neil's Neverwhere. Tam Lin and the L'Engle were security blanket books, ones that I took with me to every dorm, every too small apartment, ones that helped me ground myself and remember who I was when I needed to. Harry Potter just makes me happy - for years, my password into the University's computer system was "Expelliarmus!" Jonathan Strange and Neverwhere offer just the right combination of heartbreak, and hope.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fuck censorship

Now that I have your attention....

This week is Banned Books Week. As the American Library Association's lists of frequently challenged titles will tell you, the desire for censorship is alive and well in the United States.

So today, because I can, I want to talk a bit about my favorite constitutional amendment, the first. Here's what it says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble; and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Got that?

Basically, what the first amendment gives us is the right to think, and the right to discuss those thoughts. Censorship takes away that right. At its worst, censorship would take away your right to protest the loss of that right.

Not all speech is full of sunshine and light, happy children, cupcakes, and puppies. Some speech is ugly, cruel, even evil, and some can make us feel all of those things when we see and hear it. But all speech - let me repeat that - all speech deserves legal protection. Because if we want a young man in a courthouse to be able to wear a jacket with "Fuck the Draft" printed on the back, we also have to let the Neo-Nazis march through a neighborhood of Holocaust survivors. The first amendment gives us the right to think.

Book banning is a kind of censorship that I have never, ever understood. Not because I think that books are "just stories" and so not worth the attention. But because I cannot wrap my brain around the level of cowardice and fear it takes to say that ignorance is preferable to knowledge. Nor can I understand the thought that people need to be protected from ideas.

At its heart, censorship is fear, but fear that recognizes the truth: Words are powerful enough to start revolutions, to change the world.

Exercise your constitutional right to think. Read a banned book.

Fuck censorship.




Saturday, September 26, 2009

A variety of beauty

The good news is, that the writing is going well. I've got a good start on two novels - one about tiny, insignificant issues like the consequences of the War in Heaven, and the nature of love (working title, The Language of the Angels) and a YA novel set in a library about the kind of stories we tell ourselves (oddly, no working title as yet.) I have a short story that I think is almost ready, and I'm girding my loins to put together a query letter for the completed novel.

The bad news is, (or at least bad for those of you who enjoy slightly more frequent updates here) is that, what with all the writing power of my brain going into a variety of notebooks, I haven't had good ideas for the blog. So, I will leave you with a couple of things to amuse yourself with until I figure out how to balance writing there with writing here:

Jon Scieszka (who is one of my absolute favorite children's book authors) and a bunch of other really talented people are writing and illustrating an Exquisite Corpse Adventure online, with new episodes posted every two weeks. An exquisite corpse adventure is both more literary and less potentially disgusting than it sounds, and this one looks wonderful.

Then there is the ps22 Chorus. I could listen to these kids sing all day. I'm not even going to try to pick a favorite song of theirs, because every one I have listened to is beautiful. But as beautiful as their singing is, I think my favorite part is watching the expressions on the faces of the kids as they perform. There is so much joy, and freedom, on their faces. The performances remind me of what art can be, and what it should strive for, and why people create.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Baby, remember these names

Over on her blog, the awesome Sarah has put together a list of all of the sales from Clarion 2008. Looking at the list - the amount of people who are on there, the diversity of markets sold to - is an awe-inspiring experience for me. It brings home, yet again, the truth that I am lucky enough to have a talented and hard-working bunch of friends.

And the best thing (especially for you, the reading public) about this list is that it is growing. One of the listed sales was just announced today. And people are even now finishing stories, circulating them for critiques, revising novels. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Slow Connection

I wrote you guys a story. I hope that you like it.

*****

Slow Connection

Nadia knew she was dead when the call didn’t go through.

She had started to suspect that she might be dead earlier in the day when, one by one, all of her internet passwords were rejected. Not being able to update her Facebook status was one thing, but not being able to pay her City of Minneapolis utility bill was another.

Nadia wondered what would happen to her Facebook page, now that she was dead. Maybe her little icon would permanently read, “not available to chat.”

She had tried to call the cable company to report the problem, but her phone refused to connect. It just kept flashing “calling,” without ever ringing through.

That was when she knew. Dead people were the ultimate in dropped calls.

“Can you hear me now?” she asked her empty apartment, giggling in a way that was only slightly hysterical.

Nadia wondered how she died. It must have been a painless way to go, she thought, since it had taken her so long to notice. She looked around her worn studio apartment: it definitely was not Heaven, and was not quite depressing enough to qualify as Hell. Maybe she had become a vampire? It didn’t seem any less likely than anything else.

Nadia walked into her kitchen and peeled a clove of garlic. She had it halfway to her mouth before she stopped. Even when alive, she would have never eaten an entire clove of raw garlic. She set it back on the battered counter, and walked into the bathroom.

Nadia smiled and waved at her fangless reflection. Probably not the bloodsucking undead, then.

Nadia looked behind the shower curtain, checked under the bed, and peered into the closet. No corpse. Maybe she wasn’t dead after all.

But when she tried to pull up her Twitter account, @gothkitty1, she sat there for ages while the status bar told her it was loading. Then a dull, electronic thunk, and the line “page not found.”

Nadia was dead. She was sure of it.

Nadia was a lot less sure about being dead when she was able to order a beer at Liquor Lyle’s. She was able to order five beers, to be precise. She was not, however, able to pay for them. Her credit card being declined and the fact that she didn’t feel in the slightest bit inebriated had her leaning towards “dead” again. The fact that she had to pee so bad that she squatted in the alley after being thrown out of the bar argued for “alive.” Also, mortified.

Nadia stubbed her toe, and cursed. Death was one of those things that was supposed to be a certainty. Whatever this was, certain was no part of it.

The next morning, Nadia woke up covered in dust bunnies and staring at the underside of her bed. She scooted out from underneath, and tried to lie down on the mattress, but passed through as if it were water.

Dead, then. Or at least seriously incorporeal.

Nadia’s ability to interact with the physical world grew worse as the day progressed. As the sun was beginning to set, a taxi ran through her. The driver didn’t react.

Nadia imagined that if someone could have seen what happened, it would have looked like a scene with a ghost in a kids’ cartoon.

That was when the realization finally sunk in that she was gone, lost to her life, her family and friends, the cute guy she always flirted with at the Starbucks. Nadia sat in the middle of Lyndale Avenue and wept.

When she stood again, saw that she had begun to grow transparent. Her left hand was completely invisible, her arm fading out just above the wrist. So she was shocked when an elegant silver-haired woman walked to the middle of the intersection and extended her hand.

Nadia was even more surprised when she was able to grasp the woman’s hand. It was soft, gentle, with a reassuring strength beneath the skin.

Nadia stared into the woman’s eyes as the traffic whirred through them. Some small part of her still clung to the questions of life. How had she died? Why had the transition been so strange?

But those were words that wouldn’t change anything, answers as insubstantial as she was. It was better to ask new questions, rather than seek old answers.

Nadia held the woman’s hand tighter, then turned with her to the horizon. Together, they walked to where the streetlights met the stars.