Thursday, February 28, 2013

That has such people in't

The internet can be a strange place. Every place can be, of course, and maybe I'm wrong to think of the internet as somehow separate. But. Still.

I don't have any alerts set up. Not for my name, not for my stories, not for anything I've been involved with. I don't vanity search. I do, occasionally, read my reviews, but even that tends to be something I'm careful about. I avoid these things because, honestly, I feel like there's some sort of unspoken internet rule that as soon as you set these things up, the universe will slap you - the first review you find will be bad, the first mention will be something hurtful. And I know how I am, and I know how my brain works, and so I know that I am much better off missing the good stuff, if it means that I also miss the bad.

And we hear all the time "don't read the comments" "don't feed the trolls" "avoid the bottom half of the internet." There is, it seems, something in the fact that the interface is a screen, not a face, that allows people to be crueler here than they would be in physical life.

Though, sometimes, we are cruel face to face, too.

I was walking my dog this morning and a man I had never met before blocked my way on the sidewalk. "Your dog looks old," he said. "You should put it to sleep."

I'd like to say that I was tough, that I was a badass, that I said something cutting, and punched him for good measure. But my dear cat died in November, and it has been an awful few months for beloved pets among my friends and family, and so I did not act like a badass. Instead, I grabbed Sam I Am into my arms, and burst into tears.

And then I came inside and told twitter. 

And the internet was collectively awesome.

Maybe it doesn't seem a big deal, to type "hugs" or "I'm sorry" or "that guy was a jerk" in response to someone. But seeing a timeline fill up with collective support, it's kind of great. And in this instance, it was a really clear reminder that, even though there are cruel people in the world, there are also kind ones, that people can act from love, too.

So thank you, to everyone who took a moment to be kind today. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This must be the place

The first time I cried while reading Sarah McCarry's extraordinary debut novel, All Our Pretty Songs, was on page six. It wasn't even at a sad part. It was a small scene, the kind of beat that in the hands of a lesser writer would have barely registered. It was a moment in a friendship, the friendship of the narrator and Aurora, and McCarry's writing made me recognize that moment in a visceral, physical way. I had had that friendship. I had been that girl.

In a way, reading All Our Pretty Songs was, for me, like coming home. Home had turned slantwise and strange, and there were shadows in corners, and voices in hallways that I didn't recognize, but this was a place that I knew. Yet for all of that recognition, for all of the layers of references - and this is a book that is steeped in mythology, both ancient and modern - this was a story that felt fresh. The people living in McCarry's world make their own stories.

I could tell you the easy, elevator pitch version - this is the Orpheus myth, set in the modern Pacific Northwest. And it is that, and very well done indeed. But it is also a book that is deeply about the nature of friendship. It is also a book that is deeply about the nature of art, and the sacrifices that are necessary to make art, and how those sacrifices, those choices, have ripples that push out from the moment the choice is made. McCarry's language is wonderful - precise and evocative. She conjures place and character so strongly I would only have been a little surprised had the pages actually bled.

There are books that you come across sometimes that you recognize as friends, that you feel like were written just for you. All Our Pretty Songs is one of those books for me. I already want to reread it. It's the sort of book I will buy multiple copies of, and press upon my friends. It's incredibly powerful, and somehow, it is home.

All Our Pretty Songs will be out in July. You can pre-order it here, and I strongly suggest that you do.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oz Reimagined out today!

I am very excited that Oz Reimagined, a fabulous anthology edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, is out today. As you may have guessed from my excitement, I have a story in it. It's called "A Tornado of Dorothys," and it is clearly the most awesome title I have ever come up with. I only hope the story is worthy of it.

The anthology is full of amazing writers and beautifully illustrated by Galen Dara. I'm thrilled to be part of this project.

Here is a link to all of the places where you can buy Oz Reimagined, should you be so moved. You can also buy "A Tornado of Dorothys" as a kindle single, if that's your preference. The site that I linked to also has all sorts of interesting things, like interviews with all of us, so you can spend lots of time in our versions of Oz.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Paper hearts and glitter glue

Valentine's Day was hard for me when I was a kid. I was awkward and shy. I was no good at kickball and too good at reading. If it wasn't a year where the teacher made people bring Valentine's for everyone, I usually got, like, three. And if we had to bring Valentines for everyone, I got the ones that were unsigned. No special conversation hearts from secret admirers, no handmade cards exploding in paper lace and glitter.

And I wanted them. With all the yearning in my heart, I wanted, so badly, just one year, to have that Valentine that told me I was special. To not go home with yet another reminder that I was me.

High school was easier. I had friends. There were no great and public Valentine exchanges, so there wasn't the obvious stigma of the empty decorated mailbox that said you weren't worthy of love. We could send carnations to people, to be delivered in class. I never got one from that person, whoever that person was that year, but you know what? The only time I was ever brave enough to send one to that person, I wasn't brave enough to actually sign my name. 

When we put that much weight on it, saying "I love you" can be so very hard.

Saint Valentine is the patron saint of, among other things, beekeepers. This seems so very right to me, especially on this day that ought to be beautiful, and often hurts. Love is honey, and love is sting.

Valentine's Day is, of course, a day that, in its worst forms, has very little to do with love. It is full of trappings and things, of requirements that take the place of feelings. But in its best form, it is a day where love is celebrated, and there is beauty in that. Of course love shouldn't be celebrated only once a year. Of course a fancy meal or expensive flowers shouldn't take the place of kindness, of support, of things that actually speak love. Giving those things, in the expectation that they will be rewarded with an act of complicated lingerie is not, in fact, love.

But perhaps we need a day where we have permission to send that secret carnation, even if we aren't brave enough to sign our names on it. Perhaps we need a day that allows us to revel in the excess of love in all of its forms.

Because life can be hard, and life can be lonely, and love is fucking amazing. I don't just mean the kind of love that leads to hot sex, though that kind is great, too. I mean all the kinds of love - the kind words and outstretched hands. The moments where we say to other people, "you are not alone here because I stand with you." The love of a friend who always picks up the phone. The love inherent in seeing someone and knowing them. The love of just because, of shared laughter, of dancing to the same favorite song. 

And so: I love you, I love you, I love you.

You.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How to make words

I finished a book last week. Finished writing the scenes and making all the changes and finding the proper quotes for the epigraphs on Friday, and then spent the weekend hunched like a gargoyle over my computer typing everything up so I could send the file to my agent and betas. Even a week out, I don't hate it, don't want to scrub the file from everyone's computer and light the manuscript pages on fire, which is pretty much a victory. And early feedback gives me hope that I did what I wanted to do with the writing.

The thing about writing a book, at least if you're me, is that the story takes up a lot of space in your head. (My head. Let's see if I can switch to first person here. That may not actually happen - during a phone call with my agent this week, there was a point where I said, "Look, I can't make words.") The story took up a lot of space in my head. For about the last six weeks of writing, I couldn't work on any other new fiction, couldn't even think about new stories.

When I finished writing, my head felt empty. I couldn't make words.

Whenever I finish a project, I always have a certain amount of fear that I'm really done. Not just done with that story, but all the way done. Like maybe we are all allocated a certain amount of stories, and I've just used all of mine up. Usually, I work on multiple projects at once, and a side benefit of that is that I have something in progress when I've finished something else, and so that keeps the voice that says "okay, you're finished" from getting louder than a whisper.

I get uncomfortable when I'm not working. I don't necessarily mean when I'm not actively writing, but I like having stories in the back of my head. 

There are seventeen books stacked next to my desk right now, research that I did for the book I just finished. And these are just the seventeen that got used a lot. I could probably pull that many again off the shelves in my apartment. I had barely been putting anything else into my head. It's no wonder that when I finished writing, there was nothing else in there to come out.

So I'm trying to rebuild the part of my brain that writes stories. I am reading poetry, and complicated prose, so I can remember how to write a world into being. I am reading nonfiction - on music, and on cities, and on creation - so I find the small bits of strangeness and spaces between that are the beginnings of stories. I am looking at photography and listening to music so that I can pick the art apart in my head, and put it back together on the page.

I am remembering how to make words.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Clarion: an annual reminder

In 2008, I attended the Clarion Writers' Workshop at UCSD. Clarion is an intensive six week writing program, taught by professional writers. It remains the best thing I've ever done for myself as a writer, both because of what I learned while I was there, and because attending made me take my writing seriously.

Three of my instructors are teaching again this year: Nalo Hopkinson and Kelly Link are at Clarion, and Neil Gaiman is at Clarion West. All three are not only brilliant writers, but also fabulous people, and the instructor line-up at both places is phenomenal. And it's not like the instructors only show up during class - they live in the same place, they are with you the week that they are there.

So yes, I think if you are a writer, you should go. And yes, I know there are hesitations about attending - the two biggest that I've heard being that attending is a big investment of time and money. First, if your hesitation is financial, there are scholarships. It is also a program that I believe is worth planning for - maybe you can't afford the time or money this year, but if you want to go, plan in advance, and apply next year, or the year after. There will always be wonderful instructors.

Time is harder for me to help you with. I get that most adults do not get summer vacations. I gave up a teaching job to attend, and it was terrifying. But if writing really matters to you, and you are trying to discover whether you can do it seriously, whether you can take the raw talent you have and turn it into something recognizable, don't let the time be the thing that scares you away. Push yourself toward the thing that you want. Give yourself the gift of taking yourself seriously.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Remixing Shakespeare

It's not a secret that I love Shakespeare. He's on every list of my writerly influences. His words are written on my skin. So I was delighted when Lynne M. Thomas, the editor of Apex Magazine, asked me if I'd like to contribute a piece to the Shakespeare special issue

I thought for a bit about what play to use as a starting point - maybe The Tempest, which is my favorite. Perhaps The Winter's Tale, which has all sorts of lovely dark corners to play in. But as I was flipping through pages of plays, I came across a bookmark in Romeo and Juliet, saving the place of one of my favorite speeches, Juliet's lines that open scene ii of Act III. When I got to this part:

Give me my Romeo; and when I shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night

I knew exactly what I was writing. My story is called "The Face of Heaven So Fine." I had a great time writing it, and I'm thrilled that it's part of this issue. I hope you like it.