Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Cultural Differences

I’m used to sitting in coffee shops and restaurants in Silicon Valley overhearing conversations about technology. Today I was eating lunch in New York and the guys next to me were talking about technology, and something was a little different about it, so I spent my lunch (which they talked the whole way through) thinking about it. I came up with this: the guys in New York were talking as pure end users. I don’t think there are a lot of those in Silicon Valley, or even in the greater SF Bay Area. What theater is to New York and movies are to L.A., technology is to the Bay. A conversation about OneNote in the Bay Area would’ve started with a discussion of the more esoteric features, followed either by a talk about the finances of the company or by some small startup that was going to eat their lunch because it does one feature better. Or possibly they would compare OneNote to some previous software or competitor, longing wistfully for the days when said software did everything so easily. The point is, in the Bay, technology is a culture.

In New York, not to overgeneralize based on one conversation (certainly there are a lot of technology offices in NYC), technology is a tool. They talked about OneNote versus Dropbox versus iCloud versus Google Drive (SugarSync was not mentioned) the way you might talk about different cars. One guy asked, “Why do you use OneNote instead of MS Word?” and the other had to explain that it wasn’t a way to create documents but to store stuff. They talked about how each of those things kind of lives with its own application–the one guy had trouble saving stuff from Gmail to OneNote, for instance. *

(*Also: the one guy said “Microsoft 365 is pretty good” and the other guy totally listened to him, which would be enough on its own to place the conversation outside the Bay Area.)

I don’t want this to come off as “New Yorkers are stupid about technology,” because that’s absolutely not true. The two guys knew what all the technology did. They were struggling to find ways to make it all work for them. The reason this is interesting is because I think a lot of the time, Bay Area people forget that not everyone knows what their software does, or can understand it from a single ad. They come at it from the perspective of their immersion in technology–what do you mean, you don’t know the difference between Google Chat and Google Hangout??–and often in trying to make their software easier, they omit to make it intelligible.

None of this is new. It’s been documented before by people much more savvy and well-traveled than me. But from a writing perspective, it was an interesting reminder to think about cultural perspectives when you’re creating cities and civilizations. Not everyone even in the same country has the same backgrounds. 

 

Writer Blog Hop, One Hop Along

Take a look at Rebecca Adams Wright’s answers to the Writers Blog Hop questions! She does a great job of explaining what she writes and why.

LonCon 3 Schedule

I’m leaving for LonCon in, uh, three days. If you’re going to be there, here’s where you can find me:

Kaleidoscope Book Launch, Friday 13:30-14:30, Book Launch section of the Library in the Fan Village. Come help me and the authors and editors of “Kaleidoscope” celebrate the release of our diverse YA anthology. I’m really excited to be part of this and there’ll be a bunch of cool people there!

Panel: The Problem With Making a Living Writing F&SF, Friday 19:00-20:00, Capital Suite 4. Me and three other authors talk about whether F&SF is too much of a niche for most people to make a living in.

Panel: Furry Fandom: It’s Not What You Think, Saturday 18:00-19:00, Capital Suite 15. MikePaws, me, Huskyteer, foozzzball, and other furries talk about the fandom. There may be some costumes there!

Panel: Queer Desires In Fandom, Sunday 16:30-18:00, Capital Suite 13. I join some other authors to talk about why different fandoms create slash fic, video, and other transformative creations featuring alternative sexualities, different genders, different relationships, and so on.

Otherwise I’ll be around, and hopefully I’ll have a data plan so I can tweet where I’m hanging out. We’re getting in Thursday and will be taking off Monday morning for our trip to France and thence on to Berlin. I’m looking forward to it!

Writers’ Blog Hop!

I was asked by Dominick D’Aunno, a colleague of mine from the novel workshop earlier this year, to participate in a Writer’s Blog Hop, wherein I answer four questions and then tag two other writers to answer the same questions. Dominick has answered those questions and now it’s my turn.

What am I working on?

A bunch of things. My most immediately current project is a novel called “Black Angel,” the third in a series I’m writing under an alias (I use this alias for more mature work usually; the reason for using it for this series, which is YA, is complicated). The story takes place in a furry world (shorthand: think Disney’s “Robin Hood” where all the people are animal-people) and the protagonist is Meg, a nineteen-year-old otter girl whose friends have had supernatural experiences (in the previous two books of which they were the main characters) which she insists were not supernatural. In “Black Angel” we see her struggle with her own supernatural experience as well as her sexuality and we find out the reason she insists on remaining so grounded in the real world.

I’m also working on a fantasy novel that has been sticking with me for about four years at this point? Five? I think in the novel workshop I attended this summer I figured out what was wrong with the latest draft, if not how to fix it, but knowing how to find out how to fix it is an important step. This one is an alternate history set in 1815. The world is much as we know it, except that there’s magic, and among the effects it’s had are: the American Revolution has not happened, Spain has remained a world power, China is considered a world power, and a mage named Calatus created animal-people (now called Calatians) four hundred years ago without telling anyone how or why. Our hero, a fox-person named Kip, is the first Calatian to attend a sorcerer’s college, and book 1 details his challenges in gaining acceptance and solving the mysteries of the college.

Then I’ve got a novelette going for submission to an anthology and a novella due to be released later this year. On top of that, I have a novel to edit for release early in 2016 and I want to get some short stories out. I may have forgotten a few other things…

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Depends which genre you’re talking about! I write about furries a lot, so that’s a big difference from the mainstream F/SF crowd (and just about any crowd outside the furry fandom). I just really like the concept of exploring what you are when it’s different from human, and I like the animal aesthetic, so it’s a natural fit. It also works well with the other major element of my work, which is gay relationships. Using characters with non-human backgrounds but human personalities in a human world lets me focus on the interactions between those characters rather than the cultures of where they come from. I know that culture is an important part of people’s lives, but I like being able to make that up, because then I don’t offend anyone and I can worry about “what happens when you love someone you’re not supposed to,” which comes up a lot.

I guess another way my fiction differs from F/SF is that I’m not after the “big world-changing thing” that SF loves, and I’m not sold on secondary fantasy worlds (though I have dabbled in them). I like writing about real people with real problems and I put a lot of my creative energy into my characters. One of the best compliments I get is when people tell me they feel like my characters are real, that they want to yell at them and slap them and hug them. Then I feel like I’ve created a real story.

Why do I write what I do?

I write animal-people cause I like the aesthetic, and for the reasons I sort of explained above. I write about gay relationships because I’m in one and many of my friends are in or have been in one, and because there aren’t nearly enough stories about them, and because the progression of how gay people are viewed in this country and in the world over my lifetime is a really fascinating story.

How does my writing process work?

I write full time, supported largely by my alias, but unlike many full-time writers, I keep a largely office-hours schedule. I get up with my husband and try to be at the computer at 9 or 9:30. I write for most of the morning and take a break for lunch. In the afternoon, I work on secondary projects (this week my secondary project is researching and outlining a comic script I’m working on with a friend) and tackle e-mails and other business matters associated with being a full time writer.

When I write a novel, I write the first draft and then let it sit for a month or more–sometimes as long as a year. Then I pull it out and do my own edit on it to fix big structural and character problems. The next step is to pass it out to my writing group and give them a couple months to read it and give feedback. I do another pass with their feedback and then usually have a second round of readers to go through it. After another edit, it goes off to the publisher for edits and then I do a final pass where I read the WHOLE THING aloud to catch mistakes, and then it goes off to be printed. Then I wait for the first person to e-mail me and tell me what typo they’ve found.

Next Hop!

You will see answers to these questions on the blogs of two very talented writers. First, Rebecca Adams Wright, a Clarion classmate of mine with a lot of talent and a penchant for writing about sharks and bees and alien parasites, among other things. I particularly like her story “Yuri, in a Blue Dress,” if you are unfamiliar with her work and would like a place to start. She will post her answers at http://www.radamswright.com .

Rebecca Adams Wright is a 2011 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and a former University of Michigan Zell Writing Fellow. She has an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan and has won the Leonard and Eileen Newman Writing Prize, So to Speak magazine’s 2009 fiction contest, and a late-night Emily Dickinson poetry challenge. She is a former slush reader for Clarkesworld magazine.

Rebecca’s stories have appeared in Day One, The Account, and Daily Science Fiction and her nonfiction has appeared in Children’s Literature in Education. Her short story collection, The Thing About Great White Sharks and Other Stories, will be released by Little A in February, 2015. Rebecca lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with her husband and daughter.

Second, you’ll see the answers from Ryan Campbell. Ryan has been in a writing group with me for over half a decade and is the author of the wonderful novel “God of Clay“. He has just returned from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and will post his answers at lunchmuse.blogspot.com.

Clarion Write-A-Thon Wrapping Up

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve reached my goal of 50,000 words for the Write-A-Thon (even if I haven’t quite updated my page yet). You still have two days to offer some support by way of congratulations, I guess–I doubt I will be adding much as I have just finished a conbook story that was due this morning and I have to spend the rest of the day writing a wedding I’m going to be performing tomorrow (it is a very small legal ceremony so not complicated). But the book will continue and it would be great to help out the Clarion Foundation a little more.

And more Bond posts are coming up. Only five to go! Also I will be posting next week about my WorldCon schedule, which includes a launch event for “Kaleidoscope,” the Diversity in YA anthology I’m published in. Busy summer! Hope to see some of you guys in London. :)

Clarion Write-A-Thon Week 4

I’m still working on my Clarion Write-A-Thon, with a goal of 50,000 words. We’ve just passed the halfway point and I’m 3/4 done with my goal, so I think I’m in good shape even with the coming ten days away from home for Comic-Con.

(By the way: I’ll be at Comic-con! If you’re going, stop by the Sofawolf Press booth at #1236 in the Webcomics section and say hi!)

So far I have not done a great job getting donations or pledges. I have $100, which isn’t bad, but I’d like to get more. So here’s the deal. I’ll post an excerpt of what I’ve been working on today. Every additional $50 in pledges, I’ll post another one.

Head on over and check out the excerpt, and if you like it, please pledge a bit!

Six: Nobody Does It Better

6. Nobody Does It Better, Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me). The first and best of the “Bond is an amazing lover” themes. Not is it a great ballad that absolutely works with the movie, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager also included the awkward title of the movie in the song lyrics: “That was one of the things they said, ‘where’s the title [of the film]?’ So I kinda just poked it in part of the verse: like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight. When I was writing the song, I was thinking I was writing a love song to James Bond.” She was, and nobody has done it better.

Fiction: Nobody Does It Better

(Note: I am borrowing here from Kyell Gold’s furry superhero universe chronicled in “In the Doghouse of Justice,” which features mature stories about a league of canid superheroes. Kyell is cool with this.)

So you’re an African Wild Dog who at the age of fifteen discovered that when he wanted someone to do something really badly, that person would do what he wanted.
You were an unremarkable pup up to that point: smart enough to keep advancing in school, athletic enough to play football. Your mom might have been a tour guide through the nearby jungle for rich first-worlders on safari, or she might have been a clerk for one of your town’s legal companies; you never really told anyone because it wasn’t important. Your father had been a big game hunter or maybe a soldier, but had given it up the day he’d sighted down his rifle and realized he was no longer willing to end a life. They raised you and your brothers and sister to be kind, to be generous, to stand up for yourselves without knocking down anyone else, as your mother said often.
As you explored this new ability, you found that there were limits. You couldn’t make someone a different person. You couldn’t, for example, tell the bully who beat up your younger brother to befriend him. That maneless lion did put his arm around your brother, true, but five minutes after you walked away your brother wailed for you and the lion was punching him again.
You couldn’t sustain this coercion longer than you could concentrate on it.
You could affect what people thought they saw and heard. This came in handy when your best friend Ogano saw you make your classmate put back the Fanta he’d stolen and forget he’d taken it; Ogano shook all over and said, “Demon!” and you had to tell him that he’d only seen the buffalo kid reach for the Fanta and then think better of it and then you’d both gone outside.
It became complicated and so you used your power almost not at all by the time you were eighteen, but you always wondered what good you might do with it. So you applied to the superhero league you read about in the paper. They sent an escort to bring you to their headquarters, which looked nothing like the comic books (much more starkly steel and brick), and they gave you a series of tests, some on paper, some using your ability.
In the end, you were accepted, and though you were nervous the first time you went on a mission, you told the criminal to drop her weapon, and she did, and WonderWolf said afterwards that he’d never seen a mission go so smoothly, and you were hanging out with WonderWolf and Psycho Coyote and you even met Crypto and it all seemed like a dream.
The first profiles of you began appearing in the newsfeeds. You were interviewed, every reporter bringing along a portable camera, every reporter making the joke, “You can’t make the camera write something nice about you.” You smiled and chuckled politely every time even though the joke hurt. You wouldn’t ever make someone write anything about you. They could write what they wanted.
And all of them said similar things. “Nicest superhero we’ve ever met.” “If you were going to pick anyone you know to be entrusted with this power, it would be Coercion Dog.”
(You don’t like that name, but the League’s PR person came up with it. You wanted to be called Hilali because that’s your name.)
Not all the missions went well; when you couldn’t get close to the target, your power didn’t work. But Crypto was good at assigning you to the right spot, and your first evaluation came back glowing. You bought your parents a new house, your eldest brother a car.
In your second year, new articles started appearing. “What Drives Coercion Dog?” one journal wrote. WonderWolf was motivated to save this planet as he couldn’t save his home world. Glace’s mother had served twenty years on the police and had instilled in her daughter a devotion to law and order. Sim felt the suffering of others and had to remedy it; Scope would be driven crazy by her overloaded senses without the League’s gadgetry. And so on, and so on. But Coercion Dog was just a nice guy from the third world. The journal wondered openly what secrets you were hiding.
Your League’s PR person told you not to worry, that it would all go away. But then one of the religious groups you hadn’t paid attention to, one that had lauded your inclusion into the league, found that your religion didn’t match theirs. Overnight, your “enactment of God’s will” became “a dangerous power.” They asked people whether they wanted a hero who could reach into their mind and make them do anything—anything at all.
Your record, you hoped, would speak for itself. But you were the subject of a parody website article jokingly Photoshopping you into the background of the President’s office during a foreign policy fiasco. More than one site picked up the photo—but not the “parody” designation. The articles grew angrier, the shouts louder.
“A lie can travel round the world before the truth gets out the door,” the league PR person said, as though that was meant to comfort you.
Your ordinary background became a target, as though no superhero could be so unrelentingly nice without a trauma behind him. None of the league’s application forms had a spot for “terrible childhood event that shaped you into a hero,” but that was the narrative, and because you didn’t fit, you were assumed to be hiding something. Your teammates told you not to read the articles, but they bombarded your life: in e-mail, in social media, anywhere you tried to read the Internet, and you couldn’t stop looking at what people said. You wanted them to like you, and every time someone didn’t, it seized your heart with a grip like a crocodile’s teeth.
It wasn’t the wild accusations that bothered you. It was that people wanted to believe that you weren’t as good as you claimed.
And then you slipped. You were doing an interview after a successful mission. The reporter was hostile, asking whether you controlled your teammates, asking whether you humiliated the criminal when you controlled him, asking another question about your background and your parents and the town where you grew up and you couldn’t help it, you wanted so badly for him to believe you that you felt the snap of your power. The reporter stopped asking questions and said, “Of course I believe you. You’re just a good guy, that’s all.”
It looked terrible on camera. The PR person bared her teeth and said she could spin it, but you knew in your heart it was too late. “Let me resign,” you told her, and she couldn’t stop you from signing the contracts and leaving.
People leave you alone now, because you tell them to. You don’t read anything on the Internet anymore. You live on the upper floor of your parents’ new house and you look out over the town.
Sometimes, when you can, you set things in the town right. You don’t know why you still want to do it, but you can’t make yourself stop.

Clarion Write-A-Thon, week 2

I’ve gotten through the first week of the Clarion Write-A-Thon and I think it was pretty successful. I wrote about 20,000 words of my 50,000 word goal, which might make you say, “Hey, your goal is way too low,” and yeah, if I were going to be at home this entire six weeks, I would’ve made it higher. But I leave Wednesday for AnthroCon in Pittsburgh, and a week or so after I get back from that I go off for a week at ComicCon in San Diego, so I’ve built in a lot of prep and travel time.

Anyway, if you can spare $10 or even $5, I’d really appreciate it. I’m at $100 pledged and donated now, and when I get to $150 I will post an excerpt of what I’ve been working on. I’m excited at how this book is going and if you saw and liked “Red Devil” when I posted excerpts from it a couple years ago, you’ll enjoy this sequel to it.

Meanwhile, I will post one more Bond entry before I go, and I will keep posting them, dammit.

Clarion Write-A-Thon

It’s that time of year again, and I’m signing up to write fifty thousand words over the next six weeks. If you want to encourage me, or just help out some deserving aspiring writers, please check out my page and pledge or donate. I’ll be working on “Black Angel,” the novel I just workshopped at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s novel workshop earlier this month.

One of my good friends, the very talented Ryan Campbell, is attending Clarion this year and it makes me glad to think that money I raised in previous years has helped him and his classmates have a great experience this summer.

Challenges this year: somewhat less than last year, when I attended three conventions and was away from home for about half of the six weeks and still hit my word count goal. I’ll be attending AnthroCon again over July 4 weekend in Pittsburgh, then home for a bit, then down to Comic-Con. I don’t leave home again until after the Write-A-Thon is over, when I’ll be flying to England for LonCon (I’m on two panels there; more about that as it approaches). I should be able to knock out fifty thousand words over the rest of the time, with some help from plane flights and so on.

And I know I have slacked off on the James Bond shorts. I will get to them, I promise!

Workshopping

Well, I failed to get to number one in the Bond songs, pretty spectacularly at that. I’m now in Kansas at the James Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, with seven other workshoppers and Kij Johnson and Barbara Webb at Kij’s novel workshop. It’s been very instructive after only one day, and today we jump into actually workshopping people’s novels. I go Thursday and am already rethinking my novel outline, although I haven’t yet gotten to the point of rewriting it.

Kansas is beautiful, also hot and humid. The people here are lovely and I am having a blast talking about writing.

More Bond flash fics when I get back in a couple weeks.

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