Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Busy (10.22.14)

There's been a long silence here. Between this time last month and now, there's been a lot of real life chaos that has made updating the blog a minor priority.

Good news: Things are finally settling down somewhat. 
And, I'm nearly finished with the Super-Secret Project I've been working on. This means I'll have finished two new books this year and I'm set to start a third in November. (Space Opera of appropriately epic proportions and emotional complexity that I'm still trying to wrap my head around.)

AND, The Beast Within 4: Gears and Growls is scheduled to come out on October 31st. Just in time for Halloween. And check out this amazing cover! 

This anthology not only contains stories by Ken Liu and Folly Blaine, but also my own - Legacy. It's a dark little thing full of weird tech, skin-changers and voodoo. I'm so excited it's finally going to be available; links to buy will go up once they're live. 

In the meantime, more words are on the horizon. As always.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Packing (9.23.14)

Today I started digging into the packing up of All The Things. (There was a little panic involved. Because reasons. Actually, because there are only seven days left in the month and any negotiation about our current living situation has been curtailed.)

Some of the things I started packing was my small collection of books. And looking at the things I have held onto made me think about what an impact those books have had on me. Books that make me sigh or smile or ache when I find them in the big tubby in the closet. (I grew up in a house with a shit-ton of books, but current living situation doesn't allow me to collect without limits and even those I can keep are in storage conditions.)

There was/is a meme going around about the 10 books you've read that stuck with you.
This is not that.
Because reasons. (Ahem. No one tagged me and I don't know how many books are going to be on this list or even if I can tell you why.)

But here are some of what I have chosen to keep. In no particular order.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I actually have three Bradbury books - Something Wicked, From the Dust Returned and Somewhere A Band is Playing. I've read a lot more of his short stories and novels, but these are the three I love so much that they have to stay in my collection.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It is an amazing book in which everything and absolutely nothing happens in the space of 24 hours. 

The Trial Begins by Abram Tertz/Andrei Sinyavsky. I do not remember exactly how I found this book, but the short novel that makes up the first half is lovely and surreal. 

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. Classic. I love the style of it. It's also the only one of his novels I've actually read. 

Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith/Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger. Another book I love for the style of the words on the page. 

Julius Ceaser by William Shakespeare. Because Shakespeare. 

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney. It's pretty fantastic. I read Heaney in college for a class. Also read some other translations of Beowulf before, but this one is just fantastic. 

The Children of Men by P.D. James. This one makes me hurt to read it, but I love it anyway. 

There are others, but these are the ones that I dust off before putting them in a new box and promise myself I'll read them again soon. Soon. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nerves (9.21.14)

I have an old neck injury that sometimes causes problems. What with RL stress this year, it's been flaring up with a vengeance. The past few weeks I've had pinched-nerve headaches every day. (Not always all day, but for several hours out of every day and some days the pain never stopped.) This morning it got really bad - nausea, tingling on the left side of my face, sparkles in my vision - it wasn't fun. Fortunately, because I know more or less where the problem is, I was able to do some careful stretching and take some aspirin (because I have heavier stuff, but it knocks me on my ass) and eventually get to a point where I could move around without feeling like I would puke all over everything.

Now, feeling a little wobbly and exhausted, I'm trying to catch up on All The Things.

This week I've been working on a super-secret project. AKA: Something written under a different pen name. There are reasons. The primary one being a higher percentage of scenes in which the characters get naked than in what I've written before.

I don't censor myself much so the stories I write which have sex (or violence or swearing or trolls or housecats, etc) can be no-holds barred. This doesn't mean that every novel I write will have rampant sex (or violence or swearing or trolls or housecats, etc). I write what's necessary for the story. Sometimes that's a character winding up partially paralyzed. Sometimes it's a pair of characters getting naked repeatedly.

Anyway. I got a fair chunk written on this super-secret thing and I really like it. It's not likely to be a novel, but should be a solid little novella by the time I get the last 5-6 scenes written.

But, the really interesting thing, is finding that disassociating myself from the content a little does seem to let my imagination run a little further. I am not second-guessing the plot nearly as much as usual. Maybe it's just a better plot. (It involves zombies. Out west. I doubt it's a better plot, but you never know.) I suspect, that knowing that my "real name" won't be on the cover has let me write with less criticism.

And that's interesting. Because, like I said before, I don't censor much. I do maintain a general awareness of the marketability of a story. When in doubt I might ask for second opinions on whether it's going too far. (When I was writing "Legacy" for the upcoming The Beast Within 4: Gears and Growls I emailed the editor to say "Hey. I think one of my characters is going to eat a piece of one of the other characters. Is that going to be too much?") But I try not to cut my creativity off at the knees by deciding ahead of time that I shouldn't write something.

I mean, within reason. A splatter-punk book featuring all the people in my life I feel have done wrong by me is a bad idea.

And it's safe to say I've written a few bad stories. Ideas that just didn't work on the page or wound up being some sort of message-driven wankery. (You know we all get that way sometimes, but those stories are best shelved, trunked or burned with fire.) But I try really hard to put everything down on the paper and then decide where the bones of a story lie and what's just fat.

But I still worry about certain things. I hesitate to confirm choices I know are right for the character. (Does anyone really need to know this character is gay? Is this character really that desperate?) I gloss over flaws or emotionally wrenching scenes because deep down I worry that it will be too much. And also because I worry that my word skillz (yes, with a zee) are just not up to the task.

Removing myself a step from the equation seems to have alleviated some of that fear. It could be temporary. Or a side-effect of the stress. Or maybe it's just the beginning of a growth spurt wherein I realize that I'm not writing for people who will judge me for what I choose to put down on the page, but for those who will appreciate the grit that comes with the territory of telling a story that feels real. And more naked scenes.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Newly Available! (9.15.14)

Things have been busy around here. I've been working on two different projects for the other pen name and gearing up to start releasing my previously published work in ebook format.

The Collections Agent is available now from Kobo. (You can also purchase it from Inktera, iBooks or Or read it via Scribd.) If you like it (or if you hate it) you can always rate it or leave a review over at Goodreads.

In the Cool of the Day will be available tomorrow from Kobo. (It will also be available from Inktera, iBooks or, and Scribd, once the files are approved.) 

You can look for individual editions of Insomnia and Happy After All to be released in a month or so. I am planning a single volume collection (that would also include things too short to make good individual ebooks and possibly a few unpublished things), but I have no specific timeline on that release.

In the meantime, I'm writing writing writing in between being busybusybusy. As usual.

Happy Monday! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stories (Writing Update 8.14.14)

So, there is always a lot of horrible news to be found in the world on any given day, but sometimes it feels like there is an extra helping of suckage in very short order. It is on those days that I feel most helpless and worthless. It is on those days the I wonder at the value of telling stories.

But today, while feeling heartsick about the recent loss of people who inspired others (both famous and unknown) and the horrible and senseless violence being perpetrated in my own country and in others, I remembered this quote from G.K. Chesterton: Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

Yesterday I started to work on the first draft of a novel I've been mulling over for a couple of years. It has a 16 year old protagonist, is set in a vaguely contemporary world, and (at least for now) lacks the normal flair for romance that I normally have. For those, and many other reasons, I'm not certain I will be able to produce anything worthwhile with this book. (It has a hell-gate complete with motorcycle gang-like semi-possessed, virgin sacrificing villains. And a grandmother who turned a young girl into a cat in a fit of senility and now is trapped in ghost-pig form until her granddaughter can find the girl and reverse the spell. And white knights, a protagonist obsessed with the study of serial killers and the folks who protect the rest of humanity from them, and a house that is semi-sentient.) 

But, already, I see ideas about the need to use power once it's discovered, and the politics of family and society, and fighting for what is right and not just what is comfortable and convenient. And I remember what Chesterton said and I think that there must be value in reminding the world, in reminding myself that dragons can be killed. 

The world and life are difficult and dark. Some days more than others. But we can (and should) still speak out, stand up, and, sometimes even, fight those things that are dark and horrible and difficult. 

So today I'm writing a story about a dragon slayer who worries she might be as bad as the monster she's trying to end and reminding myself that it is not who or what we are that matters. It is what we do. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression, Lies (and Addiction*)

Yesterday evening I heard that Robin Williams was dead, reportedly from a successful suicide attempt. A lot of other people had heard too and my Twitter feed was full of comments and expressions of sympathy. Many people said many wise things, but one stuck with me. It said: Depression lies.

I have been fortunate. In the 35 years I've been alive, I've only had serious depression three times.
First, my last semester of my sophomore year in college.
Second, my last semester of my senior year in college.
Third, during and following my mother's struggle with metastatic melanoma.

Increased mindfulness, the recognition of stress as a key trigger, and a better relationship with food and sleep (as in making sure I get the right amounts of each at regular intervals) have drastically reduced my tendency toward depression. But I've been in deep and I know that it's always there, waiting for the opportunity to sink its teeth in once more. And that's a scary and bewildering thing because sometimes I don't know why I get depressed.

However, one thing I can say for certain is that depression lies.
Don't confuse this with: depression is a lie. (More about this in a moment.)
The black hole-in-my-chest, white noise buzz that cuts you off from the folks around you, even when you're sitting right next to them? That's very real.
The overwhelming urge to sleep because anything and everything else is too hard? The feeling that even the thought of doing anything (including pushing the covers back) is exhausting? That's real.

But the things depression whispers to you, the thoughts it feeds into that crushing void, those are lies.

Here are some of the lies depression has told me.

That I'm a horrible person.
That ultimately I just push people away.
That wanting to be happy is selfish and greedy.
That I'm stupid.
That I'm unattractive.
That I'm lazy.
That my goals are silly and meaningless. (Really, you want to write novels and there are people out there dying of Ebola?)
That I'm worthless.
That I'm awkward and talk funny and too fast.
That I have no sense of humor.
That I'm not compassionate.
That I'm arrogant.
And, this is the big lie that is the deeper lie beneath all the others, that this feeling and hopelessness is all my fault.

Of the three times I've been seriously depressed, the first time was the worst. There's some part of me that would like to say that's because I've gotten better at handling things. (Mindfulness, being aware of stress, eating right, etc. All good things. All things that help manage the tendency. But they are just tools, not a "cure" or overall solution.) But it's not just that I'm more aware now of the things that can trigger depressive episodes or that I've gotten better at "coping". The reason the first time was the worst was because I lacked a support system.

Don't get me wrong, I had some good friends who were trying to help as best they knew how. I had parents who would have done more if I had told them just how hard I was struggling. (Which I didn't because I was afraid they wouldn't understand.)

I also was surrounded by people who had never dealt with depression and, like far too many well-meaning folks, thought I must be doing something wrong. (This is a problem I see a lot, but it's especially prevalent in the Christian community where the idea that "Jesus will make you happy" has deep roots. I do not disagree that faith has a lot of meaning and provide a lot of comfort to certain folks. Nor will I deny that faith has supported me personally in many circumstances. But the idea that "If you're a 'real' Christian you wouldn't be depressed" is a poisonous lie that even the most well-intentioned folks spew out.)

Which brings me back to the Big Lie. Depression likes to tell me that I am the problem. Sure, maybe there are tough things going on in my life, but there are folks out there in tougher situations and they aren't having to fight to get out of bed. Yeah, maybe my mom just died because cancer ate her brain, but I was 27 and not 5 and I had a chance to say I love you. and Good-bye.

The problem, depression likes to whisper in my ear, is me. And that first time I went under, I was surrounded by people who seemed to think the same thing.

Here are some of the things they said to me.**
"If you would just stop moping around you wouldn't be depressed."
"Maybe if you stopped wearing black all the time, you wouldn't be depressed."
"I always find comfort reading the Bible/going to church/praying every day. Have you been reading the Bible/going to church/praying every day?"
"That music you listen to is awful. Try something more upbeat."
"Maybe you need a boyfriend."
"You watch a lot of R rated movies. Maybe you should stop."
"Your friends are weird. Maybe you should join X social group."

The Big Lie was everywhere. It said that if I would just hang out with different people, listen to different music, dress differently, talk differently, be differently than what I was, then I would be happy. And if I didn't want to do all those things, then I had only myself to blame for my unhappiness.

It was a lie, but I believed it. And I struggled.
Because here's the other thing about when you're depressed. Everything is a big deal. It's like being in junior high and high school again where it's all drama and not eating the right thing at lunch might mean you don't get invited to that party this weekend. It's all bull shit and the connections depression makes between one thing and another are just more lies, but it doesn't feel that way. There is no way to distinguish the fact that scuffing the toe of your favorite pair of shoes won't actually cause you to lose your job. Depression lies. It tells you that everything hinges on you not fucking something up and when you forget and leave your coffee on the kitchen counter it's OMG! YOU ARE SUCH A LOSER!

But you're not. And I'm not and depression lies and the only thing to do is to remind yourself of the truth, which, in general, is that life is pretty good.

Here are some of the things I remind myself of.
No matter how fucked up things seem, the problems I'm facing are all fixable. (Left the coffee at home? Pick some up on the way downtown. Scuffed my favorite pair of shoes? Maybe it's time to find a new favorite.)
Even when things are really awful, there is still something good to be found in each day. (Some days this is more of a challenge than others. Some days it boils down to "Ice cream for dinner, because grown up." Some days it's just recognizing that no cat has peed on my sheets and I can go straight to bed if I want to.)
Also, the sun came up today!
My cats are butts but they are amusing butts. 
My skinny jeans still fit.
AC/DC on the radio is the best! (Especially if it's Thunderstruck.)
And most of all: Depression lies. And no matter how things seem to suck right now, I would hate to do something impulsive*** because of a lie.

Finally, I would like to say that if you are thinking about hurting yourself please talk to someone. These folks are a good place to start: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255

And then, go read this: Matt Fraction - Sorry to put this on you, but I have an honest question
He says a lot about things I don't have any particular experience with and probably a lot better than I say anything. (But with swears. I mean, even more than I do.) 

And talk to someone. You are not alone. In fact, you're probably less alone than you could ever imagine. So talk.

*I mention addiction here, because I've seen a lot of the same responses to addiction as I have to depression. Folks who don't know, just don't know and they say some stupid things even when they're well-meaning.

**These are paraphrased, because most of the details are fuzzy, but I am not exaggerating the ludicrous responses I got from folks.

***let me just say, my depression has never made me suicidal. I get very reclusive and listen to Matchbox 20 way too much, but I don't have any desire to end my life so please don't think I'm saying that. Because I'm not.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Growth (Writing Update 8.7.14)

When I learned that Eggplant was going to close down and my little SF Western novella was coming back to me, I did what any author would. I emailed my agent and said "Help! Now what?" and flailed a bit.

I was really hoping he would get back to me with "Of course we can find a new home for this." Instead his response boiled down to "Egh. This needs some work." So, I figured I'd put it on the shelf for a bit and let it simmer. Maybe there would be new subplots I could work into the already tight plot structure. (It's a revenge western. In space. The plot is mostly "I'm looking for the bastard who killed my mother." and then lots of bodies dropping because folks are stupid enough to get between my very dedicated, revenge-hungry protagonist and her psychotic, cybernetic horse.) I would let it sit it for a while and then come back to it.

Naturally, as soon as I decided that was the plan of action, I immediately came up with a new solution. It wasn't the sort of thing I was anticipating. It involves the clever juggling of two timelines and the addition of a new character into past events. It also meant starting the story from a different place.

It also meant that my opening paragraphs - which I loved - would have to go. I didn't want to get rid of my opening. It was snarky and set the stage for the story in just a few words.

So, I balked. I shook my fist at my muse (who, being a right proper bastard, flipped me off) and tried to figure out some way to keep this thing that I loved about the original version and work it into the new version. But none was apparent. (Because my muse is a right proper bastard who doesn't compromise.)

Reluctantly, I resigned myself to the idea that if I were going to rework this book (because there's nothing quite like being told "This isn't quite good enough" to get my stubborn up) I would have to start from scratch. No clinging to the parts I loved. No hanging onto the turns of phrase or witty comebacks or lovely, gritty descriptions and noirish narrative. I would have to start from scratch.

And, as soon as I committed to that, I was struck from behind by a brilliant opening line. (Because my muse is also a right proper genius when he's not being a bastard.) A line that is just better than my original. Soooo much better. (And bear in mind, the opening for the novella as published was this: By the time I was born Mankind was dying on a hundred worlds and Earth, our legendary mother, was lost. Not lost in a metaphorical sense. Not lost to famine or plague or war or the inevitable destruction of Sol. Just plain where-did-we-put-that-mother-fucking-planet lost.) Not award-winning prose, but certainly solid. And I loved it, or I wouldn't have written it.

But... sometimes in order to grow we have to let go of the things we have already done well in order do to new things better. And, yes, that also means sometimes we do things worse. But worse is always fixable and we can't do better if we don't let go of doing things the same. 

Wordcount: Dust and Stars - 355