Friday, December 27, 2013

Work Progressing

The book is coming. It's coming soon.

It's not a publishing deal. Nothing big. Just a thought from this summer that I've spent some time fleshing out. Just a collection of words and images that will come together for something that may not ever be anything important to anyone but me.

A gift, of time and effort and words.

I'm almost done.

Time to get back to work.

And as soon as it's done, I'll get started on the next thing.

Because writers write.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

That's Hockey...

I've been lucky since I started getting into hockey.

When my husband first got me into watching it, I naturally wanted to pick a team to root for. And, just as naturally, I picked my hometown Chicago Blackhawks.

The year was 2010, and the Blackhawks took home the Stanley cup for the first time in almost fifty years. It was a good time to get into hockey, and a better time to be a Blackhawks fan.

But the next two seasons were tougher, as we faced first round exits from the playoffs, and then the lockout kept the NHL exhibition game that Boise was going to host. Sure, that wouldn't have been the Blackhawks, but the chance even to see the Dallas Stars and the Minnesota Wild in preseason would have been pretty cool.

And, of course, the Blackhawks then dominated the shortened season on their way to a second Stanley cup since I've been a fan. Not too shabby.

They're doing well this year as well, currently sitting atop the league standings. They've lost games, but in an 82 games season, that's inevitable. Even bad losses, like the one recently against the Maple Leafs (7 to 3... painful), are going to happen over the course of a season. The important thing is bouncing back, which the Hawks have done.

Ambrose will rib me when they lose, and while a part of me is upset that they've lost, I always answer: "That's hockey."

That's just what happens. No one, no team, is perfect all the time.

You can't always win.

But even the teams at the very bottom of the standings have won games. No one loses all the time either.

You hit. You miss. You do it all over again.

You get lucky sometimes, when the pucks all seem to bounce your way, and you get bad luck sometimes when the deflections result in own goals and turnovers.

I like that the seven game playoff format allows for luck and lets hard work over the long haul be the proof of excellence. Luck is mitigated a bit, or at least you need to be lucky for longer than just one game to earn Lord Stanley's cup.

And before you know it, the next season has begun and the fight begins all over again. The wins, the losses, the luck and the misfortune.

That's life.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


When you're young, people often ask you what you want to be when you grow up, as if growing up has some mystical power of transformation that allows a wish to become a vocation or career.

When I was young, I would often answer that I wanted to be a doctor, so I could cure Multiple Sclerosis. My mom has MS, and she still sometimes asks me whatever happened to that dream, why hadn't I become a doctor and cured her yet? She was so proud of that dream. It was high school when I stopped wanting it and started trying to wean her off of the idea: "I don't know what I'm going to go to college for Mom, maybe I won't be a doctor." Her selective memory never held onto those hints.

I have always loved to read, which engendered in me a love for writing. After being thoroughly discouraged when my poem was rejected from the high school literary magazine freshman year, I reclaimed some confidence when I managed to place several pieces in my junior year - enough that they instituted a rule limiting students to one or two accepted entries per issue, instead of the previous strictly anonymous, most-votes-gets-in rule. I had a poem published in the school newspaper and another in an anthology of young poets.

But that wasn't really getting published - it wasn't for pay; it wasn't professional. I do still have a copy though, and copies of my high school literary magazines, and even the student newspaper. That was actually the most hilarious one to me - the previous year I had one of my poems rejected from the literary magazine because I included mention of a hand touching a thigh. In the work, it was completely about friendship and comfort, but the administration decided that it was too sexual and had it cut. The newspaper then published a poem of mine that had clear lesbian tendencies and was pretty much about orgasm. Must have been different oversight committees.

And so I began, in high school, to toss around the idea of being a writer. I took creative writing courses and wrote a short novel for one of them. I thought I could write. But I knew I wasn't a writer. I never even tried submitting anything for pay, in part out of a lack of confidence, and in part because I was intimidated by the idea of actually printing and posting the damn things. To me, it would take an arrogance that I did not possess to pay even such a small amount for the privilege of being rejected.

But I journaled constantly, obsessively, filling large lineless sketchbooks with scribbles of varying size and legibility among single line abstract doodles and stickers. In my junior year, my English teacher introduced me to the idea of a sketch journal and, although I do not pretend to true artistic inclinations, I filled an entire sketchbook with writing and art, and started another one that I continued to share with her even when I was no longer in her class.

I wrote about my feelings, my thoughts, my stories and teenage poetry. I drew my mind in words and pictures, and drew my experiences through symbols and longing.

I kept journaling in college, but not throughout. There was a stopping point that I reached as I began to feel more alienated from my chosen academic life. I was not loud; I lacked the arrogance to put forth my unusual point of view.

I feared.

Calling yourself a writer opens you up for criticism, from the down-the-nose glances of those that insist that whatever you are, it isn't a "real" writer, to the simple reality that art, being public, will be criticized. Calling yourself a writer can mean whatever you want it to mean, and it seems to mean something different to everyone. Calling yourself a writer is only slightly more concrete than calling yourself a dreamer.

“Come to the edge," he said.
They said, "We are afraid."
Come to the edge," he said.
They came.
He pushed them...and they flew.”

― Guillaume Apollinaire

I've only dreamed of flying once that I remember. In the dream, I was in the train station formerly known as Northwestern Station in downtown Chicago, and I was on the run from the law. The station thronged with rush hour crowds and I shoved people out of the way even as I knew I was about to be caught. I fetched up against a railing overlooking a bank of escalators when it struck me that this was a dream.

"And if this is a dream, then I can fly," I said to myself.

I swung into the air, with a motion like Christopher Walken's in Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" music video.

And I flew, high to the glass windows near the ceiling by the entrance to the track, diving and swirling and reveling in my new-found freedom.

Then my mind played a trick on me, and I dreamed that I woke up. I stole from myself the power of flight, and I've not gotten it back since, not given it back.

I've allowed myself to stress out over schoolwork that is not truly difficult for me, almost as if I were seeking obstacles to overcome in order to bring more seriousness to my work. I've taken away from myself the enjoyment of the process of learning and improving myself and my work.

And for what?

A 4.0, an antacid addiction and a painfully knotted shoulder?

No, thanks.

It's time to fly.

I'm a writer.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Feel Free to Fail

It may not be the nicest thing, but when I see a posting with a misspelling, I sometimes have an internal scoff. When the word in question was already spelled correctly in a previous thread, in the thread that this post is specifically responding to, then my scoff becomes a bit more pronounced. And when the particular word is one that I know the poster was supposed to have read about in the context of the post... it simply astounds me.

I could never be so bold. I spell-check. I double-check when the spell check tells me a word that I know is correct isn't. I do a search rather than use a word in a context that might be incorrect. I stress about these things, and I replay in my mind when I've cited a fact that later proves to have been false. Being factually incorrect scares me, because I'm still afraid to be wrong, more even than I fear being stupid - or maybe equally since I equate being wrong with being stupid.

I think that buried in my scoff is a jealousy. When I see such behavior, that my internal judge would never allow me to enact, then I scorn such carelessness while wishing to be as carefree. What, after all, does such a mistake matter? I think it makes a person look stupid, but what is there to be feared in being seen as stupid? Especially when I am not actually psychic and have no idea what other people really think.

I recently read a thread on io9 that invited commenters to post about "classic" books that they couldn't stand to finish reading (link). Some of the books I hadn't read. Some I agreed on, and others were books that I love.

I started to feel better about my own prospects in writing after reading that thread. Even if no one has bought any of my stories yet, that doesn't mean that no one ever will. In a way, it's about finding the right audience. No one will ever write something that everyone likes, or something that everyone hates. And I know that a few people have liked my fiction writing (they just aren't editors of magazines, more's the pity).

But that isn't the only takeaway. No matter how correctly I try to frame my actions, there are people to whom I will come off negatively, or in ways that I don't intend. I can't please everyone, no matter how hard I try, and I can't know whether I'm pleasing anyone or not.

I guess I'll have to agree with Rick Nelson and settle for pleasing myself.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Making My Rules: Word Count

Over the summer, I conducted an experiment. After reading Seanan McGuire's post about her word count goals and methods (link), I decided to give that method a shot, even though a part of me protested that Seanan is a real writer, who knows what she's doing and I don't. I had also been reading Dean Wesley Smith's blog (especially the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing entries), and many of the things I read there encouraged me to believe that I could write at least one thousand words per day if I just tried.

Back when I started writing my novel with the working title Love Story, I wrote about five hundred words per day at  my lunch break. But when I started a new job, I had a whole new lunch to get used to, and I fell off my schedule for about two years. I thought about restarting a few times in that period, but I also felt embarrassed at the story I had started. It was easy to make excuses and let the file languish.

I also had a couple other stories that I wanted to work on, and on July 2nd (yes, I know, almost a month after Seanan's blog) I challenged myself to write three thousand words, one thousand on each of three stories, in one day. I've got a desk job, forty hours a week, and over the summer most weekends involved a backpacking trip. There were all sorts of reasons that I "couldn't" do this, but I decided to try anyway.

I would just write one thousand words a day on whichever projects I was working on, at least one thousand words. I would just do it, no bullshit, no excuses and no drama.

Somehow, it worked.

I never worked on more than three projects at a time, so I ended up with about two months of one to three thousand words per day over a period of about a month from July 2nd to August 8th (with a break at the end of July for an extended backpacking trip). I just did it. I got excited and I wrote words even when I didn't know where the story was going. The more I wrote, the more energized I felt about the whole thing.  

I finished that novel I had started three years ago, two novelettes and three short stories. I also started a story that I've yet to finish, a sequel of sorts to one of the novelettes. I wrote over sixty thousand words in about a month.

That doesn't seem real to me, and I just went over my notes from July and August and tallied it all up. But it does make sense with the novelettes around fourteen thousand a piece and over thirty thousand on the novel and one to two thousand for the short stories. Give or take.

But once I finished that novel, I lost steam. I took a break, because I didn't want to try and maintain that pace while I was taking a class as well as working, and because I wanted to devote enough energy to the class to get a good grade. Excuses, I know. But I haven't stopped writing. I wrote another short story in September and even submitted it to a market. I've been keeping up a blog entry per week for each blog, and while that isn't fiction, it is writing.

A writer writes, right?

And I've got another non-fiction project that I'll eventually sic on the world. The goal is to have it done by December 15th, but schoolwork may interfere. Still, I'm going to get it finished and published and then get started on the next thing, and the one after that. I'm not going to stop, even if I don't know where I'm going.

It's the motion that matters.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Therapeutic Melodrama

I am stressed out.

There's no good reason for me to be stressed out. I'm doing well at my job, I'm exercising, and I really shouldn't be worried about my schoolwork. I'm not making perfect grades, but I'm not making bad ones.

But I'm stressed. I can feel it in my body. I can feel it worming its way into my consciousness as I think about the bills that have to be paid and the papers I have to write and then there's a group project and an annotated bibliography and we're about to start a testing cycle at work and the holidays are coming and I know my family wants to see me but that brings it all right back to the money and my head starts to ache.

I've stopped wearing contact lenses because I thought they were giving me headaches. After not wearing them for a week, I could hardly use them when I put them back on. My theory is that I've been squinting for so long so that I could use them that once I relaxed by going a week without, I'd lost the squint that made them effective. And that frustrates me too. My glasses are old, scratched up and as soon as I start to sweat they like to slide off my face. And I'm one of those people who would be legally blind without vision correction. I'm nearsighted, and by near, I mean pretty damn intimate. I have to be within six inches to see something without blurriness intruding.

So it feels like it was a waste of money to buy a year's supply of contacts when I had to stop using them and it's not like you can return these things. I'll have to wait to get a new pair of glasses, and my husband needs a new pair as well since he hasn't even been to the eye doctor in like five years.

We've got some medical bills to pay off, credit cards to pay off, and I'm pretty sure the only thing keeping my car running is wishful thinking.

And I'm scared. I'm scared because I am now the age my mom was when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. And every little ache and pain, every time my toes tingle from too tight shoes or my hands fall asleep, every time my vision is blurred from tiredness, I wonder if I'm headed down the same road. 

Everything feels like doom and gloom and the end of the world and I know it's not. I know my problems are not so bad. I know I'm not getting MS. I can pay my bills and put food on the table and gas in the car and there's only the two of us. It's not that bad.

But I hate that. When I was young and dissatisfied with certain things about my home life (dissatisfied to the point of staying at school as late as possible and crying for the whole hour train ride home), I would try to convince myself that I had nothing to cry about, because other people are worse off than I was.

It didn't help then and it doesn't help now.

To look at cases where someone went through a situation worse than mine and came out better does nothing but make me feel inadequate.

"Oh, you're sad because you have a paper due when you're only taking one class and working 40 hours a week? Well, you shouldn't be! So-and-so over here is working 80 hours a week, taking a full course load, pre-med of course, and raising three children and a dog with no spousal support, after overcoming the challenges of being homeless as a child and being born with no left foot! Cheer up!"

So I'm stressed. Tight shoulders, headache, tiredness - don’t even get Ambrose started about the stomach aches - and it doesn't help that the Blackhawks have had two horrible losses in the last week (Come on guys, I need you to win tomorrow!).

But I can't depend on outside sources for help in getting less stressed. I know that I have to deal with what I can control, and what I can control is my own reactions. I've got this well-worn path through my brain of worrying and fretting. It's such an automatic response that it feels like it is me, when it isn't me, it's just a behavior. A behavior I can control.


So I'm trying to recognize the worry and stop it before it starts to hurt. It's a start.

And writing helps. Okay, this kind of writing helps, it would be nice if writing research papers helped, but no, that's simply not the case. Winter break can't come soon enough for me (I'd write Thanksgiving break, but that's going to be a working vacation).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bashful Self-Promotion

I'm having a hard time getting myself to write this.

I, in response to a challenge on another blog, one which, I am certain, the author regrets ever holding, wrote and self-published a book, of sorts, within a strict time limit of eight hours.

And, unlike many who answered this challenge, I did it using my own name, so any of you who have idly Googled me since September may have already stumbled across this.

The challenge was based off of books that were more joke than content, deliberately using tropes and bad covers on a lark. I couldn't quite bring myself to match their taste, or I couldn't think of an original idea that didn't feel like it would be insulting, or, probably closer to the truth, I was afraid to put out my actual sense of humor for sale and see whether others agreed or not.

So I took an idea I had already had, of making a blog entry about trail markers for my hiking blog, and ran with that instead. And I wrote some words for it and added pictures and made a cover and published my book. E-book. Well, more like an e-pamphlet. Still. It's out there. And I gave away a couple hundred copies in the first few days after the blog promotion and then forgot about it.

Recently, I took a look and discovered to my surprise that a minuscule number of actual sales had been made. So, I talked it over with Ambrose and he convinced me to post this.

On the one hand, I do like it. On the other hand, it isn't perfect. And I like to be perfect when I can.

But there's no such thing as perfect.

So, here you go: Stay on the Trail by Jeanne Bustamante

Tomorrow and Friday (11/14 and 11/15), it'll be free. Otherwise it's 99 cents. And it will be free again some time in the future, possibly with some updates and additions (and when it's updated, anyone who has previously downloaded it will have the option to get the update for free), when my second non-fiction book comes out. With any luck, that will be before the end of the year, and I will be posting a blog when I release that one, no hiding it for almost three months.

I promise.

Or is that a threat?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Speaking Out

Last night, when my class broke up into groups, one of the members of my group mentioned that she felt comfortable speaking in small groups like this, but would get nervous when speaking to the entire class. I joked that she shouldn't worry, because half the class would be zoned out and not paying attention anyway, not because I particularly think that about this particular class, but because I wanted to try and give her a strategy to get around those nerves. Those kinds of nerves are still quite familiar to me, even if I've convinced myself that I've gotten rid of them.

After our main discussion, I told my group that my speaking out in class was not something that I could have or did do in my twenties. I wanted them to know that I am not a natural at making myself heard or speaking in public, even if I do talk in this particular class a good deal. I think, at what I perceive to be their age, I did not realize that I could change myself. My "self" seemed such a sacred thing, something I would have to accept and deal with, rather than modify. I defined myself as shy, unable to speak up and easily frustrated in group situations. To challenge myself to change was unthinkable. If I changed, then I would become other than myself.

Now, I feel differently.

At my last job, I, at times, had to take phone calls. It's a pretty standard thing to do at a desk job, and I didn't really have to take all that many - maybe one to three calls in a week. But every time that phone rang, I would react. My hands would go cold, my face would go hot and my heart would race. It made answering the phone almost unbearable.

I didn't like my reaction, and I was just starting to come to realize that it was entirely within my control. I knew that nothing happened on those phone calls to justify that level of fear response in my body. I had nothing to be afraid of, and nothing to worry about, but I was worried anyway. Why?

There was no reason. To fear sounding like a fool or making a mistake to that extent only hurt me. It did not help me. There was nothing I was doing that made me feel good or enjoy myself. The only reason I kept reacting that way was that I was clinging to some notion that I couldn't change without losing my identity.

I was wrong.

I think there's something misleading about the idea that it's okay to be yourself, and loving yourself just the way you are. It forms of the self this impregnable edifice and allows people to hide behind claims that they cannot change, when it's really that they won't. Life is change, and to prevent yourself from growing does nothing to preserve your self-integrity. It merely limits you.

"When they tell you to shut up, they mean stop talking. When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing." - Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

I read that novel in high school, and that line has always stuck with me. I cherished an ideal of not growing up, in the sense of being open to grow. I went to a college where the entire experience was built around group discussion, even though I was terrified of speaking up and voicing my opinions. I didn't talk a lot then, but I learned, and I passed and I graduated, eventually. And now, I'm talking in meetings and classes, and it probably seems like I'm one of those confident people I alternately despised and admired when I was younger.

I don't know if I succeeded, but I really wanted to let those members of my group know that it was possible to change. There are techniques, tricks and, of course, there's always practice, but you have to want it. And sometimes, it helps just to know that it's possible.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When the Legislature Needs a Spanking...

Slate had an article by Amanda Marcotte during the recent shutdown describing how the Democrats could deal with the Republicans that were throwing tantrums, a little parenting advice. The problem with that is the classic response when one equal chastises another. "You're not the boss of me!"

No, the Democrats cannot be the ones to handle the tantrums of the Republicans, nor can Republicans logically deal with a similar Democratic meltdown. We clearly can't have government policing themselves into playing nice. That's just more government, and we don't need any more of that.

We need mother-ment.

An elected high council of 7 mothers, chosen from around the country not to represent any particular faction or ideology, but to give the Legislature a spanking when they won't play nice.

Not a literal spanking, of course, but whatever punishment they deem proper for the misbehavior at hand. The legislators shut down the government, they get grounded. And not grounded to your own rooms, that's where your toys are. You have to go sit in Grandma's room, where there's nothing to play with and it smells like cheese. Also, no allowances for six months - even if you fix this mess sooner than that.

The Motherment would preside over meetings between parties in order to make them get along, for the good of the American people. If they don't play nice, then they get a time out and have to sit in the corner. Public shaming would ensue via Twitter #usgovtimeout.

They would not pass laws, exercise vetoes or rule on constitutionality, but the Motherment would achieve something, maybe not better than those exalted actions, but different. They would give a sense of satisfaction to the entire country, that while we may not always agree with the actions that our elected representatives take, we know that if they're acting like brats, they'll be punished like brats.

After all, a little revenge can go a long way. A nation weary of political infighting would have a chance then to say, "thanks, Mom, for making us feel a little better."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Overthinking Poetry

My English 275 class has moved on to poetry.

At first, I was like, ugh, poetry, spare me. Then we began to discuss poetry and what would be involved in explicating it, and I thought, hm, why was I getting all bent out of shape over poetry again?

Then I remembered.

I used to write poetry. In high school I got a few poems published in the school's literary journal, one into the school newspaper, and one into an anthology of young poets. I still have a worn out copy of that book, and the newspaper, and each of the journals. I used to look at them and be proud and exasperated in turns. I seemed to have a grasp on how to write these things once, but I lost it, and lost interest in it and turned to other expressions.

I wrote a poem for my husband, before we even really met almost, a poem that, to me, answered what I had read of what he had written. I crafted that poem with care and precision. I think it was a sonnet, but I can't find it now. My poetry tended to have some structure, whether a traditional form, or something that was at least an internal sort of symmetry. I resisted the idea of free verse in part because I didn't understand how a poem could be poetry without a structure, intrinsic or extrinsic. I included allusions to the Odyssey in that poem, and I think there was a rhyme scheme as well. Almost no one commented on it in the forum to which it was posted. It seemed to fade away, not noted, and I felt a little disillusioned.

But it wasn't until a typo-filled pathos-dripping piece of drivel was posted by another person that I really got sick of poetry. This person's "work" made me laugh. It was cliched, I thought, and trying too hard. Ridiculous.


Everyone else loved it. They heaped praise upon both the poem and the author, marveling at how touched they were to read it, and how lovely it was, and how wonderful a person this author was. Never had they before read such a beautiful, heartfelt, touching piece of writing in their very lives!

I think that's when I gave up on poetry, and began to scoff instead at its practitioners as flighty folks without the endurance to write long form. I convinced myself that I hated poetry, that my writing of it was just a phase in high school - an obligatory phase for the kind of teenager that I was, right? Trying to write it again in my twenties was just a mistake, proven by the reception my last poetry received. Clearly, I was not a poet, and should not even try.

But just as reading The Sound and the Fury closely and multiple times over the first weeks of the semester gradually brought me to a state of admiration, expressed through a sincere attempt at flattery, the study of poetry is tempting me to try again the road I chose not to travel.

The morning light playing over the foothills as dawn has become a lambent promise of day's arrival. The dark clouds preceding rain have become piles of wicked candy floss. A goalie's acrobatic save became a balletic kick to preserve the sanctity of the woven desire. Ways of describing images collide in my head, for better or worse, and I fear it won't be long before I try to put them together in some internally structured form that satisfies itself to my eyes.

If a poem needs not have form to be a poem, not even the form of versed lines, then what remains to define a poem other than themes and images and criteria subjective? The poet chooses the words, paints the images, strains to find the form, formless or constrained, that expresses their purpose. Is it the reader's response that defines poetry, or the author's intent?

My intentions with poetry have always been clear to me. An expression of what I felt, in some form, free but not free. For the fun of creation and the satisfaction of completion, not for others, but for me.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


On Sunday, I turned 31 years old.

I think I'm supposed to be saying that I'm 29 still, for at least another three years, but I don't.

I've always preferred to be precise in these matters.

When I was young, 8 years old, I believe, I was still trying to be friends with the girls on my block. We had moved to the street where my parents still live about six months before my 8th birthday. One of the girls down the block was younger than me, but close enough in age that we could run around together. Until I told her that I had turned 8.

She said she was also 8, but I knew that she had been 6 the last time I asked. I told her she was not 8, and she said that she was - she had skipped a year on her last birthday.

We weren't friends after that, although we did encounter each other in the neighborhood, including one time when another neighbor got a new dog, and the girl held the dog while another girl and I pet the dog. She held the dog so tight that it began to hurt, and it lashed out and bit me in the stomach. I'll admit that action did little to further endear her to me.

So I am 31. I have not skipped years, nor will I pretend that they haven't happened, rule-follower that I am.

My brother told me I'll stop remembering how old I am now that I'm in my 30's, that it isn't important anymore, or maybe that I'll start going a little senile. I'm not so sure about that, but I haven't had time yet to really test his hypothesis. I think it won't work because I'll be thinking about it, keeping my age hovering in the corner of my mind just to prove him wrong, just to be different than what everyone says I should be. But only inside, where no one can see.

Today I read an article in Slate, a condensed interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. I've heard of her, but never read any of her books. The only one I had even heard of is Eat, Pray, Love, a book that lives, as the article states, in the chick lit dungeon. Gilbert is quoted as saying, "[T]he lack of a perfected idea never stopped men from speaking out!"

It reminded me of college, and how I would be too scared of my imperfectly formed ideas and notions to speak of them when they might have contributed to the conversation. I didn't have exactly what I wanted to say ready in my mind before the window to speak closed. My ideas were no less valid than anyone else's, but I didn't feel that way. I have made progress. In the classes I take now (I'm a Johnnie, how could I not take classes when I work at a university?), I speak out more. I risk being wrong, or sounding foolish or bitchy or whatever. But I still get scared sometimes, before I speak. My pulse races, and my hands feel cold, and my stomach feels tight, and I begin to doubt the validity and relevance of what I want to say.

Sometimes I say it anyway, and it's not a bad thing. Sometimes I don't, because the conversation has progressed, and I am okay with letting it go. I don't resent not being able to air my thoughts, because I don't feel as if I've been shut down. Instead, I made a choice - a choice not to embarrass my group by bringing up the many drug allusions we found in the poem, even though adding the hallucinatory dog to the literal and metaphorical dogs already being discussed would have been funny. It wasn't necessary.

I think that some people, those louder than me, have an idea of entitlement about airing their opinions. I encountered many of those in my life, so many that I came to believe that I was the opposite - not worth the time when all these self-important people needed to express. I thought for a long time that I had to become them in order to be heard.

Am I finally old enough to know better?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fake Everything Girls

When I read Seanan Mcguire's livejournal entry on being cred checked at the San Diego Comic Con, I was reminded why I avoid places like cons where I might encounter such attitudes. Heck, I used to avoid wearing branded clothing of any kind, always fearing to be called out as the fake girl - geek or not. I was a proud anti-fan, a thin layer of disdain covering terror and anxiety.

I've made progress in recent years. I acquired and wore a Faye Valentine outfit for Halloween two years ago. I would have worn it again last year, but it no longer fit properly thanks to a change in diet and a lot of time at the gym (yay!). But I did not dare to wear it anywhere near the local anime convention, and no one I saw on Halloween actually knew who I was dressed up as - although one guy did recognize Cowboy Bebop as the origin of it. On a night full of drunken revelry, I was safe, but I was sure if I went to a place where "real" cosplayers and anime fans gathered, I would be called out as the dilettante fan that I am. (I like some anime, but I wouldn't pass a spot quiz on most canons.)

I began to watch sports with my husband soon after we started living together, and I began to express some fandom of the Chicago teams, since I grew up around there. I figured that geographical origin would allow me to claim some amount of credibility with my calling myself a fan, but I didn't stop there. I finally learned the basic rules of pro football. I read articles on football, though I did not delve into its history as much as keeping up with current events.

Now and then, my husband and I would go to a bar to watch a Monday or Thursday night Bears game, and I would be able to hold my own with the men watching the game. I knew coaches and players names, recent histories, basic stats and perceptions. As much as the average fan not involved in a fantasy league might know. I purchased some t-shirts to express my support for the team, and I began to wear them around.

Then, this past August, I got cred checked.

I was wearing my t-shirt, a nice navy blue with an aged banner of "BEARS" across the chest in white and orange. It's a nice soft shirt, very comfortable. I walked into the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, and then  the nice young man behind the counter sees my shirt. I notice him noticing and smile, because I like to have a little camaraderie with fellow fans, not so common out here in Boise, ID.

"Are you a real fan?" he says. "Or are you just wearing that..." He trailed off at the end there. I'm not sure what he was going to say, but I felt an immediate urge to prove myself beyond just answering in the affirmative.

Me: Yeah, I'm a fan. It'll be interesting to see how Trestman does this season replacing Lovie.

Him: They fired Lovie Smith? Uh, is Urlacher still with the team?

Me: No, he's retired now.

For those not following football, head coach Lovie Smith was fired at the end of the last regular season, having failed to take a 10 and 6 Bears team to the playoffs. Marc Trestman was brought in as his replacement. Brian Urlacher has been a backbone of the Bears defense for years. These developments are things that fans should know, right? That's why I know them.

He didn't.

But he felt perfectly justified in asking the girl if she was a real fan or not.

This isn't just comics, or anime, or geeky pursuits. Even something as girly as My Little Ponies has now become a boys club, as Kameron Hurley wrote recently.

And now I've met the fake Bears fan girl.

What's next? Barbie? Romance novels? Don't look now, there's the fake chemistry major girl - you know she's just in the STEM program to meet boys!

Monday, September 30, 2013


If "there" is the place where rejections are occasionally replaced by acceptances, then I'm not there yet.

I'm not pursuing rejection very much right now. I'm still learning what works and what doesn't work for me, let alone what might work for other people. I'm studying, and that takes time away from focusing on the pursuit of rejection as well.

Also, rejection kinda sucks.

I know that it is a process through which writers must pass. I acknowledge that there is nothing special about my getting rejected. And really, I haven't gotten all that many. I haven't even hit my first hundred yet, so there's nothing to complain about, right?

Partly, being rejected hurts in an emotional way. That little kick in the gut that what you thought was something wonderful just isn't good enough to be bought and published by the market you thought would want it. And they just published that one piece that was not nearly as good as yours, so why the heck didn't they want yours, the clearly superior work? Ahem.

Another part is that the form letters don't let me know if I'm improving. My husband thinks I'm improving, but he also likes the stories that get rejected, and so I end up with some ambivalence about his opinion. And he's totally biased in my favor, of course. I almost wish that they would give out tiered form letters - one for 'this is a piece of crap written by an illiterate monkey, never submit again' and then 'you clearly don't know what a story is yet, try again when you've learned' and 'wrong market, dingleberry' and finally 'loved it, but we already published a story about time traveling spiders this cycle and can't publish another so soon.' Then I could work my way up through the tiers - or not - and get some idea of how my work is being received.

I did actually get a few notes from one magazine that I submitted stories to, but I haven't yet been able to apply those notes. I'm not sure what to make of them. I sincerely appreciate them, because they are not form letters, and that's exciting, but for all I know, this magazine doesn't send anyone form letters, which makes me feel less special. This is the point where my husband tells me to stop overthinking things and just be glad for the feedback.

So, in the course of about two years, I've only submitted 20 times, and the number of stories is fewer than that. Sometimes I think I should submit more, write more, and then I let life get in the way and I don't. Or I rail about the fact that some of the things I've already written are "published" on this blog and so I can't submit them to any paying market (gnashes teeth). But none of them are any better than anything I have submitted, because they don't get any feedback either. That's part of why I stopped participating in the flash fiction challenges for a while. They were good prompts, but I wasn't getting any return on investment from posting them. And maybe I should have participated more, commenting on the stories of others, but I felt awkward writing anything critical, and when I did have something nice, it always sounded critical in my head anyway. One person asked for feedback, and I seriously considered writing something, because the author began by putting a parenthetical after the title stating, essentially, that the title sucked and so did the story. I wanted to comment that it's a bad idea to shoot oneself in the foot. Better to let the readers decide than to tell them that they won't like it before they get a chance to taste it. But the words in my head were too condescending, too harsh, and I didn't write them.

Again, even with trying to tell myself to fear being quiet more than being stupid, I've managed to silence myself. To reject my opinion without allowing anyone else to try it out. My inner judge replaced the word stupid with mean, and I let myself fear being mean over being quiet. What's next? I'll fear being silly, being crude, being judgmental, hypocritical, blasphemous or privileged?

How can I expect to sell a story when I can't stop rejecting myself?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Overthinking English 275

I'm taking a literature class this semester, Methods of Literary Study. In it, students are to learn various types of literary criticism, and my class is starting the semester with reading Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. I've got thoughts that I don't think are that relevant to the class, but that I wish to record, if only for myself (and maybe to torture my husband, who reads this blog).

Nerdy Deconstruction Theory Metaphor
When the class began to discuss deconstruction, I thought of what is, in my mind, a great and mostly useless metaphor for it. I write "mostly useless" because it is a nerdy kind of metaphor that I would not get unless it were directly related to my work, and I doubt most English majors are familiar enough with SQL to make it worth bringing up.

To whit, when writing a select statement for SQL using multiple tables, key values need to be joined between them. If the key values are not joined, then the result is a Cartesian product - an excess of result rows, many of which are repeats. In deconstruction, we must become aware that the meanings of words are not constant or consistent, that is, that the meaning of a word to me may not match that meaning to anyone else (the key values cannot be equated). Once we agree that the meaning of the words do not align, then the number of possible meanings for a text is multiplied (Cartesian product), and, in effect, infinite. Since texts are composed of myriad words, each of which could be considered to be a key value, the theoretical Cartesian product would also be large enough to call 'infinite.'

Faulkner and Mythology
When I read the Quentin section in The Sound and the Fury for the third time, I began to get a sense of an Odyssey within it. Not an exact parallel, but a broken one. As if Odysseus knew that Penelope (Caddy) was gone, and that the child she bore was not his. The Eddy is like Scylla and Charybdis, but he watches the boys choose between them rather than venture himself, because Quentin has no agency. The little Italian girl is like Circe - she transforms him into a criminal by bewitching him. Gerald Bland, et al. are the lotophagoi, trying to lull him into complacency with wine and company.

When I read the Jason section for the third time, I saw him as the Minotaur, trapped in a maze of his own rage. He goes blind with rage, and sees red. The bull metaphor is strengthened by his inability to not chase the red tie, to not attack the red lips that so flaunt his rules. The rage that he has against Caddy and Quentin (both of them) is so strong that it has become a prison without which Jason cannot exist. Jason is also a name from mythology, though not directly related to the Minotaur.

I took heed to the instructor's words on the first class and determined to read through this book over the Labor day weekend. Despite it being significantly heavier than the paperback I had planned to take, I lugged the Norton Critical edition on my solo trip and got through a little over half of the book by Sunday. I finished it by Monday. We have been reading a section each week for class. I have been re-reading the assigned section during the week, and then spending a good amount of time on Saturdays re-reading again and taking notes.

That first reading over Labor day was awful. Reading Benjy and Quentin's minds was so difficult that I had pretty much given up by the time I got to Jason and then the last section, both of which are certainly easier to read, if not to comprehend. The second reading of Benjy's section seemed little better than the first, although at least I had an idea of what was going on. It was only at the third reading that I felt I was beginning to gain some comprehension.

Even knowing that the linear plot of events has little to do with the book as literature, I still was one of those who tried to make a timeline and pin down when things were happening when I took notes on the Benjy section. It may not be helpful from a critical standpoint, but it helped me put the pieces together in my head and feel like I had something to hold onto, rather than attempting to understand the formless meanderings of Benjy's thoughts before I was ready. That third reading made a lot more sense, as I parsed out when Quentin was his brother and when his niece; when he was Maury and when he was Benjamin; when the action was in the present as opposed to the past.

I did the same thing with Quentin's section, labeling and narrowing and parsing it into something that I felt comfortable approaching and discussing. I feel like I've been dividing it into pieces small enough to chew, taking that one bite of the elephant at a time. But it has gotten easier as I've devoted more time and energy into making it that way. So much so that by the time I re-read Jason's section it was too easy to read and I found myself struggling to find the deeper meanings - my eyes wanted to skim over the words that I knew well how to comprehend.

That's not the frustrating part though. I know how to struggle with a text. What frustrates me is that I want to write, and this book is put forth as great literature, that makes little sense unless and until it is struggled with - and yet, what advice for writing do I read at every turn? Make things easy for the reader; hook the reader into your story; tell a good story! This may simply illustrate the difference between commercial and literary fiction, but I think there is more to it than that for me.

I know how to write - see, I'm writing right now! Yet, the stories that I have written are not acceptable to the markets to which they have been submitted. I can't help feeling that there is something that I'm missing, and that is truly frustrating to me. As if what I write is simply not good (enough) writing, but this book, this frustrating and difficult book, is not just good, but great writing. You, Faulkner!

I know, I know. Keep practicing. Strive to get better. Figure it out.

I'm working on it.

In the Norton Critical edition of The Sound and the Fury, there is a critical essay by Jean-Paul Sartre, "On The Sound and the Fury: Time in the Work of Faulkner." Sartre introduces the idea that in order for someone to approach the meaning of a writer's work, they must first apprehend the author's metaphysics. He concludes his essay by claiming to like Faulkner's art while disagreeing with his metaphysics. Sartre writes, "The loss of all hope, for example, does not deprive the human reality of its possibilities; it is simply a way of being toward these same possibilities."

In this way, Sartre disagrees with his perceptions of Faulkner's use of time as a closed system in The Sound and the Fury. Having read, perhaps a few too many times, Sartre's play No Exit, I found myself wondering if Sartre's essay was written before or after that play. It seemed to me that either his essay had informed his own creative work, or the creative work had informed his essay. While the essay certainly allowed me to view the Faulkner in a new way, I believed that it was far more informative about Sartre's creative work than Faulkner's. As if Faulkner's writing were a mirror into which Sartre could gaze and find what reflected his own aesthetic within.

Critical Response
Part of the homework assignment for this week is to write a two to three page critical response to yet another criticism of The Sound and the Fury, this one by Olga Vickery. There is also an option to write a compare and contrast essay of two critical works, but I am leaning away from that particular option. Since the Vickery essay cites the Sartre criticism, I don't find that I am interested in comparing and contrasting them. Though, technically, only compare is needed, since the definition of compare includes both similarities and dissimilarities.

Working on it, thus far, has not been as easy as I had anticipated. Though it is fair to write that I also foresaw that I would have procrastination issues with this, because it is the first of this type of essay that I have had to write in quite some time. Until now, my homework at Boise State has consisted in writing reading responses, fiction, and technical writing. This critical response essay is a different beast, of a sort I had not ridden since high school, to take the metaphor a shade too far.

I know that I will get it done by the time it is due, but the process is irritatingly slow at this point. And, to add insult to injury, in exchange for writing this critical response, there is to be no class meeting this Tuesday - exactly one week before the hockey season starts with the Chicago Blackhawks raising their latest Stanley Cup banner. Why, oh why, couldn't we have not had class on October 1st? It is torture to me to have missed by only a week the opportunity to watch that game without ditching class. Not that I'm planning on ditching class, although the thought had crossed my mind. I savored it for a moment, the idea of skipping a class to watch a hockey game, in a bar by necessity since I don't have cable, and then I let it go. Not worth it. Darn my rule-following nature!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Off Season

Over the summer I practiced writing. I set word count goals and met them. I finished drafting a novel, which I'm now letting simmer before picking up again. I wrote short stories and tried, unsuccessfully, to sell them.

Now that the fall is here, I am firmly into the off season. I am taking a literature class, and I'm going to focus on that rather than focusing on fiction writing. When the class ends, I'll be back into writing until the next class starts.

I do a couple short stories that I want to sell, if I can ever get to a point of satisfaction with them. Both of them are almost too long to be short stories and too short to be novellas. I could probably get away with the term novelette but I'm not sure I want to. They're both fantasy, but different types; one of them has a more science fictional bent, and my husband says it reads like a prequel to a larger story. The other one I wrote deliberately as the first in a series, but I'm debating trying to just make one long story instead of making short parts.

In a way, it doesn't make sense that I want to write stories and sell them, rather than focusing on creating a real career for myself in my current job or going back to school for something practical like computer science or medicine. I'd be good at those things, maybe better than I am at telling stories, almost certainly better because I could study them and put the pieces together and have a right and a wrong answer. Proof by theorem and definite results.

Writing is subjective. There are books that people love and books that people hate and books that I've read and wondered why and how on earth did these get published? All the "rules" that I'm reading are clearly broken in these cliched and strained piles of ink - so how did they get through the gatekeepers supposedly guarding the sanctity of literature from the ravening hoards of self-publishers (I've always wanted to join a hoard!).

I think I'm getting better at figuring out what doesn't work, but not enough so to garner any sort of feedback, positive or negative, except from my husband - and even he sometimes refuses to comment. He tells me that I'm at a zero, on the scale of minus one, zero, plus one. Not bad enough to solicit negative opinions, but not good enough to solicit positive ones. Zero's not a bad place to be, but I get frustrated. How am I to know what's wrong with my storytelling if I don't get any comments? If it's just so blah, then how can I know what to change to make it not blah?

Such are the paranoid ramblings that make me glad to give myself an off season.

If having written and submitted a story today, and submitted another to a different market, actually counts as an off season...

Update, 9/17: I wrote and submitted another short story today. Apparently, I really don't get this off-season thing.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

New Hiking Blog

I've moved my entries about hiking to a different blog, To check out the latest entry about my solo thru-hike to Stump Lake, click here.

This blog will continue to get posts of non-exercise related essays and occasional fiction. The other one will focus on fitness and the outdoors.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Karma irritates me.

No, that's not true.

The way people use the word, "karma," irritates me. A lot. Because how it's used simply does not match what it means.

As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary:

"Buddhism. The sum of a person's actions in one of his successive states of existence, regarded as determining his fate in the next; hence, necessary fate or destiny, following as effect from cause. Also in Hinduism."

As defined by

"1. Hinduism, Buddhism. action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation: in Hinduism one of the means of reaching Brahman. ...
2. Theosophy. the cosmic principle according to which each person is rewarded or punished in one incarnation according to that person's deeds in the previous incarnation.
3. fate; destiny. ...
4. the good or bad emanations felt to be generated by someone or something."

As defined by Merriam-Webster:

"1 often capitalized: the force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person's next existence."

As used frequently by people on television and people I know:

1. When something happens that you think someone deserves, e.g when something bad happens to someone you don't like, or when something good happens to someone you do like.

For example, when your arch-rival in the department, Myron, who beat you out for a promotion last year and has generally pissed you off in all ways, gets the hiccups during a crucial client meeting, you shake your head while thinking of how many times he has been totally rude to you and, with a smug expression, you say "He shouldn't have taken the last of the donuts from the break room - bad karma."

Or when your bestest friend, Lindy, who has always been there for you, and who recently ran a puppy down with her car without owning up to the deed, wins $500 in the lottery, you smile and beam and exclaim, "Lindy's got such good karma!"

That's not how it works, folks.

Or not how it is supposed to work. Language evolves, and, now that the dictionaries have caught up with the common usage of the word, "hopefully," there is hope for karma.

Now, I know there is a term that covers this usage, that of so-called, "instant karma." However, I almost never hear that phrase spoken. The "instant" has completely dropped off, even while people use the term as if "instant" were spoken before it.

Therefore, I propose that the dictionaries begin reflecting actual usage when it comes to karma, and include my proposed definitions as soon as possible. Hopefully, that's just what will happen. You know, because I've got really good karma.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Popping the Cherry Part 2

Popping the Cherry Part 1

The first draft of my first full-length novel is complete at just over 83,000 words.

I'm not going to subject anyone to reading it for now, not even myself.

Instead, I'm going to let it sit in a virtual drawer for a while. The plan is to take it out again in December and consider about doing something with it.

I didn't write science fiction or fantasy for this one. It's more like a slice of life, a crux and turning point in one person's journey. It's a love story, and, in that way, a bit of a fantasy. The arc of the story is less clear-cut than a fantasy quest or the conquering of an external villain, but that's less a fault of the genre than my own inexperience - hence the practice.

I'm in a bit of shock right now. I've been writing about 1000 words a day on this story since July 3rd, with the days I was hiking Snowslide Lakes excepted, and I feel hollow without that goal poised over my head. I'm going to be taking a class this semester, and so I did plan to finish it before class started so I wouldn't be tempted away from classwork by it. But class won't start for another few weeks.

There is a lightness to my mind, and I can't quite grasp that I have finished that first draft. It is done. It might gather virtual dust in a virtual drawer for the next fifty years, but I still did it. I can do it again.

If it does go anywhere, I will make an update on this blog, but I almost feel like I've gotten it out of the way. I've created a long work, completed a story of novel length, and it was good practice.

Now it's time to move on, and do better.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: Four Random Items

Another Flash Fiction Challenge entry for Terrible Minds: 

The Pawn

Gorseton was a good town, with solid walls and a thriving market, but, like most of Trogshold, it followed a strict religion which allowed neither practice nor preaching of other faiths. Only the single god could be worshiped, and worshiped it must be by all folk hoping to find shelter in Gorseton’s walls. These strictures made it easy for my mother and I to conceal ourselves for many months after we fled Dnarlo.

We held no regard for their faith or their god, but managed quite well to conceal our true beliefs. I found it difficult, especially when the priesthood flaunted their corruption, as they seemed to at almost any opportunity. The day we fled, I found it at the market.

The central market of Gorseton was a great square, centered by a fountain and surrounded on all sides by aisles of stalls. By dusk, many were packing up for the night, but a few stayed open later – wine stalls, those offering entertainment, and, of course, those offering religious items.

My greatest complaint about Gorseton was that they allowed no medicine that was not blessed. I know perfectly well that the yellow flower of autumn that grows in brambles, when ground to a powder will relieve pain, but to them, it would do nothing if the blessing of their god was not conferred under proper ceremony. Naturally, this made the price higher, as the priests of the single god could not accept offerings for anything other than services directly rendered. And, somehow, they managed to find enough services to offer to keep them in fine food and finer living.

I purchased the powder from the temple stall that had red shaded lamps already lit at the corners against the waning light of day. The stall keeper raised her hands in blessing, and I saw that she was a novice priest. I kept my face still as I added a copper to the payment. I wanted to skimp, or grumble, but that was not a choice given to me. Walking away from the stall, I saw the man for the first time.

He wore a black cloak that covered his body, leaving his hands and head the only points of identity. The hands were dirty and dark, but the face was lighter in color. Brown hair grew to his shoulders. In Gorseton, only men who were priests were allowed long hair, but such a faux pas would not cost the stranger much. It was what swung from his neck on a leather thong that could get him killed.

Whether it was luck or fate, I cannot say, but the pawn was black, hiding against the cloth of his cloak. I knew it quickly only because I wore its twin around my neck, carefully concealed under my clothing.

The pawn is the symbol of Ayndu’s worship. She is the Goddess to whom I pray, despite being driven from Dnarlo, Ayndu’s cradle, for a blasphemy in the minds of a corrupt priest. The pawn reminds us that we are all pawns in the games of the Gods, and to know our place is to grasp the ability to go beyond.

I made my decision in but a moment, running into him as if I were clumsy and dropping my purchase and pouch. He apologized and leaned down to help me.

“You cannot wear that here,” I whispered as our heads were close to the ground. “Do you not know they will kill you?”

“If they were going to kill me for it, then why have they not already, since I’ve passed the gate guard and paid an entry tax in return for a blessing from a worthless god?”

I gasped, both to hear their single god so named and to hear my own thoughts echoed in this stranger’s words.

“But you, you grasped me immediately. I think you’re the one I’m looking for.” He slid a hand inside his cloak and came out with a leather mask. I paled and scooped up the powder. He held my pouch, but it didn’t matter as much as fleeing.

He grabbed for my arm, but I slipped away and ran.

“Wait! Come back!” I heard him yell, but I didn’t slow. He would just draw the attention of some priest who did know the pawn for what it was.

The powder eased my mother’s pains enough to start our journey immediately, taking only what we could carry, what was prepared for exactly such a need. We headed north, and east, farther away from the lands and people that we knew.

Our first three days on the road passed without event, but on the morning of the fourth, my mother could not rise from her bedroll. We were travelling by foot and spending nights in traveler’s clearings by crossroads, but staying more than one night would attract unwanted attention. Staying for the day certainly would. I studied the signs of the crossing and compared them to my map. It would take three days for me to make the next village, and the same number back. Far too long to leave mother alone.

That’s where he found me. His black cloak was the same, but the pawn was now concealed, and his face was covered by the mask, a smooth, supple brown covering with eyeholes and slits for nose and mouth. A priest of Ayndu, come to kill us and end our journey for good.

I pulled my own pawn out from under my shirt. It shone white, brighter than I had ever seen it. The stories call that color Ayndu’s eye, and I glared at the priest, daring him to defy her sign of favor.

His eyes crinkled in what seemed like a smile. He went to his knees and pulled out a small object that he offered to me. I stepped closer. Cupped in his hands was the skull of a rat.

“Tarn was called to trial by the assembly, and found guilty of corruption. His guilt chose his final form, and I was commissioned to bring it to you as proof, and to beg for your return, Your Highness, and that of the queen mother, if she still lives.”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: Last Lines First

Another Flash Fiction Challenge entry courtesy of TerribleMinds. Last week's challenge was to propose a last line of a story, and this week we were to choose one of Chuck's top ten last lines to be our first lines. I picked, "She closed the book and watched as it turned to dust." For a while I thought about going with a Twilight Zone kind of tale wherein she can't finish any books because they all turn to dust when she puts them down, but then I ended up with something different.

"A Brand New World"

She closed the book and watched as it turned to dust. The parchment paper caught every speck, and she didn’t dare breathe as she picked up the edges and tilted it into a clean Erlenmeyer flask. The dust slid smoothly off, needing only a few light taps to get the last of it off. Then she snugged a cork stopper into the narrow glass neck and set it aside.

Her feet tapped on the rungs of the stool in her workshop. She took a deep breath and blew it out noisily. There was no point in waiting any longer.


Her workshop was a hovel. It used to be a garage attached to a house, but somewhere along the line the house had been destroyed, leaving behind a pile of wood and rusting fixtures. The garage door might have been hooked up to move at the click of a button once, but was now sealed by rust and – I squinted – spells.

When the magic first came to Boise, those that could, fled. Settling in like an inversion layer, the magic took everyone by surprise. Houses like this one weren’t uncommon when a family found out the hard way that a baby had been infected with abilities far beyond reason or comprehension.

Drive a few hours in any direction and it’s gone.

For now.

I knocked at the side door and listened. Metallic squeaks, a muffled hiss of pain, three physical bolts and one alchemical seal presaged the opening of the door. My contact’s hair hung in limp, unwashed strands around her face, the start of dreadlocks that wouldn’t quite come together. Her skin was pale and sheened with sweat. No wonder she'd done it so fast.


I pulled a vial of golden dust out of my jacket pocket and held it up for her to inspect. She reached out and I pulled it away.

“One vial of dragonfly in exchange for one powdered book,” I said. She made a frustrated hum in the back of her throat.

“Come in, then.”

I walked inside, careful not to make physical contact with her as I slid into the crowded room and she resealed the door behind us. I let a part of my mind make a quick analysis of her security and decided I would be able to exit with or without her cooperation. Then I made my way over to her worktable and wrinkled my nose. Too much clutter to tell where my product might be hiding.

She scooted past me and plucked a corked flask from the wreckage. I reached for it, but she slithered away. I rolled my eyes and held out the vial.

She practically shoved the flask at me as she snatched her payment out of my hand.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Check it.”

I could tell she wanted to be alone, but her arm spasmed. Once it calmed, she popped the vial open and used a long fingernail to scoop up some of the sparkling powder. She capped the vial and snorted her fix.

The change was immediate. Her features shimmered, the lank hair acquiring a new sheen, the pocked face becoming clear and smooth. She smiled, and was almost beautiful.

“Don’t know why you wanted that book dusted anyway. It was so old it was practically dust already.”

“I know. It was a first edition.”

She frowned without losing a bit of her artificial beauty. I began to ease my way to the door, and she followed.

“I destroyed a first edition?”

“And you were paid well for it.”

She swallowed. The vial I’d given her would last for months, well husbanded. I’d bet on her squandering it in a week, two at the outside.

I waited for her to unseal the door, which she did with an appearance of grace ruined by it sticking and needing a good shove.

She watched me walk away before shutting herself back inside her own little corner of a world gone to hell.


Like most of the remaining residents, I used a bicycle to get around. Anything much more technologically advanced had stopped working, and a bike gave you a better chance of out-running the gangs of feral, semi-intelligent cats that had taken over the North End.

I took the safest route to my workshop, in the basement of an abandoned building on the outskirts of what used to be Boise State University, before that fateful day when chemistry met alchemy and leveled ten city blocks. It involved going out of my way by about two miles, but I only needed one encounter with a bridge troll to decide a second was not in my best interests.

I ducked through intentionally unkempt brush to the trace that led to my stairs, concealed by a simple lattice of branches. At the bottom of the stairs, the door with no knob served to give visitors pause, if they didn’t know the trick to opening it. I placed my hands on two spots and spoke the key invocation. Handles materialized and I pulled the door open and slipped inside before it thunked close again.

Two rooms, a closet and a bathroom, all much cleaner than the addict’s I’d just seen. The entry room was my bedroom (the better to greet unwelcome guests at any and all hours). I walked down the hall to my work room and pulled out the flask, popping out the cork and setting it on the spot I had prepared in the wee hours of the night.

How the University had come upon such an edition in the first place, I didn’t know, but when I found it scavenging in the sub-basement of the wrecked library, the spell came to me in a flash of revelation.

The flask sat on a mirror, with four objects placed around it at cardinal points: a rose, a dead bee, a thimble and a gold ring.

The words I spoke were nonsense in any language, but in this new pocket of magic that had burst onto the world, they carried meaning. Meaning guided by my intent.

The dust began to flow out of the flask, coalescing in the air above it as the book it had started as.

“K-saosstt-nsmp-oys-tu,” I said, finishing after half an hour of intense concentration. My throat felt dry. I plucked the new-old book from the air and flipped to the end. I had always wanted it to end differently.

And now it did, wherever magic held sway.

The Savage lives.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Nominee Project

I've been doing a lot of reading about writing lately, from books to blogs, and, partially based on what I've read, I decided to read all of the Nebula and Hugo award nominee novels for this year. A lot of what I read recommended becoming familiar with current writing in one's preferred genre, and I happen to be mostly interested in science fiction and fantasy, so where better to start familiarizing myself than with those nominees?

The Nebula Award nominees for Novel, 2012:
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Drowning Girl, CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan (Roc)
Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

The Hugo Award nominees for Novel, 2013:
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

Conveniently, two of the books were nominated for each award, and one of them I had already read. But still, it was a significant undertaking- I began this quest in May and just finished today. When I started the Nebula nominees, I began to despair that I should not be a writer, because, to be honest, I didn't really enjoy reading most of those books, each for their own special reasons. I'm not intending this to be a book review (there may be a few spoilers, but they're mild), but more like a me review. After all, these books were all published, and are therefore better than anything I've ever written. They're also nominated for awards - again, more than I've got.

But that doesn't mean I don't get to have an opinion, right?

I started reading The Drowning Girl first. The cover looked really cool, and the idea of the book was quite appealing to me. Crazy girl writes about her crazy, what's not to like? The question I ended up asking was what is there to like? I can't fault the writing, and there were parts that I enjoyed, parts that made me curious, but- I stopped reading this book the first time before I finished the first chapter. I did finish it, eventually, but I read three other books before I read the last page of this one. I do not think I would have made it through if I hadn't been challenging myself. The conceit of it all being typed on a typewriter, the stories within the 'memoir', and the swirling between using first and third person just did not appeal to me. At the same time, that such a book has been published certainly demonstrates that rule-breaking can sell.

The Killing Moon was one of the books I read while trying to get through The Drowning Girl. I was excited to see that N. K. Jemison was female. Girl power, yay! I definitely had an easier time reading this one, and never wanted to throw the book across the room in frustration, but I felt that I had read the first chapter before. Something about the opening scene was nigglingly familiar to me, and that hidden itch affected my reading of it. I was disappointed by the ending, and I don't feel compelled to read the second book in the set.

Ironskin was read in that same interval, and I think my prejudice against Jane Austen colored my reception of it. I think I tried to read Sense and Sensibility about a dozen times between the ages of 12 and 20 before giving up for good. A college friend told me I had started with the wrong book, but it was too late. She never could convince me to pick up another, and I didn't enjoy the one I had to read for school (which I've deleted from long term storage in my memory). I didn't find the speed with which Jane's emotions developed to be realistic. It's funny how when you're reading fantasy, some things still feel too fantastic, like they fall out of the parameters that were initially set by the author. I'm constantly afraid of crossing that line in my writing, but, based on this book, maybe I shouldn't be.

Glamour in Glass set the rule for the rest of the series books on these lists. It was the first one that I had to make the decision of whether to read prior books when the nominee was not the first in its series. Although this is entirely contrary to my normal book reading habits, I decided to read only the nominees, and not any books that might precede them serially. As a result, I was really confused about the whole pregnancy and magic issue. I thought it must have been something that was mentioned in the previous book, and that's why I felt lost. When I finished the book, I read in the author's note that this was a feature exclusively of the second book - I only felt lost, because I knew there had been something before, but didn't know what that before was. If it had been the first book, maybe that detail would not have struck me so oddly.

Oh, and is there a rule that every female protagonist in historical fantasy has to be named Jane?

I was disappointed when I realized that Kim Stanley Robinson was male, not female. I know Stanley is a guy's name, but I figured it could be one of those things where the middle name is the mom's maiden name or something. But no, male Kim. Once I got over that blip, 2312 was interesting... The excerpts, lists and especially the quantum wanderings were painful to read. They were like modern art - I know it's supposed to be art, but I just don't get why it is art and my abstract scribblings are not. Another inexplicable emotional entanglement surrounded by some neat-o ideas. Meh.

At this point, I found myself wondering if anything that was nominated for an award was something that I would really enjoy reading.

Throne of the Crescent Moon began to restore my faith. I did like reading it. It was a fast read that kept me invested in the story and didn't knock me out of the story with perceived inconsistencies. I'm not chomping at the bit to read more by Saladin Ahmed, but I'd be more inclined to read his other books than any others on the Nebula list.

It was about at this point that I looked into how these award nominees are selected. Essentially, the Nebulas are nominated by professional writers, and the Hugos are nominated by fans. Reading the Nebulas first was probably a good idea, because otherwise I would have ended on a sour note, instead of a sweet one.

2312 and Throne of the Crescent Moon were on both lists, which is part of the reason I decided to include the Hugos in the first place - it wouldn't be that much more work, and surely fans would nominate works more readable than pros, right?


If I had looked at the back cover of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance before starting to read it, I might have been a little more sour towards it. The front cover is cool, kind of a hokey space opera type thing, but the back cover... Okay, I get the nearly naked blue girl is a dancer, somewhat of an exhibitionist, but there is no reason why Tej should be draped over the couch like a sex-drugged kitten. Rear cover art aside, I enjoyed reading this book as well. It made some nice abrupt turns that still made sense in the larger context and the story ended in both an expected and unexpected way - the title really gave away the permanent nature of the supposed temporary alliance to me. I was really glad I'd already decided not to read all books in a series before reading the nominee when I got to this one. I think it's number 19.

Ah, Blackout. Is there any higher compliment that can be given than, "I read this book in one day"? Okay, I guess staying up all night to finish would be a superior compliment, but I can't help that I can read fast when inspired (and I started this one at like 10am). I pretty much couldn't put this one down. Yay! This one was number 3 in a trilogy, and I've got the first two on my 'to read' list now. I thought hard about whether I wanted to read the first two first, because I thought I might not want to read the first two if I already knew the ultimate ending, but I don't think I'll mind knowing the ultimate ending. I feel like there was a lot that I missed by not knowing the whole story, and I actually want to know what it was. I really enjoyed this book, even without having read the first two, which I think may be more difficult for an author to achieve than having a reader enjoy a standalone. I think Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire is my new hero.

And, finally, the one I've read before: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas. My husband and I found Old Man's War in a Borders several years ago, and we both enjoyed it enough to buy the other books in that universe. I started reading John Scalzi's Whatever, and therefore learned of Redshirts in a more direct manner. I enjoyed it, both the first reading, and the re-reading I completed today to finish my project. It's entertaining, funny and I'm enough of a Star Trek fan to appreciate the basis. It was also interesting to read it a second time, because I paid a lot more attention to how the story was constructed, what techniques were used to transition from one scene to another, and how the exposition was handled, among other things.

So I read some books I liked, and some that I didn't like, and at least one that I wanted to punch. I am glad to have completed this project - both in the sense that I'm glad I did it, and I'm glad I'm done. I'm going to be shifting my reading focus back to books on writing, though I think I'll make time for the rest of the Newsflesh trilogy before school starts...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: Down the TV Tropes Rabbit Hole

This week's challenge from Terrible Minds was to randomly select a TV trope from this website, using their Random button. Multiple clicks were allowed if a non-story item was selected. I went cycled through Time-Shifted Character to Psychedelic Rock to Fuku Fic to what I ended up using: Sinking Ship Scenario.

"The Spore"

The spore had been traveling for a long time through the void of space, hitched on a speck of rock, tumbling at random, one of many, many such travelers sent in the hopes of growth. It did not mind. There was no hurry. The spore survived the cold and airless space in a dormant sleep, with no awareness of its journey.

Until it hit the metal skin of a ship with a plink that would only have been audible to someone inside with their ear to the hull within a few feet of impact. No one heard.

The difference in temperature was slight, but it was enough to wake the spore from dormancy. Feeding on the rock, it began to explore its new surroundings. There was heat nearby, and moisture, and the spore yearned to find them and grow.


“I can’t believe you didn’t go see Tommy Galaxy- he really had tickets for the live show?” Makayla asked.

“And VIP passes,” replied Alex as they ambled down a utility corridor on the way to the Undine’s galley.

“What? Are you insane?” Makayla ducked under a protruding air vent and grabbed Alex’s arm.

“The guy was a creep, no way I want to be in debt to a guy like that. He’d want to collect, you know?”

“Who cares? Tommy Galaxy… you could have touched him…” Makayla sighed.

“Ms. Torrence, acknowledge?” Makayla giggled. Alex shoved her.

“Shut up, I have to answer that.” She flicked her comm line to respond. “Alex here, what’s up Gregor?”

“Up? There is no up on the Undine, Ms. Torrence, as while it is engaged in an artificial gravity-”

“Sorry, G, I know about the gravity, I’m the one who fixes it, remember? Just tell me what you called about, okay?”

“Right. Sections 409-13a through f of the hull sensors have gone dark in the aft cargo hold. No alarms, no indications of pressure loss or breach, just dark. Could you please conduct a visual inspection as soon as possible?”

Alex rolled her eyes for Makayla’s benefit. Sensors died all the time on this heap, she thought, I don’t have to inspect every little thing.

“Right away, thanks Gregor,” she said, and flicked her comm back to receive only.

“What a dink. D’you think he’ll ever get that he’s not in the military anymore?”

Alex shook her head and waved. “Catch you later. And don’t you dare drink my coffee ration this time, I’ll be back for it soon.”

The aft cargo hold was mostly empty. A few brace containers were still locked to the floor, casting shadows in the sparse unoccupied status lighting, but nothing was on the manifest. Alex had less trouble navigating its spaces than the tight confines of the utility corridors that no one seemed to have planned for people to actually walk through in gravity. She grabbed a multi-tool from her belt and flicked a beam that both illuminated and scanned the 409-13 section of the hull.

The light reflected off metal until she hit the affected section. She stepped closer. White fuzz patches littered the wall. She flicked her comm to contact Makayla, who, as the ships supercargo, would have a faster answer than if Alex tried to access the data banks herself.

“Hey, Mak, when’s the last time we had organics in the aft?”

“Organics? Two weeks, give or take. But it’s been vacuum scrubbed three times since the last time we transported anything live. What’s going on Alex?”

Alex stowed switched the beam off. The scan had revealed no lack of hull integrity, but nothing else. She pulled out a screwdriver and scraped at the white stuff.

It puffed, whooshing particles into the air that Alex helplessly inhaled as she gasped.


“Alex?” Makayla didn’t bother waiting for a reply before switching to general broadcast. “Alex is in the aft cargo bay and out of contact, stand by for updates, I’m going to check it out.”

“This better not be a joke, or you’re both fired,” replied Brin, owner and captain of the Undine, in a sleep-roughed alto.

Makayla left her comm on and made her way to the aft hold as quickly as she could without bruising or impaling herself - a lot slower than she wanted. She knew it wasn’t a joke, that Alex wouldn’t just cut off like that. Alex was reliable, always. This has to be something simple, she thought, otherwise Gregor would be setting off alerts like the good little sailor he isn’t anymore. 

She burst into the hold and saw Alex sprawled on the floor. Was she breathing?

“Tani, get down here, Alex needs medical attention like five minutes ago!” Makayla stepped over to her friend, and leaned down, putting her hand in front of Alex’s mouth, hoping to feel a breath.

A blizzard of white specks erupted from Alex in a cough, enveloping Makayla.


Tani found the door to the aft hold locked.

“What’s going on? They’re both down, I need to help them.”

“Do a remote scan. You’re not going in there until you can tell me why they’re both down,” said Brin, walking up behind Tani. “Gregor, has the sensor deadening spread?”

“Yes, Ma’am, sections 409-13 through 18 are now unresponsive-” the lights flickered in the corridor “and I’m starting to lose some other systems as well.”

“Other systems? It isn’t like you to be so imprecise.”

He cleared his throat noisily. “Is this the sort of thing that should be announced over general comm?”

“Damnit Gregor, how many people do you think are on this damn ship? You’ve got enough fingers to count them on one hand so just tell me what other systems, now.”

“Electronics, propulsion and primary life support. Secondary life support is full green,” he added quickly.

Brin turned to Tani, “Well?”

Tani holstered her scanner. Her eyes glistened. “No life signs.”

“Captain, the engines have failed. We’re drifting.”

“Tani, why didn’t I pick up more crew at Alabaster Station?”

“Because you never saw such a sorry scum-sack of freeloader wannabes in your life, or at least that’s what I remember hearing. I might have missed a few choice descriptors.”

“Gregor, isolate the aft hold as best you can. Tani and I are coming to the bridge.”


“Tani, what do you know about engines?” Brin asked, spinning back and forth in her captain’s chair on the bridge. Tani barked a laugh.

“You’re kidding, right?”


“I navigate, ma’am. All I know about engines is how to direct them.”

“Seriously? I should have picked up some of those lazy scumbags at Alabaster. I could at least throw them out of the airlock to influence our drift.” Brin put a hand to her forehead. “I’m going to assume that both of you know how to read. Read the goddamn troubleshooting instructions for the engines and follow them Gregor. Tani, evaluate the life support situation and report. I’m going to verify the seal on the hold.”


The spore enjoyed the intense warmth inside the metal box, because it allowed the spore to multiply and grow. The organic heat sources approached it with appropriate diplomacy at first, but when they attacked, it had no choice but to defend itself.

The organic medium was an ideal location for growth.


“The secondary life support systems are still green, Brin. I’ve run the diagnostics, and as far as I can tell there’s nothing wrong with them. Primary has blank spots. There’s no indication why or whether that means they’ll drop.”

“Thank you, Tani. Gregor?”

He threw up his hands. “This is impossible, ma’am. The instructions for troubleshooting are predicated on the idea that the sensors are responding, a few of them at least, and I’ve got nothing!”

“Then you’re gong to have to do it the old-fashioned way. To the engine room with you.”


“Oh, now you feel you can disobey orders, sailor boy?” Tani said.

“Go with him, Tani.”



They both grumbled as they left the bridge. The lights flickered again. Brin swore under her breath and continued to swivel in her chair.

The door clunked open and then shut behind her.

“Damn it, I know you haven’t had time to get down there and back. Did you forget your blankie, Gregor?”

There was no response.

Brin turned to see Alex standing in the doorway. Her eyes were shut, white fuzz hazing her eyelashes, nostrils and ears. Brin swallowed and went still in her chair. A hand drifted to the holstered electro gun on her chair.

“Stop.” Brin’s hand froze. Alex’s voice had thickened, grown echoes within itself, but it was still her voice. “We wish to talk.”

“Who is ‘we’?” Brin was afraid she knew the answer; Alex’s body was not breathing, not reacting as if a person was still in there.

“We. Us. This host.”

“Is your host alive?”

“What the host was is held in memory.”

“And the other?”

“Both are cherished.

“We require transportation. You will cooperate.”

“Your host knows better than I do how to fly this ship. Make her do it.” Brin leaned back in her chair.

“This host no longer has the fine motor skills to operate machinery.” It raised Alex’s arm, and Brin could see that the hand was stiff with the white fuzz. “You must cooperate.”

Gregor and Tani opened the door.

“You tell her.”

“No, you tell her, I’ve got seniority.”

Tani screamed when she saw Alex standing. Alex turned jerkily. Gregor saw the white fuzz on her face and, acting on instinct honed from years of bar fights, swung a fist and struck Alex in the face.

A cloud of spores flew into the air.


The ship drifted for a long time through the void of space…