Tuesday, December 31, 2013


You might have noticed that I made a couple of changes around here.

I resisted putting my photo online for a long time, and part of me still wishes that there was some magical way to avoid that.  I wish I could stay in the part of the Internet where we have to judge each other only on our words, because there's no name or voice or body to let us shortcut our reason by saying "oh, of course - s/he's one of those."  But that would mean never leaving my computer or going to any events ever, and I'm not willing to do that.  So now you can enjoy me as I exist in carbon-world: as Yet Another Squishy White Woman.  (And a damn fine example of the species, if I do say so myself.  Shout-out to all my fellow SWWs!)

I resisted using my given name for similar reasons.  It's hard to spell and pronounce and remember, for one thing.  But more than that, I always felt like the scariness that is writing and inviting the whole world to read it almost requires some kind of spandex-clad second identity, so the slings and arrows of outraged readers fall not on Bruce Wayne, but on Batman.  Because he can handle it.  Because he's Batman

Well, I've written what I've written, and I look the way I look, and I probably ought to get comfortable with owning all of that.  (Though I'll take it as a favor if y'all still call me Tex.)

But I'm not gonna lie, you guys.  I am scared out of my mind way more often than I'd like to be, and it's not just pre-publication jitters.

--I'm scared of putting my picture up, cuz I've seen what people do with them (especially if you're a gal who starts having unwelcome opinions.)

--I'm scared of using my real name, cuz I've also seen how clever the Internet can be in digging up your personal information and delivering the rape-and-death threats right to your doorstep.

--I'm scared of going to cons as anything but an attendee, because I've heard all the horror stories about creepers and stalkers, in addition to the more garden-variety "how 'bout you have a nice big glass of shut up and sit down, little lady" social misdemeanors.

--I'm scared of the regular old "your books suck, you suck, and you should probably just go die in a fire" reviews, comments, and hate mail that seem to be par for the course these days.

And you know what?  I bet that is not a drop in the freaking ocean compared to the racism, ableism, and homophobia that I'll never have to deal with. 

Anyway, none of this has actually happened yet.  And when it does, it won't be anything that hasn't happened to hundreds and thousands of other people.  It won't be anything that I didn't accept as a risk when I decided to get into this gig.  After all, if you play outside long enough, sooner or later you're going to scrape your knee.  For me personally, the thrill of the playground is worth the risk.  And I'm incredibly lucky to have made it this far.

I guess mostly I'm just going to miss this version of me.  The one who's never had a nasty encounter, who can go to cons all starry-eyed and bouncingly enthusiastic, who's never had to find out what does or doesn't qualify as justification for a restraining order or a harassment complaint.  There's already so much "except for..." in my love for SFF fandom and Internet culture in general, and it's going to suck to have to add to that.

Well, here's to 2014: the year I get out there and get dirty.  Bring it on.

Hold your head high, take a deep breath and sigh
Goodbye to Sandra Dee.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

From 60 to Zero in 3.5

Well, it's like this: on Monday night, I got in my first actual for-real car accident.

I was doing about 60 in the middle lane of the freeway.  Then the fellow on my right careened into the guardrail, ricocheted off, and slammed into into the right front corner of my car.  It knocked me into the left lane (though fortunately nobody else was near me.)  By that time he was veering wildly all over the road, and I was so scared he was going to hit me again.  I sped up to get out of his way, but something was really wrong with my car, so I pulled over onto the left shoulder and threw on my blinkers.  He ended up spun out and smoking across two lanes.

I ended up in the back of a patrol car. 
(Did you know the seats back there are plastic?  True fact.)

Things got more orderly after that.  I called 911.  The police came, and some ambulances.  They towed my car, and dropped me off at a Whataburger, where my sister collected me and took me home.  I got a good telling-off from the Dude for not taking up the medical personnel on their offer of a once-over, but I didn't hit anything inside the car and the airbag didn't deploy.  (Weirdly enough, it's my foot that's been killing me here, three days after the fact.  I can't figure that one out.) 

So everything's in limbo at the moment.  Car's got at least a broken axle, but we're still waiting to hear the full extent of the damage.  Really REALLY hope it's not a write-off.  In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about how much worse it could have been, and all the little advantages that add up in situations like this.  You know, living in a town where you have family and friends who can come get you when you're in a pickle.  Having full collision coverage, so you're not wringing your hands wondering if you just had a $10,000 bad day.  Having the means to walk over to the car rental place after the fact and get yourself some temporary wheels.  Knowing that you have medical insurance, so you're covered if you wake up the next day with your head on backwards.

But what's really killing me is that I don't know anything about that other car.  Was the driver hurt?  Did s/he have passengers?  Were they wearing seat belts?  What caused them to lose control in the first place?  I must have sat there for half an hour, talked to the police four or five times, and it never once occurred to me to ask.  I just didn't even think about it.

Regardless, the police report should be up by tomorrow, so hopefully we'll find out soon.  We still had a really good Christmas with the the Texas/New Mexico branch of Team Thompson.  And even if the car is a loss, it won't be an insurmountable one.

It's just really weird, you know, to suddenly find yourself in a place where your second-to-second decisions are the super-vitally-important ones.  Weirder still to look back after the fact and realize that maybe you're not exactly the kind of person you thought you were.

At any rate, I know the holidays are stressful for a lot of my friends.  Hope you guys got through it with at least one good thing added to your memory banks, and at least one more to look forward to.  Y'all stay safe out there, and think a good thought with me for driver #2 in the meantime.

We just had a near-life experience, fellas.

Friday, December 20, 2013

"One Night in Sixes" Available for Pre-Order!

Not gonna lie, y'all.  It's pretty freakin' exciting.

One Night in Sixes is available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

What I know so far:

--right now it's mass-market paperback only, but the ebook version will be forthcoming.

--big delicious version of the full cover (w/title and everything) is likewise still in the works

--the Goodreads page is live too!  (waiting for aforesaid big delicious cover, and then we'll add it there as well)

--it hasn't shown up yet on Barnes & Noble, but is populating to other retailers (and search works better if you put the title in quotes.)

--paper and ebook versions will officially launch on July 29th

I won't be doing the huge "hurry up and get you one!" sales push until things are a little more put together - but if it sounds like your kind of yarn and you do want a paper version, go put your name on it!  (And if you want me to put my name on it, I will even bring my own pen.  Hell, I will sign your ANYthing.)

Thanks ALL y'all who have already lent your attention and enthusiasm to this thing.  Soon, the lightning will strike and the current will arc and it will LIVE!

Don't know if I'm elated or gassy, but I'm somewhere in that zone.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Sawmill's Hope, or, Kickstarting Over the Snake River Canyon

You know, I'm starting to believe that an essential function of friendship is to enrich your life with people who think of - and DO - things you never would have.  If true, this would explain a lot about my marriage.  (Like, not only would I not have elected to draw a giant dick in the sand at a friend's beachside wedding rehearsal, it never occurred to me to WANT to.)

Case in point, though: one of my newest friends, David List, is currently Kickstarting a fantasy novel called A Sawmill's Hope.  This is currently blowing my mind.

He had me at "fishmen."
(image (c) David List and Tracy Flynn)
To be clear: the idea of Kickstarter itself, or using it to fund novels, is nothing exceptionally new.  I watched A Lee Martinez fund a short story collection earlier this year (and Robots and Slime Monsters is coming out soon, BTW!)  And although it's actually the first I've heard of him, Harry Connolly has done a great writeup about his recent success with funding a new fantasy trilogy the same way.

But see, those guys are are Big-Five multipublished authors, who already have a slew of books out on the shelves.  For our man David, A Sawmill's Hope is his brand-spanking-new debut.  He doesn't have 900 professionally-published pages worth of reputation to ramp up on.  He doesn't have a big established fanbase to rev up for this project.  That dude is running on passion, guts, and passion. And guts.  So like... I guess sort of a whole 80's action movie parfait, minus the obligatory power ballad.

That is pretty amazing to me, because Kickstarter takes the traditional self-publishing model and does a total 180.  Instead of putting your book up on Amazon and then spending years convincing people to buy it, you ask for their money up front, and have only Xty-two DAYS to convince them to ante up. If the funding goal doesn't make, all of your backers' pledges poof into the ether, and you got nothing.

I believe my chosen analogy is an accurate one.

So how do you sell people on a book they can't buy yet, written by an author they've never read?  (Full confession: this particular topic is of keen interest to yours truly.  I'm sure I don't know why.)

Well, so far David's taking a multimedia tack.  He's got the sample chapter and cover design up there, of course, but he's also got art, music, and the video too.  And - like the sand-phallus's tasteful, appropriate counterpart, this never would have occurred to me - he's giving out a secret backstory tidbit to all his backers, every time the funding hits another 10% mark.  Won't spoil the ones he's given out so far, but I will say this: it is really cool to hear about how his growing up in a granite-mining town, with all of the associated miners' hazards and diseases, has influenced the way magic works in his world. Totally encourage you guys to give it a look-see, if you're looking to tromp through a fresh corner of Fantasyland!

(c) David List

Bigger question for you-all in the meantime: what other tidbits or extras make a project like this one stand out to you?   Are there any Kickstartings or other indie drives that you're especially stoked about?

It was dumping rain, churning leaves like an unending applause.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Doing the Horse Stance

Sorry for the long radio silence here.

To summarize: had an awesome time with the fam, made it back to the states, am currently enjoying the last of five blissful, iced-over days with the house to myself. This is what the front walk currently looks like--

--which I am taking as a sign that God wants me to stay home and work on my book. (Can do, Lord.)

I did finally venture out yesterday, though, to watch my sister test for her black belt. LOOK AT THIS GIRL GO.  (And yes, that's cement under the towel.)

I know, right. I am RELATED to that. (Don't ask me how - maybe we flipped a coin in the ovary. "Right: heads, I take squishy, sedentary and sarcastic, tails, you get relentless ass-kicking aptitude and a knack for cleaning up anything that can come out of a dog.")

It was a hell of a time, too. There were four other people also testing for various degrees of black belt, and the Master really put them through their paces. There was five-on-one sparring, brick-smashing, board-breaking, throws, holds, and more weapon forms than you could shake a kwan dao at.  Here's the one that always makes my eyes pop out, though:

It's called the horse stance, and if anybody ever tries to blow you smoke about what a total martial arts bad-ass they are, you can pretty much call them on it by having them drop into a horse stance and clocking how long they can hold it.  It is hard - sweat-beading, arm-shaking, butt-quivering HARD.  (How hard, you ask?  Well, to give you some idea, people testing for the black belt - which you tend to earn after about ten years of serious, solid work - hold the stance for five minutes.  Ten years.  Five minutes.  Yeah.)

I think this is my favorite of all their skill tests, though.  More so even than the brick smashing.  Because, like...yes, there are those moments in your life when you do have to rise to the occasion and do something jaw-droppingly amazing.  Like lifting a car off a child, or schooling the hosts of "Crossfire" so hard the show gets cancelled.   But man... SO OFTEN the biggest, hardest, most epic battle in a person's life is the struggle just to stand it.  Whatever it is.  You're not trying to win any medals.  You're not out to save Metropolis.  You're just staring down the absolute toughest thing in your world, and holding the line.  It's amazing to see that struggle given physical form.

(Please don't take this as any dire personal allusion, by the way.  I can assure you that my gluteals are quivering only in happy, positive ways.)

Anyway, hope all you local yokels are staying safe out there.  And if anybody DOES happen to need someone who can snap a man's neck between her ample liquid-titanium thighs... I'll be glad to get you a referral.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure every woman in the room spontaneously ovulated at the sight of that.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cover Reveal: "One Night in Sixes"

All right, you guys - the Qwillery's got it up, so the cat is officially out of the bag: One Night in Sixes has its cover!

Are you ready?

Are you SURE?

I know, right.  I just can't even deal.  It is SO cool and SO right and SO awesome it almost hurts to look at.

That does not surprise me in the slightest: my editor, Jonathan Oliver, and the Solaris team at large, were wonderful in inviting me to the art table - asking me for cover ideas, soliciting my input for revisions, going tremendously far out of their way to make sure that it hit all the right notes and suited everyone right down to the ground.  I am so glad I can finally take the lid off and let you guys in on it!

Also, I have to tell you: if you ever need fantasy artwork of any kind, look no further than the mind and pen of Tomasz Jedruszek.  I was talking with a friend of mine who's also an artist, and we agreed that there's plenty to like about this cover here: the colors, the light, the line of interest that starts with the lightning and the tower and winds down to the very bottom through the river - hell, even all those little details that Tomasz just nailed, like Elim's cow-spotted skin, and Día's sort of Franciscan robe (not the usual attire, even for a grave bride), and Molly Boone's shapely silhouette there in the water.  It's fantastic work from start to finish.

But I think what's really special about it, what really could not have been done by anyone else, is that it's a vision of an Old Western town, seen through a totally different lens.  (Tomasz is Polish, as it happens.)  So there's an old-world strangeness to it that I don't think we could have gotten from a corn-fed local who grew up watching Lone Ranger reruns and visiting his aunt in Albuquerque.  There's a heaping, rickety, built-up oddness to this island town, something distinctly out of place in the landscape around it - and that is exactly how our man Elim there approaches it.  In that, the cover is the perfect advertisement for the book: an uncommon thing, or, as has been said of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, a world both familiar and strange.

Anyway, that's enough of me nattering on.  Suffice to say that I am excited and fortunate in equal measure, and will put that to good use once I get back stateside!

Oh, and in the meantime: y'all reaaaally need to go check out Silvia Moreno-Garcia.  Like really.  I got to hear a little bit about Signal to Noise when I was at WorldCon this year, and I can already promise you - PROMISE you - that I will be sobbing like a helpless infant by the end of that book.  Magic, mixtapes, and Mexico (and the '80s!)  It's going to ruin me, and I totally can't wait.

This was only proof of what Elim already knew: the outside world was vast, full of wildness and witchery and things that carried off calves in the night, and God promised no safety to anyone who strayed from the good and orderly home He had provided them.

Elim hardly needed the reminder.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Coneward Bound

You know that thing, when the toilet (or tub or sink) isn't *totally* clogged, but it takes freaking forever to drain?  And so you're like, "well, it still sorta works, so maybe I don't have to deal with this exactly at this moment." So you go on with your day and make a mental note not to use the downstairs bathroom for any protracted visits.

Well, I have been having some epic solidarity with the plumbing, let me tell you.  I am just so choked with obligation and resentment and self-loathing that I can't seem to get anything done these days.  I get up and compile my to-do list by thinking "okay, why am I not allowed to do any writing today?"  I go to bed thinking of all the time I've wasted stalling and procrastinating and putting my headspace EVERYwhere except where it's supposed to be.  And all the while, I eat like a garbage disposal.  (Because when you don't have time to have any fun, the only fun you're allowed is the kind that comes disguised as *efficiency* - as a cheap time-saving reward for all that not-fun you're having.)

And if you do this for long enough, the brain-hamsters start getting louder, and you start thinking that maybe you're not cut out to be a real writer after all - because, you know, real writers write every day.  Real writers treat it as their first priority.  Real writers have self-discipline and a work regimen and the drive to get things done.  So probably you should apologize for wasting everyone's time and go see if it's not too late to grow a career in food service.

This is, of course, horseshit.

Speaking of horses, here's a good one:

Majestic, no?

That's the Duke of Wellington, immortalized in glory outside the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow.  The cone has a long and storied history in itself, but at this point, it's been there long enough that we can safely to call it "icone-ic".  (See what I did there?  --Shut up, damn you, I'm trying!)

Anyway, I'm leaving today to spend a glorious week in Glasgow with my in-laws, and I can't tell you how excited I am to get back there again.  It's a magical land of green hills and gray skies, pubs and pies and people who love me - and I am going to try really hard to use this visit to fix my slow-draining soul. 

Apologies in the meantime for emails unsent, promises unkept, kindnesses unreciprocated, and this neurosis-laden post here.  You are a splendid human being - yes, you! - and I will prove it to you with a vengeance as soon as I get back.

That's plenty.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Snow, Ergo White

Hey, I got a question for you.  Does this gal look like a cool character for a Disney movie?

made by the excruciatingly rad heysawbones.  Used with permission.

I know, right?  How neat would it be to have a princess from Tibet?  (Her name's Nyima, by the way.)

Or how about these guys?  Like, why don't we set a movie in Argentina, maybe high up in the Andean mountains somewhere?

made by the amazing Amy! Used with permission.
Oh, and one more: I didn't hear back on permissions, but you need, want, and deserve to check out Qila and Nanook.  Go do it right now.  I'll wait.

Anyway, here's what all of these ideas have in common: they all are fan-drawn characters, created by artists who wish that Disney had gone a different direction with its upcoming Snow Queen reimagining, Frozen.

And I tell you what: I could not agree more.  There's an interesting Tumblr, thiscouldhavebeenfrozen, which posts fan submissions and rebuts a whole array of "no, but this totally had to be a movie about white people" arguments (and does so pretty fiercely.)

Anyway, there's one post / infographic gallery in particular that I REALLY recommend checking out, about diversity in Disney, and the lack thereof.  (It doesn't look so good on the author's tumblr, but if you click the initial picture, you can click through the gallery one at a time and it's much easier.)  Here's the part that that blows my mind:

The white princesses are never given real-world locations and any assumed setting is based on the origin of source material and sometimes influence in design.

But with the exception of Aladdin, the movies with PoC characters are given explicit settings that justify their existence.

White princesses never have to justify their existence. 

Oh, and for those of you who for some reason don't have your finger on the throbbing heady pulse of the Disney Princess lineup, we're up to 11. (I know, right.  At this rate, the Earth's supply of winsome fictional royalty will be exhausted by 2037.)  Here's the current lineup. 

from Fanpop  © Disney
Anyway, it's a hell of a notion.  The part about how Ambiguous Fantasy Neverland is whiter than Chubbuck, Idaho, and if we're going to have any kind of princess-of-color, we have to program the TARDIS for Jamestown, 1607, or New Orleans, 1923 - you know, go to Earth and set the friggin' GPS, because we need precision scientific accuracy in order to locate sufficient justification for a brown girl.  (Or even a white girl with an accent, in Merida's case.)

Okay, so I was thinking about all that.  And then I thought - you know what Disney movie is COMPLETELY AWESOME?

from Feedio.net  © Disney

YES.  Would you believe that they were originally going to set Lilo and Stitch on a farm in rural Kansas?  Can you imagine how much less interesting that would have been?

Okay, okay, let's go again - think of another one that just took Standard Formula Disney and snapped it over its knee.

from Generic Movie and TV © Disney


The Emperor's New Groove is easily one of my favorite films - I am always hugely impressed with any movie that can do genuinely funny all-ages comedy, and this is easily one of the best.  And again, how much less memorable would it be if we sucked out all that indigenous high-altitude flavor (freaking LLAMAS, people!) and set it in Vaguely Germanic Neverwhere?

And you know what's weird about these?

There is nothing in "cuddy but violent alien crash-lands into the lives of two struggling orphans" that screams modern Hawaii.  There is no part of "outrageous buddy comedy about learning how not to be a jerk" that even suggests Incan Empire.  We got to have two solidly non-white settings just for the hell of it - and I would submit, two fantastic movies as a result.  Why?  Well, here's a theory: because a creative team willing to go beyond generic settings and protagonists was far more likely to do likewise for plot, characterization, and dialogue.

And hell, let's throw up some props for Atlantis while we're at it.  Like, who would have beefed if Kidagakash had looked like Namor the Sub-Mariner?  Nobody!  But there we are - free complimentary princess of color!  Look at her, all powerful and magical and shit!

from Disney Junior © Disney

(So why is Kida not in the Disney Princess lineup?  Maybe because her movie didn't do so hot.  Or maybe because she's an actual twentysomething adult who becomes a queen and leads her people instead of, you know, skipping off into a nebulously responsibility-free happily-ever-after.  But I digress.)

Okay, so I guess what I'm saying is:

1.  I don't think Disney deliberately sets out to be stodgy or exclusive.  (On the contrary, they'll do whatever gets them the best PR and the most money.)

2.  I do think Disney is far more willing to take risks outside of its giant expensive tentpole Standard Disney Formula films.

3.  I absolutely believe that more underrepresented characters and settings need to be brought into the picture - and the more we ask for them and talk about them and support the ones that do make it into the world, the more likely that is to happen.

So that is what I am doing here.

You know, it's a good thing you're not a big fat guy, or this would be really difficult.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

C is for Commas n' Shit

I have a real problem, you guys.  My social circle has now expanded to the point that I live in constant, immediate danger of losing track of all the awesome stuff my posse is doing.  I am beginning to fear that there are more kickass people in the world than I can handle knowing.


I would be hugely remiss not to notice or showcase the awesome A-to-Z NaNo series that my agency, Red Sofa Literary, is putting on this month.  Here is one post that sticks out at me in particular:  C is for Copyedit.

It's written by the newest member of Team Sofa, Laura Zats (whose Twitter feed is kind of like a Bridget Jones' Diary take on Trainspotting - highly recommended!)

This is her auspicious opening:
There are entire books written about why your book was rejected by an agent or editor, just as there are entire books about how to ensure that they don’t reject you. 

But I didn’t write any of those, so I’m going to tell you one of the main reasons whyreject books: the grammar sucks.
Not news, right?  There aren't too many dream jobs that will accommodate the do-what-feels-good school of spelling and punctuation, and Future Novelist is an especially unforgiving position.  Here's the part that got me thinking, though:
But the above things I mentioned are conventions. They should have been drilled into you in 18+ years of school. NOT using these things says just one thing to me: you don’t quite care enough about your future colleagues’ time to do the work right the first time.
This is also not news, but here's what I'm wondering about: what do you do if you missed the boat?  Like, what if your school sucked?  Or you didn't go to school?  Or you did, but you only learned English three years ago - or you did, but that was thirty years ago and your career as an Arctic deep-sea fisherman hasn't kept you fresh on the finer points of prepositional phrases?  Basically, what is your recourse if you don't already know how to write good conventional English?

When I first ventured out of my cave two years ago, I assumed that every writer's story was like mine.  "What," I said incredulously, "like, didn't you guys just read a million billion books and osmotically engulf the entire standard-English ruleset?"

As it turns out, the answer is often "no"!  

And you can still get yourself back up on this wagon, of course.  Obviously we don't lose our capacity for learning the second they plop mortarboards on our heads and bid us a fond "don't let the door hit you."

But here's the thing.  Writing overwhelmingly requires a real, live human being - traditionally in the form of an English teacher - to read your stuff, correct it, hand it back, and make you do it again.  Indeed, the essay is the ONLY part of the SAT (and pretty much any other standardized US exam) that isn't machine-scored, cuz it truly does require the judgment of a fellow carbon-based life-form to evaluate its merit.  And while I know that we have these things called 'critique partners' and 'beta readers' for a reason, I am perpetually surprised and dismayed by the number of writers I meet who think they can't learn this stuff - who feel that they are hopelessly ignorant, and expect that they will always have to pay freelance editors to clean up everything they ever produce, because they are not one of the Beautiful People Who Already Know This Shit.

I would absolutely love to blow that myth to pieces, and use said pieces to fertilize the budding self-esteem of aspiring writers everywhere.  But while I'm okay with not speaking from experience, I don't want to be speaking from my hindparts either.

So this is my long, roundabout way of asking all you guys:  for those of you who didn't acquire this knowledge in your larval stage, how did you master English grammar as an adult? 

In this sentence, your victory against the bear does not need to be connected to the plague rat, so a period is used.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Word About Perseverance

You know what's rough about this whole creative life-of-the-mind schtick?

...well, objectively speaking, not a hell of a lot.  Having the education and financial security to angst into my laptop about my deathless prose is a pretty sweet deal.

But I tell you what: if you wanna lose a hundred pounds or win a triathlon or bulk up and bench-press your car, there is no shortage of inspiring pictures out there to keep you motivated.  Jillian Michaels on your fridge!  Usain Bolt by the bathroom mirror!  Mr. Universe on the ceiling above your weight bench!  (One of the vaseline-slathered beefcake ones, not the poor bastard with the RealDoll girlfriend from Serenity.)

A little tougher to do that if you're trying to write a novel or cut an album or master the ancient art of erotic clowning.  Like, you can paper your house with pictures of famous people in your field, but at the end of the day, the quality of your efforts can't be visually measured - and that makes visual motivation harder to arrange.

Anyway, today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, and as good a day as any to celebrate the relentless nose-to-grindstoning of creative folks in every field.  So here's my contribution to our collective motivational poster-pool.

This is the keyboard I've used for the last eight years of my writing apprenticeship. 

The grooves are from my fingernails.

Did I mention that my first novel was called The Nine Mnemonics of the N'mmmnerian Nunnery?  

Anyway: keep at it, arty people, whatever your art may be.  And remember: there is nothing standing between you and success but years of thankless unrelenting toil!

It's going to take you awhile.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Blog Blitz and Oatmeal Cookies (Reprise)


Well, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the response to my last post was like slamming into the Internet at 120 mph, if the airbag were full of love and blog comments.  (Whereupon it would be called a 'love-pillow', of course, because 'comment-cushion' is unwieldy and 'blog-sack' sounds like something to be discreetly handed to a flight attendant.)

So if you came here from the Blog Blitz: thank you so, so much for visiting, and for all your wonderful notes.  I am steadily working my way through them, and will be on cloud nine million for days to come.  You guys are AMAZING.

Conversely, if you are wondering what the merry hell a Blog Blitz is... you are not alone, because I didn't either!

Here is the deal: the gentleman-scholar DL Hammons, not content with ringmastering WRiTE Club, also devised a wonderful blogging group, subscribable by email, in which everyone dog-piles on a single participant's blog.  The result is catastrophically awesome.  You are a celebrity for a day!  Traffic through the roof!  Comments out the yang!  And really a heck of a good deal: even apart from that one magical day when you are so ecstatically piled-upon, you are visiting other people's blogs as a pile-ee, and subscribing to those you find fun and interesting.  It's a great way to meet new people, broaden your horizons, and be an integral part of somebody's joy, every time you comment.  So if that sounds like even a little bit of fun... sign up and get your Blitz on!

And on a personal note - I was truly blown away by the comments on the last post.  In fact, there is material for about twenty different conversations there, and more amazing (and sometimes gut-wrenching) anecdotes than any one post can do justice to.  When it comes to charity, why DO we do what we do, and think like we think?

Well, based on some of the responses from that last post, here are a couple of aggregated guesses.

It's harder to give when you don't see who you're giving to.  This is probably why the TV commercials take such pains to show actual video of actual hungry babies / destitute families / etc.  This is also probably why it is SO freaking easy for so many of us (and I include myself in this) not to see need in our everyday lives.  When you are safely contained almost 24/7 in your house, your office, or your car, what opportunity do you have to notice the people outside the bubble?  How the dickens are we supposed to see what our own community needs when the system has closed us off into so many coffee shops and Camrys and cubicles?  We're not oblivious cretins - but we live in societies that constantly and actively segregate us from our fellow Earth-persons.

It's harder to give when you feel like it won't make a difference.  This is a big one.  That girl I met had found a family who would take her in as long as she could provide her own food and hygiene.  They would set her up a bank account and let her live there for four months while she looked for work - so it was incredibly easy to want to help her get that one crucial foothold up into a better life.  Much, much harder to do that when you know that no matter how much you give the panhandler at the intersection, he'll be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

It's harder to give when you feel like it won't be appreciated.  Taking care of your sweet widowed grandma who loves you and everything you do for her?  Doable.  Doing likewise for an angry, senile old bat who spits, thrashes, and screams for help every time you have to hold her down for a diaper change?  That's a tall order.  It's hard to feel generous when the object of your generosity is indifferent, complacent, or takes it for granted.  I have no doubt that those feelings multiply with distance - when real living people are reduced to payroll deductions, or checks in the mail.

It's harder to give when you don't understand the need.  "Why would you have kids you can't support?"  "Why can't you get a job?"  "Why don't you just go to the emergency room and make them treat you?"  I think this is where the Golden Rule breaks down - where we end up assuming that the person on the other end must or should have our same set of skills, values, and abilities (and that our understanding of their reality is both complete and correct.)  Obviously people do make poor decisions.  But it would require the omnipotence of an almighty living god to know how much to assign to bad choices or character, and how much is the result of circumstances beyond anyone's control.  And frankly, most of us are hard-pressed just to figure out where we left our keys last night.

It's harder to give when you are scared.  Boy, isn't this the truth.  It's very easy to feel safe letting a tiny 100-pound girl into your car.  Altogether more difficult with a 6'5" Peyton Manning stunt-double.  And on a grander scale - it's incredibly difficult not to tighten your fist when you are worried that you could lose your own security, or when you feel like there's not enough (of money or space or jobs or whatever) to go around.  That's when the hoarding mentality kicks in, and generosity dies.

Of course, the world is full of bright, motivated philanthropists who have not yet managed to eliminate any of these problems.  But I think knowing about them, and recognizing them AS problems, leaves us far better equipped to question our assumptions and actively work against the impediments to our natural compassion.

And if you read this far, thanks hugely for humoring me through this epic double navelgazing extravaganza.  Regular programming resumes next time!

Let he who has never eaten a cookie... cast the first block of government WIC cheese.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Spiritual Meditation on Oatmeal Cookies

I took a young lady shopping today.

It wasn't a planned exercise.  I don't know her name or how old she was.  But when you meet somebody who's sobbing outside the post office because she is absolutely indigent, hasn't eaten for two days, and can't even find the bus stop to beg for a ride, you start to re-evaluate some things.

Anyway, we ran a couple of errands, and once we got the essential bases covered, we stopped at the CVS so she could pick up a few extra supplies.

It wasn't very much.  Shampoo.  Advil.  A box of feminine things.  Some juice.  Red candles, because as she said to me, she loves to read, and lighting a candle makes it special.  A bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and a tray of oatmeal cookies.

Looking back on it, it's interesting to me that little chocolate candies and oatmeal cookies counted as needful things.  And the more I think about it, the more I appreciate that.

Because really, sweets are literally bonus calories.  They are by their very nature something extra, something custom-made to please you.  And when we give them to ourselves, or to someone else, we're sending a message.  You are valuable.  You deserve to feel good.  You are more than a body to be kept alive.  You are a human being, and you are loved.

That's not really news, of course.  I don't know of any culture that doesn't have treat-sharing occasions encoded into its social calendar.  But when you are on the giving end of the cookie, it seems like the more distance there is between you and the recipient, the harder it is to do the giving.

You know what I'm talking about.  Helping out somebody in your family, office, church - that's easy.  You know them.  Of course they're Good People.  Ditto those adorable tots on the angel tree at the mall.  How much less enthusiastically would we buy trucks and dolls and paint-sets every year if the little card didn't come with names and ages to humanize the recipients - or if we were just asked to put money in a slot, and didn't even get the benevolent-patron vibes that come with picking out the toy ourselves?

And more than that, how easy it is to resent systematic, institutionalized giving - where you don't even get to choose what money you put into the slot, because Uncle Sam's taking it straight out of your paycheck.  How easy it becomes to grind your teeth at the thought of those ungrateful takers spending your money on candy and alcohol and things they don't even need!

And so we tighten the rules for welfare and food stamps.

Appoint ourselves judges for who deserves what and when, or outsource the judging to worthy trustees - churches, charities, politicians.

Stuff the care packages ourselves, give the bum food instead of money (who knows what he'd spend it on?), meticulously organize can drives so everyone can enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of deciding for themselves whether the shelter-people will have chili with or without beans.  Because we are responsible individuals proven capable of managing things, and they will have our generosity on our terms or not at all.

To be clear - I don't mean to imply that we fortunate folks are closet assholes.  I truly believe that humanity as a whole trends toward radness.  And charity organizers would be silly not to use whatever techniques yield the best possible results for their cause.

But I do feel like we (in America at least) pour an awful lot of anxiety and effort into making sure that no anonymous moocher ever gets an undeserved cookie... when we would just as passionately, instantly, eagerly give them a whole entire box, if only we could meet them in person, as a person. 

And I wonder if the cookie's not actually an extra goodie at all - if treats, and having the means and freedom to treat your own self, aren't really, critically essential to the entire idea of caring for another human being. 

Apologies if this post comes off as self-aggrandizing backpattery, by the way.  Or a thinly-veiled political screed, or indulgent privileged hand-wringing.  I don't mean it.  Sometimes this blog is just a repository for thoughts that I would like people to know that I had, just so you can pick up my slack in case I get hit by a truck before I have a chance to act on them.

On that note: must look up French hip-hop artists, there ought to be an Angie's List for freelance manuscript editors, and haggis nachos need to be a thing.

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Five Delightful Things

Just what it says on the tin: this list is both self- and writing-centered, and contains up to 78% unrefined enthusiasm byproducts by weight. 

1.  I took my first-ever advance check to the bank this week.  Dollars are happy things!  But I gotta tell you, "I Are Real Writer" vibes are far, far happier.  And the money, in turn, led to

2.  Me posting an ad for an honest-to-God for-real conlanger (that's short for "constructed-language-er", I believe) to create honest-to-God for-real languages for my books - and getting whomped by interested applicants.  I am so, so stoked to finally be doing this.  It's so fun and expensive and makes me feel like a million bucks.  Is this what it's like to get a makeover? 

Speaking of which, mad props to the Language Creation Society and David Peterson in particular, who's taken so much time out of his busy schedule as the reigning Supreme Conlang Overlord to help make my want-ad more than a series of ignorant grunts and squeals.  (Writer-peeps, holler at me if you think you might be in the market for conlang services - I've now got more fantastic contacts than I know what to do with!) 

Yes, I'm breaking the first rule of Fight Club.
I am okay with that.
3.   Write Club 2013 will crown its champion tomorrow, which is going to be great no matter what.  I've already said plenty about why I love this contest, so I'll just add this: I have had more fun over the past four months, met more awesomesweet writers (and CRITIQUERS, good gravy!), and actually-literally-for-real upped my game because of this humble little game - it's unreal.  The book that comes out next year is going to be better because I got to do this.   And I want so badly to bring this action over to DFWcon somehow.  (Check out my latest post, by the way, if you're find yourself flagging: Five Secret Advantages of the Unpublished Writer.)

Look at this cover, you guys.LOOK AT IT.
4.  There are only two weeks left until The Golden City comes out and I get to read it!  Not gonna lie, y'all - I will probably go whole-hog navelgazing bananas about this book in pretty short order.  I am SO EXCITED to see another astonishingly underused historical setting brought to the fantasy aisle, and treated like more than a convenient slapdash shellacking for the plot.  (I've also had the privilege of swapping fishman-fistbumps with the author, and the fact that she's kind of excruciatingly rad doesn't hurt either.)

5.  As God is my witness, I am WRITING AGAIN!  Take that, responsibilities!  The fig of Spain for thee, sleep schedule!  Lick my lemons, adulthood - I'm base-jumping to Narnia and you can't stop me!

You need to have things trying to stop you so that you can get a better sense of how fast you are going as you smash through them.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Psychological Portrait of Deschutes County, Oregon

Today, I'm writing from a town called Bend.  It's in central Oregon, the site of this year's Thompson Tour.

(Long story short: instead of getting together at Christmas, when everything is crowded, closed, and/or seething with winter plague, we gather the clan in the fall, at a different place every year.  By spending the money on travel instead of presents, we can see all kinds of fun and interesting places, and nobody has to cook!)

I've ventured out from my North Texas hobbit-hole a fair few times now, and let me tell you – there is really something special about going out west.  It's not because the nature out here is somehow magically better than anybody else's nature.  It's not necessarily some epigenetic American pioneer fantasy, either.  I think maybe it's because the ratio of earth to civilization is still so high here, even after all the Manifest Destiny and Go West, Young Man and Get Your Kicks on Route 66 of the last three hundred years.  Look here:

from Wired Science, and more specifically, NASA's Suomi NPP Satellite
Isn't it striking?  Out here on the left side of the country, the constellations of our towns and cities are still – even in the year 2013 – such sparse little specks in the vastness of the world... and you can't stay here long without feeling that.

It's frightening, really, to drive up roads that close for snow six months out of the year, and wonder what it would be like to break down in a blizzard and find yourself helpless, miles from any other human being.

image courtesy of my sister's enormous phone

Or to sit by a still lake, your phone at zero bars, and imagine how long you would go unfound if you suddenly had a heart attack.

taken by me
I have a taste for that kind of fear.  Even experiencing it in this safe, limited, touristy way pulls you back through thousands of generations of humanity – to people who huddled around fires in the dark, hoping to get through the night unnoticed by the things that lived outside the light.

Actually, I think that's one of the Western's most powerful attractions.  It's the only genre I know of that centers on a place – and more than that, a place so immense that it affects every living thing within its boundaries.  You had better step lightly and stay wakeful, it says, because nobody is coming to help you if you can't.  It's not horror – there's nothing malicious about it – but a place so vast and ageless as to be almost incapable of noticing you.  Human emotions like love and hate have their opposite here, in hundred-mile stretches of geological indifference.

sister again
Of course, while I-the-individual am tiny indeed, we-the-species are not, and it's dangerous to forget the power we have to alter our planet.  Still, in many ways, coming here feels like going home to my parents' house: we are bigger now than we were even a thousand years ago, and maybe even slightly more mature... but it's good to visit every now and again to remember where we came from, and to reflect on our smallness.

...and again.  No, I don't know how she does it either.
Happy birthday, me.  And thank you, Earth, for letting me live on you.

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.