Monday, June 29, 2015

Remembering Chris Harvey

A brief interlude from con-madness today.  Full disclosure: discussion of death, grief, and suicide ahead.

So Saturday was the eighth anniversary of the death of my friend, Chris Harvey.  I was 24 when he died, and it came as a huge shock.  He was the first person I ever really 'lost'.

I'm struggling with this blog post, but it feels too important to not write something.  His mom said it better than I could:

8 years ago tonight my son Chris Harvey died at Parkland Hospital, 10 days after jumping off a 10-story building due to undiagnosed and untreated bipolar II. A part of his mother died that night too. But I'm still here today, thanks in large part to his amazing friends-who took me into their hearts and lives and gave me a safe place to remember him through tears and laughter. I will leave some out by accident I know but thank you all

I keep thinking about lots of little things - bits and pieces, mostly.

I remember how shocked we were to get the news that he'd attempted suicide.  I remember how hugely relieved we were to hear that he'd survived it with nothing but bruises and broken bones.  I remember how my sister and I went to visit him, how the three of us were joking around (in that kind-of-uncomfortable 'holy shit, dude' kind of way) and how it felt like this would be a turning point for him - how glad we were that he would get the help he needed and get his life back on track.

I remember getting a call from his mom while I was at work, and how I let it go to voicemail.

I remember not even wondering about it until hours later - how it didn't even occur to me that anything bad could have happened.

I remember playing the message that told me he had died.

It seems so, so unfair, even eight years later - that someone could survive a ten-story fall, but not a tiny little blood clot.  And I know some of my friends still feel guilty even now, because they hadn't gone to see him yet - because we all assumed that he was going to be fine.  We were young, most of us barely more than teenagers, and we'd never had anything but time.

It was a hard lesson, but we tried our best to learn.  We took turns speaking at his funeral, half of us incoherent through tears.  We went with his family to scatter his ashes at the lake.  We printed out his picture and took it with us to go see the first Transformers movie, because he had been so excited for it.  Even today, his name comes up at D&D sessions and in fond 'remember when' moments.  And here I am now, trying to communicate him to you and making a total hash of it, because his life is what matters, and all I've talked about is his death.

Maybe that's because death is so much more finite and expressible. A cause, a date, a narrative small enough that we literally put it on a certificate.  You can't do that with a life.  A person doesn't fit into a little 100-word column in the newspaper, no matter how eloquently we try to summarize them.  I can tell you all about how good he was at doing the Eric Cartman voice, how you could loan him any Nintendo RPG you wanted and know that you'd get the cartridge back with every character leveled to 99, how he drove his brother absolutely bananas watching Toy Story on repeat all summer long.  I think that's the secondary sadness - I can go on and on, but for everyone who didn't know Chris while he was here, he will only ever exist in summary.

You know, a wonderful new friend of mine gave me a phenomenal compliment a few weeks ago, which I didn't fully appreciate then.  "I think that's why people like you," she said. "When you talk to people, they feel seen."  It was nice to hear at the time, but the more I think about it, the more vital that seems. We need people to see us, to really pay attention and understand us, so that they can carry us forward when we're not here.

And to be honest, that's a big part of what keeps driving me on to do all these cons and events, to go to workshops and parties and adventures every chance I get. Part of it is egotistical book-pushing mercantilism, yes. But when Chris died, I went from being someone who had never experienced a tragedy to someone who had. It changed me. And I know that someday, something else will happen - an illness, an ordeal, a death - and I'll change again.  The person I am right now will be gone. I'm mostly okay with that, but I desperately want you to see her while she's here - to have proof that she was real.

And of course, I want to see you-all too - to know you and carry you with me.  I want you to take Chris with you, and so does Dana Beth (who has given her warmest blessing to my sharing all this.)  I want us all to carry our nearest and dearest with us, and to constantly reach for new people too, so that the people we are today can continue on, no matter what happens to us tomorrow.

And the more I think about it, the more ordinary and sensible that seems.  After all, we're human beings. We sustain each other.

To infinity, and beyond.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review: Quaternity

Howdy, partners!  As I pack my bags to head up north for SoonerCon, this seems like the perfect time to get back on the book-review wagon – and back in the spec-fic saddle.  This book here is special to me: it's not often I get to make friends with a fellow Weird Western author – and a real treat to read one whose knowledge so far surpasses mine.  If you're a fan of five-star, old-school, blood-spattered Western horror – BOY have I got a book for you!

by Kenneth Mark Hoover
Hell is Truth Seen Too Late! Before he became a U.S. federal marshal in Haxan, John Marwood rode with a band of killers up and down the Texas/Mexico border. Led by Abram Botis, an apostate from the Old Country, this gang of thirteen killers search for the fabled golden city of Cibola, even riding unto the barren, blood-soaked plains of Comancheria. And in this violent crucible of blood, dust, and wind, Marwood discovers a nightmarish truth about himself, and conquers the silent, wintry thing coiled inside him.

You know those old silver-screen cowboys, like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, who wore white hats and fought for justice and shot the guns right out of the bad guys' hands?

This is not that.

This is the polar opposite of that. 

In fact, we spend 80% of this book with the black-hatted desperadoes who are raping, murdering, and pillaging their way along the Texas-Mexico border (light on the rape, heavy on the murder).  If you are not up for skinnings, scalpings, hangings, beheadings, disembowelings, feticide, homicide, and a body-count to rival the Alamo AND Goliad, this is not the book for you.  If you are looking for a progressive vision of women and minorities, this is definitely not the book for you.

So now that we've got that out of the way: this is an exceptionally well-written book.  I can't emphasize that enough.  The style is sharp and spare –ideal for the stark, grim subject matter.  The language is pitch-perfect, not to mention immaculately researched: if you know your Sharps from your sofkee, this will be right up your alley.  (If you don't, you might like to keep Google handy: there is plenty of jargon, not to mention a handsome amount of Spanish, and the narrative will not coddle you.)  For me, this was a huge plus: I love a story that expects the reader to pull her weight, and an author with a truly masterful command of his material.  With that said, be prepared to do some reading between the lines, as the 'whys' of the venture are sometimes not as clear as the brutal, bloody 'hows'.

In short, Quaternity is a grisly old-western Odyssey, starring the apex of antiheroes in a world drenched in history and horror.  If you think you can handle that, saddle up and hang on.

Buy at Barnes & NobleAdd to GoodreadsOrder From Amazon

My favorite bit:

Botis sat in a leather chair before the flames, dressed in rancid skins and wearing his black galero. His face was lit like a sword, and he was prepared to pass judgment on those men who had declaimed him. Buzzards sat perched in the high branches of tall juniper trees along the riverbank. The ground below was carpeted with a bed of their long, stinking feathers.

Botis picked up the tortoise-shell pince-nez with his customary dainty ease. He set them on the end of his nose and addressed the frightened congregation by the light of the burning church.

"I am Abram Botis," he said. "I ride with demons. I have come among you to judge all things past and future given."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

ApolloCon Recap and SoonerCon Schedule

Well, y'all - I can't possibly tell you about the time I just had at ApolloCon.  But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so maybe I can show you instead.

Oh, wait.  Yeah.  No, I can't show you either, because I was so flat-out for the entire weekend that I didn't think to take a single picture.  Curses!

Well, words it is then.  Okay, so try to imagine a swanky cocktail party, a bazaar full of strange and wonderful novelties, a free all-you-can-eat buffet, The Little Writers Workshop That Could, and about 200 of the Lone Star State's finest nerds.  Oh, and a cardboard cutout of Mr. Spock beaming people up to the aforesaid buffet.  That's pretty much ApolloCon.

This was a new experience for me, because even though it was a pretty cozy con, I was absolutely booked every single minute.  If I wasn't actually scheduled on something, I was prepping for it.  In con-ops begging for help printing flyers an hour before my reading. On the treadmill at the hotel gym at midnight the night before the workshop, pen in hand, critiquing submissions at 1.3 miles an hour.  Bolting straight from the 2:00 panel to the parking garage so we could go see the phenomenal Jenny Martin's signing event at the little indie bookstore down the road (oh, friends, we must talk more about Jenny Martin) and still make it back for the 4:00 panel.

This book, you guys.  This freaking book!
(It is a whole other blog post)
Needless to say, I was in hog heaven.

It's like... you know, I was telling a friend last week about how there's this weird new ugliness in me now that I'm Out There, this horrible tacky tapeworm in my gut that's got me starving for attention and recognition and praise. I keep cramming that stuff in my face, sucking up every bit of limelight I can get, but that nasty little parasite always wants more.  It's so hard to even know what 'enough' is anymore.

This weekend, though, I was full.  Literally, in that my schedule was full, and figuratively, in that I never had time to worry about whether I was doing enough, being seen enough, etc. etc. etc. I just took all the minutes that I had and USED them, and it felt so good.  It gives me hope that I won't always be this ravenous - that there is a place somewhere between me and J.K. Rowling where I will be able to feel like a stable, successful, satisfied person.

I tell you what, though: if there is a happy medium, it is between these two ladies.
That is a whole other blog post too!

In the meantime, I continue to Do All the Things!  Here is a digital selection from the past week:

Upgrade Your Story #76 - The divine Ally Bishop has graciously taken me under her wing, helping me to fail less at social media - and we made a podcast about it!  If you are likewise struggling to figure out the Tweet Zone and the Face Space, consider this a workout video you can do at home, and me the squishy lady in the unitard at the back who makes you feel better about yourself.  (We also talk about the art of crafting atypical characters and pushing your story to the next level - it's good stuff.)

SFsignal Mind Meld - in which we wax euphoric about our "pull list" of favorite authors (and I go a little bit bananas about Portuguese fish-ladies in sensible shoes)

EDIT: Website looks broken at this exact moment - will activate the link as soon as I can bring it up

And even though I probably shouldn't share this, I just can't not: here is the best three-star review I've ever gotten.  I'm so in love!

Anyway, no time to wallow in anything - it's T-4 four days to SoonerCon, and I'm packing my waders in case the car floats away on the drive up.  If you can get there, come find me - here is my schedule!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Campbell Recap and ApolloCon Schedule

Okay, y'all know the drill by now. I tell you how rocking-awesome the thing I just did was, and then how eyeball-explodingly excited I am about the thing I'm fixing to do, and follow it up with some generalized warm fuzzies.  Then we smoke a cigarette, roll over, and go to sleep.

Well, I hope it was good for you, cuz there is going to be a pantload more of all of the above over the next few weeks.  And the reason I'm three days late in writing this is because a weekend of relentless academical edutainment at the Campbell Conference (bookended by 500-mile drives from Texas to Kansas) has absolutely knocked me out.

See, a few months back, I successfully creeped on this fine gentleman here:

It's a good thing I didn't know he was the Eleventeenth Doctor,
or I'd never have had the guts to try it.
That's Dr. Robert Maslen, professor of literature and director of the new post-graduate fantasy program at the University of Glasgow.  He read my first book and liked it (and said so on Facebook!), and when I mailed him the second one, he liked that too - well enough to invite me to speak at the U of G this November (how rad is that?!) and to ask whether I would be at the Campbell Conference in June.

"Will I?!" I scoffed, while furtively googling "Campbell Conference."

Well, Google told me that it's where the Campbell Award is given every year.  But now that I've been, let me assure you: it is way, way more than that.

This year, it's where professors from universities all over the country (and beyond!) gather to present on what their institutions are doing to promote the study of science fiction, and to apply it for all kinds of cross-disciplinary purposes.  Video games, linguistics, neurocognition, climate science, you name it. (And I'm talking serious real-world stuff, too. For example, Arizona State has environmental science students in its Phoenix 2050 program write science fiction stories to present their ideas for how their city could solve its water and sustainability problems.  How rad is that?)

It's where everyone (from college students to elite grandmasters) is deeply excited to be there, and people take eager, copious notes on all of the above.

Look at all those notepads!
It's where you go to hear authors whose work you never knew you desperately needed to devour.

This is a terrible picture of the human splendor that is Cat Webb, but it beautifully illustrates the subtle yet pervasive stranglehold of coffee in writer culture
It's where you can get a personalized library tour of all manner of one-of-a-kind historical treasures – 

including this vintage rejection letter - click to embiggen!
 - and enjoy a private screening of the world's most amazing $5,000 movie, with personal commentary and salad-bowl space-helmet demonstrations from the executive producer himself –

- and be caught in compromising positions with an 8-foot-tall silver-age robot –

I'm not telling you who that is, but suffice to say that she is my new everything
- and enjoy a Sunday-afternoon salon with fifty of your new favorite people (and one phenomenal smorgasbord) -

This is like, half of the dessert spread.  HALF.
- and sit out on the porch all afternoon and long into the night, eating pizza and watching the fireflies come out.  

This is Steven Gould, who is currently novelizing the Avatar movies,
and Laura J. Mixon, who is currently provoking raging, barely-controlled shoe-lust
And that's not even the half of it, but I'll stop there, because telling the rest would take as long as living it.  Here's the relevant part: this genre of ours is fun, but it's not JUST for fun.  It's vital and important in ways I never imagined, and there is no greater way to internalize that than to surround yourself with people who have spent their lives studying, advocating, and celebrating it.  They're living my dream, and even though I feel like the smallest puppy in the pile, I can't tell you what a thrill it was to get to run with the big dogs.

The biggest dog of them all: Chris McKitterick, Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction,
nominations director for the Sturgeon Award, Campbell juror, and buttoned-down stick-in-the-mud.

And I'm still running, too – all the way down to Houston for ApolloCon.  Super excited about this one, and super nervous – it's my first time actually running a writers' workshop (though I have, of course, recruited a veritable justice league of wonderful people to help me out), and I'm really looking forward to it.  The con organizers have been tremendously generous in scheduling me, too – just look at this fabulous lineup!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Hats, Horse-Slobbers, and Happily-Ever-Afters

You know, my good buddy Ally Bishop has a wonderful rule: "90% of everything you do should be about somebody else."

This week, I am breaking that rule into tiny well-intentioned pieces.

Because when somebody else gives you a platform to talk about yourself, you can't exactly neglect to showcase their kindness afterwards, even though their efforts are technically all about you.  It's an ourobouros of socially-acceptable narcissism - and I am devouring myself like Pizza the Hutt.

If this obscure pop-culture reference means nothing to you...
well, that's probably for the best.

Anyway, here for you (and let's be real, me) are three guest blogs I wrote for three wonderful sites:

Civilian Reader - Don't Hold the Horses!  And don't let them be featureless expendable inventory items, either.  Here's an introduction to all the fun and plot-twisting adventures you can have with your story's four-legged fantasy Ferraris. - Fine Dining in Fantasyland  Come for the story, sure – but stay for the butterbeer, the lembas, and a big, fresh, still-squirming plate of gagh.  Let's talk fictional gastronomy – and while we're at it, let's make the case for moving the menu beyond hardtack and stew.

Interview with Jan Edwards  Step right up, folks!  SEE the secrets of cowboy lingo revealed!  MARVEL at the insufficiency of allegorical representation!  SHUDDER as I wax distraught about the carnival of tedium that is modern living!

And here, hot off the presses, is the most fun I think I've ever had on Twitter - being interviewed by the inexpressibly wonderful Michelle Cornwell-Jordan! (If you don't follow her, please amend that with a quickness - she is a firehose of generosity and enthusiasm!)

And if you've read this far - well, feel free to call in a favor, because I owe you 90% of my everything!

And there's no limit to what we can do - me and you
But mostly me