Friday, December 16, 2011

Up Close & Personal

This year, blogging's been a struggle. It's hard to know what I should focus on, and that's only been compounded by a drive to present myself more professionally--and the fact that I blog about writing over on the Inkpunks blog. What the heck does a writer-mom-veggie-goofball blog about????

 So my big decision is that I'm going to blog all my professional stuff over at I'll blog about writing at the Inkpunks. And I'll blog all the goofball stuff here! Brace yourself for more recipes and silly hijinks.

This week I've been working hard to eat really great, healthy food and conquer some of my crazy cravings. This isn't easy! My family has roots in Missouri, and so I grew up eating good ol' country food: lots of pie, tasty casseroles, and my mom's amazing biscuits. If you're trying to cut calories, biscuits aren't always the best choice, but here are some biscuits you can enjoy calorie-free!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


I just have to say that my birthday was GREAT! I had many wonderful birthday wishes and I am now the proud owner of hand-printed CTHULHU UNDERWEAR. What could be better?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Keep the dream alive

For months now, every day I've wanted to give up the writing game. This year's been hard: I've failed at every goal I've set for myself; I've derailed on dozens of projects; I've hated 90% of everything I've written, and I haven't advanced a lick in my personal or professional life. Last year, I was full of excitement and success and an easy relationship with the part of me that makes words. This year, there have been plenty of days where just getting out of bed in the morning is my biggest achievement. And the unfortunate truth is that on those days, the only thing that could really make me feel better, writing, is almost impossible. The more miserable I am, the more the words feel buried beneath a pile of immovable teak slabs.

On those days, reading most writing advice feels like a kick in the gut. Knowing that all my favorite authors kept on writing when they faced difficulties, producing thousands of words despite all adversity, is just a reminder of how weak and pathetic I seem. Thinking about that is sure incentive to give up.

Luckily, the fire to write is like any other fire: I've fed mine so much fuel over the years, that even smothered, the coals burn hot. Even when I feel like crap, that fire is still smoldering, churning over ideas and dreams. To get through these times, the best thing to do is to stop trying to shift the rocks and simply feed the fire. It'll burn through any obstacle, given enough attention and kindness.

Because I cope poorly with adversity, I might never be a successful writer. (Because of that, I might never be a successful anything, really--isn't that what the school counselor told me?) But I think about some of the great authors who've lived, people like Louisa May Alcott. Sure, she was tough and smart and funny--but when things went wrong, there were plenty of times when she climbed into bed and didn't get up for days at a time. She still managed to scrape by as a pulp fiction writer (until her amazing success with Little Women). She never gave up after her many set-backs.

So I think the single most important piece of writing advice you'll ever get--more important even than "Butt In Chair," which is 90% of everything a writer needs to know--is that you are the only person who can keep your dream alive, and you must do everything in your power to feed it and nurture it. You'll never be a writer if you let the dream die.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Networking, story by story

I've sold fifteen (or so) short stories. Some went to pro-markets; some went to small. Some were flash, some were horror. Some were fantasy. Some were SF. One was a collaboration. Some were to invitation-only anthos; one was specially commissioned by an editor in a bad place.

And every single sale was valuable. Every one of them has advanced my career, even the sale that made me a mere $10 Canadian. Why? Because every story I have sold has added to my social network.

When you submit a story, it passes through the hands of slush readers before it reaches the editors with final say. Many of these slush readers will advance in their careers--and I know for a fact that yes, they remember your name. I just spent a weekend hanging out with a slush reader-turned-editor who remembered our first introduction, a story he rejected from his slush pile two years ago!

So there's the first seed your story plants in a potential network of relationships. Then you have the editors, who will not only be paying you and promoting you, but also shaping your work--and if they're good, sculpting and affecting your relationship with your words. Line edits from a good editor can teach you a lot.

And of course, those editors remember a writer, their work, their professionalism. With any luck they might ask you submit again, to another project, or they might pass along your name to other editors. When you make a good connection with an editor, you connect yourself to everyone that editor knows ... and sometimes that's a very large network indeed.

But the really wonderful connections you make, the ones that might surprise you with their value, are the connections you'll make with the writers who are published alongside you. A new friend was published in the same small YA magazine I was, and from reading my story, he realized our writing styles were very sympathetic with each other. He asked me to collaborate on a project together that will be really fun. That's an opportunity that wouldn't have existed if I hadn't sold that YA story.

I just yesterday received an invitation to submit to an anthology that came from a ToC-mate who is now editing. (That's the second time this has happened.) I just today received an invitation to a writing retreat that's being organized by a remarkable writer who shared a ToC with me in a very tiny, now defunct erotica market. At World Fantasy, an anthology ToC-mate shared tips about a new market with great rates.

And remember that tiny Canadian anthology with the wee paycheck? Every day, the people who shared the ToC of that anthology write me, email me, share their anthology invitations, share their good news about their promotions within the industry, hang out with me at conventions, and introduce me to their other friends: editors, agents, and novelists I admire in the field.

Let me reiterate: these are opportunities I wouldn't have had if I hadn't sold those stories. Going to conventions and doing volunteer work have certainly helped my career, but the deepest and most helpful connections I've made have come from the editors who've bought my stories and writers who have shared tables of contents with me in magazines and anthologies.

Your writing career will be different from mine. But I think most writers find that they do not become superstars writing short fiction. They find that writing short fiction strengthens their craft and enables them to build a strong network of friends who are at similar stages in their career. The skills developed writing short fiction give writers the muscles they need to pick their way up the rocky slopes of an ascending career. The friends writers make will help them over the roughest terrain--or if you're really lucky, help you cut a switchback here and there.

Story by story, friend by friend, the summit approaches.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Orycon schedule!

OMG, Orycon is TOMORROW!!

*stops to hyperventilate*

I'd love to hang out with everybody possible, so if you're in town, please catch me after a panel or reading or something so we can chit-chat. Here's where I should be:

2 pm: "Drowning in Slush," a panel in Idaho
4 pm: Orycon Writers' Workshop, Executive Meeting Center
10 pm: "Erotic Bedroom Stories," a quick reading in Washington
Midnight: "Midnight Erotica Readings," Grant

11 am: "How to Prepare a Manuscript," another panel in Idaho
Noon: "Fantasy Magazine Reading,"Grant
2 pm: "Reading for Children," Hamilton
5 pm: "Stalking the Wild Anthology, Roosevelt
Midnight: "Midnight Horror Readings," Grant

Monday, November 07, 2011


Well, the cat's officially out of the bag! Today Dagan Books announced that my book Dark Depths will be its very first novel! I am very excited to work with the crew over at Dagan, which includes the very smart Carrie Cuinn, editor, and the extremely talented Galen Dara, illustrator and art director. I particularly can't wait to see the illustrations that Galen creates for the project. The story is set in a magical world with some very interesting creatures and locales, so I think the final product will be visually astounding.

Look for it Summer 2012!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Ice, ice baby

Limiting typing this week to the writing business (okay, and Twitter, because I have an addiction problem). This is because the middle finger tendon on my left hand--and I'm a lefty!--has a cyst on it. Yes, go Google tendon cysts. Better yet, Google bursitis, because those pictures are ewwwwww.

Anyway, trying to be as nice as I can be to my fingers, because I have a lot of typing to do! I've got a project I'd really like to complete this month, which might be challenging because I seem to be adding a new social commitment every three hours.

People like me! They really like me!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Character. Driven. Fiction.

I've seen a lot of talk about the distinction between genre and non-genre fiction. As a college student, I definitely felt as if genre fiction, my favorite to write, was looked down upon as un-intellectual, un-literary. But by and large, I simply think there are two kinds of fiction, one of which usually wins the literary awards, and one of which a lot of genre fiction tends to fit into. One kind of fiction says: "The world has broken you. What are you going to do about it?" (Broken Character fiction.) The other says: "This world is broken. What are you going to do about it?" (Broken World fiction.)

Yes, I think the vast majority of literary, awarded literature is fiction about characters whose circumstances have broken them in some special and interesting way--a way that then reflects upon some larger issue of the human condition. Most genre fiction (romance, mystery, Western, SF/F/H) is about normal (ish) people who must overcome some kind of external obstacles. People get pissy over the distinction between "character-driven" and "externally driven" literature, and they're right to be. Both kinds of fiction are about characters and their motivations. Both require insight into humanity, an examination of how people function when things go wrong. You can learn from both.

Do I think one kind is better than the other? No. But I do think Broken Character writing might take a little more skill. Why? Because being broken brings out what's worst in a person, and it's hard to create a character who is believably broken who isn't so annoying the reader throws the book out the window!

On a much lighter note, I will be at the World Fantasy Convention this weekend. If you'll be at the convention, too, and would like to meet up or buy me drinks (hey, a girl can try!), here is my schedule:
  • Thursday, 10pm. How to Survive the Coming Zombie Apocalypse. (Panel)
  • Saturday, 3 pm. Reading from The Way of the Wizard. (Group reading/party)
  • Saturday, 6 pm. Edge Book Launch. (Group reading/party) -- I'll be reading from Rigor Amortis, so be prepared for some raunch. Or squick. Or just plain fun.
  • Saturday, 8 pm. Inkpunks 1st Anniversary Party! (Group reading/party)--I'll be reading "Curvature of the Witch House," currently up at Innsmouth Magazine. But more importantly, there will be drinks! And snacks! And hot, hot door prizes!
  • Sunday, 10 am. Crossed Genres Group Reading. Ease out of your hangover as I read a teaser from "A Tiny Grayness in the Dark," which is in CG's forthcoming Subversion anthology.
Hope to see you in the forthcoming merriment!

10pm (Arrgh! Shouldn't I be DRINKING at 10pm?): How to Survive the Coming Zombie Apocalypse panel

3: The Way of the Wizard -- group reading/party
6: Edge Book Launch
8: Inkpunks group reading/party

10 am: Crossed Genres group reading

Monday, October 17, 2011

Playing around

Last week combined illness and writer's block with the result of zero accomplishments (save sewing a Halloween costume for my daughter and crocheting a scarf for my own Halloween costume). I know it's not popular to admit to writer's block--I feel sometimes that if you say you believe in it, other writing types act as if you've just admitted to believe in the Boogey Man or something equally infantile. I think a better name might be "Brain Tantrums" or "Sick Leave for the Intelligence." Honestly, I've reached a point in my current work/home/jobbing life that I just don't have enough oomph. For the past three years, I've tried to limit myself to one day off a week, a day that I still usually wind up using for editorial work, and it's okay to sometimes admit that I'm tired.

So, I was sick, and then I was tired, and I took a few days off. I will probably take it fairly easy this week, too, focusing on fun projects, like a short story that I'm writing just for me. Or maybe some poetry. And yes, my favorite fun activity: decorating for Halloween! Maybe we'll make another batch of dried apple people. Last year's (pictured above) turned out great.

I would encourage you to do the same! We all have work and projects and things we have to do, but there's something about autumn that always reminds me that creativity is at its heart a fun activity. If you don't get enough fun in your system, if you don't let yourself creatively play, then your art really suffers.

So peeps--what are some playful creative activities you plan to enjoy?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Seeds & Deeds

I've been following the activities of Occupy Wall Street for the last handful of days. It's fascinating and exciting, motivating the way nothing has motivated me for the last ... jeez, seven or eight years. That's right, dear blog--I used to be a social justice-seeking, politics-thinking, environment-defending lady. And then I gave up. Somewhere around the time of the Gulf War (boy, that march the day before the war started was amazing!), I started feeling like a whipped cur and crept down into the lair of apathy to lick my wounds.

But Occupy Wall Street has a lot going for it. It's stirring up people at a time when most people are seething silently, without words or hope. And while its message of general rage and dissatisfaction is being dismissed by many as an ineffective stance, I think that's a misunderstanding of the event's goal. I see this activity as an event that doesn't effect one particular change--it effects change in the hearts and minds of the American populace.

Other Occupy events, such as Occupy St Louis, which has targeted BofA as an agent of anti-populace economic affairs; and Occupy LA, which is targeting the Fannie Mae building for much the same reason, have actual targets. That's good! These are smaller, pointed actions that are directed at making a particular change within an egregious system. I'm happy to see them out there, fighting for these goals.

But Occupy Wall Street is much bigger than this. Occupy Wall Street is doing something remarkable: it is creating a real live community that functions using an advanced democratic and economic system. They are organizing a new kind of community, a new kind of social organization. And even if the movement ends with members drifting away to escape New York's winter weather, just the fact that they were able to create this one little community is amazing. It is a seed that will take root inside people and grow.

The United States was a pioneer in representative democracy--and the form for it was drafted close to 300 years ago, in an era where global and instantaneous communication was unimaginable. Capitalism was given form and structure at the same time. Alternative political economic structures, like the communism born from Karl Marx's writings, were created 150 years ago, when the telegram was giving the first hints of what a new, fully communicative society could be about. It is time for a new political economy, an economy that recognizes that the unimpeded flow of money and information is the essence of human freedom.

We learned from the totalitarian communist systems of the early 20th century that the government cannot be allowed absolute control of the flow of money and information. This creates corruption and the erosion of citizen power. And we're seeing today in the United States that when corporations control the flow of money and information, the government must pander to their concerns, resulting in corruption and the erosion of citizen power. We need a system that balances government oversight--because government is (or should be) the primary way to express the voice of the people--with competitive choices. Businesses can compete in wonderful ways. They can create wonderful things for us. But they cannot be allowed to crush us.

The sub-movements of the Occupy Together protests and the individuals inspired by the protests must try to find concrete ways to make our current political economical system function better. But Occupy Wall Street's job? It's to teach us how to create the next system, a system that right now lives as a kind of waking dream in New York, where people are sharing their possessions and skills and finding ways to create mass consensus. To us out here, it feels like Shangri-La. But it's real, it's real, it's real for them in Liberty Plaza.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blast from the Past: The Kitchen Witch

Today one of my very favorite pieces came out in the fall edition Three Lobed Burning Eye. And this got me thinking: Why do I love some stories more than others? For example, I had fun writing "Cold Iron and Green Vines," but I never felt particularly attached to it, even though it's a pretty enjoyable tale and it found a home in pro-level magazine. There are just some stories that resonate more inside me than others, regardless of their craft or skill-level.

As an exploration, I decided to dig out my very first accepted short story and share it with you all. It was published in the no-pay online zine The Abacot Journal, and it appeared in January 2009. (I wonder whatever happened to Alexandra Ash, the editor of this departed magazine? I hope she's still out there working with words.)


By Wendy N. Wagner

Elva Manotte hadn't spent the last fifty-five years practicing witchcraft just to be surprised by a naked man on her front porch. She had seen many more exciting things than that, and more horrible, and never flinched.

She raised the flag on the mailbox and petted the big gray tom circling her feet while she decided what to do. When a crow hopped out of the house and tugged at the man's brown hair, she made up her mind.

"Well, Marcus," she said, voice as rusty and croaking as the crow she addressed, "let's bring him in and see what we can do." The gray cat at her feet hissed at the idea, and darted back into the house.

If Elva's husband—God rest his soul—had been there to see it, he wouldn't have batted an eye. Elva was always picking up strays. He would have looked over the top of his newspaper, made an offer to drive to the store for supplies, then gone back to reading until she asked for help. As it was, his skull over the fireplace merely clacked its upper jaw against the mantle in a reflexive offer.

She lowered the strange man's head onto her bottle green couch and gave the skull a tender smile. "Ah, that's good of you, Sean. Don't worry yourself. I'm sure this is nothing I can't handle."

The skull made no response. There was no need, really. She was probably right.

"Now, what have we got here?" Elva sat back on her glider rocker—a fortieth anniversary gift from Sean, and never a better purchase—and took a look at her foundling.

He wasn't very old, early thirties perhaps, and thin as a rail. There was a white scar along his side. As far as she could tell, it was his only distinguishing mark. She watched a lot of crime dramas these days; she knew things like that were important.

The crow hopped onto the back of the couch and cocked its head, shining an eye down on the man's face. Elva knew the look.

"Don't even think about picking out his eyes, Marcus. He's not even dead."

The bird grumbled and fluttered on its perch. The back of the couch was scarred from his frequent use, and the back streaked white. Elva had thought about covering the thing with plastic, but settled for scrubbing it once a week. She'd use a spell, but by and large, inanimate things resisted her powers. She had hoped to outgrow that little weakness, but now that she was collecting Social Security, she had to admit it wasn't likely.

"Well, I ought to at least cover him up. Don't need him to get shock on top of everything else."

She went to the big cedar chest in the corner and drew out a quilt her mother had made in the twilight of her years, and spread it over the man on the couch. The quilt was all sunny yellows and oranges, in the neat squares that were all arthritis had left the old woman. Elva's mother had once worked intricate patterns with lyrical names and tiny geometric pieces of fabric, the craftswoman's mosaic. The quilts had sold for thousands of dollars, and one even hung in a museum.

But this one, warming a strange and naked man on her daughter's couch, was a gift of love simplified by the ravaging hand of time. Elva straightened it fondly.

She stood up with a smile, rubbing the small of her back, which always felt worn after lifting and stooping. The man hadn't been a light load for her, after all. She looked at the bird.

"Marcus, let me know if he wakes up. I'll be in the kitchen. He'll want something to eat, I'm sure."

The bird bobbed its head in the affirmative, and Elva left him. She had put up some jars of peach pie filling this July. Maybe she would bake. Yes, a pie. With crumb topping. Did she have any ice cream left?

These were the things that went through her mind, because Elva was a practical woman, and she knew wondering and fretting would do nothing for herself or the man. She could go through old books and guess at the cause of the man's stupor, using up half her magical supplies and risking demonic possession—or she could bake and let the comforting scents of cinnamon and sugar reach out to him.

For a woman who now received food stamps, the choice was easy. Besides that, Elva had always preferred kitchen magic. It was simple, surprisingly successful, and easy to hide. Work magic in secrecy, Elva's mother had maintained, and she had lived to be ninety-eight. Not every witch was that lucky. Elva's great-grandmother had died at age forty-six at the hands of Baptist lynch mob.

Yes, there was a good reason to stay in the broom closet, and broom closets are usually close by the kitchen.

Elva pulled the butter from the fridge and set it on the stove to soften. Then she opened the window, calling in a breeze, and set the rest of her ingredients out on the counter.

It was the kind of September afternoon she loved better than any other time. She was sixty-nine this year, but she still felt that she had not had enough fall days. She didn't want to live forever, but she wanted to see another thirty or thirty-five falls, even if it meant drinking a few unpleasant potions along the way.

Her fingers worked quickly without too much instruction from her mind. Elva was a good baker, with a lot of practice. Pastry dough was one of her specialties; the fire department had a standing order for an apple pie a week during the fall, and every club in town made sure to call her for help planning their bake sale.

She patted the dough into a ball and rolled it out. With a certain economy of motion, she flipped the circle of pastry into the pie plate, and turned her attention to the crumb topping.

If only Sean were here, she caught herself thinking, and shook her head irritably. It was true her husband had loved a good peach pie. But what was done couldn't be undone, especially if what was done involved an eighteen-wheeler and a two-speed bike. Sometimes it didn't matter you were wearing your helmet—although, she had to remind herself, the only part of Sean's body that hadn't been pulped was his cranium.

Elva pried the lid off the jar of pie filling. The smell of peaches and ginger made her close her eyes with pleasure. This was a good batch. Yes, Sean would have enjoyed it.

She poured the pie filling into the pan gently and shook the crumbs over it. Then the pie went in the oven.

It baked for an hour. That gave her time to tidy up the dishes, go out to garden and pick some dahlias for the table, refill the cat and the crow's food dishes, and fold a basket of laundry. She took a moment to run a brush through her close-cropped white hair and apply some cherry-flavored chapstick.

Then the pie came out of the oven, and she started the coffee.

It was an old percolator, loud, and with her head bent over yesterday's crossword, it was no wonder the man surprised her when he coughed at the doorway and said:

"Is that . . . coffee I smell?"

He had a nice voice, a little nervous, with an accent Elva couldn't place. He looked lost, standing in the kitchen doorway with the blanket wrapped around himself and his bare toes curling on the linoleum. She smiled, grandmotherly, at him.

"You're awake!"

"Yes." He looked down at himself. "And apparently naked."

She laughed. "I'll get you something."

She didn't have any men's clothing, of course, not after five years as a widow, but she found a pair of her own sweatpants that might fit, and a plain green t-shirt. She sent him to the bathroom to change while she poured coffee and cut slices of pie. It was still too hot to cut, but she encouraged it to cool with a murmured chant, and it was good enough.

He emerged from the bathroom looking sheepish but clad.

"Do you take sugar? Cream?"

He nodded to both and sat down where she showed him to. She sat across and stirred her coffee. The crow hopped into the corner of the kitchen and watched him, eyes reptilian, orange.

"What's your name?"

"Jesus." He took a sip of coffee, winced. It was still very warm.

He didn't look Hispanic, although he was dark enough. You could never tell. Elva prided herself on being open-minded.

"Mine's Elva. Nice to meet you."

"Elva." He looked around at the kitchen, its ten-year-old appliances shining under their coats of children's drawings, and the dishes waiting in the drainer.

Elva noticed his glance. "My grandchildren give me those. I baby-sit for them every Thursday."
"That's lovely." He took a bite of his pie (there had been no ice cream), and his eyes closed. "Oh my. That's wonderful."

Elva took a bite, too. It really was. It had been years since she'd made a peach pie this perfect. She would have to save a slice for the skull.

They each took another bite, chewing and swallowing slowly, taking their time to enjoy each meaty slice of peach and feel the tiny burn of the spices on their tongues. It was a wonder of contrasting textures and flavors, the embodiment of all that was sensual and all the sunshine of summer.

Elva swallowed. She brought her coffee cup to her lips and looked hard at the man. She took a drink without letting go of his eyes, and he flinched a little at her gaze.

"What brought you to my doorstep today, Jesus?"

He looked surprised. "Don’t you know who I am?"

She took another drink, brows coming together. He could see her mind working, and he shook his head.

"Look." He brought his palms up beside his face. There in center of each, bright as moonlight, a silver scar. Circles of long-ago pain. She thought of the scar on his ribs and put down her coffee cup.

"Why my door, Jesus?"

He shrugged. "The Lord works in mysterious ways."

"Trite." She pushed aside the mug and folded her arms across her chest.

He pushed away his coffee, too. "Elva. I came to you because of who you are, what you do. I was sent here. Because it's my job." He smiled, his coffee-colored crinkling with gentle humor.

"Your job. The Son of God has a job?"

"Duty, perhaps, is a better word."

"Duty." She stood up, the lines around her mouth folding themselves deeper. "I understand duty. I learned duty before I could walk. Protect people, heal the earth, keep the world from falling apart. That's the duty of a witch, and that's what we've been doing since the birth of humankind. I'm not sure we need help from a minor deity like you."
He stood, too. "I'm not here to help you. I'm here to stop you. Witches like you can only slow down what needs to be done now. It's time. I've come back to Earth to end it—to stop all the madness and unhappiness and sin."
"By destroying everything?"

"It's the only way."

Elva shook her head. "It's wrong."

"It seems that way, but it's for the best. You know it's true. Good people like Sean die, while murderers and child molesters walk free in the streets. This world is corrupt." His brown eyes, so mild and kind, began to brighten with the fervor of his words. "It is a pit of filth and despair. I will rub it out so that it may be reborn!"

"No!" She struck out wildly at his face, and he seized her wrists. His hands were like iron, crushing hard on her very bones. Elva cried out with the pain of it, and felt her knees giving way beneath her.

There was a scream, and fluttering darkness, and Marcus the crow was battering the man's head. The cat—slinking, silent creature—threw itself against the man's knees, all claws and fury.

Elva jerked her hands free and grabbed for something, anything, and her hand closed on the edge of the pie plate. She brought the whole deep-dish weight of it down hard upon Jesus's head.

He went down without a sound.

She stood there, gasping for air, her chest tight with fear and anger, looking down at the man on the floor. The pie plate had broken, and the beautiful peaches, golden with summer, clung stickily to his curling brown hair.

A ribbon of red rolled out on the floor, and the cat licked at it curiously. It looked up at her and meowed.

"Oh, Mr. Whiskers," she murmured, and scooped him up, pressing her face into his soft fur. She rubbed his broad forehead until his purr slowed her heartbeat. The crow hopped onto the back of a chair and bumped her with its inky head.

She looked at the dead man on the floor. "How could anybody eat my peach pie and possibly think the world ought to be destroyed?" She shook her head. "And now I'm going to have to clean this mess up, for Chri--" She stopped and swallowed a cold lump in her throat. "For crying out loud!" she shouted.

Then she rolled up her sleeves.

Elva opened the back door and ran a couple of two-by-fours up the back stairs. Then she found the wheelbarrow in the garden shed and rolled it into the house, and with the help of a few herbs, found the strength to heave the corpse into the wheelbarrow. She took it out to the compost pile and buried it under a thick layer of grass clippings and dried leaves.

She wiped off the tines of her pitchfork and looked up at the sky. "I know you'll be back. And I guess you've got to do what you've got to do. But not today. I want thirty more Septembers." She smiled weakly. "The fire department is counting on me."

She put her tools back in the garden shed and went inside without glancing back at the compost heap.

After a shower and a cup of coffee, she pulled out another pie plate and baked a second peach pie. She needed a little something after saving the world. And Sean still needed his slice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why my fat is my feminist issue

I have mixed feelings about my fat rolls. I've been overweight my whole life, with one two- or three-year window of thin-ness, and by and large, I don't mind it. There are even things I love about being chubby.

When I was younger, my fat was a wonderful shield that protected me from prowling men, giving me the space to enjoy doing my own thing. I didn't have to deal with having a boyfriend, because I had no interest pursuing one and none of the males in my high school or college (or even post-college, by and large) would deign to notice a fat chick. I hung out with my friends and read and did homework. I got to be me. How many other teenage girls get to enjoy that? How many adult women? Heck, these days even superheroes have to devote their spare time to pleasing some man!

The thing about being thin and sexy is that you have to give up so much. You have to wear shoes that make your feet hurt. You have to turn down pie and pizza and toast. You have to put down the novel and go out for a run. And if the only thing motivating you is your appearance--and you're me--well, there's really no point. Someplace along the line, it hit me that I didn't give a fuck if people thought I was sexy or not. (Don't get me wrong--I love dressing up and wearing makeup and looking pretty. But it's for me. It's play.) I am a writer, a goofball, a beer drinker, a good friend, a cultivator of trivia. If that wasn't enough for other people, then I honestly didn't need to attract them to me in the first place.

And really, that's what being a feminist is about for me. It's about saying that it's okay for women to PEOPLE. We're not just portable vaginas. We don't exist to be sex toys. We are PEOPLE.

I know I could be healthier. And that motivates me to get out and go for a long walk and try to limit the baked goods to one serving a week and avoid saturated fats. After all, I don't want to invite disease into my life.

But I don't want to be thin and sexy, either.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Mars

Guys, I don't have much an update. Why? Because I'm reading Green Mars. It's by Kim Stanley Robinson, one of my favorite authors (his story "The Lunatics," is a real standout in the Brave New Worlds anthology that John Joseph Adams put out). One of the most fascinating things about this book is the way that Mars itself becomes the main character, even though the story is a compilation of different narrators. What connects the wide variety of story lines is Mars and the planet's changes. It's riveting stuff!

Anyway, I'm off to go read. Here's hoping to finish tonight!

Friday, September 16, 2011


So a couple of days ago, I sent off the contract for our Armored story, and then today I see this:

And I gotta say, I wish our story was a little more like that. But there is power armor and there are both animals and backflips, so it's pretty close.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Just Do One Thing

When I first decided I was serious about writing, about four years ago, I struggled and flailed. It was so hard to have a part-time job and be a full-time mom and carve out time for a fairly new relationship and try to write, too. It was a huge task, too huge to really comprehend, let alone succeed at. But Kaz (my beloved) gave me a wonderful piece of advice, advice he had used to get back into a painting routine: Just do one thing every day. It doesn't matter what you do or how much you do it--the act of doing something that contributes to your goal will get the ball moving and make you feel better about yourself.

You can really use this advice to help you meet any challenge. Learn to cook? Just make one dish every day. Declutter your house? Just get rid of one thing every day. But right now I'm going to use it to meet a challenge that shouldn't even be a challenge. I'm going to try to do just one thing every day that makes me purely happy.

Let me explain.

See, writing makes me happy--just about nothing else in this world can make me as happy as losing myself in words for an hour or two. But writing is also all about goals and careers and the future, so even though it makes me happy, it also brings with it all kinds of heavy emotional overtones. Plus, sometimes writing makes me cranky. It doesn't always go well, right?

But playing my dulcimer? There's absolutely no reason whatsoever for me to play it. I don't want to be folk singer. I don't plan on performing anywhere. There is nobody else counting on me to play my dulcimer. It's just pure fun.

Crocheting and sewing: same thing. I can buy any hat or outfit I want, and probably for less money than if I made it! There's no real reason to craft. But it's totally fun, and I enjoy it with all my heart. And the last time I sewed? Well, I made The Kid a flower girl dress for my best friend's wedding. Nowadays, a stuffed penguin is wearing that dress and my best friend has already finalized her divorce papers.

Yes, I love writing. And I love my editorial work. I love it so much I have to slap myself silly and remind myself that there are other parts of my life and my self that deserve attention. Just one small bit of attention each day.

What are some projects you've been putting off or challenges you haven't known how to tackle? Can you use the "Just do one thing" method to help? I want to hear about it!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jim Gordon 4VR!

I'm going to say this while holding up a riot shield for protection: I did not like The Dark Knight.

Let me wipe the rotten tomatoes off my face before I continue.

The Dark Knight was full of exciting action and cool props. But most of the characters fell flat for me. The Joker in particular felt like a waste; he existed to simply shake things up on-screen, and there was no attempt to create a unified persona for this strange and iconic character. (Which in some ways was cool. He was essentially all chaos, all the time. But that was *all* he was.) Also, I just have to point out: that tongue-spasm-licking thing is SO over. David Tennant totally killed it in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Batman/Bruce Wayne and the minor characters Lucius Fox and Alfred Best all suffered from Boringly Perfect Character Syndrome. They're never wrong. They're brilliant at everything they try. And as far as I can tell, none of them has a sense of humor. Christian Bale's Batman is icy cold and blandly good looking; I almost miss George Clooney's endless mugging. (Of course, who I really miss is Michael Keaton, who could take Batman's heroism seriously while gently mocking Wayne's role as a millionaire playboy.)

I might have mimicked my husband, who fell asleep during the film, if not for one character: Jim Gordon.

Every moment he was on screen, I believed in him. Gordon's struggle to balance his faith in Batman and his bitter fight to keep a crooked police department in line felt heartfelt. His actions were believable, his choices grounded. The character created in the Christopher Nolan re-launch of this franchise has many of the rich nuances of the character built in Frank Miller's Batman Year One. If you want to build a complex character within the framework of a simple action story, look to Jim Gordon.

This is just an off-the-cuff response to a movie that I wanted to like very much. I'm hoping to flesh out my Jim Gordon luv after another viewing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Road to Hell

The highlight of our trip to Reno was a hike through hell--Bumpass Hell. The hike down into this remarkable region of mud pots and fumeroles was intense, with large portions of the trail buried beneath packed snow & slush. All three miles stank, because the hidden hot springs lurked just out of sight, sending up blasts of fragrant sulfur. The actual "hell" (which is the crater of a collapsed ancient volcanic giant) was so overpoweringly foul-smelling I finally understood the origins of the Bog of Eternal Stench.

But it was awesome!

The ground was baked dry and crusted with yellow and white mineral salts. Steamed poured from tiny cracks in the ground, spilling around rocks and carving out mouths opening into the super-heated depths.

Larger cracks, like this massive fumerole called Big Boiler (the hottest in the world!), send up huge clouds of steam and can be heard rumbling a good quarter of a mile away.

I'm sure I'll have more photos and Reno stories tomorrow, but this place was so cool I had to share it first. (Jee, it only took me three days. But it took that long to find the camera cord!)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Feeling convivial!

WorldCon approaches!

Really, that's all I got this week. There's other stuff I want to tell you, like how much I can't wait for you all to see the October issue of Fantasy (tentacles! monsters! best use of a tiny detail ever!), but obviously I can't give too much away.

So on those happy notes, I leave you with the recipe for The Best Pumpkin Muffins. This is the only muffin recipe I ever follow (honestly, I usually just make up muffins as I go), because they turn out so incredibly delicious. The texture is just phenomenal. Today's batch turned out a little bit too sticky (they welded their little orange bottoms to the wrapper), but that was entirely because I ran out of cooking oil in the middle of the process. Doh.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Delightful week...

I've had a great time reading slush this week. Sometimes you get nice stories to read, and that just puts a smile on my face.

But of course the real excitement comes from the land of the living. Next week is our big trip to Reno! And that means packing lists. Oh, swoon! Honestly, half the joy of the trip is making up my packing list.

Needless to say, this blog post by Gail Carriger really spoke to me!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Rounding up the scraps

[Note: I added this picture after I wrote the first paragraph, but I have to say, it represents a certain kind of excellent day. Like if I was a flesh-eating fiend in the nation's capital today, I'm sure I'd be just as cheerful as I was when this picture was taken.]

I gotta say, I was having a good day before I read the news. Anybody else as certain for the demise of the American way as me? It's like we've hit the iceberg and the shoddily crafted rivets are starting to pop down in hold. And they said she was unsinkable!

Anyway, we'll leave the doom and gloom for the papers. Here in the Opera Buffo world, we are enjoying the enjoyable things in life. Like solipsisms! (Insert wryly grinning emoticon here.)

Last week was actually brilliant. I took the family to see my fellow zombie-loving-hating pal, Tony Faville, read at Powell's. Since those wonderful booksellers were hosting a costume contest, I rope the kid into dressing up as a zombie--our first! I'm usually on the zombie slaying side of the equation, but I have to admit, staggering around undead was highly enjoyable. The Kid won the contest (we were the only two zombies, but she easily beat me with her distinct creepiness). Of course: there's nothing more frightening than a child zombie!

Here's a pic:

So cute and yet so creepy!

Of course the pants-wettingly good part of the week was the wonderful news that the story I co-wrote with my brother Jak has been sold to a really cool anthology! Getting to be part of another John Joseph Adams antho is kind of mind-boggling. And since this is a pro-level science fiction sale, this means I am halfway to the Science Fiction Challenge I posed myself a few months ago. So now I only have to sell half of a story someplace great. I also only need to sell half a story to qualify as an Active member of SFWA. I'd be even more thrilled, except that I have the hunch selling half a story is even more difficult than selling a whole one, which is pretty damn hard.

How hard is it to make a pro short story sale? Well, according to Duotrope, the acceptance rate at a magazine like Fantasy Magazine is right around 0.5%. And for the super-exclusive Asimov's, Duotrope reports a 0.09% acceptance rate!

(There is no rating for acceptances of half stories. I'll have to do some research on that one.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Paper makes it serious

You know, I don't submit short stories to F&SF very often. They only accept paper submissions--and it's not just that I'm super-lazy and don't want to print out my story and find an envelope and scrounge up postage money. It's that putting one of my stories down on paper? Makes the act of creation way, way too real.

Now that kind of logic shouldn't make a lick of sense; after all, I've sold eleven stories now; you'd think I'd have figured out that, yes, I am a creative person, and yes, this story business is the real deal. Uh-huh. Right. I still freak out. To actually print out a cover letter, I have to triple proofread my two short paragraphs, take a break, and then ask somebody else to read it over. Who finds tons of mistakes I missed. When I know I'm printing a cover letter, I can't even type my own address with any kind of accuracy.

Maybe it's because you have to sign the letter. It's like a check, or a contract. You're promising that editor something. You're signing away your life on that promise. What if that editor collects on it? You're cheerfully getting ready for work one morning, and there's knock on your front door, and when you open it, there's an editorial assistant standing on your porch, flames coming out his nose and carrying a pitchfork. Your story sucked. He's here to collect your soul.

I'm breaking out in cold sweats just thinking about it.

You know, I still have time. The envelope doesn't even have stamps on it. There's still a chance I could change my mind, sparing myself that ugly visit. I mean, what if I need my soul? Doesn't a soul imbue my life with some kind of mystical energy that if I lose, I descend into the same empty state of existence as Willy Loman? Am I going to have to work in sales?


I managed to collect myself. I remembered that this writing business only calls for blood, sweat, and tears--soul is completely optional. I'm safe. This story is going out in the mail tomorrow!

Which means tonight I'm heading down to the crossroads. If my soul's not going to help me write a decent short story, I might as well get some kind of mileage out of it. I wonder what kind of deal Satan can give me ...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bears in armor

A few days ago, I came across some great words of guidance, quoted by some random dude on Twitter and attributed to my new hero of grumpiness and Dorito-fueled madness, Charles Wendig:


Now, you might think this is just needlessly tough tough-guy talk, but I am taking it to heart. I don't need to be a mean fighting machine--I need to protect myself. The hardness I need is armor, thick plates of it to protect my tender innards. I waste way too much time taking otherwise boring missiles, like rejections and mistakes, and then turning them upon myself, grinding my heart and mind into hamburger. Then it takes me tons of time to regrow those internal organs, and I'm tired & grumpy.

The nicest thing about my new motto is that is makes me giggle a little bit when I say it. I mean, who could fail to giggle when they think about Care Bears? Man, I loved those chubby little love bugs when I was a kid. And I feel okay invoking them as a spirit totems, because if there's anything I learned from watching The Care Bears Movie (or better yet, The Care Bears in Wonderland), it's that the Care Bears are ruthless in their attempt to bring joy & goodness into this world. They have a take-no-prisoners attitude that belies their cuddly exteriors.

My exterior is pretty cuddly, too. With some chain mail and a decent breastplate, I could probably make a great Tenderheart Byrnison ...

(*I've heard this is a chapter heading in Chuck's book, which I just ordered a few seconds ago and am still waiting to arrive.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Gut check

As lame as it is to admit, I still haven't gotten my mojo back after Virtual Tales' collapse. Losing my book -- even though it wasn't much of a book, and it wasn't much of a book deal -- seems to have sucked out some kind of faith I had in myself and in writing novels. Honestly, I think I've been battling a low-grade depression since I got the news.

Maybe noveling will work out and maybe it won't. At least I'm still writing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fun is okay!

Last week was weirdly packed with fun. I went to a Harry & the Potters show; I ate out at an amazing vegan restaurant, where I enjoyed a blueberry gimlet and this amazing grapefruit juice/elderflower liquer/gin cocktail; I caught a marionette performance featuring a mad scientist and a biomechanical hare. I played games with my family! I planted a basil plant!

So all in all, it was pretty much a refilling the well kind of week. This week is already off to a more word-filled start!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nyan Cat: Proof friends are the best part of this gig

This blog post will best improve your mood if you play this video as you read:

I love this gig. Being a writer is the absolute shit. People have paid me--or promised to pay me--for putting words together. And sometimes I put words together and the things I've managed to say are actually awesome. I started a new story this weekend, and let me tell you: I love it. (I'll probably hate it before I get done editing, but that's just the way the editing process works. I mean, it's supposed to work like that.)

Not every thing about writer is terrific. There are times when I get frustrated by my inability to rock the words. There are times when the publishing industry pisses me off. And there are DEFINITELY times when the genre community pisses me off. Last week, I saw a lot of jackasses trying to explain why they weren't racist or sexist as they screamed and wailed in an attempt to defend the white boy status quo.

I tried to come up with a really good post about what I felt, and maybe I will figure out the right words someday. In the meantime, I think Ian Sales said it best in one of his comments on the SFSignal discussion on sexism: "If you support the status quo, you are sexist. End of story." You can replace "sexist" with "racist" for equal effect.

You know, every single one of us has unconscious biases that come out in our work. What we owe the world isn't our apologies, it's opening up our worlds to each other. When you know people of other races and you have positive experiences with them, you don't write bigoted work. When you know awesome LBGTQ people, you don't write work that excludes them. When you have a terrific boss that you admire who is a woman, you create fiction that reflects your understanding of women who are men's equals.

You have to open up your head, and you have to make friends. They will make sure that the process of mind-opening isn't as terrifying or painful as you fear it will be. (And yeah, it's scary. It's not easy being vulnerable!)

Plus, your friends, new and old, will help cheer you up when your words get rejected. They'll give you a pep talk when you aren't writing as fast as you like. They'll make sure you get back to your hotel room when you get sloshed at the con.

And they'll make sure you know about Nyan Cat so you, too, can have the song stuck in your head.

Friday, June 10, 2011

SO SAY WE ALL! -- An SF challenge

Today, during an exciting chat with the rest of the Inkpunks about the state of science fiction, I threw down the gauntlet: I challenged us all to work hard to master the science fiction short story. By master, I suggested "achieve a SFWA-pro-level sale of an SF story." No matter what it takes, we're going to rock the roof off the science fiction genre.

I definitely think a lot of people are afraid to write SF -- because they're afraid of science. There's so much to get right when you want your story to fit within the parameters of reality. There's research to do! Embarrassment to be had! But that doesn't mean it's not something worth doing. Writing is one of the best ways to explore the nature of humanity, and what's more worthwhile than skewering the human condition with the most exciting crap technology can dish out? :D

By science fiction, we Inkpunks are restricting ourselves only to fiction that works within the generally accepted rules of nature. So the piece can be a mundane work or a near-future dystopian or a post-apocalyptic adventure ... it just can't have magic or elements that make zero sense within the boundaries of modern science. Zombies--the undead kind--are pretty much out. Witches, too. (What the heck am I going to write about?!?! Isn't everything I write about zombies or witches?)

If you're a writer who reads this blog, I throw the gauntlet at you, too. The world needs more great science fiction. It's science fiction that fed the hearts and imaginations of the mid-century American scientists who took us to the moon. It's science fiction that stirred the dreams of the great twentieth century inventors. Let's give the next century something to talk about!

PS: If you're already on-board the science fiction train, I know that right now the Science in My Fiction site is running its 2nd annual short story contest. Go send them something exciting!

Monday, June 06, 2011

AMAZING people being amazing

Today was a wonderfully normal day after two weeks of struggling with health issues. It was nice to have nearly full command of my brain (still feel groggy and tired), and be able to go a day without a nap break. Since I'm still kind of dumb, I thought I'd just banter about the last few days. So, in no particular order or logic:

  • The amazing Snarke came by for some quality girl time (and lawksamussy, we were two girls in need of some girl time!), aka, Lunch At Burgerville + Marathon Chat. She blew my mind by bringing me a copy of Fuzzy Nation. Signed. By Mr. Scalzi, the Overlord of SFWA. I'm pretty certain there is no kinder person on the earth.
  • The amazing John Joseph Adams sent me many, many older issues of F&SF magazine. The next daunting task is to read all these babies, which will be inspirational!
  • Due to the encouragement of the amazing Molly Tanzer and the amazing Erin Stocks, I have picked up the cookbook Appetite for Reduction and have started cooking really healthy & delicious foods. I say "encouragement," but mostly I mean "mouth-watering posts on their blogs & Twitter that feature these amazing recipes." But it's nice to be returning to my whole-foods, healthy ways! It's been a while since I've been inspired to cook!
  • On a totally unrelated note, we had ramen for dinner. *looks shamefaced*
  • A new submission was made, for the first time in, like, months.
  • I had a major brainwave, erased the last 1500 painfully scraped together words of the novel-in-progress, and belched out 908 exciting wonderful words.
  • In a totally related note, put Richard Matheson's Hell House on hold at the library.
  • I've been listening to the podcast of my story "Cold Iron and Green Vines" over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It's so cool to hear someone else read my stuff!
Well, that's really about it. It's wonderful to be awake and healthy enough to be blogging at 10 at night!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Unseen Stage Fright

Sandra Wickham said it today on Twitter: I think about my novel all the time. I can't wait till I it's time to write. Finally, I sit to write and I freeze up with stage fright.

Boy do I understand! After taking that my sick days, I feel paralyzed with fear, especially after reading through a chunk of pages yesterday and getting the work back into my head. What if I screw it all up? What if I've lost my touch? What if an evil interloper has strangled my muse and is going to pretend to be my muse, thus leading me to write 9 pages of chick lit inside the haunted house I've been struggling to create?

I read Erika's advice about getting started, and while it all resonated deeply inside me, I know me. I know there are only a handful of things that can turn off my stage fright: chocolate, gum, and massive doses of caffeine. Since it's evening, coffee is out of the question--I need to sleep tonight. But I can bribe myself with my candy bar (just a few squares! I'm not crazy, and honestly, I don't like more than a small serving of the super-dark stuff) and my two fresh packs of Orbit gum.

Yeah, wish me luck. These are the moments when I understand why so many writers have substance abuse issues.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sick days?

So I spent the entire weekend being sick, and now that I'm perking up a bit, I'm starting to feel the words revving up again. Does anybody else find that getting sick makes it hard to write? And if so, is there anything that seems to help?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Break it or burn it

I had an astonishing revelation today: I've got writing burn out. And I've had burnout for a while now, like since October. Not only have I rarely felt that words-straining-at-the-seams feeling that used to inflict me with an itchiness to write, but every single day I've been able to write fewer and fewer words, and I feel more tired after laying them on the page. Needless to say, I decided I needed to be more serious about taking break time from writing.

I spent the afternoon cleaning and reading out of an anthology of French reading exercises. Why? I'm not planning to go to France any time soon. I don't know anyone who speaks French. The only reason to try to read a book in French is just because it's something I always enjoyed and it was something I had no reason to do. Absolutely free goofing off.

I've still got plenty of editorial work to catch up on, but this weekend? I'm going to go nuts. I might even play VIDEO GAMES. Nothing says "slacker" like sitting in front of the tv shooting zombies.

Sometimes it's hard for me to admit that writing isn't the end-all and be-all of who I am. I will still exist if I turn off the word tap for a couple of days. There's no shame in it.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rescue Remedy

Today was the kind of day that required some kind of serious pick-me-up: I had a blister, a stomach ache, a headache, and my brain was spinning in a post-work fog (this is the Noisy Season at work). A nap was out of the question, what with an influx of playful children racing around my front porch and yard (there's a reason I hate summer). I needed coffee and chocolate, stat.

I've reached a point in my life where I no longer like sticky-sweet chocolatey treats. More often than not, they leave me feeling queasy and unsatisfied, the bouquet of the chocolate overpowered by the fats and sugars. (Dear heavens, did I really just use the phrase "the bouquet of the chocolate"??) When I buy chocolate, I buy a Theo dark chocolate bar and nibble my way through a stick at a time. But I didn't have a chocolate bar handy. I had cocoa powder. So I whipped up a quick and dirty microwave cup of cocoa.

You've made cocoa a hundred billion times--or at least, I hope you have. There's something profoundly meditative about blending the dry ingredients (2 Tb cocoa powder, 2 tsp sugar, dash of salt, and if you're in our household, about a tsp of nondairy creamer) and slowly dripping in the liquid (I usually start with coffee). At first, the liquid beads up on the surface of the powders, finally seeping in and creating clumps. With a little stirring and a few more drops of coffee, everything turns into one awkward ball of fragrant mud. I always feel a little nervous at this point, because it feels like the ingredients will never come together, and I will have wasted all my efforts to make a lump of sludge.

But with a little more coffee and a bit more elbow grease, the lump becomes a paste, the paste becomes smoother, and soon there's something akin to chocolate syrup at the bottom of the mug. At that point I'll usually add a little more coffee or hot water, filling my mug halfway before topping off with soy milk and a spin in the microwave. A dash of vanilla--or better yet, a teaspoon of Kraken rum!--rounds off the flavor profiles.

I'm revising a story right now that's currently at the "lump of sludge" phase. I'm nervous and a little terrified that I've killed the poor thing. I can only hope that with a little more elbow grease, it will smooth out and turn into something delicious.

I might need a few more cups of Rescue Remedy first, though ...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Process & Practice: the Writer in Savasana

It's been the kind of busy week that makes a gal's head spin: an article due, revisions coming back from various editors, career opportunities throwing themselves in my path, changes at the day job, invitations to fun social events five days of the week. And behind it all, the constant pressing knowledge that queries and submissions are out there, my work under evaluation and my future on the line.

Hey, it sounds melodramatic, but dang it, that's how it feels! You know it. You've subbed to big things before, things that could have a significant effect on your life. If you let yourself think about it, your brain might explode. You can't work, because the pressure and excitement sucks the words out of your brain like a Dyson vacuum cleaner--and we all know those things never lose suction. The only solution is NOT to think about these things and try to focus on the work in progress.

But if you're anything like me, burying my thoughts is hard. They have a way of knotting inside me and settling like lead into my gut. I've always had a lot of issues with my thoughts bursting out as physical manifestations, and it's part of the reason I spent a lot of time being sick as a young person. Interest in the mind-body relationship took me to yoga and yogic philosophy, and at one time, I actually planned to be a yoga teacher.

That's right. Me. The lady who creaks when she tries to touch her toes, the lady whose Reubenesque physique is more aptly associated with Polynesian royalty than fitness instructors. I was a yoga junkie--Bendy Wendy, beloved children's yoga class leader! And I quit yoga for the same stupid reason a lot of people quit writing: I forgot to focus onprocess, not results.

You see, I've always been a chubby kid, and I've always been sensitive about being overweight. And one day, after two years of reading and studying and pretzeling, I saw a picture of myself and realized I looked nothing like what a yoga teacher should look like. My limbs were stocky, my ankles blocky. A predisposition toward a pear shape gave me the requisite prominent ribs, but my thighs never got the memo that I was supposed to be skinny. My confidence crumbled. And one day, I walked into my yoga class and realized that every woman in the room, put together, would fit into one pair of my pants. (Hey, it seemed completely possible at the time!) I ran out of the building crying.

Little by little, I left my yoga practice behind. Dropping into Downward Dog was just too emotionally exhausting, and it was easy to push yoga time out of my schedule: I'd made a commitment to writing more, and I could justify any amount of time sitting in front of the computer.

What I forgot is how great yoga feels when you're doing it and not thinking about anything else. Like writing, it's easy to fall into a magical space where your inner essence is perfectly aligned with your activity, where you're just you, and nothing else matters. Whatever happens once you roll up your mat or click that "submit" button doesn't really matter. That you you find when you hit that magical space? That's the gold. You have to let the crap--the recycled pop-bottle mat carrier that everybody else is carrying to the studio; the rejections from the agents; the good reviews of your latest story--fall away from that place. You can't let it touch the you you've worked so hard to find.

In the last few months, I've started to forgive my body for being itself. I had a realization one day, and Regina Spektor says it best in her song "Folding Chair:"

I’ve got a perfect body, though sometimes I forget
I’ve got a perfect body cause my eyelashes catch my sweat

My body is perfect because it does the things it's designed to do. Instead of resenting its shape, I've started treating my body better, revisiting the healthy recipes I used to love, taking those long walks. Setting up a standing workstation, like Christie did. Even doing some yoga. It's amazing how the old lessons come back, all the training for clearing the mind wiping away the tensions my writing life piles onto my mind and body. After doing something physical, it's usually much, much easier to come to the keyboard. The monkey mind, with its constant need for reward, is settled. Instead of feeling neurotic about seeing results, you can enjoy the process of writing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book giveaway: Way of the Wizard!

Mr. John Joseph Adams is giving away copies of The Way of the Wizard over on his Goodreads page! If you're interested in getting your hands on this fantastic anthology, featuring a story and a handful of headers by yours-truly, check it out!

Monday, May 09, 2011

How to Write a Bio--for SF/F/H writers

I realized something the other day: most of the writers I know hate writing their bios. Every time a friend makes a sale, I hear a round of misery and sympathy on Twitter as they share their struggles to create a concise blurb that will encapsulate their career and draw readers' interest. But it doesn't have to be that hard! Writing your own biography is one of the easiest tricks you can put in your nonfiction writing magic kit. (And just so you know--I'm going to focus on nonfiction tips and tricks for my next blog post over at If there's anything in particular you'd like to know, let me know and I'll try to address it in that 5/20 post.)

Start by collecting your material.
Many spec fic writers like to begin exploring their work's characters by filling out a character sheet, very like the sheets role-playing gamers use to create their gaming character. When you begin writing your bio, you need to construct yourself as if you were the character. (If you think about it, your persona as a writer is a fictional character. You're drawing this persona out of your real life experiences, but you're not selling yourself. You're selling Writer You. It's like an alternate universe self!)

Check out the character sheet I've linked to and think over some of the answers. Answering someone else's questions can really help reinvigorate your sense of perception. When I think about my personal identity, I think of my family, my core values, my favorite activities. But honestly, these are really, really boring. A bio about me would include: "Wendy Wagner is a mom who is constantly riled up about social causes and therefore must restrict her consumption of all news, save for Vogue and Boing Boing. 80% of the time, Wagner is thinking about coffee or eating sweets." Kind of a dud.

But when I look at the character sheet questions, I come up with thoughts like:
I was born in Eastern Washington. Great. Nobody cares.
I grew up in a town so small the Bookmobile came only ever two weeks. Quirky--and life-changing.
Our house sat across the street from the cemetery. Hey, I can use that for horror markets!
I don't have any pets. I better leave that out or no one will believe I'm a writer.
I have practiced using a shotgun in order to better prepare myself for zombie attack. If I rephrase that, that could be perfect for horror markets!
I used to believe the back door of our house opened into Narnia. Hey, I can use that for fantasy markets!

Focus on audience and market.
You'll notice that many of my thoughts about my character material were focused around markets. That's because there are different kinds of bios, and they all their different size and tone, depending on where you'll be sending your work. Here are some examples:
  • Basic bio, added to bottom of story or article. This bio usually runs 3-4 lines. It will have a clever opener, a line about your writing credits, a second line that includes any awards or critical praise, and a final line about where you live, where you blog, and/or something witty.
I write a new basic bio for every author spotlight I do for Fantasy Magazine, because I think it's fun and clever. My latest reads:
Wendy N. Wagner grew up in very rural Oregon, where she dreamed her family would abandon her to be raised by wolves. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and the anthologies The Way of the Wizard and Rigor Amortis; her interviews and poetry have run in Lightspeed, Fantasy Magazine,, and Abyss and Apex. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very understanding husband and daughter, and blogs at
Because the author spotlight is nonfiction, I thought it was worthwhile to include my nonfiction writing credits in that second line. If I was doing a basic bio for a short story, I would leave that out. If I wanted to sound like a blow-hard, I could have said "Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies (this piece is actually forthcoming, but it will be out before anyone reads the bio) and the anthologies Rigor Amortis and The Way of the Wizard. Publishers Weekly described Wagner's story 'The Secret of Calling Rabbits' as 'melancholy and deeply affecting.'"

I made sure that the hook--the clever first line--of that bio connected to the theme of my article. You don't have to do that, but I think it is a good idea to write a hook that is in the tenor of the market you're writing for. If it's a horror market, I'll usually reference growing up next door to the cemetery. If it's fantasy, I'll mention the Narnia connection. If it's for more general consumption, I'll talk about the summer I read 125 books in two weeks.

  • "I am a human" bio. This is the bio you'll use on your blog or webpage to make people like you, and it can short or long. The master of the short human bio is Blake Charlton, whose "About" paragraph on his webpage says it all:

Debut novelist and medical student, Blake Charlton is a new face in both fields working to establish a dual career in fiction and medicine.

Currently, Blake is writing fantasy novels, science fiction short stories, and academic essays on medical education and biomedical ethics.

Blake's extended bio is also a great example of the human bio, although he leaves out his writing credits. He has a bibliography page--which you should have on your webpage, too--but your bio will often be lifted wholesale from the about section of your site. So do yourself and anyone writing about you a favor: have it put together tidily in one spot.

I need to update my human bio now that Her Dark Depths is no longer forthcoming, but you can still read it here. It mentions a bit more about my past and how I got interested in writing, and the hooks are less focused on the particular market, and more on general interest items in my life.

  • The really big bio for guest appearances. You probably won't need this one until you win some awards and get invited to be the guest of honor at a convention or workshop. Most of these run 300-500 words, a full page about yourself. You'll want to focus on creating three or four paragraphs, instead of three or four lines. You can include more about your non-writing life, as well, so if you have an interesting day job that you feel okay talking about, this is a great place for that information. If you have a quirky hobby that has helped your writing career, mention it. If you were mentored by a famous author, mention it. If you went to an awesome workshop ... hey, you get it.
Now that you've got a sense of what each kind of bio requires, and you're certain about what flavor and tone your bio will need, it's time to begin crafting your piece. And like all nonfiction works, you'll need to focus on mechanical details. They are your only hope to be interesting.

What do I mean? Well, when we write spec fic, we have the advantage of creating a special, unique world populated by fascinating characters. When you're writing your bio, you are writing about a chump who can never, ever compete with the people you make up. I mean, think about it: who's more interesting, you or Wolverine? Or anybody from Game of Thrones? Even the most caricatured spec fic bad guy is about 95% more interesting than your average writer.* But you are lucky. Unlike that bad guy, you have words on your side. And there are some cheats that will can you sound much, much better those muscle-bound fictional heroes you're writing about right now.
  • Use active verbs. It's the same advice you've been struggling with in your prose, but it can make a huge difference. Look at my bio. I've got grew, dreamed, appeared, runs, lives, and blogs. There's not a lot of "she was," "she is" action. And that's good. Those constructions aren't bad, but in a short space, you don't have room for not bad. You're trying to make people share their beds (hey, most folks read in bed!) and hearts with you. Rock them!
  • Use a little colorful language. It's okay to sneak in a drop of alliteration or a fun idiom. In a short story, colorful language can be too distracting from the action. But remember, there's nothing going on in your bio. It's not an adventure. A dab of colorful language will not hurt. That's why I shared about being "raised by wolves" or I've talked about "preparing for the zombie apocalypse." These phrases sound fun. In real life, I'm not actually entertaining, but I'd really like my readers to think I am. Maybe I'll sound so fun to be with, my readers will buy me a drink at a con!
  • Variate sentence constructions. Easily the most important factor. If you start every line of your bio with "He was xyz. He does abc. He likes def," your bio will be boring. Make sure you have a variety of sentence structures: "A constant thrill-seeker, John Remy finds himself drawn to high risk rock-climbing. His work draws on his adventurous life, and his thrilling short fiction has appeared in Y & W. He lives in Town X, State, and blogs at blah blah." That's variety. That's the spice of life.
It's not hard to write a bio and you shouldn't be frightened of the process. It's a simple matter of doing your research, focusing on your market & audience, and playing your best tricks--which are the three base-points of writing non-fiction. It's actually pretty fun!

* Average writer. People like Blake Charlton and Mary Robinette Kowal are not average. Their regular lives are actually cool. I mean, CNN did a feature on Blake. I totally wish I could write his bio instead of mine.