Category Archives: Writing

The Long Con

I’ve been thinking about seduction, falling in love, and the creative process. I keep thinking there are multiple strands I have to weave together, threads to embroider, knots to untangle, but it turns out there aren’t.

I’ve written about distractions before, so I’m not going to spend time on that. I’m just going to say it’s easy to get pulled away from the things I want to focus on – to a point. And that is what I want to talk about.

Heart birds

For the last several months I’ve been tweeting a good night/morning message. Last night it was: “good night existentialists. Good morning absurdists.” I do this because it amuses me. There’s no reward. Sometimes one or two people will respond. Mostly I feel like it just gets lobbed into cyberspace. It’s enough for me that a couple of people here and there seem to like it. I probably ignore a ton of stuff or don’t let the creator know necessarily that I liked something they did. I don’t take it personally that I don’t get much feedback.

It’s easy to get discouraged, to think no one cares, but it matters less and less to me as I let myself fall in love with the work. I feel the pull of the creative process and I’m resisting it less.

This is to say that a slow, steady, persistent effort turns into something else. Recently I had a few friends tell me how much they like these tweets. Individually they don’t stand up to scrutiny, but together, they’ve turned into something else. A little ritual. It’s something I love doing. And even though it might seem like no one else is noticing the effort, it turns out when I raise my head up out of the sand, they are.

There is a second part to this immersion: valuing what you love. I think it’s easy to get distracted when I don’t think what I want to spend my time on is worthy. Over the course of a year there was construction going on across the street from the yoga studio where I practice. I went to a morning yoga class, three times a week. The construction noise was constant. At the beginning of class, I would notice all the banging and clanging, but by the end, I had become so absorbed in my effort that all the noise faded away. It didn’t even bother me in savasana.

Having had this experience, I know I can create the same kind of focused effort in other areas, in areas that I care about. I just want to make a note that I’m not discussing the financial component of making art in this post. I will probably get there one day, but I’m not to that point right now.

Part of my effort this year is enjoying the seduction, and not just in the passive “oh look you brought me flowers and chocolates and wine” way, but bringing myself as an active participant in the process. So I’m doing what I love, and not worrying if anyone else will love it or not. Because just like the tweets, the truth is, there probably are people out there who will.

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Submit

A couple of years ago I started selecting a word as my theme for the year, rather than doing resolutions (which are fraught for many reasons that most of you know). I like to choose verbs, because they remind me to take action. I like to treat the word like a mantra or meditation focus. It’s something I can return to, again and again, without labeling myself as a failure. Our attention wanders. It’s natural.

century plant with bloom

For 2014 the word was return. For 2015, it was try.

I was thinking last week what I wanted it to be for 2016. I was listening to The Moth podcast, and Dan Kennedy shared some resolutions that listeners felt were particularly potent. One was, “fail more.” Given how much time I’ve spend pondering failure on this blog, I thought I would focus on that.

So for 2016, the word is submit. I particularly like Merriam-Webster’s definition.

: to give (a document, proposal, piece of writing, etc.) to someone so that it can be considered or approved

: to stop trying to fight or resist something : to agree to do or accept something that you have been resisting or opposing

I like that there are multiple meanings. Amongst my writer friends, the first meaning will probably the one that comes to mind. And I like the second meaning: to stop resisting and give in. In this case, even though I know I want to write and be published, I resist it. In addition, I can bring the words from the last two years along. Return. Try. Submit.

2016 is going to be about giving in even further to what I want. What do you want for 2016?

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Diversity link roundup

There have been a lot of discussions floating around online about diversity. I wanted to collect them in one place where I could go back and refer to them later. Some of these are about representation of self, some in literature, and some with representation/presentation at cons. I’m posting in the rough chronological order in which I read them.

wild at heart

Vajra Chandrasekera: Which This Margin is Too Small to Contain

Some thoughts on “diversity” in sf/f and discovering that I’m apparently a “writer of colour” and all that. I never actually use these words myself, whether to refer to either myself or anybody else. Though at the same time I don’t object to their use to refer to myself or anybody else either. It’s complicated. I do periodically worry at the meanings of these words, and I guess I’ve been saying stuff like this for a while now:

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Daniel Jose Older tweeted up a discussion on diversity being an issue of honesty in literature.

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Kate Elliott’s piece Diversity Panels: Where Next?. This was in response to her experience at Sasquan, the most recent WorldCon that was held in Spokane.

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Tobias Buckell added Some Thoughts on Herding POC Writers into Diversity Panels.

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Annalee’s Diversity Panels I’d like to see is a nice response to Toby, looking forward to panels she’d like to see at cons.

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Michi Trota has this one: Diversity Panels are the Beginning not the End

Recently I attended Wizard World Chicago, and for the first time since 2012 when I started doing convention panels, I wasn’t on a single panel specifically focused on diversity–related issues in geek culture. It was an odd feeling, sitting in the audience of a panel about racism at one of my two home cons, rather than being up on that podium.

I’d be lying if I said that didn’t involve more than a small amount of relief.

After dozens of cons and countless panels critically analyzing, explaining, and arguing for the need for greater inclusion and better representation in geek communities, it feels like I’ve spent a lifetime talking about these issues. It can be exhausting, and sometimes all a nerd wants to do is nerd out over the fandoms and activities she loves. It was a refreshing change to instead be on panels where I got to show off my nerd trivia knowledge, talk about why I adore the animated DC universe more than the DCCU, and host a discussion about what goes into being a nerd organizer.

This piece includes links to the storify of Rose Fox’s tweets in response to the Wired article about the Hugo debacle this year.

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L.E.H. Light writes No More Diversity Panels, It’s Time to Move On

I suggest a different assumption: that the majority of attendees at these panels are either PoC or allies who understand and accept the basic premise that diversity in the things we love makes them better, more interesting, more complicated, and more beautiful. That White people and Black people are there for the same reasons: nerd stuff, and we want to talk about those things together. And anyone who doesn’t agree can go to another panel. I promise, someone somewhere is discussing something else.

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I hope you will take the time to read at least these few posts and see this is part of an ongoing conversation, not just a single observation or moment in time. If there are links to posts I’m missing, please let me know.

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Questions To Ask This Writer

In June, Brenna posted 10 questions never to ask a writer.

I’ve been meaning to write a response, and well, because I’m a turtle, here I am a month later. I wanted to write 10 questions I love being asked. Or, well, we’ll see how many questions I get to. I have a slight aversion to the listicle format. So it might be 10 questions. It might be 5. Brenna also posted 10 questions to ask.

Dahlia

If you run into me at a party, or on the bus, or in the cafe, here are some questions you might try asking:

  1. Who are your favorite writers? The ones who open my mind in a hundred new directions, starting with Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula LeGuin, and Nicola Griffith. If you want more current names, go check out my Goodreads account.
  2. What kind of stories do you write? Not in terms of genre, because apparently what I think counts as within a genre others don’t.
  3. What inspires you? This is waaay better than “where do you get your ideas.” Who knows where ideas come from. The idea market.
  4. What book are you recommending right now? Why thank you, I thought you’d never ask. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is phenomenal. It’s about two young women in the south dealing with the impact of desegregation. Also, Letters to Zell by my friend Camille Griep. It’s a retelling of the fairy tale princesses, investigating love and what it means to stray from the story lines that have been plotted for us.
  5. What do you think of going to conventions? Nevermind. I lied. I don’t want to answer that question.
  6. How do you find community and support for your writing? For me, it’s been a slow process. I tried in my twenties and didn’t find people, so I gave up for a while. Then I tried again in my thirties and got closer, but still not close enough. My most recent attempt has been far more fruitful, although I have a feeling this is going to be life-long process. There are tremendous people I’ve met on Twitter in particular, but going to workshops, going to cons, and going to local readings have helped me feel less alone, too.
  7. How’s your writing going? Brenna said she doesn’t like this question, but I like it. I’ve specifically told my friends to ask me, because it helps me. I don’t use it to self-flagellate, as I know many artists do. It’s like a reality check. Am I writing? Yes. Then the writing is going well. Or even if it’s going frustratingly, it’s still good, because I’m making the effort and trying.
  8. What can I make you for dinner? Seriously? That’s so sweet that you offered. Do you clean houses and do laundry, too?

Okay, I made it to eight. That’s as arbitrary as ten. And that’s what I got for you for now.

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On distractions

Sundial

I talked to my therapist today about what enables good writing for me. What it boils down to is not letting my mind get pulled by the distractions. And wooo buddy are there ALWAYS distractions.

This is why I chose return as my theme for 2014.

I chose to focus on writing for ONE HOUR this afternoon. Just one hour. Just after I’d turned the timer on, I swear to everything holy a car alarm started going off. I had to laugh. I could let myself be distracted by the car alarm, or I could choose to focus on what I wanted.

Here’s what I want: I want to immerse myself in the world and characters I’m creating. I remembered what I wanted. And every time the fucking car alarm went off again (because oh, it did), I heard as a reminder to return to my focus.

I’m grateful for the years of practice I’ve had at meditation. I’ve learned that every moment is an opportunity to return to what I want to focus on. I don’t have to shame myself for getting distracted. I can just return. And so I do.

What are you choosing to focus on these days?

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Clarion West: A Love Letter

I’ve known about Clarion West since I first heard of Nicola Griffith. I’m going to say close to 20 years now. For those of you who don’t know, Clarion West offers a 6-week residential writing program for emerging speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy/??) writers in Seattle.

Squid canoe

A few years ago, Clarion West also started offering one-day workshops in Seattle on specific topics. I screwed up my courage and signed up for one. It was on how to create a plot, something I desperately needed. I sat in a room with about 20 other people, and while I sat there, I discovered something. I was a writer. I’ve always wanted to write. But more importantly, I’d found my tribe.

I was recently asked for my impression on my experience at the workshops. Here’s what I said:

I have attended nearly half a dozen of the Clarion West One-Day Writer’s workshops. While each workshop has focused on a different aspect of writing, I’ve taken away lessons that have improved my writing. I’ve met and befriended fellow writers. I’ve found support.

I’ve attended other types of writing classes, and the workshops offered by Clarion West are without peer. Most of the workshops have offered a mix of lecture and hands-on, giving me the opportunity to try out what is being taught, in the moment. They are often collaborative, with each writer offering his or her own experience as well as the instructor offering theirs. We have the opportunity not only to learn from the “expert,” but to learn from the other students. I’ve been able to share my own work and get feedback, which has increased my comfort with receiving critiques on my work in other arenas.

Overall, I’ve found that attending the One-Day Workshops has strengthened my writing, bolstered my confidence, provided me with a new and supportive group, and expanded my sense of what is possible with my writing.

It’s through Clarion West that I met Camille Griep, who has become a stalwart support for me. Last year, through the write-a-thon! I met GG Silverman, another fantastic comrade. I befriended Karina, and she befriended me. Three powerful women who inspire me and encourage me, in all my silly, weird, and wacky ways.

Last year I wrote a blog post about the power of story and the danger of a single story. In the past year, I’ve explored more about the mono myth and become curious about the heroine’s journey.

I think Rebecca Solnit captures what I’m trying to say here in her book, The Faraway Nearby:

We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or hate, to see or be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller. Those ex-virgins who died were inside the sultan’s story; Scheherazade, like a working-class hero, seized control of the means of production and talked her way out.

This is the third year I’ve participated in the Write-a-thon. The mono myth has failed me. We all need more stories that show us other ways of being. Please consider sponsoring me and making a donation!

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Writing Process Blog Tour

My good friend Camille Griep tagged me for this one. I have to admit, after reading her answers, I had to take a deep breath and tell myself I’m a writer, too. So, here I am, plunging into the deep end.

For Jill - keep writing

What am I working on?

I feel like this is a two-part question. First, I’m working on learning craft. I’m learning the bones, the tricks, and the various approaches people take to writing and storytelling. I just finished a workshop with Connie Willis. Have you ever taken a class from someone who makes you feel like a genius? Well, that’s how this one was. Now it’s just about applying the lessons. Turns out, that bit’s a little more challenging. So I’m figuring out what the basic pieces are in a story and thinking about them and then trying to write them.

As for actual stories? Ah ah hahaaa. Well, I just finished a short story that’s about dust bunnies. I’m waiting for a few more critiques before I start sending it out. I have also been invited by a group of women I met on Twitter to participate in a Weird West compendium, so there’s that story. And then there’s the novel with the character of my heart. I’m on my second attempt at this story, and I’m not really sure where to go with it. I might have to rewind a little bit and make some different decisions.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

This question couldn’t have come along at a better moment. I was thinking of writing a blog post about this, but instead, I’ll just answer it here. One of the things that drives me batty is that the overwhelming majority of stories for LGBT folk are either coming out stories, and/or, the LGBT character is depressed/suicidal/comic relief/evil killer. I like to write stories with happy queer characters, living their lives. Coming out stories are important, but we need stories that address life after coming out – like, happily ever after. Fairies can have their tales, too.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I want to see myself reflected in the stories that are out in the world. And to the previous question, that is rare. Somewhere deep in my narcissistic soul, I also hope that my stories will resonate for someone else. I write to expose my silly, weird ideas. And I write to have fun! I’m interested in exposing and exploring truths through humor. It’s a sneaky way to get someone to let down their guard and relax enough to consider other ways of thinking about the world.

How does my writing process work?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked! This is the part where I quiet the doubting voices. I’m still stumbling and fumbling in the dark, working to discover what my process is. With each iteration, I gain more clarity. Sometimes I start with a character, sometimes it’s an event. From there, I .. get lost, try to figure out what the story is, noodle, force myself to write something, and then try to make something resembling an actual story from the wreckage. It isn’t pretty.

Thank you so much, Camille, for inviting me to participate in the blog tour. I’m handing the baton over to my Spider Overlord, G.G. Silverman. She has a YA novel coming out, Vegan Teenage Zombie Huntress, and I will be first in line to buy it!

Also, if anyone else wants to participate, I would LOVE to hear your answers to these questions. Don’t wait to be tagged. Break the rules! They’re only guidelines.

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The Heroine’s Journey

strong woman

Last weekend I attended Norwescon, a local convention for fans of science fiction and fantasy. It was the first time I’d been to something like this, and I had an incredible weekend.

One of the best panels I attended was on “The Heroine’s Journey.” I’ve spent the last several years thinking about stories and story structure, specifically women’s stories, so I was curious to hear what the panelists thought about the heroine’s journey.( 1 2 3)

They started with a discussion about the hero’s journey (aka “monomyth”), which has been well documented by Joseph Campbell and others. From there, the discussion went into how the heroine’s journey and experience differed from the hero’s. Here are the primary points I took away:

  • The hero is externally focused.
  • He rises to meet an external challenge or “call to adventure,” through which he proves himself.
  • He returns home at the end of the story, changed and stronger than when he left.

For the heroine, these were the main themes I took away:

  • The heroine is embodied. She has physical experiences that inform who she is (e.g. menstruation, pregnancy). This resonates strongly for me, but what does it mean for people who can’t menstruate/get pregnant (i.e. not limited to but definitely including queer and trans folks)?
  • The heroine knows herself in relation to others. She is often defined bye her relation to others.
  • The heroine is told to hide or suppress her power in order to make others (i.e. men) comfortable and/or to feel powerful (e.g. Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie or Samantha in Bewitched.
  • The heroine’s journey is generally understood to be internal, in opposition to the hero’s. Her challenge, then, is to understand and identify her power, to figure out who she is while in relation to others, and to integrate these concepts into a fully integrated whole.

In addition to these differences, I think the mono myth is problematic. It doesn’t consider that not all people have the same experience. I’m totally curious about finding other stories and structures that represent our diversity and richness as human beings.

Would love to hear your thoughts. How do these concepts resonate with your own experience? What fits? What chafes? What would it mean for a man to take the heroine’s journey? How do trans* and queer people fit with these kinds of narratives? How do socio-economic class, social standing, race, religion, country of origin, etc. challenge and/or support these narratives? What kind of narratives do you think the world is missing and what do we need more of?

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Notes:

  1. I want to make clear that I’m talking about people who are socialized as female in Western culture. I also think there is a need to include queer and trans folks in this discussion.
  2. Panelists: Nisi Shawl (M), Susan DeFreitas, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Karen Kincy, Stina Leicht, Cassandra Clarke
  3. Why I Hate Strong Female Characters

On Failure

fail harder

My friend Claudette posted this piece today: Since when did the word ______ become dirty in yoga?. I wondered what the word was that filled in the blank, so I meandered over to see. Perfection. Oh. That word.

I read with curiosity, interested to see how he was going to unpack what perfection meant in the context of yoga. He does define it, but that wasn’t what struck me so much as this:

I need to deny this small, measly self within me that can’t tolerate perfection, I refuse to be too fragile to admit that I am not strong enough or devoted enough to reach for such an unattainable place. Instead I humbly get on my knees and cry out for the strength to fail, and to fail, and to fail, and to fail, as happily and as endlessly as is necessary to take one step towards the lofty mastery of perfection. Let me champion perfection, protect it, covet it, yearn for it, breathe it, know it, risk for it, love it, respect it, fear it, cherish it, tolerate my need for it, lay it all on the line for it.

And I realized something. I have defined my own failure as my inability to achieve. BUT. This idea of failing and failing and failing again and again and again in pursuit of a higher purpose – that is not failure. That is the story of Sisysphus as told by Camus, the man who found his meaning in repeatedly rolling the rock up the hill, not in attaining the summit. I doubt David Garrigues is an Existentialist, but it’s where I went.

I’ve judged myself by my inability to achieve, when I should have realized that what I lacked wasn’t results, but focus. I had no defining principle, no purpose that pulled me forward. I was merely bobbing along, adrift and responding to whatever I bumped into.

I’ve decided this year to let my writing be the defining center. And because I did that, I leapt at the opportunity to go on a writing retreat for 5 days when it appeared. In the past, I would have let it go, because I hadn’t had enough time to prepare myself. But what needed preparing? Only my mind, which was already ready.

Tell me about your failures. Fail harder. Fail softer. Fail funnier. Just keep failing.

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Return

spider o'lantern

We’ve passed the nadir and are swinging back toward the light. The light is lasting longer, even if it’s imperceptible right now.

One of my Twitter pen pals, Lou Knight, asked the other day what our one word of the year might be. At first I thought mine was focus, but as I’ve thought about it more, I’ve decided it’s actually return. Because my focus wavers, I wobble and wibble (hee hee), but every moment I have the opportunity to return to the object of my focus. I get to practice this in meditation, gently drawing my mind back to my breath or my mantra. Likewise, there are a myriad of distractions, and I get pulled by them, and then I notice and return my attention back to the work at hand, whatever that might be.

So, in the spirit of return, I’m taking up my friend GG Silverman’s challenge to embrace your fears for total writing awesomeness. GG shared her fear:

I told her my deepest, darkest fear: I was afraid that when I fully came out of my shell as a writer, that I’d be a scary, ugly spider instead of a beautiful butterfly, and that people would hate me.

Her response changed my life:
“It’s okay to be a scary spider. The world needs spiders, too.”

And the challenge:

Your assignment: take ten minutes to make a list of things that scare you the most, then the next time you have ten free minutes, write about one of them, and go deep. I guarantee it will be some of your most powerful, emotional writing. For extra credit, post the results on your own blog, and tag me with your link on Twitter (I’m @GG_Silverman) using the hashtag #FearlessWriting, or let me know if this exercise inspired an amazing story. I’d love to hear from you.

This challenge nearly sets my teeth on edge and turns my innards to liquid, but what the hell, it’s probably not going to kill me. Ha! Would love it if anyone else wants to join me in “hugging some spiders” this week. I don’t know that I’ll post what I write, but I may share a snippet. Who’s in?

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