"I'm just going to write because I can't help it."- Charlotte Brontë

Monday, December 31, 2012

End of the Month Report: December 2012

Submissions: 7 (3 to the same antho)
Rejections: 4 (2 came in this morning. Better today, in weary old 2012, than tomorrow's fresh first day of 2013, I suppose.)
Acceptances: 0 (but 1 is up for consideration!)
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 10 (which would have been a more impressive 12 if I hadn't received those rejections this morning.)
New stories completed: 1
Mood: I definitely don't feel like doing one of those 'things I achieved in 2012' posts. It would be a very short list. This year was mostly a depressing waste of time - lots of pain, drugs, cannullae, treatments, doctors, hospitals, procedures, sleeping, lazing around waiting for parts to heal, lots anxiety about tests and results, a brain that didn't work properly for a good six to eight months, and a lack of energy such as I have never experienced before. Deadlines were missed, stories remained unwritten, ideas didn't happen, I had to say no to a couple of wonderful opportunities that may never come my way again simply because I couldn't be sure whether I'd be able to fulfill my obligations, I struggled to accept my utter loss of control over my body and possibly my future, and things were less than stellar in other quarters of my life as well. Sometimes when you're down, there are actually people out in the world who put on their jack boots. Very Darwinian. That surprised me.

But, of course, plenty of good things happened too. Family and friends were incredibly supportive, so kind, thoughtful, and helpful on a practical level that you really appreciate when you can barely move. I've almost recovered from my operations. It looks as if I might beat this thing. A couple of horrible, life-changing scenarios that might have happened on the operating table didn't come to pass, and I avoided the worst of therapies afterwards. I could have been in a really bad state now, and am keenly aware of that fact and am extremely grateful I escaped. I've even managed to get out on a few short horse rides, which were good for the spirit. In between all the crap stuff, I had a couple of stories published this year, which upped my happiness index, nice reviews that had me dancing around the house, encouraging letters from editors, great sales that make 2013 look like it might be a far far better year for me, and I'm ending 2012 with a wonderfully productive writing holiday. I still feel optimistic about my writing, and I'm full of plans for the days ahead. This actually surprises me too.

So, all in all, I'm going with the flow and trying to do so with a smile. You never know what's waiting around the next corner, so I'll just take 2013 as it comes, one day at a time, and make sure I enjoy the good times as they happen.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ummmm, Misty Mountains, Ummmmm

There are dwarves inside my head, singing their plangent tunes of yearning and longing and sorrow and homesickness and the good times, before hubris struck, when dwarves were cashed up and powerful and lived in sumptuous surroundings, and folk from all over Middle Earth tipped their hats to them.

All together now:

Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells,
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.

The rest of the movie lyrics for Over the Misty Mountains Cold are here, where you can also catch up on all things Thorin Oakenshieldish.

The Hobbit is exactly what you expect it to be. Wonderfully padded with plenty of asides for Tolkien fans, with characters taking time out to sing and eat and tell tales and give swords their proper names and due respect, as well as lots of old friends dropping by to catch up with us and each other and, continuity-wise, set the 'something Evil lurks in the shadows' vibe for LOTR. It's as comfy as bed socks and pyjamas in Winter, just with orcs. And trolls. BIG trolls. You can never have too many trolls. I actually prefer them to the orcs. Less gnashing of teeth and grunting, more personality and comedy. Disgusting as they are, the trolls of Middle Earth nonetheless know how to use the word whom correctly, I noticed. If Peter Jackson ever does a George Lucas and fiddles with the first three movies, I'm thinking he needs to go back and add a few well-spoken trolls to LOTR.

In fact, after today's rich, Tolkienesque serving of The Hobbit, I feel like digging out the LOTR box set, extended version of course, and heading back to Middle Earth for another heaped helping. Not today (I'm stuffed), but sometime soon. It'll be interesting to see how the whole eventually ties up once the next two movies of The Hobbit trilogy have been delivered for our viewing pleasure.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Real Is As Real Does

I worked well today - another 6 hours of writing interspersed with lots of pottering around organising work boards, sending off submissions and such stuff. I feel quite cut off from the outside and cocooned in the multiple realities of the stories I'm working on, which is a wonderful wonderful extravagance. Time to nut out those particularly knotty problems! In between writing bouts, I sat on my Xmas swing in its cosy little bower to get some fresh air and dazedly watched the cats chase butterflies or falling leaves or each other as I lined up my next sentences and pondered new ideas, and more than once I thought Yes, I could live like this, I really could!

Yeah, me and a million other dreamers.

Tomorrow, however, I will be ruthlessly forced to re-enter the Real World beyond my keyboard, beyond my writing room, beyond my front door, and be made to mingle with flesh and blood folk who want to talk about subjects other than how my stories are going (the selfish bastards), marched into a darkened cinema, then cruelly coerced into immersing myself in the Tolkienesque universe of The Hobbit for many hours. Afterwards, no doubt, I'll be subjected to lengthy discourses on dragons, Bagginses, Dwarves, Orcs, Wizards and Elves.

Ooooh no, how will I bear so much rough and tumble reality?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Princess Palooza

So I'm back, in more ways than one, after a series of shopping sprees, cooking sprees, eating sprees, laughing sprees, unwrapping sprees, aaahing sprees, recovering sprees, reading sprees, spreeing sprees. Consider Christmas 2012 done and dusted!

 After limbering up my writing brain by spending most of of yesterday, when I wasn't napping and digesting the last remnants of my rich Danish Christmas, on reading my new Connie Willis book (my cats give the best presents!) I hit the keyboard today and got in 4 hours of solid work and a few more of tinkering. I spent the first couple of hours on a zombie story, even though I was seriously put off the antho in question that I've hitherto been so excited about when I discovered a recent addition to the guidelines specifying that the editor wasn't accepting any more stories set after a certain historical date. That smacks of my pet hate, the 'until filled' anthology. I pity the poor souls who were happily planning to polish over Xmas the great works they'd laboured long and hard on, and now can't submit them because they'd committed to the "wrong" era. As I've mentioned, I had two ideas for the antho, and had to angstily choose which one to focus on. The one I was really tempted to go with, but guessed I wouldn't have enough time to do properly, would now have been deemed ineligible. Thank goodness I went with the shorter one set further back in history, otherwise I'd be RANTING and GRRRRing and THROWING FURNITURE now instead of just grumbling about the injustice of it all.

I then spent the rest of my writing day scouting around for, looking over and editing/rewriting princess stories for an upcoming anthology that accepts multiple submissions. I love editors who accept multiple subs. That way, if I have more than one story that fits the theme, I don't have to agonise over which one might be the best fit. I was surprised to discover I actually have four stories that tick the key criteria, which are, loosely,  'must feature a princess, and be dark, twisty, sinister, Gothic etc, or combinations thereof'.

So no, they're not looking for passive gals who live happily ever after, thank goodness, because none of my princesses are that psychologically flaccid, or that fortunate. Only one of these four stories is out at the moment, so I'll have to wait for it to be rejected before it can join the other three, which I'll send off tomorrow. Or possibly the one already out singing for its supper will be accepted. And so will one of the others. All of these stories have garnered good comments and/or been shortlisted for publication, but never quite made it into print. Maybe one of them will score this time. Maybe I'll end up with a slew of princess stories (well, two) hitting the market at the same time, and people will roll their eyes and mutter about my limited range :) Hah! I should be so lucky.

Anyway, the upshot of this princesserly prattle is that it looks like these holidays will be reasonably productive and full of positive writerly doings.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Zombies And Hot Cherry Sauce

Knowing we were in for a stinker of a hot day, I did my writing this morning (two zombie stories have sprung from my revved up mind - now I have to pick the one I think will have the best chance of making a certain antho, which is bound to cause me much angst), then slapped on some sunscreen and a hat, and hurried off to get Xmas supplies. I managed to return before the tub of super luxurious Belgian chocolate ice cream I sneaked into my shopping trolley melted (it was on sale! Also, I'm on holidays! And it's Christmas!)

Now that things are cooling down, it's time to get started on the annual Xmas tribulation of honouring my ancestors by making the ris a la mande for Tuesday's Christmas get together. Not that you'd catch any vikings eating the stuff. Good old rice porridge would have done them fine. Mind you, now that I think about it, where would they have procured the rice? During their annual Yuletide raids on China? Hmm, the history of this dessert is getting dodgier and dodgier. As is, with your average viking not knowing his je suis from his tu est, the a la part gives away it's pretentious and reasonably recent origins -  a couple of hundred years ago, when the rich folk of Copenhagen wanted to separate and elevate themselves from the poor, dirty-faced, rice porridge eating peasants, they took the traditional Danish risengrød, luxuriously added the whipped cream, chopped almonds, cherries and hot cherry sauce that only the best kind of people could afford, then gave it a fancy French name just to add to the general snootiness.

How Christmassy is that?

Ah well, as politically incorrect as its genesis may have been, the fact remains that ris a la mande is divinely delicious, and despite the bother, I look forward to the ritual of making it every year (and this year I can take my time, instead of cooking rice at 1 am after getting home from the Arvo Job), the overly dramatic brouhaha of eating it (we're usually already stuffed by the time we get to this calorific dessert) the cut-throat competition of seeking the whole almond hidden somewhere within the sweet mass, and the triumph of loudly gloating over one's prize (mandelgave) if you win (I usually don't. I was practically ancient before I won my first ever mandelgave).

Now that's Christmassy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Underlying Politics of Free Chocolates

The world didn't end again, but my work year at the Arvo Job did, so now I'm looking at two weeks off with a brain that's rarin' to go and a body that has mostly ceased its grumblings. Happy days! I have two stories I'm determined to finish, and two more that I have to start from scratch but which I'm hoping will be reasonably coherent by the time I have to start stuffing Rover into my train bag again.

Ah, trains. They' re such a big part of my life. I headed for the city before the crack of dawn to get my Arvo Jobbing finalised by midday, but as recompense, there were free Christmas chocolates for we frazzled early bird commuters at the train station today, and many jolly, seasonal asides over the loudspeakers. The effect that free chocolate at 5.45 in the morning had on people was amazing. Smiles all around and instant good will.

Country towns do love their train stations, and ours is a bustling hub of meeting and greeting and networking with its little cafe and magazine stand (I usually pick up the latest New Scientist there). There's a shelf of books made available to travellers by the local library, and the staff are wonderfully friendly and efficient, and dole out much local news as well as sympathy for weary travellers. As said, they give away free chocolate! It's not easy being a long distance commuter, especially for those poor souls who travel each day on the packed, early trains (I love my 11am train - it's so much more relaxed and writing friendly), and people are often stressed and grumpy, so I think it's a credit to the staff and service that they keep the place humming along, happy and human.

I'm mostly mentioning this because there are horrible rumours circulating about the government having secret talks to try and palm off the long haul, country services to the mega-multiple-stuff-up-and-cheapskatey-let's-just-stick-in-machines-that-don't-work-wherever-we-can-and-then-hire-roving-gangs-of-meanies-to-police-the-network management mentality that currently runs the metro trains.

They definitely do not hand out free chocolates.

I shall have to keep an eye on this rumour. I might have to write some letters and wave a banner or two. If need be, perhaps I'll channel the Perils of Pauline and tie myself to the tracks in protest. Because that's what you do when condescending politicians in faraway realms make free and easy with the everyday lives of their citizens.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Prime Piece of Pre-Christmas News

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting around trying to come up with an idea that I could turn into a zombie story for an upcoming antho, because, well, it would be so cool to get into a Prime Books anthology, when in comes an email...

It was another one of those situations where I was pretty much expecting a rejection, so it took a few seconds to absorb the fact that this email was actually one of those happiness inducing 'yay' responses rather that one of the more common 'nays'. I'd sent off, as per the guidelines, the maximum of three alien encounter stories, and wouldn't you know it, the one I wasn't sure about, the one I almost second-guessed myself out of sending, made it!

So yes, here comes the news I've been dying to share - my science fiction story Nullipara, which was first published in 2010 in The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution edited by Chris Lynch, will appear in the reprint anthology Aliens: Recent Encounters edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane. It's scheduled for publication in June 2013.

The final lineup will be announced later this week, I've been told, or the following week, but I've been given permission to make my own private announcement now.

Inclusion in a Prime Books anthology is certainly a fantastic early Xmas present, and knowing I'll soon have an SF story in a book with the word 'alien' in the title is as geekily festive as it gets.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Things Fizzle Apart

Not blogging much because I'm busy with the usual Xmasy and Arvo Jobby rushy stuff at this time of the year along with my last hospital visits and medical doings for 2012 etc, plus my life is so full of brow-smacking woe at the moment that it's better to maintain a dignified silence than bore folk with too much sookiness.

The plan is to get to my Xmas break. Then, not only will I do a lot of deep breathing, but I will do some deep thinking about Life. And Stuff. In between all the writing, that is, and trying to size up the character of the new baby year toddling towards us.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Giddy Up

My SF pony story is once more being considered for publication - it almost made it into a recent US antho that has since received a lot of publicity, but was unfortunately booted out at the very last minute. Much sadness ensued, of course. What a coup that would have been. I've always known this story would be a hard sell (there are starships! There are clones! There are ponies!) but that just means my triumph will be all the greater when it finally does find a home. And it will!

Cross fingers it makes it across the finish line this time. Not for my own sake - oh no, I'm a much bigger than that - but for the sake of the genre. To me, it's pretty obvious that SF in general is in desperate need of more equine tales :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

All Is Still Here

Excellent, no sign of a Mayan apocalypse yet. I bet those 12-12-12 believers are feeling a tad sheepish. Still, there's still time enough left for them to jump ship and join Team 21-12-12. That way, they can experience two end-of-the-world events in one month. Live life to the full, I say.

So, 21st December 2012 it is then. 

EOTW, here we come.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I Love You, Tomorrow

Now I was lining up my brain and preparing myself emotionally for the end of the world on 21-12-12, or 12-21-12 as USAians would write it, but I've just discovered that, depending on which interpretation of the Mayan cycle you subscribe to, it might in fact vanish in an existential puff tomorrow on 12-12-12, or, in America, 12-12-12.

On my wonderful Wednesday off? I'm simply not ready for that. So I choose to stick with the 21st December. Cross fingers that's the correct date.

Now I have to head off to the Arvo Job. I'd much rather cocoon myself at home. Yesterday was a minor Mayan apocalypse of the catastrophic officey sort for me - a moment of distraction and an ill advised click of the mouse led to a maelstrom of chaos that has sucked in a lot of people. Ah well, off I go, comforting myself with the thought that at least I didn't pull a trigger and there are no dead bodies to clean up.

I just have to make it to tomorrow. It would be a great pity for me personally, and a few billion other people, if there is no tomorrow.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Verily, The Verdict Is In

Over here, Mike Allen, who edits the wonderful  Clockwork Phoenix anthologies, ponders the burgeoning mystery of the many writers who include a summary of their short story submission in their cover letter.

They what? I thought.

In the comments that follow, other editors and slush readers chime in with their bemusement. Apparently, this pushing of summaries is a new trend.  Often it's combined with much promotional pitching jargon and great dollops of writerly self-praise. Possibly Reader's Digest is to blame. The word newbie gets bandied about a lot.

It has simply never occurred to me that I should make an extra effort to wreck my chances of scoring a sale by getting on the wrong side of an editor with too much suckiness or spin. Keeping cover letters as simple and politely professional as possible has always been my maxim. If the guidelines require a summary of my submission, fine, I'll do the best I can to knock one up. Otherwise, forget it. Fortunately, the consensus seems to be that that's the way to go. All in all, when it comes to submitting short story summaries, the finding seems to be: Don't. Do. It.

Phew! After investing countless hours on creating a multi-layered story of much wit, depth, dialogue and complexity, I'd hate to have to start spending more time on agonising over how to sell it in just two snappy lines that might end up irritating more that they entice.

So begone, annoying short story summary fad, and return forthwith to the dark and dank writing advice forums that birthed you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Hasty Horticultural Grumble

I have enough problems with the whole 'slow food' movement because I've never been much of a fast food person myself and to me it goes without saying that when you cook something up, you take your time and enjoy the process, but hey, their hearts are in the right place so I mostly let it slide. However, this morning I was reading about slow gardening.

Slow gardening? Unless you have only 3 potted cacti to look after, are a regular Edward Scissorhands with the whipper-snipper or bomb your backyard with copious amounts of Agent Orange to keep things under control, gardening has never been something you whizz out and do when you have a spare five minutes. That's why we all complain about how messy it all gets when we're busy. Still, once again, I suppose their motives are pure and they simply want to turn weed pulling into a Zen experience. Alas, my nose gets twitchy whenever I sniff a new trend that might turn into another hyper competitive, must-do craze that will make folk more miserable than happy if they can't keep up with the serenely rose-beheading Joneses.

Not that there's anything wrong with slow. There are a few stop-and-take-your-time fads I would like to see catch on.

Slow financial advice for one. Slow business management. Slow politics. Oh yeah, leaders of great nations taking their time to think deeply and make wise, long term decisions. I could live with that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Permission to be Slack

So, that was my designated, midweek collapse relax day.

It was lovely, and I feel topped up with enough energy to get me through the next two days of Arvo Jobbing, but I didn't really get much done.

 I slept in, I read, I did a spot of gardening, I napped, I read, I exercised, I napped...

I did squeeze in a couple of hours of writing, which made me happy, but couldn't help but feel that it wasn't much considering I had a whole day at my disposal. I've spent so many hours this year just, well, recuperating. I know, I know, it could have been worse - I might not be recuperating. But alas, for 'tis part of my nature, I can't help thinking of all the countless hours from this year that have just sublimed into the ether, and grumbling about how far behind I am with my writing plans, and wondering how much longer this is all going to go on for and when I can get serious about setting goals and targets and deadlines and such stuff again. I keep wondering how long it's going to take just to get back to where I was over a year ago, before being Not Well started to seriously sap my energy and sidetrack my days. And always, I know it's ungrateful of me to do anything but celebrate that I'm on the road to recovery (cross fingers and toes).

Not getting much done really is the whole point of having these Wednesdays off, so please, just ignore me and my whinging. I'm being unreasonable. I'm an impatient patient, that's all.

Let's Do the Heron Dance

Up on my SF book shelf, there's a hardback, Gollancz 1986 1st edition copy of Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home. Such is the stature of this book in my mind that taking it down just now to peruse its pages again, I was somewhat disappointed by its size. I'd almost expected to stagger backwards from the weight of it as it slid off the shelf. In my mind, it had grown HUMONGOUS, but I suspect now that had more to do with the content than actual physical size. It's one of those books that, if you love them, they infiltrate your neural pathways and stay with you forever on a cellular level. Always Coming Home is big, and it is a challenge to get through at times with its different styles of writing, poetry (gasp!!!!), songs ( and it isn't even Tolkien) and factual cultural information about a future tribe of people called the Kesh, interspersed with the adventurous tale of a woman called Stone Telling, but most people seem to agree it's well worth the effort. This book initially confused me when I first read it many years ago, but I was mesmerised nonetheless and, thank goodness, stayed with it. Always Coming Home helped expand my ideas of what writing SF could involve, and it taught me that you can experiment with the genre and have fun with it. Then there are also the illustrations by Margaret Chodos, which made reading the book a real treat ( I mean, there were pictures! In a serious science fiction book! How cool was that?)

All in all, how can you not love a book that starts with the jaunty line: The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.

Anyway, the reason I've brought this up is because over at Book View Cafe, where they're presently having a bit of a Ursula Le Guin palooza to celebrate the publication of three new books by hers truly, this caught my eye:

Le Guin’s classic novel was originally published with a cassette tape, Music and Poetry of the Kesh, Music by Oregon Shakespeare Festival Resident Composer Todd Barton, words by Ursula K. Le Guin, who performs many of the selections.
I didn't find out there was a cassette of music until years after I read the book (there was no quick Googling back then). The fact is that that I didn't get one (cheated! I want my money back), and I've never caught up with this olden days, multi-media addition to the Kesh package. Fortunately, I can now pop over here and fix that deficiency, although I should probably reread the book and once more submerse myself in all things Kesh before I do so.

Who knows? Come some Winter's day, you may find me swanning about the house, making wild Keshian moves to the mystical tunes of a future California dreaming...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Who's That Girl ?

Doing a quick Sunday spin about the Internet this morning, I popped across to Clarkesworld and saw that the December 2012 issue is out.

I perused the cover and TOC.

The Wisdom of Ants by Thoraiya Dyer, I read, and paused.

Hmm, I thought, there's something awfully familiar about that appellation. Thoraiya Dyer, Thoraiya Dyer - I was pretty sure I'd heard that name somewhere before, but try as I might, I couldn't specifically link it with anyone. It's been bugging me ever since.

And nup, I still can't place it. Thoraiya Dyer, Thoraiya Dyer... Not to worry though, I'm sure it'll come to me eventually.

Anyway, and alas, even though it's Sunday, I won't be getting much writing done today. I spent all of yesterday on driving across the state to celebrate two birthdays and then making my way home again, so I'll have to dedicate most of today to seriously resting up for the work week ahead interspersed with bouts of catching up on must-do household tasks. That's okay. Sitting about reading isn't exactly suffering, and it's nice to do so in a clean house. Besides, yesterday was a great day, full of delicious food, fun company and lots of laughs, well worth the trade off.

When I finally got home last night, I finished off with the first episode of the ten-part Swedish science fiction series Real Humans, which looks to be a good and accessible show about the myriad of possible relationships and interactions that might be introduced into our everyday lives if we ever do mass produce simulacrums to function as our workers/slaves/friends/carers/whatever your frail human neediness or twisted mind can come up with.

Being Swedish, the writers were not at all coy about the fact that the availability of androids for easy sex would definitely drive a huge part of such an industry, or about mentioning the kind of problems you'd be inviting by having gorgeous, compliant bots and randy teenagers under the same roof. This was not done with lurid scenes either, but through mature adults acknowledging reality in their conversations. I enjoyed their upfront way of dealing with a fundamental human drive and the unlikelihood of the young being able to resist such overwhelming temptations rather that enduring gratuitous scenes, righteous ranting, or cloying, puritanical hints of naughtiness going on in the shadowy back blocks of Happy Family Land.

With multiple, interweaving storylines taking place in a parallel present, just one episode in, the series has already set itself up to explore the hatred of androids (called hubots) by displaced workers, hubots making better and truer friends and lovers than emotionally messy humans, hubot carers acting more like jail wardens than servants, humans becoming utterly dependant on their hubot companions, and many other scenarios, as well as tackling tricky ethical questions about android rights and what to think of humans who treat these strange, new lifeforms like toasters. I appreciate that we humans don't come across as uniformly evil and uncaring, and that our frustrations and suspicions in the face of such a massive social upheaval are treated with understanding. To make the dilemma even knottier, many of the too-cute hubots are exceptionally creepy, occasionally ever so subtly patronising, and a couple of hubots are also showing some seriously bad ass tendencies and signs that they're anything but as pure as the driven Scandinavian snow. However, I suspect that  pickled red herrings are being cast about with abandon. All this, and it was entertaining too.

Of course, a US version is already in the works. I wonder how they'll deal with the sex issues.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this series unfolds.