Writing Process Blog Tour

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam invited me to join this blog relay on writing craft. Her post is here.

1. What am I working on?

I’ve got three big projects right now, as well as a couple of short stories I need to revise, and my editing work. I’m concurrently writing two novels and compiling a mosaic novelette of SF poetry. The working titles are:

  • Sonnets for the Rocket Queen – 144 Shakespearean-style sonnets about love, loss, and space ships.
  • Shades of Gray – first person, female protagonist, modern day, ghost story. Urban fantasy without the tramp stamp. Miéville noir with a female lead.
  • Caudal Ballad – third person PoV, multiple protagonists, surreal/interstitial. Borges meets Nabakov, with traces of Burroughs and Poe.

Shades and Caudal are set in the same universe, same town, at the same time, and explore a series of events from very different perspectives. They don’t need to be read together.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

No one else has read what I read, in exactly the same way, or lived my life, or shares my exact sense of humor. That’s true of all of us. For that alone, I’d like to think what I write is different. When you add to that mix that I write because I have a story in my head I want to get out — instead of for fame, money, respect, or notoriety — and that if I’ve read the same story elsewhere I no longer want to write it, then what I do produce fits into a small space occupied by not much else.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Have you ever read something and thought, “Oh, yeah, that is true”? You learn some fact you didn’t know before, but based on everything else you know, this thing makes sense. I love to read fiction that has that resonance of truth, and I don’t want to put any of my own writing out into the world unless it speaks to me in the same way. It has to answer a question, or provide a viewpoint which clarifies a confusion you didn’t even know you had. I want to feel more alive, more knowledgeable, when I’ve finished a piece of reading. Even if the knowledge is sad.

I’m also interested in mixes of genres or the places where multiple genres lean against each other. I think that when you work in solid, simple, mainstream, genres, whether it’s literary or epic fantasy or hard science fiction, you’re more likely to be retreading the same old ground. There are stories which slip between the cracks, tales that don’t quite fit, and are therefore told a lot less often. Those are the stories I want to tell.

4. How does my writing process work?

My current writing process was developed over years of failing to produce consistent work. Ideas, I have. Ideas are easy. They’re everywhere. I’m lucky that my subconscious, what I call my lizard brain, is strong enough that I can decide I want to work on a story, spend a little time thinking about it, and then move on to another task, another piece of writing. Meanwhile, my lizard brain will keep writing, until one day, it taps me on the shoulder and says, “Here you go.”

The hard part is always writing it down. I’m chronically overbooked, overworked, and exhausted. I don’t have time to read for pleasure, be with my family the way I’d like. So, how do I find time to write?

I carefully manage what I have, and the rest I need, I steal. The managing comes from being organized — two white boards at home, online spreadsheets, Field Notes books in my bags to scribble down thoughts, post-it notes on the wall, documents saved to Drive so I can work on them anywhere. I manage my time like I structure my writing, so I’ve got spreadsheets for how much time is spent on each freelance project, to do lists, and even my daily word count.

Doing that means I’ve got everything I’ve written down whenever I want it, and knowing whether I’ve spent enough time on other projects that day tells me how much I have left for writing. If it’s not enough to get out the part of the story I’m ready to write down, I take what I need from other places. I write instead of going out. I write instead of getting to bed on time. I write on my lunch breaks, before work, while watching tv, during dinner. Not all of those times every day, but whatever I need to make sure that every day, I am writing.

I’m a better writer because of it, and I think that I more fully enjoy the times I spend with my family, partner, friends because I know what I give up to write, and what I give up to be with them. I cherish everything. To me, making time to write feels like having it all.

* I was supposed to tag two more writers who’d then complete this meme and pass it on. Instead, I am tagging all of you. Write your own posts, and leave me a comment with the link so I can go read yours too.

#SFWAPro

Celebrating National Poetry Month the SF way: In the Beginning

April is National Poetry Month in the United States, and I’ll be celebrating one of my favorite forms of writing by talking about speculative fiction in poetry. I’ll be exploring themes and structures, poetry and poets I admire, how to bring SF/F/H elements into poetry effectively, and sharing my own work. I’ve been cobbling together these blog posts for a couple of months now – on lunch breaks, between writing or editing other projects – so I’m excited to finally see them publish to my website. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or suggest work you think I’d like to read.

Where do we start? With history, of course.

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.

Though a recent creation, this “holiday”, poetry has been a vital part of American culture since before there was an America. Poetry has existed longer than writing, longer than what we think of as culture. It is a living, breathing, exhalation of humanity.

Speculative fiction – that umbrella term which covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, slipstream, surrealism, and so much more – has existed just as long. The oldest known spec fic poem is “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor”, a Middle Kingdom Egyptian text about 4000 years old. In it, a sailor nervously confides in a servant that he thinks the king will kill him for sinking a ship. The servant tells his master a story to reassure him: previously, the servant had been a sailor, and sunk a ship, and washed up on an island ruled by a giant serpent. This serpent spoke to him of family, gave him gifts, and inspired him to return home, where the sailor told the king his story and was considered a hero.

This is the basis for most of the storytelling which came after: the accidental quest, the mythic beast/figure dispensing wisdom, the hero’s journey. We find this framework too, the storyteller being presented in a contemporary setting, and then telling a story about someone or sometime else within the tale we’re reading or listening to. Like Scheherazade’s creator, the author of the ancient servant’s tale embeds a narrative into the frame story, which ends in a moral lesson. It’s a structure we see in both fiction and non-fiction, over and over again, for the next the four millennium, with great success. (Read the Bible? It’s in there, too.)

The moral here? The serpent tells how he lost his family when he was off adventuring:

It happened when I wasn’t there —
burnt when I wasn’t among them!
Then I died for them
when I found them as one heap of corpses.

If you are brave, be stout-hearted,
and you will embrace your children,
kiss your wife, and see your house.
This is better than anything.

Since today I got to kiss my man, kiss my child, and feel both safe and loved, I can tell you – the serpent was right.

#SFWAPro

Racism is Stupid

Recently a post about hipster racism has been going around, and if you haven’t read it, you should. The bottom line is that ironic racism is still racism, just slightly more likely to have dressed from a combination of products sold on Etsy.

Part of that is white people making jokes about people of color who they care about out of some idiotic belief that they must not be racist because they know/love/fuck/live with a person of color. *headdesk*

Racism, in all forms, is stupid, and everyone just needs to fucking stop it.

But, of course, I can say that, right? I’m a white person, so I’ve been protected by white privilege, so what would I know? To some extent, that is true. I am extremely white. I have red hair and freckles. I can’t even tan (though everyone else in my family does; it’s weird). My white privilege means that the one time I was pulled over by a police officer for blowing through a stop sign, I was given a warning. It means that I have walked through one of the poorest neigborhoods in Oakland, while on drugs, and jaywalked in front of a cop, who yelled, “Watch out for cars!”. At 3 am. It means that no matter how poor or uneducated I was (I lived in that neighborhood at the time, and worse ones after), people never told me that I couldn’t make something better of myself.

I’m not speaking as someone who was personally affected by a lot of racism. I am someone who got a free pass when a lot of other people I love and admire didn’t. So if I, who am not being repressed by racism, can tell you it’s stupid and useless and wrong, will that matter to you? Will it mean more to you than hearing it from a person of color?

To a racist, yeah, it will. How stupid is that?

But maybe you think that because I am so very white, it doesn’t really affect me, so I can say “don’t be racist” and it’s not that important. I’m just being trendy or something.

The thing is, racism does affect me, everyday, because I see it everyday, and it affects the people that I love.

My grandpa Joe was black. He and my (white, red-haired, Irish) grandma Helen loved each other very much. Before they both passed away, I got to see that, and it would become fundamental in shaping what I thought love was. The good kind of love that I’m still not sure I’m ever going to find.

Joe was kind and – normal. He wasn’t a “black guy”, he was my grandpa Joe, who just happened to be black. One of my nephews (I have more than one sister) has a dad who’s half black and half Chinese. Some of my best friends, including a guy who has been my friend, consistently, for 17 years, have been Filipino.

This fact doesn’t make me cool, or open-minded, or some kind of special. It just makes me not stupid. I’m not stupid enough to believe that human beings are divided by something as arbitrary as the color of your skin. We have grown to fill this whole planet, we have lived in a variety of climates, and some of us show the difference in skin tone that comes from having ancestors who mastered a certain spot on the Earth. That’s all it means.

This way of splitting up the world into groups, so that we can decide who we’re better than, and these jokes and comments and advertising and every other little way that we pass judgment on different colors of people … It’s all so stupid.

More than that, it hurts. It hurts me to see people that I respect being insulted or dismissed or patronized because they’re not white. It hurts those people who have to face prejudice every day for something they were born with. (No one gets to pick for themselves what color their skin is or who their parents are!) And it hurts us, as a global society, to still be fighting each other over this arbitrary classification.

So please, stop being stupid.

For those of you reading this and thinking, “Oh good for you, Carrie,” don’t. It doesn’t take much for me to take a stand on this, I know that. What you should do is to take a moment to redefine the people around you. All of those little labels we have in our heads? Rewrite them. Stop thinking of your black neighbor or your Asian coworker or the Hispanic woman in the PTA. And for fuck sake, stop describing people that way. Find another label.

Think of them as Bob who has the amazing rose bushes next door, or Jimmy who drinks four cups of coffee a day or Paula who’s allergic to dogs. Something about who they are as people. Because no matter what color you or I or anyone else is, we’re all the same. We’re all people.

Do that, and then I can start thinking of you as someone who isn’t stupid.

Please.