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.


Update – Sales, Award Nominations, Car Wrecks, and Massive Debt

First, the good news. I’ve sold two stories this week:

  • “How To Recover a Relative Lost During Transmatter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps” to The Journal of Unlikely Cartography (Unlikely Stories #9), due out June 2014
  • “Image Du Monde: Myrrour of the worldes” to The Starry Wisdom Library anthology from PS Publishing (Britain), September 2014

“Five Easy Steps” is a short story I started last year (I excerpted my work in progress here). The editors didn’t quite love the unreliable narrator as much as I did, but liked the story enough to send me a rewrite request. My policy on those is always “Yes, thank you for giving me the opportunity”, so I thought on it for a few days, came up with a framework that left my original story mostly intact but gave some of the perspective the editors were looking for, and resubmitted it. They bought it! It’s my first appearance in Unlikely Stories, and I’m sharing the ToC with a bunch of authors I like and respect.

“Image du Monde” was a commission – the editor had heard of my work from someone else, and contacted me through my website. It’s a flash piece written in the style of a catalog entry, mixing my background in books at art objects with obscure history and Lovecraft. I was happy to do it, and the editor called the finished piece “fantastic!” which is always great to hear.

Note to editors: I’m always open to commissioned work. Fiction or non-fiction (editor Nick Mamatas wrote about me getting involved with his essay anthology here). Please contact me with proposals and information.

Also, the SHE WALKS IN SHADOWS project got funded, so I’ll be writing a story about Anna Tilton (“The Shadow Over Innsmouth”). The story is due at the end of the year, and the anthology will be out in 2015.

Seems I’ve been suggested for the “Best Fan Writer” Hugo award. This isn’t a nomination, and I’m not going to be nominated (my personal vote is for Natalie Luhrs) but in the process I was asked for some examples of my writing on genre, fandom, and writing. If you’re new to my work, start here:


The bad news…

Monday morning, I totaled my car in an accident. It wasn’t my fault – I slid down a hill due to ice, the other driver was speeding and couldn’t stop in time. The police declared it an unfortunate accident, one of three in the same spot within a few minutes, and no one was ticketed. (They did warn the other guy about “speed under conditions”.) I ended up with bruises, trouble breathing for a few days (hit the steering wheel/airbag), and a minuscule fracture in one of the little bones of my hand.



It’s been pointed out to me that I should be grateful to be alive, and I really am. At the time, I was shook up and didn’t put the pieces together – the front of my car was mangled even though I was only going 20 mph, the impact was so bad my airbag deployed and my rear window was popped out of the frame, and the other driver couldn’t fully stop until he was a block away. When I started going down the hill to the intersection, I’d applied the brakes – and nothing happened. I stood on the brakes, saw the other guy coming, hit the horn (how my hand ended up between me and the steering wheel), and none of it helped. Standing on the side of the road, couldn’t stop crying, the smell of gunpowder on my clothes from the airbag, I kept thinking about how I’d done everything I could, even veered to the left at the last moment to make sure I hit the guy’s back end instead of his passenger, and none of it mattered.

Except, maybe it did. If I entered the intersection two seconds earlier, maybe one, he’d have hit my driver’s side door going 50. Instead, we all walked away.

The really bad news…

I’ve got $1000 in deductibles (medical and auto) to pay. I’ve got the difference between my car’s value according to the insurance and what’s left on the loan. Since I’d just traded in my old car on a 2014 three months ago, that’s a couple of thousand (I’ll know the exact amount next week). I missed a day of work at my office job, and because I needed to come home and rest every night, I’ve lost at least one editing job, maybe two. I’m still recovering, still depressed about all of this, going to sleep at 8 or 9 pm every night, and I haven’t got the energy to check my email. It took me four days to put this post together.

I have to find a way to get the money to pay off the bills and loan, just so I can break even. Then I have to get another car, because where I live, I can’t not have one. There’s a bus that would get me to work and back (three buses, technically, but I don’t mind that) but none that go anywhere near my son’s afterschool program. The trip planner program actually recommends taking a bus from work and then walking a mile through the woods. Pick him up, walk another mile with the child on a road with no sidewalks, catch another bus, transfer, and walk another 1/4 mile home. I could do that most nights, depending on the weather, but my son can’t.

I’ve worked so hard the last few years, building myself up to a place where my bills were paid, I had a car, Dagan Books projects were getting paid off and Lakeside Circus wrapped its first issue. I was sharing a 1 bdr apartment with my son to save money and working two jobs but I was getting there. Even the new car was because I was getting my life together – my old one had a loan with a higher interest rate, I couldn’t refi it, but I could trade it in for its full value, get a new car with a lower rate loan, and keep paying the same amount each month so I’d pay my principle off faster. Every bit of spare cash I’ve had in the last few months, I paid toward my car. Being responsible.

Now I have debt, no car, and no idea what to do next.

At least saying all of this makes it so it’s not something I’m worrying over and focusing on; what I need is a plan, hope. The possibility of getting back on track again. I’ll be okay once I know how to make everything okay. Hard work doesn’t scare me. Not knowing does.


My son, and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children year after year is simply the price of our freedom?” – President Obama at tonight’s memorial in Newtown

My son is 9 years old, and is in the fourth grade at a very nice public school. We live in a small town, in a good town, and we happen to live in the right spot for him to attend the kind of elementary school people move to be able to attend. We moved here partly so that he could be in this school system, and they’ve been wonderful – supportive, involved, and committed to the kids.

My son is taught by the kind of people who, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind, would give their lives to save these kids. I know it.

We all heard that on Friday a monster stalked the halls of a similar elementary school in Newtown, CT, and killed little kids. Beautiful, happy, loving, little children. Kids younger than my son. Teachers like his teachers. A principle and school psychologist who ran into the path of bullets to try to stop what was happening. A special needs teacher who died using her body as a shield that sadly didn’t stop the bullets from killing the little ones she tried to hide beneath her.

Tomorrow my son gets to go to school, and someone, one of the kids, is going to be talking about Sandy Hook. That’s what kids do. They hear more than we think, and they trade those rumors, sorting out the truths we think they can’t handle. My son’s teacher and special education director planned to have a guided discussion with the students, to make sure that they knew the basic facts – to dispel fear, to make the kids feel safer. Of course, we have parents who object to this, who think their kids will never find out, who think we shouldn’t be talking about this tragedy with impressionable children.

I promise that if you don’t tell your child, someone will, and they’ll want to know why it wasn’t you.

My son has autism, but he knows what it means to lose someone he loves. To have someone chasing him around the apartment, making him laugh, being important to him … and have that person never walk through the door again. I don’t think he understands death yet but he knows what it means to say goodbye, to miss someone, and not understand why they don’t come back when he asks me for them. I’m glad they’re going to talk to him tomorrow, because I don’t want him to be confused, or scared, any more than he already is in a life that is missing a lot of the language skills he needs to navigate tragedy on his own. His life is already hard. I’m not going to make it worse because I wasn’t ready to talk about this.

my little guy

my little guy

For the record, I own guns. And I am willing to sit through any waiting period, fill out any amount of paperwork, even give them up entirely, if it means that not another small child is killed by a one.

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.


The Things I Don’t Talk About

The more I write, the more people ask if they’re seeing bits of my life in those sentences. It’s bound to happen; it happens to nearly every writer. My writer friends who are women tell me it happens to them more than it does to men, but my writing friends who are men aren’t exempt from it either, so I think it’s this thing where a reader wants to have uncovered the greater truth of the story – and the greatest mystery, the greatest truth, is “What The Author Really Meant”. It’s why we read interviews, isn’t it? This desire to know the author is why we read blogs, and why we authors write blogs. If you want to know us, it stands to reason, you’ll read our work too.

But I don’t talk about myself. I talk about writing. I have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed and a Google+ account and I almost entirely talk about writing. This is on purpose, as I think it’s the writing you’re all really interested in, and the writing is all you really deserve to get. If you know me, in person, up close, you know other things about me, because you’ve been there for those events. I don’t hide anything from the people I spend my time with, and I don’t really hide anything from all of you. I just don’t mention it. If you read carefully you will have discovered that I have a child, and you might even know he’s a boy, and that he’s 8, a detail I mentioned I’ve mentioned once, in a tweet. You may know that I was married, and I am not in that relationship anymore, and if you are very astute you may have guessed that I am in a different relationship now. I have a day job, in some kind of office, I don’t work weekends, and I have just acquired a cat. That’s quite a lot of knowledge, really, if you think about it. You know, too, that I am a woman, probably since birth, that I have reddish hair and pale skin and freckles, if you look closely enough. You might know that I am overweight, but have lost weight recently, that I read quite a bit, and write not as much as I’d like, and have published a little, and been published a little more. You might guess that I am in my late 20s, which is what everyone says they guess, or you might know that I am actually 37, which I’ve never been afraid to tell people.

See, you know so much about me already. Is it enough? Will you read this, and feel satisfied, and go on to read my stories as if the words on the page are the only ones you need to know?

Of course not. You want to know everything.

What else could I say that would inform you, as a reader? The truth is, I don’t think I have to say anything. I don’t think the things I’ve already said should change your opinion of my work. I know it will, for some people. For some people, something as basic as my gender will shape their thinking of my writing for the rest of my life. I have avoided joining “women writers” groups simply because I don’t think you should care. (I went ahead and joined Broad Universe a few weeks ago because I realized refusing to do so means I lose out on people who might only pick up my writing because I am a woman but who might stick around because I am a damn good writer.) I don’t think it should matter that I am white, either, though I’ve discovered there are people for whom that matters quite a bit. I don’t think these things should make the tiniest bit of difference in whether you decide to buy my books, or in what you think of my stories. I know a dozen women, about my age, with at least once elementary-school-aged child at home and at least one divorce, and I can guarantee that we all write differently. We are each individuals, with secrets that will never be known, made up of factors that you will never completely understand.

My writing is informed by all of this, and none of it. It’s just as likely that the next story you read of mine will have been inspired by a news article, or a piece of fiction I read as a child, or a story I thought failed (and you’re holding my written attempt to do it right). I don’t make an effort to write about my life, and I doubt very much that there’s an autobiography in my future. I’ve explained this, over and over again, and I know it doesn’t matter. Some of you will still read my writing, and want to know what I’m really trying to say. The question is, if you knew everything about me, what would it change? Would my horror be less frightening? My erotica less sexy? My science fiction less inspired by science fact? Let’s find out.

Here is the quick and dirty story of me: (more…)