Last week I learned that my novelette “We Are the Cloud,” originally published in Lightspeed, is a finalist for the incredible Theodore Sturgeon Award… alongside amazing work by writers I adore, like Tananarive Due, Eugie Foster, Daryl Gregory, Ken Liu… and Octavia Butler.
This story owes a profound debt to Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind, my favorite science fiction novel ever, so for it to be nominated up against a story by her for a prestigious award is totally messing with my emotions. I’m honored, and humbled.
I was invited to participate in the “My Writing Process Blog Tour” by Carmen Maria Machado, who was invited by Sofia Samatar (@SofiaSamatar), who was invited by Daniel José Older (@djolder). I in turn tagged my astonishingly-talented brother-by-another-mother David Edison, who will follow me shortly…
1) What are you working on?
Right now I’m juggling several short stories in various states of unfinishedness (a story is never finished until it’s published), as well as doing a merciless edit of my YA SFF novel “Stealing Normal,” which is causing me profound anxiety and self-doubt. Which may be a good thing? It hurts, so that probably means it’s good for me.
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
I don’t know if there’s anything that makes my work completely unique – there’s so much astonishing stuff happening now in science fiction and fantasy, with so many great writers doing things I hugely admire. The way Ted Chiang tears your heart out with such beautiful, real human relationships (and oh yeah there’s a shit ton of rigorous science and knowledge to ground it), the way Ken Liu engages history. Karen Joy Fowler, Kelly Link, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Saladin Ahmed, Paolo Bacigalupi, and a hundred other terrific writers excite me. I think what makes my work ‘my work’ is my own particular set of fascinations, the subjects I am drawn to – things like privilege and oppression and resistance and history; things like how our relationships with other people are impacted by the society we live in. As a community organizer, as someone who believes that people have more power when they work together, I often find myself creating magic systems or tech that depend upon collaboration, or become stronger the more people are connected – it’s why Octavia Butler’s “Mind of My Mind” is probably my favorite SF novel. Some people use SFF to imagine better worlds, and that’s super valuable, but for me it’s more about using the genre toolkit as a lens on what’s wrong (and what’s wonderful) (but mostly wrong) with the world we have.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Christ, I don’t know. Because life is full of horror and suffering and loss and sadness, and fiction can help us make sense of it? Because we’re all going to die? Because when I was in elementary school I was bad at sports and had no friends and so I lied to people about having seen horror movies I wasn’t in fact allowed to see, and then kids wanted to talk to me so I would narrate the plots of these movies, which of course were totally made up, or based only on the poster, or the description on the back of the box at the video store, so telling elaborate lies about monsters and bloodshed became a social survival mechanism? Also I love James Baldwin on the subject: “Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
4) How does your writing process work?
At any given moment I have approximately one gajillion ideas bouncing around in my head – characters, situations, titles, speculative elements, weird shit that really happened, news stories, YouTube videos, etc. I tend to let that stuff percolate for a while, encouraging story ideas to bounce off each other, adding stuff to a spreadsheet (YES I HAVE A SPREADSHEET OF STORY IDEAS DON’T JUDGE ME). Usually a story doesn’t really start rolling for me until a couple separate ideas come together (“what if that boy trying to find his vanished best friend were a survivor of that Soviet human experimentation you read about?”) and then I can start to put flesh on the bones. Reading helps, and watching television and movies – seeing new exciting ways to tell stories, or noting tropes or tricks that have an emotional impact on me, often provides the “ah-ha!” moment that can solve a writing puzzle I’ve been stumped by. As for when I write – early mornings, weekends, wherever I can steal an hour or two. Heavily impacted by my day job demands and whatever mountain of television shows my husband and I are currently digging ourselves out from under.
I’m excited to share that I’ve joined the crew of the phenomenal YA book review site Guys Lit Wire!!
My first review went live last week – check out my thoughts on the astonishingly beautiful Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
If you’re not familiar with GLW, do check it out. There’s nothing chauvinistic about its focus on teen boy readers – it’s really about recognizing that it’s very difficult to get teen boys excited about books, and that they often connect to books very differently from young women readers.
I’m a fan of anything that helps teachers/parents/librarians/whoever put great books in the hands of the young men in their lives. Especially gay and trans boys who are particularly hungry for books that reflect their own experiences. I remember how much it meant to Teenage Me, catching a glimpse of myself in a book. With all the exciting and diverse protagonists populating YA fiction these days – and all the great tools for hyping young people to books and giving them space to talk about them – it’s exciting to be part of that work.
The final issue of Electric Velocipede is out now. While I’m really sad this phenomenal journal is gone, I am really proud to have my story “The Beasts We Want to Be” included alongside tons of terrific work in this issue.
I wrote this one at Clarion 2012 – it’s about Soviet human experimentation, brotherly love, bloody revenge, and a maybe-magical painting. It was reviewed in Locus Magazine, who named it a “Recommended” story (and said “…The heart of it is this: How can ordinary people be brought to do acts of routine brutality? Or that there is something human in the worst of us?…”). Locus also cited it in their year-end best short fiction post.
Electric Velocipede also did a short interview with me, which they ran on their Facebook page, and which I’m pasting in here for folks who aren’t on Facebook.
1. What inspired you to write this story?
I firmly believe that the universe sends me important messages via the shuffle function on my MP3 player. The germ of this story sprouted when the National’s song “Abel” came on while I was out for a run, and for years I’ve wanted to capture in fiction the relationship that song describes. It’s about two men, friends, one of whom makes the other want to be a better person. Really it’s about the function our friends serve in our lives, and what happens to us when they disappear. And I find friendships between straight men fascinatingly fraught and complex in general. At the time I was attending the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop, and learning so much from my teachers and classmates about the limitless palette that speculative fiction gives us to explore the human experience in the most ridiculous marvelous ways. So of course I immediately thought: post-Revolution/Civil-War-era Soviet Russia, monstrous human experimentation, magical painting, deceit, betrayal, love, revenge, death. Like you do. And then Ted Chiang read it and asked me like one question that turned my whole world on end and helped me turn the story into something way more awesome than anything I could have done on my own.
2. What’s your favorite thing about it?
I think the Pavlov Boxes are neat. I’ve always found Soviet history to be pretty fricking SFF, but I’m aware that FOR SOME REASON other people don’t get quite so excited about the subject. So if I captured that in a way other people can get into, I’m pleased.
3. What is your favorite color?
I love them all. You’d have to be more specific. For clothing I love dark greys, reds, blues. For food I love greens and reds. For nature I love a nice autumn palette.
On Tuesday, January 7th, I’ll be sharing a bill with the marvelous Jennifer Marie Brissett at the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series. Participating in this venerable, 23-year-old series is a huge honor for me, and I know it’ll make for a hell of a night.
Jenn and I appeared on the radio program Hour of the Wolf last year, promoting our respective readings, and we had a blast. Jenn posted a link to the full audio on her blog, if you wanna get a sample of how much fun you’ll have if you come to the NYRSF event on January 7th.
Huge thanks to host Jim Freund, for having us on.
I’m quivering with excitement. Hope you can make it.
Reading will take place at the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art
138 Sullivan Street
Doors open at 6:30 PM
Program begins at 7:00
$7 donation suggested
Here’s Jenn reading, on WBAI with me last year. Note the 7 words you can’t say, on the radio station wall behind her.
A reminder that on Monday, January 7th, 2013, at 7PM, I’ll be reading as part of an LGBTQ Science Fiction & Fantasy Night at Bluestockings Books in New York City.
Speculative fiction is a fundamentally queer enterprise – an exercise in imagining radically different ways of being. Some of New York City’s leading queer writers of science fiction and fantasy – and a few out-of-town guests – will gather for six short pieces exploring science fiction and fantasy in all its wild imaginative weirdness. Featuring: Richard Bowes, Val Howlett, Ellen Kushner, Carmen Maria Machado, Sam J. Miller, and Delia Sherman.
LGBTQ Science Fiction & Fantasy Night
Monday, January 7th, 2013, at 7PM
Bluestockings Books – 172 Allen Street, New York NY 10002
Richard Bowes’ new novel Dust Devil on a Quiet Street will appear on Mayday 2013 from Lethe Press. Minions of the Moon his 1999 Lambda-winning novel will soon be available in e-book and POD formats
Val Howlett is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Her story”The Arf Thing” was the winner of VCFA’s In a Nutshell Short Story Award in the summer of 2011. She is currently working on a YA novel, Underdog. from Tor. Recent and forthcoming appearances include: F&SF, Icarus, Apex, Lightspeed and The anthologies Million Writers Award, After, Wilde Stories 2012, Bloody Fabulous, Ghost’s: Recent Hauntings, Handsome Devil, Hauntings, Once Upon a Time and Where Thy Dark Eye Glances
Ellen Kushner’s first novel, Swordspoint, quickly became a cult book that some say initiated the queer end of the “fantasy of manners” spectrum. She returned to the same setting in The Privilege of the Sword and its sequel, The Fall of the Kings (written with her partner, Delia Sherman), as well as a growing number of short
stories. Her second novel, Thomas the Rhymer, won the Mythopoeic Award and the World Fantasy Award. She and her partner, author and educator Delia Sherman, live in New York City, with a lot of books, airplane ticket stubs, and no cats whatsoever. www.EllenKushner.com
Carmen Maria Machado is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Unstuck, Indiana Review, Five Chapters, Opium Magazine, and Best Women’s Erotica 2012 (from Cleis Press). She has contributed nonfiction to The Paris Review Daily, The Hairpin, and The Rumpus. She lives in Iowa City.
Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction and essays have appeared in Strange Horizons, The Minnesota Review, Fiction International, Washington Square, and The Rumpus. He is a graduate of the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and the co-editor of Horror After 9/11, an anthology
published by the University of Texas Press. Visit him at www.samjmiller.com
Delia Sherman has been exploring history, fairy tale, and gay themes in her fiction ever since her first novel, Through A Brazen Mirror came out in 1989. In collaboration with her partner Ellen Kushner, she wrote the World Fantasy Award nominated novella “The Fall of the Kings,” which they later expanded considerably into The Fall of the Kings. Delia enjoys teaching, knitting, living in New York City and traveling.
I’m ridiculously excited to report that on Monday, January 7th, 2013, at 7PM, I’ll be reading as part of an LGBTQ Science Fiction & Fantasy Night at Bluestockings Books in New York City.
And I’ll be joined by artists I adore – or am excited to learn more about: Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner and Carmen Maria Machado and Richard Bowes and Val Howlett.
I’ll be posting lots more announcements and updates over the next few months, but for right now… save the date, book your tickets, get excited.
Speculative fiction is a fundamentally queer enterprise – an exercise in imagining radically different ways of being. Aliens and robots and clones and witches and empaths have all been used by LGBTQ writers and readers to gain new perspectives on issues of sexual difference, gender identity, marginalization, and oppression. Some of New York City’s leading queer writers of science fiction and fantasy – and a few out-of-town guests – will gather for six short pieces exploring science fiction and fantasy in all its wild imaginative weirdness. Featuring: Richard Bowes, Val Howlett, Ellen Kushner, Carmen Maria Machado, Sam J. Miller, and Delia Sherman.
LGBTQ Science Fiction & Fantasy Night
Monday, January 7th, 2013, at 7PM
Bluestockings Books – 172 Allen Street, New York NY 10002
Richard Bowes’ new novel Dust Devil on a Quiet Street will appear on Mayday 2013 from Lethe Press. Minions of the Moon his 1999 Lambda-winning novel will soon be available in e-book and POD formats from Tor. Recent and forthcoming appearances include: F&SF, Icarus, Apex, Lightspeed and The anthologies Million Writers Award, After, Wilde Stories 2012, Bloody Fabulous, Ghost’s: Recent Hauntings, Handsome Devil, Hauntings, Once Upon a Time and Where Thy Dark Eye Glances
Val Howlett is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Her story”The Arf Thing” was the winner of VCFA’s In a Nutshell Short Story Award in the summer of 2011. She is currently working on a YA novel, Underdog.
Ellen Kushner’s first novel, Swordspoint, quickly became a cult book that some say initiated the queer end of the “fantasy of manners” spectrum. She returned to the same setting in The Privilege of the Sword and its sequel, The Fall of the Kings (written with her partner, Delia Sherman), as well as a growing number of short stories. Her second novel, Thomas the Rhymer, won the Mythopoeic Award and the World Fantasy Award. She and her partner, author and educator Delia Sherman, live in New York City, with a lot of books, airplane ticket stubs, and no cats whatsoever. www.EllenKushner.com
Carmen Maria Machado is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Unstuck, Indiana Review, Five Chapters, Opium Magazine, and Best Women’s Erotica 2012 (from Cleis Press). She has contributed nonfiction to The Paris Review Daily, The Hairpin, and The Rumpus. She lives in Iowa City.
Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction and essays have appeared in Strange Horizons, The Minnesota Review, Fiction International, Washington Square, and The Rumpus. He is a graduate of the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and the co-editor of Horror After 9/11, an anthology published by the University of Texas Press. Visit him at www.samjmiller.com
Delia Sherman has been exploring history, fairy tale, and gay themes in her fiction ever since her first novel, Through A Brazen Mirror came out in 1989. In collaboration with her partner Ellen Kushner, she wrote the World Fantasy Award nominated novella “The Fall of the Kings,” which they later expanded considerably into The Fall of the Kings. Delia enjoys teaching, knitting, living in New York City and traveling.
Yeah, this shit just never gets old. Looking south/west from Astor Place, Friday, October 12th, 2012.
I know, I know, I’m totally late to the Wind-Up Girl party, but I just finished reading it, and of course I adored it, and even though these links are a few years old at this point I wanted to share them: io9’s great reader-written Q&A with Paolo Bacigalupi, the Guardian’s review of it, and Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing’s interview with Paolo, in which he says, among other brilliant things, “the world would be better if people didn’t exist.”
Oh, and speaking of SF Signal and Hugos, SF SIGNAL WON A HUGO. Which made me really happy, cuz I think they’re amazing.
AND they do a great weekly roundup of free SFFH, which has some exciting stuff in it this week, like every week.
Some gorgeous Chinese graphic design from the 1920’s and 1930’s, excitingly influenced by the Russians and the Germans, and very sci-fi.
Oh, and speaking of Soviets and science fiction, here’s a rival roundup of Soviet 70’s space magazine covers (World SF blog).
Singularity & Co. has a list of September recommendations, current and retro.
A date has been set for the American Godzilla movie, and it’s SO! FAR! AWAY!!! [May 16, 2014!!]
Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross read from their new book, The Rapture of the Nerds, at MakerBot in Brooklyn. My dumb ass got there so late I had to stand on the sidewalk and could barely hear anything, but you, gentle reader, can just watch this great video.
Not SFF at all, but the New Yorker’s excellent blog Photo Booth has a great piece up called “Total War: A New Look at Combat Photography” which perfectly captures the fascinating mix of erotics, horror, machismo, heroism, and fear that make the genre so compelling… and so fruitful, for me, for thinking about fiction.
Salon looks at what science fiction writers in 1987 thought 2012 would look like. SFSignal has a great weekly directory of free SF/F/H fiction.
Philip K. Dick experiences a robotic resurrection.
Nick Mamatas mused on the most ticklish subject in SFF.
Michael Swanwick is doing a great series of free short stories set in the same universe – “The Fire Gown,” the second installment, just came out.
Tor.com did a roundup of summer scifi films. (and incidentally, Ryan precisely nails my feelings about Prometheus: “I was tired of giving my opinion on this movie to friends within one day of it being out. I loved it. I hated it. I thought it was crap. I thought it was beautiful.”)
Bryan Konietzko ran this awesome rough sketch of the Avatar: The Last Airbender Season Three DVD cover…
World Weavers Press has a weekly round-up of SFF that is WAY BETTER THAN THIS ONE, so you should go there now and forget all about this puny insignificant linklist.
… please don’t forget this puny insignificant linklist
Last week, I graduated from the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop. And everything people tell you about it is true—it’s incredible, it’s transformative, it will make you into the writer you were meant to be, it builds unbreakable bonds with a ton of other brilliant writers. AND you’ll be devastated when it’s over.
As I attempt to process my grief at Clarion’s end, I thought I would transcribe the copious notes that I took during the course of those six weeks. These, then, will hopefully serve as a hit of what Luke Pebler calls Clarion Methadone for me and my classmates and past grads, and an incitement for folks still on the fence about whether or not to apply. GET DOWN OFF THAT DAMN FENCE!! APPLY. And then make a donation, because every penny helps, and because karma. You have nothing to lose but the bullshit that holds you back as a writer. Don’t think for a second that these 300+ comments can somehow substitute. They can’t. The thing about writing advice is that reading it on the page somehow doesn’t hit you as hard as if someone says it—especially someone you respect and admire a ton.
* I hasten to add that I’m exaggerating wildly when I saw this is every single brilliant piece of writing wisdom. I missed a TON of awesome stuff, so this really truly is not even approaching completion. This probably represents 1/10th of the marvelous writing advice and commentary that was shared at Clarion. So think of this as the tip of the iceberg, the tiny piece that floats above the surface, and then APPLY TO CLARION 2013. Seriously, this 40+-year-old institution is an incredibly valuable and precious resource thing that needs YOU, but not more than you need IT.
Not only did we have brilliant (famous) writers as instructors, and brilliant (not-yet-famous) writers as classmates, we had brilliant (often-famous) guests dropping by to shoot the shit with us for a couple hours, in exchange for booze and/or adoration. So these quotes came from the following brilliant writers:
Ted Chiang, John Scalzi, Delia Sherman, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Vernor Vinge, Walter Jon Williams, Jeffrey Ford, Greg Van Eekhout, Doselle Young, Karen Jay Fowler, Shelley Streeby, Cindy Pon, Carmen Machado, Chris Kammerud, Lisa Bolekaja, Ruby Obeyeskere, E.G. Cosh, Eliza Blair, Sadie Mattox, Joseph Kim, Sarah Mack, Deborah Bailey, Daniel McMinn, Jonathan Fortin, Lara Donnelly, Danica Cummins, Luke Pebler, Pierre Liebenberg, Eric Esser, and some dude named Sam J. Miller.
So no, this isn’t everything. But it’s a lot of it. Some of it is contradictory. A lot of it is redundant. Some of it is original, and some of it is stuff people learned elsewhere, in other classes or books or from writer friends. Most of it I think is pretty rad advice. Some of it I don’t like so much, or only like in certain circumstances. As we said a lot at Clarion, keep a shovel full of salt ready, because you’ll need more than a few grains. And of course I missed a TON of awesome stuff, so this really truly is not even approaching completion.
One last thing. I ain’t telling who said what. For the following reasons:
- All of these quotes are things I wrote down in my notebook, and I’m dense, and slow, so I might have misheard or misquoted, and made people sound dumb, and I don’t want them to be mad at me.
- Some people were quoting other people, and I don’t want Writer X to read Writer Y quoted as saying they said the thing Writer X actually said, and then Writer X is mad at Writer Y because dumb-ass me didn’t hear or understand when Writer X said “Writer Y” said this.
- Sometimes, unknown-writer-Clarion-classmate A said something ten times more awesome than what famous-genius-rock-star-SFF-writer B said, and I’d hate for folks to gloss over the awesome stuff from my fellow unknowns in the mad rush for the big names. Listen without prejudice!
- Sometimes people said stuff in the privacy of workshop that wasn’t intended to be heard by anyone outside the room. While I’ve left out obvious instances of shit-talking, and deleted names where necessary, if it was valuable—or funny—or frank—advice, I’ve included it here with no name.
If your words are here, and you want them amended because they’re incorrect, or taken down, or want to be given credit for them, email me and I’ll amend!!
To make it easier to navigate, I’ve tried to organize these quotes into loose categories.
“You guys want the real secret to being a great writer? Apply ass to chair.”
“One of the most important things I’ve learned here is that the shit should always hit the fan. THROW SHIT AT THE FAN.”
“Start with the goose bumps.”
“There’s all kinds of possibilities with a dead body.”
“I want your stories to kill people.”
“Sometimes you don’t help your story by not being explicit.”
“One really great strategy of fiction is to find the thing that a character absolutely will not do, and make the story force him to do that.”
“Dialogue is always a negotiation. Someone has more power than the other, or has something the other person wants, or loves the other more.”
“The tightrope of enough detail to help the reader see things but not overwhelm them, it has to become intuitive.”
“The people who need to get you in with a hook are the people who can’t do it with their writing.”
“Everybody’s trying to do pyrotechnics. Do yourself a favor—there’s nothing more powerful than a good story well told.”
“Just because it’s been done a million times before doesn’t mean you can’t do it—you just gotta do it in your own idiosyncratic way.”
“That’s what fiction is, is drama. If it ain’t got drama, you can only go so far.”
“I rarely quote Hemingway, but he said ‘start the story where it starts, or halfway through.’”
“If we don’t know something important, there should be a reason we don’t know it.”
“Even if your person’s a shit, there’s gotta be something appealing about him.”
“If you want to be published, and publishable, you gotta be the best writer you can. And you can always be a better writer.”
“Always know what your protagonist’s central character flaw is. In this story, you have a character who is emotionally shut down, and passive, and doesn’t know she’s feeling emotions.”
“All literature is about romance—yearning for something, and maybe not getting it.”
“The things that bother readers aren’t necessarily wrong, they’re the things that raise questions you don’t want them asking.”
“Readers create the character from the outside, not the inside. The writer does the opposite.”
“Writing first drafts that are really out there helps you get past your censor, and they often become more exciting.”
“This is 10 pounds of story in a five pound sack.”
“TV/film’s lean mean 5-page scene doesn’t work in fiction—you need depth, fiction is what’s below the surface. As fiction writers we can’t use Hollywood shorthand.”
“Sometimes you polish a story’s surface so much that there’s nothing else.”
“Reading stuff you don’t understand the first time is really good for you. Reading something you don’t like can teach you more about writing than something you love and vanish into like a warm bath.”
“When you find yourself in love with a particular scene or moment, you have to find out why.”
“A common way to structure stories is: ESTABLISH NORM. UPSET NORM. COMPLICATE & ESCALATE. CLIMAX. RESOLUTION.”
“Whenever you think you’re going to create a really strong character by putting “I” at the beginning of every sentence, you’re digging yourself a hole. It’s actually harder to bring “I” to life.”
“When it’s broken, you don’t always have to fix the whole thing. You can fix half—you just have to know which half. And that’s not always easy.”
“The problem with people is they have beer and they want egg in it. Things are good and they’re unsatisfied.”
“Opening the vein is where the best writing comes from.”
“You have to write things you genuinely are not sure about.”
“Frequently, your back brain is wiser than your front brain.”
“You left yourself a lot of hints that I don’t think you even know about.”
“You have to figure out what scares you in this story.”
“If you can’t tell your story in a one-page pitch, you probably can’t tell it period.”
“The kid mind is responsible for the cool shit, the fear, the sense of wonder. The adult mind is responsible for things like ambiguity, nuance, etc. I do better tapping into the kid mind.”
“I always write my endings first. For a piece of short fiction, the ending leaves a huge impression on the reader. You need to support that with everything that came before. Endings are not as important in a novel, because so much more is going on. With a story it’s crucial.”
“Making a story work better for the people you believe to be your audience might make it work worse for other audiences.”
“It doesn’t need to be heavy. It can be a delightful romp where she also learns something.”
“With no twist, no turnabout, and no surprises, the story will leave the reader pretty flat. It doesn’t have to be huge. Sometimes a character thinks something will be a very good thing, but it turns out to be terrible. Or they think something is bad, and it turns out to be good in a surprising way. We need a reversal of expectations.”
“I start my writing day rewriting everything I did the day before, and that’s how I get the muscles warmed up. And I never end my writing day with the end of a scene, because then I start cold the next day.”
“Your readers will forgive a lot if you tell them what the character wants—even if it isn’t very nice.”
HOW TO MAKE THINGS FUNNY. 1: Deadpan. People inside the joke aren’t laughing. 2: Distance. Charlie Chaplin said life seen in close-up is a tragedy, in long shot it’s a divine comedy. 3: Not too caring! Don’t make the characters too sympathetic. 4. Opposites Go Boom. 5: Piling on. 6: Everyone Has an Agenda. 7: Repetition. 8: Every moment of dignity should be punctured.
“To make a setting come alive for the reader, invoke at least 3 of the 5 senses. Taste and smell are the most vivid.”
“Rule of thumb: stories begin when their problems become critical for the protagonist.”
“Tell me enough so I can stop worrying about what’s going on, and start worrying about what’s going to happen.”
“Having a character misread a key piece of information can help redirect the reader.”
“One place you can hide the key to the plot is on the first page, when readers aren’t oriented yet.”
“In-cluing, AKA Heinleining, is when you don’t infodump, you just show the tech or whatever working.”
“Infodumps are not necessarily something to be afraid of, but you have to earn them.”
“When we don’t understand what’s happening, or the world we’re reading, we fill in the blanks from what we already know—some other fictional world that seems pretty close. This can be dangerous, so you have to give people enough information to convince them otherwise.”
“Each event, especially the big and tragic ones, have to feel as if they could not be other than they are.”
“Read your story out loud – it is a completely different way of understanding it.”
“Concrete grounding and detail help us follow you through the zany.”
“Action scenes are hard. It happens fast, so our impulse is to write it fast. But we need to know where we are, what’s happening, how people are responding, are we winning, etc. Because the writing has to accomplish and present ten things at once, it in effect slows time down significantly.”
“The beginning is where you buy trust to spend later—if things are clear at the start, the reader will be more likely to keep reading if/when things get less clear later on.”
“The key moment in a revenge narrative is when the character realizes that revenge has become the most important thing to them, and says “I don’t care about me, fuck everything, I will burn the world to the ground to get you.’”
“There are four reasons people commit crimes, in fiction: Love, Lust, Lucre, Loathing.”
“I won’t mind being manipulated, if I love where you bring me.”
“If you leave the door open by raising a question, you have to make sure I can’t answer it in the wrong way, because I’ll cling to it like a weasel.”
“You will meet wonderful well-meaning people who want nothing but the best for you and are trying so hard to make you the best writer you can be—whose advice you absolutely never ever take.”
“Present-tense can feel really immediate, but because it makes it so hard to have distance and reflection, the character can start to feel numb.”
“I use first-person present-tense for distancing, because you can create a slightly dreamlike state. It reduces affect, distances us from emotions.”
“Talking about a project out loud helps your brain process the information differently, which can help you figure out what’s wrong.”
“If you’re making an argument in a story, you almost have to make the opposite argument, so that the reader gets there on their own.”
“Research is like an iceberg; 90% of it you don’t see, but it’s the foundation on which the rest of the story is built.”
“Don’t feel the need to infodump everything you’ve learned in your research about a foreign culture, or convince readers you’re being respectful, because that can come across as exoticism.”
“Battle scenes need to change the course of the narrative—or what’s the point?”
“Sex in a story needs to advance or change plot or character, the more of those the better.”
“In a romantic relationship, a power imbalance is dangerous. It can get creepy, fast, unless the powerless character has SOME fundamental strength or power that makes the relationship real and complex.”
“Romance is an engine of tension that has nothing to do with plot.”
General Romance Progression: Meet Cue. Acknowledgement of Feelings. Deeper Moment. Dark Moment. Resolution.
“In real life, the pettier a crime is, the more forgivable. In fiction, it’s the opposite. Tipping a waiter is just about the worst thing you can do—but theft is so forgivable it’s often shorthand for awesome.
“The emotional impact of an ending is strengthened the closer together you resolve the relationships and the plot.”
“In a short story, you get ONE of the following three things to be complex: structure, character, world. Unless you’re [FAMOUS AUTHOR]. [FAMOUS AUTHOR gets two.”
“Don’t be afraid to just say what something is.”
“A nice way to make me “buy” complex technology and a rich world is to just give me a great character whose dilemma shapes and filters the world, and focus on that.”
“Don’t just rely on your writing. Which sounds strange to say.”
“The story can be chaos, and know it, but there has to be a thread pulling the reader through.”
“Checkerboarding—screenwriting term for intercutting necessary background information and detail with dialogue and character development.”
“Stories about death are always stories about life.”
“Shit can always get shitter.”
“The thing that makes us follow a terrible character is when they want something. Ripley is so convincing because he wants these things so bad, and he makes us want them for him, even when they’re terrible things.”
“A story is the most important moment in the character’s life. This is where they change, or fail to change forever.”
“People are people, and they’re really simple. What they want is simple, no matter what else is going on.”
“Giving up is not tragic, it’s pathetic.”
“Ask yourself: are these the right characters for this story? And vice versa.”
“He doesn’t need to be sympathetic, but he needs to be comprehensible.”
“Cold, emotionless, calculating guys is a trope that can only take you so far.”
“I love stories about sinners who discover themselves by going in the wrong direction.”
“When you write about sinners, you’re writing about everyone.”
“Just because it’s a motivation for you doesn’t mean it’s a motivation for the characters.”
“How the character responds when the rules are bent or broken helps us understand the rules.”
“A choice between a really good love interest and a flat boring one is not interesting. Even the really good one needs to be really bad for the protagonist.”
“I don’t have a problem with vile human beings as protagonists, though I recognize many readers do.”
“The story is about what the character wants, and how they do or don’t get it, or how that changes.”
“Loving someone and showing weakness/hesitation are the best ways to get a reader to connect to a character. Giving someone attitude is the best way to show activity (vs. passivity).”
“Characters whose lives or situations are in jeopardy are more interesting than those who remain stable. Characters who experience extremes of emotion are more interesting those who are placid.”
“You really cannot give the climax to someone other than the protagonist. He or she has to protag.”
“You can trick people into thinking someone is the protagonist when they’re not—but when you make that switch, shocking as it might be, you must always switch from the one with the less interesting story to the one with the more interesting story—so the reader says ‘ah yes, of course.’”
“False protagonists get climaxes too.”
“Even horrible self-awareness can be appealing. The very truthful narrator with a lot of insight, telling us how terrible they are, that can be compelling.”
“The moment that a character learns that magic is part of their world, when it was not widely known before, has to have a solid reaction—and it has to feel fresh.”
“There’s a lot of pressure on female characters in romantic/sexual/transgressive situations to feel guilt. That’s the easy—and incorrect—choice.”
“A character’s lowest stakes are his own life, because if they die nothing matters. The highest stakes are his emotional investments. In Die Hard we don’t’ worry that he’ll die as much as we worry whether he’ll save his marriage.”
“If your character is making the same choices as everybody else, they get to be unexamined. If they’re making difficult choices, you have to examine them because we need to be able to get there with you.”
“If you’re going to fulfill the character’s Want Line in a straightforward way, you better give them—or the reader—an extra kick in the ass.”
“If you would enjoy sitting next to a character at a dinner party, they’re an acceptable unlikeable protagonist.”
“Every choice you make has to make the character’s last decision more difficult.”
“If I’m not rooting for anyone in a story, because everyone is terrible, I’ve checked out.”
“Characters can lie to themselves, tell themselves they’re doing something terrible for X reason, but we need to know or find out it’s Y reason, usually because they hate themselves.”
“If you give each of your characters their own lie, that makes them more interesting and distinct.”
“Let the inexplicable be the inexplicable, and focus on your characters.”
“For a while I’ll follow the story in spite of not really seeing the character, but eventually I’ll get lost in the details.”
“She feels like a thin person, and the house feels like a thin space. We need more decoration.”
“A complete shit would be someone you can at some point ALMOST identify with, who’d then surprise you with some heinous shit.”
“Why this monster, for this character, in this story?”
“Suicides of main characters tend to be an easy way out; it’s rare that I find a case of that being earned.”
“Your character can go to heaven, but he brings his baggage with him.”
“At Clarion, I got validation. I found my tribe. I found out there are other people like me. Who
are interested in SFF like me. Even now, with social media helping people find their tribes other
ways, Clarion for a lot of people marks their formal entry into the SFF community, feeling part
of it in a way they were not before. They reunite at conventions. Schmooze with people from
“We are here to help each other take risks.”
“Most people can’t just leave and say, ‘well, that was cool.’ Lots of people’s lives change, because they’ve spent six weeks working on the thing they’ve always wanted to—and becoming the person they’ve always wanted to be. You don’t have to sally forth and live up to the Clarion name right away. You might need to take some time to figure out what it’s done for/to you.”
“The comments you get in this—or any—workshop, you’re going to be ignoring a lot of them.”
“When I was a student at Clarion, I thought, “MY GOD! I’M GOING TO BE TAUGHT BY [FAMOUS AWESOME SFF WRITER], WHO TAUGHT [OTHER FAMOUS AWESOME SFF WRITER] EVERYTHING THEY KNEW!” And in the end of course I ended up not taking most of [FAMOUS AWESOME SFF WRITER]’s advice.”
“While workshopping, when more than one person wants to speak, the one with more crazy in the eye wins.”
“You could write the best story in the world, and we’ll tear it to pieces.”
“None of us are winning the fucking Nobel Prize this week, so let’s get that straight right now.”
“Sometimes the most helpful piece of advice is one you can’t take, but that makes you think hard about what you don’t want to change, and why.”
“In the immediate aftermath of Clarion, the critical part of your brain will have superpowers, but the writing part might not. You have to learn to shut the critical brain off until the re-write.”
THE WRITER’S LIFE
“Developing a distinctive prose style is important, but more important are your own fascinations, obsessions, and the way you look at them.”
“For most of us, life seems long still. At a certain point it will feel short. Our time here is limited. What do you want to say, while you’re here? You don’t’ have to be weighty and solemn—you can be funny, humor has enormous value—but write memorable humor. There’s plenty of comedy you remember, vs. what you laughed at and then forgot about.”
“I prefer to steal from my friends.”
“We all have our own writerly tarot decks, the characters we keep coming back to who reflect our obsessions.”
“If we weren’t obsessive we’d be in a different business.”
“A lot of writing success is luck, but you have to show up for the luck to happen.”
“Use your friends for feedback.”
“The alchemy of collaboration behind a graphic novel is what makes it exciting.”
“If you’re honest, and about what you’re about, you’ll spark best with the people who spark with that, and drive the people are not about that away.”
“I’ve been ridiculously lucky, but I also write every day.”
“After a year of being an editor, I went back to the stuff I had published before and thought was hot shit, and was shocked. Of the 80 columns I wrote, maybe 3 were things I would have accepted—and two of them needed major work.”
“There’s obvious advantages to blogging—keeping your name out there, building an audience—but at a certain point it requires scheduling. My brain forces me to write creatively for 3-4 hours, and then says ‘now we kill zombies.’ Which might mean video games, or business stuff, or blogging—which is kinda muscle memory. Doing it allows other parts of the brain to light up while the fiction part wanders off. Like tub-thumping. When you do it with your fiction it’s like ‘uh-oh, the brain-eaters got them.’ Blogging lets me talk about what’s important to me in a way that won’t be coherent or productive in fiction.”
“A blog is a performance. I might talk about personal stuff, but I’m presenting a very small part of me. And people feel like they know you, through your blog. Someone said sometimes it feels like 10,000 people have a crush on you.”
“The first time you write a novel, or anything, my advice is to give yourself permission to try one thing (be 100,000 words, for example, or make people cry) and not succeed at anything else with it. Just so you can master that one thing, and put it in your toolbox.”
“Authors hate the ‘where do you get your ideas’ question, because the answer will always be unhelpful. I basically have 7-8 ideas germinating in my head at any moment, gestating til one of them drops.”
“Writers who do readings often forget that they’re performing. Not just reading what they wrote.”
“Fail early, fail often.”
“You have to be willing to be bad in public, to be a writer.”
“There’s an enormous appetite in the market for the same stories being told over and over again. Writing that is not trivial. But you see connections no one else sees. That’s your role as a writer. You’re here to write that story no one else can write.”
“It may take you a while to figure out how to fill that empty pace on the bookcase, for the stories that were missing from the world before you. If what you’re saying is really new, it may take the world a while to figure that out—for you to find the audience of people who share your fascinations. They will get what you’re saying, and they will never have read that fascination before. Only you are interested in it, and only you can articulate why it’s interesting.”
“Think about writing for something other than money. Pursue a writing career in which money from writing does not sustain you. To live a life as a writer, and as part of the SFF community, you can get the good parts of all that without making a living—because when you do, you have all sorts of pressures to write what isn’t what interests you most. Not the book you want to write, but a sequel to your most successful book.”
“There’s that old adage about ‘nobody says on their deathbed, ‘I wish I spent more time at the office.’’ Not too many writers lie on their deathbed and say “I should have written that Transformers tie-in.”
“Quoting Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life: ‘Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment… Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
“There’s people out there who want to read your stuff, they just don’t know it yet.”
“Practice what I call ‘targeted befriending.’ You read someone, you love their writing, go tell them that. People like to hear that. Often when you like someone’s writing, you like a lot of thing in common. So start talking, and soon they forget you were their stalker and they think that you’re their friend.”
“How should writers use social media? Well, if you don’t like it, don’t do it. If you don’t like Twitter—or Facebook—or blogging—but think you should use it because someone tells you you should, it’ll show. People won’t like it. Neil Gaiman likes it, and so he’s good at it. Cory Doctorow likes it, so he’s good at it.”
“On a daily basis I sit down and tell myself, it doesn’t need to be any good, that can come during the edit.”
“Sometimes with critiques you can start fixing what’s not broken.”
“Far and away the most important part of being a writer is persistence.”
“Writers have a funny tendency, when there’s a plot or logic or character flaw in the story, to draw attention to it. [AWESOME FAMOUS WRITER] calls it, “you can’t fire me, I quit.”
“Most writers are excellent eavesdroppers.”
“Some of the downsides of a professional writer’s life: a lot of writers are bitter, bitter people, and you’re forced to spend time with them. The first real writers I met, who included people like [AMAZING SUPERSTAR SFF WRITER], did not make me think that being a writer would involve knowing very many pleasant people. It was such a relief to meet [OTHER AMAZING SUPERSTAR SFF WRITER] and realize some people actually were not crazy.”
“The ones who aren’t wonderful don’t want to hang out with you anyway.”
“People behave pretty well now. When I first came into the field, the generation before was all just drunks. People used to throw chairs, have fights at conferences. The drunken male-ness of the field was especially hard on the women.”
“Conventions are a social space, great for meeting people, NOT great for asking them to read your book. Have a conversation, hopefully it goes well, and then write to them later.”
“Writers are often pulled towards things they know are wrong with them, or difficult for them, so you shouldn’t be surprised if someone who writes passionately about social justice turns out to be profoundly self-centered.”
“… but far worse than the great writer who turns out to be an asshole is the wonderful person whose writing is shit.”
“Some people don’t believe in it, but I like the world where literary quality is so subjective that there really is no Good or Bad.”
“The hardest part of transitioning into a writer whose primary source of income is their writing is that you lose your hugest hobby… your mental health depends on your ability to find hobbies and things to do…. Think about it being something you can NEVER MAKE MONEY OFF OF, or relate to your writing.”
“I, and a lot of writers I know, spend about one day a week reading/critiquing/corresponding with my writer friends. That’s 1/7th of my total time—being a resource for your brothers and sisters is hugely important.”
“People will tell you what’s wrong, and they will most likely be right. They will tell you how to fix it, and they will most likely be wrong.”
“You can never write the thing you think will bring you fame and fortune, because you can never predict that. The stuff that hits is the stuff where the writer said “this is the secret of my deep dark heart,” and for whatever reason it resonates.”
“Fans hate a companion piece. They want a sequel that is a real sequel.”
“A lot of the time, fans want the same book over and over again—and eventually you reach a point where that’s not what YOU want.”
“You can sit down one day and spend three hours writing the thing you REALLY don’t want to be working on, that’s an agony to get through. And then you can sit down and write the thing you’re super-in-love-with…. And when you go back later, not be able to tell the difference.”
“The greatest thing about being a writer is access to free books.”
ON GENRES: SCIENCE, SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, HORROR, YOUNG ADULT, MIDDLE GRADE
“Science fiction writers tell the most extravagant lies in order to get at primal truths.”
“You can say some really important shit with speculative fiction, and I think you should do it. That’s what gets bought.”
“I’m going to call everyone out on their tropes and stereotypes. Because I think they’re boring.”
“Good horror is honesty. The monster is a reflection of real things, and real character issues.”
“I don’t like mediocre, but I like awful. Awful often has good stuff you can exploit.”
“I don’t like the Midwest much, but Midwest fandom is awesome.”
“The styles of thought needed to work in the 21st century are radically different from the past—there’s great pressure to lower our attention spans.”
“Human nature is changing and will continue to change. Surprisingly, human nature is getting nicer. There’s research that indicates humans are self-domesticated.”
“Genetic change since the rise of civilization is actually faster than before.”
“40 years ago, SFFWA had 200 members, and only 5 of them were making enough money through their writing to not need a day job. Now it’s 1700-1800, but the percent of people who can sustain themselves by their writing is about the same.”
“The genre as a whole has a very Pay It Forward ethos. As a community structure, there really isn’t anything like SFF, for looking out for and helping each other out. But it can also be like high school at times.”
“I say with love that we’re not the most socially-well-adapted people on earth. That can make interpersonal relationships difficult.”
“Given how much horror there is in actual war, you need to ask yourself what you add to it by adding the supernatural.”
“There’s a tendency to add a genre element to a story whose strength lies elsewhere—often because it can see better in genre markets. Those markets often respond strongly, positively, because of the other strengths, but it often doesn’t serve the story well.”
“This is the kind of horror story that doesn’t start out as one. It needs to start with total normality, and we go to the horror with the character.”
“With any speculative fiction that explores new technology, you have to ask yourself, what kind of person would take advantage of this technology in what way?”
“Most SFF is on a scale between naturalism and expressionism. Naturalism asks, ‘with THIS outlandish premise, what would happen? How would people realistically react?’ Expressionism is about internal conflicts and feelings becoming external. In more expressionistic worlds, your characters have to avoid asking the questions or examining the edges of your fantastic elements, or it falls apart—because the story is a metaphor for some kind of blindness we have in real life”
“How integral is the speculative science/fantasy element to this story? Without it, how different would this story be? A lot of people say it’s fine to have a story with a speculative element that doesn’t materially affect the plot. I realize that’s one school of thought, but I like speculative elements to help do something you can’t do any other way.”
“SF has a community like no other. At conventions you’ll wind up going out to dinner in a huge group with some pretty big-name writers. And you’ll regularly find yourself inside of absolutely mind-blowing conversations. That’s the kinda community it is. People have so many shared interests, and they like to talk about them. There’s not the same huge division between readers and writers that exists in other fields of writing.”
“Sometimes it’s helpful when writing fantasy to step back and ask yourself, if there were no fantasy in this, what would it be about?”
“SFF is a very tight-knit community, and you are now part of it. It’s a strange network—you know one person, you hang out with them, you’ll meet someone new. And awesome.”
“Science fiction and fantasy is a great vehicle for reflection on us as a culture, especially the wonderful things and the things that are not OK.”
“SFF is never JUST metaphor, but the metaphor is always there. It’s a problem if you’re not sure what the metaphor is.”
“Numinous magic is any in-world supernatural elements that are intuitive and emotional, vs. more concrete magic systems with rules.”
“There’s so many problems with putting a bunch of monkeys in a can in space.”
“In fairy tales, bad things happen to children. It’s part of why they’re effective. And the kids either die or come out of it with something new.”
“How would your speculative concept exacerbate or shatter existing societal and interpersonal divisions?”
“If you have it a speculative idea, you should always chart it out to its most extreme derivations, just to see if it works.”
“Strategic management types talk about a PEST analysis: what are the Political, Economic, Environmental, Social, and Technological consequences of a certain new development? That’s useful in fiction, to run through the ramifications of your world-building decisions.”
“I feel alive when I read or watch horror. It relates to my life the way romantic comedies do to my friends.”
“Orson Scott Card said that in SFF, metaphors are off-limits. Similes are OK, though.”
“You can do anything in YA. Literally anything. Some things might limit your audience, however, but remember that everything limits your audience.”
“People say Harry Potter starts out Middle Grade and ends up Young Adult, but that’s not really true—his concerns stay Middle Grade. He doesn’t want to get high behind Hogwart’s, or stress about sex.”
“Middle Grade tends to have higher stakes, like saving the world, while YA is about saving yourself or your friends. Teens connect more to the personal journey.”
“Young adult novels are about peer group relationships—mostly middle-grade is about family relationships—mostly.”
“YA has fewer male protagonists because boys tend to either stop reading after middle-grade age, or go straight to adult books.”
“Too often, female characters are just female-shaped objects to whom things happen.”
“You have a lot of white-room syndrome, where I can’t picture the setting at all.”
“The Star Trek problem: your tech/fantasy is so great it automatically solves whatever plot problems arise, which can be unsatisfying, but not necessarily. If the physical obstacles are not huge, the emotional obstacles have to do a lot more work.”
“He was the closest character to a real human being, and even he wasn’t there yet.”
“This story took off, and it forgot to pack.”
“This story has a bad case of The Narrator Is Two Eyes and a Mouth.”
“It’s very common to want to withhold information from the reader to create tension, but you’re not writing jacket copy. You have to do it some other way.”
“This is kind of a Fuck-It story, where the character keeps saying “fuck it” to all the things he used to value, all the secrets he used to keep. So if that’s the case, he has to REALLY say FUCK IT.”
“In stories where the consequences come, they come because the character deserves it.”
“It’s fine to write the draft where you’re just trying to get everything down on the paper, so you know what the story is and who the characters are—but make sure you know that’s what you’re doing, and that you have a plan to hack out all the excess.”
“This is a great story, but only half of it is on the page. You have all the answers, and you think you’re creating mystery when what you’re creating is confusion.”
“Because she feels sorry for herself, we do not feel sorry for her.”
“Activist oversimplifications are rarely the best or freshest way to discuss a problem. Don’t just say “a world without water,” show me what water scarcity means.”
“I’m old-fashioned; I still want at least one character I can root for.”
“It’s a problem when your narrative keeps telling me something is good, but I find that something really disturbing or unhealthy or bad… if I don’t buy it, it creates conflict, and that can break the story.”
“This is a PG13 story, and I want the R-rated version. You need to find the price he is most terrified of paying—because that’s what he has to pay.”
“You’ve given us a world of all surface, like writing about the Vietnam War by describing the uniforms.”
“There’s this romanticized notion that what you need to get you through horrific trauma is a bit of kindness… and that’s just not true.”
“This story is like a beautiful mansion, with lots of boxes full of cool stuff that we never open. And there’s nowhere to sit.”
“I wanted all the feelings.”
“Always ask yourself: what does this magic system say about THIS world, and THESE characters?”
“Any time you do a monster that is culturally familiar, like vampires or werewolves, you need to establish the rules quickly and efficiently.”
“People say, ‘ooh, unicorns and zombies, it’s so great…’ well, fucking WHY? People are squeeing over it and it makes me fucking sick.”
“Unlimited time travel solves too many problems; it renders fiction unworkable.”
“The laws of physics surrounding the impossibility of time travel seem to be set up to prevent us from creating paradoxes, or from finding out we don’t have free will.”
“Pinocchio-becoming-a-real-boy stories can be happy or sad, because there’s great joy associated with being human, and great pain associated with being human as well.””
“Day logic is like in Harry Potter, you say lumos and the lights go on, it always works the same, it’s like science. Night logic is more metaphorical, more intuitive, and therefore it can be a lot harder to write because you have to dedicate so much space to giving readers the info that they need, and that can get in the way of character development, etc.”
“In an alternate history, we need to know the point of divergence.”
“Your readers shouldn’t be wondering if it’s a dystopia or not. Tyrannical governments aren’t scary if the tyrannical government has solved all our problems. The big questions are, is there war? Poverty? Hunger? That’s how you can spot a dystopia.”
“You can learn a lot about a fictional world by having a character look up at the sky.”
“When I’m reading a world-building story, I’m asking myself ‘well, who’s the guy who works at Starbucks in this world?’ Most world-bulding starts with one caste/community (warriors, kings, priest, etc), because that’s an important way to build it out, and something young readers especially are very attuned to.”
“Ghosts are tough. Ghosts lead consequence-free lives, because the worst thing that could ever happen to them has already happened to them. What are your goals when you’re dead?”
“Magic needs a system, and it all needs to hang together. You need to be able to intuit one rule from another, and when we learn a new one it needs to make sense AND be surprising.”
Character Interviews. Have someone sit you down and ask a bunch of questions, and answer them as your character. It’ll help you figure out stuff you need to think through, to bring them to life more. This can be scripted or unscripted. Works especially well if you’re really tired and silly.”
One Sentence Autobiography: Sit in a coffee shop and write a one-sentence autobiography for everyone who walks in the door.
Breaking Your Magic System. Have everybody ask you a question about your magic system that they think you don’t know the answer to—can anybody use it? has it been regulated by governments? etc—if you can’t answer one, your magic system breaks and you need to fix it. Writers and gamers are the best people to be part of this game.
Scene Checklist. Be sure you can answer the following questions about every scene you write, before you start to write it. Who is in it? Why? Whose POV? Why? How does the scene advance the story? How does the scene advance our understanding of the characters? Has the setting been described? Has anything changed since the last scene set in this setting?”
“For an impossible thing, selling a first novel is pretty easy. It’s impossible to write a novel, but people do it. It’s impossible to get an agent, but it happens all the time. It’s impossible to sell a first novel, but people sell first novels. It’s impossible to get a contract on a second novel if your first one doesn’t sell well, but people do.”
“One of the things that’s really frightening about being a writer is that you know where you are now… but you don’t know where you’ll be in the future. And that’s scary.”
“People do judge books by covers. It’s the single most important piece of marketing that will be done for your book.”
“30 years ago, there were 500 different distributors for books. Stores didn’t like dealing with that whole mess, so they said ‘we only want to deal with a couple of you, fight it out amongst yourselves.’ Then came decades of bloody corporate strife. And now there’s like 1 or 2 distributors out there. We’re in another transitional moment now, where formats and ideal lengths are being upended—but nobody knows how to do it right.”
“Most movie option deals are pretty crappy. $5K up front, $25K if a studio bites, $250K if the thing goes into production. Michael Crichton said “if your book is 400 pages, the script is 40.” 90% of your words get default thrown out. I have a producer whose whole job it is to hold my hand. She deals with the nervous authors.”
“I worry less about the movie being terrible than I do about it being successful—cuz that will impact me more as a writer. If it’s a success it’ll sell well forever, 20 years after the film came out, Starship Troopers still sells 400 copies a week. If it’s a huge flop, $300M to make and has a $30M opening weekend, I’ll never sell another movie in Hollywood ever again.”
“[FAMOUS TERRIFYING RICH MAN] bought Harper Collins to publish his friends—throw multi-million-dollar advances to people like [FAR-RIGHT AMERICAN POLITICIAN] that never stood a chance of earning back.”
“In the early 80’s, the average SFF book by a guy you never heard of in mass market paperback sold 75,000 copies. By the 90’s, that same average book by a writer you never heard of would sell 10,000 copies.”
“Write what you care about writing. Then think of what label you’ll put on it to mke it sell.”
“If you’re going to go Hollywood, do it in your 20’s. By your 30’s it’s too late. Because Hollywood is run by children.”
“In publishing, you never get a promotion within your own company in publishing. You have to jump ship.”
“You never want to be hot. You want to be warm. If you’re hot, you can drop.”
“Literary contracts are not written in legalese, it’s kind of a hand-me-down 19th-century formal writing that will baffle most lawyers who don’t specialize in that kind of document.”
“I don’t know any disagreeable agents. They’re all very charming. Because an agent is charming doesn’t mean they’re right for you.”
“Unfortunately you can’t hire an agent to help you negotiate with your agent.”
“500 to 600 queries a week is normal at many agencies.”
“Stay networked, stay current, don’t be obnoxious.”
“I began to sell professionally when I learned how to write good outlines. A good outline isn’t a descriptions of what happens, it is its own story. Start with a hook. Slot in backstory only when it becomes necessary. Use brief evocative charcter descriptions. Point out tensions and say what the conflicts are. Use present tense. Describe character arcs. Twelve pages tops. Create conflict in the editor’s mind, and then resolve it.”
“Rule Number One of being a writer: money flows to the writer. If anything else is happening there’s a problem.”
“One of the surprising things about being a professional writer is that you travel a lot. More than you think you will And you talk to people. A lot. When I found out all that was part of being a successful writer, it was the biggest bait and switch ever. I was furious. There hasn’t been a single weekend this summer that I’ve been home.”
“Lots of writers complain that their publishers don’t tour them, because that’s great promotion and drives sales, but touring is incredibly draining.”
“These are all good problems to have, and it sounds weird to complain about it, but they all add up and take up your time.”
“An agent’s #1 goal in life is to find great writing. Their #2 goal is to empty their inbox.”
“1/3 of agented authors got theirs through blind queries, 1/3 through personal connections… the last 1/3 is more complicated.”
“Your dream agent, whoever they are, is someone you have never met—so, often, ending up with your dream agent doesn’t really work out.”
“You never want to sell your world rights, ever.”
“You write the book that you as a reader most want to read, but can’t, because it doesn’t exist. And it might be a best-seller if enough people like you are out there.”
“Publishing is very nontransparent. They won’t tell you anything, but if you appear to know what you’re talking about they’ll be so shocked they’ll spill everything.”
“Good questions to ask your publisher, to show them you know the business and to make sure you’re part of the conversation surrounding how your book is sold: What is my co-op? What placements, table, end caps? Are you offering dumps? Am I a lead title? What’s my sell-in to Barnes & Noble?”
“Publishers have a tendency to treat authors like children, like they’re protecting you from the truth, which is why if you ask how you’re selling they’ll say “fine,” no matter what. I don’t know why that is—but if you show them you’re knowledgeable and savvy they’ll feel like they can be honest with you. Even agents will often not share information with you, because they think you don’t want to know. Show him/her that you do.”
“You want to know you can pick up the phone and call your agent and get a call back. If you can’t, there’s problem.”
“Barnes & Noble can still approve covers.”
“Books change covers because the sales weren’t where the publisher wanted them to be.”
QUIRKY CRITIQUES AND BRILLIANT ANALYSES
“You haven’t earned the chill.”
“Lovely imagery, but too much of it. I was looking for the key and I couldn’t find it.”
“I can’t reconcile flying on a plane in the same story as getting a gift from the sun and the moon.”
“Trees represent evil in this story, but in other places they represent good, and I found that unsatisfying.”
“I may be confused by the mechanics of what’s happening, but never about what you’re trying to tell me.”
“This is a story that teaches you how to read it while you’re reading it. It says, ‘check your knowledge of story/structure/character/logic at the door because that’s not what I’m doing.”
“This may not be the direction you ultimately want to go, but I think you should take it there to see what happens.”
“This story warmed the debauched cockles of my heart.”
“You have to earn your Nazis.”
“Toning it back will paradoxically make it more powerful, because it will be believable.”
“You broke my heart and you made me hungry, all at once.”
“I read all this stuff, and I feel this thing, but I don’t know how or why.”
“Vivid imagery and great writing, but no point of entry for me—it’s like watching a great movie with the sound turned down.”
“You have a really great story here, but you seem determined not to tell it.”
“I feel like I went to really good 3-D movie, but I didn’t get the glasses.”
“This story is like a good punch in the face.”
“I’ll believe cities growing out of people’s bodies before I’ll believe people won’t organize into groups and governments to protect themselves and exploit others.”
“Yay for princesses rescuing themselves, but double Yay for boys having feelings.”
“Right now this feels like friendship fan fic.”
“Way to rip out my heart and feed it to me, again.”
“This story ALSO ripped my heart out and fed it to me, but this time the bus boy came and took the plate away before I was finished.”
“You can’t mix the cake batter too much.”
“How to make a story more madcap? Throw Mormons at it.”
“Your dialogue tags get saggy.”
“I was doing a lot of hand-wavium in this story.”
Clarion 2012 is over, and focusing on awesome SFF stuff happening around the world/web is helping me keep from hyperventilating, or curling up into a ball and never emerging.
Rejoice, New York City speculative fiction fans!! Singularity & Co is opening up what sounds like an amazing new SFF bookstore!! I’ll be heading out to Brooklyn ASAP to check it out. Kick em some cash on Kickstarter, if you’re so moved. Among other things, they aim to “Build an open source book scanner (see http://www.diybookscanner.org/for an example) to aid in turning forgotten paper books into e-books.”
Carlo Rambaldi passed away – the brain behind awesome things like the Aliens xenomorphs, the Silver Bullet werewolf (my favorite werewolf ever)… and creepy things like E.T.
The peerless & crucial Racebending.com has a great piece up about the racially problematic casting call for Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy. It includes an amazing Twitter exchange between Racebending & Spike himself, which must be seen.
My hero and Clarion instructor Jeffrey Ford is serially publishing a great story on his Live Journal.
AND SPEAKING OF JEFFREY FORD! if you’re going to be in NYC on August 15th, he’ll be reading at KGB Bar. And if you’re NOT going to be in NYC, you should be. I’ll be there!
In light of recent con-cons (convention controversies – no, that’s not a real abbreviation, I just made it up), John Scalzi has a helpful incomplete guide to Not Creeping.
Jason Sanford, who I think is great, just got a story accepted at Asimov’s.
Nick Mamatas is going to be on a bunch of panels at Worldcon, and therefore I think if you’re going to be at Worldcon you should go to those panels.
Tor.com features a Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s roundup of the best SFF books.
Chinese SFF wins big at the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards! Big props to winner Ken Liu, who I adore.
In books I’ll definitely be checking out, Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty (Graywolf Press) is a “fictionalized nonfiction” book about the Soviet Union – one of my favorite subjects.
Booze, tentacles, chocolate, stories, and wonderment. Today is the last day of Clarion 2012, and we’re all weeping openly at the closing of the most marvelous experience anyone ever could have asked for.
[No update next week – it’s the end of Clarion, and I’ll be far too busy curled up in a ball weeping hysterically to say anything intelligent about any awesome SFF stuff. – SJM]
OCTAVIA BUTLER IS COMING TO E-BOOKS FOR THE FIRST TIME!! Score one more point to the universe, in its NEVERENDING FIGHT TO FORCE ME TO GET AN E-READER.
via Locus Online, the Eaton Awards announced! Ursula Leguin, Stan Lee, & Ray Harryhausen!
Ecological science fiction gets explored over at SFSignal, with stark raving genius replies from folks I respect a ton, like Paolo Bacigalupi, Paul Graham Raven, and Eleanor Arnason, responding to questions like “What is science fiction’s role in a world characterized by limited resources and global warming?” and “What are your favorite SF-nal scenarios for problem solving?” If you’re not routinely visiting SFSignal, YOU’RE MAD.
One of China’s most popular sci-fi novels, the Three Bodies Trilogy, will be published in English soon! – via Paper Republic, a great source for info on Chinese publishing and Chinese literature in translation.
ReaderCon highlights, from Matthew Kressel, including the exciting news that Joe Haldeman’s Forever War has been optioned by Ridley Scott!
In one of those incredible-sounding literary events I’m incredibly sad to be missing, next week in NYC the Asian American Writer’s Workshop will be hosting “How to Read Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe,” with Anil Menon, Ed Park, and Charles Yu. For those who don’t know, AAWW THROWS THE BEST PARTIES.
Also from ReaderCon, and also featuring Anil Menon, Locus has a great podcast about speculative fiction inspired by the Ramayana!
And there was quite a dust-up at ReaderCon involving the con’s failure to follow its own “zero tolerance” harassment policy. The board’s decision, in which they did NOT ban the harasser from the con, is here. Good commentary from Clarkesworld and Nick Mamatas, and my hero Jeffrey Ford said on Twitter “their response is inadequate. I’m sure no one really cares, but i won’t attend again unless it changes.”
Boing Boing has a great funny piece up about the news that they’re re-making Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and to cap it all off they run though all the amazing divas-of-a-certain-age mash-ups that would make for a strong Blanche/Jane duo. And I want each and every one of them to be made into a separate movie…. (but if I had to pick one, it’d be the Britocalypse that is Helen Mirren and Joanna Lumley)
Let’s breeze past the obvious contenders like Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon as Blanche and Jane, respectively, and take a look at some less obvious possibilities.
Cloris Leachman (Blanche) and Betty White (Jane)
Come on, look at these batty dames! Might be a bit older than in the story, but I would kill to see these two go at it for two hours. It would, of course, end up as more of a parody of Baby Jane, but I can’t say I’d be against that.
Helen Mirren (Blanche) and Joanna Lumley (Jane)
Why not go British, especially when it’s these two? In fact, there might even be a real-life rivalry we can pull out of our asses if we try hard enough: Mirren has expressed an interest in playing the Doctor on Doctor Who — Lumley has sort of done that.
Jane Fonda (Blanche) and Faye Dunaway (Jane)
Seriously, what better way for Dunaway to spin off her own performance as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest than by playing the equally psychotic role played by her rival? And Fonda would be awesome, even though I think she’d probably kick Dunaway’s ass in real life.
Kim Basinger (Blanche) and Annette Bening (Jane)
While Basinger isn’t the most even-keeled actress in Hollywood, neither was Joan Crawford. And Annette Bening is a lot of fun when she’s crazy. (See: American Beauty. “I will sell this house today!”)
Angela Bassett (Blanche) and Viola Davis (Jane)
First, I think these two would be a hoot in Baby Jane. Second, allow me to point something out: Joan Crawford was 56 or 57 when she made that movie and Bette Davis was about 54. Viola Davis is 46 and Angela Bassett is 53. Yeah, just look at those withered old broads…
Sigourney Weaver (Blanche) and Linda Hamilton (Jane)
This sells itself.
Glenn Close (Blanche) and Sean Young (Jane)
I’m in San Diego for the 2012 Clarion Writers Workshop, which is an amazing experience on dozens of levels. I had forgotten how much I love a good university library, what with the smell of books and the quiet of it.
And then, what do I find, in the library catalog, but myself??
Go tell it on the mountain: the UCSD library has the anthology I co-edited, Horror After 9/11!!
… and what’s even more exciting, is it’s checked out! Meaning someone actually wanted to read it!!
Or destroy it. But I’ll take whatever attention we can get.
This month marks the centenary of one of my all time heroes, Alan Turing.
Almost three years ago, the British government issued an apology for the homophobic persecution that drove him to suicide. I blogged about it here. And here’s an excerpt from the apology, which teared me up a bit.
“For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united, democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate – by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices – that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.”
The Internet is awash in tributes and excitement. Here are a few of the awesomer ones.
Alan Turing’s Cryptographic Legacy. “We have a fascination for puzzles and mysteries. We love secrets. Cryptography uses secrets to transform messages into puzzles which can then only be solved by anyone else sharing the original secret. Cryptography is, however, a deadly serious game.”
I saw these freaky creatures in a bakery window on 3rd Avenue
“At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial — and any question about sex is that — one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact. “
This fall, the critical anthology Horror After 9/11 will be published by the University of Texas Press. Co-edited by myself and the divine Aviva Briefel, this is the first real exploration of the radical transformation of the horror film, and American and global society, since 9/11. I think it came out fabulous, with awesome contributions from really important scholars who I happen to think are amazing, like Harry Benshoff.
You can read our introductory essay to the book HERE. It’s also available for pre-order on the University of Texas Press website and on Amazon.
And here’s the book jacket!
“I stopped partying because I realized coke and booze are gateway drugs to Christianity.”
(and by the way, folks, Ghetto Klown was super fun. Highly recommended)
“Everybody’s a Judas, so don’t be like that sucker Jesus.”
One of the secret thrills of being published is seeing your work alongside that of other writers whom you adore. Last year my story “Burning Down Wal-Mart” appeared in the same issue of Washington Square as Charles Simic and C.K. Williams, and I took so much joy from that – the excitement of feeling like I’d earned the right, however briefly and insignificantly, to stand in the same light.
The new issue of Arts & Letters, which contains my story “Black as the Sea,” also contains some poems by Donald Hall – one of my very favorites. In fact, my story is positioned right next to his stuff.
I’m really proud of this story – told by a little Jewish boy during the Odessa Pogrom of 1905, a sort of meta-Isaak-Babel piece, if Babel was writing with a full knowledge of all the horrors that the Soviet 30s and 40s would bring, instead of the more abstract feeling of dread and joyful resignation that makes his work so unique and exciting.
Check out their guidelines, and if you’ve got something awesome and maybe a little too edgy for the more established lit-mags, send it their way! They’re great to deal with, and they put out good stuff.
There’s lots to say about the crazy ish that comes out of Paula Abdul’s mouth on Live to Dance… but tonight the most offensive thing was when that NOBODY WOMAN from the PUSSYCAT DOLLS said, SEVERAL TIMES, “ballet is the basis of all dance.”
How Eurocentric is that? Folks were dancing in Africa and Asia while the Europeans who eventually developed ballet didn’t have a pot to piss in. Of course no one challenged this idiot.
I love Joe.My.God, God knows I do. In a lot of ways I think it’s the absolute perfect example of what a blog can be – one individual’s thoughts and concerns and obsessions and politics, coming in short and frequent and consistent and powerfully-argued bursts, which over time grows to a phenomenon with a readership that probably easily matches that of a lot of print media outlets.
For the past three years I’ve gotten a ton of my cultural and political news from Joe, as I obsessively check my Google Reader every thirty seconds to see what he (and the other 220 blogs I subscribe to) are up to. And he’s up to a lot – an average of 145 posts a week, according to Google, or 20 a day.
And just like any conventional media outlet, print or broadcast, Joe.My.God chooses what to report on. Of course that’s his right, and I applaud the job he’s done, and of course he’s built a vibrant and awesome community of readers who care about the same things. But so many of the things he focuses on make me furious or sad. He does dozens of posts every week on anti-queer conservative groups and the “ex-gay” frauds and closet cases. I already got my Recommended Lifetime Allowance of homophobic garbage between the ages of 12 and 18; I don’t need to read the repugnant hatred of the bullies that used to beat me up in gym class, magically transformed into the smooth slick professional press release-speak of hate groups. There’s a certain value in knowing what your enemy is up to, but there’s a certain point where we soak up some of the hate they put out into the world. Same way with the gross evil “homo-con” motherfuckers, rich privileged capitalist gay boys who applaud every effort to fuck the poor over, and maybe wouldn’t mind some gay marriage on the side. I read their filth and it can ruin my whole day.
So I’m unsubscribing. I’m not mad at Joe.My.God. I just think it’s time for us to go our separate ways. It’s not him, it’s me – there are some things I just don’t wanna deal with. As a community organizer, I spend most of every day fighting back against the Right’s struggle to dismantle everything that’s good about our world (and the Democrat’s half-assed, sloppy, infuriating attempts to maybe slow that dismantling down a little bit), so it’s not a case of me burying my head in the sand. I just need to remove all the voices that stress me out.
And I’m sure I’ll be visiting the website once or twice a week.
Roxane Gay is pissing off a lot of people with a little bit of truth.
She published a critique of racial representation in the latest edition of “Best American Short Stories.” This got tons of comments, many of them managing to be defensive and condescending all at once (“Okay maybe you mentioned Toni Morrisson [sic], but we all went to college so that doesn’t count.”).
I haven’t read BASS 2010, so I can’t say how spot-on she is… but I can say that the REASON I haven’t read it is because it’s almost always boring as hell, and that’s due to the monotony of the stories being told… i.e. the lack of diversity not just in racial terms, but also in terms of the stories being told and the class background of the characters. I hope I won’t do Roxane’s thesis an injustice by summing it up with a direct quote that obviously leaves out much of the nuance of the full argument: “Almost every story in the anthology was about rich or nearly rich white people to the point where, by the end of reading the book, I was downright offended. I know people will disagree with my thoughts here and that’s fine, but I really think shit is fucked up in literary publishing.”
So what do I have to add to the conversation? Not much. I think Roxane’s a hundred percent right. All I’d say is this: I think the problem is just one part of literary fiction’s slow decline into irrelevancy. On a long train ride recently, I gave my boyfriend an issue of a literary journal that shall remain nameless, and he was horrified at the frivolity and boringness of pretty much everything he read. And he was totally right. I keep buying and subscribing to literary journals, and checking them out of the library, and reading them in bookstores and then putting them back on the shelf, because of that one story in ten that really floors me – but I am not sure I would do so if I didn’t also have a personal commitment to supporting that corner of the literary ecosystem, because I too hope to publish my sh*t there. There’s too many great books out there.
I want literary fiction to be diversified in a lot of ways. I want more racial diversity, but I also want more narrative diversity. I want to feel that sense of risk. I want to be terrified for the characters, and I just can’t give a shit about one more wealthy person trying to find him- or herself. More and more I find myself reading young adult novels and genre fiction because that’s where the hard compelling edgy stories are – with lots of extra verve and energy and robots and clones and cutters.
“…These are books that are written over and over again and at a time when everyone is lamenting the death of publishing, you have to think, however ridiculous and overwrought those laments are, that publishing this one kind of story without accounting for the multitude of other experiences in the world, is not helping publishing stay alive.”
Looking at this list now, I realize it’s pretty gay. AND I’M NOT SORRY.
It’s in no particular order. And I don’t necessarily like all these songs; I just like Wii-Dancing to them…
Sorcerer – “Dagomba”
And I’m reminded, in that visceral and overwhelming way I always am, that he really is the writer whose prose has the deepest impact on me – an impact that’s intellectual and physical all at once. The writing, and the ideas contained there, and the peculiar way we get inside the heads of these marvelous characters – it transforms me. The world feels different during the week or two it takes me to get through one of his books.
I’m riding home on the subway, which switches to express after 59th Street, and I see the perfect way he taps into how technology changes us, how we live with it, how it helps us make sense of the world, how it creates a secret set of shared thoughts, things many of us might think, in our heads, in certain situations, but never speak of, because we doubt it will have much meaning for anyone but us, until William Gibson shows us how and why:
“For most of her life, flying, she’d felt most vulnerable right here, suspending in a void, above trackless water, but now her conscious flying fears are about things that might be arranged to happen over populous human settlements, fears of ground-to-air, of scripted CNN moments.”
Or the way we think about things we see every day, and how it comes to life differently when William Gibson helps us think through all the thought that might have gone into it:
“The Hummer rounds a corner set with a pub of such quintessential pub-ness that she assumes it is only a few weeks old, or else recently reconfigured to attract a clientele its original builders could scarcely have comprehended. A terrifyingly perfect simulacrum, its bull’s-eye panes buffed to an optical clarity.”
Or a character’s allergy to Tommy Hilfiger:
“My God, don’t they know? This stuff is simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. A diluted tincture of Ralph Lauren, who had himself diluted the glory days of Brooks Brothers, who themselves had stepped on the product of Jermyn Street and Savile Row, flavoring their ready-to-wear with liberal lashings of polo knit and regimental stripes. But Tommy surely is the null point, the black hole. There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul. Or so she hopes, and doesn’t know, but suspects in her heart that this in fact is what accounts for his long ubiquity.”
All of which is why I don’t want to finish the book. And why I don’t let myself read more than one WIlliam Gibson book every six months, because I don’t ever want to dull the edge of what he fills me up with,
I’m a huge fan of the 101 Cookbooks blog, which not only has tons of awesome recipes, it includes a lot of really nice commentary and explanation about more general cooking-related concepts. Like different ways to use different things, staples it’s always important to have on hand, etc.
I’m also a huge fan of kale.
So I was really excited by this recipe last week, for Winter Pasta. And we had just gotten a load of gorgeous kale from our CSA at work that no one was doing anything with. The stars kinda came together for this recipe.
Working around what I had on hand, I adapted the recipe into a more straightforward pesto… I’m including my version here, but I definitely want to stress that this a very mild adaptation of a basic recipe that someone else made, so folks should definitely check out 101 Cookbooks. And bookmark it. And subscribe to its RSS feed. And so on.
- 1 bunch of kale, washed and cut into medium-sized pieces.
- 6 or more cloves of garlic
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the garlic, finely chopped, and cook for two minutes. Add the chopped kale to the boiling water and cook for less than thirty seconds, stirring to ensure everything spends an equal amount of time submerged. Using a slotted spoon, take out the kale and garlic and put it into a food processor. Add olive oil and parmesan cheese and process until you get a decently creamy consistency. Taste – add more olive oil and parmesan cheese as needed. Mine came out fine with no salt, but it could definitely be added if necessary.
Bring the water back to a boil, add pasta, cook according to package directions. Toss with pesto and enjoy.
I’m afraid to click on this video. I’m afraid to download the audio. I feel like there’s no way it could ever be as amazing and revolutionary and fucking brilliant as I imagine it to be. But I’m very very very excited about it
Sometimes I’m just totally apathetic about the fight against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Sometimes I think about queer friends who have served in the military, or are serving, or would want to, and the shit they’ve gotta deal with, and I think “sure, whatever, if that’s what folks wanna fight for.” And while I definitely feel that any discriminatory policy is wrong, my own antagonism to militarism/imperialism/the size of the Defense budget would keep me from fighting to change the policy.
But then I read stuff like this transcript of a Democracy Now! episode where my hero/ine Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore debated Dan Choi, Does opposing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bolster U.S. Imperialism?
And I remember – oh yeah, right, this is not just one of those cases of “it’s not my issue but whatever,” where folks are fighting for something progressive positive but I don’t do much on it because it’s not where my expertise or passion lie. This is a fundamentally conservative fight, which has ensnared a lot of progressives because it involves attacking homophobic institutions.
Mattilda, as always, is amazingly lucid and clear and compelling. And she does a great job of taking Dan Choi, who is such a poster boy and gets praised to the skies in the blogosphere and Kathy Griffin’s show, and needling Dan until he sheds all the equal-rights/GO-GAY fancy clothes to get at the brutal American imperialism at the heart of what Dan is asking for. Here’s a quote from Dan:
“War is a force that gives us meaning. War is a force that teaches us lessons of humanity and allows us to realize something about our society and teaches us the lessons that we probably should have learned before we went to war.”
War “teaches us lessons of humanity and allows us to realize something about our society”????!? Lessons like how hard you need to press down with your boot before someone’s arm breaks? Teaches us something about our society, like, educating children and providing health care and housing are less of a priority than developing new and atrocious ways to kill people?
Mattilda says it best. I won’t even try to summarize or paraphrase or riff on it:
“We need to be fighting for universal access to basic needs, things like housing and healthcare and the right to stay in this country or leave if you want to. We need to be fighting for comprehensive sex education, for AIDS healthcare, for senior care, for safe houses for queer youth to escape abusive families. And the problem with all this attention on the war machine, all this support for, you know, soldiers to serve openly in unjust wars, the problem is that the military is what’s taking away the ability to fund everything in this country that would actually benefit, you know, the people who need the most. You know, the war budget—if we could just, you know, take half the US war budget, we’d be able to have everything that we want in this country, whether it’s renewable energy, whether it’s, you know, housing for everyone, whether it’s healthcare, whether it’s food on the table. I mean, we need to get back to a struggle for basic needs.”
I am the happiest man on the planet right now.
Well, maybe not, but I just found the awesomest Korean buffet, and that made me incredibly happy. In Koreatown, on 31st Street. It’s called Woorijip, and they have VEGETARIAN (SHRIMPLESS) KIM CHEE and KIM CHEE PANCAKES and KIM CHEE EGG ROLLS and OMG A MILLION OTHER AMAZING THINGS.
And very reasonably priced… So… Go there.
Lots of folks are reporting that Syfy has just greenlit a new Battlestar Galactica series, a prequel that takes places in the middle ground between Caprica (which is occasionally solid but consistently underwhelming) and the re-imagined 2003-2009 Battlestar Galactica that I firmly believe to be the greatest thing ever put on television.
From the press release:
“Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome takes place in the 10th year of the first Cylon war. As the battle between humans and their creation, a sentient robotic race, rages across the 12 colonial worlds, a brash rookie viper pilot enters the fray. Ensign William Adama, barely in his 20’s and a recent Academy graduate, finds himself assigned to the newest battlestar in the Colonial fleet… the Galactica.”
“While maintaining the themes of politics, social propaganda, and the timeless question: what does it mean to be human? – ‘Blood & Chrome’ will also return us to the authentic, relentless depiction of combat and the agony and ecstasy of human-Cylon war, which was the hallmark of ‘Battlestar Galactica’s’ early seasons.”
This is exciting to me. I like these things: politics, social propaganda, the timeless question: what does it mean to be human, authentic & relentless depicions of combat, the agony and ecstasy of human-Cylon war.
I wonder if this was Syfy cutting Caprica loose – preparing the way for a cancellation by throwing a bone to the (already discontented) legions of BSG fans who still watch it.
Because in the course of writing this post, I learned that Caprica just got canceled, according to EW’s PopWatch, who says of Blood and Chrome: “[it] might as well be calledBattlestar Galactica: All the Space Battles and Killer Robots You Missed on Caprica.”
So… I’ll collect my thoughts and do a post about that soon enough.
This year, for Halloween, I decided to be the Last Airbender.
That’s TELEVISION Aang, not MOVIE Aang, because MOVIE Aang was terrible.
I don’t dress up every year, but I take my costumes seriously. I don’t want it to look like a costume. So… no ridiculous extravagant make-up or cardboard clothes or anything like that. I’m not against that, it’s just not what I dig.
It took me a month to assemble my costume. I bought a white Mandarin-collar shirt from Pearl River, and then dyed it the precise shade of yellow. I bought a pair of loose fitting simple cotton kung fu pants, and dyed them brown. I bought some martial arts slippers from Mott Street… the sixth store I went into. I shaved my head. I bought three shades of blue-grey eye pencil, to find the perfect color for the arrow tattoos:
And J. helped me cut and sew together a gorgeous orange cowl, and long strips of orange cloth to bind my wrists and ankles. And Saffie did my head arrow, a long and involved process involving lots of baby powder and back-and-forth about how far down my forehead the arrow should go. Here’s the finished product:
“Many great and wise Air Nomads have detached themselved and achived spiritual enlightenment. But the Avatar can *never* do it. Because your sole duty is to the world. Here is my wisdom to you: selfless duty calls you to sacrifice your spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world.” – Avatar Yangchen
And yes, it’s true that I’m not Asian, so in that sense I’m closer to Movie Aang than Television Aang, but in wardrobe and spirit I was (hopefully) more aligned with Television Aang.
Last night I went to a candelight vigil for another amazing inspiring strong powerful queer youth who took her own life. Mosey Diaz was an active member of Picture the Homeless – the first young person who ever attended one of our Youth Organizing meetings, an incredible woman who was always full of positivity and always smiling.
The vigil was at twilight, on Pier 45 on the Hudson River, which has such deep resonance for queer youth but also for all queer New Yorkers – it’s where the Pride Parade terminates, tens of thousands of us disgorged onto the waterfront, exhausted and loud and drunk and naked and proud and happy – or some, or none of those things, and a whole lot more besides. Global Action Project had organized the event – Mosey was active there, as well as with the Bronx Community Pride Center and the LGBT Center’s YES Program. Arriving at the event, it was clear from the size of the crowd that Mosey had been an important part of a lot of communities, and that a lot of people loved her a lot.
I arrived with a lot of anger, and a lot of sadness. Specific sadness, about Mosey being gone from this earth, about whatever she had going on around her that led her to such a terrifying decision; and more general sadness, about the world we live in, and the rash of queer suicides and what that means for us, what it means about our society, how it’s more evidence of the injustices that are fundamental to the structure of our world, how race plays into our sense of self, how homelessness and poverty exacerbate all these other issues.
But after just a few minutes, that sadness and anger turned into something else. Hearing so many inspiring queer youth tell stories about how they knew Mosey, how they loved her, how they feel terribly guilty about failing to respond to a text message or a Facebook status update “Like,” how they remember her non-stop smile, how this should be a wake-up call to stop the shade and love one another and really really really love them, and tell them they’re loved, and tell them they’re amazing and inspiring (there’s that word again, but what other one is there?), because you really truly honest-to-Jebus never know (because, of the queer youth that I know, Mosey was pretty much the last one I would have expected to take her own life)… standing there with our candles pressed together, watching the sky over the river turn purple and then darken, watching the spire of the Empire State Building appear and disappear through low-drifting clouds, feeling another October come to an end, another year over, all of us that much closer to the dark, my sadness and anger became something else. Something still melancholy and mournful, but also stronger and more resolved, more – yes – inspired, reminded of why I’m a community organizer, determined to support folks coming together to figure out ways we can fend off the forces of hate and oppression.
One young woman was pretty frank about the ups and downs of her relationship with Mosey, but she used that to make the point that we all need to do a better job of loving each other. Concretely, physically, through specific acts, through saying how we feel. “Look around you,” she said, “because at the end of the day, this is all you have.”
And that, to me, summarizes what was most empowering about last night’s vigil. We are all we have. The stuff doesn’t matter. I half-agree with the Buddha, about the world being illusion, about all things being false, about suffering coming from clinging to false things, attachments to illusions. But as I understand it, Buddhism includes other people in that – that much of our suffering comes from our relationships with others, from the lust and desire and fear and longing and grief and anger that come from our attachments to people. It makes sense to me, to think of the universe as illusion, to think of the cold and the hostile and the cruel elements in this world as components of that. But people are real. People are not illusions. We need each other. This is all you have.*
I had planned to take photos, but of course once I got there I could not. Our grief was for us, for the folks standing in the cold clutching Styrofoam cups that kept our candles from blowing out. For our community; not for anyone else. So this blog post is submitted without imagery.
* – I’m not a Buddhist, and it’s entirely possible that I’m completely misunderstanding this central concept. I apologize. As the Dalai Lama says, if there’s a Buddhist equivalent to the Christian concept of original sin, it’s fundamental ignorance.
Interesting new directions. Especially the angel/cylon in Zoe’s head (a la Baltar’s in BSG). This show needs to tap into its incredible Battlestar DNA/heritage more!
For two years, in my hometown of Hudson, I worked as a dishwasher at a mid-to-low-quality restaurant. On Mondays, after work, I’d go to the bowling alley and buy a pitcher of beer and bowl alone until the ratio of gutter balls became inordinately high, usually after three games, either because I was exhausted or because of the beer. The place was invariably empty except for me, and the guys who hung out at the bar; within a year, it would close down altogether.
Now, on the spot where it once stood, there’s a big chain drug store whose name does not merit mentioning. Directly across the street is another big chain drug store.
In spite of all that practice – and in spite of the fact that my punk rock band used to go to the now-deceased Hudson Lanes all the time when we should have been practicing, which is maybe part of why we don’t exist anymore – I’m a terrible bowler. It was more of a meditative thing, a way to tune the world out, or some working-class gene kicking in and compelling me to bowl the way those zombies got compelled to visit the mall in Dawn of the Dead, obeying instincts and socialized norms that no longer had any real meaning for them.
Bowling alleys are following dinosaurs down the path to extinction. Or maybe Panda Bears is a better analogy. Because there will always be a few, kept alive in glitzy expensive places for people to gawk at. Last weekend we went bowling in Williamsburg, or Hipster Ground Zero, and the act is still every bit as fun… it’s just gotten to be so much work. There’s not a lot of places, you gotta make reservations, it’s expensive, you’re surrounded by twats, etc. The pictures posted below are from that evening.
WebUrbanist has an interesting photo collection, of abandoned bowling alleys from around the world. Oddly enough, I can’t find any solid current statistics on the number of bowling alleys in the country, and how that’s changed in the past ten-twenty-fifty-sixty years. All the industry reports I can find are things you gotta pay for. But maybe I’m just not a very good Googler.
So… Caprica’s back on.
The season premiere was better than most of last season. Stuff is happening. Conspiracies. Assassinations. Whatever. The show just doesn’t do CHARACTER well, so as long as it focuses on moving the narrative forward everything’s okay. But good shows have to do both. And since it’s inevitable that this season will settle into another groove of “let’s spend five minutes of every episode talking about getting to Gemenon – but never actually going to Gemenon – and then five minutes talking about making a breakthrough with adapting the metacognitive processor – but never actually making a breakthrough with the metacognitive processor” I don’t have very high hopes.
If this show wasn’t set in the Battlestar Galactica universe, I’d have stopped watching by now.
One super awesome highlight: Meg Tilly as “Mother” was amazing… like a timid, awkward, dangerous lady pope.
… was far and away the most amazing thing about last night’s episode of America’s Next Top Model.
How did Tyra Banks suddenly get so much star power for this sagging, sad show? Matthew Rolston last week? Patrick Demarchelier next week??!
The American Book Review just put out a very interesting and thought-provoking list of the 100 best first sentences from novels. Glad to see so many of my favorites there, like “Happy families are all alike…” and “You don’t know me, without you have read a book…” and “Stately plump Buck Mulligan” and “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” and “Ships at sea have every man’s wish on board” and “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
So far so good. But right up at the top they’ve got that one they always trot out, from Pride and Prejudice, which I think is such a bad sentence on so many levels, to the point where I’ve never read that book because it turns me off.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice(1813)
I’ll call out just a few of its offenses.
1. Who starts a sentence with “It”? It’s annoying. Maybe in a blog post it’s okay, but in a book? It makes me say: what the f*ck is IT? From Writing.com: “It causes your readers to pause momentarily while they figure out what it is. It makes your sentences clumsy.”
2. “Universally acknowledged.” Really, Jane? Universally? So… peasant laborers in China and American oil magnates and trans sex workers have all somehow come to consensus on this issue? Jane Austen mistakes her rich European world for the universe, and it’s part of why I find her insufferable.
3. Tautology. “A single man… must be in want of a wife.” What if I said “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in upstate New York must someday grow old” ? Meaningless. The thing that makes “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” so brilliant is that it says something banal in a provocative, fresh way that compels me to read further. “Unhappy in its own way? what does that mean? hmmm…”
4. I hope that this statement is actually tongue in cheek, that it’s critiquing the universality of this assumption, that the rest of the novel is somehow a rebuttal of this sentence. And this tongue-in-cheek-ness is the last thing I want to critique here; it’s winking at me a little too hard, it’s a little too in love with its own drollness.
It’s always comforting to find out that other people share one of your specific insanities.
For years, I’ve been a little bit ashamed of my intense, over-powering love for the music from old-school NES video games… a love that has driven me to create sheet music with transcription software, and spend lots of time practicing (even though my skills on the piano are slim to none), and then being too nervous about my nerdiness to ever play them in front of people… although there’s a video of me paying the Main Theme from Castlevania 2 here.
So you can imagine my excitement when I learned about MarioPiano.com, an incredible labor of love from some similarly-afflicted aficionado who:
“… Pulled out my professional engraving software and embarked on a meticulous and uncompromising transcription project that involved (i) transcribing every pitch and rhythm while listening to the original 8-bit NES recordings hundreds of times, voice by voice, note by note, in a loop, (ii) rigorously cross-checking my work with several of the best transcription attempts out there, (iii) arranging the visual layout and pagination for clear readability, and (iv) optimizing the piano fingering by learning the pieces myself and playing them every day for several months.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to print up a PDF and then pretend I’m the underwater level from Super Mario Bros…
The Colony is a new show on the Discovery Channel. I’ve watched several episodes, and I find it deeply disturbing.
I think it’s the same reason I hated The Road – a little too much of a slog through the swamp of human abjection and suffering. It’s too real. I’m already nervous enough about the impending economic-environmental apocalypse, and the crumbling of societal structures, and the resulting rise of vicious cannibal-warlords. I don’t need to see the specifics. I don’t need to see screaming women held down by five guys and tied up and dragged away. I don’t need to know this much about the physical manifestations of slowly starving to death.
It’s a smart show, and a good show, just like The Road was really well-written… but I don’t find it enjoyable. I’m too nervous waiting for the next repugnant shit.
Right now my money’s on freaky-tall Ann, and lesbian Kayla. And Liz, who looks like a biker-boy version of Frida Kahlo, is the dark horse in this race.
Le Boy Bar opened up two weeks ago, and the place is already jumping. The boys must have been hungry for it! It’s so great to have a cool chill spot real close to home… makes it a lot easier to go out dancing when you don’t have to worry about a drunk nightmare of a two-hour subway ride, or a super-expensive cab ride, at the end of it.
Last night we went with a big bunch of people and had a blast. Here are some of the highs and lows, goods and bads, pros and cons, yins and yangs.
- Free to get in.
- Diverse crowd! Boys, girls, drag queens, trannies, barely-legals and silver daddies…. Latino, Black, Caucasoid. That’s actually really shocking and unique and wonderful when it comes to Manhattan gay clubs.
- The troll factor was WAAAAY low. Pretty much everybody was just having a good time, dancing and being sociable, not standing off to the sidelines and trying to eye-fuck you whether you want to or not. (this is not an age comment – lots of twenty-five year olds can be creepy as fuck just by staring at you…)
- The 24-hour Casa de Monfongo is just a couple blocks away, on Dyckman and Broadway, which is VERY useful when you need your salty-fatty-starchy food fix after drinking and dancing away all yr sense!
- Between 12:30 and 3:30 they played three different remixes of “Just Dance.”
- Uneven music. A lot of great songs, but the DJ kept switching up the beat too often to really get into a groove, and he played good songs on top of other good songs, so it was hard to get a feel for what was happening.
- The space is pretty small. This is nice cuz it means the dance floor fills up fast, and since I stopped drinking I find it’s hard for me to dance unless EVERYBODY is dancing. Otherwise I think everyone has nothing better to do but watch and judge me. But this did feel a little crowded…. it also means you invariably find yourself standing uncomfortably close to:
- The go-go boys. I don’t know what it is, but go-go boys tend to make me uncomfortable. I know they neither need nor want my pity, but it makes me shake my head sadly when I see some super-fine specimen of the male physique twisting and gyrating and offering himself up for the sake of some stranger’s sweaty crumpled singles. I don’t think there’s anything bad or immoral or undignified about this or any other kind of sex work, but to me it feels like a set-up…. a way to make everybody else in the club feel economic superiority in the face of something so physically fine that it invariably makes them feel inferior. Oh yeah, and: go-go boys are naked panhandlers.
- Between 12:30 and 3:30 they played three different remixes of “Just Dance.”
… are all in the new issue of Slice!
Just got my contributor’s copy in the mail, and what a gorgeous and incredible thing it is! And how fantastic to turn to the contributor’s page and see my name slotted in alongside such glamorous company…
Mind you, all of this is before I’ve had a chance to actually READ any of it…
Sucked is a strong word, but we’re talking about vampires here.
1. Russell. I love me some Russell, and I recognize that many people do not. What can I say – I’m a queer revolutionary, and game recognizes game. But regardless of how you felt about him, it’s just sloppy storytelling to spend the whole season building this guy up to be the baddest mother on the planet, and then for the finale… he spends the whole episode helpless, chained up, charred to a crisp. And then you bury him in cement. At least with Marianne, last season, we built up to a really epic “FUCK YEAH!” moment where she got hers.
2. Sookie. They gave Sookie some nastiness in this episode that was totally out of left field, not consistent with her character, and not interesting or appealing. Her sadistic laughter and glee when she put Talbot down the garbage disposal felt fake, and added nothing.
3. Bill. This sudden revelation – that he let the Rattrays beat her to the point of death before intervening, so she’d need his blood to survive – just got dumped in with a handful of other reasons for Sookie to hate him. So… Is Bill just an asshole? Not sure how they can reconcile this to the Bill we’ve gotten to know.
4. Sookie and Bill. What a surprise, she hates him again. How many times is that now?
5. Jason. Is it just me, or is there absolutely no reason we should care about “Hot Shot” and all the people out there? And Jason was giving me mad YOUNG GEORGE W. BUSH when he was trying to get all earnest and sincere and dressed up.
6. Sam. It sucks that you got screwed over by your woman, but the way they’ve tried to make you into a jerk this season feels clumsy and unsophisticated. Nobody thinks for a second you shot your brother… and if you DID? It’s yet another case of them ruining a character by adding stupid stuff that doesn’t fit.
7. Alcide. A tease.
8. Sookie’s visit to another planet. Or dimension. Or whatever. Meh.
9. Tara’s Mom. It’s actually really offensive that this woman never catches a break. If she’s not debased and miserable, she’s sad and miserable. They couldn’t show Tara going to visit her, and she’s… I dunno… gardening? Watching TV? Nope, she’s gotta be fucking a married man – her minister. Because that’s how this show rolls.
10. Jessica and Hoyt’s house… the half-assed set-up of some spooky shit… let’s pan down to show a creepy dirty old baby doll… So… this is… a haunted house? Really? We’re supposed to worry about that? THE MAN’S DATING A VAMPIRE!!
I tried very hard NOT to do a blog post with a link to this video. But I couldn’t help it. Because I’m gay.
And WTF is up with Jackie Evancho not winning? That Michael Grimm dude’s got NOTHING.
(this page was originally posted on the Picture the Homeless blog, which is temporarily down for maintenance)
Thanks to everyone who attended yesterday’s walking tour of vacant buildings and lots in NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s district, to bring attention to and advance City legislative Intro 48, the vacant properties count bill… which ended-up being a twenty-person all-night sidewalk sleep-out in the pouring rain, by Quinn’s office! [see below…]
Checkout a great set of photos by PTH
Checkout another great set of photos by Alan Greig
Also, this week we are launching “Vacant NYC” — a “crowdsourced” online mapping project — we need your participation! Anyone (including YOU!) can submit a vacant building or lot address — together, we’ll be able to build and share this online map, using a software pioneered in Kenya called Ushahidi (Swahili for testimony). Our map project is to get the ball rolling toward the City’s count, by showing them how easily its done.
When you see a vacant lot or building anywhere in the five boroughs, let us know:
visit vacantnyc.crowdmap.com to submit a report, or text the address to 917.412.3064, or send it via Twitter using #housingnotwarehousing or @pthny
More about Ushahidi software:
After our press conference and walking tour, over twenty members, staff, and allies slept out all night in Quinn’s district, on the corner of 31st St and 8th Ave — that is, around the corner from Speaker Quinn’s office, right outside a building that’s been vacant since 1979, across the street from Penn Station where many homeless people sleep every night. This morning, PTH members are proceeding around the corner from the sleep-out site to deliver a letter and information packet to Quinn’s office when it opens in the morning.
Checkout a bunch of PTH’s best photos from August 24-25 on Facebook: