some quick notes: sales, projects, progress

This is not my year-in-review post, or my you-could-nominate-these-stories-for-awards post. Both of those soon. This is my I’m-procrastinating-at-work-by-writing-a-status-update-because-I-should-use-my-blog post.

sales news:

  • I sold “How The God Auzh-Aravik Brought Order To The World Outside the World” (AKA the flayed god story) to Strange Horizons. It’ll be out in mid-January.
  • “Lace Downstairs”, my cyberpunk lesbian noir novelette in Abyss & Apex (2012), will be reprinted in audio at StarShipSofa, which I am immensely excited about. I have never sold audio reprint rights before. Also I love this story and am really happy that more people will get to hear/read it.

progress report:

  • The novel sits at 43k. This is simultaneously much less novel than I wanted to have by this point and much more novel than I’ve ever had before. I still like it. I still want it to be done, desperately. I guess I should keep writing.
  • I took two weeks away from novelling and wrote 2k on the film hunter/sacrifice auction novelette (I think it needs retitling again) and a few thousand words distributed through other stories. I miss having finished shorts. (Nevertheless I still haven’t finished any shorts.)
  • new stories started: “Strict Machine”, about what happens to you AFTER you marry the city; “And Her Language Unraveling In Her Mouth”, which comes from an Elise Matthesen pendant, and is about xenophilia (and is the angel-insect-alien sex piece I have promised various people for ages).

other notes:

  • I have begun writing reviews for Strange Horizons! Here is the first of them, on Hal Duncan’s Testament (which I liked very much and found to be the best kind of ambitious failure).
  • I have a semi-secret project at work which is, in its broadest terms, about Byzantium and science fiction. I really love my job right now. More news as events warrant.
  • Tomorrow I get to fly home to New York City. (The degree of anticipation and delight I am currently experiencing is in fact one of the hazards of having married the city. Ahem.)
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“The Demon Vivienne Explains Volitional Geography” at Through The Gate

I have a poem out in Issue 8 of Through The Gate today, in a ToC with amazing poets I’m very honored to be next to!

The Demon Vivienne Explains Volitional Geography

I guess I am actually a poet now, instead of a person who accidentally wrote a poem once. Twice is getting to be a habit. This one is a short poem on the variable nature of hells. (And the variable nature of empire, but then what do I write that isn’t about that?)

“When The Fall Is All That’s Left” at Apex Magazine

“When The Fall Is All That’s Left”, my SF short about radiation sickness and girls on the run, is up at Apex Magazine in issue 77! I’m very pleased to share it with you, and even more pleased to have a story in Apex.

(Yes, the title is a The Lion In Winter reference.)

“WHEN THE FALL IS ALL THAT’S LEFT”

For Gabriele, gravity had ended. She spun unmoored, drifting in the outgassing light that spilled from the star she’d flown though. Her orbit deteriorated slowly. The skin of her hull was pockmarked and blistered, bubbled with plasma burns. What remained of her telemetric instruments was melted dross, cooling slowly from white to sullen red. Where she had known gravity, conjured through spin and mathematics, there was a hollowness inside her mind: a colorless blank, not formed enough to even register as dark.

“Like aphasia,” she explained to Iris in the pilot’s den. “A missing word with a shape I remember and can talk around.”


Story notes:

This is the story I wrote at Viable Paradise, almost two years ago to today, which is a lovely little coincidence that makes me happy: I like circularity and I like patterning, and how the world comes around again whether you’d like it to or not. Which is some of what this story is about, actually. When it’s not about making the very best of bad options, and acts of irrevocable bravery, and, well. Girls on the run. This is me doing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Thelma and Louise.

I wrote it to a prompt, and I wrote it very fast — eight hours from first line to last line, though it’s been through multiple rounds of revision since, of course. I learned two things from writing it: one, if you have to write an entire story in a day for some reason or another, write the last scene of a much longer story (and lean very hard on your character work in order to pull this off); and two, stories written to prompts can go in very strange directions. (The prompt I got was a horror prompt. I don’t think I ended up with horror, but admittedly my horror-o-meter is calibrated oddly.)

It’s also, amusingly enough, a hilarious story for me to publish right after you all came here to read my many opinions on queer tragedy in BARU CORMORANT.

Patterns and wheels! They get you every time. 🙂

I owe tumblr user isozyme a drink for last-minute beta services under fire; she saved my ass on continuity.


 Soundtrack: this 8tracks playlist should do you fine. DYING HORRIBLY IN SPACE.

first lines meme.

This one’s often fun. Especially when you feel like you will never be writing anything but this novel, forever and ever and ever amen. The first lines meme! In which I post the first sentence of everything I’ve got in progress right now, in hopes of being able to cross some of them off in the near future.

Yesterday in a fit of impatience I rewrote the first 1k of “Ruin Marble” between midnight and 2 AM, so I guess that’s actually in progress now as opposed to completely stalled while I decided what it was about. It’s a sort of writing productivity, even if it’s not The Novel.

WHY o WHY are novels a hundred thousand words in length, WHY o WHY am I not a fast writer, etc. The constant refrain. But hey, have some first lines.

The Hydraulic Emperor”:

The Hydraulic Emperor is nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds long, filmed on an eighteen-quadcopter neocamera rig back when neocameras were the only way to make immersive film.

“Ruin Marble”:

Spring was late.

THE PERILS OF MAHIT (working title; the novel.):

Mahit came down to the City in a seed-skiff, a bubble of a ship hardly big enough for her body and her luggage both.

“Untitled Clone Hive-Mind Story”:

Tsa-Five’s prison was old-fashioned: a cage of metal bars, twelve of her steps long and twelve of her steps wide.

“The Raven King’s Mail-Order Bride”:

The jackdaws are shrieking outside my window, as if I’d summoned them by researching their medieval ancestors.

“Untitled Perfume Wizard Story”:

Ava, who was only Ava by the narrowest of margins and the dregs of jasmine and leather clinging to the pulse-points of her wrists, ordered a second Hungarian coffee.

what I’m “working on”: writing as specific practice

First, some good sales news!

I’ve sold my nanite clonepeople 2nd-person short, “All the Colors You Thought Were Kings”, to Elise Catherine Tobler at Shimmer, which I am extremely happy about! (I’ve been trying to crack Shimmer since I started submitting stories. Delightful to have managed it.) I’ve also — last month, but I don’t think I announced it formally here — sold a SFnal saint’s life( gnostics! in! space!), “Contra Gravitatem (Vita Geneveivis)”, to Ranylt Richildis at Lackington’s, for their “ARCHITECTURES” issue. Another market I love and am so happy to be part of! I think both of these stories will be out in January 2016, approximately.

Otherwise, I’ve been writing this novel. Interminably, and slowly. I am not good at it: the writing a novel part of writing it. The story itself, at least according to my first readers, seems to be fairly decent. I’m not displeased with it. (I am actually disgustingly fond of it, vilely in love with my imaginary people and their terrible political problems. I am that obnoxious writer, the one who likes her own work.) What I do not like is writing it, and in a slightly different way than my general dislike of writing in general. (I am also one of those possibly-less-obnoxious people who don’t like writing, they like having written. Having written is my favorite state in the universe. It is worth doing all the writing for.) I don’t like writing the novel because — well, because it’s so HUGE. I don’t have instincts for the pacing of it; I don’t have stamina for having gotten through 18k of a story and being only about one-fifth done. It just keeps GOING. And I am constantly in a state of awareness of this being the first time I’ve done this. I don’t have the reassurance of skill telling me that I can do this, I’ve done it before. It’s not even a great leap into the unknown: it’s a slow trudge into the unknown. Every step seems to require an individual act of self-propellment.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how what I’m “working on”, right now, as a writer who thinks about writing as a practice the way language-learning is a practice, or yoga, or rock-climbing. Something done consistently over time, that becomes a sequential and evolving exploration. Because clearly I am working on how to write a novel. That’s the part of my practice which I’m actively trying to push into, to stretch myself at.

A lot of this way of thinking, about “working on” applying not only to stories but to skills in writing, came out of a discussion at Fourth Street, which was about “how to draw the cards you aren’t dealt”. The metaphor is: everyone gets a few cards in their initial writing-skills hand. Some people get character (my friend Fade Manley is one of them); some absurdly lucky people get plot (my VP classmate Devin Singer); I drew setting, for my sins, and also theme, which is why all my early work is evocative-yet-overdescribed symbolic worldbuilding. (I got better.) This year at Fourth Street there was a panel which expanded the metaphor to consider how one learns to do the things you can’t do initially: i.e. drawing more cards from the deck. It was a great conversation — I particularly loved hearing about how Steve Brust taught himself structure in the Dragaera books by imposing strict formalist rules on his chapters — but the point which stuck out for me was the idea of deliberately trying to “work on” something you don’t do easily. To construct a story in such a way that the story failed or succeeded on the thing that you want to be better at, and then working until you figured out how to make that thing effective.

Later this spilled over onto Twitter. I tweeted something along the lines of “someday I will write a protagonist who isn’t a poet-diplomat” (and I swear, someday I will), and got into a lovely conversation with Max Gladstone about character types and templates. I came away from that conversation thinking that the next thing I really wanted to work on was, of course, character, really stretch myself to write new and different kinds of people with individual and diverse experiences —

— and then had the crushing realization that I absolutely couldn’t do that right now on this novel. Because I was already working at the very edge of my skill level.

(This is not to say there aren’t people with diverse experiences in this novel! I really hope there are. It’s profoundly important to me to write people who are different from me, on racial and gender and sexual-orientation axes! But all the people in this novel — even the ones who are pretty far from my identity-experience — are people I have some idea how to write. I’m not stretching. Not this time.)

The edge of my skill level on this project is in fact writing a novel. I am, I think, capable of doing it now in a way I wasn’t five years ago — which was the last time I tried — or two years ago, which was when I got serious about writing professionally. But I’m just barely capable. I’m in that active learning-by-doing phase of acquiring a skill. It makes me make some interesting and slightly conservative — conservative in the sense of not taking risks — choices while writing it. For instance, I am working in a cultural context I feel very capable and comfortable writing (inspired by middle-period Byzantine literati culture — never think the dayjob isn’t useful! especially if you put it IN SPACE) with character types I know I can write well (those damn poet-diplomats) and thematic concerns that I find deeply energizing and pleasurable to explore (memory preservation, imperialism and the colonized mind, uniqueness of individual identity). I’m letting myself pick things to put in this book that aren’t hard for me, because the act of writing a novel itself is so hard for me.

I think it’s going to be a good book.

But oh my god will I be glad when the part of my practice I’m working on isn’t how the fuck do you string one hundred thousand words together.

SFF-inflected vacationing

One of the strangest things about moving to Sweden so far is that my supervisor came to me a few weeks ago and informed me about the mandatory vacation. “It’s got to be at least five weeks,” she said, “but you don’t have to do it all at once. If you don’t want to.”

Once the culture shock wore off (you don’t realize how much American workaholic culture is ingrained until you aren’t there anymore…), I booked a bunch of delightful travel, which I am now in the middle of.

i.e. I spent last weekend at Fourth Street Fantasy, my absolute favorite SFF convention, in Minneapolis. It was such a good time. Fourth Street is single-track programming, high on analysis and exegetical rigor and enthusiasm, and usually involves a lot of sitting around in the hotel bar talking to wonderful, clever, warm members of the SFF community and getting really incredibly drunk. Also singing. The singing is important.

This year I:

  • led a critique workshop for the first time, which made me feel useful! and also was mildly terrifying, as apparently people think I know enough about storycraft to be useful
  • moderated a panel on justice in recent SFF
  • was on a panel about music and writing
  • did not overly heckle the other panelists in panels I wasn’t on
  • except for the time where I insisted that the Roman postal service was really deeply relevant to a discussion of communication modes in speculative fiction
  • got a bunch of bottles of wine, my darling friend Fade Manley, and some willing test subjects (thanks, Django and Max and everyone else!) and continued talking about justice all Symposium-style in the hotel atrium for several hours
  • ended up singing Wayfaring Stranger in the best impromptu Pride celebration mixed-voice choir I’ve ever had the pleasure and honor of being part of (a thousand heart-shapes to EBear for making that happen — it meant a lot, very vividly, very suddenly)
  • talked to so many of my VP17 classmates about such great things; also so many other people about so many other great things
  • never had enough time to talk to everyone I wanted to talk to, but that’s the way of cons, especially cons you love.

Now I’m back in NYC for a solo vacationish thing, for ten days. And then there’ll be Readercon in Boston and a trip to London to see a dear friend​ (& all the other England people I can manage!) on my way back to Sweden.

… also I got asked to give a talk in Denmark? On Byzantine-Armenian relations. And I sold a story to Lackington’s, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages.

Every so often I am extremely conscious of how right this moment I am having the life I want.

Of course, the life I want involves getting the next chapter of this novel written, so I should probably go work on that.

things I’m working on.

A quick update, because maybe I should use my writing blog as a blog more often!

things out in the world, awaiting their fates: flayed god story, second-person nanite revolution story, space gnostics flash (as of today, heh. I don’t usually write flash? This mugged me and now I’ve spent all of my Sunday on it.)

things in progress: The Novel (mindsharing space empire politics) — slowly but surely more of it emerges; cyberpunk film connoisseur story (requires me to come up with a heist plot); shattered clone hive mind story (needs to be reworked for maximal weird); perfume wizard story (needs something to link together all these vignettes about perfume); angel-insect erotica (does what it says on the tin)

things stalled until I solve them: possessed radio and formerly evil sorceress deal with consequences of a) possession; b) evil

things I am writing for no one’s benefit but mine and a tiny audience: suspense thriller AU fanfic about very bad demons becoming slightly less bad due to precisely-placed hammerstrikes of emotional trauma (going to be a novella, help me god)

things I am writing for work: translation and commentary of some 11th-century Byzantine letters; fixing up an article on mediated experiences of warfare; maybe doing some Armenian translation so that I have a new text to go along with this proto-article on philhellenism? maybe. I need to learn to write faster.

“Adjuva” at Lakeside Circus

“Adjuva”, my short story about Crusading, medieval theology, and revenants, is up at Lakeside Circus! This one is quite special to me; it’s one of the few stories which I’ve written that I could not have even conceptualized without being a Byzantinist — without being a historian, which in some ways is a thing that talks to the dead. I am very happy that this story found a home so that I can share it.

“ADJUVA”

He wakes up parched, his mouth full of desert dust, spilling out the corners of lips too chapped to bleed.

He spits.

It doesn’t in the slightest help.

Outside, it is raining, sheets of droplets puckering the surface of the Bosporus. There is no way save providence or deviltry that Michel is still alive; by the looks of the city beyond the window it is the year of our Lord two-thousand-something-with-skyscrapers, approximately enough, and he remembers being a man already thirty when first the pilgrim knights came into the desert that is Jerusalem.


A few story notes:

I wrote a version of this at white-heat in the deep winter of January 2012, in the University of Chicago library; it was the second story I wrote after I decided that I was going to be serious about writing, that I would send my work to magazines, that I didn’t need a co-writer or a shared world to hide behind, that I was not only good enough but goddamnit I was going to have fun — and then I spat out 2500 words of some of the most personal, emotional, high-concept, requires-a-goddamn-Masters-in-Crusade-Studies-to-read stunt-writing fantasy I apparently was capable of producing.

I used to call this thing “Vladimir and Estragon Go On Crusade”, seriously. It is my love-letter to Crusader chansons and the Gesta Francorum and the first trip I ever took to Turkey and all the unhallowed dead.

Then I proceeded to not sell it to 11 magazines. Somewhere around magazine #8 I knew it was broken, and even knew why, thanks to an astute editor and a kind personal rejection, but was flat-out unable to fix it. By that point I had sold my first story, and was thinking of applying to Viable Paradise. And what was wrong with this story wasn’t a technical skill problem (I could, and did, fix those) but a problem of emotional payoff; I needed there to be an ending to this story which showed progression and change, and yet it was a story about the doom of repetition, and the nature of sin.

It was a theological problem, and up until early 2014 I very truly could not solve it because I could not bring myself to write an ending where surrender was not only permitted but correct.

This is a very Catholic story — I’m a very Jewish person, for all that I don’t practice as much as I could — and sometimes I felt like I was wrestling with God, trying to find a way to let Michel have a way out that did not strike me as ethically monstrous.

I had to be a different person, in a different part of my life — in 2014 I finished my dissertation, I had a romantic relationship which wasn’t innately fraught, my life became a little psychologically more gentle — I felt less in need of god-wrestling, in short. I will likely take up the practice again when it’s the right time. But having a part of my life which contained un-disastrous serenity did give me a chance to find an ending to this story which admitted to some kind of grace.


… well. Personal theological confession time over, have the thematic soundtrack for “Adjuva”: “Hebrews 11:40”, by The Mountain Goats. I’m going to get my perfect body back someday / if not by faith then by the sword / I’m going to be restored —

hello from Uppsala

New country. New town. New job (on Monday). New, exciting, hilarious failures of internet access! (I’m not really here. Or, I’m here because I took a walk until I got mildly lost, and then found a cafe with wifi and cappuchinos.) Good morning. So far I’ve found an English-language bookshop with a SFF book club prominently flyer’d in the windows, a river with picturesque bridges, and the grocery. Further goals for today involve locating the rock-climbing gym and somewhere to sell me a Swedish textbook, and having dinner with my new boss.

I am having so much fun. Leavened with language-shock (the sooner I get competent in Swedish the better) and vile terror of having landed in a completely new place alone, but hey. Mostly I am having a fantastic time. I love this sort of thing: picking up my whole life and reinventing it again, for good reasons.

April writing roundup: Not as much as I’d like. Moving from Canada to the US to Sweden will do that to a girl. Rewrote a short story (“All The Colors You Thought Were Kings”), at 6000 words — a fairly major rewrite, so I’m calling it a completely new story and counting it as part of my short-story quota for the year, which puts me at 2/12. Noodled at some other shorts (a couple hundred words each on “The Hydraulic Emperor” and “Dawn Machine” and The Untitled Clone Hive Mind Story and Perfume Wizards), but didn’t finish any of them. Avoided the novel (need to stop doing that). Wrote some fanfic. May will be better!

May goals: 5000 novel words; finish “The Hydraulic Emperor”; finish at least one other story; write enough of the fanfic thing to stop obsessing at the fanfic thing (it’s idfic of a very particular school, a “turn-left” AU which allows for productive emotional trauma in a character who doesn’t usually experience trauma actively. It has very little redeeming value aside from making my brainsquids happy, and entertaining one of my dearest friends.)

There is so much light here. I may object to this later in the year, but right now? Goddamn. It’s lovely.